Pathfinder - Cavalier Orders Breakdown
I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.
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.
Cavalier Orders are one of my favorite character concepts. In addition to the mechanical aspects, orders include Edicts which specify a code of ethics which the Cavalier must live by, thereby inflicting a strict roleplaying mechanic on the character. Where an archetype defines what your Cavalier does, the order defines who they are.
The Order of the Blue Rose has an excellent flavor. It's very jedi-esque in that the Cavalier is a warrior who tries to avoid fighting, and remains tranquil in the face of danger. However, the abilities provided make the Cavalier the martial equivalent of a squeaky hammer.
Edicts: Violence is never your first option. Not exactly conducive to the typical murder-hobo, but pretty great for roleplaying.
Challenge: Spending a standard action to activate this ability is annoying, but it makes sense for the Order. You might even argue that if you don't activate this, you are violating your edicts and might lose this abilities benefit temporarily. It's also frustrating that this only applies against sentient creatures.
Skills: Everything here is situational.
Order Abilities: None of your abilities make you actually useful in a fight.
Flat of the Blade (Ex): 2 extra damage isn't very good considering you have to give up lethal damage to do it.
Inner Peace (Ex): Once per day, ignore a pile of damage.
Shield of Blades (Ex): If you are using Full Defense, you aren't fighting.
The Order of the Beast doubles down on your mount by giving you a limited polymorph option for it. Depending on your mount's original form, it can be extremely effective while polymorphed. This combines extremely well with the Beast Rider Cavalier Archetype if you choose a mount which has good physical ability scores. Remember that you can polymorph your creature into the same type of creature, and you still get all of the buffs provided by the spell.
Edicts: Basically a Druid with a lance.
Challenge: Your mount's damage can't hope to keep up with yours, but with Wild Mount Shape your mount can turn into a Dire Tiger and do a lot of damage.
Skills: Knowledge (Nature) is very useful, and you effectively get the Tracking ability.
Order Abilities: Ferocious Charge and Wild Mount Shape are both amazing, though you'll need to wait until level 10 to use Wild Mount Shape.
Wild Empathy (Ex): Situational, but your Charisma should be passable, so you'll get more out of this than a Druid or Ranger would.
Wild Mount Shape (Su): Turn your horse into a Dire Tiger. At 15th level you can instead turn your mount into a dragon, which gives you flight and a breath weapon which you can use once each time you shapeshift your mount. The hours per level duration will keep your mount polymorphed all day, and you can use the extra uses per day to change forms should the need arise. For help with Polymorph, see my Practical Guide to Polymorph
Ferocious Charge (Ex): Frightened creatures run away, which means that you can charge them again on the next round.
The Order of the Cockatrice has several devent abilities, but nothing that stands out as a must-have. Due to the flavor of the order, it may be a distruptive choice for a character in an otherwise cohesive party.
Edicts: It's all about you. Maybe not the best choice for a cohesive party.
Challenge: The damage isn't great, but this is good for fighting enemies one-on-one.
Skills: Appraise and Perform are basically useless for you. Adding your Charisma to the DC to intimidate will probably never come up.
Order Abilities: Braggart and Moment of Triumph are really cool iconic abilities, and Steal Glory might give you some free damage once in a while.
Braggart (Ex): The wording is a little bit vague here. This thread discusses the intent of the ability, and comes to a reasonably compromise on how the ability might have been intended: "At 2nd level, the cavalier can extol his own accomplishments and battle prowess. He receives Dazzling Display as a bonus feat, however activating this feat is only a standard action and the cavalier does not need a weapon in hand to use this feat. Additionally, he receives a +2 morale bonus on melee attack rolls made against demoralized targets." Check with your GM for exact interpretation.
Steal Glory (Ex): Critical hits aren't super common unless someone in your party is built to spam attacks with scimitars, but free damage is free damage.
Moment of Triumph (Ex): This is a really cool, flashy ability which fits the theme of the Order of the Cockatrice very nicely. You probably invested in Charisma to capitalize on Braggart and the Cavalier's social skills, so your Charisma bonus should be at least +2 or +3, which can make a big difference when the chips are down and you need to kick some ass.
Considering dragons are typically considered huge, selfish, greedy lizards, it seems odd that the Order of the Dragon would be so focused on high fives and being everyone's buddy. The passive challenge ability is great, and the skills are solid, but the low- and mid-level abilities are useless.
Edicts: Be nice to your friends. Seems pretty easy for an adventurer who routinely puts his life on the line alongside some guys he met in a bar.
Challenge: Circumstance bonuses are slightly less common than morale bonuses, and they stack with common buffs like Bless. Because you are likely your party's front line, this will really help your party. The bonus is fairly small, but it will make a big difference against targets who justify using your challenge.
