Power Attack: 3.5 vs PF? Why was it changed?


Rules Questions


So just wondering if this has ever been addressed (I assume it probably was at some point). Why was power attack changed from 3.5 to its current form in PF? Was it a balance issue?


Oh god yes, it was obnoxious.

2 handed weapon, wielded by raged barbarian? Where that number removed from attack is doubled for damage? Stupid. Was immediately house ruled out in all my group's campaigns.


One issue was the time-consumption. PCs would meticulously calculate out what amount of attack roll they wanted to sacrifice for every opponent, every time, to maximize gains. The good ones did it quickly and combat moved on. Those who were more inexperienced, with poorer math skills, or whatnot would sit there and deliberate over it and hold up combat.

Dark Archive

It got to the point that taking the -20 to hit didn't even phase a well built martial character. Combine it with 3.5s leap attack feat and frenzied bezerker and it was ridiculous. Maybe add a brilliant energy weapon.

It used to be a game of "what's the most negative to hit can I add before I miss" rather than the simpler on or off way it works now


Yep playing in a game now and it becomes a question of well bob hit on an 18 I have a +12 to hit so How much do I risk.


The D&D 3.5 Power Attack said:

d20srd.org wrote:

Power Attack [General]

Prerequisite Str 13.
BenefitOn your action, before making attack rolls for a round, you may choose to subtract a number from all melee attack rolls and add the same number to all melee damage rolls. This number may not exceed your base attack bonus. The penalty on attacks and bonus on damage apply until your next turn.
SpecialIf you attack with a two-handed weapon, or with a one-handed weapon wielded in two hands, instead add twice the number subtracted from your attack rolls. You can’t add the bonus from Power Attack to the damage dealt with a light weapon (except with unarmed strikes or natural weapon attacks), even though the penalty on attack rolls still applies. (Normally, you treat a double weapon as a one-handed weapon and a light weapon. If you choose to use a double weapon like a two-handed weapon, attacking with only one end of it in a round, you treat it as a two-handed weapon.)
A fighter may select Power Attack as one of his fighter bonus feats.

Thus, the D&D 3.5 character gives up -X to hit in exchange for +X damage or for two-handed weapons +2X damage. What is the best X? Finding X is not simple arithmetic. It requires analytic geometry.

Suppose a 5th-level fighter swinging a greatsword for 2d6+6 damage hits on a d20 roll of 7 or better. His average damage, ignoring crits, is (14/20)(13) = 9.1 damage per attack. With D&D 3.5 Power Attack, that becomes (14-X)/20*(13+2X) = -0.1X^2 + 0.75X + 9.1 damage per attack. The best X is at the vertex of that parabola, X = 3.75 and damage = 10.506. Since X has to be a whole number, we round to X = 4 and damage = 10.5, an improvement of 1.4 more damage.

However, if the fighter hits on 9 or better, instead, the formula becomes (12-X)/20*(13+2X) = -0.1X^2 + 0.65X + 7.8, and the best whole number X is 3 for 8.55 damage, an improvement of 0.75 more damage.

Imagine doing these calculations in the middle of combat. Instead, people estimated based on similiar fights and then felt bad that they might have picked the wrong X. The calculation was easy only when the opponent had such low AC compared to the fighter's attack bonus that X was obviously greater or equal to the BAB, so go with the limit at X = BAB.

Pathfinder elminated the analytic geometry by creating a fixed X equal to 1 + BAB/4. To make up for not having the best possible X, they increased the damage bonus from +X and +2X to +2X and +3X.

A 5th-level fighter swinging a greatsword for 2d6+6 damage and hitting on a d20 roll of 7 or better would do an average of 9.1 damage per attack without Power Attack and 12 damage with Power Attack, an improvement of 2.9 more damage. Pathfinder Power Attack is more powerful than D&D 3.5 Power Attack at low levels and became an almost mandatory feat.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Mathmuse wrote:
What is the best X? Finding X is not simple arithmetic. It requires analytic geometry.

Actually, in my experience it required taking the Shock Trooper feat.


With the way Power Attack worked before, it was pretty much a must have for a STR based character. I think they are trying to move away from must-haves. Not to mention calculating bonuses and how much a single point affects this edition vs. the previous. There are a lot of factors, I imagine, that led to this decision.

Also, flat numbers are boring.

Shadow Lodge

Pretty certain they just wanted to simplify it...


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The ratio is better so PA's more of a must have now, but avoiding the situation where a PC has PA and Combat Expertise then spends 5-10 minutes every time his action came around working out what his best attack routine will be (getting loudly annoyed if anyone tries to hurry him or cut him off) is a good thing IMO.

I suspect avoiding that and avoiding the extreme bonuses possible with extreme attack values was the intent.

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