Pathfinder: First Thoughts, Part 3 (Classes)

Merisiel the Pathfinder RogueEarlier this week my assessment of the core classes presented in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook ended up running long, so I split it into two parts. The last six classes (From Monks to Wizards) are covered here. If you want to read about any of the other core classes, the previous post is just a click away.


Monks have received a lot of small buffs. Their flurry of blows now starts at -1/-1 and ends with the best attacks at 18/18, whereas in 3.5 it began at -2/-2 and ended at 15/15 for the best attacks. The AC bonus is also slightly improved, ending at +5 instead of +4. Some class abilities, such as fast movement, also come a level earlier than they did in 3.5.

Part of the improvements to monks are the large number of advanced unarmed combat feats. And while these feats are not monk exclusive, they’ve obviously been designed with monks in mind. Monks even receive a number of these feats for free as bonus feats while they level. As an example, at level 1, Monks get “Stunning Fist” as a bonus feat, which stuns the target for 1 round on a successful attack.

Not surprisingly, Monks also receive a number of bonuses to their Combat Maneuvers. Combat Maneuvers are one of the biggest improvements of pathfinder, replacing a number of more complicated systems in 3.5. Most notably, the justifiably loathed grapple rules.


Without question, the largest improvement to the Paladin class is that the class’s character portrait no longer looks completely ridiculous. Seriously, compare the two:

Comparison of Alhandra and Seelah, the Paladin characters for D&D 3rd edition, and Pathfinder

I think there’s a reason Alhandra was never included in any other drawings, in any other D&D book that I’m aware of. What the fuck kind of armor is she wearing? It’s just hanging there on that piece of twine. And her hair is some kind of throwback to the 1980s. Shallow as it may be, this picture alone turned me off to paladins for a long time. Seelah really makes the class look good.

There’s actually a lot to talk about with paladins. In 3.5 they had 8 (out of 20) levels in which they received no class abilities. In Pathfinder, that number has been reduced to 0.

One of the big changes is the new class-defining ability, Mercy. A little bit like the Barbarian’s Rage Powers, Mercies are abilities which modify the Paladin’s Lay on Hands ability. They are selected from a list every few levels, and the paladin can add all of those effects (every one she has) anytime she lays on hands. Most of the mercies do things like remove fatigue & remove disease (replacing the “Remove Disease” ability which 3.5 paladins eventually got on a weekly basis.)

At the same level a 3.5 paladin received “turn undead,” Pathfinder paladins unsurprisingly receive “Channel Positive Energy” as a cleric does.

At 5th level, instead of getting a mount, the Paladin gets “Divine Bond.” This is another ability which gives players a choice between the classic 3.5 class skill, and a new ability of similar power. In this case, the choice is between a special mount, and the ability to call the upon the power of your god to empower your weapon–to greater and greater effect the more paladin levels you take.

Perhaps taking a page from Blizzard, Paladins also posses a number of “Auras” now. I won’t go into them in detail, but most of them are active simultaneously so long as the Paladin is conscious. As examples, Aura of Resolve grants +4 morale bonuses on saves to the Paladin, and anyone within 10 feet. And Aura of Justice allows the paladin to expend two uses of Smite Evil to instead grant Smite Evil to all allies within 10 ft.

At level 20, the Paladin can actually banish evil outsiders with the user of her smite evil. Which, to me, is a fantastically flavorful ability to give the class. The idea that my Paladin could knock a demon back into hell with her sword is just badass.


Rangers received one of my favorite buffs of any of the pathfinder classes: favored terrain.

I’m sure anyone familiar with 3.5, upon hearing the name of the ability, has already figured out what it does, and realized just how much it was needed. But allow me to give the specifics.

At 3rd level, a ranger may select a type of terrain from the Favored Terrains table. The ranger gains a +2 bonus on initiative checks and Knowledge(Geography), Perception, Stealth, and Survival checks when he is in this terrain. A ranger traveling through his favored terrain normally leaves no trail and cannot be tracked (though he may leave a trail if he so chooses.)

At 8th level, and every five levels thereafter, the ranger may select an additional favored terrain. In addition, at each such interval, the skill bonus and initiative bonus in any one favored terrain (including the one just selected, if so desired) increases by +2.

Yes. Yes. Ten thousand times yes. A million times yes. This is perfect for rangers. Thank you, Paizo.

Ranger HD has been increased from 8 to 10, which I fully approve of. If Aragorn was a ranger, they deserve as much HD as a fighter gets for sure.

Rather than an animal companion, players can choose between an animal companion, or the ability to grant half their favored enemy bonus to allies within 30 feet. I do like the idea of Rangers having animal companions, but I like having options, so bravo on this one as well, Paizo.

