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A Brief Summation of the Schools of Magic in the Pathfinder RPG

In Pathfinder, most casters will want to specialize in some school of magic or another. This is largely because of the existence of the feats Spell Focus (SF) and Greater Spell Focus (GSF), and other character options available that benefit the save DCs for a particular school. Generalists can certainly be played, but are typically some form of support and utility caster. If you are an aggressive caster, specialization is required.

This makes caster classes very tough nuts to crack for newcomers, as one needs to look through their class options far into the future and read a lot of spells to understand where the class’s strengths lie. This article intends to give a broad overview of each of Pathfinder’s schools of magic to help with that. Those schools are:

ABJURATION:

This school is an interesting one. It is simultaneously the one option on this list that I cannot recommend anyone taking SF/GSF for…ever. No class, no one. Abjuration specialists aren’t a real thing. However, it is a very good school of magic for pretty much anyone to have some spell slots invested in. This paradox is explained by the very nature of abjuration: it protects. Abjuration is how you stop a lot of enemies from harming you, and as such are typically self-targeted. That means you’re almost never concerned about a save DC being high. Divine casters have a better list of abjuration effects than arcane, but everyone has some goodies. This school includes such auto-slot standby spells as: shield of faith, shield, alarm, endure elements (and communal),  life bubble, protection from [alignment] (and communal, and magic circle), resist energy (and communal), protection from energy (and communal), remove curse, remove fear, and recentering drone among others. That’s mostly in levels 1-3. However, I don’t think a single one of these spells has a save DC. They’re harmless. 

CONJURATION:

This is considered by many (including myself) to be the single best crowd control school of magic in the game. It isn’t necessarily the most powerful (that honor goes to enchantment, which we’ll get to later), but it is the most consistently effective method of shutting down opponents.

It has a large suite of effects it can create, often doesn’t allow SR (which is major points in its favor in high level play particularly), and can target the various saves (albeit mostly Fort and Ref). In early levels you’re looking at the create pit and cloud spell lines, aqueous orbblack tentacles, grease, and web. Conjuration also does possess a fair amount of utility, such as mage armor and many healing spells. Used aggressively, however, it really shines as a way of throwing one of a variety of hard shutdown conditions on a few opponents at a time. Usually the effects won’t hit the whole battlefield (with exceptions), but you’ll get more than one opponents with careful placement. The effects will usually give you a number of rounds where you can safely ignore that opponents. That pattern stays fairly true in high level play, but with larger radii and usually some damage over time (DoT) attached.

It also houses the various summon spells. Summons as a general rule start out fairly weak. You get some templated animals or similar, which has a bit of action economy, and might get lucky and land a weak hit for piddling damage. Who knows, maybe they’ll succeed at a combat maneuver. In late-game, that tune changes considerably. The summon monster line (available to both arcane and divine) starts to pick up some real outsiders with good support abilities around summon monster V. Don’t have magic circle against evil prepared? Summon a hound archon. Exhausted your invisibility counters? Have a Babau (which can dispel magic at will to boot). A Bralani Azata is good at absorbing hits and for a bit of healing, can fly and hit at range.

Given that conjuration houses virtually all of the healing, the most consistently effective crowd-control, and the ability to gain action economy and flexible utility casting through summons, I truly believe that conjuration is the overall best school of magic in Pathfinder.

DIVINATION:

If we lived in a world of magic, the rulers would be diviners. Divination is somewhat paradoxical, similar to abjuration. In combat-centric campaigns (which most are), no one should consider being a focused diviner. In a more social maneuvering or investigative campaign, a divination focused spellcaster may be the most optimal character choice possible.

That is because, in the immortal words of one Joe, GI “Knowing is half the battle.” If you always live in the other half, well, a diviner doesn’t fare well. But if you have time to do research and approach situations with care, a diviner is your best friend. A well-prepared diviner can track better than a ranger, disable traps as well as a rogue (with Aram Zey’s focus), scout better than anyone, identify pretty much anything and anyone, foretell the future (kinda), read minds, talk to anyone and anything, see through illusions, and spy on targets far away. That’s not to mention threefold sight, which I just discovered and you should now read. If Littlefinger were a diviner wizard, he’d have been on the Iron Throne before he was twenty.

That said, not all that many divination effects have save DCs, making it an unattractive choice for specialization. However, some (such as scrying, detect thoughts, and other more intrusive divinations) do, and a diviner wizard’s specialty school abilities are among the best available. So, it’s a tough call. A divination spell is never going to kill anyone, but it might help you put yourself or your party in the best possible starting position for just about any situation. It could be a very cool play-style with the right campaign and party.

ENCHANTMENT:

I mentioned that while conjuration is not the most potent school of crowd-control, it is the most effective. Enchantment has the honor of being the most powerful crowd-control school. It is chock-full of large radius effects that have devastating conditions like unconsciousness, paralysis, confusion, and effects like unnatural lust and calm emotions. It also possesses single target capture spells in the form of dominate and similar. There is no effect that will more swiftly turn the tide of a battle than turning an enemy into an ally. It possesses some buffs and utility like zone of truth and heroism, but that isn’t a strong-point of the school.

The reason it isn’t the most effective battlefield control is simply because aggressive enchantment effects almost ubiquitously have the [mind-affecting] descriptor. As I’ve said in the past, “What kills you are…immunities. Immune to mind affecting [is a trait of] anything mindless, undead, constructs, plants, vermin, ooze, swarms, qlippoths, aeons, kytons, and inevitables. Immunity to mind-affecting… is not uncommon outside of those creature types as well.” Nearly 50% of the bestiaries are immune to mind-affecting. That makes this school unmatched in campaigns with primarily NPC opponents, but if monsters are your target, you’re better served with a different specialty.

Due to this, I’m not fond of enchantment specialist characters. They tend to be useless in around 40% of fights, and the rest of the time they shut down fights before anyone else has a chance to shine. Bards are somewhat forced into enchantment if they want to use spells aggressively: they have virtually no other crowd control to their names. It isn’t as much of an issue for them, however, as the bard’s DCs probably aren’t so high that they’re shutting down entire encounters, and they can always perform and get in the fight a bit to contribute when against immune opposition.

Enchantment also targets Will saves almost exclusively, making it difficult for enchanters to come up with a response to Will-strong opponents. Some other schools allow for greater flexibility here.

Kitsune are notably incredible at enchantment due to their racial bonus, and some of their favored class options.

EVOCATION:

The blaster caster school. Evocation, simply put, deals damage. It is the flashiest school of magic, receives possibly the most attention from developers, and is a favorite of newer players jumping into casting for the first time.

It is also, in my (not even close to) humble opinion, the worst school of magic for anyone to specialize in, and the worst overall school of magic. 

This is a very contentious statement, and will probably earn me more than a few arguments and disparaging remarks from wrong people. Note that I am NOT talking about kineticists, which really play as martial characters with energy weapons. I am mostly talking about your typical Ifrit Sorcerer and so on. The Blaster Caster and evocation are the worst for the following reasons:

Dealing damage is the bailiwick of martial classes. If your party already has martial characters (which virtually all parties do), the blaster caster steps on their specialty’s toes without really doing what the caster is meant to do: everything else.

A blaster will never out-compete a martial in terms of DPR, given equal amounts of cheesy optimization. Don’t get me wrong, a maximized intensified empowered fireball and a quickened empowered fireball with extra d6s and all the garnishings can deal a lot of damage in a round. There are many ways listed in the DPR Olympics thread to exceed that with martial characters. DPR calculators with caster classes also usually fail to consider the possibility of a save succeeding (which usually halves or negates the damage of evocation spells), nor SR. Those limitations are the equivalent of AC for a martial character, and must be factored to know the expected outcome of a spell.

A blaster cannot keep their damage up for all that many rounds in a day. A martial might have usage limited buffs per day (smite, rage, etc.) but will still be plenty effective once they’re exhausted. 

Aggressive evocation spells target Reflex almost exclusively. Like enchantment, that hurts their flexibility compared to many other kinds of aggressive casters.

There is almost always a spell that would have a far greater impact on an encounter than throwing more damage out. A creature with 10 HP is just as dangerous as one with 150, so if your damage didn’t bring a creature to 0, it didn’t change the state of play. Controllers like enchanters and conjurers can almost always dramatically alter the state of play in their party’s favor with a single incantation. A 20d6 fireball on round 1 (70 average damage) will almost never change the state of play in an encounter at the level you’d see it. Black tentacles is a different story.

Evocation also suffers from a similar problem to enchantment’s: immunity. Not only is immunity to one or more elements extremely common, resistances are usually much bigger values than DR at similar CR. A creature with DR 10/adamantine might also have Resist fire: 20. On a successful save, that creature will take an average of 15 damage from that 20d6 fireball. Once in high-level play, virtually all enemies will have multiple immunities and high resistances in those elements they’re not immune to. With some of the elemental flexibility options available and a successful knowledge check, one can at least pick the right element for the task at hand, but it’s always an issue the blaster will have to dance around. Opposing casters will out-dance them, as they can toss up abjuration effects to continue no-selling blasters.

Blasters will find their moments in the sun: they’ll take down a fire giant with some icy spears or what have you. All in all though, I’d rather have virtually any other specialist with me at basically any time. Evocation has virtually no utility (though contingency and some of the force effects are admittedly nice), buff, troubleshooting, or control spells. It has one note, and that one falls flat an awful lot.

ILLUSION:

With illusion, what you see is ironically what you get. You make illusions. This can occasionally end encounters with a single spell, often by hiding the party or deceiving would be opponents into believing they shouldn’t fight you. It houses invisibility effects, protections like mirror image, the ultimate utility line of shadow conjuration, and can (sort of) give you summonlings like conjuration’s summon lines. It can even kill outright with spells like phantasmal killer and weird. It is versatile, fun, and interesting.

