I have seen in Treantmonk's guide that Deadly Aim is a necessity, but I have also seen comments that you miss too much and end up doing less damage.

Is there any analysis that can I can be shown just to get some idea? Is it something that should be used a lot or is it good only in certain situations?

I am creating a 1st level human ranger. My basic plan weapons of choice are the long bow and the greatsword. My build objective is to optimize for damage, so I need to know if my damage is negatively, or positively, influenced when I use Deadly Aim regularly.

STR 18 DEX 16

  1. combat reflexes and quick draw
  2. archery combat stlye - rapid shot
  3. power attack
  4. Deadly aim
  5. many shot

I have been considering crossbow mastery - heavy crossbow.

I am not sure if I should get Point Blank and Precise Shot as I plan on switching to a melee weapon when the enemies are close enough.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you trying to maximize damage? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    May 2, 2018 at 23:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Basically yes is my overall damage higher or lower with using deadly aim regularly \$\endgroup\$
    – huginn
    May 3, 2018 at 0:09
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Could you possibly edit in a bit more details? Such as: level, class, preferred weapon (i.e. Bow or Crossbow). Anything relevant to the build you'd like to create, including feats/features you already possess. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    May 3, 2018 at 0:15
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Related: What Feats do I want to take to maximize my effectiveness with a crossbow? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    May 3, 2018 at 0:16
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ So I think you have probably too many questions in this Question. My overly long answer (only a small portion of which addresses the title question) is one result of that; the other is that other answers focus on the title question and don’t much address the other parts. Both of these problems are things we usually try to avoid here by asking users to keep their Questions to one question each. It may be best to ask a separate question about, say, whether or not having a greatsword means you should think about typical archery feats differently than you would otherwise. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    May 3, 2018 at 14:37

4 Answers 4


Yes, Deadly Aim is worth it.

The math in Pathfinder tends to work out such that people who want to attack tend to have a bit too much attack bonus—and need ways to turn their extra attack bonus into damage. Many, many features revolve around doing that.

For example, most archers also use Rapid Shot, −2 attack penalty for an extra attack.

But ultimately, archery is a combat style with a lot of extra attacks, but tends to struggle with actually getting significant damage on those attacks. Deadly Aim adds damage to every one of those attacks, which is what makes it worth it. And archers are often full-BAB, and should go all-in on Dexterity. They should have plenty of attack bonus to spare.

Trying to switch weapons, however, is not.

What isn’t worth it is the greatsword, or the 18 Strength. If you absolutely must have a switch weapon, make it something you can finesse, and then take Weapon Finesse—except don’t do that, because it forces you to split your feats and your wealth and you just end up sucking at both melee and range.

There is basically zero reason for an archer to switch to melee anyway: unlike a melee character who can be faced with an opponent you can’t reach, a ranged character can always attack. You do provoke attacks of opportunity if you are too close to an enemy when doing it, but in my experience, it is a very rare case where you cannot simply take a 5-foot step away from enemies, and then fire away. Even when you can’t, switching weapons would take your entire turn—if you are going to waste your entire turn anyway, you might as well just reposition so you aren’t in harm’s way and can utilize your feats and class features optimally. Expending very scarce, very precious resources (ability scores, feats, thousands of gold, actions in combat) for such rare scenarios is not a winning strategy.

Also, getting Strength just for the damage bonus on ranged attacks isn’t really worthwhile. You’ll probably have a certain amount of Strength just to carry your gear, and I’m not saying you should ignore the +1 or +2 you get that way. What I’m saying is that an 18 costs far too much for what is, at best, a fourth-rate concern (after Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom), and magical items to improve Strength should be very low on your list of priorities (to the point that you’ll probably never bother to get them).

Which leads me to a broader, more important point:

You cannot afford so many ability scores

Pathfinder absolutely does not support characters who care about more than two or three ability scores. You need Dexterity to hit with your archery and to qualify for archery feats, and you need Constitution to not die. Some Wisdom would certainly be good, too, considering the existence of ranger spellcasting; you might be able to manage a bit there (certainly at least the 14 minimum you need to be able to cast all the ranger spells, but hopefully a bit better than that by the time you get high enough level to worry about them).

