Pathfinder - The Cavalier Handbook
Last Updated: October 15, 2018
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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.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
Where the Fighter's roles are purely combative, the Cavalier is much more tactical and intellectual martial class. With an interesting mix of options, the Cavalier can succeed as a Defender, Face, or Striker, and includes a few Support abilities attached to the Cavalier's banner.
Cavalier Class Features
Hit Points: d10 hit points like nearly every other front-line class.
Base Attack Bonus: Full BAB.
Saves: With heavy armor and no need for Wisdom, the Cavalier really needs help with Reflex and Will saves.
Skills: 4+ skill ranks and all of the skills to be the party's Face, but almost no other skills. Remember that your choice of Order will add two additional class skills.
Challenge (Ex): Similar to the Paladin's Smite Evil, but the damage doesn't double against major foes, and you lose AC instead of getting a bonus to AC against the target. Note that your choice of Order adds additional effects to your Challenge.
Mount (Ex): The Cavalier's combat tactics are, as you might expect based on the name, centered around mounted combat, and the Cavalier's Mount is an essential part of those tactics. For help with the Cavalier's Mount, see my Practical Guide to Animal Companions.
Order (Ex): Cavalier Orders define the Cavalier as much as a Wizard's school defines the Wizard. Orders provide a collection of abilities and two additional class skills. For help selecting a Cavalier Order, see my Cavalier Order Breakdown.
Tactician (Ex): Teamwork Feats can be very good, but at first level you won't qualify for anything particularly interesting. For help with Teamwork Feats, see my Practical Guide to Teamwork Feats.
Cavalier's Charge (Ex): Mounted charges are the Cavalier's first and best option in combat, and this makes them even better.
Expert Trainer (Ex): The bonus to Handle Animal is nice if your GM knows (and follows as written) the mounted combat and animal rules. Animals usually freak out and run away when wounded, and you need to make Handle Animal checks to keep them in combat. This bonus to Handle Animal can help make your mount more reliable. The ability to train stuff faster is very situational.
Banner (Ex): A fairly small and situational bonus, but charging is big part of the cavalier, and You count as your own ally, so you get the bonus to charges too.
Bonus Feat: You only get 3, but bonus feats are always welcome, especially for feat-heavy builds like mounted combat.
Greater Tactician (Ex): By this level you can qualify for a lot of interesting Teamwork Feats, and granting them as a Swift Action means that you can do it at the beginning of every combat.
Mighty Charge (Ex): Doubling the threat range on your lance won't help you much, but a free combat maneuver on a successful charge can be very helpful. Even if you haven't put any effort into it, a Trip attempt will give your mount a nice +4 bonus on your mount's attacks (if any), and will make it easier to move away unchallenged. If you enemy is prone, they will also have more trouble moving out of the way of your next charge.
Demanding Challenge (Ex): If you have other weapon-based characters in the party, this is a nice way to bring down major enemies with big AC's.
Greater Banner (Ex): The bonuses against charm/compulsion covers nearly every Enchantment spell and effect. The ability to wave your banner and provide rerolls on saves is huge. You can allow rerolls against domination, poison, disease, or any number of other horrifying effects. This is especially useful against effects which only allow one save at the start of the effect.
Master Tactician (Ex): Another improvement on tactician, this time you can grant any two Teamwork Feats which you know, not just those granted as bonus feats by Tactician.
Supreme Charge (Ex): Remember that multipliers always stack additively, so if you have Spirited Charge and a lance you now deal x4 normal damage. 4x normal damage will match (or likely exceed) the damage of a fighter making a full attack with a two-handed weapon, and is considerably more reliably because you don't depend on iterative attacks made at -5/-10/-15. The ability to stun the target on a crit is nice, but with a 19-20 threat range on your lance it's hardly reliable.
The Cavalier's abilities fall somewhere between the Fighter and the Paladin. Melee combat defines the Cavalier, but Charisma helps the Cavalier function as a Face and adds to many Cavalier Order abilities.
Str: As a primarily melee character, Strength is your primary ability. You can use a lance one-handed while mounted, so the difference between 16 and 18 strength isn't big enough that you need to bend over backwards to hit 18 at level 1.
Dex: Dexterity adds to Ride and the Cavalier's bad Reflex saves, but because the Cavalier is likely in full plate you likely won't have high Dexterity.
Con: As a front-line martial character, hit points are essential.
Int: Only needed for skill ranks. Dump as low as you can while still maximizing your essential skills.
Wis: Only needed for Will saves, but the Cavalier is very vulnerable to Will save effects, and needs all the help it can get.
Cha: The Cavalier can serve as a Face, and many Order abilities depend on Charisma. You don't need nearly as much as a Paladin, but 14 Charisma will go a long way. If you don't play a Face and avoid Orders which require Charisma, you can dump Charisma to 7.
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The Cavalier is flexible, and can take benefit from a wide variety of races.