The problem that illusion has is one of, frankly, bad game design on the part of the publishers. Just about everything above CR 11 has constant, at will, or easily castable true seeing. There are basically no caveats or exceptions to true seeing ruining an illusionist’s day. That spell is just silly. There is no spell that grants immunity to enchantment, conjuration, or necromancy – but a single cast of true seeing makes an entire school of magic useless. They then gave that (pretty high level) spell effect as a constant sense on a startlingly large percentage of the Bestiary.

That said, if you aren’t planning on playing past level 11 or so anyway (which fits a PFS career), it’s a really fun style of play. Gnomes are the standouts, and sorcerer pairs nicely with them.

NECROMANCY:

The first thing I want to say about necromancy is that it’s a lot more than making undead. Making undead actually might be the worst use of a necromancer’s time and money: they’re expensive, hog a lot of table time, they require a lot of bookkeeping, and are either very weak (mindless undead like skeletons and zombies) or risky (the create undead options) in that they can rebel unpredictably. I really wish there were more streamlined options for being that kind of necromancer: it’s one of my favorite tropes in fantasy fiction. I’m as sad that it’s terrible as anyone. In a strict, by the numbers sense, it actually can be optimized to be pretty darn good. The issue is that it’s probably the most cumbersome playstyle in the game…well, except maybe Path of Numbers.

Where necromancy shines is taking targets (usually just one) and telling them, “You’re not going to be dangerous, ever again.” Spells like blindness and bestow curse immediately and irrevocably make an opponent into a far lesser threat. They usually aren’t complete shut-downs like enchantment or conjuration, but immunities are rarer (constructs are immune, but that’s about it) and you don’t need to worry about duration.

It is the best debuff school in the game, though conjuration, enchantment, and even transmutation are superior in terms of crowd control. Great for bosses, less so for mooks.

It is a notably attractive option for aggressive casting Clerics.

TRANSMUTATION:

Kind of an overlooked school, actually. It is the best ‘buff’ school, housing effects that can grant you bonuses to just about anything (AC, attacks, ability scores, size categories, extra limbs, etc.), help you disguise yourself, and can eventually turn you into just about anything with polymorph effects. It has a surprising amount of battlefield control, especially on the Druid list but arcane classes have some tricks there. Baleful polymorph (among others) can be a devastating Save-or-X for single target debuffers. This school pretty much has it all.

Polymorph has a lot of limitations, the biggest two being that you can’t have more than one active, and that most of the best ones (form of the dragon, elemental body, beast shape, etc.) have a range of ‘personal’. The 1/2 BAB classes will never be THAT much of a threat as a Huge dragon with lots of STR bonuses because their starting STR probably wasn’t that high, and they have a lot less BAB than their martial allies. Martials will likely also have invested a lot more in other attack/damage bonuses like Power Attack, enhanced weapons, and the many wondrous items, traits, and other feats that make them the damage dealers.

An important exception to this rule is the Brown Fur Transmuter arcanist. They can use their polymorph spells on their friends. Your buddy the big punchy Barbarian? Why not use monstrous physique III to turn him into a a Huge sized monster with +6 STR and 6 arms and grab?  Yeah, it’s silly.

Transmutation is a very diverse school suited to a variety of playstyles. 

Well, I hope that was helpful. I obviously didn’t dive into a great deal of deatil in this post, but I hope I’ve provided a useful overview for understanding each school’s role in a game of Pathfinder.

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Wear Protection: Pathfinder Items for Saves and AC by Cost

Butterduck+rolled+image+photoshop+skills+off+the+charts+_9347358c8437fa9e80325d721a820ef0

One of the more common questions I see is, “How do I increase my AC” or “How do I most affordably increase my AC?” Another is essentially the same, but about saves. There are, of course, a ton of ways to increase one’s AC. There’s everything from the Dodge feat to a Paladin’s smite ability, but let’s focus on options that are available to nearly everyone: armor, shields, and wondrous items. I am assuming one is allowed to pay ‘upgrade costs’, or the difference between a higher level version of an item’s cost and the version you already have.

I don’t intend to dwell too long on the differences between various armors and shields, just try to find something that can accommodate your full Dex bonus while granting as much protection itself as possible. The most commonly chosen options I see are chain shirts, breastplates, and full-plate armor, as well as the mithral versions of all of these. As far as shields go, there’s not much reason to have a light shield. Either get the higher AC bonus from heavy, or have a buckler. A sword-and-board TWF build will want a light shield, but that’s about it. It’s also worth noting that even casters inhibited by arcane spell failure can get some mileage out of shields and armor. A mithral buckler has no arcane spell failure chance, and grants you some AC bonus when you don’t have the prep time to cast shield. Once its enhanced to +3, it grants the same AC bonus, and can get 2 higher once enhanced to +5.  There is also the Haramaki, which is similar for the armor slot. It grants a measly +1 on its own, but has no ACP. Once enhanced past +3, it’s better than mage armor, and until then it’s at least something when you’re not pre-buffed. If you’re willing to brave a mere 5% ACP, your options open up considerably. Darkleaf cloth will reduce many light armor options down to 5%, some of which grant as much as a +3 armor bonus by default. This can eventually make your Wizard a lot more durable, for a pretty minor penalty.

AC items in ascending order of expense:

Enhance Armor/Shield to +1 | 1,000 gp each

Ring of Protection/Amulet of Natural Armor +1 | 2,000 each – If you don’t mind spending the slots, these can be had by level 5-6 without missing out on other gear entirely.

Upgrade armor/shield to +2 | 3,000 each

Belt of Dexterity | 4,000 – Obviously, this one will not be a wise purchase for those characters who are primarily based in a non-Dex physical stat. For anyone else (including mental stat based characters) this is a phenomenal purchase. In addition to the touch AC boost, you’ll get initiative, Reflex save, and a boost to some of the nicer combat skills.

Dusty Rose Ioun Stone | 5,000 – This one is an insight bonus to AC, and therefore stacks with everything else that most character’s have and applies to both flat-footed and touch ACs.

Upgrade Shield/Armor to +3 | 5,000 each

Upgrade Ring/Amulet  to +2| 6,000

Upgrade Shield/Armor  to +4| 7,000

Upgrade Shield/Armor to +5 | 9,000 gp

Upgrade Ring/Amulet to +3 | 10,000 gp

Upgrade belt of Dexterity to +4 | 12,000 gp

This is not an exhaustive list of items that can increase AC, but I can’t think of many more notable entries. Most characters can leverage these items, and even with no other sources of AC a Cleric could swing a 38 AC by using these items. It would take a high level character to afford them all, but you purchase them incrementally throughout your career to keep a competitive AC. In fact, you could get up to 5 higher just by continuing to upgrade the ring/amulet and dex belt, though it becomes extremely costly.

A small note for casters: if you very frequently pre-buff with something like barkskin or shield of faith, it likely won’t make sense for you to drop gold and a slot on a wondrous item that grants the same bonus type. My tank Cleric does not have a ring of protection, for example, and similarly a Druid might elect not to invest in an amulet of natural armor.

For saves, the order of increasingly expensive items is as follows:

Cloak of Resistance +1 | 1,000 gp – Probably the most commonly purchased wondrous item in the Pathfinder RPG, few characters can afford to go without this ttrpg staple.

Upgrade Cloak to +2 | 3,000 gp

Four Leafed Clover | 3,750 gp – This grants a +2 luck bonus on three saves, skill checks, or ability checks daily. It’s cheaper than a lucky horseshoe, and grants a larger bonus to a more diverse array of things, but the daily usage limit makes it a tough call on which to eventually purchase.

Pale Green Cracked Ioun Stone | 4,000 gp – One of the very few non-resistance bonuses you can get to saves, this grants a competence bonus instead. It also has a version for attack rolls, which many martial character’s will be interested in.

Upgrade Cloak to +3 | 5,000 gp

Lucky Horseshoe | 6,800 gp – Grants another non-resistance bonus, predictably its luck. It grants a +1 at all times, and once a day can grant a +4 instead. As a small note, characters with the Fate’s Favored trait will get an additional +1 from any luck bonuses, which increases the value of this item enough that it should probably be purchased after upgrading the cloak to +2, as it costs less than the pale green cracked and +3 upgrade combined.

Upgrade Cloak to +4 | 7,000 gp

Upgrade Cloak to +5 | 9,000 gp

There aren’t as many options for increasing saves reliably, but we can still get a steady +7 from items. If your character is reliant on a save dependency stat, you’ll obviously be helped by headbands and belts to increase that attribute.

 

Toxic Shock

A Partial List of Toxic Player Behaviors at the Table

Anyone who commits sexual harassment within the community. Gratefully, Paizo takes this issue very seriously, and my experience with the PFS community has consistently been that this behavior is not tolerated whatsoever within its demesne.

Spotlight Swans – these are the guys who don’t only optimize, but delve into the cheesiest realms to amp their initiative, number of creatures they can legally command, and battlefield control spells that will allow them to sit the party down and show them a combat. They intentionally ‘solo’ missions to prove that they can, probably because they lack a feeling of empowerment in life’s more significant aspects. This means no one else is allowed to have fun with their characters, it’s just bad dinner theatre.

Plain Old Socially Abrasive – 7 CHA people IRL are a real mixed bag. Some folks just don’t have the social skills to command attention, but are sweethearts. Others are just dicks, and lack the self-awareness or awareness of social cues to filter their ever-flowing condescension, spitefulness, and idiocy.

Edgelord – This one is usually easy to nip in the bud if you’ve got good leadership from GMs and lodge members, but sometimes you get a special case. This is the player whose every character and behavior is meant to make someone or everyone at the table uncomfortable or offended. Luckily, PFS leadership and the campaign restrictions make these a rarity.