But adding Strength to this is only going to hurt you. You will pay far, far, far too much trying to keep everything up to relevant values, and you will suffer immensely for it. Note that the game’s math assumes you do have the latest and greatest enhancement bonus to your attacking score rather soon after it becomes affordable, and that the game chargers you 50% extra to get an enhancement bonus to a second physical score—you will, by definition, be unable to keep both Strength and Dexterity high enough to actually hit things.1 Pathfinder very simply does not support the kind of character you want to make.

But what about all of these problems that might happen?

I took quick draw so switching weapons is something of a non issue. I played under this DM before she will target weapons and weapons are dropped on a one. What then if my bow gets destroyed? What if I have to fight underwater? As I use arrows in her game some will be destroyed or lost. Doesn't switching to melee at times conserves arrows? I cant always run back to town and crafting arrows takes time

I know the DM and [the efficient quiver] is the type of item she rarely if at all gives out or lets players buy or make.

All of these concerns are real, but many of them are not actually a part of Pathfinder, but rather things that your GM has house ruled. I would, generally, recommend strongly against a GM doing any of those things, both the house rules and the pedantic implementation of the official rules. But nonetheless, if that’s the game you’re playing, you have to have answers to them.

That doesn’t change the fact that the greatsword is a poor answer to them. Quick Draw only covers drawing a weapon, not sheathing the previous one, so you either waste an entire turn—and therefore might as well have just repositioned—or else have to drop your first weapon, which sounds like an excellent way to lose it. Losing a magic weapon can cripple a mid-to-high-level character; even as early as 4th or 5th level the game just punishes you massively for not having one. (Actually, it can do that as early as 1st, even though it’s generally impossible to have a magic weapon at 1st.) And greatswords still suck underwater, and eventually you really want some form of freedom of movement anyway.

But you can get around some of the issues if you’re clever. The name of the game is to protect your investments, rather than trying to diversify.2 That is, don’t try to use a Strength-based greatsword and Dexterity-based longbow, use one weapon, and one ability score, to do both things. And to do that, you should

Seriously consider throwing weapons

If you really want to excel both in melee and at range, don’t use two weapons, use a weapon you can throw. Use Weapon Finesse—or better, save a feat by using effortless lace—to make the weapon use Dexterity for attacks even while in melee, so you don’t need Strength. Use a blinkback belt, and ensure you always get your weapon back—whether you threw it, or dropped it because of the absolutely atrocious houserule about dropping weapons on a 1. Unlimited ammo, because you just keep on throwing the same weapon over and over.

If you really want, you can have a throwing sword. You can’t use a greatsword since blinkback belt is limited to one-handed weapons, but you could have a longsword.

And you build that character mostly like an archer, probably. You pay an extra feat for Quick Draw, and your range is limited (you might want a second feat for Far Shot, though it doesn’t help as much as it should), but it gives you a fallback option for when you absolutely cannot attack at range. Hopefully some of your feats, and all of your weapon bonuses, apply to those melee attacks. Deadly Aim is still worth it—and Power Attack isn’t, because most of the time you’ll prefer ranged attacks, the melee option is just for emergencies, and for low levels before you can afford the blinkback belt.

(And if you really cannot find basic gear like this in your campaign world, someone in the party should be crafting. Crafting is a massive advantage even in a typical Pathfinder game; in a game like this where you can’t just find things, it becomes absolutely crucial. That’s not even metagaming, if you live in a world that relies on magic but it’s hard to find, every serious adventuring group would make sure to have someone who could provide it.)

About the game overall, or, seriously consider just being a sorcerer

But really, it has to be said: your GM is applying a ton of house rules that very, very negatively impact mundane, martial characters—already the weakest characters in Pathfinder. Dropping things on a natural-1, the inability to find or even make relevant magical items, these are major departures from how Pathfinder works. For that matter, going after weapons and meticulously tracking ammunition are things most GMs just don’t do—because, as I said, Pathfinder martial characters have enough difficulties without actively trying to screw them over.

