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.

Golarion’s Strongest Person

I made a thread on the facebook group for PFS about how high one could get their Lift Over Head weight, and I thought I’d take a crack at it myself here. For posterity, here are the rules:

1. All character options must be PFS legal.

2. Gear can total up to 900k gold.

3. Any active spell effects must come from you, no getting buffed by party members, spellcasting services, scrolls, wands, or potions. Wondrous items (like, say, Muleback cords) are legal, even if they have limited durations.

4. Polymorph effects are not allowed, from any source.

5. Pets of any kind cannot assist.

Okay, so at level 1 we spend 17 attribute points to get to 18, a +2 racial from Half-Orc gets us to 20, the protege boon from Eyes of the Ten gets us to 22, there is a thassilonian tattoo boon to get us to 24, we take the Muscle of Society trait to get to an effective 26 and call that a good start. With gold there are some obvious choices: muleback cords get us to an effective 34, the MW backback takes us to an effective 35, a +6 STR belt gets us to 41, and a wish or tome can get us to 46. As we level up (regardless of class) we will also get another 5, so we’re at a 51. I think the optimal main class is the alchemist (with the Ragechemist archetype), with 16 levels to get a full +10 alchemical bonus to STR from a mutagen and arrive at 61. The remaining four levels should be a dip into any rage granting class to get to 65 through rage (though alchemists can also just make Rage extracts). One could instead (and this is a little tricksy/may not obey rule 5) take 3 levels of Holy Tactician Paladin and a single level of Skald. That would let you grant, say, a tumour familiar and yourself a +6 morale bonus to STR to get to 67. Finally, the alchemist takes an extract of enlarge person (+2 size bonus to STR) and one of ant haul (an effective +8). This takes our effective STR to 77, and our lift load doubles from being Large sized, which is the same as saying our effective STR is 5 higher at 82.

An Overhead Press is just one’s maximum encumbrance, which at 22 is 520 lbs. Every ten multiples by 4, so 520 * 4^6 = 2,129,920 lbs. That is approximately 1,065 tons. This guy could Overhead Press 7 adult blue whales and a WWII tank.

Without boons or the (admittedly cheesy) Amplified Rage, we only get to an effective STR of 76. This is still 942,080 lbs. Only 3 blue whales and a schoolbus.

Language Barrier: What to Speak in PFS

One of the more common questions I hear: What language should I take with Linguistics this level? There are tons of languages on Golarion, but only a few are really worth learning, as most everyone speaks Taldane (Common) for some reason. You either want languages that you frequently find written materials of, or those that are spoken by creatures that actually don’t speak Common. I usually separate them into small categories. Here are, in my opinion, the most valuable languages to know as a Pathfinder.

Dead languages: Ancient Osiriani, Ancient Thassilonian, Ancient Azlanti, Aklo, and Jistkin.

Virtually no one speaks these, but adventures often have writings or wall carvings that can be deciphered by those who have learned them through Linguistics.

Elemental languages: Ignan, Terran, Aquan, Auran. These are important for speaking to elementals or other elemental planar residents. Aquan has the side benefit of being intelligible underwater, which can be useful on occasion for spellcasters and the like. 

‘Alignment’ planar languages: Celestial, Abyssal, Infernal. These are mostly for writings, as most outsiders that the PCs could actually talk to speak Common. Writings/inscriptions in these languages are quite common. I would say Infernal comes up most frequently, and Devils are more likely to be reasoned with than Demons. Protean also exists, but virtually never comes up.

 Humanoid languages: Dwarven, Elven, Tian, Iobarian. Writings in ancient forms of these languages occasionally come up, and some Tian NPCs actually don’t speak Taldane. Tian is probably the most important of this group, though Ancient Dwarven is something I’ve seen a fair amount in one particular season.

Others: Undercommon, Sylvan, Goblin, and Draconic. These mostly come up when dealing with certain troublesome NPC types, like Kobolds, or various fey. Sometimes those creatures don’t speak common. Of these three, I would say Sylvan is most important, as numerous sentient plants and other oddball critters are Sylvan-only speakers.

