Pathfinder - Practical Guide to Slings and Sling Staves
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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.
I've never seen a sling used on an ongoing basis. Occasionally a character might pick one up and use it for lack of any other weapon, but most players never consider slings as a permanent fixture in their arsenal. I think that this is a mistake.
Slings have many wonderful features. They're certainly not as cool as bows, and they have a certain association with poor Commoners, but a player clever enough to give them a look will find a truly wonderful weapon.
Why are Slings Great?
- Strength to Damage: A sling's damage die is half the size of a longbow, but you get to add Strength to your damage. If you have 14 Strength, a sling does as much damage on average as a bow without needing to spend 100 gold per point of Strength. On top of that, your sling responds to changes in your Strength score just like a melee or thrown weapon does. If someone hits you with Bull's Strength, you get more damage. If someone hits you with Reduce Person, you get less damage but don't run the risk of falling below a minimum Strength bonus like you do with a composite bow.
- Range: Slings have better range than thrown weapons, but give you all of the Strength-related benefits that you get from thrown weapons.
- Two-Weapon Fighting: You can fire a sling one-handed. If you can find a way around needing two hands to reload (there are options), you can use two-weapon fighting with a sling.
- Portability: Slings have no listed weight. Carry 10 of them and drop them on the ground if you need to switch weapons. They're also really easy to hide on your body because they're basically just two long pieces of string with a cup in the middle. Wrap it around your waiste and wear a belt over it. Ball it up under your hat. Flatten one out in the bottom of your shoe.
- Proficiency: Because they're simple weapons, almost everyone is proficient. Wizards are the only exception, but wizards are generally have poor Strength, so it's hard for them to make good use of a sling anyway.
- Cost: Slings are free. They don't even have a listed cost. Their ammunition also costs on tenth as much as crossbow bolts and one fifth as much as arrows. Beyond low levels this won't matter much, but it makes cold iron ammunition dirt cheap, it means you don't need to drop several hundred gold at low levels to get Strength to damage like you do with a bow, and it makes a sling a really great backup weapon if you're on a tight budget. When you start getting into magic weapons, slings become a clear winner over thrown weapons. No need to deal with the Returning property or getting a stack of +1 javelins.
Why are Slings Bad?
- Reloading: Like crossbows, you need to spend a Move Action and use two hands to reload a sling. The Rapid Reload feat removes the Move Action cost, but that's an extra feat to make your sling keep up with a bow.
- Range: Slings have less range than crossbows or bows. The Arc Slinger feat mitigates this considerably, but that's another feat tax.
- Critical Hits: Slings have 20/x2 crits. Sling Staves get 20/x3, which is an improvement.
- Manyshot: Manyshot provides a significant damage boost for bow users which you can't replicate as a sling user.
- Feats: While slings can be very powerful, they also carry a higher feat tax than bows.
- Items: Bows get Bracers of Archery, which provide a cheap and easy bonus to attack and damage without spending a ton of money enhancing your bow. Thrown weapons get a bunch of items catered to throwing things. Slings get no love and no magic items tailored to their use.
Slings vs. Sling Staves
Ultimate Equipment introduced the Sling Staff, an exotic weapon that's basically a sling at the end of a stick. It has many of the benefits of slings, but there are some trade-offs.
The first issue with the Sling Staff is that it's an exotic weapon. Few exotic weapons are worth the feat to gain proficiency, but if you're building to use slings the Sling Staff is at least worth considering. The sling staff double's the sling's damage die size, increases crits to 20/x3, and increases range from 50 feet to 80 feet. This is massively better than what most exotic weapons offer over their simple or martial counterparts (compare a longsword to a bastard sword). On top of all of that, you can use it as a club! This means that you can switch from ranged combat to melee combat with ease, you can make attacks of opportunity and you can make full attacks and easily transition from clubbing to shooting. On top of all this, halflings get to treat Sling Staves as martial weapons!
