After last week’s trifecta of spellcasters, this week I’m back to a trio of warrior-types: the fighter, the monk, and the paladin. By coincidence, this is also a History of the Fighter series entry, though I’ll call it Part 10.5 so that I can save Part 13 for, you know, 13th Age. It is a petty vanity, but there you have it. Sure, okay, History of the Monk and Paladin too, but I thought I had put those to bed years ago. The Fighter Class, Part Ten; The Monk Class, Part Four; and The Paladin Class, Part Seven are your refreshers on PF1’s versions of these classes.
What I most want to see in this class is some sense of identity – even multiple diverging stories of identity – for the fighter. Is there anything going on here beyond a dude, ladydude, or person of other genders who stabs, shoots, slashes, or crushes good?
Short answer: No.
Long answer: There’s some elaboration into other tasks they perform in and around a fight scene, as we’ll see in the features, but very nearly all of their feats are combat moves.
I had wanted to save this for the Playing the Game chapter, but for a lot of the fighter’s content to mean anything, we need to drill down more into how shield use fits into the action economy. Their goal, I think, is to create a moment in combat narration that talks about the shield, the game design equivalent of a two-second-long shot in a film where a fighter, we’ll call him “Steve,” brings the shield into line just in time for us to see the incredible impact of an enemy’s attack against it.
The game communicates this with an action and a reaction that are available to all characters: Raise a Shield and Shield Block. Both of them, obviously, require that you wield a shield. Raise a Shield is an action, and you have to use this action to gain your shield’s bonus to your AC and TAC (touch AC). Otherwise, the game assumes that your shield is hanging uselessly out of line. You have to Raise a Shield in order to use the Shield Block reaction, and your shield remains raised until the start of your next turn.
Shield Block lets you take some of the damage of an attack on your shield. Your shield is Dented if it takes damage equal to its Hardness, and damage above that Hardness spills over to you. Damage equal to twice its Hardness causes 2 Dents, which takes any nonmagical shield straight to Broken. A normal shield has either 3 (wooden) or 5 (steel) hardness. Higher-quality shields offer slightly more hardness, but I don’t know what PF2’s treasure distribution looks like, but the first step of improved quality is 15 times the cost of a normal heavy steel shield, so unless you’re sure you’re going to spend an hour repairing the Dent in your shield after every use, I’m not sure paying for better shields makes a lot of sense. An adamantine shield is 30 times the cost of a heavy steel shield, for 10 Hardness, so that’s a lot closer to reasonable – but you’ll still be doing a lot of repairs.
Using a shield, then, costs you a precious action, and actions are both the privilege of moving around the battlefield and actual attacks. The saving grace here, such as it is, is that you’re less likely to hit with your second and third attacks, so losing them to moving or carrying a shield is a mitigated loss. That said, you can spend a feat at 12th level on a stance that always keeps your shield up… I just hope you weren’t interested in any other stances.
Got all that? What I’m trying to tell you is that using a shield is a huge tradeoff of damage output in exchange for a fairly modest improvement in AC, and a damage-absorbing shield that runs a high risk of getting Dented or Broken every time you use it. On the plus side, you don’t decide whether to use your shield until after you “take” (and therefore know) the damage. In principle, making shield-use active is great, and getting players to agree to damage or lose their gear is even better.
Back to the Fighter
- 10 + Con modifier hit points.
- Expert in Perception. Okay, sure, it’s just one point better than Trained, but I’m still happy for what I see as an acknowledgement that guards should be good at observation. Perception is also a skill you might roll for combat initiative, so fighters are good at that.
- Expert in Fortitude and Reflex (!), Trained in Will.
- 3 + Int modifier trained skills.
- Expert in all simple and martial weapons, Trained in all exotic weapons. Trained in all armor and shields. It’s interesting that, whatever their benefits, exotic weapons functionally carry a -1 to hit compared to simple and martial weapons, with additional implications for when you can use critical specialization effects.
- Acrobatics, Athletics, and Cooking as Signature Skills. Pretty sure this is the first time I’ve clapped eyes on a skill system that had the Intimidation skill and didn’t give it to fighters as a favored skill. It’s especially classy because the roleplaying notes for the fighter call out that they are “an intimidating presence… during social encounters”, and “others probably… find you intimidating until they get to know you”.
