I'm interested in the balance of this new edition's classes. Are casters still noticeably more effective in almost all situations than non casters?

  • \$\begingroup\$ We have basically the same question, but for the 2e playtest, and my answer is all-but-a-copy-paste of that one. I don’t know if this should be a duplicate—after all, the systems in question are somewhat different, as things may have changed between the playtest and the final version. But my answer, at least, remains the same. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Oct 25, 2019 at 0:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I believe the final product is different enough due to some major changes throughout the playtest. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zarus
    Oct 25, 2019 at 1:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's worth noting that the "Tiers" aren't necessarily a balance concern... Balance has connotations beyond what the Tier system is used to describe. Tiers are not a better/worse, it's a matter of ability to tackle odd situations. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Oct 25, 2019 at 12:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zarus Kinda? Barbarians are a low-tier class (Tier 4, roughly) in Pathfinder 1e... even though they're among the strongest direct warriors. An optimal Barbarian puts out the most damage of any build, but doesn't have tools to tackle encounters that aren't solved with a hammer. Which is exactly what the tier list is meant to describe - less 'how well do they solve the problems they can solve' and more 'how many problems do they have tools to solve' \$\endgroup\$
    – Delioth
    Oct 26, 2019 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think @KRyan 's "too early to tell" answer was very fair, two years ago. Is that still the case? Or have we learned significant things about tier / balance in the last two years? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeff Fry
    Nov 2, 2021 at 2:24

2 Answers 2


I’m going to answer this the same way I answered a similar question about Starfinder: we just don’t know yet. Pathfinder 2e is a far larger change from Pathfinder 1e than Pathfinder 1e was from D&D 3.5e, and at this stage in Pathfinder 1e’s life, we didn’t know for that yet either. So for a system that has changed far more than the previous case, we certainly don’t know either.

Determining overall balance truths in a system takes a lot of playing it. In particular, since games are typically supposed to be balanced, you cannot rely on the descriptions of things to determine if they’re actually powerful—you have to try them. And you have to try a lot of things, and people have to come together and compare experiences, and you have to try yet more things. You have to try rather out-of-the-box things, too.

And for a real consensus to form, you need a critical mass of players who have played enough different things to be able to form an informed opinion about things—and then you need still more time for them to go back and try different things when they learn others had different experiences. Maybe the campaign you played just happened to miss some important weaknesses in the class you tried, or maybe some of the things you chose for your character weren’t the best choices and the result wasn’t as good as it could have been. That leaves you with a particular impression—which may, due to the specific instances of the character and the game, run contrary to popular opinion. But you have to verify that for yourself in most cases—sometimes it’s as easy as “oh, yeah, I could see how in most campaigns that’d be a bigger problem” or “hm, yeah, if I’d had that I wouldn’t have struggled so much.” But usually it’s “really? I’m skeptical. I’ll have to try that myself.”

That’s a ton of playtime necessary across many, many players in order for a consensus to grow. Pathfinder 2e simply hasn’t been out long enough.

We won’t likely have an answer to this question for years. This is one of the things that makes RPG design so fiendishly difficult, why balance in particular is such an elusive goal—just information alone is hard to come by, and takes a long time to collect. The only real approach to avoiding any problems, if you’re really dedicated to it, is regular balance patches and updates—which are vastly harder to disseminate for pen ‘n’ paper RPGs than they are for video games, and even in video games cause a lot of strife and gnashing of teeth. It’d be much worse in the RPG industry, where the community 1. doesn’t even agree that balance itself is valuable, and 2. isn’t used to such disruptive practices.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Years! Sigh. My hope is that the system masters/optimizers can crack the code faster than that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zarus
    Oct 25, 2019 at 1:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Caldrun Well, the faster the "code" is cracked, the worse the system is. They definitely tried not to create tiers, and how hard it is to find them is directly dictated by how well they did at that \$\endgroup\$
    – Jasper
    Oct 25, 2019 at 8:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jasper It’s not necessarily always the case that “They definitely tried not to create tiers,” there have been games designed with intentional imbalances. Moreover, Pathfinder 1e (and D&D 3.5e it came from) certainly have tiers as a nigh-unavoidable consequence of the different ways that the designers thought about magical vs. mundane matters. After coming from that background, I would say an honest “[try to not] create tiers” would require some serious reframing of what’s appropriate for magic and for mundane heroes. If that wasn’t done, I don’t know they can claim that they tried. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Oct 28, 2019 at 18:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jason_c_o this answer was posted a couple months after the system was released. Nobody (except possibly the designers) had system expertise at that time. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 21, 2021 at 15:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica It’s pretty unlikely the designers did. While some games are intentionally designed with imbalance, and after 1e I have some expectations of Paizo before I’m willing to say they really tried to achieve balance, nonetheless I don’t think they intentionally set out to create tiers—so by definition any tiers that exist, they didn't know about (or else, one hopes, they would have fixed them). I’m pretty confident that really no one knew. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 21, 2021 at 15:28

An Attempt at a Tier List

I've ran and played in over a dozen games and a few 1-20 adventures since pathfinder 2e released, and have payed attention to various folks' opinions about the classes mostly on the paizo forums. I think there's a pretty great balance between the classes in the game (particularly compared to my similar amount of experience with PF1e), but that there are a few stand-out winners:

Tier 1: Rogue — Can do anything and everything, often better than lower-tier classes that supposedly specialize in that thing.

