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Pathfinder - Cad Fighter Handbook

Last Updated: October 15, 2018


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While not particularly powerful, the Cad fighter archetype is one of my favorites. The idea of a fighter who forgoes traditional training in favor of dirty tricks seems like a fun concept. The Cad is excellent at locking down high priority targets like casters or major enemies, but isn't spectacular at damage output. if combined with allies who can benefit from crowd control effects (rogues, etc.), the Cad can be a major asset to the party.

Fighter Class Features

Hit Points: Between your d10 hit points and your heavy armor, you are very durable.

Base Attack Bonus: The biggest and best in the game.

Saves: Your fortitude saves are good, but you will need to invest in your other saves.

Proficiencies: You get the best proficiencies of any class.

Skills: Fighters only get 2+ skills, and very few of your skill choices are worthwhile, so you will likely dump intelligence.

Bonus Feats: The main reason to play a fighter. Everything a fighter would want to take is a combat feat, and there are enough options that you never have to play the same fighter twice.

Armor Mastery: DR/- is great, and you should always be wearing armor.

Archetype Features

Proficiencies: The Cad gives up proficiency in medium armor, heavy armor, and tower shields. It may be worth spending a feat on medium armor proficiency so that you can use mithral breastplate, but without Armor Training, you won't be able to move at full normal speed in medium and heavy armor. You need to get into combat quickly, so your movement speed is important.

Skills: The Cad add Acrobatics, Bluff, Escape Artist, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth to their skill list. These fit the flavor of the Cad well, but the fighter's limited skill points don't give him a lot of room to enjoy these bonuses.

Dirty Maneuvers: This is the Cad's replacement for bravery, and fits the flavor of the archetype perfectly. Disarm and Dirty Trick are crucial for the Cad, and this provides an extremely rare bonus to the Dirty Trick maneuver. Steal can be situationally useful, but I find that there are generally more important things to do in combat than pick people's pockets.

Catch Off-Guard: Catch Off-Guard is a weird feat, but can be very powerful in a Cad's hands. Proficiency with improvised weapons is fairly dull, but treating unarmed opponents as flat-footed opens up some options for the Cad, especially once he gets Deadly Surprise at level 7. This is particularly useful against NPC wizards/sorcerers who don't typically need weapons. Keep in mind that natural weapons count, so this isn't particularly useful against most monsters.

Payback: While certainly in keeping with the flavor of the archetype, this is strictly worse than Weapon Training. The Cad is good at locking down enemies and preventing them from attacking you (or doing anything else interesting). If payback comes into play frequently, the fight likely isn't going well for you.

Deadly Surprise: Level 7 is basically christmas. At this point you should have all of the Dirty Trick feats, which is great because Deadly Surprise is probably the best thing that has ever happened to the Dirty Trick maneuver. Dirty trick is, by default, a Standard Action. With Quick Dirty Trick, you can make a single dirty trick attempt per turn in place of your attack with highest base attack bonus, a limitation which isn't placed on other combat maneuvers like Trip and Disarm. However, your foe needs to be denied their dexterity bonus to use this ability. Use Quick Dirty Trick to blind your foe, then use Deadly Surprise to pile on other status effects.

If you are planning to multiclass into other classes, now is the time to do it. Deadly Surprise is easily the defining feature of the Cad archetype, and the higher level features do little to improve your maneuvers further.

Razor-Sharp Chair Leg: Changing the damage type for your improvised weapons is cute, but rarely necessary. The 19-20 threat range with improvised weapons is nice, but isn't a game changer. It's marginally more important when you get Treacherous Blow later, but still not a huge bonus.

Craven Combatant: You're going to have Combat Expertise for your combat maneuver feats, and you will likely be using it to compensate for your lack of medium and heavy armor. If you are using combat expertise, this effectively becomes Improved Uncanny Dodge.

Sweeping Prank: At this point, you should be getting to use dirty trick frequently due to Deadly Surprise, which makes Sweeping Prank only useful on surprise rounds in which you start adjacent to two foes or in rounds in which you need to move. Even then, you could simulate this effect by using Cleave and have the added benefit of dealing damage. At 17th level you can use this ability against 2+dex modifier targets. This is marginally better, but still only situationally useful.

Treacherous Blow: Because you're limited to a single immediate action per round, this won't let you use Dirty Trick more often, it simply provides a way to use it when your target isn't denied their attack bonus.

