Feats are the currency of combat in Pathfinder (and DnD.) If you spend 2 feats mastering archery, and I spend 3, then I am a better archer than you – probobly. However, this is not true across different combat styles. Say you spend 3 feats on using the longbow (point-blank shot, precise shot, rapid shot) and I spend 4 feats on the light crossbow (point-blank shot, precise shot, rapid shot, rapid-reload); In this case, we are equally good. We both make 2 attacks per turn for 1d8+1 damage apiece. At first glace, this seems fair. The crossbow is after all a simple weapon and the bow is martial. But imagine that we are both playing fighters. I want to be Van Helsing and you want to be Legolas. We both have martial weapon proficiency, we are both the same class, yet you are better at shooting things than me.
Why does this happen? I call it “feat buy-in.” To be able to use a particular combat style without sucking, you usually have to spend a feat to buy into it. For example, it is pointless to use a bow in combat without precise shot. Just like it is pointless to try to use two weapons without two-weapon fighting. Worse, some fighting styles are actually mixing two styles. Being a crossbowman means you need to buy into both ranged combat and the crossbow.
I think it should be obvious that this is unfair from a game-play point of view. Van Helsing is not a sidekick, he should be able to fight just as well as Legolas. So what is fair? I define a fair character creation systems as such: If you meet two equal level adventurers in a tavern, you should be able to recruit either one of them and have about the same chance to complete your quest. This is not to say that everyone needs to be the same. If you have a crossbowman, an archer and the lord of water-balloons; they can contribute to the party in distinct ways. Maybe the crossbowman can make fewer more powerful attacks, whereas the water-balloons deal no damage but can knock enemies around the battlefield with their concussive force.
A related, but different problem with buy-in feats is that they are boring. When I am building a character, I don’t want to spend feats on just not sucking with my chosen weapon. I want to actually do new things.
Without further ado, here are some simple changes to increase build diversity
All else being equal, two-weapon fighting, is about equivalent to a two-handed weapons. You get two smaller damage dice to one bigger one, and you get to add 1.5 your strength modifier to damage in both cases.
The simple solution here is to just let everyone fight with two-weapons as if they had Two-Weapon Fighting. This lets some classes that could not afford a 15 dexterity use two weapons, which is cool.
To avoid power creep that might arise from shortening the feat chains that Two-Weapon Fighting starts, replace all instances of “Two-Weapon Fighting, 15 Dex” in feat perquisites with “level 2 or higher.” This way abilities that are gated by number of feats are now gated by level.
Archery is strong in pathfinder. This is because It lets you make tons of attacks and it does not require you to move around. That being said, archery takes all of your feats. Before you can even think about shooting, you need to buy in for 2 feats: Point-Blank shot and Precise shot. Otherwise you will be taking a -4 penalty shooting into melee. This means that unless you get a bonus feat at level 1, you can’t be an effective archer until level 3. That’s around 6 adventures or 26 fights where you can’t do the thing you built your character is to do! Even stranger, unless you are shooting into combat, the Precise Shot feat does not actually make you better at shooting things.
We want to preserve some penalty for shooting into melee so that it is realistic, but we don’t want it to be punishing. We also want the level 1 wizard who is down to casting acid splashes to still feel useful. So we will reduce the shooting into melee penalty to -1, and we will remove Precise Shot entirely. Now if you want to negate the penalty, you can just take weapon focus, but in either case the penalty is not dominating.
Point Blank Shot is also a prerequisite feat that exists only to delay the good feats, like Rapid Shot to level 2. Like with two-weapon fighting we will replace all instances of “Point Blank Shot” in feats that require it with “level 2 or higher.”
Crossbows are Pathfinder’s red-headed stepchildren. They pretty much only exist to give wizards a back-up weapon for the first 4 levels or so. Now, I don’t want to make crossbows just bows with a different critical range – though that is a reasonable solution. Crossbows are are defined by their slow rate of fire and big punch, so lets double-down on that.
Light, Heavy and hand crossbows now read as follows:
Crossbows are martial weapons. When wielding a crossbow, you gain the aimed shot extraordinary ability. You may wield a crossbow as a simple weapon, but then you may not make aimed shots. If you have the Deadly-Aim feat and are firing a heavy crossbow, you add 3 damage instead of 2 for each -1 you take to your attack roll.
Aimed Shot (Ex): As a standard action, a character can take careful aim and pool all of her attack potential into a single, deadly shot. When she does this, she shoots the crossbow at a single target, but makes as many attack rolls as she can, based on her base attack bonus and abilities and effects that grant extra attacks such as hast and the rapid shot feat. She makes the attack rolls in order from highest bonus to lowest, as if she were making a full attack. If any of the attack rolls hit the target, the character’s single attack is considered to have hit. For each additional successful attack roll beyond the first, the character increases the damage of the shot by the base damage dice of the crossbow plus any damage modifiers she would add to that attack. Precision damage and additional damage dice such as sneak attack or the flaming weapon enhancement are only applied once. If one or more rolls are critical threats, she confirms each critical individually before adding their damage to the total.
