Pathfinder 1E Class abilities: how do you balance them?


I'm trying to gauge the power level difference between a barbarian's Rage and a Paladin's various Aura powers, AND the Animal Companion/Mount ability. How would you kind folks rate an activated ability like Rage with a passive ability, like Divine Grace or the Auras? While I get that a Barbarian is sort of a combat going-nova monster, what are the out-of-rage benefits? Like if the group goes to Castle Ravenloft, and there's a threat that lasts longer than a few rounds, wouldn't a Paladin's aura powers and a number of uses per day be better than a few brief moments of rage before fatigue?

Also: is Animal Companion a deal-breaker power? If a Paladin had a mount with them all the time, and the mount could fight, would that make the class too-powerful? Would a barbarian with an at-level animal companion be too powerful, and if so why?

Advice and input appreciated, thanks guys and gals!

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First Post
It is always possible to design a scenario where one class will outshine most of the others.

#1. The PCs are captured by the locals, striped naked and placed on the monster filled sacred island as a sacrifice to the gods. The Monk will be having fun since her unarmed combat and AC bonus work just fine naked. Pity the poor Fighter and Wizard.

#2. The PCs are in a dungeon designed by the Master of Traps. The Monk is a smashed pile of goo and the Paladin's mount is at the bottom of the spiked pit while the Thief is wondering what all the fuss is about and filling his pockets with loot.

#3. The PCs are in the Castle of Ultimate Evil. The good based Cleric and/or Paladin are having fun while the others are wishing they were back at the tavern ignoring the bar maid's pleas for help rescuing her friend.


Fair points.

I know that it also depends on the specifics of the abilities: a Fighter used to be just BAB (or, really, THAC0 and that one attack a round), but now we have some boosts and feats; yet full casters can just plain explode everything, turn into dragons/elementals, raise armies of skeletons, etc. So long as there aren't "dead levels", you have to ask if it's really worth it to gain "re-roll Use Rope checks once per week" rather than take a level in some other class. That's a given, and I'm glad you brought that up so I could specify. :)

I guess what I'm looking for is overcrowding with class features: could you compare an animal companion to, say, being a half-caster (like a Paladin)? In terms of things they can do, in practice, are they a hugely powerful addition to a character? I'm thinking like a tiger or dire wolf, not a full Eidolon sort of thing. Would you look at an animal companion on its own and say "wow, that's a powerful ability"?


Let me explain further: I blogged a while back about how 5e has well-defined "costs" for abilities. I *don't* think Pathfinder does, but I'm curious what accepted use would say are the balancing features of a given class by Pathfinder enthusiasts.


First Post
It's really more of an art then science. If you're not good at system analysts or are unfamiliar with the system, it'll be really hard to do right.

Absolutely correct.

But more important than balance is flavor, don't let the desire for balance ruin the potential for a great campaign.

That in my opinion, is where fourth and fifth editions went wrong.


When making archetypes (a related activity) you trade abilities for other, similar-strength abilities. So if you take out a paladin's Smite Evil, you replace it with a similar powerful offensive ability. In this sense rage and smite evil are both primary offensive abilities. Every full-bab class to date has an offensive ability like this. They are similar but not equivalent, as is made clear by all the perks the ranger gets over other full bab classes.

In general it is very hard to build a class from bits and pieces. Yes, it is possible to make a breakdown of abilities, but this necessarily is very subjective and situation dependent. The best advice I can give is to use game experience; if a certain class IN YOUR GAME seems overpowered or too weak, you can add abilities to that class.

When designing from the bottom up, compare the class to other classes with a similar tactical role. A full-bab damage dealer needs a constant bonus of about +4 (fighter's weapon training) or a circumstantial one that is about twice as big (ranger, cavalier, paladin). An attack bonus is 2-3 times as valuable as a damage bonus because of Power Attack.