I don’t know all the details of your game. I don’t know if there are also changes to magical characters, that even things out again, and I don’t know if there are adjustments to challenges and monsters to make them workable in this setting. Hopefully there are. But from what I’m seeing, these rules make the game so antagonistic that you are all-but-forced to choose absolutely self-sufficient characters. Which means, I guess, everyone should play a sorcerer always. Nothing to steal or break, no absolutely mandatory equipment to just not have, no god who can arbitrarily decide not to give you spells that morning. Which is precisely why these sorts of house rules are so heavily recommended against: the natural response to them is to just avoid the classes that are getting shafted, and gravitate towards the classes that can avoid them. That reduces the diversity and variety in your game, and that’s generally seen as a bad thing for the game. Most GMs try, instead, to bolster martial characters, to make up for their systemic shortcomings, and instead try to reign in the spellcasters, who are far too powerful to begin with. By doing the opposite (again, if that’s what is happening—I don’t know what other house rules are in play), you end up instead just making it that much more beneficial to just stick with the overpowered classes.

  1. Note that I strongly recommend ignoring this rule entirely; it’s absolutely awful. Ultimately, though, even without the 50% surcharge, you still can’t keep both scores up, at least not without doing something disastrous like having suicidally-low Constitution or ditching what is actually your strongest class feature, the spellcasting that needs Wisdom.

  2. I am not a financial advisor and really know next to nothing about finance, but it is my vague impression that this would be terrible financial advice.


Since the question is about Deadly Aim being worth it in terms of improving your expected damage output, I will provide a simple way to check whether in any given situation it would be mathematically worth it to apply deadly aim to an attack.

Things I am not (yet) considering to keep this simple:

  • Critical hits
  • Corner cases (such as only hitting on a 20 with or without deadly aim)
  • Enemies with low enough health that might die in one hit even without deadly aim
  • Iterative Attacks (you can see if it's worth it for each of them individually though, and the archery feats tend to cause most attacks at the highest BAB anyway so it shouldn't matter that much)

Excluding the above cases it is worth it to use deadly aim when the following inequality is true:

$$ rollToHit < 21 - \frac{baseDmg}{2} - DALevel $$


  • rollToHit is the minimum value you need on the d20 roll to hit an enemy when not using deadly aim (after applying all other relevant modifiers)
  • baseDmg is the average damage you are dealing when not using deadly aim
  • DALevel is the "level" of deadly aim, it is 1 when you are getting -1 to hit and +2dmg, it is 2 when you are getting -2 to hit and +4 dmg, and so on


Using your base stat of STR 18 at lvl 1, assuming you are getting a composite(+4) longbow :

  • baseDmg is the average of 1d8+4 = 8.5
  • DALevel is 1 (-1 to hit and +2dmg)

applying the above formula we have

$$ \begin{align} rollToHit & < 21 - \frac{8.5}{2} - 1 \\ \Rightarrow rollToHit & < 15.75 \end{align} $$

Meaning that if, after applying all other relevant modifiers, you can hit an enemy with a d20 roll of 15 it is worth it to use deadly aim. On the other hand, an enemy requiring a d20 roll of 16 to hit is not worth using deadly aim on.

This can give you an idea on how often you will actually be using deadly aim. In your case, at level 1 using your example stats you should be applying Deadly Aim on all enemies except those where a 15 is not enough to hit them.

Naturally, if you need to roll a 16 to hit an enemy (25% chance) you are probably better off just running away in the first place meaning you would likely be using deadly aim almost always in a reasonable fight.

Notes about the formula

Looking at the formula it turns out that for most cases, gaining exactly 2 damage and 1 attack does not change how often it is worth it to apply deadly aim, excluding corner cases.

