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PF2E Martials > Casters

CapnZapp

Legend
This discussion revolves around low levels, maybe up to level 5-7 or so.

The message from my play experience is loud n clear: PF2 is definitely a throwback to the time before 5th Edition - martials are significantly stronger than casters at low levels.

This goes both for player characters and monsters/NPCs.

Some level 2 monsters with claws and spears and teeth and spikes are more like level 3 when it comes to their contribution to overall encounter difficulty. Some level 2 monsters with spells are more like level 1.

(Obviously a BBEG monster three levels above the heroes can do scary stuff with magic. Is that my point? No)

As the GM, casting a spell is almost always a step down compared to making a physical attack. Monsters have excellent attack bonuses and impressive damage. Their spells... are just as feeble as when cast by heroes. (I still have my spellcasting monsters cast their spells, of course. This isn't me complaining about weak monsters. PF2 is not a game where I complain about weak monsters :) )

I'm aware some people like it that way. And I'm sure you can argue the tables turn at higher level. None of that's relevant. There's no need for excuses or justifications - I'm not attacking or complaining.

At this point I just want to throw it out there. It simply is. But it's worth making known to the wider audience. So let's discuss.
 

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TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
That's good to hear. I'm a caster player myself, and I've long advocated that martial classes should be the most valuable contributers in combat situations, with spells used for specific problem solving. Casters can take over and shine in non-combat situations. D&D-type games work better with some use of spotlight balance, and it's not like any class has no chance to contribute (there's no "hacker problem").
 

I would be happier if everything was balanced at all levels. I have not played PF2 yet, so I don't know if this always happens or if it's campaign-dependent.

I played 3e with a DM who is not any good with casters. Also Pathfinder.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
That's good to hear. I'm a caster player myself, and I've long advocated that martial classes should be the most valuable contributers in combat situations, with spells used for specific problem solving.
I would be happier if everything was balanced at all levels.
This.
I have not played PF2 yet, so I don't know if this always happens or if it's campaign-dependent.
Believe me, it's the system, not the campaign. It's not something that "happens" depending on the GMs or the players actions or decisions. It just is. I'm certainly not downgrading magic, or even attempting to.

You don't get many spell (slots). They might deal more damage than a single attack, both seldom deal more damage than two successful hits (or one crit).

A big part of this is how PF2 also returns the melee/ranged balance to pre-5E levels. Melee is king; ranged is decidedly a back-up option.

Except for casters, whose cantrips are ranged. (Not that low-level casters would like to enter melee)
 


dave2008

Legend
A big part of this is how PF2 also returns the melee/ranged balance to pre-5E levels. Melee is king; ranged is decidedly a back-up option.
OK few quick questions:
  1. How does PF2e make melee king? It has now been several months since a perused the books and without a chance to play I'm not familiar. (perhaps clarified with answers to questions below)
  2. Does this apply just to ranged spells or generally to ranged combat?
  3. Is the relatively weaker casters because they don't have comparable melee spells or that it unwise for them to be in melee (or both)?
  4. Are ranged options worse for magic than weapons?
  5. Are ranged attacks generally worse, therefor, since magic is mostly ranged, magic is less effective?
  6. Is this just for damage spells or really the same regardless of spell type?
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
When the circumstances favor them melee builds do higher single target damage than ranged builds. This is largely due to melee strikes getting to add Strength modifier to damage while ranged builds get to add 1/2 Strength modifier at best. Melee also has an edge on damage dice (longbow is d8 while greatsword is d12).

Often circumstances do not favor melee types.
  • Movement is often a damage loss and many monsters have abilities that knock you around or allow them to zip around the battlefield.
  • Being in melee is often dangerous. Monsters hit pretty hard and many have auras and effects from hitting them or explode when you kill them.
The big advantage of ranged builds is they can deliver damage exactly where it is needed and often can still do the same amount of damage even when they have to move.
 

dave2008

Legend
When the circumstances favor them melee builds do higher single target damage than ranged builds. This is largely due to melee strikes getting to add Strength modifier to damage while ranged builds get to add 1/2 Strength modifier at best. Melee also has an edge on damage dice (longbow is d8 while greatsword is d12).