Ultimate Payback: This is a great improvement on Payback, but isn't going to be particularly helpful unless your build focuses on critical hits.


Str: Any melee character's bread-and-butter.

Dex: Potentially more important than Constitution on a Cad, dexterity adds to your relatively low AC, improves your CMD, and improves your reflex saves. You need at least 13 for Combat Expertise. Of course, if you need AC you can always use Combat Reflexes.

Con: You have d10 hit points and strong fortitude saves, but more constitution can only help.

Int: You need 13 for Combat Expertise, but won't benefit much from anything past that. 14 might be nice for skill points, but isn't worth the points if you're using point buy.

Wis: The only real benefit you get here is will saves. While will saves are certainly important, your other abilities need more focus. Plus, you can always take Iron Will if you need it.

Cha: Dump to 7. Completely useless on a Cad. Your archetype is about fighting dirty, not about making friends.

25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy 15 Point Buy Elite Array
  • Str:18
  • Dex:14
  • Con:12
  • Int:13
  • Wis:12
  • Cha:7
  • Str:17
  • Dex:14
  • Con:12
  • Int:13
  • Wis:10
  • Cha:7
  • Str:15
  • Dex:14
  • Con:12
  • Int:13
  • Wis:12
  • Cha:7
  • Str:15
  • Dex:14
  • Con:12
  • Int:13
  • Wis:10
  • Cha:8


Unfortunately, there aren't any races that give you bonuses to Dirty Trick. Instead, look for races with bonus strength and/or bonus feats.

Dwarf: Dwarves are excellent fighters normally. Bonus Constitution and Wisdom make them very durable, a +2 on saves against spells is fantastic, and Darkvision is always helpful. However, they don't bring anything specifically useful to the Cad archetype.

Elf: The bonuses to Dexterity and Intelligence are nice, but the penalty to constitution is problematic. If you plan a weird class dip into a spellcasting class, Elf could be a good choice. Otherwise, Elf doesn't really help the Cad at all.

Gnome: Gnomes are small, which gives them a -2 penalty to the ever-important CMB. The strength penalty brings another -1, rendering them wholly useless for a Cad.

Half-Elf: That variable ability bonus goes straight into strength. If you are planning a class dip, Half-Elf is a good choice due to Multitallented. Their other racial bonuses are situationally useful, and there are lots of good choices for alternate racial traits.

Half-Orc: Variable ability bonus to strength. Beyond the ability bonus, Darkvision is really the only thing Half-Orcs bring to the table. About on-par with Dwarves, but certainly nothing to get excited about.

Halfling: Halflings suffer the same issues that Gnomes do. Their racial skill bonuses and dexterity bonus are mildly useful, but not nearly enough to justify a net -3 to CMB.

Human: I can't hear you over that +2 bonus to strength. The real trade-off here is whether you want a bonus feat or the Half-Elf multitallented trait. The human skill bonus matters very little for a fighter, even with the Cad archetype, but a bonus feat opens up a lot of options. If you aren't planning a class dip, you would be hard-pressed to find a better option than Human.



With only 2+ skill points, your options are somewhat limited. Cad gives you some extra skill options, but you have limited ability to cover all of your available skills. You will need 13 intelligence for Combat Expertise, so you're probably looking at 3 skill points, maybe 4 if you're human.


Like any fighter, the Cad depends heavily on feats. Fortunately, you get plenty of them. With normal feats at every odd-numbered level and bonus feats at every eaven-numbered level, you get a feat at every level (and two/three at first).


Any fighter is defined at least partially by their choice of weapon. The Cad is no exception. Since you are built for combat maneuvers, we want weapons that will give us bonuses to our favorite combat maneuvers. At levels 15 and higher, a high critical threat range can be helpful to take advantage of Treacherous Blow.

Magic Items



Wondrous Items

Multiclassing and Prestige Classes

Example Build - Fist and Flail

Why would anyone ever fight fair?

Take a buckler, a flail, and a spiked gauntlet. Most of the time you will be fighting with the flail two-handed (and taking the -1 penalty to attacks from your buckler unless you think to take it off first) at low levels, but options will evolve over time as you acquire feats. The Cad really hits its stride at level 7 when he receives Deadly Surprise, so we will need to find ways to make yourself important and useful at low levels.


