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Pathfinder - Class Balance

After playing DnD 3.x and Pathfinder for over half of my life, it has become increasingly apparent that not all classes are created equal. While classes might be mechanically sound and fun to play, the capabilities of those classes might be much less than those of other classes.

A common mistake when people discuss class balance, particularly in games like Pathfinder and DnD, is to focus solely on the character's ability to kill things. This is an easy mistake because combat takes up the lion's share of time in most campaigns, and social encounters typically won't get you killed without first changing into a combat encounter. Instead, I propose that class balance should be determined based on the class's ability to fill one or more roles in a party. Classes which are more powerful can fill more roles, and tend to eclipse other characters during play.

Classes by Tier

Note that these assessments do not account for archetypes. Many archetypes are considerable improvements on their base classes, and many make the base class considerably better or worse, but that information is simply too broad to squeeze into this article.

Tier 1

Capable of doing absolutely everything, often better than classes that specialize in that thing. Often capable of solving encounters with a single mechanical ability and little thought from the player. Has world changing powers at high levels. These guys, if played with skill, can easily break a campaign and can be very hard to challenge without extreme DM fiat or plenty of house rules. These characters tend to eclipse entire parties.

  • Arcanist: The Arcanist flirts with the border between Tier 1 and Tier 2. With the Wizard's spell list, and the ability to prepare spells daily, then treat them like the Sorcerer's list of spells known, the Arcanist is a very fun and easy class to play. Unfortunately, the Arcanist gets spell levels at the same rate as the Sorcerer so they fall behind the Wizard every other level.
  • Cleric: With medium armor, a huge complement of spells, and no restriction on spells known, the Cleric can do basically everything.
  • Druid: With a very unique and well-rounded spell list, the Druid is already a very capable class. The addition of an Animal Companion and Wild Shape allows the Druid to form a one-man party and fill a variety of roles whenever they are necessary.
  • Shaman: The Shaman gets an interesting combination of spells and abilities from the Druid and the Witch. With access to the Witch's full Hex list, plus a list of their own, the Shaman is certainly a powerful class. However, the Shaman still doesn't quite compete with the Druid.
  • Witch: The Witch gets access to many spells from the Cleric, Druid, and Wizard spell lists, and can supplement the Witch spell list with a Patron.
  • Wizard: The Wizard spell list is the best in the game, and allows the Wizard to do essentially anything just by changing their prepared spells every morning.

Tier 2

Has as much raw power as the Tier 1 classes, but can't pull off nearly as many tricks, and while the class itself is capable of anything, no single character can do everything at the same time.

  • Oracle: The Oracle is to the Cleric what the Sorcerer is to the Wizard. Functionally very similar, but less powerful because they get new spell levels on level behind..
  • Sorcerer: Basically a Wizard limited by their spells known, and they get spells one level behind the Wizard.
  • Summoner: Despite being limited to 6th level spells, a short spell list, and a limited number of spells known, the Summoner's Eidolon allows it to a great deal as a single character.

Tier 3

Specialists are capable of doing one important thing very well while still being useful when that one thing is inappropriate, and generalists capable of doing many things, but not as well as classes that specialize in that area. Classes occasionally have a mechanical ability that can immediately resolve an encounter, but this is a rare exception.

  • Alchemist: Effectively limited to 6th level spells, the Alchemist can do a great deal, but can't compete with a Sorcerer or Wizard.
  • Bard: Bards are fantastically versatile, and can fill nearly any role in the party, but won't excel at those roles as well as classes devoted to that role.
  • Skald: Essentially the same as a bard, though somewhat less versatile.
  • Hunter: With 2/3 casting, an Animal Companion, and some very fantastic and versatile buffs, the Hunter is a great compromise between the combat prowess of the Ranger and the spellcasting of the Druid.
  • Inquisitor: Much like a Bard, the Inquisitor can fill a wide variety of roles, but typically can't compete with classes devoted to that role.
  • Investigator: A really interesting class, the Investigator is capable of being very good at a lot of things at the same time, and can deal reliable precision damage without needing to depend on tricks like flanking or invisibility.
  • Magus: The Magus is an excellent Striker with a limited amount of skills and utility spells which can keep the Magus relevant outside of combat.
  • Warpriest: Somewhere between the Paladin and the Cleric, the Warpriest gets access to both spell lists, giving it a ton of really great options on top of the Warpriest's formidable combat abilities.

