Theory Crafting

Theorycraft is the attempt to mathematically analyze game mechanics in order to gain a better understanding of the inner workings of the game. The term originated in the Starcraft community as composite colloquialism between the name Starcraft and Game Theory. For clarification, Game Theory is the analysis of circumstantial and general factors in order to understand the decision making process of individualized and group players for the purposes of creating generally more favourable predictions, behaviours, and overall outcomes.

The basis behind the builds on this site is to create pathfinder characters that are fun to play and remain effective and viable through all levels. The theories provided here will go beyond the min-max builds frequently found on the web, to make a character an effective member of an adventuring party. Far too often builds are presented that appear to be level optimized (i.e. have a sweet-spot at a particularly narrow level range) and sometimes those level ranges are never realized in a real world gaming party.

The goals of this site are to present character examples that will be effective throughout their pathfinder adventuring careers. Everyone wants to make characters that smash the face of the enemy; dealing crazy damage. But these characters are too one dimensional and are quite frequently easily taken out of the battle but an enemy spell-caster, or special ability that requires a saving throw to resist.

So, what is an effective and viable character? I believe a viable pathfinder character should fulfill the following conditions.

  • a character should be “good” in their primary combat strategy
  • they should not have any defensive ability that fails more than half the time
  • they should have a secondary combat strategy at a useful level for when their primary strategy may be ineffective (DR, immunities, swarms vs weapon damage) or a method of ensuring their primary tactics can work in difficult situations (overcoming spell resistance, DR, etc)
  • all characters should serve one or more functions for the party when not in combat

The Benchmark

In the article, Pathfinder Character Benchmarks, I outlined the benchmarks that were developed based of the Average Monster Statistics by CR Table published by Paizo.

To recap. A viable character should have at least one offensive strategy that is Green or Blue rated, and a secondary strategy that is Orange or better rated, and defensive abilities should not fall below Orange. If your character has long duration abilities or spells that boost offensive or defensive tactics (mage armour, barkskin, studied target, etc), these abilities should be included in the stats when determining the rating.

Whereas all character should meet the minimum defensive benchmarks, offensive benchmarks are more determined by your combat role. If you are a support class that offers offensive or defensive benefits to the group, your combat metrics are more difficult to quantify. If you are a class that includes a companion, include that companions offensive abilities with your own when determining your rating.

When planning and building your character, start by determining the level range of the adventure you will be playing in. If the adventure will never make it to level 20, it makes no sense to plan your character around being effective in the higher levels. Once you know the range of your levels, start by planning your character at the halfway point, then the top end, then finally flush it out at the starting level. It is much easier to progress your character when you have a plan for where it is going. Lets do a quick example to see the process in action.

The Process

To demonstrate the process, we will use the vanilla Monk class. Highly regarded as one of the weakest classes in the game. Monks are very MAD (Multi Ability Dependant) so this will be a good test of the process. We will be using a standard 20-pt buy for abilities. He will be a Dwarf Monk named Knuckles. Our campaign will be going to approximately level 12, so we will start the planning process at level 6.

Monks require 4 abilities. Str for attack, damage and CMB, Dex for AC, Reflex and CMD, CON for Fort and HP, WIS for Will and Ki Pool and stunning fist DC. Our base starting abilities (STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, CHA) will be 16, 15, 12, 10, 14, 7. Our level 4 ability boost will go into DEX to bring it to 16. When we add the Dwarf +2 Wis, Con, -2 Cha our final stats at level 6 will be 16, 16, 14, 10, 16, 5. We will spend our Favoured Class bonus on Skill Points.

Our defensive Orange baseline targets at level 6 are AC 20, Saves 5. Monks are blessed with great saves, so we are already at 7, 8, 8. Add a basic Cloak of Resistance +1 and at 8, 9, 9 our saves have surpassed the Green benchmark.

Moving on to our AC. Monks do not wear armour so this will likely be our difficult defensive benchmark throughout our career. But even a vanilla Monk can excel at defences with a little creativity. With just our base stats and abilities our AC is a respectable 17. We will use one of our Monk bonus feats for Dodge to bring that to 18. A couple of more cheap purchases Ring of Protection +1 and Bracers of Armor +1 and we are able to reach the Orange benchmark with 20AC. Note that at this level we have a Ki Ability called Furious Defense, we can raise this by +4 (and reach green) vs very dangerous enemies when needed.

