Who Slew the Fighter?

Welcome to the Gibbering Mouth article for March 5th, 2014. Today’s article is a Mythcleaving article; the topic is fighter versatility.

All right, so now it’s time to tackle another hot topic in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. And hey, for this one, I’m actually on time! Hooray! In two months, Paizo is going to be releasing their big hardcover options book at GenCon 2014, the Advanced Class Guide. This book features 10 new base classes and new archetypes for all 29 of Pathfinder’s base classes. It’s a pretty exciting time to be a Pathfinder player overall. New options means new, exciting characters for players and GMs to creature. What’s not to love?

However, there is some controversy with the Advanced Class Guide. All 10 of these new classes were designed as ‘hybrids,’ meaning they take aspects of two currently existing classes and meld them into something new and niche. Take a drop of rogue and a dash of ranger and you get the slayer class. A pinch of fighter mixed in with a handful of gunslinger and you have the swashbuckler class. So on and so forth. Today’s Mythcleaving topic is a direct result of this “dash-and-dab” class design. So let’s not pull any punches and move onward with the show!

The Myth

Meet the fighter. One of Pathfinder’s original core classes. In terms of class features, the fighter is fairly straight-forward. Bonus feats. Bonus damage with specific types of weapons. A scaling bonus on saves against fear. Benefits to make you better with armor. Couple of feats to improve your chance to hit and damage. Nice things all around. Sure, the fighter isn’t the DPR god that the paladin is, but being able to count on your trusty weapon at all times is a nice perk.

Then the slayer shows up.

The slayer is a combination of rogue and ranger. It gains all of the rogue’s offensive talents, the ability to select three bonus combat feats from a ranger’s combat style, a restricted sneak attack bonus (+1d6 every 3 levels), and favored target, an ability that functions like a ranger’s favored enemy, except the bonus is reduced by half but the slayer can choose to target anything she wants with it. It is a solid combat class, which is likely why so many players are crying out that the slayer invalidates the fighter. Is that true? That’s the subject for our Mythcleaving article today.

The Facts

Let’s take a quick look at the comparisons.

  • Statistics: The fighter has a good base attack bonus, a d10 hit die, 2 skill points per level, a good Fortitude save, and poor Reflex and Will saves. The slayer, on the other hand, has a good base attack bonus, a d10 hit die, 6 skill points per level, good Fortitude and Reflex saves, and a poor Will save. The slayer gets everything the fighter has, and then some.
  • Class Features: The fighter revolves around a handful of class features: bonus feats, weapon training, armor training, and bravery. Weapon Training accounts for a +4 bonus to attack and damage rolls by 20th level, armor training lessens the armor check penalty of armor and improves the fighter’s speed, and bravery is a Will save bonus against fear effects. The slayer … gets a lot more. Favored target accounts for up to a +5 bonus on attack rolls, damage rolls, and certain skill check rolls made against one specific target. The slayer also receives +1d6 sneak attack damage, slayer talents at every even level, and a few iconic ranger class features like quarry, and improved quarry.

So in terms of sheer bulk-atude the slayer has the fighter beat. The slayer has many more class features than the fighter, but one must remember that the jewel of fighter design isn’t the weapon or armor training, it’s the bonus feats. Those who claim that the slayer outshines the fight note, however, that the slayer can match the fighter feat for feat if it wants to. Let’s take a look:

  • The slayer gains combat trick, which allows her to select any combat feat as a bonus feat.
  • The slayer gains combat style, which allows her to select up to three bonus feats from one ranger combat style. This has the added benefit of allowing the slayer to ignore the prerequisites of those three feats.
  • The slayer can choose to take finesse rogue, which grants Weapon Finesse as a bonus feat, weapon training, which grants Weapon Focus as a bonus feat, or firearm training, which grants Exotic Weapon Proficiency (firearms) as a bonus feat. At 10th level, she can also select feat, which grants her one feat of her choice.
  • Over the course of 20 levels, the slayer can gain seven bonus feats. Most of these feats are either niche (firearm training or weapon finesse). That said, for the first 6 levels, the class can (and often will) frontload three bonus feats that are relevant to the character for the first six levels. The 10th level talent could also be used to select another feat, and since Weapon Focus isn’t a bad feat, taking weapon training at 8th level means that the fighter is only one feat ahead of the slayer for the 10 levels of play. So is that enough?

