There’s been some smack talk about the Pathfinder preview of Valeros the 14th level fighter. It spins off into the usual “fighters are worthless in D&D 3.x” hate speech. In particular, there’s comparisons with an ice devil. “The fighter is totally outclassed by the CR 13 ice devil!” they cry. “Casters are the only worthwhile classes!”
Well, I can’t speak for Valeros’ build, but our Pathfinder Beta based Curse of the Crimson Throne game is coincidentally at level 14. We have a fighter, a ranger, a cleric (me), a new bard, and an occasional sorcerer. And I’m afraid we don’t find the fighter “weak.” Let’s look at our level 14 fighter and how he’d fare.
Malcolm, our fighter, carries a modest +1 heavy flail of transmuting (which, after hitting a creature, gains the properties needed to bypass its DR). Sure, he needs buffing – but with his usual loadout (he always drinks a potion of Enlarge Person, which he has scads of, when in a dungeon, and then either Righteous Wrath of the Faithful from me or Inspire Courage and Haste from the bard, either gives +3/+3 and an extra attack) – he can kill the devil in three rounds on average.
First round, he closes and gets one shot at +28 for 2d8+17 damage (not even counting it as a charge). With Improved Critical (17-20) and Devastating Blow that’s 36 damage (minus 10 for the devil’s DR). He does have to contend with the devil’s fear aura, and it’s true that even with Bravery he has a good chance of failing that save (45% for Malcolm) but that’s what friendly casters are for – resurgence or anti-fear stuff, of which we have a variety. And for the flying problem – he has potions and other items that give short flying, or again one of us can help out there.
Then in round 2 with a full attack (and extra one for haste), the transmuted weapon bypassing DR, and Backswing - 107 points of damage on average in that round. Devil’s down to 14 hp. Even if it gets a slow hit in and Malcolm somehow fails a Fort save (unlikely!), it’s nap time on round 3 from a single attack. Malcolm has AC 28 and 197 hit points; there’s nothing the devil can do to pour enough damage into him to kill him inside 8 rounds. Its cone of cold only does 25 hp damage to him on average, and its full attack is only a little better. Even without caster buffs, Malcolm can do it in four rounds (though the fear and fly problems are more of a problem without caster support, although there’s a variety of cheap Magic Item Compendium items that counteract those problems).
A three round kill on the devil is as good as a caster would do on average. Between the SR 25 and +15 saves (+19 with unholy aura up), even the spiffiest save-or-dies from a level 14 caster only have about a 20-25% chance per round of working. That’s three to four round survivability once you do the math. And the fighter can keep it up for a long time. The Pathfinder rules tweaks have helped him out a lot – the weapon training, armor training, bravery, and additional feats like Backswing and Devastating Blow boost Malcolm’s worth in this fight was above a level 14 3.5e core fighter.
Besides, adventuring isn’t about one on one. It’s about a party, over 5 or so encounters in a day. The fighter needs healing, buffing, and anti-mind-affecting support from someone. But that’s worth it – it’s like someone with a heavy machine gun needs someone to feed ammo. The two people together are doing more than they could with a rifle apiece. Getting and keeping Malcolm on a target when it means 100+ damage easily in a round is so worth it. As a cleric, I can at best toss 25% success chance save or dies (of which I have a very limited number), or cast a variety of 14d6ey anti-evil-outsider stuff, which is only 49 damage even before SR and save which makes them average a net 15-20 damage. I’m definitely better off optimizing our fighter.
These caster queens also complain that fighters are “boring” and support roles are “boring” (apparently only save-or-dies are “exciting”). To them I say – you’re doing it wrong!