Often circumstances do not favor melee types.
  • Movement is often a damage loss and many monsters have abilities that knock you around or allow them to zip around the battlefield.
  • Being in melee is often dangerous. Monsters hit pretty hard and many have auras and effects from hitting them or explode when you kill them.
The big advantage of ranged builds is they can deliver damage exactly where it is needed and often can still do the same amount of damage even when they have to move.
Is there any disadvantage to firing into a group? Could you hit allies or do allies provide cover to your targets?
 


CapnZapp

Legend
The thing that makes the issue a really big one is this:

Difficulty.

(I obviously understand you can make things much harder or easier yourself as the GM; but now I'm discussing running an official AP as written)

When combats are nice and easy, you can appreciate luxury.

One such luxury is "I'm not letting my hot bod anywhere near the claws of the monster". Wizards and Archers are especially fond of this line of thinking. :)

But when combats get more and more difficult, one resource gets more and more important. You as a target. Spreading out damage over every hero.

That is, in really difficult fights, "ranged" is a luxury you can't afford, since every hero needs to offer up their warm flesh for monsters to hit. If they don't, the frontliners will get overwhelmed. Even if only some hits are redirected towards other targets, that makes a huge difference to the staying power of your frontliners.

This means that yes, we can discuss how ranged fire don't get all the eleven* bonuses 5E offers over 3E to ranged hero archetypes.

But in the end, it doesn't really matter. You're better off creating a hero that wants to be in the thick of it, because that's where you'll end up eventually anyway.

What I am saying is: having a wizard or archer means having to fight monsters with 2 fewer warm bodies to soak hits. When things are nice and easy, this is fine, and their contributions are appreciated. When things get hairy, however, the fact that they likely won't volunteer to help distribute monster attacks away from the frontliners become a real challenge.

It's still possible to play PF2 that way, don't get me wrong. And I'm definitely not saying "don't bother with ranged attacks" since having a weak ranged game is a serious handicap in any fight where the monsters don't want to close to melee.

All I'm saying is that is this is the factor that I feel ultimately cements my initial claim: martials > casters, even after taking things like the lack of bonuses to ranged fire and the way PF2 monsters can't easily be outmaneuvered like in 5E into account.

*) Once several years ago I wrote up a list of things 5E changed to make ranged fire better (vs 3E). I still can't find that list... I wish I would, since IIRC I could find no less than eleven such things!
 

CapnZapp

Legend
OK few quick questions:
  1. How does PF2e make melee king? It has now been several months since a perused the books and without a chance to play I'm not familiar. (perhaps clarified with answers to questions below)
  2. Does this apply just to ranged spells or generally to ranged combat?
  3. Is the relatively weaker casters because they don't have comparable melee spells or that it unwise for them to be in melee (or both)?
  4. Are ranged options worse for magic than weapons?
  5. Are ranged attacks generally worse, therefor, since magic is mostly ranged, magic is less effective?
  6. Is this just for damage spells or really the same regardless of spell type?
Already (partially?) answered above, but here goes nothing!

1.
a. You can't generally get a modifier to damage on ranged attacks (arrows as well as spells). You add Strength to melee attacks and thrown attacks. It's possible later on to get half your Dexterity to ranged attacks. Rogues can choose a build that lets them deal damage the way a 5E gamer would expect, though.

The Longbow has a penalty to attacks made at close range. By the official APs I get the definite sense PF2 is geared towards adventures where monsters and heroes start encounter within charging distance. This could all by itself be enough of a factor, of course.

But since you can't use Dexterity for melee (unless you're that Rogue) the whole balance shifts. If you have a sword, you want to be able to use it effectively. And so you shift a point or two from Dex to Str. And then you think "might as well go all in on Str" since heavy armor allows you to survive without Dex to AC. Welcome back to pre-5E!

b. I can't say for sure why, but in my experience melee attacks are made at 2 points higher on average than ranged attacks. Could be because fightery classes get feats that grant bonuses. Could be because my players have avoided "ranged feats"; one reason is 1a. 2 points don't sound like much for a D&D gamer (what's ten percent?) but it is a big deal in PF2 thanks to the crits system.
c. When we played 5E we (ab)used the system to make highly mobile heroes, that could run rings around most bruiser monsters, so they never less often got to unload their multiattacks. Pathfinder 2 just laughs evilly at that thought :) With three actions you can move three times your speed, but no movement is "free". The way your first attack is often fearsome enough makes it less appealing to keep your distance. Also characters want to attack, making them unwilling to sacrifice actions on merely retreating.
d. The "hot bod" theory above :)

2. Yes :)

3. Like in every version of D&D low-level spells aren't that great. Cantrips are definitely not as powerful/generous as in 5E.