Sample Builds

All right, here’s the part you’ve all been waiting for. Let’s make some builds! Both of our warriors are going to be two-weapon users, because generally speaking that’s the least feat-intensive route that you can go. We’re also going to be using zero archetypes and assume that neither character has a race. I’m also going to make sure that the slayer and the fight take (roughly) the same feats. This comparison also assumes that the slayer class did not change at all during the playtest. That will likely be wrong (leading me to date myself), but oh well! On with the show.

Note: if you want it, here’s the link to my maths: Fighter:Slayer DPR Book. If not, I totally understand. Its just a spreadsheet.

Round 1 — Early Levels (1 – 7)

The Slayer

  • Feats: Power Attack (1st), Cleave (Combat Style), Furious Focus (3rd), Weapon Focus: greatsword (Combat Style), Dazzling Display (5th), Shatter Defenses (Combat Trick), Critical Focus (7th)
  • Class Features: Favored Target (two targets; +2), Slayer Talents (combat style 1, combat style 2, weapon training), Sneak Attack +2d6, Stalker, Track.
  • Attack Bonus: +7 BAB + 4 (Str) + 1 (Weapon Focus) + 2 (Favored Enemy) – 2 (Power Attack) = +14/+7 to Hit
  • Theoretical Damage (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword), + 6 (Power Attack; ignored for first attack) + 6 (Strength) + 7 (sneak attack) + 2 (Favored Enemy) = 28 damage
  • Potential Damage (Full Attack): 34.615

The Fighter

  • Feats: Power Attack (Bonus), Cleave (1st), Furious Focus (Bonus), Weapon Focus: greatsword (3rd), Weapon Specialization: Greatsword (Bonus) , Dazzling Display (5th), Shatter Defenses (Bonus Feat), Critical Focus (7th)
  • Class Features: Armor Training 2, Bravery +2, Weapon Training 1 (Heavy Blades)
  • Attack Bonus: +7 BAB + 4 (Str) + 1 (Weapon Focus) + 1 (Weapon Training) – 2 (Power Attack; ignored for first attack) = +13/+6 to Hit
  • Theoretical Damage (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword) + 6 (Power Attack) + 6 (Strength) + 2 (Weapon Specialization) + 1 (Weapon Training) = 23 damage
  • Potential Damage (Full Attack): 26.22

In the early levels, the slayer has the clear advantage on to-hit rolls and to-damage rolls, rounding off with a +12 to Hit and an average of 28 damage. The fighter, on the other hand, has a +11 to Hit and an average of 28 damage. However, this is assuming that every attack that both characters make hits every time. In practice, both characters have an extremely close potential damage: the slayer will usually hit for an average of 34.615 damage during a full attack, while the fighter averages a 26.22. Because sneak attack deals an average of 7 points of damage, sneak attack and a +1 attack bonus is literally the only thing keeping the slayer ahead of the fighter at this stage of the game and honestly, it isn’t by much. Let’s see if it stays that way.

