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Pathfinder - Cavalier Archetypes Breakdown

Disclaimer

I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.

Temporary Note: Pathfinder Unchained and Occult Adventures were both recently added to the SRD. I'm excited to explore them, and I am actively working on adding their contents to my collection of handbooks. I appreciate your patience while I make these changes.

Archetypes

Beast Rider

This is a linear improvement to the Cavalier. Giving up Heavy Armor proficiency can be fixed with a feat, and Expert Trainer is fairly useless. The ability to have something cool like a dinosaur for a mount adds a ton of options to your Cavalier.

Armor Proficiency: Giving up heavy armor is annoying, but you can fix it with a feat if you can't afford to invest in dexterity.

Exotic Mount (Ex): This opens up the Animal Companion list for your choice of mount, and specifies exactly which animals can be used as a mount. For help selecting your mount, see my practical guide to animal companions. The additional ability to make other attacks in place of hoof attacks is an excellent addition to effects like Trample and Overrun.

Replaced Features: Mount, Proficiencies, Expert Trainer

Compatible Archetypes: Emissary, Gendarme, Honor Guard, Luring Cavalier

Daring Champion

Unlike most Cavaliers, the Daring Champion is a non-mounted archetype, and depends on Weapon Finesse. Daring Champion also introduces the Swashbuckler's fantastic Panache ability, and several Swashbuckler Deeds with which to use it.

Champion's Finesse makes this archetype a fantastic option for a one-level class dip for characters who want to use Weapon Finesse and Combat Expertise, but don't want to have enough intelligence for Combat Expertise.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: The Daring Champion uses Weapon Finesse, and should have enough Dexterity that medium armor is a safe option. Don't pick up a buckler unless it's masterwork, or the -1 armor check penalty will inhibit your attacks. Also remember that Nimble gives you a free, permanent Dodge bonus to AC while wearing light armor, so pick up a Mithral Breastplate as soon as you can afford it.

Champion's Finesse (Ex): This is a fantastic option for a class dip for a ton of builds. You can use Weapon Finesse with any light or one-handed piercing weapons, which includes things like heavy picks and spiked heavy shields. The ability to use Charisma in place of Intelligence for Combat Feats means that you can get Combat Expertise without the requisite 13 intelligence and pick up all of the cool combat maneuver feats which require it. Remember that Slashing Grace allows you to treat your selected slashing weapon as piercing for feats and such, so you can use a scimitar or with sawtooth sabres if you plan to use two-weapon fighting.

Nimble (Ex): Free AC is great. Remember that Mithral versions of medium armor count as light, so pick up a Mithral Breastplate.

Panache and Deeds (Ex): All of the best low level Swashbuckler Deeds. You won't have as many options for using your Panache as really Swashbuckler, but that gives you more points to dedicate to the few Deeds that you do get.

Advanced Deeds (Ex): Some of the options are very situational, but as a whole this set of deeds give you some very versatile options.

Champion's Weapon Mastery (Ex): Your keen rapier now has 14-20/x3 crits. That's pretty fantastic.

Replaced Features: Cavalier's Charge, Expert Trainer, Mighty Charge, Mount, Proficiencies, Supreme Charge

Compatible Archetypes: None

Emissary

If you don't like the Tactician ability, Emissary is a good reason to get rid of it. Emissary gives up Banner and Tactician in favor of some excellent abilities to increase the Cavalier's mobility, and a few free feats that any good mounted build should take anyway. There is some overlap with the Gendarme, but where the Gendarme is all about charging, the Emissary is all about mobility.

Armor Proficiency: Giving up heavy armor is annoying, but you can fix it with a feat if you can't afford to invest in dexterity.

Bonus Feats: None of those feats are worth taking, but it doesn't hurt you to have them.

In or Out of the Saddle (Ex): Free feat! Potentially worth a class dip for mounted characters using other classes. Tactician is hard to use, so trading it for a feat which you would need anyway is great. The ability to move at normal speed in medium armor is a nice consolation prize when you're not mounted.

Battlefield Agility (Ex): Mobility is nice for charging past enemies to hit something important. Giving up Banner might seem disappointing, but morale bonuses are the most common bonuses in the game.

Mounted Acrobatics (Ex): Trick Riding allows you to use Ride in place of your mount's AC an additional time per round, which is excellent. The ability to use Trick Riding while wearing light armor is fantastic.

Mounted Dervish (Ex): Mounted Skirmisher is basically a given for mounted builds. You can't use it with a charge, but that doesn't make it any less amazing.

Erratic Charge (Ex): Get an extra attack, then stick your lance in something with Spirited Charge.

Replaced Features: Tactician, Banner, Greater Tactician, Greater Banner, Supreme Charge

Compatible Archetypes: Beast Rider, Honor Guard

Gendarme

The Gendarme can get Spirited Charge at first level, and that alone justifies the existence of the archetype. Spirited Charge is the core mechanic of most mounted melee builds, and the Gendarme is an excellent way to go about it. You give up Tactician for better bonus feats, but you get to keep Banner, unlike the Emissary.

Bonus Feats: Limiting your bonus feats limits your options, but the list of feats make sense of the archetype. You get bonus feats at 1st, 5th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 20th level, so you will take all 7 of the feats as bonus feats unless you take them as normal feats. However, because you need many of the feats to make your build make sense, you probably want to take them early. I'm not 100% certain what happens when you are down to Spring Attack and don't have the prerequisites, and the eratta and FAQ haven't addressed it. If I were the GM, I might allow the Cavalier to skip any feats for which the Cavalier does not qualify.