The “Combat Style” paths available to Rangers in 3.5 (Dual Wielding, or Ranged) has been replaced by “Combat Style Feats.” Which is a small list of feats which the ranger can select from every few levels. Again, it would be possible to use this ability to do the same thing 3.5 offered, but you also have the option of doing something a little more personal for your character.

Rangers also have a cool new ability called “Quarry.” Essentially, it allows them to designate a target, and essentially swear to kill/capture/something that target. The ranger gains bonuses on tracking their Quarry, attacking their Quarry, and critting against their quarry.

At level 20, Rangers gain the ability to potentially one-shot a favored enemy once per day.


Rogues are my favorite class, easily. I don’t get to be a player as often as I would like, but I can count the number of times I’ve played a non-rogue on my fingers. On one of my non-rogue characters, I even had to multiclass into Rogue, because the GM was having trouble designing challenges for me due to the break in pattern.

First change to the class is that it’s bumped up from D6 HD to a D8. Woo!

Rogues were already a class which got a new ability at very nearly every level, but Pathfinder has still mixed things up a bit.

The biggest change to the class are Rogue Talents. In 3.5, starting at level 10, and every 3 levels thereafter, the Rogue was able to choose from a list of special abilities which functioned a little bit like rogue-only feats.

In Pathfinder, the Special Abilities have been renamed Rogue Talents, you get your first one at level 2, and you get a new one every 2 levels after that. This is a massive boost for the class.

A few abilities which Rogues used to get as they leveled have been turned into Rogue Talents to balance out this buff. But, as with many other classes, it’s not hard to build a rogue based on the 3.5 progression model.


As I mentioned with the Cleric, Spellcasters were the big problem in 3.5, with regards to class balance. After the first few levels, they simply outpaced the other classes. So for the most part, casters haven’t been buffed. Both Sorcerers and Wizards have had their HD increased to D6, and gotten a few more options for themselves. But beyond that, they are largely the same.

Sorcerers have lost the ability to summon familiars. They can, if they like, take a feat which would allow them to regain this talent.

The big change with Sorcerer’s is Bloodlines. In the 3.5 fluff for the class, it said “Some sorcerers claim that the blood of dragons courses through their veins.”

Paizo apparently thought that was a good idea, because every Sorcerer now selects a “Bloodline.” These indicate what kind of crazy creature fucked one of the sorcerer’s ancestors, thereby granting them their powers.

The bloodlines are extremely varied, and very cool. Everything from “Aberrant” to “Undead” is represented in the choices, and every one of those comes with a large variety of character options.

To discuss just one of those here, below is some information from the “Elemental” bloodline.

*Knowledge(Planes) is granted as a class spell.
*Bonus spells at odd numbered levels based on whatever type of element the sorcerer is related to.
*Bonus Feats (for scheduled bonus feat levels) include dodge, empower spell, improved initiative, lightning reflexes, and others.
*You can change elemental spells to match your chosen element. (ie. Fireball becomes Iceball)
*Bloodline Powers:
*–Elemental Ray: Starting at first level, you can release an elemental ray as a standard action. Deals 1d6 +1/2lvl damage of your element type.
*–Elemental Resistance: At 3rd level, you gain resist 10 against your energy type. At level 9, it becomes 20.
*–Elemental Blast: At 9th level, you can blast a 20ft radius with your elemental type, dealing 1d6 damage per level.
*–Elemental Movement: At level 15, you gain a type of movement based on your element. Air elementals, for example, get Fly(60)(Average)
*–Elemental Body: Immune to sneak attacks, crits, and any damage from your element type.

Now that I think about it, that’s actually a pretty huge buff compared to the 3.5 Sorcerer class. >.>


Wizards are exactly the same, except for two small changes.

First, Wizards now get a choice. They can either have a familiar, or if they prefer, they can have a “Bonded Object,” such as a staff, talisman, or wand. If the wizard has a bonded object, then they MUST have that object in order to cast any spells. And, once per day, it can be used to cast a spell which the Wizard did not prepare.

The other small difference is school specialization. Wizards can still opt out of specializing in a school if they wish. The 3.5 bonus of specializing is retained, though the 2 sacrificed schools are no longer “banned.” They simply cost 2 spell slots to prepare.

Specialists also gain some small bonuses from specializing. Nothing on the level of a Sorcerer’s bloodlines. But, for example, an Abjurist gains 5 energy resist against an energy type chosen every morning, which increases to 10 resist at level 11, and a complete immunity at level 20. They can also create a protective shield in a 10 foot radius which lasts a number of rounds equal to their INT modifier, and they also eventually gain energy absorption 3.