 

Feats of Fury

A Mathematical Examination of the Most Commonly Employed Martial Feats in Pathfinder

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Abstract

A plethora of feats may be leveraged in the Pathfinder RPG to increase the amount of damage a character is capable of dealing in a given turn (DPR, or damage per round). Among these, a limited selection of them are the most commonly employed, and further feats, class features, and equipment are typically selected to best synergize with these ‘primary’ damage strategies. These Primary Strategies are:

  • Trading attack for damage: Power Attack, Deadly Aim, Piranha Strike
  • Raw damage increases: Arcane Strike, Weapon Specialization, using a weapon two-handed
  • Crit-fishing: Critical Focus/keen weapons, Improved Critical
  • Bypassing Damage Resistance: Clustered Shot, Pummeling Style
  • Taking more attacks: Two-Weapon Fighting, Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, Greater Two-Weapon Fighting, Hurtful, Rapid Shot, Manyshot, Brawler’s Flurry, Unchained Monk Flurry, Ki Strike
  • Multiplying damage dice: Vital Strike, Improved Vital Strike, Greater Vital Strike

The objective of this post is to look at how much a character’s DPR is increased by utilizing a given combat feat or set thereof. I will construct my data and analyses in a manner that clarifies and simplifies the mathematical consequences of these primary combat feats to the PFRPG player-base. It is my hope that these analyses speed and improve the feat selection process for those seeking to play or theory-craft martial characters.

Methods

In order to evaluate how effective each option is, I will present simple baseline scenarios showing how much damage we would expect to do both with and without the use of a discussed feat. Expected Damage Value, or EDV, is derived by a formula explained in my article on character bench-marking, Bench-Pressing. The short version is that we multiply average damage on a hit by chance to hit, which is modified somewhat by our critical chance and multiplier.  I will be testing feats at levels 4, 8, and 12. I made ‘baselines’ for character attack and damage, and used the Average Monster Statistics table to find the average enemy AC and DR at CRs equal to the levels I have selected (an AMCREL, for Average Monster: Challenge Rating Equals Level). I then calculated the baseline character’s EDV at each of these levels, such that given primary combat strategies can be compared to the baseline as well as one another.

For the level 4 benchmarks I will assume that without the effects of a feat being discussed a character will have a +10 bonus to hit (4 BAB, 4 from a stat, +1 from Weapon Focus, and a +1 Weapon) against an enemy AC of 17 (the average AC of a CR 4 creature) for 1d8+5 damage (18 STR and +1 weapon) while wielding a weapon one handed. The baseline’s EDV against no DR  is 6.98. and 3.48 against DR 5.

At level 8 our baseline will be two attacks at +17/+12 (+8 BAB, +1 Weapon Focus, +6 from a Stat, +2 weapon) against AC 21 for 1d8+8 damage. Our baseline has an EDV of 19 against no DR, but only 4.525 against DR 10.

Our level 12 baseline will have an attack loadout of +24/+19/+14 (12 BAB, +1 Weapon Focus, +8 from a stat, +3 weapon) for 1d8 + 11 against an AC of 27. It has an EDV of 31.74, but a mere 2.5 against DR 15.

Some notes about our baselines: I’m assuming a lot here, and violations of my assumptions in your own characters should alter how you evaluate the performance of the character options discussed below slightly. Namely, I’m assuming your attack/damage stat is the same (you’re not doing Dex to hit but Str to damage) it begins at 18, receives all of your inherent bonuses at levels 4, 8, and 12, that you get a +2 Stat belt between levels 4 and 8, and that you upgrade that item to +6 by level 12.  I’m assuming you are a full BAB class, that your class does not grant additional features (like Weapon Training) to help your attack and damage rolls, and you do not have wondrous items beyond stat belts and enhanced (1d8, 20/x2) weapons to help further. Basically, I assumed a very optimal character in very un-optimal circumstances to act as a sort of ‘whitewash’ baseline version. It has no buffs, tactical advantages, class features, or equipment beyond what I’ve mentioned to help it.

The raw numbers of EDV and attack rolls I give here are less important than % differences, and for the most part, variance from these assumptions will have very slight effects on the percentage increase in power from any given feat.  If Power Attacking generally increases DPR by 30%, that is the relevant datum, even if that exact percentage will vary somewhat depending on your build. There are some exceptions.

The big one is that if you are a 3/4 BAB class, feats that increase accuracy are better for you than they are for full BAB classes, and feats that sacrifice accuracy for damage are not quite as beneficial to you. 

Large amounts of damage from a class feature, such as Sneak Attack, is also an important consideration. Characters with these class features will generally be more concerned with accuracy increases than damage, as they already do substantial damage when they hit. For example, our level 12 baseline would have attack rolls 3 lower as a rogue (due to being a 3/4 BAB class), but would deal 36.5 average damage on a hit rather than 15.5. As their average damage on a hit is more than twice as large, each +/- 1 to attack rolls (5% likelihood of connecting a blow) is similarly twice as potent. Even more effective are extra attacks. Other exceptions will be noted within the discussions of feats themselves.

