The context

My RPG group recently discovered the "Unchained" classes, and wonder if we should adopt them, or not.

On one hand, there is an existing balance between classes that could be changed with the modifications brought by Unchained (i.e. related question: "Why would a player choose to play a Fighter if a Monk or a Rogue can do almost anything the Fighter does, plus other powers?").

On the other hand, it seems those modifications were done because those classes were considered underpowered/less fun to play, so some players feel they are missing something.

Our situation

We (the group) are currently clueless, and divided on the subject. We just started our first campaign using Pathfinder less than one year ago, liked it, and are in the process of converting our other D&D 3.5 campaign into Pathfinder. In development terms, if the "Unchained" is a valid patch correction, then we will most probably apply it.

We are looking for experiences in play of the Pathfinder community of players/game masters/experts that could help us decide whether to replace the original classes with their unchained versions in our game or not, and the reasons why.

The question

Now that people have had 3 years to get play experience, how do each of the 4 unchained classes compare to their "chained" equivalents?

  • \$\begingroup\$ As is this question cannot be answered because we don't know what you mean by "better". Better balance? Superior power? More fun? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 17:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasJacobs : Better for the game, that is: Balance and fun. Balance as the contrary of "Does the Unchained Monk make the Fighter irrelevant?", and fun as the contrary of "Playing the vanilla Monk is boring/frustrating". I changed the title to remove the only occurrence of "better" in this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – paercebal
    Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 18:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would recommend against using Unchained Rogue, since they get DEX->damage and that demolishes game balance at mid levels and higher. If you feel that vanilla Rogue is too weak combat-wise, just allow the 3.5 Sneak Attack instead of the non-critting Pathfinder one. \$\endgroup\$
    – VHS
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 11:32
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @VHS That sounds like valuable personal experience that should be part of an answer. However, I'm concerned that it might involve house rules (not that there's anything wrong with that). That is, sneak attack in 3.5e isn't increased on critical hit either, and the ability finesse training of the unchained rogue at level 3 allows the rogue to replace his Str with his Dex when dealing damage with one kind of finesse-worthy weapon… and the rogue's Dex shouldn't be that much higher than the barbarian's Strength! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 13:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Huh, I never knew that critting SA was a houserule. As for the issue of barb STR vs rogue DEX, keep in mind that STR only works on to-hit, damage, and checks to break things (a very limited use). DEX works on initiative, enemy miss chance, and reflex saves, with the option to spend a feat to hit with it. While a barb would have a higher strength and deal more damage, allowing DEX->damage lets the rogue far outstrip him in every other area except HP. <line break that SE won't let me type> I would have offered a full answer, but my only relevant knowledge involves high-DEX builds. \$\endgroup\$
    – VHS
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 4:28

2 Answers 2


The short answer is yes, they improve the game, and are worth using.

Unchained Summoner—a justified nerf

The original summoner was extremely powerful—the eidolon could easily be as powerful as a whole ’nother character, plus the summoner’s summon monster spell-like abilities on top of their very-good spell list, made them an easy candidate for the upper echelons of power in Pathfinder.

The unchained version, unlike the other cases, is a nerf—and a well-justified one. It tones down the eidolon somewhat, and removes some of the higher-level spells that had been forced into lower levels so the summoner could cast it (which turns out to be largely a benefit). That makes the unchained summoner a much more balanced class.

Note, however, that the original summoner was not the most powerful class in the game. Clerics, druids, shamans, witches, and wizards were all more powerful. A given oracle or sorcerer easily could be. And none of those classes have been nerfed. In a game where those classes are being played to the hilt, the summoner should perhaps remain “chained.”

Unchained Monk and Rogue—massively necessary

These two are the ones that were really “unchained,” that is, powered up—and they needed it.

Everything the chained rogue can do, the ninja or vigilante can do better. Even if we ignore the unchained variant, there is just zero real reason to play one: if you want to play a “roguish” character, just use ninja or vigilante to do it instead.

And the chained monk... the chained monk can’t really do much of anything. It’s one of the weakest classes in the game. The whole concept of “mobile, mystical warrior” can be done better by... most of the classes in Pathfinder, honestly. Alchemist, brawler, cleric, druid, inquisitor, investigator, oracle, paladin, and ranger all easily replace monk for just about any character that might take the class. Even fighter, ninja, rogue can do it, and probaby do it better.

Both unchained monk and unchained rogue end up in a similar space: light, fast, flexible strikers par excellence. The unchained rogue is probably the best straight-up damage-dealer in the game, and has lots of skills. The unchained monk doesn’t quite match the unchained rogue in damage, but its damage is still very good, and a number of its mystical abilities allow for more versatility than the rogue can muster (at least unless the rogue is using magic wands with Use Magic Device, which every rogue should, but that does require planning and it does get pricey).

