Pathfinder Class Analysis 5: Fighter


Valeros, Paizo's Iconic Fighter.
Valeros is better than Regdar and Tordek put together. I will fighter you on this.

Core Concept: Nobody will agree with me, but fighters are the most fundamental class in Dungeons and Dragons. Every other PC class could be dropped from the game, and it would still work just fine. Of course, the game is better with several classes to choose from. Suffice to say that I approve of the Fighter’s core concept.

Which is part of why the Fighter’s treatment in D&D 3.x was so disappointing, and why the class’ revitalization in Pathfinder remains (in my view) one of Paizo’s greatest triumphs in designing that product. In fact the fighter class is so close to perfect, that I fear this post may end up being really short.

Bonus Feats: There are problems with the feats system, and since “moar feets” is a class feature of the fighter, the fighter inherits some of these problems. However I’ve already written at great length about the feat system in Pathfinder and what I think should be done with it, so I won’t re-hash old content just to pad out this post.

What I will say is that the fighter feats tend to be some of the stronger feats. Most of them improve upon an ability which is explicitly already available to all players; such as two weapon fighting, improved bull rush, and combat expertise.

So while Fighters certainly suffer from the failings of the feat system, those failings are not as severe as they might have been for a different class.

Bravery: On any other class, I might call this a filler ability. It has all the hallmarks of one: it’s a minor bonus which only applies in a very specific situation. It’s the kind of ability which Paizo added to many classes in an attempt to remove all of the ‘dead levels’ where players didn’t receive any interesting upgrades.

A +1 to saves against fear every four levels doesn’t seem as trivial on the fighter as it would on another class, though. Perhaps that’s because I like the way the fighter is put together, and am thus inclined to view everything about it in a more positive light. I wouldn’t completely discount that idea, but I have an alternative theory.

The fighter has much fewer abilities than other classes in the game. Counting the bonus feats, fighters have a grand total of 6 special abilities. Compare that to the Druid’s 14! When a fighter gets a +1 to saves against fear, it’s special. It represents the fact that the character has spent a lot of time in the very thick of combat, and cannot easily be frightened.

When a Druid gets +2 to Knowledge(Nature) checks, it’s just another piece of class-related minutia that gets tossed upon an ever growing pile of stuff the player will forget to use when it’s relevant.

Armor Training: This is a perfect ability. I know I linked to it, but I’m going to write it out here for all of my non-Pathfinder playing readers, that they might admire its elegance”

“Starting at 3rd level, a fighter learns to be more maneuverable while wearing armor. […] reduces the armor check penalty by 1 (to a minimum of 0) and increases the maximum Dexterity bonus allowed by his armor by 1. Every four levels thereafter (7th, 11th, and 15th), these bonuses increase by +1 each time, to a maximum of -4 reduction of the armor check penalty and a +4 increase of the maximum Dexterity bonus allowed. In addition, a fighter can also move at his normal speed while wearing medium armor. At 7th level, a fighter can move at his normal speed while wearing heavy armor.”

To sum up: fighters gain an expertise with armor which goes beyond simple proficiency. They can dance a jig in full plate and look good doing it.

In 3.X, fighters suffered from being essentially a blank slate of a class. The designer’s intention was that each player would build their own fighter, and I can respect that idea. But they inadvertently made a class which had no personality whatsoever. And it didn’t help that they severely underperformed according to the rules as written.

Armor Training is an ability unique to the fighter. It’s the kind of ability other classes become envious of, and it was accomplished without increasing the armor’s AC bonus even a tiny bit. That’s the kind of ability which makes the game interesting to me.

Weapon Training: While I think this ability is a great addition to the fighter class, it’s much more pedestrian than armor training. The longer I play tabletop games, the less interested I am in performing basic arithmetic.

Functionally, it’s nice that a fighter can become specialized in a certain group of weapons, and grow ever more proficient at using them. It just doesn’t get me excited. As I may have said before in this series, I like dramatic abilities. The type which sound game-breaking when you read them. Some potential alternatives to numerical bonuses, off the top of my head:

  • When attacking with X weapon, treat all enemies as flat footed.
  • When attacking with X weapon, all attacks are touch attacks.
  • When attacking with X weapon, a roll of Y or higher is always a hit. (The monster’s AC is 30, but I’m using a longsword, which is my specialty, so all attack rolls of 25 or higher hit).
  • Unique benefits related to the weapon group. Bows allow +50% range increments, flails grant an automatic success on attempts to  grapple a foe with the weapon. Blades can have the numerical bonus, so it’s still available to those who want it.

Armor Mastery: I like the idea of armor as damage reduction anyway, so this works fine for me.

Weapon Mastery: This is the kind of thing I’d like to see for Weapon Training; but it’s a perfectly adequate capstone ability.

I guess this didn’t end up being all that short after all. I should never underestimate my own ability to blather.

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13 thoughts on “Pathfinder Class Analysis 5: Fighter”

  1. I agree with you regarding the fighter being the most fundamental class.

    I still have issues with weapon specialization rules. I have yet to see a system that I like. They tend to introduce bonus inflation problems, and discourage pragmatic weapon use.

    I wish I was more versed in the 3E version of the class so that I could appreciate the compare and contrast done here. To be honest, I probably unfairly assume that 3.0, 3.5, and PF are all pretty much the same thing.

    1. I don’t even think it would be that hard to make a more interesting weapon specialization system. It would just be a lot more work to balance–but work well worth doing.

      The 3.0 and 3.5 versions of the class were nothing but bonus feats, as seen on the SRD ( The fighter is probably one of the most dramatic changes between 3.X and Pathfinder.