Results

Directly Adding Damage:

Let’s start with the simplest of all the methods for adding damage, literally just adding it. The three methods I see most commonly employed are Weapon Specialization and Greater Weapon Specialization (+2 damage each), Arcane Strike (+1 damage, increases by 1 at every caster level that is a multiple of 5),  and using a weapon two-handed. We’ll start with the option that doesn’t require any feat investment, just swinging with both hands.

Without Power Attack (which we’ll get to shortly), two-handing our weapon nets us 2 more damage at level 4, 3 damage at 8, and 4 damage at 12. These work out to an EDV that hovers around the 20% marker fairly consistently against non-DR opponents. Against fairly typical DR opponents, the EDV increase is far greater. At level 4 it is already a 42% increase, and by level 12 is approaches 330%. We will see this pattern again; even modest increases to damage are immensely important against opponents with good DR that you can’t bypass entirely.

Weapon Specialization is of exactly the same benefit as two-handing a weapon at level 4, not as great at level 8, and distinctly inferior by 12. At 12, however, one can take Greater Weapon Focus, which makes it just as good again. The cost-benefit here is pretty straightforward: Weapon Spec costs a feat or two, while two-handing costs a hand. That means Weapon Spec can be used while swashbuckling, using a shield, two-weapon fighting, or shooting a ranged weapon. However, unlike two-handing it will not multiply the damage from Power Attack by 1.5, and the benefits will not continue to increase with your damage stat.

Arcane Strike starts off worse than Weapon Spec, becomes its equal at 5, is better at 10, but worse than Greater Weapon Spec at 12. It requires a swift action to actually use, scales very slowly, and even at level 20 is only 5 damage. If you’re using it, you’re probably a 3/4 BAB Arcane caster (by which I pretty much mean Magus), so there are probably better ways (empowered shocking grasp) for you to get more damage on your attacks. That said, a magus can’t take Weapon Spec, and cannot use several important class features while two-handing a weapon, so I suppose they take what they can get when they aren’t using spellstrike. Blooded Arcane Strike (the downstream feat for Bloodragers) improves the action economy to a free action. A scaling damage bonus without accuracy penalty is nothing to scoff at, even if the numbers aren’t exactly huge.

Trading Attack for Damage:

There are three big feats here: Power Attack, Deadly Aim, and Piranha Strike. They all work roughly the same way, you trade a -1 penalty to hit for +2 damage. The attack roll penalty and damage bonus increase by -1 and +2 respectively every time your BAB reaches a multiple of 4. Importantly, Power Attack’s bonus damage is multiplied by 1.5 (along with your damage stat’s bonus damage) if you wield a weapon two-handed. This is not true of Piranha Strike (light weapons cannot be wielded two-handed), nor Deadly Aim.

Power Attack at 4 (1H): +8 (1d8+9), EDV=8.5, vs DR = 5.5

Power Attack at 4 (2H): +8 (1d8+13), EDV = 11, vs DR = 8

Power Attack at 8 (1H): +14/+9 (1d8+14), EDV = 22.34, vs DR = 10.84

Power Attack at 8 (2H): +14/+9 (1d8+20), EDV = 29.58, vs DR = 18.08

Power Attack at 12 (1H): +20/+15/+10 (1d8+19), EDV = 33.31, vs DR = 13.06

Power Attack at 12(2H): +20/+15/+10 (1d8+27), EDV = 44.65, vs DR = 24.4

Analysis of Power Attack, Deadly Aim, and Piranha Strike:

Against an average AC, these feats are always worthwhile in and of themselves. At level 4, even one-handed we get a 22% damage increase over baseline, and a whopping 58% increase against DR. These percentages are even better when two-handing.

The behavior of the feat is a bit strange from here, however. We see the % increase to EDV shrink over time against no DR (only 12% by level 8, and a mere 5% by level 12), but skyrocket against level-appropriate DR (140% at level 8, a whopping 424% by level 12). This basically affirms the old rule-of-thumb that +1 attack is roughly worth +2 damage, as over time the difference between power attacking and not seems to approach 0…except for DR. Our average damage without Power Attack falls closer and closer to being entirely negated by enemy DR as time goes on, so putting a decent amount of damage on top means that even if we hit more rarely, its to our net benefit because we actually accomplish something when we do connect. I should also note that if a character has significantly better attack modifiers than my baseline, the benefits of Power Attack to EDV are even more noticeable, even against non-DR opponents.