Skills: Perception is the most rolled skill in the game, and Survival is useful enough to justify a rank to get the class skill bonus. If your party lacks a Ranger or a Druid, it may be worth putting more ranks into Survival.
Order Abilities: The low- and mid-level Order of the Dragon abilities are centered on helping your allies at the expense of doing something useful. Ask you friends which is more useful: a +2 bonus to their next attack, or a pile of damage dropped on the bad guy? Pile of damage will generally win.
Aid Allies (Ex): Aid Another is almost never used in combat, but the scaling bonus is kind of nice, especially for skill checks.
Strategy (Ex): This is a colossal waste of a standard action. You could do almost anything else, and it would be a better use of your time.
Act as One (Ex): This is like a single-use version of the Coordinated Charge teamwork feat, except it requires no set up, only takes a standard action, and doesn't require a bunch of pre-requisites.
The Order of the Lion is great in every way. It has a cool flavor, it cooperates well with your allies, it doesn't have limited daily uses, and the benefits are all interesting, useful, and flavorful.
Edicts: Having a "banner lord" is a fairly common motivation for real-world soldiers, knights, heroes, etc. Samurai were pledged to a lord whom they served, and Housecarls were dedicated professional soldiers devoted to the protection of Danish and early English kings.
Challenge: Not very flashy, but Dodge bonuses stack with everything, and this bonus might keep you alive against scary foes.
Skills: Knowledge (Local) is useful for humanoids, but (Nobility) is fairly uncommon. Depending on your campaign, however, you might find that (Nobility) works well for you, especially if your GM chooses to include your sovereign as a frequent plot point.
Order Abilities: Lion's Call is a small buff, but it's free to use, so throw it up before every fight. For the King will be your big flashy game-changer in the middle of a fight, and Sheild of the Liege makes you a fantastic Defender, even when enemies are in reach of your squishiest allies.
Lion's Call (Ex): The +1 bonus to attacks isn't much and it will stop mattering very early, but it's a free bonus that you can start before kicking a door. The bonus against fear is solid, and you can allow your terrified allies to reroll, which is probably more useful than the actualy bonus.
For the King (Ex): This can change the tide of a fight if you time it well.
Shield of the Liege (Ex): This is great if you have enough AC and hit points to back it up. With Heavy Armor and d10 hit points, you probably should.
Apparently this isn't an order related to aquatic mammals. The rest of the order is just as disappointing. Despite an excellent flavor, the abilities provided are boring and provide very small bonuses which apply in very rare situations. Save this order for NPCs.
Edicts: Protect the macguffin!
Challenge: Trip. Trip every time. The ability doesn't specify if it takes place before, after, or during the full attack, but I would take the trip attempt first if the GM allows it.
Skills: Disabling Devices really isn't a thing that Cavaliers do. You don't get Trapfinding, so basically all you can do is open locks. Having Linguistics as a class skill is basically useless, and concealing information with Bluff is hugely situational.
Order Abilities: All of the abilities are situational, and even when they apply they aren't very good.
Keeper (Ex): Hard to bring into play, and the bonuses are small.
I Shall Not Be Moved (Ex): Very situational, and takes away a lot of your combat options, including mounted charges.
Staggering Assault (Ex): This is a really good Bull Rush mechanic, but Bull Rush is very situational.
As befits its name, the Order of the Shield is a Defender build. While the challenge bonus is pretty terrible, the Order Abilities turn you into a fully functional Defender with very little other investment.
Edicts: Protect the peasants! This is an excellent flavor for good-aligned Cavaliers.
Challenge: While flavorful, this is very difficult to use unless you intentionally endanger your allies, which might violate your edicts. On top of that, the bonus is fairly small.
Skills: Heal is pretty useful, if only because of the "Treat deadly wounds" usage. The additional class bonus will make you very reliable, which can help supplement your party's healing abilities. Knowledge (Local) is useful for identifying humanoids and ocasionally for plot elements.
Order Abilities: The Order of the Shield's abilities scream Defender.
Resolute (Ex): Almost as good as DR/-. Nonlethal damage is basically nothing, and healing removes equal amounts of lethal and nonlethal damage, so you can easily shake off the nonlethal damage after every fight.
Stem the Tide (Ex): This has got to be one of the better Defender abilities available. Stand Still is already excellent, but this adds damage to the deal. Keep in mind that many enemies will have a higher AC than CMD, so you may need to use Stand Still by itself for well-armored foes.
Protect the Meek (Ex): Sometimes you make mistakes as a Defender. Maybe your enemy teleported. Maybe one of your allies was dropped by a foe who is now eying your Wizard. Use this to position yourself so that you can take attacks of opportunity against critical foes, and use Stem the Tide to keep your enemies from getting where they want to go.