We will assume the 25-point buy abilities suggested above, but the other suggested abilities can also use this build without any problems.


For this example build, we will use a Half-Elf with the suggested ability scores described above. For the multitalented racial ability, we will select Rogue as our second favored class so that we can get some extra benefits out of a rogue class dip, but your choice of race matters fairly little.


This build nets 3 skill ranks per level (2+1 for intelligence). We will maximize Acrobatics, and spread the rest of the points between Climb, Knowledge (Dungeoneering), Stealth, Survival, and Swim over our first few levels in order to get the +3 class skill bonus. Once we have a rank in all of our skills, we can put those extra 2 ranks into Perception every level until we're caught up.

When we hit level 8 and multiclass into Rogue, Perception will become a class skill and get that wonderful +3 bonus. Use the rogue skill ranks to diversify your skill set further, or to address gaps in your party's skill set. You're not going to supplant a dedicated skill monkey, but you're a great candidate to Assist Other on skill checks.


Surprise Weapon (Combat) and Elven Reflexes (Racial).


Level Feat(s) Notes and Tactics
1 - Fighter
  • Combat Expertise
  • Power Attack

At first level, you're a fairly generic sword-and-board figher. Switch between Combat Expertise and Power Attack as the situation warrants. Remember that you can forego your buckler's bonus to AC in order to ignore the -1 penalty that it applies to your attacks. Power Attack becomes a high risk, high reward option for you. If you are flanking or your opponent is otherwise vulnerable, use your flail two-handed and power attack. Otherwise, hide behind Combat Expertise.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

2 - Fighter
  • Improved Trip

At 2nd level, you now have +2 BaB, +4 strength bonus, and a +2 bonus to trip/disarm with your flail. At level 2, a +8 bonus to CMB is fairly fantastic. Adding another +2 from improved trip makes you very reliable. Tripping a low level opponent can be crippling, depending on the rest of your party. A +4 bonus to attack a prone foe can make or break important attacks at nearly any level.

Combat Expertise/Power Attack penalties apply to Combat Maneuver checks, as they are technically attacks. For poorly armored targets, use power attack on the turn that you trip. When they try to stand up, you can apply your power attack bonus to the opportunity attack, and +4 bonus to attack prone foes will offset the penalty. Also remember that opportunity attack take place before the action which provokes them, so you can't trip the target to prevent them from standing.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

3 - Fighter
  • Improved Disarm

3rd level brings the "Catch Off-Guard" bonus feat, which allows you to treat unarmed opponents as flat-footed when you use an improvised weapon. Disarm opponents using your flail, then hold your flail in you off-hand and use your buckler and an improvised weapon. Treating your enemy as flat footed can cost them a good deal of AC, especially on lightly armored foes. Don't forget that enemies with natural weapons are always considered armed, so fall back on your Combat Expertise/Power Attack tactics when you see something with claws.

You can also use Improved Disarm (Standard action to make one attack), then spend your move action to retreive your enemy's weapon with your empty hand.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

4 - Fighter
  • Improved Dirty Trick

Improved Dirty trick gets us moving toward our intended Cad mechanic. However, Dirty Trick is still a standard action, and the effect can be removed with a move action even if you succeed. At this point, you may be more successful applying low-impact status effects liked Shaken or Sickened, since your enemy will be less tempted to spend time removing them. This will hopefully mean that the target will remain debuffed for a round or two, allowing your team to take advantage of the target's reduced AC and saves. If you have a rogue who gets their turn between you and the target, take a risk and go for Blind. Blinding the target will make your rogue considerably more effective.

Because Dirty Trick is a standard action, you will probably not be using it constantly. Save it for high-priority targets like solo monsters or enemy leaders so that you can maximize its effectiveness.

This is the first time that iterative attacks really come into play. Remember that Trip and Disarm can replace melee attacks, so you can use your primary hand to trip with a flail, and use your off hand to attack enemies after tripping or disarming them and have a nice advantage.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

Ability Score increase: Strength

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

5 - Fighter
  • Combat Reflexes

5th level brings the Payback ability. Try not to forget the bonus, but no one will cry if you do.