Two-handing weapons also increases the utility of Power Attack into mid and high level play. At level 12, a two-handed power attack gives us 40% more EDV than a single-handed non-power attack, and a massive 880% increase against DR 15.

I’ve had some requests to address the EDV benefits of Furious Focus, and I feel like it’s pretty easily done here in the Power Attack section. At level 4 (when the affected attack is the only one we have) our baseline+Power Attack’s damage is improved by 18.3% with the addition of Furious Focus. The percentage increase is from a pure improvement to accuracy, so the percent increase will be the same regardless of one-handing or two-handing. By level 8, the percentage increase is from Furious Focus drops to only 8.35%. This is to be expected, as a decent portion of our overall DPR is coming from our iterative attack, which does not benefit from Furious Focus. By level 12, we have two iterative attacks, and our EDV improvement from Furious Focus predictably drops even further to around 7.2%. Characters taking frequent AoOs, leveraging TWF in addition to Power Attack, or just generally attacking many times in a round will be even more disappointed with the overall damage they get out of Furious Focus. 

It is worth noting that Furious Focus is more helpful when your character can attack, but not full-attack for whatever reason (typically because you had to move). In those cases, the nearly 20% figure remains true. Vital Strike is similar in this regard, as we’ll see later, and pairing the two can heavily mitigate the problem of movement for melee martial characters.

 

Taking More Attacks:

The stand-by here is the Two-Weapon Fighting (TWF) line. For a -2 attack penalty (assuming you’re using a light weapon in one of your hands, which you absolutely should) you get an extra attack at your highest BAB. Improved TWF gives another attack at your first iterative’s BAB, with no additional penalty, and Greater TWF gives you yet another attack at your second iterative’s BAB with no additional penalty. Brawler’s Flurry works the same way, and Rapid Shot is essentially TWF for archers. Manyshot isn’t like ITWF, however, as it gives you a second arrow on your first attack rather than an additional attack at your iterative BAB. The Unchained Monk is also a bit different (read: better), as you get additional attacks at your highest BAB, and can grab another one by spending a ki point.

So, let’s see how the TWF line works. I’m going to be looking particularly at how much difference ITWF and GTWF make over just the basic TWF feat, and how well it performs in conjunction with Power Attack and similar. I’ll assume that we also take Double Slice, or that a class feature like Brawler’s Flurry gives you the benefits of it. I do this because I’m lazy and don’t feel like making my EDV calculations even more complicated.

At level 4, TWF increases our EDV by about 71% against no DR or DR 5. At low level, TWF seems to perform better than Power Attack in all circumstances, even better than a two-handed power attacker hitting against DR.

At level 8, our EDV with TWF increases by roughly 35.5%, and adding ITWF brings us to 65.75 over baseline against a non-DR opponent. Against DR, the full TWF line continues to offer us about 70% or so over baseline, while Power Attack blows that out of the water at 140% over baseline with a weapon in one hand, and around 300% while two-handing. 

At level 12, TWF+ITWF+GTWF remains right around 70% above baseline (about 32% comes from TWF, 25% from ITWF, and 13% from GTWF), whether or not we’re going against DR. It seems that taking twice as many attacks, but at a -2 penalty will grant an approximately 70% damage increase in virtually any circumstance. A two-handed power attacker will only achieve a 40% EDV increase over baseline when not facing DR, but an 880% increase against DR 15, and a 150% increase against DR 10. 

Analysis:

TWF and its downstream feats perform quite well all the way into high level play when DR isn’t an issue, but are hit much harder than Power Attackers when it comes to DR. This is unsurprising, as we have less damage that can go over the DR, and the DR is hitting us twice as often. There are plenty of methods to get past DR, so you might not be so worried. The real trouble is actually getting all of the feats. We need a high enough Dex score that we’re practically forced to get finesse and Dex-to-damage, which is not so easily accomplished since feats like Slashing Grace were errata’d to be inoperable when wielding two weapons. Additionally, where Power Attack is a single feat with no feats as pre-requisites, getting all we want out of TWF requires 4 feats.