“Enough about you, let’s talk about me.” This is the player who spends the first 10 minutes of every session regaling you with the most inane details of this character’s life. You hear about how they were raised by the grandmother, the color of their pants, the meaning of their tattoo, etc. enlessly. At the drop of a hat, they’ll launch into self-expository monologue. They try to be the face, but ultimately fail because of their self-obsession and typically under-optimized CHA skills.

The Speedrunner – This one fundamentally misunderstands the nature of TTRPGs, and views them more like co-op video games. They view scenarios as ‘levels’ that one should try to beat as efficiently and completely as possible. They want no time wasted on dilly-dallying with in-group conversation, they don’t want any joking around, and they certainly don’t want to explore any unorthodox methods of completing one’s objectives. The Speedrunner is typically also Just Plain Old Socially Abrasive, and a real buzzkill.

The Rules-Lawyer – is a handy guy to have around, as long as they’re not TOO litigious. The fact is, not every situation is covered by rules (or covered well), so a bit of flexibility is necessary for a GM to keep the flow going. If you get a particularly ‘by the book’ rules lawyer, play can slow and become tedious.

The Evergreen Player – Every player starts new, and there’s a lot of ground to cover. Nevertheless, most players gain a certain level of system mastery that at least covers what they can do. The Evergreen Player just never seems to learn. The show up with 7th level characters with only their 1st level feat selected. They don’t ever spend any of their wealth or prestige. They don’t know how any of their spells work. They don’t know how their class features work. They don’t know what their modifiers are. Every week, same questions. No drive to learn about the system on their own, little ability to absorb what they’re told directly, the Evergreen player is a constant drain on pacing. They take forever with their turns, accomplish little, and need constant rescue.

The Fun Police Paladin – doesn’t allow anyone in their sight-line to incur even the most banal of imaginary moral infractions. Doesn’t necessarily need to be a Paladin, but it usually is. I’ve known a few (otherwise delightful) players that absolutely MUST be the shiny Dudely-Do-Right type adventurers with every character. This can be mild to severe depending on how adamant they are over controlling the party’s behavior.

The Desperate Criminal – The opposite and counterpart to the Fun Police Paladin, the Desperate Criminal insists or forces the party towards illegal or immoral choices. They’re always getting the party tripped up in lies and plots when truth would have better served, derailing everything with unnecessary hijinks, or making people uncomfortable with their creepy behavior.

Obviously ‘moral center’ characters and ‘outlaw’ are perfectly fine concepts for characters, but when the player is too insistent and/or constant about getting their alignment’s way, it’s toxic.

I’m open to more ideas. Feel free to comment with problem player behaviors you’ve seen.

Nerfherding: A Diatribe on the Gorrilla, and Other Manner of Dangerous Beaste.

My thesis is a simple one: Pathfinder does not adequately reflect how motherfuckin’ dangerous real world animals are. There are a lot of animals done up in PFRPG bestiaries, and most of them have stats that simply don’t reflect what their real world-analogues can do. It makes them less interesting, less immersive opponents.

Put simply, a gorilla isn’t CR fucking 2.

gorillaJudoKick

Let me ask you a question about this picture. How much martial arts training, strength-building, etc. do you think you’d need to do to be able to subdue both these creatures with your bare hands? Is the answer you’re thinking of, “that’s completely impossible for a person to do”? Good. You aren’t crazy.

Yet, in Pathfinder a 4th level brawler with NPC wealth is about evenly matched with the pair of brawlers depicted above. That’s a problem. A 4th level brawler, in real world terms, is a pretty tough customer – probably a long-term and respected UFC fighter, who isn’t quite a champion. We should not see him pummel a damn gorilla into the dirt single-handedly. He definitely shouldn’t be a match for a pair of them.

I’m’a paste in these (abridged) gorilla stats so you get an idea what I’m saying.

Gorilla CR 2
Large animal
DEFENSE

AC 14
hp 19 (3d8+6)

OFFENSE
Melee 2 slams +3 (1d6+2)

STATISTICS

Str 15, Dex 15, Con 14, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 7
Base Atk +2; CMB +5; CMD 17
Feats Great Fortitude, Skill Focus (Perception)
Skills Acrobatics +6, Climb +14, Perception +8

The first thing that jumps out at me is 15 STR. 15 STR can only carry 66 lbs before being weighed down, and a max of 200 lbs. According to the Guinness Book, on the other hand, a silverback gorilla can deadlift 1800 lbs. That puts a Gorilla at 26 STR once size is accounted for.

19 HP is also pretty pathetic. It’s not that easy to take one of these fellas down. Looking at similar (STR based without special ability) creatures, a 26 STR puts them around CR 6, meaning 8 HD and 18 CON would be more appropriate. So, 72 HP would be a good amount.

Because it’s Large, the slam should also be a d8. Power Attack is an obvious feat for them, and honestly they should probably get barbarian’s Rage.

This is found in a ton of animals. Wolves are pathetically weak, while still terribly dangerous in real life. Bears are under-represented at CR 4 with a 1d6+5 attack. Elk are only CR 1 with a +3 (1d6+2) attack. An elk in the real world will mess your day up.

Animals should better represent their real-world counterparts to provide a good gauge to judge the power of creatures without real counterparts, because watching a Gorilla pummel a Daemon would be awesome, and because it makes encounters with animals more immersive when their challenge level corresponds to player expectations.

Keeping this one short and sweet. I’ll post something of more substance on Starfinder pretty soon; there’s a lot of material to get through though.

 

 

Say Uncle!

I promised myself this blog wouldn’t turn into a bunch of ‘I built X character from Y!’ posts for cheap views. I’ve resisted temptation time and time again. Finally, however, a character has so appealed to me that I could not resist his emulation. I refer, of course, to Uncle.

unclechan.jpg

Uncle is a skilled martial artist, and is in pretty good shape despite his advanced years. He’s nimble, an excellent researcher, and possessed of sagely wisdom. He can cast chi spells using a variety of focus tools to benefit his allies (mostly Jackie Chan) or even banish demons. He’s also incredibly surly and caustic, making new friends rarely.

Uncle, Human Unchained Monk (Perfect Scholar) 3, Occultist 8

STR 9

DEX 22 (16 starting +2 at 4/8, +4 from transmutation implement)

CON 10

INT 18 (16 starting, +2/+2 headband)

WIS 18 (16 starting +2/+2 headband)

CHA 7

Uncle will mostly be an unarmed fighter, using psychic spellcasting (chi spells) to buff himself/allies and widen his non-combat utility portfolio. He is not optimized, but should be a viable combatant, and quite good in terms of skill sections, particularly those focused on intelligence skills. This emulates his role in Jackie Chan adventures pretty closely.

Traits: Combat – Resilient (+1 Fort saves), Magical Knack (Occultist)
Human – Weapon Focus (unarmed strike)
1 – Weapon Finesse (unarmed strike)
[Monk – Catch Off Guard, flurry of blows, stunning fist] – This is mostly for fluff. Occasionally Uncle whaps people with a broom or book or something, tosses a vase at them. It never seems to do much damage, but he’s capable of doing it.
[2 Monk] Dodge and Evasion
3 – Piranha Strike
[Fast movement, ki pool, ki strike]
[4 – Here’s where we go Occultist. Mental Focus, transmutation implement and one more thing, the abjuration implement]
5 – Pummeling Style, One more thing! The divination implement.

[6 – Focus Power – Energy Shield]
7 – Combat Advice – mostly a fluff choice, he’s always telling Jackie what to do in fights. It wil be nice sometimes when casting a spell though, to use my move action effectively. (Watchful Eye focus power/Sheep Talisman)

9 – Extra Ki, One more thing! The conjuration implement.
11 – Extra Mental Focus, Mind Over Gravity focus power (Rooster Talisman)

FCB is gonna be 8 more HP, since our CON is low, and getting a really high AC isn’t the easiest for this character.

Basic stuff factored before items or spells
AC = 21, FF = 10, Touch = 21
Saves Fort 10 | Ref 12 | Will 11

Attacks: unarmed flurry of blows = +13/+13/+8 for 1d6+6

Items: 108k gp.

Let’s get the basics out of the way first.
Cloak of Resistance +2 – 4,000
ring of deflection +1 – 2,000
dusty rose ioun stone – 5,000
cracked dusty rose ioun stone – 500
pale green cracked ioun stone (saves) – 4,000
pale green cracked ioun stone (attacks) – 4,000
+2INT/+2WIS headband – 10,000

This brings even our lowest save into the green benchmark, gets a bit of help for our attack bonus and initiative, and gets us a bit of AC.
Uncle’s AC is still pretty low. However, his native ability to cast spells like blur, mirror image, mage armor, and shield will be leveraged along with Extend Spell to
protect Uncle. Mage Armor alone brings him to an AC of 27, which only gets hit by his AMCREL 40% of the time. Shield lowers his chance of getting hit to 20%, but lasts only minutes/level.
Still, I think it demonstrates that Uncle can defend himself.

Okay, 76.5k remaining.

Boots of Speed – 12,000
agile +2 amulet of the mighty fist – 36,000 (I hate spending this much, bet we need it)
Monk robes – 13,000

I’ll leave the rest of the money on the table.

AC = 10 + 6 Dex + 4 Wis +2 from Monk AC bonus effective level 8 with Monk’s Robe + 1 Deflection + 1 insight +4 mage armor = 28 = green benchmark, FF = 16 Touch = 24
Saves | Fort 13 | Ref 15 | Will 14 = lowest still hits green benchmark. Uncle is well defended.