- Attacks of Opportunity are a fighter class feature, which is to say that they aren’t a feature of other classes. The list of things that trigger AoOs are reduced as well: using the manipulate or move actions, making a ranged attack, or leaving a square during a move action. The attack that you make has a base -2 penalty (and I would love to know why this is here), but doesn’t otherwise interact with the multiple-attack penalty. It can disrupt manipulate actions.
- Making fighters the only class with AoOs is one of the game’s few moves in the direction of simplicity. It is also very strong niche protection, but on its own it doesn’t provide any stickiness, just punishment. Let’s see if fighter feats do anything interesting here.
- At 3rd level, Weapon Mastery improves your simple and martial weapon proficiency for one weapon group to Master and your exotic weapon proficiency in the same group to Expert. Simple and martial weapons in your chose group now also grant their critical specialization effects, while exotic weapons wait until 13th level for that benefit (unless you spend a feat at 6th level).
- Bravery at 5th level turns all successful Will saves against fear into critical successes, and critical successes grant an ongoing bonus against further fear saves.
- Battlefield Surveyor at 7th level boosts your Perception to master, and grants an additional bonus to Perception checks for initiative.
- Combat Flexibility at 9th level grants an additional fighter feat of 8th level or lower, which you can reassign daily.
- Heavy Armor Expertise at 11th level boosts your armor proficiency for heavy armor and all shields to Expert. I’m surprised that this doesn’t extend to light and medium armor, but I assume there’s something I’m not getting there.
- Weapon Specialization at 13th level improves your proficiency for all simple and martial weapons to Master, and all exotic weapons to Expert; also you choose one weapon group that is one rank higher still.
- Improved Flexibility at 15th level grants a second “floating” fighter feat that must be 14th level or lower. So yeah, having more feats than everyone else is still the fighter’s deal, if by a far smaller margin than before.
- Armor Mastery improves your proficiency for heavy armor and shields to Master, reduces your speed penalty for wearing heavy armor by half, and improves your medium armor proficiency to expert.
- Finally, Weapon Legend improves your weapon proficiency for all simple and martial weapons to legendary, and all exotic weapons to master. No more weapon groups for you, bucko.
Feat selection provides all of the differentiation between fighters, and it would take willful blindness not to see 4e very lightly remixed in these six pages of feats. Some of the feats resemble 4e fighter attack or utility powers, others 4e fighter build features, and still others 4e fighter feats. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate Paizo rehabilitating 4e’s design.
As you buy fighter feats, you’re probably picking one fighting style and buying all of its bells and whistles. The fighting styles on offer here are weapon-and-open-hand (4e’s Brawler build, great for grapples and shoves), dueling, two-weapon fighting, archery, weapon-and-shield, and two-hander style. The 1st-level feats don’t reflect the two-hander style all that clearly, but everything else has one obvious must-buy feat. As you advance, there are some feats with specific feat prereqs, but fewer than I expected. Many of the feats obviously fit only one fighting style, though.
A whole lot of the shield feats are about nibbling away at the restrictions of shield use. Curiously, there’s nothing at all about increasing the effective Hardness of your shield, just extra chances to have it destroyed. Some feats also overhaul your whole action economy, so retraining is your friend.
Ultimately, almost all of the feats are combat moves that let you definitely do something new and flashy, but very few of them say anything new about your character. This could all be a lot more interesting, and it wouldn’t kill them to have one or two non-combat feats. There’s a rumor in the text that fighters still get to have fun outside of combat (social, exploration, and downtime modes), so maybe that could see some meaningful support on the page, as some other classes have?
Since the monk class has always received lots of unusual features throughout its progression, much like the druid, I’m expecting that players will have to spend a lot of feats just to get what other games give monks as a baseline. (As a reminder, any statement about monks is necessarily not including 2e or 4e.) Let’s see how that guess plays out.
- 10 + Con modifier hit points. Well, that’s interesting – taking a page from the Unchained Monk.
- Trained in Perception. The roleplaying text mentions that “your perceptiveness lets you see through falsehoods,” but that’s not reflected in any way. It looks to me like you could easily play a monk with a poor Wisdom, and just never choose feats that spend Spell Points.