That said, at really low levels the difference between an armored fighter and a frail wizard isn't really that noteworthy. I'd say it is unwise for every 1st level character to be in melee :)

The biggest deal IMHO is how Pathfinder 2's obsession with balance means that flat-out disabling foes simply isn't a thing. Your spells can deal damage. But when it comes to "crowd control" you're expected to contribute maybe one or two -1 penalties to monsters.

Meaning that spells are meant to change the odds of martial fighting, not replace it. (Not at low levels anyway).

4. I don't think so. That is, AFAIK a cantrip is roughly comparable to an arrow.

5. This is part of it, but as explained, not the whole story.

6. We've found non-damage combat spells underwhelming. (Utility spells are still great, I'm talking about debuff and CC spells here). I read on the Paizo forums how casters are expected to shift dangerous fights in the favor of the party simply by applying a -1 penalty there, a +1 bonus there, and maybe even stealing an action or two from a monster.

Theoretically I can see why - the math in PF2 is incredibly tight, and since those effects amounts to lowering the level of the monster, I can really see how that can make a difference.

Only problem: I haven't seen it in actual play yet! :) And since we've tested play at levels 1-6 (roughly)... well, you've read my OP :)

In short, if you can be a Fighter during single-digit levels, and then magically transform into a Wizard at level 10, that is probably the best minmaxing build! ;) (As far as I can see from my limited testing right now) Hence me talking "throwbacks" above since this is effectively what you could do in AD&D! :LOL:
 
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dave2008

Legend
Already (partially?) answered above, but here goes nothing!

1.
a. You can't generally get a modifier to damage on ranged attacks (arrows as well as spells). You add Strength to melee attacks and thrown attacks. It's possible later on to get half your Dexterity to ranged attacks. Rogues can choose a build that lets them deal damage the way a 5E gamer would expect, though.

The Longbow has a penalty to attacks made at close range. By the official APs I get the definite sense PF2 is geared towards adventures where monsters and heroes start encounter within charging distance. This could all by itself be enough of a factor, of course.

But since you can't use Dexterity for melee (unless you're that Rogue) the whole balance shifts. If you have a sword, you want to be able to use it effectively. And so you shift a point or two from Dex to Str. And then you think "might as well go all in on Str" since heavy armor allows you to survive without Dex to AC. Welcome back to pre-5E!

b. I can't say for sure why, but in my experience melee attacks are made at 2 points higher on average than ranged attacks. Could be because fightery classes get feats that grant bonuses. Could be because my players have avoided "ranged feats"; one reason is 1a. 2 points don't sound like much for a D&D gamer (what's ten percent?) but it is a big deal in PF2 thanks to the crits system.
c. When we played 5E we (ab)used the system to make highly mobile heroes, that could run rings around most bruiser monsters, so they never less often got to unload their multiattacks. Pathfinder 2 just laughs evilly at that thought :) With three actions you can move three times your speed, but no movement is "free". The way your first attack is often fearsome enough makes it less appealing to keep your distance. Also characters want to attack, making them unwilling to sacrifice actions on merely retreating.
d. The "hot bod" theory above :)

2. Yes :)

3. Like in every version of D&D low-level spells aren't that great. Cantrips are definitely not as powerful/generous as in 5E.

That said, at really low levels the difference between an armored fighter and a frail wizard isn't really that noteworthy. I'd say it is unwise for every 1st level character to be in melee :)

The biggest deal IMHO is how Pathfinder 2's obsession with balance means that flat-out disabling foes simply isn't a thing. Your spells can deal damage. But when it comes to "crowd control" you're expected to contribute maybe one or two -1 penalties to monsters.

Meaning that spells are meant to change the odds of martial fighting, not replace it. (Not at low levels anyway).