Attacks – unbuffed flurry = +16/+16/+11 for 1d10+14 = here our EDV doesn’t quite hit green, but we aren’t near the bottom of orange either. Given that the character is
mostly a skill monkey with some other spell-utility, this isn’t terrible. However, we definitely want to use buffs and ki whenever possible. It should be noted that Pummeling Style will help Uncle match or even exceed other martials’ performances against DR that neither is overcoming.
haste ki flurry = +17/+17/+17/+12 for 1d10+14 = about halfway between green and blue EDV. This is a great place to be at, and requires use of daily resources that we should have a decent amount of. Haste is enough to get us to green EDV, and we’ve got 10 rounds a day of that. That’s not even considering casting the actual spell, which Uncle can do by level 11. This also is without abilities like legacy weapon, or any number
of spells he could use to further boost EDV. He’ll also have 7 ki points in his pool, which he’ll be using pretty much exclusively on ki strikes. However, he’ll only spend 6. Gotta keep one in the tank.

Still, 6 rounds of real fury in a day is all Uncle’s old bones can handle. That’s all he’ll need, though. Between rounds of move+stunning fist, casting spells, giving combat advice, or using his implements, he should always be able to use his action economy effectively.

Skills – Uncle will have 99 skill ranks. That’s a…healthy number. Since he has UMD as a class skill and a +4 bonus from being an Occultist, we don’t care much about our CHA penalty. With 11 ranks and a MW tool for scrolls,
we’re at a +20 modifier. Uncle will have many scrolls for divine effects that heal party members of nasty conditions, but will sometimes fail those checks. This is pretty much how it works out in Jackie Chan Adventures.
Uncle goes to do some research on chi spells, comes back with a cure, and it’s about a 50/50 shot whether or not it actually does anything beneficial. Roleplaying this ability both when it succeeds and fails will be fun, if expensive.

Uncle is pretty knowledgeable though, and can read many ancient languages. With our +4 INT modifier and all knowledge skills as class skills, it makes sense to split some invesment through most of them and get Linguistics as well. He’ll need Profession (merchant) as well, because Uncle is GOOD SALESMAN, despite his low CHA. Some of the obvious combat skills like Acrobatics, Climb, and Swim are smart too. Sense Motive and Perception will have some invesment.My guess is that he’ll have full ranks in UMD, Perception, Acrobatics, and Sense Motive, and a smattering of ranks in a lot of other things.

I think that about wraps it up. He’s built well enough to be useful without being anywhere near ‘optimal’, has a pretty wide utility portfolio both in and out of combat, and is capable of just about everything Uncle can do in the show. One notable exception: he can’t really banish demons. I  suppose he could try to use scrolls of banish with his UMD though, and that’s as close as I’m likely to get.

Reddit Format for Monster Blocks

I like posting on reddit, and I like making monsters. It’s a huge pain to format them on there, so I’ll put the format here such that it can be copied and look right on there.

**MONSTER NAME CR XX**

**XP XXXX**

NN Size type (subtype, other subtype, etc.)

**Init** +X; **Senses** sense radius ft., *spell-like*; Perception +X

DEFENSE

**AC** XX, touch X, flat-footed XX (+X modifier, –X modifier)

**hp** XX (XdY+Z)

**Fort** +X, **Ref** +Y, **Will** +Z

**DR** X/vulnerability; **Immune** element, effect; **Resist** element X, element Y, element Z; **SR** K

OFFENSE

**Speed** X ft.

**Melee**

**Space** 15 ft.; **Reach** 15 ft.

**Special Attacks**

**Spell-Like Abilities** (CL Xth)

Constant—*spell*

At will—*spell*, *other spell*, *etc.*

1/day—*spell*, *other spell*, *etc.*

1/month—*spell*, *other spell*, *etc.*

STATISTICS

**Str** X, **Dex** X, **Con** X, **Int** X, **Wis** X, **Cha** X

**Base Atk** +X; **CMB** +Y; **CMD** Z

**Feats** Cleave, Great Cleave, Improved Critical (pincer), Persuasive, Power Attack, Vital Strike

**Skills** Bluff +28, Diplomacy +22, Intimidate +22, Knowledge (history) +18, Knowledge (local) +18, Perception +26, Sense Motive +18, Stealth +7, Use Magic Device +17; **Racial Modifiers** +8 Bluff, +8 Perception

**Languages** Language, Other, More; special communication modalities Radius ft.

ECOLOGY

**Environment** any (Where)

**Organization** solitary or group (what a group is)

**Treasure** stuff

Big fluff descriptions.

Weaseling through Skill Challenges

The Joys of Animal Abuse and Husbandry in Pathfinder RPG

weasel

Every den of role-playing and lodge of Pathfinder agents has traditions and habits all their own; an eccentric character composed of eccentric characters. In my PFS lodge, a certain predilection (to which I have no doubt contributed) has emerged of attempting to solve as many problems as possible with small, purchased animals. As it turns out, they have a shockingly wide utility portfolio…provided you don’t grow too attached.

There are multitudinous manners in which fowl, livestock, and pets can serve an enterprising adventurer. For some uses and pets, one will require successful Handle Animal checks, and potentially the teaching of tricks. For others, you can throw or herd a critter without its say-so. I’m focusing on affordable non-combat animals in this article, so don’t expect me to dive into min-maxing your Deinonychus’ pounce damage and mounted-lancing from it. I should also note that many uses of animals can be emulated with a wand of summon mount. It’s 750 gp, but it allows you to not worry about having animals until the moment you need them. Every 15 gp charge gives you a horse for 2 hours.

We will begin with the most obvious, and most frequent method of use. The trap-springer. It will happen in an adventurer’s career that there is a floor-based or area of magical detection trap that would be too risky (or outright impossible) for the party to attempt to disable. Some of these traps do not automatically reset. So…a weasel or goat could…disable it for you, while the party maintains a safe distance. If you’re lucky, it will be a fireball trap. If so, put some dry rub in its fur before you send it to the great beyond.

The Scout is a similar role. Imagine you are standing at the beginning of a long, wide corridor. At the end is where you need to go, and posted throughout the room are various statues and suits of armor. You have strong reason to suspect that at some point in this hallway, something with the construct type is going to try to kill you. It would help to know which of the ‘inanimate objects’ in the room will be of the murderous persuasion.

Simply scare the bajeezus out of an animal and watch it scurry down the hall towards its doom. At some point, it will get splattered, and you’ll know more about the situation at hand. It’s not always long hallways and statues, but you get the idea. Sometimes you wanna see what happens to anything that enters an area.

Actual classes that get animal empathy or similar as class features can scout in more traditional ways; by actually sending a flying or sneaky critter in to survey the area without (hopefully) dying.

Food. You can eat many animals. Some of them are very tasty. I recommend the chicken.

The Porter carries your things. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people recommend to wizards of all things, “You don’t want to dump your Strength all the way to 7, you won’t be able to carry a thing!”

Only, mules exist. They’re 8 freaking gold. One can travel at 30′ while carrying 225 lbs. If you buy some muleback cords for your mule, it can carry 690 lbs. Donkeys aren’t a requirement, a variety of animals could fulfill this function.

There are even some specialized forms of carrying things. A well trained bird could pick up small objects out of reach with the fetch trick, or carry rope somewhere. Crows are perfectly capable of tying knots with proper training. That could help the party surmount a number of environmental challenges. A well-trained baboon can be useful in this regard as well.

The food taster, experimental subject, or canary – Occasionally adventurers are invited to feasts and so forth, and one never quite knows if they’re to be poisoned. A weasel is a wonderful barometer of your host’s intentions; just feed your little beasty a portion of your meal before tucking in, and see how he feels about the chef’s performance. I recommend leaving your food-taster in a perpetually half-starving state, to ensure it eats its fill quickly and lacks the proper constitution to properly fight toxins.

An analogous situation might be a strange glowing stone in a long-forgotten temple. Maybe it cures all of your wounds, maybe it steals your soul: who knows? Weasels are excellent diagnostic tools for mysterious, potentially cursed objects.

The gift/sacrifice of an animal is not to be underestimated. One might encounter an agricultural community where livestock and pets are highly prized. Similarly, one might encounter a demonic altar that won’t stop spewing ghosts until it feels a life end on it’s surface.

In either case, giving up a pig can serve the greater good. Whoever you’re currying favor with, no one argues with a nice side of ham.

Cover can be taken behind creatures animals of your size category or larger. If you are a character that prefers to stay in the rear line during combat, a +4 to your AC isn’t a bad deal. Of course, your AC bonus has a (tiny) hit-point pool, so don’t expect the same cow to last through a 14 level career. Still, most GMs don’t want to spend actions trying to take down your ox, so they’ll ignore it. They tend to die from AoEs, which prompt some field-dressing and a trip to a local farm for your shield’s replacement. This is mostly useful against ranged attacks, though if you can position yourself properly you’ll get some advantage in melee as well.

The perimeter alarm can be made out of basically any animal with the scent ability (which is a lot of them), particularly if it is paired with a good Perception modifier. If something tries to get close to you, you may well get automatically alerted and avoid surprise rounds. When Fido the 25 gp guard-dog starts growling, get your sword out.

Depth gauges can be fashioned out of chickens. They don’t really take falling damage, but they don’t really fly. The also make a lot of noise if you toss them down a deep well full of magical darkness, and evil sorcerers so rarely think to layer permanent silence onto their terrifying dungeon features. Rolling Perception successfully will reveal the bird’s distance by cluck-o-location as it descends into the Underdark or what-have-you. Of course, one should ensure the bird is good and pissed off before lobbing it into an abyss: otherwise it might make insufficient noise.

Cyclops Deception Vehicles (CDVs) can be made from many species of goats and sheep. By tying yourself to the bottom of such an animal, you can bypass watchful cyclopes unmolested. Disclaimer: results not guaranteed, do not attempt with species of giant possessing the scent ability.