- Expert in Fortitude, Reflex, and Will saves.
- Trained in 3 + Int modifier skills
- Trained in unarmed attacks. You have to spend a feat to learn monastic weapons. Protecting the fighter’s niche as “the only one who starts with expert weapon proficiency” looks awfully stingy once we’re talking about monks, who (now more than ever) are fighters by a different name.
- Untrained in all armor.
- Acrobatics, Athletics, and Religion are signature skills. This is stunningly I would have expected at least one of Diplomacy, Medicine, or Stealth.
- Flurry of Blows lets you make two unarmed strikes in a single action, and you combine damage and other effects against enemy resistances and weaknesses.
- Powerful Fist improves your unarmed damage from the universal d4 base to d6, and you deal lethal damage with these attacks at no penalty.
- Incredible Movement at 3rd level grants a scaling bonus to Speed: +10, followed by +5 feet for every 3 additional monk levels – so +35 feet at 18th level.
- Magic Strikes at 3rd level lets your unarmed attacks strike as magic.
- Metal Strikes at 5th level lets your unarmed attacks strike as cold iron and silver.
- Path to Perfection at 7th level improves one of your saves to Master.
- Fierce Flurry at 9th level boosts your damage by a die size each if both of your Flurry attacks hit. Changing die size on a conditional outcome is not great, because you can’t roll attack and damage together to speed up play. Replacing this with “you deal an additional 1d4 damage if both of your attacks hit” or something comparable gets the job done, but they’re changing the die size because of how crit damage works in PF2.
- Second Path to Perfection at 11th level turns your ordinary success with your Master-rank save into critical success.
- Graceful Mastery at 13th level boosts your unarmored defense to Master.
- Unarmed Mastery at 13th level boosts your unarmed attacks to Master.
- Third Path to Perfection at 15h level increases another of your saves to Master, or a Master-rank save to Legendary.
- Adamantine Strikes at 17th level does exactly what you would guess it does.
- Graceful Legend at 17th level boosts your unarmored defense to Legendary. For my wife’s benefit, I will point out that this feature has nothing to do with the actual legendary Grace.
- Perfected Form at 19th level sets the floor of your unarmed Strikes at a 10 on the d20.
As with most classes of PF2, the core of the class is boring and bone-dry. All of the interesting stuff comes from feats. It looks to me like AC is going to be a major problem throughout your career until you invest heavily in bracers of armor. The bracers also grant a bonus to saves and let you equip trinkets, so it’s a number-one-with-a-bullet priority. Go ahead and treat every other bracer-slot item as Not For Monks, I guess.
As for their feats – the 1st-level feats are the foundations of what comes after. Ki Strike opens the door to a whole lot of feats, though it’s incredibly underwhelming by itself – the ki strike power is 1 Spell Point for +1 to hit. Woo. The stance model for monks is rough on their action economy until later levels, though I guess it’s the equivalent of the action that other warrior-types spend drawing their weapons at the start of combat. I’m honestly guessing on drawing a sword – it’s probably an Interact action. I’ve checked several places and I’m not sure I’ve gotten a formal answer.
I want to call out Stunning Fist as an example of how PF2’s degrees-of-success system gets complicated. Stunning Fist is a two-action unarmed Strike (so, attack roll) that carries the Enhancement of forcing a Fortitude save. All good so far; costing two actions is one way to make sure this isn’t something you use every round. Anyway, because there are two rolls involved that both have the full range of degrees of success, the text has to handle:
- Ordinary success on attack, target fails Fort save
- Ordinary success on attack, target crit fails Fort save
- Critical success on attack, target succeeds save
- Critical success on attack, target fails Fort save
- Critical success on attack, target crit fails Fort save
It’s a bit dense, is what I’m saying.
The class’s balance between demanding Strength and Dexterity is… complicated. Most (5 out of 7) of the stances grant attacks with the finesse property, so you’re good on attack rolls. Damage rolls are another matter – in PF2, Dex doesn’t add to finesse damage to melee or ranged attacks, and Strength only benefits ranged attacks a little bit if they have the propulsive property. Buuut you’re going to have AC problems no matter what – sacrificing Dex is definitely not the answer.