For instance, if a 6th-level fighter firing a +1 flaming light crossbow hits with both attacks, she does 2d8 + 1d6 + 2 points of damage with the shot, instead of 1d8 + 1d6 + 1 points of damage.
You will notice that this is similar to the Dead Shot gunslinger deed. The aimed shot does not help with getting critical hits, which dead shot excels at. On the other hand, aimed shot lets the crossbow user add his damage modifiers multiple times. In effect this allows a light crossbow to make a full attack without rapid reload.
Balance wise, the aimed shot makes the crossbow excel at overcoming damage reduction, and keeping mobile. In exchange, the crossbow is still behind in the damage race as it can’t add strength or precision damage as well as a bow.
Hah! You thought I was done with crossbows?
Repeating crossbows feel like such a missed opportunity. They sound like a really cool weapon, but because they are exotic it is almost always just better to take rapid reload rather than repeating crossbow proficiency. My change will be to make repeating crossbows the crossbow user’s answer to multiple attacks.
First, repeating crossbows function as mentioned above, but they can’t make aimed shots or be wielded as simple weapons. A case contains 10 bolts. Being able to shoot 10 times before needing to reload is probably enough for the first few levels. After that we add the following magic items:
Aura faint conjuration CL 1st
Slot none; Price 500 gp (steel), 1000 gp (mithral), 3500 gp (adamantine), 4000 gp (both); Weight none
Description This repeating crossbow case is smaller and bears an inscription in dwarven that reads “In war and in ale, may you never run dry.”
An efficient clip actually contains an extra-dimensional space that can contain 1000 crossbow bolts. It may be attached to a repeating crossbow much like a normal bolt case. If the case contains bolts of different types, its wielder may choose which bolt drops out of the case next with a thought (a free action).
Once per day, the owner of the efficient case can speak a command word to cause the case to instantly fill any space remaining in it with steel crossbow bolts. These bolts vanish 1 round after being removed from the case or fired.
The efficient case may be manufactured out of mithral or adamantine, in which case the bolts it creates are of the same material. If it is composed of both materials, the user can choose for it to create bolts of either material with each activation.
Construction Requirements Craft Magic Arms and Armor, abundant ammunition
Price 250 gp (steel), 500 gp (mithral), 1750 gp (adamantine), 2000 gp (both)
Also, because otherwise the light repeating crossbow is sad:
Aura faint transmutation CL 5th
Slot weapon quality; Price 1000 gp Weight none
Description This enhancement may only be placed on a light or hand repeating crossbow. A semi-automatic crossbow draws back its string and loads the next bolt whenever its user draws his weapon or fires a bolt. A semi-automatic light crossbow may be wielded in one hand without penalty and is treated as a light weapon for the purposes of two-weapon fighting.
Construction Requirements Craft Magic Arms and Armor, reloading hands
Price 500 gp
Pathfinder has lots of interesting combat maneuvers that you can to your advantage. You could grapple that wizard, or push that goblin off of the cliff! except you really can’t. Attempting a maneuver untrained means you are going to take an attack of opportunity and take penalties on your check equal to the damage you took. Suffice it to say that it is almost always better to just use the shtick that you’ve built your character to do instead.
To make it a little nicer, we will change the requirements for provoking an AoO to be when you miss your target’s CMD by 5 or more. Further the movement that the bull rush and reposition combat maneuvers force a creature to take provokes an attack of opportunity from a single creature of your choice.
These changes make is reasonable to actually try to grapple a bandit you are trying to take alive. They also make bull rushing an opponent something that is useful even if you are not fighting on a rickety bridge over a vat of acid.
At this point, the Improved Maneuver feats are basically optional. They are useful, but it is possible to make a maneuver using character that ignores them. I would remove those feats from the prerequisites of any feats that require them.
More then even crossbows, throw weapons suffer from feat taxes and buy-ins. Let’s consider what you need to make a thrown weapon user in Pathfinder. First, you need Quick Draw to be able to full-attack with your weapons. Then you need all of the Archery feats. Once you get to wielding magic weapons, you need to shell out 5000 gold for a blinkback belt so that you could full attack with your weapon. And your weapon has a vastly shorter effective range than a bow. And what do you get for this? You can attack in melee with your weapon in addition to at range. Though you won’t be good at it because you invested in dexterity to be able to hit at range.
I am not even a huge fan of the flavor of the blinkback belt. You can’t throw a brace of knives at an enemy. You are literally throwing the same knife again and again…
My proposal is this: Thrown weapons will be the short-range ranged weapon. You are expected to be able to mix it up in melee and at range. First, thrown weapons use your choice of strength or dexterity to calculate your to-hit bonus when throwing them. Second, you may enchant a belt as a weapon and it grants it’s enhancement bonuses and special abilities to any weapons you throw or to any single melee weapon with a range increment that you wield.
Now specializing in throwing weapons grants you versatility in combat in exchange for wielding a weapon with a smaller damage die.
The goal of these changes is to let players add more customization to their characters. I want to remove situations where which feat you take at a level up is obvious. There should be trade-offs.
Readers may notice that the non-two-weapon sword-and-board and weapon-and-free-hand styles are not covered. Those combat styles need a deeper look and I might come back to them later.