Rappeling gear can be replaced with a riding gecko. They’re a bit pricey at 300-400 gp, but that’s still chump change by wondrous item standards. Tack on a bit of cost for a half-way decent saddle, and you’ve got a permanent spider climb item without occupying your boot slot. The geckos also serve as decent porters, cover, and mounts, and rarely suffer from the problem most Large creatures get stuck on: small hallways. A 5′ wide hallway is perfectly passable as long as the ceiling is 10′ tall. The gecko can just walk down the wall without issues.

I hope this has elucidated the value of affordable animals. I can personally attest to their nobility and expendability of purpose, as a certain Cleric of whom I am fond has had 14 Weasels (Binky I – XII and Binky XIV-XV) die in his name, and Binky XVI has been horribly warped into a Skunk/Owl abomination by a dungeon feature. We don’t like to talk about what happened to Binky XIII.

If I or others think of some great usages for purchasable animals, I’ll update the page.

Skill Spotlight – Bluff

Within the Core Rulebook, there are three primary uses for Bluff. One can pass a secret message, lie, or feint. All of these uses are, in some way or another, opposed by Sense Motive.

Passing a secret message is simple enough; a DC 15 check will give the intended recipient the message successfully, and the DC increases by 5 if the message is particularly complex. While hitting these DCs automatically makes the message intelligible to their intended recipient, others present may oppose your Bluff with Sense Motive to ‘overhear’ the secret message. It is therefore advisable to boost your Bluff modifier as high as is feasible even for this skill usage’s set DCs.

Lying is even simpler, though often substantially more difficult. It is a directly opposed roll, Bluff vs. opposing Sense Motive. Hitting 100% efficacy with opposed rolls is virtually impossible. For example, if I have a massive +20 Bluff modifier at level 5, I could still roll a 1 and wind up at 21. Even if my ‘opponent’ has only a +1 modifier in Sense Motive, they could still successfully see through my deception. Luckily, this skill usage is virtually always executed out of combat, where Taking 10 is allowable. I suggest taking this option whenever possible to those liars who have invested considerably in Bluff. My previous example would wind up at a DC 30 Sense Motive to successfully oppose, meaning any creature with less than a +10 Sense Motive would have no chance of success. Eliminating this source of variance will usually help liars deceive more consistently.

It is also important to craft your deception well. You don’t want to include too many extraneous details that could trip your mark to the less than complete veracity of your remarks. Your opponent may well know more about the situation than you, and there’s no way of knowing exactly what might render your prevarication implausible. You want the lie to seem as mundane and likely as possible. As an example, I’ll go through some methods of convincing a palace guard unit that the party is their shift relief. My deceptive exemplar will be called Jasper, whose total Bluff modifier for lying is +18. The guard captain’s Sense Motive modifier is +12.

JASPER: We’re your relief. Get some ale and shut-eye. [Takes 10 on Bluff, with a +5 bonus for the target wanting to believe the lie and get off work early. The guard cannot beat DC 33.]

CAPTAIN: Odd, it’s usually Garek that relieves us, and not for another hour. Why are you lot taking over tonight?

JASPER (terrible response): Garek and his unit were sent to the front-lines. Hope they make it back okay. [The player did insufficient research; this country is not at war. Taking 10 with a -20 penalty he wasn’t counting on gives the captain a 100% chance of seeing through the deception.]

JASPER (pretty bad response): Garek retired. You didn’t hear? He’s having a party with his unit right now. You should go. We’d be there if we weren’t scheduled to be on-site right now. [Garek is a young man, unlikely to retire. It would also be unusual for an entire unit to be given the night off for a party. Taking 10 with a -5 penalty for the lie being unlikely, the captain has a 50% chance of seeing through the deception. The GM could even call the lie ‘far-fetched’, and with the -10 penalty to Bluff the captain will have a 75% chance of seeing through the ruse.]

JASPER (alright response): How the hell should I know? We were told to be here an hour ’til midnight, so we’re here. I didn’t question the order; talk to dispatch if that’s how you want to spend your extra hour off. [This response has virtually no extraneous details to trip Jasper up. That said, there’s no really convincing reasons to allay suspicion either. Taking 10 with no penalty, the guard has only a 25% chance of catching onto Jasper.]

JASPER (great response): (same lines as the green response, but this time with forged written orders from a higher-up in the guard. We’ll assume the guard doesn’t see through the forgery.) [The forgery confers a +5 circumstance bonus to the Bluff (under the ‘convincing proof’ category), meaning the captain cannot help but be convinced.]

Oh, and if you can get your mark drunk or high on something beforehand, you’ll have a +5 on your Bluff as well. Frankly, I think that modifier should be a penalty to Sense Motive instead, but oh well.

The final usage I’ll discuss is feinting in combat. I think it best to just quote the rules directly here:

You can also use Bluff to feint in combat, causing your opponent to be denied his Dexterity bonus to his AC against your next attack. The DC of this check is equal to 10 + your opponent’s base attack bonus + your opponent’s Wisdom modifier. If your opponent is trained in Sense Motive, the DC is instead equal to 10 + your opponent’s Sense Motive bonus, if higher. Feinting in combat is a standard action.

This is another opposed Bluff check, but opposing a derived statistic (10 +Wisdom or Sense Motive) rather than a skill check. This means that individual targets (or types of monsters) will have far less success variance than we see for lying (as only 1 d20 is rolled rather than two), but a large degree of variance between subjects. That is to say that while a CR 10 Cryohydra‘s Feint DC is only 19, a Contract Devil‘s (also CR 10) considerable Sense Motive modifier puts the feint DC at 36. I can’t find an average Sense Motive by CR table, so I’ll throw out a guess as to the benchmarks for this. A modifier of 10+2 x LVL is probably quite good, 10+1.5 x LVL is good, 10+LVL is mediocre. These benchmarks admittedly break down somewhat at levels 1-4, where the 10+ part is a bigger portion of the benchmark.

I would like to note that I do not believe feinting in combat to be a worthwhile combat strategy for characters to pursue. On average, flat-footed ACs are only 2-5 lower than base AC, and often enemies will have identical FF and normal ACs. That is really not worth giving up an attack (other other standard) action, especially given that it only counts for one’s next attack. Even rogues have far better options to render their targets vulnerable to sneak attack. Shatter Defenses is very potent, especially when combined with the Intimidation Rogue’s Edge. Circling Mongoose can make an Acrobatics focused rogue better at getting the sneaks off.

Stand-out Character Options for the Feint Action

Class/Archetypes features:

The mesmerist gets +1/2 LVL to their Bluff modifier. They can also ignore the 13 INT and Combat Expertise pre-reqs for feint feats. All but the Dreamstalker, Umbral, and Vexing Daredevil archetypes trade out this class feature. The mesmerist can also take the Misdirection trick to occasionally make targets flat-footed against an ally’s attack as a free action.

The Vexing Daredevil archetype improves upon the base mesmerist in terms of feinting. It gets several feint feats as bonus feats, and several nice ‘feint benefits’ that they can use whenever feinting. Blinding Strike and Surprise Strike seem particularly good.

The Sczarni Swindler rogue can feint non-humanoids without penaltyafter third level. I could see four levels of Unchained Sczarni Swindler this being a good multi-class option for a Vexing Daredevil mesmerist.

The Skulking Slayer archetype of Rogue has a great ability to feint as a swift before a charge. Unfortunately, it comes quite late at level 9. They also get some small numerical bonuses on feint attempts.

Feats:

We’ll start with the basics:

Improved Feint – Allows you to feint as a move action rather than a standard. That means you can actually take the attack against FF AC in the same round. This is a major improvement for those who can keep their target flat-footed once they’ve gotten a successful sneak attack off, but struggle to get that first one in.

Greater Feint – The target is flat-footed against your attacks until the beginning of your next turn, allowing for AoOs, attacks taken as swift actions (such as that from the Hurtful feat), or other extra attacks to benefit. Unfortunately, if we have used our move action to do a feint, it will not help a full-attack action.

Blistering Feint – When you successfully feint with a fiery weapon, you get to deal the fire damage automatically. You get a +2 on your feints as well, the gravy on top. This feat is really only good for one build; an Ifrit (its a pre-req) pyrokineticist using the kinetic blade wild talent. One of those with Improved Feint could take a move action to deal weapon damage with their Bluff, and then go against flat-footed with their standard attack. I think this will work better with the Kinetic Knight archetype, but I haven’t gotten a real chance to look at that yet.

Deceptive Exchange – When you successfully feint an enemy with the ability to grasp things, you can get them to take something from you instead of making them flat-footed. I rated this green because I think its cool enough that people should read about it, but it is very difficult to imagine a great way to build around this. If you could use it to pass cursed items without getting cursed yourself somehow, maybe. Delayed bombs are another good route to go, but for most I think it would be easier just to throw the damn things.

Feint Partner (Teamwork) – If someone with this feat feints, anyone else with the feat also gets their next attack against flat-footed. This makes the action do more, but unfortunately doesn’t allow other benefits of feint like Blistering or Deceptive Exchange.

Improved Feint Partner (Teamwork) – If your partner feints, you get an AoO. Since you have feint partner, obviously this AoO will be against FF AC as well. This could be nice in a teamwork pair with Outflank or Seize the Moment and high critical range weapons. Any opportunity to begin an AoO cascade can be incredible.

Feinting Flurry – You can sub your first attack on a flurry of blows for a feint attempt. I could see a UMonk/URogue getting some mileage out of this. Particularly with Greater Feint, it is an improvement over taking a move action to drop our opponent’s AC. One could potentially ki-flurry to feint and make two full-BAB attacks and iteratives against FF AC in the same round. Still, you lose an attack to do it, and it is only for a small subset of characters.

Improved Feinting Flurry – Basically lets you skip taking Improved Feint and Greater Feint, as your successful feint will last until end-of-turn with this. Not as good as AoOs, but it lowers the feat cost of feint-building by 1 for anyone with flurry.