I won’t be doing a separate analysis for Brawler’s Flurry or the CRB Monk’s flurry, which work virtually identically to the TWF line (albeit without actually needing to qualify for or spend feats, including double slice), nor Rapid Shot/Manyshot. Rapid shot is essentially ranged TWF, just remember that Manyshot is a bit better than ITWF, as uses your first attack rather than granting another iterative. This is fairly analogous to Hurtful, which grants another full BAB attack against a shaken opponent as a swift action. Hurtful is basically a must-have for intimidation builds, but is niche enough (and not PFS legal) that I don’t think an in-depth EDV analysis is particularly necessary. It’s great if you can use it properly (Cornugon Smash), otherwise leave it.

What I will analyze, however, is the Unchained Monk’s flurry. It works in a meaningfully different manner than TWF, and there’s some additional cheese one can stack on top. Unlike TWF, there’s no -2 penalty, we don’t need double-slice to do full damage, and we can even use a weapon two-handed so long as it has the Monk special weapon quality. Additionally, the bonus attacks all happen at our highest BAB, and we can even spend ki to get another attack when we really need it. Without the -2 penalty from TWF, Power Attack’s penalties also seem much less scary.

All else being equal, the EDV of a flurrying (unarmed) monk will simply double the baseline at level 4, and triple if we spend a ki for another strike. At level 8 flurrying takes our EDV up by about 59%, or 116% when we spend a ki. At level 12 we have our second flurry attack, so a flurry gives us 92.3% additional damage, and 138.5% additional damage when we spend a ki. Now, we’re still going to get hit pretty hard by DR, as each attack takes it. That said, we can just Power Attack on our flurry, and could even use a two-handed monk weapon.

For example, our level 12 baseline monk Power Attacking with a Temple Sword two-handed deals around 45.3 EDV on a non-flurry full-attack (25 after DR), 92.3 with flurry (51 after DR), and 115.75 (64 after DR) if we spend a ki. With unarmed strikes rather than a temple sword, this monk would only deal 85 damage or so with his Power Attack ki flurry, demonstrating the importance of that 1.5x STR and Power Attack damage bonus.

DR only once Feats:

Speaking of monks, let’s look at feats like Pummeling Style that allow us to only take DR once on a full attack. The other feat like this is Clustered Shot. Neither feat can be used in conjunction with two-handing a weapon (Pummeling Style only works with unarmed strikes, Clustered Shot with ranged weapons) and both of them are more effective the more attacks on has, so I’ll look at it at level 12.

An unarmed (baseline level 12) monk flurrying with Pummeling Style at level 12 deals 46 EDV after DR, even without Power Attack or a ki attack, and 70 with both. Likewise, our baseline used as an archer with rapid shot, manyshot, deadly aim, and Clustered Shot will deal 43.16 EDV on a full attack at level 12. Basically, we see that at high level play a flurrying monk with Pummeling Style or a fully-kitted archer do about the same damage to a DR 15 opponent that a two-handed power attacker does to opponents without DR.

These feats are really of paramount importance if you can properly leverage them.

Improved Critical and Critical Focus:

I’m going to evaluate these feats a bit differently. We don’t really need to actually do EDV calculations, as the feat can be evaluated derived just from chance to hit and the initial crit range and multiplier.

The worst candidate for Improved Critical is a 20/x2 weapon. These weapons have a 5% chance of doubling damage, meaning that on average it adds 5% to your EDV. This percentage actually needs to be modified by your chance of confirming a crit, however. For example, if you roll a Nat 20 but need a 9 or higher to confirm the critical, it really only adds 3% to your overall expected damage. Improved Critical then adds another 3% to your average damage (for 6% total). Critical Focus adds 4 to the confirmation chance, meaning that your critical range would now add 8% to your overall expected damage on the attack.

A rapier has an 18-20/x2 crit range, meaning it adds roughly 15% to your EDV before being modified by your chance of confirming a critical. If we have the same chance of confirming a critical as before, it’s really 9%. Improved critical increases this to 18% damage, and Critical Focus takes us to 24%.

A scythe has a 20/x4 crit range. Oddly, this works out numerically to be identical to the rapier. While we only crit on a Nat 20, it being x4 means it adds 15% EDV total. Then the same manipulations we did before happen, and we wind up at the same place. The difference isn’t so much mathematical as practical: typically a x4 crit is overkill. I’d generally prefer to get critical hits more frequently than such a powerful critical once in a blue moon. This is especially true when one has special abilities that trigger when one confirms a critical hit; quantity is better than quality.

