We’ve covered the last of the big developments for the fighter within 3.5e, so what could be more natural than looking to Pathfinder next? It is a pure – and extensive – upgrade on the 3.5 fighter, in terms of mechanical power. Given the poor state of pure fighter builds in the late 3.5 metagame, this is simply necessary.
Or: I hope you like picking out bonus feats
The core design goal of the Pathfinder fighter seems to be “no dead levels.” As you’ll recall, the 3.x fighter has tons of levels where they get no new features, just the standard level improvements to their math. Sure, you get feats the other half of the time, but dead levels still feel like a letdown compared to other classes, right? They’re also a strong argument for multiclassing. You hit a point of having enough feats for the thing you wanted, so you might as well jump to a class that does something else for you. Pathfinder, then, fills that space.
- d10 HD.
- 2 + Int skill points, with an expanded skill list – more Knowledges and Survival. PF folds Jump into Acrobatics, which isn’t a class skill for fighters, so they lose a skill in that sense. Overall, they’re just spread even thinner than in 3.5.
- +1/1 BAB.
- Good Fort saves, poor Reflex and Will saves.
- Proficiency in all simple and martial weapons, light, medium, and heavy armor, and shields.
- Bonus feats – they didn’t take away any of the bonus feats granted to 3.x fighters, so that’s 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, 12th, 14th, 16th, 18th, and 20th. I don’t think I need to explain that Pathfinder has, in the last ten years, generated far more feat-packaged content than 3.5 did in its five-ish year lifecycle. This is still one of the primary draws for the class.
- Bravery provides a scaling bonus to Will saves against fear, scaling from +1 to +5. It’s still not enough to match having a good Will save, but it helps.
- Armor Training reduces penalties and restrictions related to wearing armor. You can also choose to pick up a different kind of benefit instead of a penalty reduction at some levels. The alternate benefits are the kinds of things you’d expect to get from a feat in Pathfinder, but in this case they’ve been (nominally) restricted to the fighter class. The Pathfinder wiki entry includes 12 optional features here, of which you could potentially choose up to 3. You also get to ignore speed reduction from medium and heavy armor, as you advance.
- I do want to mention the skill-fixing that gets offered in the alternate armor training features. Since you get so few skill points, the Master Armorer feature is probably your best bet for Craft: Armorer. It replaces any skill ranks you buy, just to make sure any previous choices you made were a mistake. (I would hope that any GM facing this situation would have the grace to let you respend the skill points, but I don’t know if that’s the official rule.) It also functions as the Craft Magic Arms and Armor and Master Craftsman feats for making magic armor, so this is pretty great.
- Okay but seriously, a lot of your options for these features are “have this specific bonus feat.” So the features that you get that aren’t bonus feats… are still bonus feats. Way to shake up that design.
- Weapon Training gives you further bonuses to attack and damage with weapons by group. You pick a weapon group and gain a bonus to everything in that group. When you get this feature a second time, you can either increase your bonus in the first group and gain a +1 bonus in a second group, or you can choose an alternate feature from a list. The Pathfinder wiki includes 21 optional features here, of which you could potentially choose up to 3.
- In theory, this makes you less committed to a single weapon type, since you’re getting bonuses to a whole group of weapons. In practice, I doubt you’d ever want to use a weapon from a group for which you had less than your peak bonus. (Other than using a melee weapon and a ranged weapon, of course.)
- Your group bonus to groups you do pick increases even if you pick alternate features, so let’s be real, that’s what you’re going to do.
- Armor Mastery grants DR 5/– while you’re wearing armor or wielding a shield, so probably close to always.
- Weapon Mastery locks you into a single weapon – again, more, as if you weren’t already – and makes you better at dealing critical damage with it. You also can’t be disarmed of that weapon.
It’s possible, then, to scrape together some non-combat functionality from the alternate weapon and armor training, though it would be a tough sell to pass up maximizing combat effectiveness. Features like Armored Sacrifice (intercepting attacks for allies by taking the damage on your armor or shield… and risking the item’s destruction) or Inspiring Confidence (grant a nearby ally a new save against a fear effect) draw in playstyle elements from a broader range.
Further, because it’s Pathfinder, there are naturally a huge array of archetypes and alternate class features. In general, these have the effect of replacing some number of early-ish bonus feats, and possibly bravery, with an equivalent number of features. Sometimes they trade out armor training, weapon training, and armor mastery instead. Regardless, there’s such a density of options here that I can’t begin to engage with it in the time available to me (i.e., between now and the heat death of the universe).
As you’d expect, Pathfinder’s fighter class is not here to tell a unified story. Instead, it’s a wildly varied way to piece together combat potential in whatever way you like, with a new choice to make at every level. In some cases, multiple choices, since you’re still getting your normal number of feats from level advancement. Infinite variation is a selling point in itself – it is all but inconceivable that any two fighters would have the same stats unless deliberately made so.
Within the sweep of history for the fighter, this version is the clear evolutionary step forward from 3.5 – it is 3.5 but more so. Pathfinder 2e is the only game that ever was remotely likely to continue in that line. Judging by the preview of the fighter, PF2’s fighter is still feat-driven, but with more core features and commonalities between any two fighters. I like what I see in the core features they’re teasing in the linked article, especially Battlefield Surveyor.