Transfixing Charge (Ex): Similar to Supreme Charge, but more damage instead of the Stunned effect.

Replaced Features: Tactician, Bonus Feat, Greater Tactician, Master Tactician, Supreme Charge

Compatible Archetypes: Beast Rider, Honor Guard

Honor Guard

This is an archetype for NPCs. A player who takes this can expect to spend all of their turns using Aid Another and standing still.

Sworn Defense (Ex): Very cool flavor-wise, but the bonus is pathetic.

Intercept (Ex): Nice for protecting your target, and it gives you an obvious action to use every turn.

Warding Charge (Ex): A free charge on your enemies turn is fantastic.

Defensive Challenge (Ex): Nice debuff, but the bonus is very small for such a high level abulity.

Replaced Features: Challenge, Cavalier's Charge, Mighty Charge, Demanding Challenge

Compatible Archetypes: Beast Rider, Emissary, Gendarme, Musketeer, Strategist

Luring Cavalier

Luring Cavalier is an attempt to make the Cavalier into a mounted archer, while simultaneously making it some kind of aggro defender. While the attempt is certainly noble, and contains some good ideas, the Luring Cavaliers most notable abilities don't work well until 20th level.

Far Challenge (Ex): Basically the Cavalier's challenge, but you can deal the bonus damage with ranged attacks, and your target gets a +4 bonus to hit you. Note that you don't get your order modification to your challenge until you are hit with a melee attack by the target of your challenge.

Careful Aim (Ex): Unless you're using a firearm, you're probably using a Longbow with 100+ range, so you should have enough range that you don't need to worry about it.

Infuriating Aim (Ex): Because this only applies to attacks made at your highest base attack bonus, you get your first attack and your extra attack from Rapid Shot. However, the best critical threat range you will find is with a crossbow, which means your best option is a crossbow. And if your best ranged weapon option is a crossbow, you are a very sad archer. If you can somehow make this ability reliable (keen crossbow), it's fantastic.

Versatile Challenge (Ex): By now you are very heavily invested in ranged combat, and switching to melee would be a lethal mistake. However, this may mean that you can reactivate Far Challenge after getting hit with a melee attack.

Supreme Aim (Ex): You spent 20 levels trying to find a way to make your abilities useful, and you get handed one at level 20. All of those feats and optimization choices suddenly don't matter.

Replaced Features: Challenge, Cavalier's Charge, Mighty Charge, Supreme Charge

Compatible Archetypes: Beast Rider, Musketeer, Strategist

Musketeer

The musketeer gives up the Cavalier's mount in favor of firearms. While it is nice the other Cavalier abilities are left in place, firearms simply aren't useful enough to justify how much damage this does to the Cavalier. The description of the archetype suggests that you should start fights with a gun then switch to melee, but there is nothing in the archetype to support that, and Pathfinder generally doesn't support switch-hitting like that.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Giving up Heavy Armor is unfortunate, but you get firearm proficiency for free, and you get access to feats like Weapon Specialization and Point-Blank Master.

Gifted Firearm (Ex): You get a free gun and Gunsmithing like many firearm-centric classes and archetypes. The unique part is the focus ability. At 8th level you get to go into focus mode and add some cool abilities which replicate feats and weapon enhanhcements. However, these abilities are generally small enhancements, so they won't go a long way improve your effectiveness. At level 20 you can ignore reload times, which would be great if Rapid Reload didn't already let you reload a pistol as a free action.

Swift Powder (Ex): Rapid Reload is a requirement for anyone using firearms. Getting it for free is nice. The added a ability to reload a musket once as a free action is nice, but you don't get it until fairly high level.

Replaced Features: Mount, Expert Trainer

Compatible Archetypes: Honor Guard, Luring Cavalier

Standard Bearer

Standard Bearer focuses on the Cavalier's Banner ability. Banner is nice, and provides a decent buff, but it's not cool enough or useful enough to support an archetype devoted to it. Standard Bearer is lacklust, and trades in the Cavalier's combat abilities for some incredibly modest buffs which you don't receive until high enough level that they are useless.

Banner (Ex): Decent buff, and easy to use. Getting it early is nice.

Mount (Ex): Waiting until level 5 to get you mount is annoying, but it doesn't make your mount any less awesome.

Banner of Solace (Ex): This is cool, but at 11th level it should provide a considerably larger bonus, or be usable more than once per day.

Awesome Pennon (Ex): Constant ongoing bonuses are great, but morale bonuses are the most common, and at this level a +1 bonus is nothing. The bonuses to saves are nice, but situational.

Replaced Features: Mount, Banner, Mighty Charge, Supreme Charge

Compatible Archetypes: Strategist

Strategist

The whole of this archetype is propped up by Drill Instructor. Without affecting the Cavalier's combat abilities, Strategist gives the Cavalier some excellent ways to use and share teamwork feats. If you enjoy teamwork feats, this is a great choice for a Cavalier.

Tactician (Ex): Tactician is hard enough to use without adding a uses per day limitation.

Drill Instructor (Ex): Tactician wishes it were this good. This ability applies to any teamwork feat you know, which allows you to share cool feats like Coordinated Charge with allies who can't get the feats on their own. Keep in mind that this consumes one of your very limited number of Challenge uses.

Tactical Advantage (Ex): This slightly mitigates the fact that you wasted a standard action to use Tactician in combat, but it comes very late in the game.

Strategic Supremacy (Ex): Have you ever encountered enemies with Teamwork feats? Neither have I.

Replaced Features: Tactician, Expert Trainer, Greater Banner, Bonus Feat (18th)

Compatible Archetypes: Honor Guard, Luring Cavalier, Standard Bearer