The best critical range for DPR is that of the falcata. It is a 19-20/x3 weapon. This means that by default the crit range raises its average damage by 20%. If we confirm on a 9 or higher, it is 12% by default. Improved Critical raises that to 24%, and Critical Focus takes us all the way to 32%.

Using 9 or higher as our critical confirmation chance is admittedly arbitrary, but I felt it represented a fairly average case, given fluctuating attack roll bonuses, enemy ACs, and which attack of a full attack actually rolls in your crit range. Also, it made the math easy to illustrate.

Butterfly Sting:

So this one is a little weird, as it requires a partner. I’m going to factor it with a TWF using two 15-20 crit weapons (e.g +1 keen kukri) as the one with the feat, and the partner as a two-handed Power Attacker using a x4 crit weapon (like a scythe). I’ll factor at level 8 for the sake of illustration. I might fill in levels 4 and 12 later, but I think one example should suffice to demonstrate this feat’s power mathematically.

First we need to know what the chance is that we confirm at least one critical hit with the level 8 TWF baseline. Each attack has a 30% of needing a confirmation roll. The first two attacks confirm 75% of the time, the second two confirm 50% of the time. So, our odds are (1-(0.3 * 0.75))^2 * (1-(0.3 * 0.5))^2, or 56.6% chance of a confirmed crit from a full attack.

Our scythe wielder does 2d4 + 20 (25 average damage). His crit damage is then a very simple 100 damage. His normal chance of a confirmed crit is (1-(0.05 * 0.7)) * (1-(0.05 * 0.45)) or 5.7%. This means his crit modifier, on average, increases his damage by 4.25, or 17%.

With Butterfly Sting, however, there is 56.6% chance he’ll get an auto-crit should he hit on any given round. This is 42.45 damage, which increases his EDV on an individual hit by a whopping 170%, 153% better damage than without it on a single hit. Essentially, instead of a crit doubling a small amount of damage for the TWFer it quadruples the damage of the party’s big hitter. This is a major EDV increase for the party overall, and even more significant against opponents with DR. If the Butterfly Sting user also had Critical Focus, he would have a 68% chance of confirming (and passing) a critical, increasing his partner’s EDV by 187% instead of 153.

One should note that Butterfly’s Sting gives the crit to the next ally to hit, so whoever is wielding the big crit modifier weapon should Hold or Ready actions to be immediately after the Butterfly Stinger in the initiative order.

Also note that having a 15-20 crit range TWF user combined with a 2H Power Attacker with a x4 crit weapon is pretty much the absolute ideal situation for using this feat. Without designing a party or at least paired characters to leverage the feat, your performance is unlikely to reach these heights.

Vital Strike:

This feat really isn’t worth evaluating with the 1d8 weapon we’ve been using as our baseline thus far. With that kind of weapon, the feat is pretty much pointless. I’m going to evaluate the feat at level 8 with a Large impact +2 greatsword, and I’ll upgrade it to +3 for level 12 and use Improved Vital Strike. I will be single-attacking (as one must with Vital Strike) and using Power Attack, since pretty much everyone I’ve ever seen use Vital Strike power attacks.

So, we’ll have a +14 attack modifier for 8d6+20 (48 average) with a 19-20 crit range…but 4d6 doesn’t multiply on a crit. Our EDV is 36 against our average monster AC of 21. On a full attack with this weapon, our EDV is 42.84. On a single attack without Vital Strike, it would be 26.18. So, Vital Strike took us about 2/3 of the way from a normal single attack to what our full-attack’s EDV would look like. Basically, its worth doing if you need to use your move action for something other than full-attacking, but you’re better served doing a full-attack otherwise. Against DR 10, the difference between a Vital Strike (28.98 EDV) and a full-attack (31.34 EDV) was smaller, but the full-attack still won out. Still, we’ve basically shown that Vital Strike is of significant benefit when we need to advance and attack, especially when the enemy has decent DR.

At level 12 we’ll be doing an attack at +20 for 12d6+27 (69 average damage), which with this weapon against an AC of 27 gives us an EDV of 51.17. Our full attack, however, is only 51.66. Against DR, Improved Vital Strike actually edges out a full-attack for total damage.

Analysis:

Vital Strike is an excellent way of ameliorating damage loss from being unable to full-attack, for getting more damage above DR one can’t bypass, and Improved and Greater Vital strike only make it better over time. However, if one wants to use the feat, it is important to use the biggest, baddest weapon you can find. When each feat adds 14 average damage as it does here, it is effective. If you’re using a rapier, the extra 3.5 average damage isn’t exactly thrilling.

