[RPG] Are Called Shots worth the investment


I have been searching for interesting rules systems to make Pathfinder сombat more cinematic in an E6 campaign and to make classes relying on mundane attacks a bit more powerful. At first, Called Shots seemed like exactly what I needed. Indeed, the effects they can inflict are sometimes actually crippling.

However, I was shocked by the investments required to make use of this mechanic.

  1. Like many mundane mechanics in Pathfinder, it requires two feats to function properly: Improved Called Shots and Greater Called Shots. Yes, Called Shots offer a greater array of available effects than, say, usual combat maneuvers do, but two feats is still a huge investment. Even for an E6 campaign.
  2. Those feats require Combat Expertise as a feat tax, so Called Shots actually cost three feats to work properly.
  3. Those feats require Int 13, which is not always the best choice for a martial character and doesn't really make a lot of sense for an aiming feat (Dex 13 would make a lot more sense). Alternatively, you could take Dirty Fighting, which is indeed a solid feat on its own merit, and many characters should actually do that, but that raises the total cost of Called Shots to four feats. Also, you need to read the rules in a way that includes the Called Shots feats into " the various improved combat maneuver feats".
  4. There is a big opportunity cost in making a Called Shot even if you have both related feats. When you decide to make a Called Shot, you accept a huge penalty to your attack roll if you want to achieve anything significant ("Challenging" shots), quite likely just missing your target and achieving nothing at all.
  5. "Easy" shots, on the other hand, don't threaten your opponent too much.
  6. However, speaking about crits, they are unreliable. Even when you build your character around crits.
  7. Debilitating blows' effects are mostly amazing, but I plan to use those rules in E6. At CRs close to 6, 40 points of damage from a single attack are likely to guarantee this creature dropped within a turn or two, even without any additional debuffs.
  8. Most significant effects achieved by Called Shots allow for a saving throw to partially or fully negate them, to make the mechanic even more unreliable.
  9. The standard rules make True Strike turn your Called Shot into a normal attack, although the rules explicitly say that it could be allowed.
  10. If you target touch AC, you lose this benefit when using Called Shots, so Gunslingers and magic users stop being as accurate as they usually are.

In my games, I want to buff Called Shots significantly because they seem to be useless, those feats being trap options. The only possible way to use them now is to take Improved Called Shots, take an Easy Called Shot every time you make a full attack, and just hope for the best (the penalty from the shot will be offset by the bonus from a feat). However, I am not an expert in Pathfinder, so I am asking:

Am I misunderstanding something and underestimating the potential of Called Shots, or are they indeed yet another feat-intensive, trap option present in Pathfinder?

Best Answer

Here are some ways in which called shots could be used.

For spellcaster characters, there are many rounds in which they aren't casting a spell. What if a spellcaster got a sling, and spent those rounds making called shots to their opponents' arms? The cost of doing this is just -2 to hit, and a few points of damage lost since they're using a sling rather than a crossbow. The benefit is also small, but it might be worth it since the spellcaster wasn't doing anything else useful.

The intended way to use this feature seems to be for a character to take the Improved Called Shot feat and make a called shot to the arm, head, or vitals every round, inflicting -2 to hit on the target. As you say, this doesn't seem to be a great benefit for two feats.

There's the possibility of building a character that reliably deals 50 damage on an attack. A character with STR 22 gets +9 to damage on a two-handed weapon; if they power attack, that's an additional +6 damage, and if they use a lance and the Spirited Charge feat it's triple damage (or +45 damage before weapon dice).

This character would need to take Dirty Fighting and Improved Called Shot in order to make a called shot as part of their "charge" action. The character also needs Power Attack, Mounted Combat, Ride-by Attack, and Spirited Charge. That's six feats! Most characters only have three feats by level six, so a character who does this will need to invest in a character class that grants bonus feats if they want to use the aforementioned build in a non-E6 campaign.

This character suffers from the usual issues with charger builds:

  • you can't take a horse into a dungeon (unless you're, eg, a halfling with a riding dog?)
  • charging could leave you in a bad tactical position, such that you get surrounded by enemies and can no longer charge
  • your DM might think your character is "cheesy" and start building combats to make your life harder

But the main issue with this seems to be that the charger build is a good character on its own, and it's not clear how much benefit the charger is getting from all the called-shot stuff. Debilitating strikes only occur if you deal >50% of the target's hit points, which means they'll only take effect on targets that were pretty easy to kill anyway.

I'd like to note: you've written "you could take Dirty Fighting, which is indeed a solid feat on its own merit, and many characters should actually do that, but that raises the total cost of Called Shots to four feats." This seems to be incorrect, because Dirty Fighting takes the place of Combat Expertise.

Also, very few builds seem likely to use Greater Called Shot, since the additional -5 penalty to the second called shot in a round is terrible and reducing the damage threshold from 50 to 40 is unhelpful.

We should think of this feature as only costing two feats (Dirty Fighting and Improved Called Shot).

You might be interested in Which superhero RPG system is this quote about?, in which I'm trying to identify the name of a system in which (I heard that) called shots were implemented in a way that worked well.