As a rule, the more damage you normally do, the less useful Deadly Aim will be. Conversely, the more you stack bonuses to attack rolls, the better Deadly Aim will be.

It is easy to see that the required rollToHit is at its best at character level one. The required roll for deadly aim to be worth it gets strictly worse as you gain more base damage and your DALevel improves. This might be easily offset by having a full BAB.

Example 2, higher level:

To see the limit of usefulness of Deadly Aim consider also a lvl 20 Ranger using a +5 magic composite (+4) longbow, at point blank (+1 dmg)

This gives us:

  • baseDmg: average of 1d8+5+4+1 = 14.5
  • DALevel: 6 (-6 to hit, +12 dmg)

applying the formula again we have

$$ \begin{align} rollToHit & < 21 - \frac{14.5}{2} - 6 \\ \Rightarrow rollToHit & < 7.75 \end{align} $$

Again, this means that for any enemy where a 7 on a d20 is not enough to hit, it is no longer worth it to apply deadly aim. Having +20 BAB and other factors like magic items probably make this simple enough. (This is just another example of applying the formula for comparison, I've never played pathfinder past lvl 12 so I have no idea what things are like at higher levels.)

Opportunity Cost

All of this assumes that you actually have the Deadly Aim feat. This does not account for the fact that not taking the feat at all would allow you to benefit from a different feat instead.

Math explanation

(unnecessary unless you want to check what I did):

To keep the formulas more readable the following renames are applied in this section:

  • rollToHit -> rTH
  • DALevel -> DAL
  • baseDmg -> bD

A certain rTH is equivalent to a chance to hit of: \$\frac{21-rTH}{20}\$

When using deadly aim the chance to hit then becomes: \$\frac{21-rTH-DAL}{20}\$

The average expected damage when not using deadly aim is simply \$bD*\frac{21-rTH}{20}\$

and when using deadly aim it is \$(bD+2*DAL)*\frac{21-rTH-DAL}{20}\$

Deadly aim would then be worth it when: $$ \begin{align} (bD+2*DAL)*\frac{21-rTH-DAL}{20} & > bD*\frac{21-rTH}{20} \\ \Rightarrow (bD+2*DAL)*(21-rTH-DAL) & > bD*(21-rTH) \\ \Rightarrow (bD+2*DAL)*\bigl(\left(21-rTH\right)-DAL\bigr) & > bD*(21-rTH) \\ \Rightarrow bD*(21-rTH) + 2*DAL*(21-rTH) - bD*DAL - 2*DAL^2 & > bD*(21-rTH) \\ \Rightarrow 2*DAL*(21-rTH) - bD*DAL - 2*DAL^2 & > 0 \\ (since DAL>0) \Rightarrow 2*(21-rTH) - bD - 2*DAL & > 0 \\ \Rightarrow 42 - 2*rTH - bD - 2*DAL & > 0 \\ \Rightarrow 2*rTH & < 42 - bD - 2*DAL \\ \Rightarrow rTH & < 21 - \frac{bD}{2} - DAL \end{align} $$

(There might be a better way to display all of this Maths, any help is appreciated)

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Is the 'hitting on a 15' after applying all penalties? \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2018 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso Yes, it is supposed to be after applying any relevant modifiers (excluding deadly aim itself) I have attempted to clarify \$\endgroup\$
    – Sdjz
    May 3, 2018 at 14:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I always thought (and told my players) the magic number was 13, guess my math was off, but I didn't get that far, as you did. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    May 3, 2018 at 14:11
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras The example is for a lvl 1 character with 18 STR (arguably unusually high), as you gain more base damage and Deadly Aim's effect increases, the "magic number" gets progressively lower \$\endgroup\$
    – Sdjz
    May 3, 2018 at 14:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've actually run into a couple things the GM pumped AC for... And this is good advice. Hitting 1/Rd if you're lucky is not a good way to be. \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2018 at 15:24

Is X worth it?

When one my player ask me this kind of question, I answered to try it and see.