Round 2 — The Mid Levels (8 – 14)

The Slayer

  • Feats: Power Attack (1st), Cleave (Combat Style), Furious Focus (3rd), Weapon Focus: greatsword (Combat Style), Dazzling Display (5th), Shatter Defenses (Combat Trick), Critical Focus (7th), Improved Critical (9th), Dreadful Carnage (Combat Style), Critical Focus (11th), Bleeding Critical (Feat Talent), Sneaking Precision (13th)
  • Class Features: Favored Target (three targets; +3), Quarry, Quick Tracker, Slayer Talents (bleeding attack, combat style 1, combat style 2, combat style 3, combat trick, feat, weapon training), Slayer’s Advance 1/Day, Sneak Attack +4d6, Stalker, Track.
  • Attack Bonus: +14 BAB + 6 (Str) + 1 (Weapon Focus) + 3 (Favored Target) – 4 (Power Attack) = +24/+15/+10 to Hit
  • Theoretical Damage (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword), + 12 (Power Attack) + 9 (Strength) + 14 (sneak attack) + 3 (Favored Target) + 3 (Bleeding Attack) = 48 damage
  • Potential Damage (Full Attack): 83.6

The Fighter

  • Feats: Power Attack (Bonus), Cleave (1st), Furious Focus (Bonus), Weapon Focus: greatsword (3rd), Weapon Specialization: Greatsword (Bonus) , Dazzling Display (5th), Shatter Defenses (Bonus), Critical Focus (7th), Improved Critical (Bonus), Dreadful Carnage (9th), Greater Weapon Focus: greatsword (Bonus), Critical Focus (11th), Greater Weapon Specialization: greatsword (Bonus), Bleeding Critical (13th), Penetrating Strike (Bonus)
  • Class Features: Armor Training 3, Bravery +4, Weapon Training 3 (Axes, Light Blades, Heavy Blades)
  • Attack Bonus: +14 BAB + 6 (Str) + 1 (Weapon Focus) + 1 (Greater Weapon Focus), + 3 (Weapon Training) – 4 (Power Attack) = +23/+14/+9 to Hit
  • Theoretical Damage (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword) + 12 (Power Attack) + 9 (Strength) + 2 (Weapon Specialization) + 2 (Greater Weapon Specialization) + 3 (Weapon Training) = 35 damage
  • Potential Damage (Full Attack): 51.31

So this is the stage of the game where we start to see the divide between slayer and fighter start to form. On the slayer’s end, he really starts to rocket upward in damage. The fighter can’t keep up with all of the slayer’s extra sneak attack dice even though the slayer only has a 5% better chance to hit his mark then the fighter. On average, the slayer’s damage is going to be 30 points higher than the fighter’s. The fighter, on the other hand, finally starts pulling away from the slayer in terms of his options. Up until level 8, the slayer was matching the fighter feat for feat, but now the that all of the slayer’s feat-granting talents have run dry the fighter has tons of floating feats that he simply doesn’t know what to do with. Against foes with damage reduction, for example, the fighter’s damage is effectively 5 points higher against foes thanks to Penetrating Strike while the slayer’s s 5 points lower. Is it enough to bridge the gap? No. But it’s something, right? Let’s see what happens in the final stretch of the game.

Round 3 — The End Game (15+)

The Slayer

  • Feats: Power Attack (1st), Cleave (Combat Style), Furious Focus (3rd), Weapon Focus: greatsword (Combat Style), Dazzling Display (5th), Shatter Defenses (Combat Trick), Critical Focus (7th), Improved Critical (9th), Dreadful Carnage (Combat Style), Critical Focus (11th), Bleeding Critical (Feat Talent), Sneaking Precision (13th), Great Cleave (15th), Stunning Assault (17th), Dazing Assault (19th)
  • Class Features: Favored Target (two targets; +2), Improved Quarry, Master Slayer, Quarry, Quick Tracker, Slayer Talents (bleeding attack, combat style 1, combat style 2, combat style 3, combat trick, feat, weapon training), Slayer’s Advance 2/day, Sneak Attack +6d6, Stalker, Track.
  • Attack Bonus: +20 BAB + 8 (Str) + 1 (Weapon Focus) + 5 (Favored Enemy) – 6 (Power Attack) = +34/+23/+18/+13 to Hit
  • Theoretical Damage (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword), + 18 (Power Attack) + 12 (Strength) + 21 (sneak attack) + 5 (Favored Enemy) + 6 (Bleeding Attack) = 68 damage
  • Potential Damage (Full Attack): 102.31