Illusive Gnome Style/Trick/Bewilderment – Just don’t bother with these. I honestly cannot imagine it every being worth your precious feat slots.

Two-Weapon Feint / Improved Two-Weapon Feint – Work exactly like Feinting Flurry and Improved Feinting Flurry, but for those who use TWF instead of flurry. This is worse for two reasons: TWF is already a very feat-intensive combat strategy (TWF,  ITWF,  GTWF,  Double Slice) and trying to fit feinting tricks into your build as well is less attractive than it is to the monk. After all, flurry doesn’t take a single feat. The second reason is that TWF doesn’t have the option to spend a ki point and get another full-BAB attack against FF AC.

Mesmerizing Feint / Greater Mesmerizing Feint – This is only for mesmerists, and if you’re building for feinting as a mesmerist you’re probably a Vexing Daredevil getting this puppies for free. They essentially allow you to bypass immunity to feinting, and instead you just take some penalties on the rolls.

Moonlight Stalker Feint – Might be the best method of feinting I’ve seen, as it lowers the action economy cost to a swift action. This costs no one any attacks, really. Unfortunately, most characters won’t be able to leverage this feat terribly well. You need racial LL/Darkvision, Combat Expertise + INT 13, Blind-Fight, Moonlight Stalker, and the ability to consistently give yourself concealment. Still, I can imagine building towards this working out well. For example, an Elf/Wayang/Half-Orc URogue/Warpriest could combine this with Greater Feint and essentially always get Sneak Attack, with the +2 to attack and damage from Moonlight Master. Still, the pre-reqs are a bit brutal, and I think to leverage it properly you’d need some hefty multi-class nonsense.

Slayer’s Feint – Use Acrobatics instead of Bluff to feint. This can be awesome for Dex based characters, especially if they already intend to buy wondrous items improving their Acrobatics modifiers. Unfortunately, it requires either dipping a level of Slayer or taking the sub-par Acrobatic feat. Still, it could be worthwhile for some.

Suerte de Capote – This is an equipment trick. You get some numerical bonuses to feint attempts when wielding a dueling cape, and you can auto-entangle anything you successfully feint. That entangle ability is really quite nice.

Standout Items

Cape of Bravado (slotless | 7,000 gp) – This item grants a +5 competence bonus on feint attempts so long as it is draped over one arm. Useful for those who leave a hand free (like Swashbucklers), and as a cherry on top it grants a +1 insight bonus to all three AC types.

Mask of Stony Demeanor (head slot| 8,000 gp) – This item used to be a no-brainer at 500 gp, but was re-priced to maintain game balance. It grants a +5 on feint attempts, and a whopping +10 bonus on Bluff checks made to lie. It imparts a -5 penalty on passing secret messages, but rarely is that an issue.

Deceptive Weapon Property (+1 enhancement) – I don’t think it’s particularly worthwhile. The bonus stacks with everything else, but it typically winds up being really expensive for what it’s doing. To get a +4 bonus to feint attempts, you’re effectively putting that last +1 (to a total effective enhancement of +5) at a cost of 18,000 gp. That’s a big chunk of change for a skill bonus. It does have the added benefit of allowing an immediate action feint whenever you crit, so I guess rapier wielders and similar might like it.

Bracelet of Bargaining (14,500 gp) – It’s pricey, but for a low-priority slot you get a nice +5 on not only Bluff, but Diplomacy and Sense Motive as well. It’s not a bad deal if you’re a party face.

Eyes of the Liar (16,000 gp) – Outside of campaigns where telepaths are a frequent concern, these just aren’t worth the gold. They’re basically the same as the Bracelet of Bargaining, but replace the bonus to Diplomacy and Sense Motive with immunity to telepathy. 

Mummer’s Ruff (3,500 gp) – Grants  +10 competence bonus on Bluff checks made to imitate another’s voice. I always thought that was part of a Disguise check, but whatever. You also get 5/min daily of ventriloquism, which is neat. For ‘master of disguise’ characters, I can see this being a worthwhile purchase, especially given its low cost.

Mulberry Pentacle Ioun Stone (10,000 gp) – Gives the same bonuses as the Bracelet of Bargaining, except the Sense Motive is only a +2 (and you have to resonate it for that). Still, it saves you a wrist slot and almost 5k, so good deal.

Skill Spotlight – Acrobatics

acrobat

Introduction

When I wrote Bench-Pressing, I only paid lip-service to skills. To get into more detail was just beyond the scope of that article. Every skill works differently, has different character options that help, there’s a huge variety in the magnitude of the DCs we’d typically face, etc. I have decided to write fairly detailed analyses of the more complex and important skills in Pathfinder as stand-alone articles. I will skip Appraise (which is too simple to merit an article) and begin at the top with Acrobatics.

The most important thing to remember when bench-marking skills is simply this; your benchmarks are set by your goals. What you want to do with a skill dictates how high you should get your modifier through character resource investment.

Acrobatics is a great example of this principle. The DCs for Acrobatics can vary wildly. For example, if you simply like to use the Fighting Defensively action, your total modifier may not be important to you. All you want is to have 3 ranks so that your AC bonus when doing so goes from +2 to +3. Even if your total modifier is negative after Armor Check Penalty, you’ll still get the benefit you wanted out of your rank investment. On the other hand, being able to jump up 5′ with 100% consistency in combat would require a +19 total modifier.

Avoiding Attacks of Opportunity (AoOs)

For many characters, I suspect the DCs for moving through threatened squares without provoking attacks of opportunity will be their important benchmark. For the purposes of this exercise, I will assume that you do not care to move through the enemy’s square, nor at full speed. You simply want to move through the threatened range without provoking.

In order to benchmark, I need to know what the average CMD is for an average monster who’s challenge rating is equal to our level (AMCREL). Unfortunately, the Average Monster Statistics by CR table does not provide CMD. Fortunately, this google document does.

I will benchmark a level 8 character’s ability to tumble past AoOs as an example. The average CR 8 monster’s CMD is 28. I’m going to say the Purple rated is 100% chance to avoid an AoO, Blue is 75%, Green is making the DC when taking 10, and Orange is a 35% chance to dodge the AoO. In order to reach my Purple benchmark, I therefore need a whopping +27, +22 for Blue, a green rating requires only a +18, and Orange is at +14.

To recap the bench-marking process, we use the linked google spreadsheet to find the CMD of monsters at a CR equal to our evaluated character’s level, find the percentage chance of success to avoid an AoO with an Acrobatics check, and determine if that is sufficient to fulfill the goals we are setting for the character.

Any PC actually attempting to keep a Purple benchmark in Acrobatics will need to be Dex focused, and have an armor that isn’t penalizing them. Even so, full ranks, a (pretty optimized) Dex of 24, and a Class skill bonus only gets us to +18A character with a high AC might only buy a MW tool for tumbling (why not, it’s only 50 gp) and be content with their 65% chance of evading the AoO. After all, even if the enemy attempts an attack, they probably won’t hit. If the character is fairly reliant on avoiding AoOs for damage mitigation, we may want to get our modifier even higher. A considerable (+5 competence) bonus could come from the Daredevil Boots for a mere 1,400 gp. That takes us from 65% success all the way to 90%, in the upper range of Blue. I’m sure some more bonuses could be found and stacked on top, but that’s a good stopping point for resource investment. Even when facing a tough CR 10 monster with a higher than average CMD (say, 38 or so), the character will have a 40% chance of avoiding an AoO. In other words, the character will expect a very high success rate during typical challenges, and a meaningful success rate in very challenging circumstances.

Balance, Long Jumps, and High Jumps

These are the other uses for Acrobatics. Jump DCs are easy to remember: every 5 on a long jump moves you one square. In other words, your check result (rounded down to the nearest multiple of 5) is the distance you travel on the jump. High jumps are much more difficult; you jump up 1′ for every 4 of your DC. So, an Acrobatics result of 20 moves you 20’horizontally, or 5′ upwards. Balance check DCs are determined by circumstance modifiers, basically. Crossing a 7″ wide balance beam is a DC 10, but if you want to move at full speed up a steep, ice-slicked, 7″ railing during a storm it will be DC 30 to do so. It’s difficult to benchmark these uses as ‘character goals’, but I generally think that a modifier of 5+LVL is Orange, 10+LVL is Green, 15+LVL is Blue, and 20+LVL is Purple.

Character Options

One class with a great Acrobatics class feature is the Monk (unchained or otherwise), and it is for jumping. Monks with the High Jump ki power always get their level as a bonus to Acrobatics checks to jump, and can get a +20 if they spend a ki. If our level 8 character above were a Monk (with another MW tool for high jumps), they would have a +28 modifier. This means they would never fail to jump lower than 7′ vertically, and can jump up to 30′ horizontally with a 95% success rate. By spending a ki, these distances go up to 12′ vertically or 50′ horizontally. That can be useful when facing low-flying opponents or leaping wide chasms. The Winding Path Renegade archetype of Brawler also has access to this ability.

Ninjas can take the High Jumper ninja trick to halve the DCs for high jumps. Our level 8 character (+20 modifier) from before would then be able to jump 10′ vertically without failure, and up to 15′ when taking 10.

The Kineticist has the Air’s Leap Wild Talent. This will allow jumping Acrobatics checks to take you twice as high or far on jumps, or four times normal for a point of burn.

The Acrobatics Skill Unlock is okay. The penalty to tumble through threatened squares at full speed is halved (from -10 to -5) when you get it at level 5. When you hit 10 ranks, you can use an Acrobatics roll with a -10 penalty to replace your CMD vs. trip maneuvers or on Reflex saves to avoid falling. You can also use Acrobatics to reduce falling damage more than usual. At level 15, you can stand up from prone without provoking. None of these are necessarily bad things to have, but I also don’t think they’re anything to write home about.

