Thursday, November 3, 2016

How to Finesse a Katana in The Pathfinder RPG

When Ultimate Combat came out, it gave us a lot of new toys to play around with. Toys like the gunslinger, their attendant firearms, and even cannons. Things that DMs, by and large, put under lock and key, then made their players fill out a permission slip in triplicate for before they were allowed to use them in game. Almost as big of a problem as guns, though, were the Eastern weapons. And of all the Eastern weapons, few of them have caused as many East V. West debates as the katana.

Especially for fans who think it is, for some reason, underpowered in Pathfinder.
Now, I've give my opinion on this weapon as a fictional trope in "Zen and The Art of Lazy Writing" or "Why You Should Stop Giving White People Katanas", but there are some advantages to using the katana in Pathfinder. It has the deadly property, for one thing, but it also has an 18-20 crit range, which can make it a tasty acquisition for someone who likes the idea of a bastard sword that crits like a rapier.

However, there are some players out there who are frustrated they can't use the Weapon Finesse feat on a katana. They want to capture the graceful fighting style that was a necessity in using these blades without shattering them, and it can feel like the rules are getting in the way.

Well, here's a simple method for achieving your goals.

How To Finesse a Katana in The Pathfinder RPG

The first thing you need to do is realize that feats will not allow you to accomplish this task in Pathfinder. The Weapon Finesse feat only works with light weapons, and those specifically listed in the feat's description like the spiked chain, whip, and rapier. What you need is a class ability, and it is not a class ability given to the samurai, or the ninja.

What ho, my friends!
The key ability you need is Swashbuckler's Finesse, which you receive as a 1st-level swashbuckler. This allows you to finesse any light or one-handed piercing weapon sized for you, applying your Dexterity modifier to your attack rolls instead of your Strength modifier. And though it takes the Exotic Weapon Proficiency to wield in one hand, it can be done the same way you could wield a bastard sword in one hand.

A katana is, however, a slashing weapon.

No worries. All you need to do is take Weapon Focus for the katana (because if you're going through all the effort to finesse it, why wouldn't it be your main melee weapon?), and then take the feat Slashing Grace. This not only allows you to treat the katana as a piercing weapon for your class features (like Swashbuckler's Finesse), but it also allows you to apply your Dexterity modifier to your damage.

This does mean one of two things, though. Either you are going to play a multiclass character, by taking at least a single level in swashbuckler, or it means you need to see if you can do all the things you want to do with the swashbuckler class. Choose wisely, though, because both options have their strengths, and both options have their weaknesses.

That's all for this week's Crunch post. Hopefully some folks out there found it useful. If you'd like to help Improved Initiative keep delivering more content just like this, then stop on by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave some bread in my jar. As little as $1 a month goes a long way, and it gets you some sweet swag, too! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, well, why not start now?


  1. Paizo has repeatedly made it clear that usage defines handedness. Without the feat, it's two-handed, just like a bastard sword.

  2. Or, since you advocate Houserules a lot, just ignore the completely arbitrary errata'd Slashing Grace and just allow it anyway, because that was a very short-sighted nerf performed for PFS.

    As a general rule, I ignore all errata resulting from PFS rulings,unless it actually corrects a really terrible oversight by the devs - Slashing Grace doesn't fall under that category, that was a straight-up nerf to punish Magi.

  3. Alternatively, acquiring some Effortless Lace will let you avoid the class dip. This can't be done at 1st level, but is a great option for someone starting at a higher level, someone who wants to switch to the weapon later on, or just for roleplaying a character mastering a weapon that they had difficulty with at first.

  4. There is now a samurai archetype that can do this at 1st level.
    Warrior Poet

  5. This is truly a sub-optimal build even among non-optimized builds.

    To take Slashing Grace, you already must have Weapon Focus and Weapon Finesse. But before you can even use the Katana however, which is an exotic weapon, you must first take the Exotic Weapon (Katana) feat or suffer a -4 penalty. This probably means that even if you're human, you can't really get all the benefits of Dex to attack and damage while wielding the Katana until 3rd level and if you're anything but human probably not until 5th level. Meanwhile the Fighter of any race using his Strength takes Exotic Weapon at level 1, and he's already out damaging the dex swashbuckler with just one feat at first level. At second level he takes Weapon Focus, at third he takes Power Attack, at fourth he takes Furious Focus to remove the PA penalty, etc, etc... That's not even with "optimized" fighter builds.

    That said, it might be possible to do this with a human Kensai Magus, which gives you proficiency with any one exotic weapon, and free Weapon Focus at first level, plus Slashing Grace as your Human feat, then a level of Swashbuckler at 2nd Level. You'd just not be able to use the Katana with your Slashing Grace feat at first level... so pick up a Rapier first. The Kensai Magus also has a few other features that mesh quite well with the Swashbuckler now that I'm thinking about it.