The Fighter

  • Feats: Power Attack (Bonus), Cleave (1st), Furious Focus (Bonus), Weapon Focus: greatsword (3rd), Weapon Specialization: Greatsword (Bonus) , Dazzling Display (5th), Shatter Defenses (Bonus), Critical Focus (7th), Improved Critical (Bonus), Dreadful Carnage (9th), Greater Weapon Focus: greatsword (Bonus), Critical Focus (11th), Greater Weapon Specialization: greatsword (Bonus), Bleeding Critical (13th), Penetrating Strike (Bonus), Greater Penetrating Strike (15th), Deadly Stroke (Bonus), Tiring Critical (17th), Critical Mastery (Bonus), Dazing Assault (19th), Stunning Assault (Bonus)
  • Class Features: Armor Mastery, Armor Training 4, Bravery +5, Weapon Mastery: greatsword, Weapon Training 4 (Axes, Light Blades, Heavy Blades)
  • Attack Bonus: +20 BAB + 8 (Str) + 1 (Weapon Focus) + 1 (Greater Weapon Focus), + 4 (Weapon Training) – 6 (Power Attack) = +34/+23/+18/+13 to Hit
  • Theoretical Damage (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword) + 18 (Power Attack) + 12 (Strength) + 2 (Weapon Specialization) + 2 (Greater Weapon Specialization) + 4 (Weapon Training) = 45 damage
  • Potential Damage (Full Attack): 127.95

SURPRISE!

The fighter will actually, on average, out-damage the slayer at max-level. Why? Weapon mastery is a ridiculously powerful ability that the slayer cannot (literally) hold a candle to. Not only does weapon mastery improve the fighter’s critical threat range with his greatsword to x3, but it also auto-confirms critical hits made with the weapon. When you’re swinging for 45 damage a pop, an extra 45 damage on one of four hits is HUGE. If you think about it like this, sneak attack is worth 21 extra damage. One weapon mastery hit with your greatsword is often worth two sneak attacks. To make matters worse for the slayer, extra damage dice like sneak attacks aren’t multiplied on critical hits, so the slayer’s critical hit damage is ALWAYS going to be lower than the fighter’s if the slayer can’t sneak attack.

Analysis

So, what does this data teach us?

In a straight-up comparison, the slayer is going to out-hit and out-damage a fighter with a similar build and statistics until 20th level, when the fighter gains the ridiculously powerful weapon mastery ability. In terms of raw numbers, the slayer is always going to be higher than the fighter as long as he’s getting his sneak attack off. This means that in most situations, an archer fighter is going to out-damage the slayer while the martial slayer will out-damage the fighter when it is able to receive sneak attack. This is a pretty big “when,” however, because if the slayer doesn’t receive sneak attack then he and the fighter are usually within one or two points of each other damage-wise, with the fighter usually edging out.

The build I presented had a way for the slayer to generate its own sneak attacks without a buddy (Shatter Defenses), but generally speaking you’re going to want to try and go for the flanking whenever possible as a slayer. Shatter Defenses takes time to set up; you won’t be able to attack the first round you throw your shaken condition onto your opponent and the first attack you make against the shaken opponent, the one that triggers Shatter Defenses, will not be a sneak attack. In contrast, the fighter doesn’t need to do anything special to deal his damage, so while the slayer will often edge out the fighter in paper, in practice the fighter is going to come out on top because he’s able to throw in a few attacks before the slayer is ready and able to go.

That isn’t even getting into the fighter’s biggest advantage: his versatility.

