Core Concept: The Cavalier seems an odd class to me, because I don’t really see the type of person described here as ever pursuing a life of adventure. They’re knights in a king’s court or elite soldiers within an army. What on earth would drive them beneath the earth searching for treasure? I suppose Pathfinder is designed in such a way as to make political or military campaigns an option, but none the less the cavalier is a little out of place. Though that doesn’t mean they don’t have some cool stuff about them.
II should point out that the Cavalier has a long history with D&D. Gygax originally created the class back in 1983, several years before I was born. Unlike many other such classes, though, I know absolutely nothing about the historical cavalier. I considered reading up on the class’s origins before making any assessments about this modern iteration of the class. However, it occurred to me that I have a unique opportunity to examine the Pathfinder cavalier without the bias of historical context, so I chose to maintain my ignorance until I have recorded my thoughts.
I would also like to point out that this is a class with no spellcasting ability. This makes me happy. Game designers too often resort to spells as a way of making supplemental classes interesting. In fact, out of the six new base classes introduced in the Advanced Player’s Guide, the cavalier is the only one without spells.
Challenge: I like challenge. It’s similar to a Paladin‘s smite ability, with some interesting quirks such as a penalty to AC against foes other than the one who has been challenged, because the cavalier’s focus is so intense. As one of the class’s core abilities, it is respectably flavorful and isn’t too complicated. I even like the way in which many of the cavalier orders modify it.
Mount: I have little of interest to say regarding the mount. At least little which isn’t better suited to being said about the “charge” mechanics below. I will point out that the class doesn’t have any alternative here. Every class in the core rulebook which has the ability to acquire an animal companion also has the option to replace their companion with some other ability. I’ve speculated in the past that this was due to the extreme complexity involved with maintaining the mount’s character sheet.
My guess would be that the mount is simply too essential to the workings of the cavalier class, meaning any alternative would be a severe detriment to the class.
Order: A cavalier’s order is a little bit like a Paladin’s oath crossed with a Sorcerer‘s bloodline. It provides the Cavalier with a customized benefits package (class skills, modifications to the challenge ability, and special abilities gained every few levels) at the cost of requiring the cavalier to adhere to a certain set of principals, or ‘edicts.’
Were it up to me, I think I would simplify the orders significantly, but as it stands I didn’t come across anything egregiously bad in any of the available Orders. And as mentioned above, the way in which they modify the challenge ability can be interesting. The paladin would benefit from something like this, actually, rather than its somewhat vague “do no evil, always do good” code of conduct.
Tactician / Greater Tactician / Master Tactician: I’m not a big fan of “Teamwork Feats.” For those who don’t know, they’re essentially feats which two players must take, which allow them to work together to achieve certain results. Most of these feats are actually pretty solid and neatly avoid my oft-cited problem with feats. My issue is that they require two players to both take the feat in order to gain any benefit from it. But what happens when the other guy who took the feat can’t make it to games anymore? Now the feat is useless unless another player can be convinced to take it.
Abilities which rely on other players are, in my opinion, a bad design choice.
With the tactics abilities, the cavalier can grant his teamwork feats to other characters. My only complaint about this is that the cavalier has to wait until “Master Tactician” before teamwork feats not gained through tactician bonus feats can be used with the tactician ability. It’s so confusing that I can barely understand my own explanation of it!
Cavalier’s Charge / Mighty Charge / Supreme Charge: The charge abilities, and their prominence in the way the cavalier develops, is likely why the cavalier doesn’t have the option to select another ability instead of getting a mount. But this begs the question: how often will the cavalier really have the opportunity to make a mounted charge?
This goes back to the misgivings I wrote about when discussing the class’s core concept. My players have spent all of their last two sessions in a dungeon where a cavalry charge would be pretty difficult to pull off. And while I know not everybody runs as many dungeons as I do, it seems strange to design a class which almost precludes dungeon play. I would feel bad if I had a cavalier in my current adventuring party, since they would often be forced to leave their mount behind.
Expert Trainer: For a class with such a heavy investment in mounted combat, it seems obvious that they would be exceptional mount trainers. A nice touch.
Banner / Greater Banner: The banner abilities are all about improving the morale of your companions. These, (and the tactics abilities, come to think of it) suggest to me that the cavalier would function best in a game which was more liberal about hirelings than Pathfinder is. As it stands I would think that any cavalier would be wise to pick up the Leadership feat as soon as possible.
I’ll also point out that abilities like “wave your banner and improve the morale of your allies” always seem ridiculous to me, if those allies are actual players rather than NPCs.
Bonus Feat: Oh, boo! I hate it when a class has a few random bonus feats tossed in just to keep it from having any dead levels.
Demanding Challenge: I’m not sure how I feel about the idea that an NPC can actually be forced to focus its attention on a given character. As a GM, I would not like to run a game where the players were able to force their enemies to act in certain ways.