Saturday, May 14, 2016

5 Ways to Make Up For Small-Sized Damage in Pathfinder

Playing a small-sized race, like a gnome, halfling, or even a goblin, can be a lot of fun. These races are truly unusual, and they lend themselves to concepts and roleplay that simply don't work with more standard, human-sized races. However, one of the biggest issues that has dogged small-sized characters is that it's harder to dole out the harshness when you're barely over three feet tall.

Harder, but far from impossible.

All we grow here is pain.
If you're looking to start busting some kneecaps, here are some methods you should keep in mind.

Method #1: Magic

Magic has a lot of benefits in Pathfinder, but the primary benefit for a small-sized spellcaster is that your height has nothing to do with the size of your spells. So, whether you're a halfling evoker, a gnome sorcerer, or even a ratfolk bard, your magic is the same size it would be if it were cast by a medium, or larger, character.

Dynamite comes in small packages.
Additionally, if you're looking to get more bang for your buck, it's important to read through racial archetypes and bonuses. Gnomes have access to the pyromaniac trait, which increases their caster level for spells which deal fire damage. Kobold sorcerers can take a favored class bonus that increases damage done with elemental spells. And there are always options like Spell Focus, Varisian Tattoo, and other feats that will make your magic even more potent, despite your stature. If you want to make sure you have the best possible advantage, you might want to take a look at How To Increase Spells DCs in Pathfinder before you start making your spell list.

Alternatively, if you don't want to be a damage dealer, then you can use Some of The Best Debuff Spells in Pathfinder to take your enemies down a peg.

Method #2: Sneak Attack

There are several reasons people associate halflings with the rogue class. Part of it is the influence of Tolkien on fantasy, and part of it is that in older editions of Dungeons and Dragons halflings had rogue as a favored class. But one of the most practical reasons that halflings end up as rogues is that sneak attack is one of the best methods for overcoming short stature, and wielding small-sized weapons.

Oooh... that's gonna leave a mark.
Whether you choose to use a rogue, a ninja, a vivisectionist alchemist, an investigator, or any other class that deals precision damage, it's a great way to even the odds in your favor. Particularly given that in Pathfinder, unlike in Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, creatures who are immune to precision damage tend to be fairly few and far between. Best of all, though, creatures who have damage reduction still take your precision damage; it goes off as part of the attack, as opposed to being something that only happens if you penetrate a foe's DR beforehand.

Precision damage isn't a solution that always works, though. You need a flank, or to catch your enemies flat-footed, in order to drive your damage home. Which is why you should make friends with the other melee heavies in the party, and possibly check out How To Top The Initiative Order (Almost) Every Time to make sure you get at least one good shot in on the opposition before they have a chance to react. If you can get control of a second character (animal companion, cohort, etc.) that makes it easier to get flanks, and if you can use magic items or cast a spell, and your target is flat-footed and within 30 feet, you can bring some serious pain. Even a low-level wand can have a devastating impact when there's 5d6 of precision damage backing the small ray it shoots.

Method #3: Mounted Combat

Mounted combat is devastating, under the right circumstances. A martial character with a lance and a clear route for a charge, deals double weapon damage on that charge, and a whole lot more on a critical hit. Most characters find their mounts are too big for a dungeon crawl, though... but small-sized characters ride medium creatures, so even narrow hallways and cramped caverns are ideal for pint-sized paladins and hip-high cavaliers.

Never underestimate the damage a determined halfling can do.
So what do these numbers look like? Well, as I pointed out in Calling in The Cavalry: Mounted Mayhem in Paizo's Pathfinder, you can do a lot of damage from the back of a mount. If you are wielding a small-sized lance, you're doing 1d8 points of damage, and 2d8 points of damage on a charge. That's out of the gate, right at level 1. If you take the Spirited Charge feat, then you're dealing 3d8 points of damage on a charge with your mount. Add Ride-By Attack to that, and you can stick and move all day long. Then you add in Power Attack (with your two-handed weapon), and Furious Focus (since you're making a single attack), and you have a small-sized character who's dropping some major damage on the enemy.

The key to making a mounted character work is getting your charge in, and making all the necessary Ride checks. Cavaliers, Shining Knight paladins, and the Roughrider fighter archetype never apply their armor check penalties to Ride checks, which makes them ideal candidates. You want a mount that increases in power along with you, though, and if your DM will allow you to take Leadership in order to get a special mount, then you might have creatures that can fly, teleport, or which have additional abilities you can add to your already damaging charge.

Method #4: Damage-Increasing Class Features

Certain classes are just better at doling out the harshness, especially when it comes to particular kinds of enemies. Rangers have their favored enemy, paladins can smite evil creatures (and deal stupid amounts of damage to undead, evil dragons, and evil outsiders), and certain cavalier orders (Order of the Cockatrice, for example) gain bonuses to damage against subjects of their Challenge ability. The key, when it comes to these class features, is to know what you're good against, and when to let the rest of the party take the lead.