However, there is an opportunity cost for using a sling staff: the Prone Slinger and Sling Flail feats don't work with Sling Staves. If you plan to use Sling Flail, skip the Sling Staff. Otherwise, the Sling Staff is a clear improvement over the sling.
- Arc Slinger: The wording of the feat is very important. It reduces the penalty from range increments instead of simply removing the penalty for your first range increment. This means that, combined with Far Shot, you can shoot into your second or third range incremenets without penalty. You also get to use Point-Blank Shot within your first range increment, so you no longer need to be within 30 feet, making you much safer.
- Deadly Aim: A staple of ranged combat builds, the damage boost is too good to forgo.
- Exotic Weapon Proficiency: Sling Staves are great. See "Slings vs. Sling Staves", above.
- Point-Blank Shot: The first step in any build focused on ranged combat.
- Far Shot: If the sling's relatively low range is a problem, Far Shot goes a long way to compensate.
- Precise Shot: Crucial if you have allies that fight in melee.
- Improved Precise Shot: Very useful, not usually not required to get by.
- Rapid Shot: More attacks, more damage.
- Prone Slinger: Firing a ranged weapon while prone doesn't happen often. If you're worried about enemies getting into melee and tripping you, this feat is better spent on Exotic Weapon Proficiency or Sling Staff.
- Two-Weapon Fighting: It can be done, but it's hard. You need to find a way to get an extra hand for reloading. A class dip into Witch for Prehensile Hair or into Alchemist for Vestigial Hand will work. Once you've got that sorted, you're stuck with -4 to all of your attacks. Ranged weapons (excluding thrown weapons) can't be "light", so you're -2 behind other two-weapon fighters. If you can handle that penalty, the damage output could be fantastic. I won't both going into the other feats in the two-weapon fighting chain. Their function is obvious, and the mechanics don't warrant any additional meaningful observations.
- Weapon Focus: +1 to attacks is nice, but you can usually get something more interesting from a feat.
- Sling Flail: If you plan to be in melee frequently and enjoy using combat maneuvers, Sling Fail is fantastic. However, you'll need to use a regular sling instead of a sling flail.
Example Build - Halfling Sling Fighter
It shoots bullets!
This is a fairly straightforward build to maximize your damage output with slings. It doesn't rely on a lot of fancy gimicks, though it will take a class dip into Witch. I'm going to focus on ranged combat, so we'll look past Sling Flail and its potential with combat maneuvers.
The order in which you choose feats is somewhat arbitrary. Beyond Point-Blank Shot there aren't many prerequisites, so you're free to choose which feats fit for your party's needs. You might choose to take Precise Shot earlier than I do if you find that your allies are getting in the way by fighting in melee.
I'll list our expected full attack output by level in the table below, but keep in mind that it won't include a lot of conditional bonuses: point-blank shot, magic weapons, buffs, improvements to your Strength from spells or items, etc.. This is a build about getting a ton of sling attacks, so things like damage properties added to your weapons and enhancement bonuses to your ability scores are very powerful.
Maximize Dexterity, and balance your remaining points between Strength and Consitution. Make sure to take at least 11 Intelligence (12 is better) so that you can get some use out of your Witch spellcasting. I'll assume that you're starting with 20 Dexterity and 12 Strength.
Halflings are an obvious choice for a sling build. Access to Sling Staves as martial weapons saves us a feat, but the bonus to Dexterity and the size bonus to attacks will improve our attack rolls. The penalty to Strength is annoying, but not too much of a problem. Humans could also work in this build, using their bonus feat for Exotic Weapon Proficiency, but I thought halfling would be more fun and thematic.
Fighter is the core of the build. Vanilla Fighter works great for our purposes. Armor Training will help you to capitalize on your high Dexterity to boost your AC, and Weapon Training will provided useful bonuses to attack and damage. For this build I'll avoid an archetype, but you might consider the Mutation Warrior archetype to boost your ability scores. Two-Weapon Warrior is also worth consideration, but I don't recommend it. We'll be picking up two-weapon fighting relatively late in the build, so you'll be extremely ineffective at low levels.