And that’s it! That’s all the Pathfinder classes, and what I think of them when compared to their 3.5 counterparts. The improvements are, almost without exception, huge improvements. I cannot wait to switch over to Pathfinder for the next game I run.

I’ll be taking a small break from my Pathfinder: First Thoughts series. Soon, though, I’ll move on to the other chapters of the book.

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22 thoughts on “Pathfinder: First Thoughts, Part 3 (Classes)”

  1. I’ll take Alhandra over Seelah on any given day. I prefer to see a more realistic depiction where the person illustrated has room to move. Besides, as the picture for paladin character creation she shouldn’t already have all the bells and whistles of the best equipment.

    1. I can understand your objections. Seelah’s armor is certainly on the bulky side. Though it’s far from approaching the level of bulk found in the Warhammer or Warcraft franchises. Personally, I think Seelah makes up for in style anything she lacks in realism.

      Seelah doesn’t have much more than starting equipment that I can see. True, full plate is normally not available to first level characters, but aside from that nothing is obviously special. Her sword and shield are stylized, to be sure, but that’s just Pathfinder’s art.

      Besides, I like to think of the class-characters to be examples of paragon members of the class, rather than examples of 1st level characters. They are there to inspire the player, not to provide an illustration of what their character should look like.

      As an aside, I checked out your tumblr a bit. A very nice fantasy art tumblog! But I did find this recent update which I found amusing within the context of your comment:

      Thanks for your comment! I really appreciate feedback, particularly on some of these old posts.

  2. Paladins had auras to begin with. Aura of Courage and a few other things. I even saw a few homebrew classes that worked exclusively on the idea of a paladin being a buffer.

    Really it goes back to just kind of the basic idea that the Paladin is an inspiring figure, a shining white knight on the battlefield who strikes down fleeing enemies en masse, you can see it in Roland and Galahad and Lancelot, even in King Arthur himself and Ivanhoe to an extent.

    Hence why it is still a complete load of bull that 4th ed allows your paladin to be evil. It spits in the definition of the word for God’s sake.

    1. I had no idea 4th ed allowed you to do that. That’s despicable. >:(

      I’m not quite sure what I was thinking when I wrote this; I knew Paladins had aura of courage prior to Pathfinder. That’s a lapse on my part.

      Thanks for commenting on an old post. I love it when that happens. =P

      1. Oh yes. As long as you are loyal to your chosen religion you keep your paladin status. They argue that paladins are champions of a religion.

        Last I checked that was the purpose of a goddamn cleric.

        No worries.

        Meh, it’s not that ol.. wait, is it June already? Jeez I thought it was March…

        1. Well, the post is from August 2011. It’s actually one of the first I ever put up on this site, back before it was even an RPG blog.

          If Paladins can be evil, what’s the point of blackguards!?

          1. Ah, figured it was February of this year.

            And there are no blackguards in 4th ed as far as I know. Though I won’t deny, Pathfinder did drop the ball in one important respect to our favorite evil knights. Anti-Paladin? Come on, you can do better than that Paizo. Blackguard was at least an archaic insult.

            Though really what upset me the most was the horrible. HORRIBLE things they did to the Forgotten Realms campaign setting.

            1. The Anti-Paladin is ridiculous, I agree. I figured Blackguard might somehow be copyrighted, much like the Beholder. (No idea how they got away with including Drow).

              Honestly I’ve never found Forgotten Realms as engaging as the other campaign settings. I’m a Greyhawk and Ravenloft fan. None the less, I’m sorry to hear Faerun was ruined =/

              1. Oh really my only beef with it is the “No willing good act” bit (It’s far easier to fall from grace than it is to rise to it) and the name. Come on, Anti-Paladin? Seriously? You guy’s can’t do better than that? Blackguard was even something they COULD use, since the term is just a very old insult. (from which the word “Blaggard” is derived, see the connection?) I mean you already copied the Dwarven Defender, Loremaster and Mystic Theurge word for word, what’s stopping you now? Or who knows, maybe they intend to make a prestige class, I dunnow.

                Drow actually comes from a Scottish word “Trow” a cognate for “Troll” and basically referred to all sorts of evil sprites and Unseelie faefolk, that and the concept of Dark Elves in general is not particularly original. Mind Flayers and Beholders on the other hand (not the concept of Beholders however, just the critter itself) was a creation of TSR, and by extension, property of Wizards.