There’s a lot more that could be said about the monk’s feat options, but I’ll end by saying – yeah, traditional monk features are all feats. Ki Strike, Monastic Weaponry, Stunning Fist, Deflect Arrow, Wholeness of Body, Abundant Step, Monk’s Evasion, Diamond Soul, Timeless Body, Tongue of Sun and Moon, Quivering Palm, and Empty Body. You get 11 monk feats in 20 levels, so here’s betting no one in the whole course of PF2’s run takes Tongue of Sun and Moon, unless by accident.
Thematically, at least, the monk is compelling as hell. I love the animalistic stances, followed by the nature-themed stances (Mountain, Forest, and Wind). Some of the advanced forms of those stances are a little weird – Wolf Stance leads to Wolf Drag, which is the name of everyone’s favorite all-furry Three Dog Night cover band.
…what was I talking about? Right, Wolf Drag. The concept behind Wolf Stance and Wolf Drag don’t work for me. I would tell them to go watch Kung Fu Panda again and pick a different animal.
Figuring out what you need to do to get where you want to go is mind-boggling. Start by figuring out if you really want anything that requires Ki Strike and work backward from there, I think. It offers the coolest movement stuff. Other paths involve direct damage output or grappling, submission, and throws. Eventually you get to damage resistance and area control. These are all good gameplay concepts for a monk, but the whole package comes together as a daunting learning curve.
You know what I really don’t miss? A hard-and-fast requirement that paladins are Lawful Good. I like codes of conduct, oaths, geasa, what-have-you, but I hate “must be this one alignment” right in its stupid face. The roleplaying notes for the paladin from the external perspective are a good rundown of why everyone hates moral philosophy professors paladins of 3.x-and-earlier. The text tries to mitigate this, in fairness.
- 10 + Con modifier hit points.
- Trained in Perception.
- Expert in Fortitude and Will saves, Trained in Reflex saves.
- 4 + Int modifier trained skills.
- Trained in simple and martial weapons, and all armor and shields.
- Athletics, Crafting, Diplomacy, and Religion as Signature Skills.
- Your Code of Conduct specifies what you have to do and what you lose if you don’t do it. On the plus side, what you lose is less than “basically everything,” as it is 1e and 2e.
- Deific Weapon makes sure you have access to your deity’s favored weapon, and steps it up by a damage die size if it’s a simple weapon.
- Retributive Strike is the paladin’s variant on the fighter’s AoO. If an enemy within reach attacks one of your allies, you stab them and impose a penalty on their attacks, damage rolls, and Strength-linked checks. The free attack seems like a much bigger deal than the imposed penalty, but PF2 habitually treats 1 or 2-point modifiers as more impressive and memorable than they are. Folks, they’re going to change a degree of success only a tiny portion of the time. I’ll grant that multiple degrees of success creates more shifts that could occur.
- Champion Powers grants lay on hands and a Spell Point pool equal to your Charisma modifier. At base, lay on hands is a minor healing power that also boosts the target’s AC by 1 for a round, or does the reverse to undead. Once I’m done with the bullet points, I want to talk about the density of textual reference and interconnection. Brace yourselves, and make your peace with whatever gods you hold sacred.
- Righteous Ally at 3rd level grants a connection with one of three different types of allies.
- Blade Ally gives you a magic weapon that you can tweak the properties on at the start of each day. These properties don’t count against its limit of properties. The list of properties you can add increases with feat expenditure, but you never add more than one property.
- Shield Ally gives your shield more Hardness and the ability to take more Dents before breaking. This is exactly the kind of feature I was looking for in the fighter feats.
- Steed Ally is the only way you’re getting a paladin mount. PF2 has pretty involved rules for animal companions, so only pick this if you’re going deep on the feats that improve your companion.
- Weapon Expertise at 5th level improves your weapon proficiency with simple and martial weapons to expert for one weapon group.
- Armored Fortitude at 7th level improves your proficiency with heavy armor and shields to expert, and your Fort saves to master. Your successful Fort saves are crit successes while you wear heavy armor.
- Holy Smite at 9th level adds persistent damage equal to your Cha modifier to your Retributive Strike.
