How is Pathfinder balanced?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


To start off, I'm not claiming Pathfinder imbalanced or balanced, I'm just asking how some of the decisions were made when it comes to how the classes are different. This comes from the desire to create a class that is balanced... I know that its up to the DM to customize the encounters to make them interesting and highlight certain class features. I suspect my answer can probably only truly be answered by the developers of the game, but I'll give the general forum a shot.

Example of differences between classes: Take Monk Vs Barbarian, Monks get all good saves, where as Barbarians get only 1 good save.
Are monks more likely to be targeted by spells that require saves? Based on what I see, monks have more immunities, so why would you give them more saving powers? Do monks have less damage potential so they should have more defense possibilities?

Another example: Sorcerer vs Wizard, Sorcerer gets spells slower but knows more spells per day, vs Wizard who gets spells faster and have a total spell pool that is greater (albiet less per day).
Does making a sorcerer's spells known per day be higher than a Wizard's even out because every other level a Wizard can cast a spell from a higher level?

To summarize I realize the classes above are much different than the examples I brought up, but I'd like to know how the classes compare with each other, and how do those differences add up to equal a balanced situation.


That would imply that there is a method to the madness, but there isn't...

Classes come from different sources at different times, different people re-imagining old classes how they personally interpret them with what they feel is important at the time, and it all gets proofread/edited by a million monkeys with a million typewriters.


The differences from sorcerers vs wizards originally came from a video game. PF designers decided the sorc was relatively underpowered in a tabletop game - correctly - and added bloodlines to the sorc and schools to the wizard, where the bloodlines did more.

Monks and barbarians have messy histories but there's no reason to think they were ever directly compared for balance by any designer prior to PF unchained.


It all started with, what, a "fighting man", a "magic user", and a Cleric... so I very seriously doubt that you will find any underlying method or standard of balance that is maintained between the classes throughout the many evolutions and printings of this game.

I very seriously doubt that even the most recent PF1 classes were balanced against the existing classes in any meaningful way.


Well this is disappointing news, thanks for the responses.


Saves were usually about flavor. Is this class associated with being "tough"? Is this class associated with being "quick"? Is this class associated with being "mystical"? But there are exceptions.


Pathfinder 1e balance is based off math, essentially, but most of the design choices are rooted in the history of the game. Despite what some will say, a lot of thought went into the design PF1e, but a lot of that was focused on either fixing the problems with 3.5 or expanding the lore of the their setting.

I'm pretty sure there are guides for creating custom classes and whatnot, but they aren't strict rulesets, more benchmarks and guidelines.


So there are some constants of this is what you're looking for.

Hit dice go with Base Attack Bonus:
Full BAB = d10 HD
3/4 BAB = d8 HD
1/2 BAB = d6 HD
Some classes (Barbarian & Dragon Desciple) get a d12 HD

Saves are either "Good" or "Bad", there isn't much I can think of to get a full picture of who gets what saves, but here are some rules they've used.
Full BAB = good Fort & bad Will (Paladin gets good Will as well)
9th level casters = good Will
Divine classes with a "Church" feel (Cleric/Inquisitor/Paladin/Warpriest) have good Fort and Will - I assume this is to make them better at fighting Undead.
No class gets all bad saves (except the Commoner) or all good saves (except chained Monk).

9th level Arcane Casters = 1/2 BAB
9th level Divine Casters = 3/4 BAB

That's all I can think of, and I'm sure there are some exceptions I've missed, but that's a start.


Shifts in "balance" also happen depending on how an adventure is designed.

Is it designed to be Nova friendly.
How important is skill use
Can it be handled by Buff to the Max and GOGOGO!! or do people need to pace their resources.
Do all the monsters have SR or lots of immunities/resistances
Swarms?
Are the monsters just giant sacks of meat with high AC or do they have weird gimmicks.
Can everything be Sneak attacked
Do you give the party lots of uninterrupted rest time
etc....

certain kinds of adventures favour certain classes.

The only time you have to worry about Balance in a Vacuum is if you are doing some sort of PVP arena stuff.