                Basically what they did to Faerun was unforgivable. Almost every major NPC? Dead. Elminster and the Simbul are the only exceptions. And Elminster is living in the body of a woman now, the Simbul needs to eat magic items to survive or she goes insane, for some reason, half of the continent was turned into wasteland, nearly every major nation was wiped out, 4/5ths of the gods killed off, Asmodeus made INTO a god. They killed Mystra and DESTROYED the Weave, even though that contradicts the precise purpose of the Seven Sisters, who are supposed to step up in the event of Midnight’s death, and basically all magic was destroyed, the last legacy of Netheril, gone, oh and the gods who did survive were revealed to be aspects of other gods, so apparently they were never really themselves to begin with, and the pantheon was simplified even more. Oh and they advanced the timeline 100 years so, sorry guys, any player characters you had in the setting are now dead of old age even if they survived this so-called Spellplague.

                What really pisses me off personally? The fact that if some twit decided they needed an edgy, post-apocalyptic campaign setting, and it never occurred to him why not MAKE one, or better yet, why not revive one? You want post apocalypse? That’s what Dark Sun is for damn it. You don’t have to royally bork up an existing campaign setting and basically give all they players who had any kind of emotional investment in it the finger.

                You were lucky, Ravenloft and Greyhawk just got discontinued instead, they don’t bother with either anymore in so far as I know. Now it’s all about their “Points of Light” setting, which tries to make a grim dark ages gritty setting of heroes fighting evil monsters, and the real irony of that? Pathfinder STILL does better and more interesting with the Inner Sea.

    2. Having Paladins of fictional pagan deities spits on the definition of the word for /God’s/ sake.

      It’s just a game, and having one class that can be of any alignment beats having nine classes that vary only in what they call their smite-the-other-guy powers.

    1. Don’t mention it. I like a good rant, particularly when it’s not directed at me!

      Regarding the Blackguard: I love learning historical connections like that. Thank you for sharing.

      Regarding Faerun: I had originally thought that that the campaign setting books would at least be worth purchasing someday. It sounds like I may want to ignore them as well.

      As you mention, Dark Sun was already a post apocalyptic setting. And didn’t they revive it for 4th ed anyway?

      1. Huh, never had my email tell me about this reply >.>…

        No problem.

        Well… if it’s before 4th Ed, they’re worth purchasing.

        Otherwise, skip it.

        Hmm probably because WoTC wants to make a name for their own settings, and they’re trying to impress the kids, make things stupid simple so as not to intimidate new players, etc.

  3. The original use of the word paladin was in relation to the Knights that were chosen to fight the enemies of their church and were anointed. So by definition the paladin should be able to take any alignment. The 3.x & Pathfinder paladin is based on a Christian ideology.

    The twine is actually her bow string. The scale mail is probably held by leather straps. She Also appears in other books but in different armor. Finally there is a legal conflict with the name Blackguard in relation to a RPG class.

    Sorcerer’s with the Arcane Bloodline can get a familiar.
    Spellcasters got debuffed by their spells being reduced in their damage output.

    and drow could come from the Nordic Drow which were elves who wanted to control nature not live in harmony with it.

    1. Not so. The original use of the word Paladin, is derived from Palantine, Latin, meaning “of the palace” and referred to the twelve companions of Charlemagne. While Charlemagne and his paladins were all devout men, the intent of the word was to communicate nobility.

      I wasn’t aware that one could copyright the word Blackguard, but, eh, there you go.

      Which as I said is derived from “Trow” referring to Unseelie spirits and unkind feyfolk.

      1. Actually Paladin dates back to Greek Paladinae(rough transference into English) the were the sworn guardians/champions of the gods. It was a rare term and eventually got pulled into Catholicism and Christianity.

        They didn’t copyright the word Blackguard just the term in reference to a RPG Class. Since the class technically isn’t layed out in any full OGL book.

        And the Nordic Drow is a Short-hand term for Drowal-ayn which roughly translates from Nordic Elfish as “Walker of the Dark Paths”

          1. Uh oh.

            I guess what we got here is a clash of entomologies.

            Either could be right, or both could.

            1. It is odd both are right and wrong.. Paladinae and palatine are both the basis of the term Paladin. Where the Paladinae were mere warriors the Palatine were high ranking nobles involved in the churches. After a while the terms got fused into Paladin and in order to be a paladin you must have held a lordly title and vow a oath of loyalty to a god/goddess. With the title of Knight being easiest to obtain it became an additional cost that any title you help before fell to that of an annointed knight.

              Trow is a catch all term for Dark Fae. Drow is the term specific to Fallen/Dark Elves.

              The Blackguard class is copyrighted only in relation to any D20 OGL derived RPG…

              1. That’s entomology for you.

                And yeah it makes sense they copyrighted Blackguard in that context, but still, it’s silly.

                1. English the most convoluted language in the world… next to some Oriental languages.

                  If you look at it it should just be a paladin class with options based on if you are good or evil. No lawful/chaotic requirements.

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