We'll be making a single-level dip in Witch to pick up Prehensile Hair. You'll need to choose a patron and consider an archetype, but with only one class level your spellcasting is going to be extremely minimal. The Healing Patron combined with the Hedge Witch archetype lets you spontaneously cast Cure spells, which can be useful. Portents is good for Ill Omen, which doesn't allow a save. Stars is good for Faerie Fire, which may be your only way to expose invisible creatures. Strength gets you access to Divine Favor, but your caster level will never be high enough to give you more than a +1 bonus.
Skills don't really matter for this guide since skills and sling don't interact.
Traits don't really matter for this guide since skills and sling don't interact.
|Level||Feat(s) and Features||Notes and Tactics|
|1 - Fighter 1|| || |
I like Rapid Shot over Deadly Aim at first level. If you start with 20 Dexterity, a single attack is +7 to hit (Dex, BAB, size). That's good, but nowhere near a guarantee. Rapid Shot makes it more likely that you'll hit simply because you're rolling a second time.
Full Attack: +5/+5 1d6+1
|2 - Fighter 2|| || |
Now that you can reliably hit at least once per round, Deadly Aim is a better investment. You could go for Weapon Focus instead, but I think you probably want a damage boost as soon as possible, and you won't get Weapon Specialization until at least 4th level no matter what.
Full Attack: +5/+5 1d6+3
|3 - Fighter 3|| || |
Not a very exciting level, but you get some nice numerical boosts. I haven't discussed armor for this build because it's not central to the sling theme, but I recommend Chain Shirt, Kikko, or Tatami-do. You'll want to get Mithral because this is a high-dexterity build, so your choice of armor largely comes down to cost/benefit. Kikko will get you one more AC than Chain Shirt, and Tatami-do will get you another, but Mithral gets very expensive very quickly, so you might choose to spend that money elsewhere on other AC boosts with a lower price point.
Full Attack: +7/+7 1d6+3
|4 - Fighter 4|| || |
Finally another damage boost! Weapon Specialization gives us +2, and Deadly Aim moves up a step.
Full Attack: +7/+7 1d6+7
|5 - Fighter 5|| || |
The "Thrown" weapon group includes slings, halfling sling staves, and clubs, so no matter how you use your sling staff you get the bonus.
Full Attack: +9/+9 1d6+8
|6 - Fighter 6|| || |
You might choose to swap this level with the Witch class dip, but you won't be able to get Two-Weapon Fighting until 7th level so I don't recommend it. Unfortunately two-weapon fighting won't do us any good at this level since we can't reload.
Full Attack: +10/+10/+5 1d6+8
|7 - Witch 1|| || |
Prehensile Hair solves our reloading problem, and we go straight to Improved Two-Weapon Fighting. Unfortunately Witch won't advance your BAB, but you get an impressive 5 attacks! You also get some spellcasting, but that's not really important for the build.
Full Attack: +6/+6/+6/+1/+1 1d6+8
|8 - Fighter 7|| || |
Delaying Fighter by one level means that now you're going to get two feats every two levels instead of one feat every level.
Full Attack: +7/+7/+7/+2/+2 1d6+8
Delaying Fighter by one level means that now you're going to get two feats every two levels instead of one feat every level. It also delays your BAB advancement, which is slightly annoying, but the extra attacks from Two-Weapon Fighting will make up for the attacks delayed by your BAB falling behind, and it will make up for the damage output from Deadly Aim.
At this point, the build is really simple. Keep taking fighter levels and keep taking the Weapon Focus/Specialization chain and Two-Weapon Fighting chain (You might even take Two-Weapon Rend even though it makes no sense to rend with bullets at range). You'll have a lot of open feats, so consider options like Improved Critical to capitalize on your massive number of extra attacks.