Oh I know what I forgot, Skills.
6/level = good, 4/level = average, 2/level = bad.
The Rogue and Ninja get 8/level as a special bonus as part of their class (and one or two prestige classes get this).
I'm not quite sure of this next part, but I think INT-based classes are generally one-step lower than their non-INT counterparts (with a minimum of 2/level). This still usually leaves them with more skill ranks than the Rogue, but it's something.

I'm also not really sure how skills are balanced around BAB, Saves, HD or spells.


Ultimately, balance is done by the gaming group playing. Players helping each other out, making a party of complementary characters. GMs crafting encounters that challenge, but don't overwhelm the party, as well ones that allow different character and players shine (combat, social, working with a character's background, etc.) without having one dominate.

The incredible amount of options and customization available in Pathfinder (and 3E/3.5E/d20 games in general) makes blanket balance between classes practically impossible. Newer versions of the game, from 4E on to 5E and PF2, limit these options and homogenize things more for the sake of that balance. 5E's way is definitely very popular, as is the d20 way of PF1, while 4E's way wasn't.


Not that well (sorry, couldn't resist).


It depends a lot on how you define power. If you view power as "versatility" where your pc always has the right tools for the job, then casters (specifically wizards) tend to have an advantage. If its high numbers, then outside of a few exploitable things, there isn't much to speak of.


Forkedwizard wrote:
I'm just asking how some of the decisions were made when it comes to how the classes are different. This comes from the desire to create a class that is balanced...

Advanced Class Guide has some pages on class design - which are also available online. Official stance appearantly is: If you make up something new, use existing classes as reference for power level and general design. They actually recommended the same for monsters (in Bestiary) and spells (in Ultimate Magic).

Further, they emphasize that creating a new class is a major undertaking and that making up an archetype / alternate class / prestige class is an alternative.

When it comes to balance, I'd say: Pathfinder is intended as a cooperative game, so balance matters less than at a competitive game. And some imbalance is actually good, because it allows players to improve by learning superior options and to adjust difficulty to their desires (for easy success or a challenge).


Yqatuba wrote:
Not that well (sorry, couldn't resist).

It's balanced by eyeball: the take a glass eye and put the book on top. If they book stays on the eye, they know it's balanced.


You could write a series of hardcovers and possibly a side line of softcover splat books on the topic of PF1E's balance. I'm sure someone has considered a dissertation on the topic.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
SheepishEidolon wrote:


When it comes to balance, I'd say: Pathfinder is intended as a cooperative game, so balance matters less than at a competitive game. And some imbalance is actually good, because it allows players to improve by learning superior options and to adjust difficulty to their desires (for easy success or a challenge).

Yeah, I love when my Intimidate abuse build comes fully online and shows those noobs who are playing a STR-based quarterstaff wielding cRogue or cMonk with Kraken Style that balance doesn't matter in a cooperative game because they're contributing.

By dying first.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Yqatuba wrote:
Not that well (sorry, couldn't resist).

I mean, I was thinking it too.


Serisan wrote:
You could write a series of hardcovers and possibly a side line of softcover splat books on the topic of PF1E's balance. I'm sure someone has considered a dissertation on the topic.

I imagine it's been done to death already for 3.5.

My TLDR would be:

Mundane classes are balanced around what could feasibly be done in real life with an exceptionally well-trained person. Extraordinary abilities should read as Mundane or realistic when it comes to PCs. They typically struggle at higher levels because what is considered realistic in our world doesn't mesh well with the High Fantasy tropes of high level Pathfinder unless high amounts of wealth and system mastery are involved.

Full Casting classes have no real balance metric. Druids are incredible casters and melee combatants. Clerics are boring but spells are strong. The other full casters have different flavors in between.

Half casters are balanced extremely well towards one another and also with 1/4 Casters.

In theory, class balance is supposed to be balanced towards the Monster Creation guidelines, CR, and APL, but in practice they are completely bonkers. Case in point, a 20th level Fighter is equal to a 20th level Wizard except the Wizard's abilities to summon allies is supposed to be included within his challenge rating.


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The original core classes are mostly inherited, without much concern for balance against each other. Further classes were balanced against the nearest similar class or combinations of classes. Witch is balanced against wizard. Oracle is balanced against cleric. Inquisitor is balanced against a combination of bard and paladin. Summoner seems to be balanced around a combination of druid and wizard. The hybrid classes are balanced against one or both of their parent classes.


