Kevin has been playing tabletop games for almost as long as he can remember and currently edits for Jon Brazer Enterprises.
Fans of Final Fantasy have been trying to make the series’ dragoon class work in D&D for years. In the 3.5 revision, if you combined a number of feats from various Forgotten Realms sourcebooks and could find some way to get a high base speed and enough ranks in the Jump skill, you could make a reasonable facsimile of the dragoon, capable of doing heavy damage with a spear when falling from great heights, though getting all of the elements on the same character could be quite a challenge. For the most part, though, the Final Fantasy dragoon has been elusive in Third Edition, and this continues into Pathfinder.
All About the Dragoon
Paizo’s own dragoon fighter archetype (Ultimate Combat 46) attempts to combine the historical dragoon (a term for mounted infantry) and the Final Fantasy dragoon through a mixture of mounted combat and lance-specialization, with a special jumping attack nod toward the more fantastic version at higher levels. If you’re looking to duplicate the Final Fantasy dragoon, you’ll probably want to look for other avenues (especially if your table allows 3.0/3.5 material), but using the archetype you can make a solid mounted charger that can dish out a lot of pain.
At first level, the dragoon gives up his normal choice of a bonus combat feat and his tower shield proficiency to gain Mounted Combat and Skill Focus (Ride) as bonus feats. The Skill Focus is a solid trade for tower shield proficiency (out of which you probably wouldn’t get much use, mounted as you are) and will significantly increase your ability to reduce the damage your mount takes via Mounted Combat in the long run.
Instead of gaining weapon training at 5th level, the dragoon gains a special version of spear training—she gains a +1 bonus on attack rolls and +2 on damage rolls with spears, and these bonuses increase by +1 and +2 every four levels after 5th. That’s a significant boost over the normal weapon training bonus of +4 to damage, especially considering how often the dragoon will be dealing triple damage with a lance thanks to the Spirited Charge feat.
At 7th, the dragoon trades her second armor training ability to gain spinning lance. This allows her to use the butt end of her lance (dealing club damage) to strike adjacent targets at no penalty, which is more useful than the polearm master archetype’s (Advaned Player’s Guide 106) equivalent ability, which imposes a penalty on attack rolls to accomplish something similar. With spinning lance, the dragoon can take full advantage of her lance’s reach and have a large threatened area, making Combat Reflexes a good feat choice, though the polearm master does have some edge in that he can make use of more combat maneuvers (like drag and trip) that the dragoon can’t.
At 9th level, the dragoon gains a banner (like the cavalier ability), granting any allies that can see the banner a +2 morale bonus on saving throws against fear and a +1 morale bonus on attack rolls made as part of a charge. These bonuses increase by +1 with every four levels. Considering how often the dragoon will be charging, that bonus to attack rolls will see a lot of use. With luck, she’s running around with a beast totem barbarian or other fellow charger in her party to really get some mileage out of it. The banner and its bonus increases replace the rest of the dragoon’s weapon training abilities.
Piercing lance, gained at 11th level, lets the dragoon can take a standard action to make two attacks against another mounted opponent, with one of the two attacks being made against the enemy mount. She can also pull this off at the end of a charge, and to top it off, any Ride check made by the opponent to negate the damage to the mount with Mounted Combat has its target DC increased by 4. This replaces armor training 3 for the dragoon, and it’s of somewhat limited use, but it’s a fairly nice ability in the right circumstances.
In a nod to the Final Fantasy dragoon, at 15th level, the dragoon archetype gains leaping lance. The dragoon and her mount take no armor check penalties to Acrobatics checks while mounted, and she can make a special leaping charge attack from her mount. If she clears at least 10 feet, she doubles the normal charge modifiers (both on the attack roll and her Armor Class penalty) and still gains all of the benefits of being mounted (such as dealing triple damage with her lance from Spirited Charge). This replaces armor training 4. I can’t really come up with a lot of reasons to use this other than that it’s a really cool image, though it does allow the dragoon to effectively add 10 ft. to her charge distance, if a target is otherwise just out of range. Overall, this would probably be a nicer ability if it were gained earlier.