4. I don't think so. That is, AFAIK a cantrip is roughly comparable to an arrow.

5. This is part of it, but as explained, not the whole story.

6. We've found non-damage combat spells underwhelming. (Utility spells are still great, I'm talking about debuff and CC spells here). I read on the Paizo forums how casters are expected to shift dangerous fights in the favor of the party simply by applying a -1 penalty there, a +1 bonus there, and maybe even stealing an action or two from a monster.

Theoretically I can see why - the math in PF2 is incredibly tight, and since those effects amounts to lowering the level of the monster, I can really see how that can make a difference.

Only problem: I haven't seen it in actual play yet! :) And since we've tested play at levels 1-6 (roughly)... well, you've read my OP :)

In short, if you can be a Fighter during single-digit levels, and then magically transform into a Wizard at level 10, that is probably the best minmaxing build! ;) (As far as I can see from my limited testing right now) Hence me talking "throwbacks" above since this is effectively what you could do in AD&D! :LOL:
Thank you for the reply - very helpful.
 

FrozenNorth

Adventurer
3. Like in every version of D&D low-level spells aren't that great. Cantrips are definitely not as powerful/generous as in 5E.

That said, at really low levels the difference between an armored fighter and a frail wizard isn't really that noteworthy. I'd say it is unwise for every 1st level character to be in melee :)

The biggest deal IMHO is how Pathfinder 2's obsession with balance means that flat-out disabling foes simply isn't a thing. Your spells can deal damage. But when it comes to "crowd control" you're expected to contribute maybe one or two -1 penalties to monsters.
Wizards and sorcerers getting into melee is straight up suicide. They will be trailing the martial character by 3 points of AC, which means a 15% better chance to get hit, and a 15% better chance yo be critted. Since monsters can attack 3 times, the odds are against you.

I did the calculation for my first level wizard, he had something like a 40% chance of dying if he started the round next to a 1st level enemy.
 

How do wizard defenses work? Are they just spells like Mage Armor (increase AC) or do they have spells that really mess up enemy targeting (like Mirror Image)?

How many spells are wizards getting? Including cantrips? Do "ranged touch attacks" exist in PF2e? (I was surprised to find they don't exist in 5e.)

So I looked up the Aeonprd. Wizards get 5 cantrips and 2 1st-level spells at 1st-level (which I presume is typically three, because wizards always start with decent Int).

Do wizards still get spell-like abilities like in 1e? I always like how a conjurer would get a better acid splash several times per day, or a fire wizard would get a fire bolt. (It also annoyed me that many of these spell-like abilities were useless at 1st-level but players would keep picking them.)

Mage Armor
You ward yourself with shimmering magical energy, gaining a +1 item bonus to AC and a maximum Dexterity modifier of +5. While wearing mage armor, you use your unarmored proficiency to calculate your AC.
That sounds a lot weaker.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
Mage Armor and Mirror Image and Shield still exist, if only in name.

They are much weaker than in 5E, where especially Shield is game-changingly good.

Getting a +1 here or applying a -1 there is all you ever gonna get.

That doesn't mean spells are useless, just that the whole buffing game is SEVERELY reined in.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Thank you for the reply - very helpful.
I need to clearly state how PF2 feels like the "Dave Edition", where monsters start fearsome at level 1 and get fearsomer and fearsomer as you level up.

(Level -1 and level 0 monsters are the only monsters that feel fair ;)

PF2 makes for exciting cool combats. Gamesmastering is a joy when your critters always project danger - "whoopsie, I rolled a 17, that's a crit against your puny defenses... Let's see, that's 48 damage. What do you mean you only have 36 hit points. BWAH HA HA"

But I guess playing a low level mage means understanding how the little mammals felt during the age of the dinosaur... ;)

We just fought Troglodytes at level 4. Oh how the tables have turned. No less than four times in four rounds did the Fighter "make xulgath jam" = taking a hapless warrior from full hp to instant damage death in just one critical power attack.

The wizard isn't there.

Yet.
 

FrozenNorth

Adventurer
How do wizard defenses work? Are they just spells like Mage Armor (increase AC) or do they have spells that really mess up enemy targeting (like Mirror Image)?