      Taken together, the changes between 3.0 and Pathfinder have been dramatic, but might not seem so dramatic if you aren’t intimately familiar with the rules. I would wager that there’s more difference between OD&D and AD&D than there is between 3.0 and PF.

  2. This is what I would like to see for fighters: every weapon has a table, with one entry per level. Each entry is something special that can be done with the weapon. So, a tenth level fighter would have 10 choices of action with every weapon. Maybe the table is a progression, maybe it’s something you can roll on every level. No entry involves a bonus to attack or damage.

    Is such a thing possible? I have no idea. Would it be too cumbersome in play? Maybe. I think something like this would truly allow the fighter to be the “weapons class” without the downsides of weapon specialization.

    1. I actually like this idea a lot. I can’t help but think that wizards and clerics get two entire chapters devoted to their whiz-bang “magic,” but fighters only get a small part of the equipment chapter devoted to weapons. It would be much more interesting if every weapon came with a half dozen consequences/benefits.

      It does lead to two potential problems, though.
      1. The Problem with Feats lurks nearby in this style of design. It’s easy to say “at level 1, you can disarm someone using a hook sword,” thus implying that the ability must exist for the weapon you’re using before you can attempt to disarm someone.
      2. I think it would, absolutely, be cumbersome in play. Imagine you’re a fighter using a longsword. You have all the information you need right there in front of you. It’s cool. Then you fight a monster, They throw a javelin at you, but miss. You pick up the javelin…and need to crack open the rulebook and find the javelin page so you can see what your options are. (I don’t think this is a dealbreaking problem, but it is a problem which must be acknowledged and addressed).

      1. It may not address all the issues, but Dark Dungeons (a Rules Cyclopedia retro-clone) has a pretty clean weapon mastery system. Any character can train in a weapon type and as they do so, they do more damage and open various special abilities with that weapon. Still sort of has the feat problem, but might work if you read the ability unlocking as not the ability to do it at all, but they ability to do it without a penalty.

        1. Regardless of whether it addresses all the issues, it sounds like a great place to look for ideas.

          I hadn’t even heard of Dark Dungeons before, thanks!

  3. I love the Pathfinder Fighter, although I think that the Fighter and the Rogue are equally fundamental; everything else can go if needs be. I actually like the idea of adjudicating things on the fly vis-a-vis weapon tricks, but then, that flies in the face of both the design of PF and my own need for consistency. The Book of Iron Might from Malhavoc Press had a somewhat complicated but excellently designed way to adjudicate tricks and such. I plan on incorporating some of that into my next document anyway, so I really can say that it’s worth a look, and it dovetails nicely with your philosophy (which I agree with) that too much shit is reliant on feats which should be free for all to attempt. I also think armor should be DR, as it is in the True20 system (which i also highly recommend).

    1. Ah, but rogues weren’t introduced until Supplement 1! The game actually did exist without them for awhile, ergo they cannot be fundamental! =P

      Thanks for your comments, and your recommendations. I don’t look at a lot of d20 stuff these days, but I’ll try to check out True20 sometime.

      Nice to see you again, by the by. Been awhile I think.

  4. See, I really (really) love the new Pathfinder Fighter, so much so that most characters I play dabble in the more martial of arts because it’s just that good now.

    One really stand out Archetype is Lore Warden, which combines nicely with some Bard (or Archaeologist) levels to round out a pretty dramatic (hah!) skillset, especially for an E6 game. I don’t much care how Fighter Archetypes don’t work well together, due to the dearth of abilities present with the class.. but eh.

    As far as the post about weapon abilities goes, when it comes to something like this (a player’s asked before) what I did was give Fighters the option of having the old Warblade’s initiator abilities in place of their Weapon Training/Weapon Mastery, sort of making Warblade into a Fighter Archetype of its own. The Tome of Battle could stand a little bit of revision (it’s not as overpowered as some make it out to be, it just makes Fighters good until mid-high levels, that is 12-16, then Wizards as always completely blow them out of the water with creative rules mongering).

    TL;DR = LS makes some excellent points and the Tome of Battle makes for some interesting Archetype work for Fighters. (With Swordsage tacked into Bard and Crusader tacked into Paladin, if I remember what I did correctly..)

    1. Any comment which can be summed up as “LS makes some excellent points” is a good comment in my book. =P

      I remember really liking the Warblade when the Book of Weaboo Fightan Magic came out–even though that book was essentially a prototype for 4th edition. I really ought to take a look at it again sometime.

  5. I like the idea of bonus effects based on your weapon specialization. It also gives more character to the character and their weapon’s type. It was one of the things 4th Edition did well.

  6. I still find the Fighter in Pathfinder lacking. It’s absolutely improved over it’s 3.x counterpart, but it’s still missing flavour to make it stand out.

    Fighter-only feats have crept into other classes (they just get those options later than Fighter), so what was meant to be something unique to the Fighter is already being washed into other classes.

    Armor training should allow Fighters to ignore movement speed decreases as well, right off the bat (not just for dwarves).

    Fighters should also be able to make use of their multiple attacks even when they move. This is what Fighters do. They fight. And they’re really, really good at it. This should be unique to Fighters and should follow their weapon training track.

  7. How about this for a bonus on blunt weapons like the mace or hammer.
    You have mastered your hammer to such an extent that in many cases armor won’t help your opponent. Whenever you attack if your roll is less than their AC, but still greater than both their touch and flat-footed AC then you still hit.
    This is a bit more realistic without completely replacing AC bonus with dr bonus.

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