Thanks for the replies, I think I understand this a little better.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

get other eyes on it to help and balance it for the role.

Inquisitor and unchained rogue for skills

Wizard and cleric for casters

Barbarian, Samurai, paladin for martials

Not all abilities are equal, even the same ability, could be weak or strong depending on the rest of the class and options. Even different builds with the same class can be leagues apart in usefulness.This makes it hard but you don't have to be perfect if everyone is having fun.


Forkedwizard wrote:

To start off, I'm not claiming Pathfinder imbalanced or balanced, I'm just asking how some of the decisions were made when it comes to how the classes are different. This comes from the desire to create a class that is balanced... I know that its up to the DM to customize the encounters to make them interesting and highlight certain class features. I suspect my answer can probably only truly be answered by the developers of the game, but I'll give the general forum a shot.

Example of differences between classes: Take Monk Vs Barbarian, Monks get all good saves, where as Barbarians get only 1 good save.
Are monks more likely to be targeted by spells that require saves? Based on what I see, monks have more immunities, so why would you give them more saving powers? Do monks have less damage potential so they should have more defense possibilities?

Monks were one of the worst-designed classes in D&D 3.0, and this carried over to 3.5 and Pathfinder. I think the Unchained Monk solves most of these issues, including removing one good save.

The monk is not a rogue, but it was "balanced" like one, given 3/4 BAB. It was given strange damage numbers. WotC gave it great defenses, partly by letting two stats apply to defense, but a 1st-level monk using the standard array (how 3.0 was designed) would start with terrible AC. A high-level monk had a bad attack bonus (and it's Flurry of Blows did not work with its high movement), moderate damage, a variety of immunities, high AC and no weak saving throws. A monk's "weak save" was typically Fortitude, simply because Con was usually lower than Dex and Wis.

The barbarian was actually designed somewhat properly. Like fighters and other high hit point classes, it didn't value Reflex very much (just use your face to take the Fireball). Rage increased its Will save. It had relatively low AC and high hit points compared to a fighter.

Quote:

Another example: Sorcerer vs Wizard, Sorcerer gets spells slower but knows more spells per day, vs Wizard who gets spells faster and have a total spell pool that is greater (albiet less per day).

Does making a sorcerer's spells known per day be higher than a Wizard's even out because every other level a Wizard can cast a spell from a higher level?

Partly, and partly because sorcerers cannot change their spells on a daily basis, another weakness. A well-designed sorcerer (picking the "correct spells") could outperform the wizard, unless they're facing an unusual situation. That is campaign-dependent. A sorcerer has less adaptability, so a poorly-designed sorcerer cannot correct mistakes in spell selection the way a wizard can. This isn't perfectly balanced, but I think that's what WotC was thinking.


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I don't think there's much rhyme or reason to class balancing in Pathfinder. For instance, it's hard to justify why not every single martial class in the game should has d10 HD, full BAB, and two good saves. You'd think not being able to reshape matter with your thougts would have at least some benefits! Seriously, when Druid has Animal Companion, Wildshape, and 9th level casting on medium HD/BAB and two good saves, how could one possibly justifying the Rogue having equal HD/BAB and worse saves?

I think they tried to make classes of similar strength to existing ones that are alike (full casters to full casters), but even that only goes so far. Wizard, Paladin, and Barbarian (although unMonk provides a tough competition) are still top of their class (full caster, 4/9 caster, and pure martial, respectively), and after the Summoner, they based all other 6/9 casters much closer to the Bard, an no class was ever as bad as cRogue or cMonk, but some issues still remain (the post ACG classes seem to err on the side of caution, overcompensating for past mistakes). There is of course the disparity in power and versatility that is baked into the system, which is usually represented as a "tier list", but there are also two other main problems: First, some classes don't abide by Paizo's own guidelines on creating classes, most notably the Shifter (see here for in-depth look at that). And second, there are a bunch of classes that show that (some of) the writers lack a fundamental understanding of what makes a class well designed. A few yearsa ago I came up the concept of what I call Character Shaping Choices™ when I looked at what makes existing classes good or bad.