Everybody chill out. I got this.
The more narrowly focused your damage-increasing class features are, the more of an advantage they'll give you in certain situations. A paladin's smite is the perfect example. If you're in a situation where you're facing down hordes of demons, or a red great wyrm is laying waste to the countryside, then a paladin is walking into this fight loaded for bear, even if he's barely four feet tall. If your enemies are just low-rent thugs, or if you're fighting elementals or other neutral creatures, then the paladin is going to have to rely on grit and martial skill, instead of the big bonuses provided by smite.

On the other hand, class features like a slayer's studied target, or an investigator's studied combat, may not be as large, but they can be used against any foe. That's the trade-off; greater power comes with a more specific purpose. Not unlike character building in general.

Method #5: Don't Rely on Your Strength

There's no rule that says a small-sized character can't have a colossal strength score. However, all small races take a -2 to their Strength score, and their small stature means it's more difficult for them to succeed on Intimidate checks, combat maneuvers, and other strategies that bigger, hulking warriors take for granted. Add that to the fact that small-sized weapons deal less damage than their medium equivalents, and you're facing an uphill battle.

What you do get, though, is a bonus to your Dexterity score. Use that to your advantage.

And cut your opponents down to size.
For example, a gnome gunslinger is using what most people would consider little more than pocket pistols. However, at 5th level, that gunslinger adds her Dexterity to the damage those shots deal. If you add the bonus damage from Point Blank Shot, Deadly Aim, and other feats that increase the damage you do with ranged weapons, then the 1d6 your pistol deals is just gravy. It's all the bonuses you add after the dice are rolled that let you do double-digit damage, even when you roll a 1.

Melee fighters can get in on this action, too. A kobold who favors the scimitar can wield it using Weapon Finesse, adding his Dexterity to his attacks instead of his Strength. If he takes Weapon Focus, then he can take Slashing Grace to add his Dexterity to the damage, as well. If said kobold is a swashbuckler, or a duelist, then he'll gain bonus damage to damage based on his level, and he can increase that damage even further with feats like Weapon Specialization, and even Power Attack. If you're using a rapier or a scimitar, then you could also take the Fencing Grace and Dervish Dance feats respectively in order to add your Dexterity modifier to your damage dealt. The end result is that, just like the ranged game, the damage die for your weapon is not the main focus; it's how many other bonuses you can stack onto the damage you're dealing. And, for small-sized characters, your Dexterity is often the linchpin that holds this strategy together.

Greater Than The Sum of Their Parts

Characters don't have to be just one thing, which is why it's important not to constrain your thinking when it comes to building a small-sized damage dealer. For example, you might choose to make a halfling with levels of rogue and sorcerer, both to get into the arcane trickster prestige class, and so you can use ray spells to get your ranged sneak attack off. You might decide to mix a few levels of swashbuckler with a few levels of paladin, using the Swashbuckler Finesse class feature, the Slashing Grace feat, and the paladin's smite to deliver some truly devastating hits.

How you go about it is up to you. But, if you're frustrated that the usual strategy of pumping up your strength and swinging a two-handed weapon isn't doing it for your tiny powerhouse, then the above alternatives might be what you've been looking for.

As always, thanks for stopping by this week's Crunch topic. If you'd like to see more content like this, then spread the word, leave some feedback, or stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave some bread in my jar. All it takes is $1 a month to help me keep the lights on, and the ideas flowing. Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?


  1. good article! as a person who often plays a gnome, I find that my damage with melee always is lacking... but I also play a sorcerer so magic is more my focus.

  2. I played a gnome bard who masqueraded as "the greatest swordsman who ever lived." He was a character added into an ongoing campaign while I was in town visiting relatives. I made good use of feats and flanking to offset the damage of his small rapier. My character's DEX was high and his accuracy was through the roof, so even though I didn't always hit hard, I almost always it. The increased critical threat range for the rapier also helped, and the dice were good to me. When I left that game the other players truly believed my gnom was the greatest swordsman who ever lived.

  3. Up the airy mountain,
    Down the rushy glen.
    We dare not go a-hunting,
    For fear of little men.

    -"The Fairies" William Allington

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I played a halfling cavalier once who deal awesome damage thanks to Power Attack+ Risky Striker. Sweet damage combo with lance and spirited charge.

  6. I am not as concerned with doing massive damage with a small character. The campaign I am currently in my halfling is a master thief with no focus on damage. I steal everything from our enemies. We are playin the world wound campaign and I snuck past two mythic enemies to shatter the ward stone while my party held the line. My stealth is through the roof. 5th level character and before I roll I have a 32 and I took the filcher archtype. I found every way I could to stealth and sleight of hand. My sleight of hand isn't anywhere near as nice, but its still fairly decent. 17 base and my opponents get a -2 to notice my theft. Steal combat maneuver uses my sleight of hand rather than my CMB, but I gain any bonuses to my sleight of hand that I would get to my CMB from all sources pertaining to steal combat maneuver. So Improved Steal would give me a +2 to sleight of hand, because it would normally give me +2 to CMB for stealing in combat. My acrobatics is pretty nice too. I do fairly decent damage, but its not my main focus.