Order of the Star is as close as you can get to being a Paladin without any actual divine power. The abilities provided are a good mix of support and defense, and make for an excellent charismatic Cavalier.
Edicts: Like being a Paladin, but less strict and no divine power.
Challenge: While not particularly flashy, you will probably spend a lot of time threatening the target of your challenge, so this is a nice defensive buff.
Skills: Heal is great for the Treat Deadly Wounds usage, and Knowledge (Religion) is one of the best knowledge skills.
Order Abilities: All three abilities are good. The bonuses provided by Calling and For the Faith may be modest, but they are easy to apply, and can be very effective if you remember to use them as often as possible. Retribution is a fantastic ability for any front-line character.
Calling (Ex): Use this before every fight, every skill roll, every conversation. There is no limit on the usage, and bonus can be decent if your Charisma is good. Even a free +1 is worthwhile. Oh, and you can use half off your cavalier levels for some Paladin/Cleric stuff, which makes this an excellent ability for dipping into Cavalier from Paladin.
For the Faith (Ex): Using this as a free action is fantastic. It's one round once per day, and the bonus is modest, but it's a free action that could add up pretty well if you have decent Charisma.
Retribution (Ex): Attack of opportunity against people when they hit you. You can only use this once per round, but that's plenty.
This may as well be the Order of the Cavalier for how generic it is. However, it's hard to deny how good it is. The bonuses directly address what a Cavalier needs to do, and the ablities are a straight improvement on the Cavalier's existing abilities. If you can't decide on an order (or don't want to), I would consider this the default option.
Edicts: Generic good-aligned Cavalier.
Challenge: You should always be astride your mount, so this is basically a permanent bonus to kill the target of your challenge.
Skills: Knowledge (Nobility) is situational unless your GM brings politics into play frequently, but Knowledge (Religion) is great. The bonuses to Sense Motive will help in some social situations, and can compensate for a low Wisdom score.
By My Honor (Ex): Fix your lousy Will save
Mounted Mastery (Ex): Ignoring the armor check penalty is nice because you're probably in Full Plate. The bonus to AC when charging is very situational. How often do you charge someone with a set polearm? Adding your mount's strength to the charge is great, especially with a Lance and Spirited Charge. The free bonus feat is good because you were probably already going to take several of those feats.
Knight's Challenge (Ex): More attack bonus and damage against the target of your challenge is great. You only get one a day, so use it on something important.
Order of the Tome grants you knowledge of arcana and divine magic, the ability to read and cast one type of scrolls, and some interesting resistances against spells and spell-like abilities.
Edicts: Knowledge is cool. Take a look, it's in a book.
Challenge: Spells are among the most common and dangerous things that you roll saves against. Challenge the biggest spellcaster in the room.
Skills: Arcana and Religion are the two most important knowledge skills in the game, and it makes sense that Order of the Tome should grant them. Linguistics doesn't really get you anything, but it helps if you are the party's face.
Order Abilities: Some interesting abilities regarding scrolls and spells.
Specialized Knowledge (Ex): Situational, and depends heavily on the plot of your campaign.
Powerful Knowledge (Ex): Cast spells from scrolls AND you get a free, permanent ability score bonus.
Defensive Knowledge (Ex): This is fantastic, but requiring your allies to be adjacent is very annoying.
Order of the warrior is a spectacular mix of durability and damage output.
Edicts: Respect and Honor. Basically mandates Lawful alignment.
Challenge: DR is best when it applies against a large number of attacks, so limiting the DR to your target is annoying, but DR/- is still fantastic.
Skills: History and Nobility are very dependent on your campaign. If the campaign calls for it, the bonus to Nobility is very good.
Order Abilities: Several abilities which improve the Samurai's ability to reliably survive saving throws and kill his enemies.
Honor in All Things (Ex): A +4 bonus is mathematically almost as good as a reroll.
Way of the Samurai (Ex): A reroll is fantastic. Rolling three times and picking the best basically gurantees success.
Strike True (Ex): This ability is fantastic, even if it can only be used once per day. It largely removes the need to invest in critical hit feats, and allows you to apply a nice list of very debilitating status effects. Because this is a standard action to activate, it's a great choice early in a fight after you have moved into melee.
The Ronin is a survivor. None of the abilities contribute to the Cavalier/Samurai's offensive abilities, they will keep him alive and fighting.
Edicts: Roll your own edicts.
Challenge: All of those abilities are fairly uncommon.
Skills: Both decent skills.
Order Abilities: Nothing to help your allies, but plenty to keep you alive and fighting.
Self Reliant (Ex): Most debuffs will have a duration longer than one round, so this can get you out of a lot of very bad effects.
Without Master (Ex): Save this to keep yourself at 1 hit point. The other users are terrible.
Chosen Destiny (Ex): Both options are excellent.