Unchained Barbarian—I honestly don’t know

I had actually forgotten that the barbarian also got unchained treatment. The chained barbarian isn’t in an awful place like the monk and rogue, but it’s still a little lacking. Rage powers are nice but tend to have qualifications, limitations, or just be too small for the number of rage powers you get. So I think there is some room for improvement. But I don’t know the unchained barbarian well enough to say whether or not it represents that improvement. On a read-through, which is not the same as play experience but quite possibly worth something, I tentatively agree with Ifusaso’s analysis on the unchained barbarian—it’s not really better, or worse, just different, kind of. It doesn’t look like the improvement I would have been looking for.

Replacing other classes

As for other Pathfinder classes and obsolescing things by unchaining these classes... yes and no. There are classes that are better than the chained monk and rogue, but not as good as the unchained monk and rogue. The fighter probably falls in that category, for example. And the summoner, unchained or not, can replace a whole lot of other characters—in some cases, the summoner’s eidolon pet can replace other classes wholesale (e.g. the chained monk and rogue, for sure). Pathfinder is not a balanced game. It’s not even close to a balanced game. That’s just reality, and without redoing every class—rather than just four—it isn’t going to change.1

Moreover, classes in Pathfinder are quite amenable to “refluffing,” that is, keeping the mechanics the same but replacing the descriptions of them. Monk characters that are actually using the barbarian’s class features, calling rage “zen focus,” for example. Or clerics taking Improved Unarmed Strike, and calling their spells ki instead of prayers—that is a good replacement for monk, even unchained, since cleric is one of the strongest classes in the game. Since the chained monk was so bad, these kinds of replacements for monk were common—and commonly recommended. Unchaining the monk makes it a better choice, less needing replacement—and, in turn, may make it a solid replacement for other, weaker classes. I could see using unchained monk to create a barbarian—what kind of maniac goes into a fight with no armor, anyway?

But what it basically comes down to is this: there are classes better than the unchained barbarian, monk, rogue, or summoner. There are classes better, even, than the chained summoner, though fewer of those as it was quite good. All of the classes that got the unchained treatment—even after unchaining—could reasonably be replaced by a more powerful class able to do what they do, but better or more.

Unchaining the monk and rogue moves them from the bottom of the pack to somewhere in the middle. Unchaining the summoner moves it from head of the class to also somewhere in the middle. Other classes at the bottom of the list, that aren’t unchained, now have less competition for “just the worst,” but frankly they were always poor and at least unchaining the monk and rogue gives more options that are good.

See the Pathfinder class tier list for more details about what classes are weak and what classes are powerful, and why. You’ll see that the unchained monk, rogue, and summoner are in good company, right in the middle of the game alongside a large number of other classes, including most of the hybrids. Do some classes get left in the dust? Yes. But they already were. Unchaining just moves the monk and rogue out of the dust, and takes the summoner off its pedestal. (The unchained barbarian is not addressed, because again, I am not particularly familiar with it.)

  1. Many people thought rebalancing all the classes was what Paizo was going to do when it created Pathfinder from D&D 3.5e in the first place, since one of the claims made was that it was going to improve balance. But that turned out to be just hype—several of the weakest classes in Pathfinder are distinctly worse than in 3.5e, rather than better, and several of the most powerful classes have gotten much more so.

In my experience

It is the practice of Pathfinder Society play and every group I've joined in the past year and a half to allow Unchained (Unch.) Barbarian, Unch. Monk, and Unch. Rogue in addition to the 'vanilla' Barbarian, Monk, and Rogue. It has also been common practice to follow the PFS ruling that vanilla Summoner is banned and only allow Unch. Summoner.

To answer your question

After writing the section below, I've come back up to make the 'tl;dr' actual answer. The changes made to each class both intrinsically tied to the identity of the class but nuanced enough that converting your mid-game (class) into an (unch class) would make little difference to many players. None of the classes' new features make any other class (their own or Fighters, etc) unnecessary any more than the Base Classes make the Core Classes unnecessary.

The Unchained classes address some of the long-ingrained issues of the classes they're intended for. Generally speaking, they bring the martial classes more in-line with other martial options such as the Fighter (who now has Weapon Training and Armor Training) and the powerful Hybrid classes. They make each class powerful and more flexible, but not the the extent of being overpowered.

It could be argued either way, but the heart of the argument is that no two classes have the same identity. Some classes are going to be better... that's how the D&D has been since AD&D and certainly in D&D 3.5 which Pathfinder is based on. Unchained doesn't level the field or set a new world record for power. They're just changes.

The Differences

I couldn't find a list of differences, so I'm going to attempt to succinctly list the major differences between the original classes and their Unchained counterpart.

Barbarian vs. Unch. Barbarian

Generally speaking, the Barbarian changes are a side-grade. There are improvements and drawbacks to the king of ability based weapon damage.