Conclusions

Feats that directly add damage are nice to add on top of one of the other strategies outlined here, but can’t really replace them. I would consider feats that add tactical options (like Stand Still, Spring Attack, Combat Patrol, etc.) rather than them unless you really want to optimize DPR and have no need for more ‘tricks’.

Power Attack is, mathematically speaking, strictly inferior to TWF in terms of raw DPR with a typical martial against opponents without significant DR. However, the feat, stat, and gp investment is far lesser. A Two-Weapon fighter needs at least Double Strike, TWF, and ITWF to keep up with Power Attack in late level. They will also need either Agile weapons,  a minimum of 3 levels in Unchained Rogue to deal Dexterity to damage, or have a high enough DEX to take the feats while still using STR for attacks and damage. Power Attack also outperforms TWF strategies whenever Damage Resistance is a real consideration. Using a weapon two-handed with Power Attack makes a huge difference in terms of DPR, and significantly closes the gap between PA and TWF against non-DR

opponents. Two-Weapon Fighting is better for classes that get a lot of bonus damage on their attacks (such as Sneak Attack die), and those of us that add status conditions to their attacks, as you’ll have more chances to add them.

Combining Power Attack and TWF, while incredibly resource intensive, is actually quite good at mid-high level. Taking both the -2 from TWF and the scaling penalties from PA is painful, so using this strategy requires significant investment in attack bonus. (Keep your weapon enhancement bonus high, buy a Pale Green Cracked Ioun Stone, befriend the Bard, etc.) The resource investment is hugely ameliorated by getting TWF feats free through class features, such as Brawlers and Monks.

The Unchained Monk’s flurry (unlike the chained monk, Sacred Fist Warpriest, and Brawler) is a straight upgrade over TWF feats. Gaining the bonus attacks at your highest attack bonus really is that important, and they don’t have the -2 penalties associated with the TWF line. Any STR based monk flurrying has higher damage output with a two-handed Temple Sword than unarmed strikes. However, they cannot benefit from Pummeling Style while using a sword. Then again, you can just kick to pummel while still holding your sword.

Clustered Shot and Pummeling Style might not be ‘primary strategies’, but if you have the pre-requisites, they are good enough that you should absolutely get them. If you hit with 4 attacks against a DR 10 opponent, these feats are netting you a whopping 30 damage. I mean, that’s the amount of damage you get from Power Attack at level 16, but without any kind of attack roll penalty.

Improved Critical is by no means as potent as either Power Attack, the TWF line, or a well-utilized Vital Strike. However, it stacks with all of those things and has no associated attack roll penalties. There are some class features and other abilities that activate when you confirm a critical hit. Depending on what weapon you’re using, Improved Critical is a very worthwhile feat. Critical Focus is a very minor increase in overall EDV, unless you basically need to crit to hit. If that’s the case, you’ve got other problems. It is basically a feat tax for the downstream critical feats. Most of those are pretty bad too, honestly.

Vital Strike is a niche build, but if you have the right weapon it can be good. Rarely is it as good as making a full attack. It typically takes one’s EDV about halfway from what you’d see on a single attack to what you’d get from a full attack. It is worthwhile to have if you find yourself having to advance to attack frequently, or if you use your move actions frequently for other abilities. However, even if you possess the feat, you really shouldn’t use it if you can full-attack instead. It’s possible to build for it well enough that this isn’t the case, but I’d check your EDV rigorously before making the decision to always Vital Strike.

So, that is my analysis of what I see as the most commonly employed combat feat strategies employed in Pathfinder. If you have questions or input, feel free to contact me on the paizo fora. My username there is Le Petite Mort.

 

Tell Me No Lies

Why You Should Use Sense Motive More

In my years playing Pathfinder, I have had numerous occasions to receive daggers, rapiers, death effects, and ambushes from scumbag, lying NPCs. What typically angers me more than the betrayal and deception themselves is that I never once rolled Sense Motive on anything they had said. Neither had anyone else. The humble pig farmer gave us a good-natured smile, introduced us to his wife and daughter, and gave us directions to the Old Ruins We’re Looking For. A simple DC 13 check would noticed his hungry eyes, the way he kept asking about our gear. Well, too late now.