How many spells are wizards getting? Including cantrips? Do "ranged touch attacks" exist in PF2e? (I was surprised to find they don't exist in 5e.)

So I looked up the Aeonprd. Wizards get 5 cantrips and 2 1st-level spells at 1st-level (which I presume is typically three, because wizards always start with decent Int).

Do wizards still get spell-like abilities like in 1e? I always like how a conjurer would get a better acid splash several times per day, or a fire wizard would get a fire bolt. (It also annoyed me that many of these spell-like abilities were useless at 1st-level but players would keep picking them.)
I am a fan of being specific, so I'll be specific.

My 1st level wizard has a 14 Dex. His AC is 10 + 2 (Dex mod) + 2 (trained in unarmored combat) + 1 (level, added because I'm trained) + 0 (no other bonuses) = 15.

My wizard is a specialist, and has 18 Int, so he has 3 1st level spells (plus he can use his Arcane Bond to recast 1 spell he has already cast) + 5 cantrips.

With Mage Armor, he can use one of his 3 1st level spells to bring his AC up to 16. If he foregoes either moving or casting a spell, he can cast the Shield cantrip to bring his defense up to 17. If I use my Shield cantrip to reduce damage (it has 5 damage reduction), I can no longer cast the cantrip for 10 minutes.

Bear in mind, that unless there is a fighter in the party, nothing stops an enemy from moving and attacking my character twice or moving twice and attacking my character once. For instance, an orc warrior would have a 45% chance to hit plus a 10% chance to crit if I didn't get my Shield up (which again, means either not attacking that turn, or not moving). If the orc warrior was within 25' of me, it could move and attack twice (though taking a -5 on the second attack).
 


FrozenNorth

Adventurer
I found my math post!
*****
This is a good point and deserved to be mathed out.

My level 1 elf wizard is AC 15 (AC 16 if he uses one of his 4 1st level spells for mage armor) and has 13 hp. A 1st level champion (without a shield, since we are comparing like-to-like) has an AC 18 and 18 or 19 hp.

Suppose a standard orc strides past the champion to get to me. He is armed with an orc necksplitter, for a +7 to hit which does 1d8+4 damage. He gets 2 attacks (since he used one action to reach me).

First attack:

For the wizard: 40% chance miss, 50% hit for an average of 8.5 dmg, 10% chance crit for an average of 17 dmg. If the orc rolls a crit, I am unconscious unless he rolls a 1 or a 2 damage (so 75% chance I fall unconscious on a crit).

For the champion: 50% chance miss, 45% chance hit, 5% chance crit. If the orc rolls a crit, the champion has an even chance not to fall unconscious.

If both the wizard and the champion survive the first attack, the orc gets a second attack at -5.

For the wizard: 65% chance miss, 30% chance hit, 5% chance crit. If the orc hit on the first attack or crits on either attack, the wizard is unconscious.

For the champion: 75% chance miss, 20% chance hit, 5% chance crit. The champion is less likely to be crit, and has a better chance of surviving the crit.

If we add a shield, the comparison is even more favourable to the champion, as his shield gives him a +2 AC whereas my shield spell gives me a +1.

Note that this isn't even necessarily a problem! I am OK with wizards being a high-risk high-reward playstyle. The problem is that Pathfinder 2 seems to be supporting a high-risk, low-reward playstyle for wizards: few levelled spells, Vancian casting, spells which have been nerfed in comparison to 5e and Pathfinder, and cantrips that do less damage than if I had maxed Dex instead of Int and used a bow.

For instance: Shocking Grasp is a touch spell so it should be compared melee damage. Unless the target is wearing metal armor, it does on average 13 dmg (2d12). Standard melee damage for a greatsword (assuming Str 18 but not class feats or expert training) is 10.5 (1d12 +4). 13 damage is higher than 10.5, but I used 25% of my daily resources and because of my low hp and AC, I am putting myself at considerably greater risk.
****
Edit: In doing the greatsword calculation, I forgot that the greatsword melee attack takes a single action. If we are comparing like-to-like, there should be a 2nd greatsword attack (at a -5) that brings greatsword DPS equal to (or greater than) Shocking Grasp.
 

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