I’m sure there are other class features that bear mentioning, but that’s all I know off the top of my head. I’ll incorporate input if others can think of more.

Notable Mundane Items

A collapsible trampoline and balancing pole are a nice set of cheap items to help with common non-combat Acrobatics challenges. Ice Skates can be handy on occasion, allowing full-speed movement on icy surfaces with a mere DC 5 check. Masterwork Tools, as always, are worthwhile for just about any check you are likely to attempt with much frequency. I think elbow and knee pads make sense as a MW Tool for tumbling.

Notable Magic Items

Balanced Armor (+1 effective armor enhancement) – This isn’t too shabby at providing bonuses to acrobatics, and the cost isn’t terrible. The problem is the limitations on the bonuses. You get +4, but only for resisting bull-rush/overrun maneuvers and on checks made to maintain your balance. If you’re investing much in Acrobatics already, you probably  don’t have an issue with balance DCs. Bonuses to CMD are nice, but bull-rush and overrun maneuvers aren’t usually much of a threat (as opposed to grapple and trip), and don’t come up all that often.

Ring of Jumping (2,500 gp) – This is a fairly low cost item for a +5 competence bonus, and a ring slot is a nice place to shove a situational bonus like this one. Unfortunately, the bonus only applies to high/long jumps, not balance or tumbling checks. Still, it’s none too shabby, especially if we have some kind of class feature that lowers our high jump DCs. For characters that place a lot of importance on their jump DCs, this is Blue rated. For those using Acrobatics more for tumbling, it falls to Orange.

Improved Ring of Jumping (10,000 gp) – This is the same as the normal ring of jumping, but the bonus is +10. I still think this is green for those that prioritize jumping, but it falls to Red for those that don’t. The higher price tag just makes this a silly purchase unless there is a strong motivation to have a high jump modifier.

Ring of Unquenchable Passions (6,500 gp) – This ring is pretty awesome. The competence bonus to Acrobatics is +5, but is not specified to any types of checks. It works for tumbling, jumping, balancing, everything. It also gives a +1 deflection bonus to AC (so we don’t have to occupy our other ring slot with a ring of protection), and the +2 to saves vs. disease is a nice cherry on top. It’s a bit more expensive than the Daredevil boots, but the slot is less important and the other benefits are nice.

Rod of Balance (15,000 gp) – This item does a lot for us, but is fairly pricey and occupies a hand. While in use, it gives the same +10 bonus for jumps as the Improved Ring of Jumping, but also doubles the distance covered by the jump. Our level 8 character from before, for example, would go from never failing to jump 5′ vertically to 14′ and from 20′ horizontally to 60′. It also halves our damage from falling, makes the wielder immune to the prone condition, and makes fighting defensively a bit better. All in all, it is much better than the Improved Ring, other than the fact that it occupies a hand. That really is a strong mark against it.

Quarterstaff of Vaulting (19,100) – This one is a mixed bag. It’s only a +1/+1 quarterstaff, so if you don’t intend to use a quarterstaff, this purchase isn’t for you. It’s also very expensive for the +5 competence bonus it gives to Acrobatics, or for a +1 weapon generally. It has a few other small benefits, but the one that can make this a truly great investment for a few characters is its final ability. You can vault over an opponent’s head with a DC 25 Acrobatics check in place of a 5′ step. You land on the opposite side of them, and this doesn’t provoke. The ability to 5′ step into flanking can be amazing. For example, I have a Vanara Hunter that wields a quarterstaff, and he uses Outflank with his animal companion. By the time I could afford this item, the DC 25 check would be an auto-success, and it would allow me to flank with my Lion buddy a lot more consistently. That said, I doubt very many people will get that kind of mileage out of it. For most, the Ring of Unquenchable Passions is a much more sensible purchase.

Belt of Tumbling (800 gp) – It gives a +4 to Acrobatics checks to tumble at a very, very low price. The only thing that prevents this from being Blue or Purple rated is its slot: belt. This is an item that will probably last from levels 2-4 or so, and then get sold back for half price to free your waist up for a stat belt. Still, it bore mentioning.

Boots of Vaulting (3,500 gp) – These are sort of an upgrade to the Daredevil boots. They’re around double the cost, and provide double the bonus at a +10. Usually doubling a +5 skill bonus quadruples cost, so we’ve got a good deal there. We even get to count ourselves as having a running start even when we don’t.

There are, however, some issues. We only get the bonus 1/round at maximum. Also, we can only use the +10 to avoid AoOs if we are jumping through their threatened area. Finally, if we do this more than 1/minute, we get our movement speed halved. That last penalty is easily addressed with any kind of healing, including a DC 15 Heal check. Still, it could be annoying to deal with mid-combat.

Daredevil Boots/Softpaws (1,400/1,800 gp) – The Daredevil boots are pretty phenomenal for their price. If you use Acrobatics primarily to avoid AoOs, these are for you (at least until you can afford the Ring of Unquenchable Passions) as they grant a +5 competence bonus to tumble checks, and if you successfully avoid the AoO, you get a +1 on attack rolls against the enemy for the remainder of the round. You get to do this 10 rounds/day. The softpaws cost 400 more and work exactly the same way, except the bonus on attacks is +2 instead. I think it is worth the extra 400 gp, but only Catfolk can benefit from the softpaws.

Elixir of Tumbling (250 gp) – This is one of those items that is fantastic for non-specialists, and occasionally useful for those that invest in Acrobatics heavily. It grants a +10 competence bonus for a very low price, but only for one hour ever. For those who haven’t invested in Acrobatics (especially those in heavy armor) this can make obviate certain nightmare scenarios, like a dungeon covered in DC 15 balance check ice. I have a 12 Dex character that wears full-plate, and this item takes him from a -4 Acrobatics mod to +6, allowing him to make routine checks when he needs to. Specialists probably already have a (non-stacking) competence bonus to Acrobatics, and will rarely require whatever additional boost this grants them. Still, someone with a +5 competence item could quaff this for an additional +5 during a particularly tough situation.

Vermilion Rhomboid Ioun Stone (10,000 gp) – Gives +5 competence on all Acrobatics and Swim checks. While this is a very expensive way to get a +5 competence, it is slot-less, and the Swim bonus is nice. Acrobatics specialists usually don’t have a great strength modifier, so the Swim bonus could really help on occasion.

Standout Feats

I’ll get the obvious two out of the way first. Acrobatic gives a +2 bonus to Acrobatics (and Fly) that increases to +4 at level 10. Skill Focus (Acrobatics) grants a +3 that increases to +6 at level 10. I rate both of these as Orange, because I think that feats whose only benefit is granting bonuses on skill checks to be supremely lackluster in virtually all circumstances.

Branch Pounce – I don’t really know how to rate this one, but I think some cheese is probably attainable. Basically, you can add your falling damage on a downward vertical charge attack. If you hit on the attack, you take a bit less falling damage yourself. I think that this could be combined with the boots of the cat and potentially some kind teleportation or flight magic for some weird hijinks. I leave it to better minds to figure out the best way to leverage this silliness.

Canny Tumble – If you are a character that gets strong advantage from opponents being flat-footed (rogues), this feat might be for you. Essentially, if you avoid an AoO from an opponent, you get a +2 and they’re flat-footed against your next attack this round. This can be nice if you don’t have a flanking partner and want that single attack for Debilitating Strike and some sneak attack die, or if you’re moving into flank for the additional +2 and lower opposing AC for your single attack. This feat probably turns Blue if you are also using Shatter Defenses and the Intimidate Rogue’s Edge. You can get your sneak attack and shatter their defenses such that they count as flat-footed next round as well. Between the two feats, one no longer truly needs a flanking partner.

Circling Mongoose – This feat would be blue if it weren’t for the pre-reqs. You can 5′ step between each attack of a full-attack, but you have to roll Acrobatics as normal to avoid AoOs. If you hit on an attack, you can flank with yourself on the rest of your attacks. Needing to go through the Spring Attack line is pretty painful, particularly because the class that benefits most from this feat is the rogue again, which isn’t rich in feats. It would synergize nicely with TWF, but that is another lengthy feat line we’re unlikely to have room for. Still, the ability to maneuver yourself around and count as flanking without a partner is quite nice. This doesn’t make you better at Acrobatics, but gives you something nice to do with the skill if you’re already invested.

Disorienting Maneuver – This is basically Canny Tumble, but instead of the opponent counting as flat-footed, you get a +4 on trip attempts. The only pre-req feat is Dodge. This feat obviously isn’t for everyone, but for trip builds leveraging greater trip, vicious stomp, brute stomp, etc. it can be very useful. You are much more likely to trip successfully, and then get off your barrage of attacks of opportunity. That said, it doesn’t really make you capable of anything new, it’s just a numerical bonus on a maneuver that was already probably going to succeed (at least, if you’ve built for your trip CMB properly). Still, I imagine some will get decent mileage out of it. It could be very useful on something like a Master of Many Styles monk, whose 3/4 BAB, multiple attribute dependency, and lack of other attack roll bonuses can make consistently succeeding combat maneuvers difficult.

Slayer’s Feint – You can use Acrobatics instead of Bluff to feint. Look, I’ve never seen a feint build that actually worked well, but I know some folks love them. Acrobatics tends to be an easier skill to scale (especially for Dex based martials), so this could be worthwhile for some. Unfortunately, you have to dip a level of Slayer or take the Acrobatic feat, which isn’t great. Oh, and Combat Expertise. Hmm. Those are issues.

Adding other Attributes or Replacing Dexterity

Monkey Style adds your Wisdom to Acrobatics checks. Some other benefits, including a swift action Kip Up (stand from prone without provoking) as a DC 20 Acrobatics check.