Fighter Versatility

The most overlooked aspect of the fighter by those who preach its demise is the supreme versatility that the class has when selecting bonus feats. Slayer is limited to a very, very small list that often has varying usefulness. For example, I personally don’t like the Cleave feat very much. It’s not a bad feat, but if I’m going to attack multiple opponents, I’d rather have a separate chance to succeed with each attack. One bad roll on my first die stops the whole feat from working, which makes Great Cleave somewhat risky at high levels when you could be making multiple attacks (and potentially rolling multiple natural 20s) instead.

The other interesting thing about these builds is psychology. In order to keep the math as fair and unbiased as possible, it was important to make the builds as similar as possible, which means I limited myself to choosing the same feats as the slayer. But the fighter has a lot more flexibility than the slayer does, especially in the mid and end game. The fighter has access to 21 feats in total while the slayer has access to 15 meaningful feats, 16 if you plan on focusing on Weapon Finesse, or 17 if you plan on focusing on firearms. Of the fighter’s feats, 10 can be whatever the fighter wants (his standard feats) and 11 can be any combat feat, a list that is so broad and applicable to the fighter that it might as well be “whatever he wants.” If that wasn’t enough, the fighter can reassign his bonus feats as he levels up, giving him even more flexibility over the slayer. The slayer, on the other hand, has 10 feats that can be whatever he wants and the rest are drawn from a list of super-specific feats depending upon the talent he is going for. One talent grants any combat feat he wants while another grants him any feat he wants period. The slayer’s combat style ignores prerequisites, which is awesome, but it is also restricted to a list of six or seven very specific feats, some of which might not be applicable to the build that you’re working towards. Some combat styles are awesome (TWF, Archery) while others are iffy (2H). Inner Sea Gods’ deific combat styles helps to expand the slayer’s choice somewhat, but ultimately no list of combat styles is ever going to allow the slayer to become remotely as flexible as the fighter.

As a final thought, it is interesting that the slayer and fighter’s feat progression is the most similar at early levels, when the slayer’s sneak attack and favored enemy bonuses are at their smallest, meaning that the fighter and slayer are at their most similar. As the slayer starts to focus on damage, however, the fighter begins to outstrip the slayer in feat versatility.

My ultimate verdict? The slayer will not replace the fighter because it isn’t designed to beat the fighter where it is strongest: in style versatility. The slayer will manage to beat the fighter in damage, however, but considering how difficult it is to focus on damage via feats, this should come as no surprise. In order to make a party with a slayer and a fighter work, it is important to make sure that the fighter has combat tricks that the slayer does not (such as a couple combat maneuvers) so the fighter can look and feel different from the slayer. GMs, if you have both a slayer and fighter in your group, it is important to make sure you use encounters that tailor to each class’s strengths and weaknesses. Use enemies that are immune to precision damage on occasion and encounters that allow the fighter’s chosen style to flourish. Focusing on the slayer, however, is easy: damage never goes out of style.

And that about wraps up my thoughts on the usefulness of the fighter compared to the slayer for this installment of Mythcleaving. What do you think? Will your players choose the slayer over the fighter, the fighter over the slayer, or will they both get used/shunned equally? How do you build fighters to keep them unique from damage-focused martial classes like the slayer? Is the slayer still beefin’ up the fighter’s turf too much? Leave your answers and comments below, and I look forward to chattin’ you all up next time!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune slayer, and his favorite slayer talent is … um … well … trapfinding? I guess …. Nothin’ all that new or unique on the slayer talent list, as expected.

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5 thoughts on “Who Slew the Fighter?

  1. One aspect of the Slayer vs Fighter is that the slayer is going to have a ton more skill points to round out with. With 6 skill points a level, he can act as a front-line martial as well as cover a suit of ‘useful’ skills (like disable device, perception, stealth etc). Skill wise skews even more into the Slayers favor if he uses Favored Target on someone as well.