Basically, you are going to run a simulation. Create a copy of your character with the feature you want and hit some monsters, NPC and iconic classes. Then, try again without the feature you like. Then compare both. What do you prefer? Is it useful? Of course it will be different in the real game, but you will have a better understanding of the feature.

If you have another player or the DM willing to help you try it, feel free to ask him to do a quick combat between two games. Maybe it will be the occasion for the other to try something too.

The more you test, better will be your result.

I dont say that asking veterans is bad (it is not!). I just say that sometimes try it yourself can show directly if it is worth it for you or not.

Spoiler: if you want to deal damage with your weapon and you can afford the penalty, taking a Power Attack-like feat with your primary weapon is most of the time a great choice.


The short answer? Yes, every character that will frequently use Ranged attacks should have Deadly Aim.

Ranged damage is simply too low without stacking some benefit. Being able to shoot 5 (bolts, I'll say for simplicity) does significantly less than you'd like to see if each bolt only does d10+2 damage. Increasing the damage increases the damage of every bolt you can land that turn.

What's more? It's optional, each turn. If you find that taking the negative to hit is impairing your ability to actually land bolts (after considering your rolls), then you can simply choose not to use the Feat subsequent rounds. Against low AC targets, this multiplies your ranged damage. Against high AC... simply don't use it.

Power Attack is a staple of melee combatants of all kinds. Why would Deadly Aim be any different? You trade the opportunity to deal 1.5x bonus damage (compared to 2H Power Attack) for how unlikely it is that you will be missing out on attack bonus for attacks of opportunity (unless you make it to Greater/Snap Shot).

'Switch Hitting"

Switch hitting is much more nuanced than you seem to make it. It will likely be much more valuable for you to reduce your STR value and have a more average Ability Score spread. Overlooked are the moderate options that give you multiple 16's after racial modifiers. Furthermore, if any stat should be 18, it's your Dexterity. This would allow you to use an Agile Weapon and dump Strength; you could even use an Elven Branch Spear or Elven Curve Blade with the Agile Special Ability. If you insist on keeping a solid Strength score and large melee weapon, consider

20 Point Buy (add your +2 racial where you wish)
St Dx Cn In Ws Ca
14 16 10 10 14 10
15 15 12 10 14 9
14 14 14 10 14 10

25 Point Buy (add your +2 racial where you wish)
St Dx Cn In Ws Ca
14 16 14 10 14 10
15 16 14 10 14 8

The important thing for having back-up melee weapons is to ensure that they're back-ups. You'll be stacking Feats for your Ranged style... your Melee will always be lackluster compared to a well placed bolt salvo, but better than nothing. Invest money in your weapons disproportionately, knowing your melee will only come out if it needs to; you'll likely only use it a half dozen times in a given campaign.

Other Thoughts

  • See if your GM will allow you to craft Durable bolts (sometimes referred to as Elven bolts, I'm told) which appear in both Elves of Golarion and Alchemy Manual. They're a mundane solution to a mundane problem. Unless you're shooting over a chasm or at creatures that actively break them, you can always retrieve your bolts (the default is all bolts that hit, break and there is a 50% chance to find each missed bolt).

  • As @sdjz mathed out, needing up to a 15 on the die to hit (before applying Deadly Aim) makes Deadly Aim worth it. With a Full BAB and potentially Favored Enemy bonuses, you'll likely find that you need significantly less on the die to hit most enemies. In practice, you'll probably want to hit around 10 or greater so you don't feel like you're missing out (because math means less when you keep rolling 14's). As you gain iterative attacks, the same numbers will apply to your lower attacks.

  • The main benefit of crossbows is trading up damage dice at the cost of not being able to apply Str through Composite longbows. You should not take high Str and crossbows. It doesn't make sense for a super strong person to hamper themselves when they have the ability to launch and arrow harder than the crossbow could, and with less skill (read:Feat) investment.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Just a note about durable ammo, in Golarion, they are simply elven arrows and bolts. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    May 3, 2018 at 16:31

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