Tier 4

Specialists are capable of doing one thing quite well, but often useless when encounters require other areas of expertise, and generalists are capable of doing many things to a reasonable degree of competence without truly shining. Classes rarely have any abilities that can completely resolve an encounter unless that encounter plays directly to the class's focus.

  • Adept: Despite being an NPC class, the Adept get a diverse spell list and goes up to 6th level spells. It lacks the skills and class abilities to match a Bard, and the Adept's spell list is extremely sparse, but it still has plenty of excellent options including a lot of essential save-or-suck spells.
  • Barbarian: Very good at fighting, but that's about it. The Barbarian skill list is very sparse, and their abilities contribute little outside of combat. Rage Powers are the only thing keeping the Barbarian in Tier 4.
  • Bloodrager: The Bloodrager is an exciting combination of the Barbarian's raw muscle and and arcane spellcasters' buff spells. Martial characters are often dependent on support casters to survive and win encounters with Pathfinder's many horrific monsters, but the Bloodrager can quickly and efficiently buff itself without cutting into its damage output.
  • Fighter (Martial Master): Martial Master goes a long way to address the Fighter's problem with being pigeon-holed into one combat trick.
  • Paladin: The Paladin can heal and fight things, and that's about it. They have the Charisma to serve as a Face, but lack the skill list or skill ranks to do anything effectively outside of combat. The Paladin's spell list includes a lot of very interesting buffs, but most of them are purely buffs to the Paladin's combat abilities, and don't provide any options to address gaps the in the Paladin's skill set.
  • Ranger: Despite a sizable pool of skill ranks and a very interesting spell list, the Ranger is almost entirely dedicated to stealth and combat. Archetypes can allow the Ranger to fill additional roles, but they cut into the Ranger's existing abilities, so they're generally a 0-sum option.
  • Slayer: The Slayer is a fantastic improvement on the Rogue. With full BAB, better proficiencies, and better access to feats, the Slayer can easily outpace the Rogue in damage output, and with 6+ skill ranks the Slayer can almost match the Rogue's skills.

Tier 5

Capable of doing only one thing, and not necessarily all that well, or so unfocused that they have trouble mastering anything, and in many types of encounters the character cannot contribute. In some cases, can do one thing very well, but that one thing is very often not needed. Has trouble shining in any encounter unless the encounter matches their strengths.

  • Brawler: Some archetypes can bump the Brawler up to tier 4, but the Brawler is generally little better than the Fighter and Monk, and shares many of the same problems as its two parent classes.
  • Cavalier: The Cavalier is good at combat and can be a Face, but lacks any other abilities which can't be replicated by a low level Cleric or Bard.
  • Fighter: The Fighter is the least versatile player class. As their name suggests, all that they can do is fight things. Because Pathfinder rewards specialization over versatility, Fighters tend to pigeon-hole themselves into their favorite tactic in combat. When this trick doesn't work, Fighters are frequently useless. This problem often becomes more severe as the Fighter gains levels and invests more resources in their favorite trick.
  • Gunslinger: The Gunslinger has a few skills to be a Face, but is otherwise entirely dedicated to shooting things.
  • Monk: The Monk is often listed as tier 6, but the Monk is at least as powerful as the Fighter if you understand how to build a Monk. They also have a few skills which allow the Monk to serve as a Scout.
  • Ninja: Basically a Rogue with a Ki Pool. While many of the Ninja's talents give it a leg up over the Rogue, the Ninja has major problems with MAD and sustainability in combat.
  • Rogue: The iconic Scout and Striker, the Rogue isn't as effective as one would hope. The Rogue is one of very classes that get Trapfinding by default, and their skill list is huge, but a Rogue simply can't get enough skill ranks to cover all of their bases, and they depend too much on their allies to let them use Sneak Attack for the Rogue to be a truly effective Striker.
  • Samurai: Basically a Cavalier with a different flavor.
  • Swashbuckler: While certainly flashier and more interesting to play than the generic Fighter, the Swashbuckler isn't notably more effective. Swashbucklers have the same lack of utility and versatility which plagues most martial classes.

Tier 6

Not even good at what they are intended to do. These are generally reserved for NPCs because they are not intended to be used as player classes.

