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Pathfinder - Practical Guide to Vital Strike

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.

Introduction

As characters grow in level, their Base Attack Bonus (BAB) increases. With higher BAB, characters gain additional attacks when making a full attack action. Fighter type classes with full BAB progression get their first iterative attack at 6th level. The addition of a second attack vastly improves the character's effectiveness in combat, and can potentially double the character's damage.

Using your iterative attacks typically requires a Full Attack action. If you need to move to reach your enemy, this means you must sacrifice your attacks in order to move. This tactical limitation is one of the biggest shortcomings of melee fighter characters.

Enter Vital Strike. Vital Strike allows you to forego additional attacks in favor of making a single attack with high damage. Because Vital Strike only multiplies the weapon's base damage (just the dice; no enhancements), Vital Strike seems like a poor tactical option. However, with some focus, Vital Strike can be an excellent option around which to center your character.

Vital Strike Feats

The Vital Strike feat tree is simple compared to feat-starved trees like Two-Weapon Fighting. At only 5 feats, any fighter character could make use of Vital Strike and still have room in their feat list for other interesting feats.

Benefits of Vital Strike

Drawbacks of Vital Strike

Choosing Your Weapon

Because Vital Strike works based on your weapon's damage die, you want to select a weapon with the biggest damage die possible, often at the expense of other considerations. Critical threat range and multipliers can generally be ignored, as the bulk of your damage will not be multiplied by Vital Strike.

Because weapon die is so critical to Vital Strike, it is not recommended for small creatures. All weapons below are assumed medium unless otherwise noted. Weapons at larger sizes are included to account for effects like Enlarge Person, Gravity Arrow, and Lead Blades. Keep in mind that Enlarge Person can be stacked with Gravity Arrow, Lead Blades, or the Impact weapon enhancement to do damage as though you were using a weapon two sizes larger than your character's normal size, but Gravity Arrow and Lead Blades do not stack with Impact. If you are already using a weapon one size larger than your character, you can effectively wield a one-handed weapon three sizes larger, and I encourage you to do so. It both looks and feels awesome.

Weapons
Weapon Base VS VS+DS IVS IVS+DS GVS GVS+DS
Aklys (Huge) 3d6 (10.5) 6d6 (21) 6d6+6 (27) 9d6 (31.5) 9d6+6 (37.5) 12d6 (42) 12d6+6 (48)
Aklys (Gargantuan) 4d6 (14) 8d6 (28) 8d6+6 (34) 12d6 (42) 12d6+6 (48) 16d6 (56) 16d6+6 (62)
Aklys (Colossal) 5d6 (17.5) 10d6 (35) 10d6+6 (41) 15d6 (52.5) 15d6+6 (58.5) 20d6 (70) 20d6+6 (76)
Bastard Sword (Large) 2d8 (9) 4d8 (18) 4d8+4 (22) 6d8 (27) 6d8+6 (33) 8d8 (36) 8d8+6 (42)
Bastard Sword (Huge) 3d8 (13.5) 6d8 (27) 6d8+6 (33) 9d8 (40.5) 9d8+6 (46.5) 12d8 (54) 12d8+6 (60)
Bastard Sword (Gargantuan) 4d8 (18) 8d8 (36) 8d8+6 (42) 12d8 (54) 12d8+6 (60) 16d8 (72) 16d8+6 (78)
Crossbow, Light 1d8 (4.5) 2d8 (9) 2d8+2 (11) 3d8 (13.5) 3d8+4 (17.5) 4d8 (18) 4d8+6 (24)
Crossbow, Light (Large) 2d6 (7) 4d6 (14) 4d6+4 (18) 6d6 (21) 6d6+6 (37) 8d6 (28) 8d6+6 (34)
Crossbow, Light (Huge) 3d6 (10.5) 6d6 (21) 6d6+6 (27) 9d6 (31.5) 9d6+6 (37.5) 12d6 (42) 12d6+6 (48)
Crossbow, Light (Gargantuan)* 4d6 (14) 8d6 (28) 8d6+6 (34) 12d6 (42) 12d6+6 (48) 16d6 (56) 16d6+6 (62)
Crossbow, Heavy 1d10 (5.5) 2d10 (11) 2d10+2 (13) 3d10 (14.5) 3d10+4 (18.5) 4d10 (22) 4d10+6 (28)
Crossbow, Heavy (Large) 2d8 (9) 4d8 (18) 4d8+4 (22) 6d8 (27) 6d8+6 (33) 8d8 (36) 8d8+6 (42)
Crossbow, Heavy (Huge) 3d8 (13.5) 6d8 (27) 6d8+6 (33) 9d8 (40.5) 9d8+18 (58.5) 12d8 (54) 12d8+6 (60)
Crossbow, Heavy (Gargantuan)* 4d8 (18) 8d8 (36) 8d8+6 (42) 12d8 (54) 12d8+6 (60) 16d8 (72) 16d8+6 (78)
Elven Curve Blade 1d10 (5.5) 2d10 (11) 2d10+2 (13) 3d10 (16.5) 3d10+4 (20.5) 4d10 (22) 4d10+6 (28)
Elven Curve Blade (Large) 2d8 (9) 4d8 (18) 4d8+4 (22) 6d8 (27) 6d8+6 (33) 8d8 (36) 8d8+6 (42)
Elven Curve Blade (Huge) 3d8 (13.5) 6d8 (27) 6d8+6 (33) 9d8 (40.5) 9d8+6 (46.5) 12d8 (54) 12d8+6 (60)
Falchion 2d4 (5) 4d4 (10) 4d4+4 (14) 6d4 (15) 6d4+6 (21) 8d4 (20) 8d4+6 (26)
Falchion (Large) 2d6 (7) 4d6 (14) 4d6+4 (18) 6d6 (21) 6d6+6 (27) 8d6 (28) 8d6+6 (34)
Falchion (Huge) 3d6 (10.5) 6d6 (21) 6d6+6 (27) 9d6 (31.5) 9d6+6 (37.5) 12d6 (42) 12d6+6 (48)
Greataxe 1d12 (6.5) 2d12 (13) 2d12+2 (15) 3d12 (19.5) 3d12+4 (23.5) 4d12 (26) 4d12+6 (32)
Greataxe (Large) 3d6 (10.5) 6d6 (21) 6d6+6 (27) 9d6 (31.5) 9d6+6 (37.5) 12d6 (42) 12d6+6 (48)
Greataxe (Huge) 4d6 (14) 8d6 (28) 8d6+6 (34) 12d6 (42) 12d6+6 (48) 16d6 (56) 16d6+6 (62)
Greatsword 2d6 (7) 4d6 (14) 4d6+4 (18) 6d6 (21) 6d6+6 (27) 8d6 (28) 8d6+6 (34)
Greatsword (Large) 3d6 (10.5) 6d6 (21) 6d6+6 (27) 9d6 (31.5) 9d6+6 (37.5) 12d6 (42) 12d6+6 (48)
Greatsword (Huge) 4d6 (14) 8d6 (28) 8d6+6 (32) 12d6 (42) 12d6+6 (48) 16d6 (56) 16d6+6 (62)
Katana (Large) 2d6 (7) 4d6 (14) 4d6+4 (18) 6d6 (21) 6d6+6 (27) 8d6 (28) 8d6+6 (34)
Katana (Huge) 3d6 (10.5) 6d6 (21) 6d6+6 (27) 9d6 (31.5) 9d6+6 (37.5) 12d6 (42) 12d6+6 (48)
Katana (Gargantuan) 4d6 (14) 8d6 (28) 8d6+6 (32) 12d6 (42) 12d6+6 (48) 16d6 (56) 16d6+6 (62)
Longbow 1d8 (4.5) 2d8 (9) 2d8+2 (11) 3d8 (13.5) 3d8+4 (17.5) 4d8 (18) 4d8+6 (24)
Longbow (Large) 2d6 (7) 4d6 (14) 4d6+4 (18) 6d6 (21) 6d6+6 (27) 8d6 (28) 8d6+6 (34)
Longbow (Huge) 3d6 (10.5) 6d6 (21) 6d6+6 (27) 9d6 (31.5) 9d6+6 (37.5) 12d6 (42) 12d6+6 (48)
Rapier 1d6 (3.5) 2d6 (7) 2d6+2 (9) 3d6 (10.5) 3d6+4 (14.5) 4d6 (14) 4d6+6 (20)
Rapier (Large) 1d8 (4.5) 2d8 (9) 2d8+2 (11) 3d8 (13.5) 3d8+4 (17.5) 4d8 (18) 4d8+6 (24)
Rapier (Huge) 2d6 (7) 4d6 (14) 4d6+4 (18) 6d6 (21) 6d6+6 (27) 8d6 (28) 8d6+6 (34)
* - See "A note on Crossbows", below.