Dwarf: Better suited to the Fighter, but still a very durable option. If you don't plan to play a Face and don't mind avoiding Cavalier Orders which depend on Charisma, the Dwarf can be perfectly viable. The Dwarf favored class bonus improves Challenge damage, which can be very deadly.
Elf: Nothing useful for the Cavalier.
Gnome: Small size means that you can use medium mounts and ride around in spaces fit for humans without issue. Bonuses to Constitution and Charisma are helpful, and the penalty to strength is easy to overcome. The Gnome doesn't have any abilities specifically useful to the Cavalier, but the Gnome's alternate racial abilities offer some useful options. Unfortunately, the Gnome favored class bonus is terrible.
Half-Elf: A flexible ability bonus is always nice, and the Dual-Minded alternate racial trait really helps with the Samurai's poor Will save. Use Adaptability to get Skill Focus (Ride). The Half-Elf favored class bonus is terrible, but you can take the Human favored class bonus instead to boost your banner bonus.
Half-Orc: On par with the Half-Elf. The Sacred Tattoo alternate racial trait can go a long way to help with the Cavalier's bad saves, especially if you combine it with the Fate's Favored trait. Darkvision is always welcome. The Half-Orc favored class bonus is terrible, but you can take the Human favored class bonus instead to boost your banner bonus.
Halfling: Similar to the Gnome, small size is great for Cavaliers. The Halfling's Dexterity bonus is wasted, but rearranging abilities allows you to improve Intelligence or Wisdom. The Outrider alternate racial trait is also tempting. Unfortunately the Halfling favored class bonus is very difficult to use.
Human: Always a fantastic option, and the Human favored class bonus dramatically improves the effectiveness of the Cavalier's Banner.
- Bluff (Cha): Helpful for any face.
- Climb (Str): Too situational.
- Diplomacy (Cha): Essential for any face.
- Handle Animal (Cha): Helpful for training and handling your mount, but you likely won't need to maximize it.
- Intimidate (Cha): Helpful for any face.
- Ride (Dex): Essential for mounted combat.
- Sense Motive (Wis): Helpful
- Swim (Str): Too situational.
This section does not cover Teamwork Feats, which are a crucial part of the Cavalier. For help with Teamwork Feats, see my Practical Guide to Teamwork Feats.
- Horse Master: Great if you plan to multiclass for more than a level or two.
- Mounted Combat: The basis for the Cavalier's combat tactics.
- Mounted Archery: Worthless.
- Mounted Shield: Mounted Combat allows you to protect your mount with your Ride skill, and unless you spend a lot of resources on your mount's AC your shield bonus is unlikely to be enough to protect it.
- Trample: Very situational.
- Trick Riding: Fantastic, but it limits you to light armor, which can be hugely problematic.
- Mounted Skirmisher: This feat is easy to misinterpret. This does not allow you to make a full attack on a charge. A mounted charge is still a full round action. This just removes the limitation that you can only make one melee attack if your mount moves more than a 5-foot step.
- Unseat: Worthless, and ridiculously situational.
- Ride-By Attack: Charging and riding past enemies is the biggest part of mounted combat. It prevents enemies from full attacking you, and may prevent them from attacking you at all.
- Spirited Charge: This adds a huge pile of damage.
- Lance: Spirited Charge and a lance are a deadly combination, and the Cavalier's tactics are built around the use of a lance.
- Longsword: An iconic weapon for western horsemen, but mechanically inferior to the Scimitar.
- Scimitar: The Scimitar was historically engineered for what you might call a ride-by attack.
- Four-Mirror: The biggest AC bonus you can get at start.
- Heavy Shield: Works with a lance, and provides a nice AC bonus.
- Full Plate: Your long-term armor.
- O-Yoroi: If you have 14 Dexterity (Halflings might), O-Yoroi could be a nice option, but most Cavaliers will stick to Full Plate.
- Menacing (+1): The teamwork feat Outflank allows you to easily flank enemies regardless of positioning, especially if you also put the feat on your mount. That makes this an easy +2 bonus to attacks. However, that may still not be enough to make this more appealing than a regular +1 bonus to attack and damage, especially since the bonus damage would be multiplied on a charge with Spirited Charge.
- Vaiant (+1): Flaming does as much damage and doesn't limit you to the target of your Challenge.
- Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.
- Champion (+1): A +2 bonus to AC against the target of your Challenge is nice, but a flat +1 will be much more beneficial unless you're somehow able to use Challenge in nearly every fight.
- Equestrian Plate (12,650gp): It's cheaper to buy permanent magic armor for your mount. +1 full plate, even with the x4 barding multiplier, is 2650 for you and 7150 for your mount, totally just 9,800gp.
- Jousting (+3,750gp): +5 is nice bonus, but +5 skill items usually cost 2,500gp so you're paying extra to combine the effect with your armor.