On top of this classes get utility and defensive powers, but for full-bab classes, these are mere spicing, the core of the build lies in offense. Comparing the paladin's various auras to the barbarian, they should be matched against the barbarian's utility/ defense abilities, such as uncanny dodge (in my games this is an awesome ability because I favor Stealth as a GM), danger sense, greater hit dice, and extra skill points. Comparing the paladin's auras to the barbarian's rage is comparing apples to oranges.


I try to roughly calculate the power of a class ability in terms of 'feat equivalents'. That is, "How many feats would you pay to gain this class ability?"

To cast 4 spells of your choice of every level 1st through 9th is worth at least 36 feats, plus another 2 feats or so for the ability to cast cantrips. In that light, a class like Wizard is getting the equivalent of multiple bonus feats each level, one for each spell slot that they gain. Obviously the later 'feats' in the 'chain' are more powerful than the earlier ones because they give more powerful spells, but this is assumed to be balanced with feats that likewise increase in power as you move down the chain. It's easy then to see why the 11 bonus feats a 3.X fighter gets are insufficient, as the Wizard's class abilities are equivalent to roughly 44 feats. Granted, the fighter gets some feat equivalents out of better HD (say 6 or so), better BAB (say another 4 feats worth), and better weapons and armor (worth about 3 feats), but it loses on skill points and skill selection (worth about a 1). So viewed side by side you might rate the stock 3.X fighter as worth about 24 feats, and the stock 3.X wizard as worth about 45 feats. Clearly the fighter needed better abilities at higher levels, something Pathfinder tried to address. Equally, it's easy to see why they are fairly equally useful at low levels (1st and 2nd) without a lot of modification.

I don't think you can ever get this down to the level of point buy, but you can get a rough approximation of where things are by asking how much would you pay for it.

Keep in mind that many powers are inherently situational. Even under this approximation, they build of equal power but greater utility in a wider number of situations is more powerful. That's why Wizards, Druids, or Clerics - particularly when they have access to wider spell lists - are usually considered superior to any other class (even without the design gaps). They have the ability to find answers for any problem they are faced with.

How powerful animal companion as an ability actually is depends on its replacement cost in your game. If for example, a character can use animal handling to train a smart animal with sufficient tricks, that the pet now acts as an effective companion, then the class ability is only marginally better than having 'handle animal' on your class skill list. The Leadership feat is widely regarded as the most powerful feat or ability in the game, bar none. But if your DM runs the game such that you can gain loyal allies through appropriate role-play, then having the Leadership feat is only marginally more useful than having Charisma.

In general, I would say that animal companion is a very powerful ability indeed. In my opinion, versions that cause your companion to 'level up' with you are almost too good, balanced only by the fact that there are things that are even more broken.
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I try to roughly calculate the power of a class ability in terms of 'feat equivalents'.

I use feat -equivalents too, but the rates are very different:

Each level of divine spells (including level zero) 1
Each level of arcane spells (including level zero) 2
Each point of BAB 2

This means that 9 level arcane casting is 20 points, while the difference between 1/2 and full BAB is also 20 points. An animal companion can be had through a feat chain these days.

This system is mainly used for archetypes within a class, not for comparison between classes. If applied between classes it leaves the classes less wildly unbalanced compared to each other. Which works in my games; I actually have rules that help casters at higher levels.
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First Post
In general, I would say that animal companion is a very powerful ability indeed. In my opinion, versions that cause your companion to 'level up' with you are almost too good, balanced only by the fact that there are things that are even more broken.[/QUOTE]

That depends entirely on the Animal Companion. If you are the Druid or the Hunter or Beastmaster Ranger where you get the AC at level 1 and it levels up with you, then yes, it is quite powerful. For example, having Pounce on a Lion or Tiger is awesome.

If you are the stock Ranger, it is not as powerful. I have a level 6 Ranger with about 60 hitpoints, and any CR relevant monster on the board can wipe the floor with my Cheetah that has 24 hitpoints and does only 1d2 + 2, and 2d4 +2. Having Trip (rather than Pounce) is not that helpful depending on the monster's CMD.

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