  • Aristocrat
  • Commoner
  • Expert
  • Warrior

Suggestions for Adjustments

The below table includes suggestions to buff/nerf each class. You might consider adding these adjustments to handle specific players, or you might consider using them as static house rules. The intention is not to use all of these suggestions, but to use one or more per class as you see fit to reach the level of balance that you desire.

Class Adjustments
Class Strong Nerfs Weak Nerfs Weak Buffs Strong Buffs
Alchemist
  • Reduce bombs per to half class level + intelligence modifier
  • d4 Bomb die
  • d8 Bomb die
  • Bombs per day: twice class level + intelligence modifier
Arcanist
  • -1 spell per day
  • Gain Arcanist Exploit every 4 levels instead of every 3
  • d8 hit die
  • 4+ Skill Ranks
  • +1 spell prepared per spell level after reaching normal maximum prepared spells for two levels
Barbarian
  • Rage rounds per day: 2 + con mod, plus 1 per additional level
  • Reduce hit die from d12 to d10
  • Good Reflex save
  • Rage rounds per day: 6 + conn mod, plus 3 per additional level
Bard
  • -1 spell per day of each spell level known
  • 4+ skill ranks per level
  • Bad Reflex save
  • 8+ skill ranks per level
  • Lingering Song as a bonus feat
  • +1 spell per day of each spell level known
Bloodrager
  • 2/3 BAB
  • 2+ skill ranks
  • Good Will save
  • 0 spells per day of new spell level one level early (can only cast with bonus spells), and learn 1 spell of that level
  • +1 spell known per spell level after knowing normal maximum spells known for two levels
Brawler
Cavalier
  • Remove bonus feats
  • d8 hit die
  • d12 hit die
  • Good Reflex save
  • Good Will save
  • Bonus feat at 3rd level
Cleric
  • One domain
  • Remove medium armor proficiency
  • Bad Fortitude save
  • Remove free proficiency with Deity's favored weapon
  • 4+ skill ranks per level
  • d10 hit die
  • Automatically prepare one spell from two domains at each spell level
Druid
  • Animal companion at level -3 (As Ranger)
  • Select Wild Shape or Nature Bond, not both
  • Animal companion at level -2
  • Bad Fortitude save
  • Reduce to 2+ skill ranks per level
  • Reduce hit die from d8 to d6
  • Good Reflex save
  • Nature Bond: select a domain and an Animal Companion
  • Nature Bond: select two domains
Fighter
  • No first level bonus feat
  • Remove Heavy Armor Proficiency
  • d8 hit die
  • d12 hit die
  • Good Reflex save
  • 4+ skill ranks per level, add Acrobatics and Knowledge (Local) to class skills
  • Bonus feat at level 3
Gunslinger
  • 2/3 BAB
  • d6 hit die
  • Bad Fortitude save
  • d8 hit die
  • 6+ skill ranks per level, add Diplomacy and Sense Motive to class skills
  • Rapid Reload as bonus feat
Hunter
Inquisitor
  • 4+ skill ranks per level
  • d6 hit die
  • Bad Fortitude save
  • d10 hit die
  • Martial Weapon Proficiency
  • Full BAB
  • 8+ skill ranks per level, add Knowledge (history) and Knowledge (local) to class skills
Investigator
Magus
  • Reduce Arcane Pool to 1/4 level + intelligence modifier
  • Reduce spells per day by 1 (if spells per day is 0, can only be cast if the character has bonus spells) for each spell level
  • Bad Fortitude save
  • Remove free spells learned at each level; must pay to inscribe all spells in spell book
  • Reduce Arcane Pool to 1/3 level + intelligence modifier
  • Increase Arcane Pool to 3/4 level + intelligence modifier
  • Increase Arcane Pool to level + intelligence modifier
  • Increase spells per day by 1 for each spell level
Monk
  • Reduce hit die from d8 to d6
  • Reduce skill ranks to 2+ per level
  • Increase hit die from d8 to d10
  • Increase to full BAB (Note that this does not affect Flurry of Blows attack bonus)
  • Increase Unarmed Strike damage as though the Monk were one size larger
Ninja
  • Can only Sneak attack once per round
  • Reduce to 6+ skill ranks per level
  • Good Fortitude save
  • Increase to 10+ skill ranks per level
  • Increase Sneak Attack die from d6 to d8
  • Can Sneak Attack any target threatened by an ally
Oracle