Wisdom in the Flesh (religious trait) – use Wisdom instead of Dex for Acrobatics, and makes it a class skill.

Bards can use their versatile performance to replace Acrobatics with Perform. This will render many of the character options I have outlined moot, but could still be a good idea for them, as there are plenty of ways to boost your Perform skill.

Summary

Acrobatics has some great items to benefit it, but not so many great feats. It can help you trip enemies or sneak attack them, and of course avoid attacks of opportunity and fight defensively. This is more combat utility than we see from most skills, and the ability to navigate some dungeon difficulties shouldn’t be underestimated.

 

Musings on the Metamorph

A Lambast of Deplorable Design

monarch

I recently came across a rules question referring to the metamorph alchemist, an archetype I had hitherto never heard of, and subsequently investigated. It is, simply speaking, some of the strangest design I have ever seen. It is mind-boggling to me that this was written, edited, published, and made legal for Society play.

Let’s take this from the top. You lose swift alchemy, swift poisoning, instant alchemy, the ability to make extracts, everything to do with bombs, and mutagen. Wait, now we get mutagen back? I guess that just makes sure this archetype is not nor will ever be compatible with other archetypes (such as the Rage Chemist). Hell, the author even added Disguise to class skills. Really went scorched earth on those compatibilities.

It isn’t really an alchemist at this point. Hell, I don’t think it even has any honest-to-god stat dependencies, though you’re definitely going Strength based melee bruiser. Dex would work with an agile amulet of the mighty fists, I suppose, but most of the better forms are big.

It keeps poison resistance, mutagen, and discoveries. You can’t really do extract, potion, or bomb discoveries though…so one will mostly end up spending in the ‘Other Discoveries’ category. The first Discovery you take, however, is the Feral Mutagen. It nets you 2 claws and a bite whenever you drink your mutagen, which can add another attack or two to one of your morphed forms in late levels. Decent options from the ‘Others’ are psychokinetic tincture, extra limbs/twin, (Unfortunately, your extra limbs won’t come with you if you change forms so far as I can tell), tumour familiars, and mummification. One actually has to take the preserve organs discovery to go mummy though, because the adaptive physiology feature only works similarly to preserve organs. It isn’t actually preserve organs. Fast healing could be nice in a pinch as well, I guess.  I mean, what else are you spending your discoveries on?

Here’s what you get in return: you can alter self until 5th level, then you can morph into monster dudes that can give you different movement types, natural attacks, darkvision, and scent. You get hours/level of the form, so at least there’s that. There are plenty of Medium sized monstrous humanoids that are quite high CR, but keep in mind the limitations of monstrous form I. We’re only getting senses, movement, and natural attacks. This is why I suggest the Gargoyle, for 4 natural attacks and a fly speed. The Charda is another potent option, offering some water navigation ability and a whopping 5 natural attacks, though Small size probably hurts our damage. Notably, the Popobala is  quite nice before level 9 (or even after). While Medium, it has a fly speed, and 6 natural attacks (some are secondary). At level 11, the  monstrous physique SLA also grants Popobala forms frightful presence, grab on some of its attacks, and rend.

That’s really it though. That’s a huge problem: this class really does nothing interesting until 9th level. It can mutagen to get a physical stat bump sometimes, but that’s just a less flexible rage that requires an hour to re-prepare. It has no bonus feats, paltry secondary class feature boosts from discoveries, light armor and simple weapon proficiencies, and the forms and abilities we’re limited to are occasional conveniences at best. The only real play I see here is to power attack with as many natural attacks as you can. You’ll be a glorified Expert with more attacks and a fly speed, but you’ll get by.

At level 9, the other major problem comes into view. The metamorph starts to quickly ramp in power beyond what is acceptable in polite society. At this level, we go from monstrous physique I to m.p II. It is a very significant difference. When we go Large (Tiny and smaller monstrous humanoids do not exist, so far as I can tell) our AC goes up by 1 more (natural armor increases are somewhat offset by size and dex penalties), our damage die increase, and we get a bit more Strength. Our movement speeds increase a bit, but we don’t get any new types. Our senses’ visual radii increase as well, but again no new types.

Those are all well and good, but it is the ability list that sets this spell so very far above its predecessor. Those abilities are, “freeze, grab, leap attack, mimicry, pounce, sound mimicry, speak with sharks, and trip.”

Freeze, leap attack, sound mimicry, and speak with sharks are so niche they don’t really deserve more page space.

Grab and trip are pretty obvious; you may find a form or two that will allow you to do some free combat maneuvers. I can see leveraging them, and getting some decent mileage. You’ll probably have size and strength bonuses helping them stick, and with the right equipment and feat choices this could be a potent strategy.

Mimicry (from the Doppelganger form) grants the metamorph proficiency in all weapons and armors, and allows the use of literally every scroll and wand without UMD. That second clause can be an incredible ability in the hands of a savvy adventuring party, as feeding gold and scrolls to the metamorph opens a vast array of utility and trouble-shooting options otherwise restricted to classes they don’t have. While it doesn’t increase our Strength and Natural Armor as much as we’d like, the Doppelganger can use any weapon, so having a decent Falcata or something isn’t a terrible idea. I don’t think this ability was intended to work with monstrous physique, honestly. Other monstrous humanoids have abilities called mimicry as well, but those are just for making animal noises usually. RAW, I believe it works though.

We either go Calikang or Doppelganger for Mimicry. In all likelihood, one stays a Calikang most of the time and occasionally switches to Doppelganger in various out-of-combat situations that require some subtlety.

The reason we like the Calikang is simple: it naturally has 6 (primary) slam attacks. This is poorly reflected in its stat block, as the bestiary version is using two arms for longswords, and then using the remaining four slams for a shield bonus to AC and secondary natural attacks (because it is also using manufactured weapons). We don’t even get the AC bonus, so just going all slams as primary natural attacks behooves us. How ridiculous is this? Let’s crunch some numbers.

A LVL 9 Metamorph that went 18 starting STR, +2 at lvls 4 and 8, +4 STR belt, their mutagen, and morphed into a Calikang will have a STR of 32. The metamorph will likely also have a +1 amulet of the mighty fists.  6 BAB, -2 from Power Attack, -1 from size, +1 from the amulet, +11 from STR, Weapon Focus (slam), and a pale green cracked ioun stone gives us a +17 to attack for 1d6+16. Feral mutagen will add a 2d6+16 bite attack as well. That is an average damage of 109 against an average CR 9 creature’s AC of 23, which is about 95% of its HP. Add on the AC boost, the darkvision, and monstrous reach on all those attacks, and this ability has officially become over-the-top stupid powerful. One might think Weapon Focus (slam) is a bit silly, but it and Improved Unarmed Strike allow us to take Feral Weapon Training, which will later help us use feats like Improved and Greater Trip/Grapple while in monstrous forms. (A 1 level dip in Unarmed Fighter isn’t a bad thought to pick up some feats and proficiencies. Human helps with the feat taxes as well, obviously.)

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! A mere two levels later, we get to monstrous physique III. So, we can get to Huge sized creatures (granting +6 STR instead of +4), our senses options now include blindsense and all-around vision (plus our radii get better), and the movement options now include burrow (plus all our speeds/maneuverabilities improve). This would all be well and good, but there are some new abilities as well: blood frenzy, cold vigor, constrict, ferocity, horrific appearance, jet, natural cunning, overwhelming, poison, pounce, rake, trample, and web.

The Charda becomes a more attractive option in situations that you’d like to bull rush or trip, and it has 5 natural attacks, ferocity, and cold vigor to boot.

The Tunnel Brute is a good form for moving around dungeons in unexpected ways, allowing the metamorph to learn the enemies’ locations with tremorsense while moving through cavern walls with impunity. It also is Large, has 4 primary natural attacks, poison, and a climb speed.

The Gegenees is an attractive option, as it is basically an upgraded Calikang. We still have 6 slams, but we’re Huge sized now and all the slams have grab. Imagine having a 15′ reach, 6 attacks + 6 free grapple attempts each round. With size bonuses and your massive STR, it wouldn’t take too much resource investment (a dusty rose ioun stone and improved/greater grapple) to make this thing a hard shut-down for most situations. Again, Feral Mutagen can net us a 3d6 bite attack on top.

The Tikbalang becomes a much better choice now that we can get pounce from out forms, offering ranged attacks, scent, and trample to boot. It can be quite nice for encounters with lots of enemies leveraging distance and stealth.

I think the Gegenees is our form of choice at this level though, as it can pump out just ungodly amounts of damage while still grappling multiple opponents and taking frequent AoOs.

Summary:

This archetype just isn’t one. It seems like the author wanted to develop a full class, but was only authorized to make an archetype. Everything that makes an alchemist what they are is stripped, and replaced with a scaling SLA and a chance to negate precision damage.

The power curve is the biggest problem. From levels 1-4, it is an Expert with two discoveries (from an extremely limited list), alter self, and mutagen. In other words, it is abjectly terrible. At level 5, it can now get a lot of extra attacks, and some utility in the form of senses and movement speeds. With proper optimization, I think one could be as powerful as a TWF ranger.

At level 9, it suddenly becomes an overwhelming force of destruction. One can be Large and in charge, pumping out a ludicrous number of full BAB attacks, have a versatile array of super-senses and movement types, or simply use any spell-trigger/completion item and every type of armor and weapon proficiently. Every 2 levels from here, the power curve goes even further off the rails, offering a player who has sufficiently studied the Bestiaries’ Monstrous Humanoids virtually any suite of abilities their hearts could desire, including poisons, pounce, fear auras, and free grapple/trip attempts. None of this requires true character customization through resource expenditure, it just comes from the class feature. With Power Attack and some grapple or trip feats/items, it goes from game-breaking to a sick fucking joke. Simply put, this is the worst example of class design I have encountered since 3.5 splats.