A note on Crossbows

Depending on GM interpretation, you may or may not be able to use crossbows which are larger than your size. The Light and Heavy crossbows both say "you can shoot, but not load, a [light/heavy] crossbow with one hand at a [-2/-4] penalty on attack rolls." Because you can fire them one-handed, it stands to reason that you could use a weapon one size larger at the normal -2 penalty, just as you can use a Large longsword at the same penalty.

Some GMs may rule than you can fire an oversized crossbow, but cannot reload it because it requires to hands to reload. I have always thought that you need two hands to reload a crossbow because you need to hold the crossbow while drawing back the string. This requirement isn't changed by the weapon's size relative to the player: you still need two hands to load a crossbow too small for you, so why should you need more than two hands to load a crossbow too large for you?

Other Feats

Class-Dependent Damage Dice

Brawlers, Monks, and Warpriests all use their own damage die progressions in place of weapon damage. These progressions present some interesting math. When relying on weapons, your two damage-increasing factors are your weapon's effective size and your best Vital Strike feat in the chain. Class-dependent damage scaling adds a third factor, dramatically complicating the math.

To summarize the information below: All of them are bad. Vital Strike becomes an occasionally amuzing mechanic that eats 3 or 4 feats with no meaningful payoff.

Brawler/Unchained Monk

Your best bet for Vital Strike and level-dependent scaling. Weapon users will get access to Enlarge Person and Impact weapons at roughly the same rate that you will, so unfortunately that means that you won't match an oversized bastard sword until 16th level, and won't exceed it until 8th. If you really need a meaningful way to spend Standard actions, Vital Strike is fine, but you can do better with style feats.

Monk

Don't do this. Monks have 2/3 BAB so not only are you handicapped by your relatively poor damage die,

Warpriest

The warpriest's damage progression is weird. It's a little bit weaker than Monk, so you won't match and oversized bastard sword until 20th level. The damage die is also dependent on your character's size, not on the weapon's size, so you can use one-handed weapons without sacrificing damage. Unfortunately, you need to compare your own damage output to a normal-sized bastard sword, which you won't match until 10th level, and if you add Impact to that comparable bastard sword you won't match it until 20th level.