- Aura of Justice at 11th level shows us the joy of sharing. In this case, you share the joy of administering beatdowns with your nearby friends. Now we’re getting serious about dissuading targets from ignoring the tank.
- Armor Mastery at 13th level steps up all of your armor proficiencies by one level, and halves the movement penalty for heavy armor.
- Weapon Mastery at 15th level steps up your weapon proficiency with all simple and martial weapons to expert, and your chosen weapon group to master.
- Legendary Armor at 17th level improves your armor proficiencies by another rank (heavy armor is now legendary), and reduces the penalties from armor and shields by 1.
- Hero’s Defiance at 19th level grants the hero’s defiance (a big heal that lands before the triggering attack) champion power, and increases your Spell Point pool.
The early feat options are surprising, because they favor the magic and healing side of the paladin over the warrior side. PF1’s paladin could be a primary healer; PF2’s looks like it wants to be a healer-who-tanks rather than a warrior-who-heals. I’d be inclined to say it’s taking more of a page from the Charisma build of the 4e paladin than most other sources. The connections to the PF1 paladin are also apparent with the Mercy feat at 4th level, and its many follow-ons.
There are also four oath feats, each adding another tenet and exception to your Code of Conduct. These feats let you ignore the base -2 penalty to Retributive Strikes against the associated creature type. Then there’s the Vengeful Oath, which makes you a self-appointed and universal judge, jury, and executioner. It turns your lay on hands into a big source of damage if you’re sure the target is evil and you’re right. (The text tries to suggest that you can’t use this as a litmus test, but they didn’t think this through for cases where you’re sure – but wrong.)
There is, as far as I can see, no obvious way to determine a creature’s alignment, since detect alignment has the restrictions than it has. Or… man, I have no idea, the text of detect alignment and the Alignment Aura sidebar are not saying the same thing in any way I can discern. Then there’s the Sense Evil feat at 8th, which sort of helps. Sometimes.
Litanies are another major class mechanic, if you opt into them. The three litanies are Against Slot, Against Wrath, and Of Righteousness. In essence, you’re denouncing your enemies to impose penalties, deal damage if they do the bad thing, or impose a vulnerability.
Overall, the paladin looks like a credible healer-tank, with additional options for improving punishment of enemies, debuffing enemies, and a lot of different ways to defend nearby allies. I don’t see where they’ve solved or even acknowledged the horse-in-a-dungeon problem of paladin mounts, so I can’t recommend any part of that path for the overwhelming majority of campaigns that include indoor fights.
Density of Textual Reference
What I mean by this is the number of steps of lookups you have to go through to understand a rule. Let’s use lay on hands as our example, and note that two of your 1st-level paladin feat options alter it slightly.
- You receive lay on hands on page 106.
- Hospice Knight and Warded Touch are both described on page 108. Most relevantly, Warded Touch removes the Manipulate trait from lay on hands. (For reasons I couldn’t begin to guess, Warded Touch requires “champion power (lay on hands),” while Hospice Knight does not.)
- Lay on hands is described on page 234. To parse it properly, it would be nice to understand the Healing, Necromancy, and Positive traits, but it’s a lot more important to understand Somatic Casting.
- Somatic Casting is described on page 196. It has the Manipulate and Spellcasting traits. This is where we learn, somewhat indirectly, that the paladin needs to drop or sheathe their weapon to lay on hands – possibly obvious, but considering that bards, clerics, and druids get to mostly-ignore Somatic Casting, maybe not.
- The Manipulate trait is described on page 416, which notes that it “often triggers reactions.” The player doesn’t have a lot more to go on than this within the span of this book. Do monsters have many reactions triggered by the Manipulate trait? A fighter’s AoOs certainly are, but that’s not much of a clue, because those are otherwise unique to fighters (and paladins who spend a feat).
Is Warded Touch a good idea? I still have no basis for deciding that, until and unless I, as a putative player, read the monster stat blocks. Which aren’t in this book.
Next week should be an Unearthed Arcana week, possibly the long-awaited return of the artificer. The week after that… uh, I may take a longer break from this breakdown series. I care about staying polite and kind in my design analysis, and this text is dense and confusing enough that I’m losing my grip on that approach. Expect at least one new article in the History of the Fighter series before I return to PF2.