Tier 2: Bard, Cleric, Fighter — As powerful as tier 1, but no one build can do everything.

Tier 3: Barbarian, Champion, Druid, Gunslinger, Investigator, Monk, Sorcerer, Witch, Wizard — Good at one thing & useful outside that, or moderately useful at most things.

Tier 4: Alchemist*, Inventor, Magus, Oracle, Ranger, Summoner, Swashbuckler — Good at one thing but useless at everything else, or mediocre at many things.

Tier 5: None — Good at one rarely applicable thing, or mediocre at one thing, or simply too unfocused.

Tier 6: None — Objectively worse at their specialty than another (often Tier 5) class, without anything else to show for it.

Tier 7: None — Apparently received no actual playtesting, mechanics as written simply don't work. See this question for more details.

  • These tier definitions were lifted from this post.

Some Justifications

In terms of Tier list power related to versatility, one skill feat stands out above the rest: Trick Magic Item. This allows any character with some minor investment to activate magical items including scrolls and wands without needing to actually be a spellcaster.

Skills in general are very important in this edition, as magic is much less capable to completely override any given skill. And even the exceptions to this can be picked up by any character with some inconvenience, so I don't rate classes with spellcasting as wildly more versatile.

Rogue - Rogue is capable in combat with sneak attack and standard martial proficiencies, maximized perception and solid saving throws, and has twice as many skill increases and skill feats as most other characters.

Rogues can be built to handle most situations, and are often able to do so better than others because they have so much material to work with in the skills department.

Bard - Bard's are solid casters with some the best focus spells in the game. Tracking the amount of damage generated by inspire courage has always impressed, particularly with the +10 critical mechanics and tighter math.

Cleric - Cleric's are great for their divine font, having so many max-level heal spells each day is incredible for sustainability. Then they have normal spellcasting on top of that.

Fighter - Fighters are so excellent in combat with their maximized proficiency that they dominate expected damage in encounters. Paired with Attack of Opportunity giving them additional attacks at the highest bonus, fighters have always been welcome in a fight. They're very combat-focused, but they still take skills as anyone else does and can be competent out of combat.

Alchemist - One of the most interesting classes in the game to me, it really functions well at higher levels when it has the resources to hand out alchemical items to handle whatever problems the party encounters. At low levels, this is reversed where the alchemist struggles to achieve much outside of healing with elixirs or bombing weaknesses a few times.

I think at higher levels the alchemist can work its way up to tier 3 just for how much it enhances the rest of the party, but overall it spends more time at tier 4.

Investigator - Very similar to the rogue, but the combat gimmick of Devise a Stratagem has seemed less effective than the alternatives available to the rogue with sneak attack that can deal damage on multiple Strikes and Dex to damage.

This reduction in combat prowess is enough to justify its position to me, but it's still a very versatile class with the many skill feats and skill increases.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I would bump Fighter down. Even if they have all the feats to do all the damage (and in my experience it isn't that pronounced of a difference except against extreme AC targets), they still don't have the versatility of extra Skill Feats to do "all the things". By definition, Tier 3 is "Good at one thing (damage) and useful outside that (ability score freedom to choose skills)" \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Dec 21, 2021 at 4:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wizards (and maybe Witches) should still be Tier 2, probably. Particularly since SoM came out, being a prepared spellcaster is nearly as useful as it used to be; the introduction of some braking mechanisms slows it down out of it's lofty tower but doesn't remove the level of flexibility represented. Particularly that, given time, a Spell Substitution Thesis Wizard can change to have the correct spells mid-day. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Dec 21, 2021 at 4:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Despite rogues' (probably rightful) place at the top of the pyramid, I think you're still putting more weight on damage output that the Tiers are intended to. The idea is that it doesn't matter if you damage is 50 or 70% of an enemies health if you aren't able to make it past the puzzle/trap/chasm before you fight them. (I have made the same error repeatedly in the past, so I think I'm just noticing opinions that I might have had). The lack of the ability to plane shift or teleport means that spellcasters should retain the upper tiers, even if the spells are Uncommon now \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Dec 21, 2021 at 4:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ "As powerful as tier 1, but no one build can do everything" seems to better fit the substantial built-in abilities of fighter accuracy (+10% hits/crits over anyone*), bard focus spells, and cleric divine font. With how easy it is for any character to use scrolls of plane shift/teleport should they need them, I don't find dedicated spellcasters necessarily higher than tier 3 without something particularly powerful to reach tier 2. \$\endgroup\$
    – brandon
    Dec 21, 2021 at 17:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would personally put Rogues in high Tier 2 - they're skills combined with Trick Magic Item can do a lot, but Trick Magic Item is pretty crippling for combat magic (you'd have to spend an action to draw a wand/scroll, then an extra action for Tricking, and not have enough to cast the spell in that round). They are really strong, but can't do spellcaster levels of battlefield control. \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Dec 21, 2021 at 17:32

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