When we sit down to talk about class balance in the in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, a lot of people struggle to understand it. Recent looks at the kineticist have illustrated just how much value versatility might be to a game, but when considering relative power the most commonly sited metric is damage. Players talk about melee classes being underpowered and community sentiment was so vocal, that some classes like rogue received more favorable variants in Pathfinder Unchained. The rogue and fighter both uncover together another fundamental Pathfinder balance, Conditional Modifiers and Conditional Damage.
Understanding Conditional Damage
The Core Rulebook classes layout some fundamentals regarding class damage potential. The most simple of these is “The more often I hit, the less damage I do.” or “If I hit less often, my hits should do more damage.” Less often can also refer to a limited or special trigger (like flat-footed, flanked, etc) that is not always guaranteed to be there. These conditional attacks (less accurate or less common) by nature have higher damage ceilings. We can as a simple exercise run percent chances to hit with average damages to yield an average “output” per attack.
Consider at 5th Level against an ogre with 20 AC:
Fighter: Full BAB, Primary Stat Strength (+4) – Martial Weapon should look something like:
- Hits AC 20 about 50% of the time for 1d8+4 (8.5) damage. (4.3 output per attack)
Rogue: Mid BAB, Primary Stat Dex (+2 STR) – Light Weapon w/ Sneak might look like:
- Hits AC 20 about 30% of the time for 1d6+2 damage. (3.3 output per attack)
Our Rogue with Conditional Modifiers (Flanking, Sneak attack):
- Hits AC 20 about 40% of the time for 1d6+2+3d6 damage. (6.4 output per attack)
Quite a difference. By accepting conditional modifiers the rogue class moves ahead of the fighter in their potential damage output. Additional attacks also exploit this laws as does the power attack feat. Reduced accuracy for more possible damage (Or again, “If I hit less often I should do more damage). Let’s look at fighting at AC 25, young adult blue dragon.
Fighter at 10th level with flanking and Two-Weapon fighting and Power Attack (assuming a small STR increase [+5] and magic weapon):
- Primary Attack to hit AC 25, 45% for 1d8+13 (17.5) damage. (7.9 output per attack)
- Second Attack hit AC 25 20% for 1d8+13 (17.5) damage (3.5 output per attack)
- Off-Hand to hit AC 25, 45% for 1d6+11 (14.5) damage (6.5 output per attack)
- Total Round Output 18.9
Rogue at the same level with similar gear, also Flanking, Two-Weapon fighting:
- Primary Attack to hit AC 25, 30% for 1d6+3+5d6 (24) damage. (7.2 output per attack)
- Second Attack hit AC 25 5% for 1d6+3+5d6 (24) damage (1.2 output per attack)
- Off-Hand to hit AC 25, 30% for 1d6+2+5d6 (23) damage (6.9 output per attack)
- Total Round Output 15.3
The fighter pulls ahead of the rogue by accepting an additional condition. In turn if we accept the condition of finesse weapons and add Weapon Finesse to our rogue (assuming a Dex high stat of a +5 modifier) we see rogue pull ahead once more:
Rogue with Finesse –
- Primary Attack to hit AC 25, 45% for 1d6+3+5d6 (24) damage. (10.8 output per attack)
- Second Attack hit AC 25 20% for 1d6+3+5d6 (24) damage (4.8 output per attack)
- Off-Hand to hit AC 25, 45% for 1d6+2+5d6 (23) damage (10.4 output per attack)
- Total Round Output 26
You may apply these metrics when evaluating a new class for play, for example Legendary Game’s kinetic shinobi. A hybrid of kineticist and ninja we should expect damage metrics to run in similar ranges to a rogue. At 10th level our kinetic shinobi also can take advantage of conditional modifiers including two-weapon fighting, sneak attack, and hadou admixture dual kinetic katana it is tempting to look at it and come up with:
Kinetic shinobi with sneak attack –
- Primary Attack to hit AC 25, 45% for 1d8+2+3d6 (17) damage. (7.7 output per attack)
- Second Attack hit AC 25 20% for 1d8+2+3d6 (17) damage (3.4 output per attack)
- Off-Hand to hit AC 25, 45% for 1d8+2+3d6 (17) damage (7.7 output per attack)
- Total Round Output 18.8
This would render it a weaker option when compared to the Core classes. But to fully consider the conditional possibilities, you really need to look over each new class. Kinetic shinobi additionally it has the option of resolving weapons as energy touch attacks by assuming Weapon Finesse adjusting an accuracy condition. Even making the required reduction in sneak dice to 1d4 another picture emerges. Assuming similar stats and our YA blue dragon with its touch AC of 8:
Kinetic shinobi using as above using energy touch attack –
- Primary Attack to hit touch AC 8 , 95% for 1d8+1+3d4 (13) damage. (12.4 output per attack)
- Second Attack to hit touch AC 8 95% for 1d8+1+3d4 (13) damage. (12.4 output per attack)
- Off-Hand to touch AC 8, 95% for 1d8+1+3d4 (13) damage. (12.4 output per attack)
- Total Round Output 37.2
By reducing damage and increasing accuracy our conditional damage against the blue dragon can exceed rogue. Before we jump back the other direction we have to evaluate to fact that energy katana being an kinetic blast based attack will check the dragons Spell Resistance as well. This gives a significant chance of negating this increased damage entirely forcing the kinetic shinobi to decide which conditional damage modifiers to risk.
Statistical analysis of game mechanics is a rabbit hole that one can dive deeper and deeper into, none of the above takes criticals into account for instance, but the general contours of what is and is not balanced can be seen by examining the conditional modifiers and weighing them against Core classes like fighter and rogue. Don’t forget the versatility component of some classes and how it may figure into their overall worth, particularly if a class seems weak.