Combat Reflexes adds a lot to your ability to control the battlefield. Take attacks of opportunity to trip everything that tries to move around you. Keep in mind that Enlarge Person extends your reach, which will make you even better at controlling the area around you. If you don't have a caster in the party who can spare the time to enlarge you, first level potions only cost 50gp each.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

6 - Fighter
  • Quick Dirty Trick

Level 6 brings a lot of great things. Our first iterative attack, and Quick Dirty Trick. Quick Dirty trick lets you give up your first attack (the one with the +6 bonus) to make a Dirty Trick Attempt. Use it to entangle your target, dropping their strength and dexterity by 4 each, and thereby lowering their CMD by 4. Use your second attack to trip or disarm them while their CMD is garbage. On their turn, they can either spend their whole turn undoing what you did, or they can continue to be entangled/disarmed/tripped while they limp around trying to do something interesting. Either way, you've succeeded in hindering your target.

You also get the second bonus point from Dirty Maneuvers, which gives you a much-needed +2 to both Dirty Trick and Disarm. When combined with the +2 bonus to strength and size bonus from Enlarge Person, that's a pretty scary bonus.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

7 - Fighter
  • Greater Dirty Trick

Level 7 is the peak of the Cad's capabilities. Deadly Surprise turns you into a Dirty Trick machine, and Greater Dirty Trick makes your Dirty Tricks crippling.

If you make a single attack in a turn (perhaps as you charge into combat), make it a regular attack. Since you're more likely to hit due to your charge bonus, you're more likely to get a free Dirty Trick attempt. Use the attempt to blind your target. If they waste their standard action to remove the blind effect, they can't attack you. If they attack you, you have a 50% chance that they automatically miss, which easily covers the -2 to AC for charging.

If you make a full attack, you can either attack or trade in your primary attack for a guranteed Dirty Trick, depending on how much trouble your enemy is giving you. Either way, blind the target. Now that they're flat-footed and you get a further +2 bonus to attack them, use your secondary attack to hit them and use the free Dirty Trick to entangle them. Now they can't see, they can't move, and they have to waste a standard action to fix one of the conditions. They can't fix both in one turn.

If your target is unfortunate enough suffer multiple Dirty Trick effects, apply them in this order: Blind (easier to hit), Entangle (lowered CMD), Sickened (lower attack, damage, and saves), Shaken (lower attack and saves), Deafened. If the target is a spellcaster, consider deafening them first so that they suffer the 20% chance to fail spells with verbal components. If the target ever manages to suffer all of the above effects, they're functionally dead. Wave your flail around until they fall over.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

8 - Rogue
  • Greater Trip
  • Medium Armor Proficiency

At level 8, we multi-class into Rogue. While this sacrifices a crucial point of Base Attack Bonus, it gets us some other helpful stuff. Sneak attack is a nice way boost our fairly low damage, and the skill points are never bad. Unfortunately, there aren't any rogue archetypes which will come into play during our brief class dip.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

Ability Score increase: Strength

9 - Rogue
  • Greater Trip
  • Medium Armor Proficiency

Level 9 brings Evasion and a Rogue Trick. Take Combat Trick to get an extra combat feat. Positioning Attack could be a decent option, but it's only usable once per day. Other tricks might also be good options, but since you're not a dedicated rogue you won't see nearly as much benefit as you would like.

Greater Trip makes you hillariously effective. On your first attack, trip the target. Use the free attack of opportunity to hit them, then get a free Dirty Trick to blind them. From there, they're basically helpless as you pile on status effects and damage. Attacks of opportunity can be use to do the same combination.

At this point you can probably afford a mithral breast plate, so take medium armor proficiency to get yourself some decent armor. If you're not worried about AC, take Iron Will or Lightning Reflexes instead. Boosting your saves will fill the other in gaps in your defenses.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point

10 - Rogue

Level 10 is our final rogue level. 2d6 sneak attack damage will see a lot of application considering how frequently your targets will be blind, but level 4 doesn't offer us anything cool, and we don't want to give up more BAB at level 5.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Hit Point


At 11th level and beyond you have a lot of options. Returning to Fighter can get you useful feats, or you can explore other class options. I recommend sticking to Full-BaB classes like Barbarian or Ranger. Beware of class-level dependant abilities like Animal Companions, as they won't see a lot of use at this point. Remember to maintain your high CMB, and take every opportunity to get free attacks and Dirty Trick opportunities.

If you use the Unchained Rogue instead of the classic rogue, consider a 4th level to pick up Debilitating Injury. It is very good, even if you never advance it.