Making Small martial characters not suck?


Homebrew and House Rules


Suck might be a strong word, but it really seems to me that they are notably hosed, especially Small melee characters. Not only is the weapon damage reduced, but the (typically) reduced land speed makes them harder to get into melee. PLUS they tend to have Strength penalties. All this doesn't seem worth a +1 AC and attack, a -1 to CMB/D, and a +4 on Stealth.

Anybody come up with any houserules to make this a little more viable?


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Not house rules, but for Small martials:

Rogue/Slayer (and some archetypes of other things) Sneak Attack are not reduced by Small size.
Swashbuckler Precise Strike is not reduced by Small size, and Mouser Swashbuckler is actually better if you are Small.

Also, if you are a Goblin, you just need a feat to use firearms made for Medium creatures without penalty.

For Small semi-martials:

Magus Spellstrike damage and other effects are not reduced by Small size.


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Comparing a halfling to a human (who bumps strength instead of dex), it's +2 AC, +1 all saves, +2 Perception, +5 Stealth, +1 all social skills, etc.

(And they can take the Fleet of Foot alternative racial trait for 30' move.)


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Weapon Finesse/Grace feats let you fight with dexterity instead of strength to damage. The Halfling alternate racial trait Fleet of Foot eliminates the speed penalty. Alternatively, a Halfling Cavalier or Paladin can zip around dungeons pretty fast on a riding dog. The only penalty not overcome is the weapon damage die size.

I didn't even have to resort to houserules for this one.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Lost Omens Subscriber

I haven't found house rules for this really needed. Albeit you have to pick through things somewhat, but then a kitsune isn't the greatest medium martial either normally.

Aasimar and tieflings can be small and still have a STR bonus. Wayangs have no STR penalty. A small STR race is only -1 damage for +1 to hit and +1 AC.

Halflings are surprisingly melee proficient with 30' speed and right racial abilities and feats.

Often a mounted character can be only viable in a dungeon/city delving game if small with a medium mount.

If you are playing at low levels then a balance tweak change might be in order if martial race disparity is a worry.

But if you are playing up to mid levels and beyond the penalties tend to be lost in the sea of bonuses.


It really depends on the build. For example, I have a halfling hunter/unchained-rogue who focuses on flanking with her animal companion. She got Weapon Finesse at rogue level one and Dex-to-Damage at rogue level 3, and since she rides her companion as a mount, her Pack Flanking feat lets her always be flanking. So she always gets the bonuses from Outflank, Sneak Attack, Precise Strike, and Dirty Fighter. And with the mount's greater speed, there's no problem getting close to an opponent. Add in Broken Wing Gambit, Paired Opportunists, and Combat Reflexes, she and her mount are doing tons of damage.


Small races are usually best for mounted characters. They can ride around in most dungeons just fine. A small lance is still doing impressive damage.


Steadfast Slayer roughly negates the difference in damage die (+2 damage over a Medium sized attacker), but you have to be the only threatener and engage the foe with a two-handed melee weapon. And well, the foe must be at least Medium sized for this to work.

Some "Small or smaller" feats: Taunt allows you to demoralize with Bluff, ignoring the size difference. If you want to give a big foe the runaround, Underfoot and Passing Trick can be an interesting specialization. Finally, Kobold Style gives a great +4 on combat maneuver checks - if you managed to deny the foe's Dex bonus before (usually via feint).


As long as you can get yourself a decent movement rate you'll be fine. I'm presently playing a gnome paladin in Wrath of the Righteous. Last night I inflicted nearly 400 hp of damage on a dragon with just two mounted charge attacks. And none of the damage was due to mythic abilities (although my mount was under the effects of a mythic haste in addition to the usual airwalk spell.)


Damage dice are grossly overrated anyway. My beef with small races is that the only normal small race without a strength penalty is the wayang, which is a) super weird and b) looks like it can't lift a toothpick without breaking down.

The Exchange

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Gathlain also have no Str penalty.

Shadow Lodge

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I haven't had a problem with my small martial characters. My best was probably my Halfling Paladin with his Agile Elven Curved Blade and Power Attack. Played him quite a few times. :)


Bearserk wrote:
Gathlain also have no Str penalty.

Vine Leshys too, but fey or plant aren't what I'd call "normal" races.


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+1 ac and +1 to hit is the equivalent of 2 feats. That isn't how I would define sucking.


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In a previous Pathfinder campaign, the toughest badass in the party was our halfling paladin. Admittedly, it was a high point buy campaign, but his smite/charge routine was quite deadly to our foes.


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

My house rules are way more extensive, but if I were to focus solely on this issue these are the changes I would limit them too:

  • Small characters have a base speed of 25 ft.
  • Instead of having armor decrease speed to set amounts, have medium armor reduce speed by 5 ft. and heavy armor reduce speed by 10 ft.
  • Allow small races to remove the -2 Str by giving up one of their +2s

This allows small races to avoid being pigeonholed into Dex based builds. I will agree that this really only matters at lower levels (which is what I personally prefer), and at higher levels the penalties of being Small don't matter nearly as much.

Silver Crusade

Halflings make pretty good martials. Damage will be very slightly less than a medium character with a STR bonus (about 3 or 4 points less) but that is offset by other benefits. Other posters have already listed some of those benefits, but in addition halflings get several useful combat feats like Risky Striker and Blundering Defence. They also have the Adaptable Luck feat tree.

I have a couple of halfling martial builds on the drawing board. My wife plays a halfling barbarian (mounted fury) in pfs and has a blast with him.

And wayangs are possibly the best race to use for a mounted martial due to size benefit and no STR penalty.

Grand Lodge

  • Play a dex based martial.
  • Grippli have 30ft move.
  • Play a wayang (no strength penalty).
  • Small aasimar or tiefling.
  • Steadfast slayer or risky striker.
  • Use classes with a lot of static damage rogues, swashbucklers, paladins these all tend to create builds that are pretty comparable between medium and small creatures.
  • Use a wisdom or cha build

    Small characters with a -2 to strength is equal hit and ~1-4 damage. This is pretty easy to ignore at most levels. This is basically less than you get from a single dip on most martials. If your level for acceptable martial performance is most full bab mono-classes, a single medium, brawler, or barbarian dip will fully fix the deficit.

  • Silver Crusade

    Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

    Not the typical martial, but I currently have a Halfling kineticist in PFS, I'm inclined to count it because I play them as a switch hitter with melee as the preferred range. He's been rather effective.


    My wife's "dash-one" in PFS is a halfling underfoot monk, with the fleet of foot and underfoot alternate racial traits. Her damage output wasn't terribly high at lower levels, but she's always been good at maneuvering around opponents and tripping them to set up AoO's for the party's heavy hitters. She tends to be a living monkey wrench in her enemy's tactics! ;)

    And now that she's 9th level, she has a monk's robe and a vicious merciful amulet of mighty fists, so rolls a fistful of dice with every hit, too.


    Spiny the gnome was my favorite greyhawk character. He had the best armor available to him, with armor spikes. Bow specialized characters loved firing over his head. I think one PC wizard hasted the whole party and we plowed through the enemy.


    The titan mauler gets a +1 to attack and dodge when up against larger creatures and he can weild larger weapons though at big penalties.


    If I recreate Spiny for Pathfinder, I will seriously consider Titan Mauler.

    Gnomes get +2 con so a low wall is a good build. He could still charge for 40 feet.


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    Be a non-human skinwalker [Wereboar-kin]: small PC with +2 str/con, 30' base move [with the option for a +10' bonus to speed or scent or natural attacks]... Seems pretty non-sucky IMO.

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