On Character Shaping Choices™:
Almost every Pathfinder class requires you to make character shaping choices. These choices not only dictate how varied multiple characters of the same class can be, it also effects versatility and power level. Fixed class features are generally mediocre (or bad), while selectable class features (including spells) have both good and bad options. This is a mandatory design principle to avoid having everyone with that class be super powerful (and have every character of that class look the same). As a result, you can make a Wizard good or bad by making good or bad character shaping choices, but you can't make a class good if there are no character shaping choices.

Such character shaping choices come in three forms:
1) Daily: Mostly spell preparation, Shaman's Wandering Spirit/Hexes, and the Medium's spirit.
2) On levelup: Spells known, rage powers, etc., doesn't have to be every level up
3) One time: Domains, bloodline etc., mostly done at first level

I don't count feats, skills, and equipment because it should be obvious that options that literally every class can take have to be relatively weak (otherwise almost every character would take them, cf. Leadership for what happens when this rule is broken). I also don't count choices that don't affect playstyle and only grant minor numeric bonuses, such as a Fighter's weapon training.
Archetypes are technically one time choices as well, if these are included depends on what we want to compare.

Naturally, the more choices you can make, the more you can (in general) shape your character. Also, the more often you can make choices, the more flexibility the character can have. Daily choices don't add more power than on levelup choices, but they add a lot of flexibility.

The following classes are (or were for most of their time) generally accepted to be the weakest ones in Pathfinder: Fighter, Brawler, Rogue, Cavalier, Samurai, Gunslinger, Swashbuckler, Monk.
Apart from the Rogue *, you'll notice that none of these classes have a daily or on levelup choice **. Cavalier and Samurai have a one time choice at first level, while the others don't get to make any character shaping choices at all. It's also noteworthy that there are no classes lacking daily or on-levelup choices that are generally considered good.

Now, choices don't automatically contain strong options (few rogue talents are better than feats), some fixed class features are fairly powerful as well (like rage), and there are options that offer choices to make on the fly, like wildshape or a Summoner's SLA (not character shaping by definition, but can be very powerful). But if you look at both power level and flexibility, there's almost no getting around having class features that allow character shaping choices fairly often.

*) Whoever thought that a pure martial with medium BAB, no accuracy increasing abilities, d8 HD, and the worst possible saves a PC class can have was a good idea?
**) Fighter got on levelup choices with AAT and AWT, while Monk got on levelup choices with UnMonk's Ki Powers and Style Strikes.

Naturally, not all choices are equal, for instance Rage Powers are generally stronger than Rogue Talents or Vigilante Talents. The latter also shows the overcompensation I talked about - when they realized that the Extra Rage Power et al. feats were a bit too good, they didn't make an "Extra Vigilante Talent" feat. However, the existing such feats obviously remain, so not only is the Vigilante's selectable option weaker to begin with, you also can't get more of them, making you doubly worse off.

About the mentioned tier list:
The tier list is a system that ranks classes according to a combination of power and versatility. Tier 1 classes have both in abundance. Tier 2 classes have as much raw power as tier 1 classes, but lack the versatility. Tier 3 classes are often more versatile than tier 2 classes, but lack the power, while tier 4 classes are the opposite in comparison. Tier 5 classes generally lack versatility, and have power only in limited situations (which means if your game consists of nothing but these situations, you won't notice the difference).

The tiers are roughly this (YMMV):
Tier 1 are the prepared full casters.
Tier 2 are the spontaneous full casters plus Summoner.
Tier 3 are the 6/9 casters plus Medium.
Tier 4 are the 4/9 casters and the more powerful/variable pure martials (e.g. Barbarian), plus Kineticist.
Tier 5 are the other martials.

It's not an exact science (and not intended as one), and archetypes and other options affect the ranking (e.g. an a Rogue is tier 5, but an Eldritch Scoundrel Rogue is tier 3; and full casters with options that break the limit of the spells know list, like Paragon Surge, fall into tier 1). Also note that the tier system is about potential, which does include making strong character shaping choices, so a Wizard who picks extremely crappy spells could be weaker than a tier 5 class, but that's on the player, not the class.

There's only one class that "breaks" out of its tier (Summoner), so this might (in effect if not design) be viewed as some form of sucessful balancing.

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