  • Reduce spells per day by 1 (if spells per day is 0, can only be cast if the character has bonus spells) for each spell level
  • -1 spells known per spell level until 5 spells of that level have been known for 4 levels
  • Remove Medium armor proficiency
  • Remove first level revelation
  • d10 hit die
  • Good Fortitude save
  • +1 spell known per spell level after knowing normal maximum spells known for two levels
Paladin
  • Maximum of 2 spells per day (before bonus spells) of each spell level
  • Bad Will save
  • d8 hit die
  • Maximum of 3 spells per day (before bonus spells)
  • Add 1 spell per day at each level
  • Add 1 use of Smite Evil per day
  • Channel Energy at full class level
  • 4+ skill ranks per level, add Intimidate and Knowledge (History) to skill list
  • Add 2 spells per day at each level
Ranger
  • Maximum of 2 spells per day (before bonus spells)
  • Bad Fortitude save
  • Bad Reflex save
  • Maximum of 3 spells per day (before bonus spells)
  • 4+ skill ranks per level
  • Add 1 spell per day at each spell level
  • 8+ skill ranks per level, add Acrobatics and Knowledge (Local) to skill list
  • Add 2 spells per day at each spell level
  • Hunter's Bond with allies can be used as a Swfit action 3 + wisdom modifier times per day
  • Hunter's Bond with Animal Companion allows any animal available to Druids
  • Hunter's Bond with Animal Companion at full class level
Rogue
  • Can only Sneak attack once per round
  • 6+ skill ranks per level
  • Good Fortitude save
  • 10+ skill ranks per level
  • d8 Sneak Attack die
  • Can Sneak Attack any target threatened by an ally
Samurai
  • Remove bonus feats
  • d8 hit die
  • d12 hit die
  • Good Reflex save
  • Good Will save
  • Bonus feat at 3rd level
Shaman
  • Remove access to Witch Hexes
  • 2+ Skill Ranks
  • d10 hit die
  • Good Fortitude save
  • Add 1 spell per day of each level
Skald
Slayer
  • Remove Sneak Attack
  • Can only Sneak attack once per round
  • 4+ skill ranks
  • Bad Fortitude save
  • d12 hit die
  • 8+ skill ranks
  • Good Will save
  • Can Sneak Attack any target threatened by an ally or Shaken target
Sorcerer
  • Reduce spells per day by 1 (if spells per day is 0, can only be cast if the character has bonus spells) for each spell level
  • -1 spells known per spell level until 5 spells of that level have been known for 4 levels.
  • Remove Eschew Materials
  • d8 hit die
  • 4+ skill ranks per level, add Diplomacy and Knowledge (Planes) to skill list
  • +1 spell known per spell level after knowing normal maximum spells known for two levels
Summoner
  • May only select Extra Evolution once
  • Select Extra Evolution once every 6 levels instead of every 5
  • Select Extra Evolution once every 4 levels instead of every 5
  • 1 Additional Evolution point at first level
  • Select evolutions regardless of original base form
Swashbuckler
  • -1 Panache per day
  • Bad Reflex save
  • +1 Panache per day
  • Good Fortitude save
  • 6+ skill ranks
  • +2 Panache per day
Warpriest
  • Remove bonus feats
  • Remove Focus Weapon
  • Gain Weapon Specialization with Focus Weapon
  • Increase Sacred Weapon damage by one step
  • Add 1 spell per day of each level
Witch
  • Reduce spells per day by 1 (if spells per day is 0, can only be cast if the wizard has bonus spells at that level)
  • Remove Patron spells
  • Remove free spells learned at each level; must learn spells from scrolls or other familiars
  • d8 hit die
  • 4+ skill ranks per level
  • Grant light armor proficiency and allow spellcasting
  • Familiar learns 3 free spells per level
  • Add 1 spell per day of each level
Wizard
  • Reduce spells per day by 1 (if spells per day is 0, can only be cast if the character has bonus spells at that level)
  • Remove Arcane Bond
  • Remove bonus feats
  • Remove free spells learned at each level; must pay to inscribe all spells in spell book
  • d8 hit die
  • 4+ skill ranks per level
  • Learn 3 free spells per level
  • Replace Scribe Scroll with a wizard bonus feat
  • Add 1 spell per day of each level