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While in the process of building a Magus character, I got annoyed that paizo decided to make Dex to damage quite difficult to obtain. Apart from Agile weaponry, I know of three feats that do this:

  • Dervish Dance is limited to the scimitar, but requires only 1 other feat.
  • Slashing Grace works for all light or one-handed slashing weapons, but requires Weapon Focus on top of Weapon Finesse.
  • Fencing Grace is similar, but only applies to the Rapier.

Basically, we are looking at at least 2 feats for getting Dex to hit and damage with a limited amount of weapons, which can be a high investment for some characters.

In D&D 5e, Dex to hit and damage is baseline for a similar range of weapons, making me wonder about the implications of making this a house-rule in Pathfinder.

Baseline

With a light weapon, elven curve blade, rapier, whip, or spiked chain made for a creature of your size category (hereafter finesseable), you may use your Dexterity modifier instead of your Strength modifier on attack rolls and damage rolls.

This bonus is not increased for wielding a weapon in two hands, and you cannot use Power Attack to increase your damage while doing so.

The two restrictions placed on Dex-wielding a weapon are meant to keep Str based characters viable. You can always use Piranha Strike instead of Power Attack, and serve as a counterbalance to Dex contributing to AC and Reflex saves.

Some of the feats could be changed accordingly, such as

Slashing Grace

You treat one-handed slashing weapons as finesseable.

Does anyone have experience with similar houserules in either Pathfinder or D&D 3.5e (differences should be fairly limited)? Is there some major reason why this is a bad idea to implement?

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The biggest reason I can think of is that Dex, along with Wisdom, is already at least on the border of being "too versatile," in the context of 3.5 and Pathfinder. While it's true that Rogue, for example, is a weak class in the core rules, it isn't due to the reliance on Dexterity.

In 3.5e and PF, Dexterity does these things:

  • Determines your initiative. This ensures that Dexterity is at least marginally useful for every class in the entire game.
  • Adds to your armor class, and more importantly, boosts your touch AC. Also good for everyone.
  • Determines your to-hit with ranged weapons and finesse weapons.
  • Determines your reflex save -- another one that's a little important for everyone, since the most common thing that invokes a reflex save is either a trap or an AoE attack, which everyone in the game is likely to be subject to at some point.
  • Is the modifying attribute for a proportionally large number of skills relative to other attributes

This is also pretty much identical to the way that 5e handles Dexterity. So why does it work in 5e and not 3.5e and PF? There are some key differences:

  • In 5e, touch AC is not a thing. This is important.
  • Armor now has a strength requirement on it as you go heavier, as well as being much stricter about limiting Dex bonus to AC, meaning it's either impractical or pointless for most characters to stack a high Dex modifier with something like mithral full plate; heavy armors with improved Dex-to-AC bonuses.
  • In 5e, modifiers aren't really a thing outside of your regular old Str/Dex + Proficiency bonus to attack. Magic items are also supposed to be harder to come by, although that can vary with your GM. Depending on whether you can get advantage or not, this might make it harder for you to accumulate the modifiers you want (advantage is supposed to be equivalent to about a +4 or +5 bonus, if I recall correctly)

In conclusion, it's clear that giving Dex the same functions as 5e would make it more powerful in the context of the rest of the rules in PF. I can't say for sure that it would break your game, since that mostly depends on what class the character in question ends up being. Balance in PF depends highly on the individual class.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for emphasis on the versatility of DEX being the determining factor. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Aug 19 '15 at 19:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Characters can already replace Strength with Dexterity for the purpose of attack rolls, and in games that allow 3.5 material or 3rd-party material, also for damage rolls. It just costs a couple of feats to do it. This answer, on the other hand, seems to consider it as if this were opening up new possibilities – it’s not. It’s just saving some feats, for builds that are desperately feat-starved. It’s a good thing. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 20 '15 at 2:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kryan Feat taxes are a very lame way to restrict a class/build, I agree. I don't know what you mean exactly by "opening up new possibilities;" all I did was compare and contrast the impact of Dexterity on PF and 5e. I even admitted they're pretty much identical. I avoided jumping to any conclusions about impact because I don't usually use this specific house rule in PF. I personally think that adding Dex to damage would be fine with finesse melee weapons, perhaps not so much ranged -- ranged doesn't seem too weak from my play experience. \$\endgroup\$ – Lucas Leblanc Aug 20 '15 at 14:25
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The implication is that Dex-based builds become easier to build. That’s it. I have played in many games with similar houserules, and really it just makes the Dexterity-based melee character more feasible. The Strength-based route is still superior.

It does not invalidate Strength-based builds – the 1½×Strength damage on two-handers, the increased returns that two-handers have on Power Attack (that Piranha Strike cannot mimic), and the fact that you are not handing out Agile Maneuvers for free all lead to builds that Strength just does better – namely, melee damage-dealing and combat-maneuvering.

On the other hand, feat-starved, lower-damage builds, like anyone who ever wanted to dual-wield, are saved a feat and get a little more damage. This is a good thing. All-in Dexterity builds are able to go a little farther, though honestly all this really does is save a few feats, feats that were very awkward to get previously and that others didn’t even need to worry about (you don’t need a feat to use a two-handed weapon, for instance).

Ultimately, in both cases, it does not dramatically change people’s ability scores. Strength-based builds are still going to dump Dexterity, and Dexterity-based builds are still going to dump Strength, which they always did. It just means that the dump-Strength, pump-Dexterity option is easier than it used to be, since it doesn’t require a feat or two to get off the ground. Since Strength-based builds never needed such feats, this improves balance.

This change does also mean that people who were not terribly interested in weapons to begin with, are probably now a little bit better with weapons. Dexterity is a much more versatile ability score, and so people without specific interest in weapons are much more likely to have high Dexterity than they are to have high Strength. Those folks are now better with weapons than they otherwise would be. This doesn’t really matter, because they weren’t particularly interested in weapons before and they still aren’t particularly interested in weapons now, and they’re definitely nowhere near as good with them as those who are interested in them, but it is something to be aware of.

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