    However, where the Fighter beats the Slayer is in AC. The Fighter gets Heavy Armor for free, and if the Slayer wants it, he needs a level dip or he needs to spend a feat. At the same time, the Fighter gets armor training so he’s going to move and be more flexible in his armor than a Slayer ever-will. Another thing that ties into versatility, is that with the plethora of, nearly unrestricted, bonus feats the Fighter has, he will be a better switch hitter than the Slayer. Not as good as the Ranger, but still better than the Slayer probably will be. I’d probably say its Ranger > Fighter > Slayer in terms of switch hitting capability.

    Overall though? I think the Slayer is a better class than the Fighter. Both do damned good and respectable damage, and both can have respectable ACs, but the skill disparity between the two is nothing to sneeze at. The Slayer would remove the whole idea of, “Social encounter? Time to play on my phone!”

    I think Slayers will become very popular in PFS with it’s mix of social and combat encounters. Rangers can suffer in PFS if they don’t select the right favored enemies (for which scenarios can vary wildly on the enemy type), but the Slayer has no worry for that. I think that the number of Fighters and Rangers in PFS will drop as people switch to Slayers.

    One thing Slayers are going to be really useful is swapping them out for ‘thug’ style enemies. Instead of NPCs playing Rogues or Fighters, you can build them as Slayers. They make great pirates or mercenaries or assassins. Basically, nearly any concept that requires multiclassing Rogue with Fighter or Ranger can be replaced by the Slayer.

    • Well, I personally think that the slayer should come out ahead of the fighter in terms of damage. Having every class perfectly balanced against one another leads to a 4th Edition scenario where all of your classes start to feel identical. I believe that class choice should be about playstyle, not power.

      An easy way to better divide the fighter from the slayer would be to drop the combat trick slayer talent and the feat advanced slayer talent, reducing the total number of feats that the slayer can select by two.Those two talents will often be selected at 4th level and 10th level, so by dropping them you A) force the slayer to take a different talent that will help divide it from the fighter even more and B) allow the fighter to get ahead of the slayer in terms of number of feats.

  2. One thing I wanted to note about the comparison was your assertion that against an opponent with DR the Fighter’s damage was effectively 5 points higher and the Slayer’s effectively 5 points lower. That’s not actually the case, only the second point is accurate. The Fighter’s damage stays consistent, it doesn’t go up (so it isn’t a 5+5 point gain, it just closes the gap by 5 points).

    How different do you think the numbers might be if you diverged a bit more with the FIghter? The Slayer, as you noted, can’t widen or narrow the gap much on his end because he’s basically on tracks with his feats, but what if the Fighter spent feats on things like Exotic Weapon Proficiency or picked up some of the later level but possibly more effective feats earlier instead of having to match up to the Slayer’s limited options? Do you think we’d see much of a change in the damage dynamic?

    I do agree that the Slayer should be better at damage than the Fighter. Since the class’ primary niche is “I kill things. No, seriously, I make them dead” he really should be. I’m just curious about how large or small a difference the Fighter’s versatility might actually account for in that particular dynamic.

    • Well, it really depends upon which fighting style we’re talking about.

      For example, if we talk about anything ranged-oriented, an archer slayer is going to beat an archer fighter. (Not including archetypes; the Archer Fighter is pretty good at improving ranged versatility.)

      IF we’re talking about melee, then on average Exotic Weapon Proficiency is worth 1 or 2 damage per attack or a +2 on a combat maneuver or two, depending on how you’re upgrading. While its not a bad feat, its certainly not going to bridge any perceived gaps between the Fighter and Slayer.

      Where the fighter will beat the slayer handily is in combat maneuvers. A slayer using a deific combat style (Inner Sea Combat) might get one or two Improved Combat maneuver feats on their list of feats. A fighter can take whatever he wants without batting an eye. This is especially good for the Lore Warden, as the Lore Warden’s maneuver mastery ability actually puts the fighter ahead of the Slayer in terms of Combat Maneuver check bonuses and it gives the Fighter a one-feat advantage over the slayer with few trade offs by comparison.

      But again, that build isn’t going to win the DPR Olympics.

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