Our primary offensive tactic will be our Flurry of Blows and Attacks of Opportunity and our secondary will be grappling to control the enemy. So our Green benchmark for offensive is 12 to hit with an average full round damage of 17.5 vs an enemy AC of 19.

Our current FoB is 7,7,2 for 1d8+3 damage. Versus an AC of 19 we fall well short of the Green benchmark with only 9.3 EDV. We have some work to do here. We will spend a feat to take Weapon Focus (Unarmed Strike), and spend some more gold and get a Belt of Giant Str +2 and an Amulet of Mighty Fists + 1. This will raise us to 10,10,5 for 1d8+5 for a more respectable EDV of 16.15; just shy of the Green rating.

We will spend another Monk bonus feat on Combat Reflexes to increase our chances to get Attacks of Opportunities, which will help with our overall damage. We will also spend our last Monk feat to take Improved Grapple. This will tune up our secondary strategies. Note if we use our Ki Flurry ability to take an extra attack our EDV will increase to 22.3 which would put us well passed the Green.

To summarize at level 6. We have exceeded our Orange rating for AC and can get it passed Green if needed, and we’ve reached our Green rating for saves. Our primary offensive strategy is just shy of Green, and can exceed Green a number of times per day. Plus we have multiple secondary strategies with Grapple and Stunning Fist. We have respectable average HP of 42 with 30 Skill Points, to offer multiple options for out of combat usefulness. At this point we still have 2 Traits, 2 Feats, and 4000 gp.

Following the process we will now plan Knuckles at level 12. Our 8th and 12th level ability increases will go the STR. Once again we start with the defences.

Our Orange benchmark at level 12 is 29AC and 10 for saves. With just upgrading our Cloak of Resistance to +2 we can get our saves to 12, 13, 13; almost to Green rating. With our existing gear from level 6 our AC is at 22. Lets do some upgrades. Bring the Ring of Protection to +2, the Bracers of Armour to +2, and add a Headband of Inspired Wisdom +4. We are now at 26AC just shy of Orange. More on that later.

Moving on to our primary offensive; Unarmed Strike Flurry! With our level 6 gear our FoB is 17, 17, 12, 12, 7 for 2d6+6 for an EDV of 26 vs average 27 AC enemies. This is well below the Green EDV of 40, so we’ll do some upgrades. Bring to Belt of Giant Strength to +4, the Amulet of Mighty Fists to +2. This brings us to 19, 19, 14, 14, 9 at 2d6+8 for an EDV of 37.5. Much better, but still a bit shy. Enter the Monk’s Robe. This brings our base damage to 2d8 and gives us +1 AC. Now we have an EDV of 42.5, successfully into the Green. Improvements can still be made, as we still have 1/3 of our allotted gold, 2 Traits and 5 Feats. Some suggestions would be Greater Grapple to boost our secondary tactics.

Regarding our slightly lacking AC defence. There is a very nice style chain Crane Style, Crane Wing and Crane Riposte. These focus on fighting defensively. If you take these three, and at least 3 ranks in Acrobatics, you will only suffer -1 to attack for fighting defensively. Which would drop your EDV down to 38.5 (18,18,13,13,8 at 2d8+8), but it will give you a HUGE defensive boost.

When fighting defensively in Crane Style your AC will spike to 31 against all attacks, 35 vs melee, and if you loose that extra 4AC, you can make a free Attack of Opportunity. Add the Ki Ability for another +4 and you could get to 39AC (most of it dodge, so you would also have > 30 Touch AC). An AMCREL could only hit you on a 19 or 20 with its high attack.

If you had a mage and/or druid companion, you could move around the battlefield with impunity. If you take Mobility as a Monk Bonus feat for another +4 dodge vs AoO…. Monks can be incredibly fun to play and with the plethora of Archetypes, there are so many options.


Skills are a little tougher to quantify, but ideally for a skill to be considered a “role” for your character, it should be something you can succeed at quite frequently (it should be Green rated). Skills give you an opportunity to bring something to the group outside of combat.

I would rate a skill Blue if the total modifier is your character level (CL) + 10 or greater. This is about as high as you need it to be. Green would be if your total modifier is greater than CL + 5 but less than CL + 10. This would be a skill you will have a good chance of success. Below Green and the skill isn’t really a role for your character, but it can at least allow you to make attempts. So a few points into non-specialties can be a wise idea.

That basically sums up the process I use to design a character that will be enjoyable to play and be an effective member of a party.

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