  • Rage works differently. Vanilla receive a Morale bonuses to STR, CON, and Will Saves while Unch. receive untyped bonuses to attack rolls, damage, and Will Saves. Unch also receive generic temporary hit points. Notably, the temporary hit points are lost first (unlike the CON hit points), meaning the Unch. doesn't risk dropping below 0 hp/dying when they drop out of Rage.
  • Rage Powers. Many Vanilla Rage Powers are available to Unch. but not all. They include the Totem powers, Hurling chain, and a few others. Other Rage Powers are replaced by Stances (not to be confused with Styles) which afford the Barbarian bonuses for the duration of their Rage at the cost of a Move Action to activate them. Only one Stance can be used at a time. The Vanilla Rage Powers lost tend to be 1/rage use abilities that do something similar to the Stances. There are also a number of utility Rage Powers available only to Unch. such as Scent and Energy Resistance.
  • Trap Sense is replaced with Danger Sense. Danger Sense does the same thing as Trap Sense and gives +1 Perception to avoid being surprised by a foe. It stacks with Danger Sense and Trap Sense, and can be replaced by Archetypes as Trap Sense. This change is shared by Unch. Rogue, below.

Rogue vs. Unch. Rogue

The Rogue class is upgraded by the transition to Unchained.

  • Finesse Training. Unch. Rogues receive Weapon Finesse for free at 1st level, and at 3rd, 11th, and 19th level choose a single weapon (that can be used with Weapon Finesse) to use their DEX modifier for damage instead of STR.
  • Debilitating Injury. Unch. Rogues apply penalties to targets' AC, attack rolls, or movement speed whenever they deal Sneak Attack damage. The AC and attack roll penalties are larger toward the Rogue that caused them than for their allies.
  • Trap Sense is replaced with Danger Sense. Danger Sense does the same thing as Trap Sense and gives +1 Perception to avoid being surprised by a foe. It stacks with Danger Sense and Trap Sense, and can be replaced by Archetypes as Trap Sense. This change is shared by Unch. Barbarian, above.
  • Rogue's Edge. Unch. Rogues select one skill per 5 levels to receive the Skill Unlocks for, as per the Signature Skill feat.

Monk vs. Unch. Monk

Changes to Monks are generally an improvement; however, almost no Monk archetypes are compatible with Unch. Monk. It is possibly the strongest argument for allowing either Vanilla or Unch. because of this.

  • Unch. Monk receive Full BAB instead of partial with an increase for Flurry and Maneuver Training.
  • Unch. Monk only have Fort and Ref as 'Good' Saves. Their Will saves are lower than Vanilla Monks.
  • Flurry of Blows. Unchained Monk Flurry of Blows allows 1 less strike at levels 8-10 and 15-20 but the Unch. Monk does not have a -2 to attack rolls for using the ability.
  • Ki Powers. Many former Monk abilities, such as Diamond Body, High Jump, and many others are not default for Unch. Monks. They select them from a list as 'Ki Powers' every even level starting at 4th.
  • Style Strike. Unch. Monk receive a new ability that allows them to add effects to one of their Flurry of Blows attacks, such as a free Trip attempt or ignoring DR/Hardness. Most notably, Flying Kick allows the Unch. Monk to move their Fast Movement bonus speed as part of their attack, including the first attack in their Flurry.

Summoner vs. Unch. Summoner

Finally, we'll look at the only base class that was decided to be revised. This is generally considered a much-needed nerf.

  • Spellcasting. Unch. Summoner uses a revised Spell List. Their Spells known and Spells per day are unchanged. Some spells that were included on the Vanilla Summoner spell list were far to powerful for the level it was received at. They have 1st-6th level spells, but many spells that appear on Wizard/Sorcerer spell list are on the Summoner Spell list at a lower Spell Level. Furthermore, they had some simply powerful spells that made them a better choice than Wizards because of all the other Class Features they have.
  • Eidolon. Eidolon's are given more of an identity, requiring that the Summoner choose a 'type' that provides automatic bonuses but limits their access to Eidolon Evolution choices. Vanilla Summoners' Eidolons and Evolution had very few restrictions, such as allowing them to receive 12+ arms, mount something else and charge with Spirited Charge and 12+ lances (among other ridiculous things). Unch. Eidolon are still powerful allies, but provide players some restrictions against powergaming.
  • \$\begingroup\$ I disagree that it's not correct, but I do agree that it's my opinion. (The Free Hand fighter is a terrible stand-in for Monk and Monks could never accommodate some of the Fighter build concepts.) I will take it out. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 21:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to clarify the first paragraph, it is in the PFS rules to disallow the vanilla summoner. It is no longer legal to play with one. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 11:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, didn't realize how ambiguous I wrote that \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 12:51

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