Though it’s hardly noteworthy, the dragoon needs to choose the lance for the weapon mastery capstone.
Mounted combat builds don’t generally require a lot of feats, so the dragoon is going to have a lot of flexibility in regards to her feat choices, given all her extra feats from being a fighter. This sample build focuses on getting the basics out of the way and otherwise focuses on increasing damage output, though it does take Combat Reflexes to take full advantage of spinning lance when you gain it later. Race isn’t terribly important here, though small races do tend to work well as mounted chargers (simply because their smaller mounts allow them to function in smaller dungeon environments) even though they typically have a Strength penalty. This build sticks with the standard human, though, to get the extra skill point for Acrobatics to make the best use of leaping lance at high levels.
Human Fighter (Dragoon) 5
Ability Scores (15 Point Buy): Str 17, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 8
1 Mounted Combat (bonus), Skill Focus (Ride) (bonus), Ride-By-Attack, Spirited Charge
2 Power Attack (bonus)
3 Combat Reflexes
4 Weapon Focus (lance)
5 Weapon Specialization (lance)
At 5th level, with a likely 18 Strength, the dragoon’s looking at 3d8+48 damage on a Spirited Charge with her lance. For comparison, a mounted charging paladin with smite evil active will be looking at 3d8+33. The fighter’s various specialization bonuses really add up when they’re multiplied like this. 15 damage is a pretty significant difference at 5th level!
That covers all of the basics for Pathinder’s dragoon archetype. Here’s to hoping they release another archetype that can cover the Final Fantasy dragoon in all its glory.
Kevin C Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on August 05, 2014:
Off the top of my head...
For the Dragoon:
+6 STR (2-handed)
+6 Power Attack
+2 Weapon Specialization
+2 Spear Training
x3 from Spirited Charge
For the Paladin
+6 STR (2-handed)
x3 for Spirited Charge
The Paladin lacks Power Attack at 5th level due to not having the available feats, I believe, hence the difference. The Paladin will actually come out ahead with Smite up, once Power Attack is available.
jon on August 04, 2014:
i am just curious how you got the +48 and +33 for damage.
Kevin C Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on April 19, 2013:
That's one of the best ways to handle the dragoon if you're not opposed to multiclassing, yes. You do miss out on some weapon training increases, and if your game isn't as mount friendly, you may find yourself less versatile than a straight Dragoon would, though.
Joel on April 18, 2013:
I think the best thing to do would probably be to go Cavalier 4 to pick up the Expert Trainer ability, then go into Dragoon Fighter and pick up the "Horse Master" feat at level 6. It makes your Cavalier's mount based off of your character level instead of your cavalier level. Now you have the powerful mount of a cavalier with all the feat-filled, spear-focused goodness of a dragoon.
Kevin C Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on November 27, 2012:
The spear focus abilities are one of the best things about the dragoon, really. One of any mounted combatant's biggest problems is decreased effectiveness when a mount can't be brought along (like in small dungeons). The increased damage on the dragoon's spear training gives them a noticeable edge in that department.
Rune on November 27, 2012:
I find the Leaping Lance ability extremely thematic and absolutely cool- if not totally impractical and not worth it. I would personally prefer to take a really large acrobatics check penalty and do a similar thing anyway. All that said, I prefer the Cavalier to the Dragoon all day. Though, the Dragoon offers more feats and fighter abilities, the Cavalier seems like a superior version at doing the same thing. I think something like Dragoon 5, Cavalier 15 is a very solid build giving you plenty of fighter feats and a lot more versatility. Even your mount is better.
One thing I find the Dragoon helps add to the idea of a mounted warrior is the spear focus abilities. The additional range is very useful and I believe it applies when you're not mounted, too. So if you're carrying a lance into the dungeon- you can still do your thing and better than a normal fighter (because of the +2 damage scaling). And if you multiclassed with Cavalier, you probably still retained the heavy armor proficiency, though using the lance probably looks better with medium armor- but who cares. :)