As a GM, I am astonished at how many parties will play right into the hands of any +6 Bluff huckster simply because they never thought to roll a Wisdom skill. I’ve seen six seasoned players, Clerics and Monks among them, just blithely follow the ‘local priestess’ into a freaking CATACOMB without a die rolled to discern just why exactly she wants us down there.

So, here’s a guide to when you should use Sense Motive.

Guide:

You should always use Sense Motive.

Summary of the Guide:

You don’t walk through the ornate gates without rolling Perception for traps, but you might occasionally get caught by a crossbow rigged to the unassuming cellar door. Likewise, Sense Motive is virtually always rolled when speaking to a spymaster, a shady guy in an alley, or with Dragons and Fey. The ones that get you are the people who seem like they’re supposed to be there. I’ve been betrayed by Venture Captains. I’ve seen starving “gnomes” handed biscuits, who then ate the hand. I’ve had Knights in Shining Armor deliver touch death effects, because guess what its a hag.

The point is, always ALWAYS roll Sense Motive. 

If you have a Wisdom of 7 and no ranks in Sense Motive, of course, you should STILL ROLL SENSE MOTIVE. You probably won’t detect anything amiss, but the Cleric and Monk will hear you and realize maybe they should toss a d20 at the conversation as well.

In addition to opposing the Bluff skill, Sense Motive has a few additional usages.

From the PRD:

Hunch (DC 20): This use of the skill involves making a gut assessment of the social situation. You can get the feeling from another’s behavior that something is wrong, such as when you’re talking to an impostor. Alternatively, you can get the feeling that someone is trustworthy.

Sense Enchantment (DC 25 or 15): You can tell that someone’s behavior is being influenced by an enchantment effect even if that person isn’t aware of it. The usual DC is 25, but if the target is dominated (see dominate person), the DC is only 15 because of the limited range of the target’s activities.

Discern Secret Message: You may use Sense Motive to detect that a hidden message is being transmitted via the Bluff skill. In this case, your Sense Motive check is opposed by the Bluff check of the character transmitting the message. For each piece of information relating to the message that you are missing, you take a –2 penalty on your Sense Motive check. If you succeed by 4 or less, you know that something hidden is being communicated, but you can’t learn anything specific about its content. If you beat the DC by 5 or more, you intercept and understand the message. If you fail by 4 or less, you don’t detect any hidden communication. If you fail by 5 or more, you might infer false information.

Hunch: A little used, but quite useful feature of the skill. Say I roll a 23 Sense Motive against a gardener who I think might be a murderer. I’m totally wrong. He’s just a gardener. The GM can flat-out tell me the guy is honest as the day is long, and definitively not lying through the hunch portion of Sense Motive. Now I’m not wasting time badgering a liveried servant while the BBEG rides away in his horse and carriage.

Sense Enchantment: Sometimes the guy leading you into a trap just can’t help themselves. That’s because they’re under a compulsion, and if the party were aware of that, they could cure, question, and recruit the unwitting accomplice before things get out of hand. A flat DC means that no matter how powerful the spellcaster, a mid-level party will most often pick up what’s going on if they invested wisely in Wis.

Discern Secret Message: Okay, this one I’ve legitimately never used as a player. Usually the party is trying to communicate ‘over an NPC’s head’, and as GM I roll to see if they know what’s going on.

To sum, you never know when you’re being lied to. Roll Sense Motive during every single social interaction. 95% of the time you’ll find nothing amiss. The other 5% saves lives.

GM Notes

Sense Motive can be a tricky mistress when GMing Pathfinder. It’s obvious when you should use it, but its less obvious what information to give under what circumstances when PCs are rolling SM against you. Sense Motive challenges you to disseminate appropriate information, without encouraging meta-gaming or giving more information than you should. I’ll give an example to demonstrate how I treat PC rolls for this all important social skill.

Let’s say I am running a bandit pretending to be a local hunstman who will guide them past a few trolls, when he really wants to lead the party towards his buddies at their encampment. He rolls a 21 Bluff, and the Cleric rolls  a 19 Sense Motive against him. I’ll say something either misleading or generic. “He seems eager to help you,” or, “Seems legit.”

The fighter now rolls, and gets a Natural 20. However, he only has 14 Wisdom and no ranks, so he barely makes the DC with a 22. I would describe the bandit keeping his hand on the pommel of his sword, defensive posture, and that he paused before saying ‘trolls’ the way people do when they’re trying to think of a reasonable sounding excuse. This gives all the lines the party needs to read between to see the guy is bluffing, but doesn’t really tell them his whole story.

The Monk rolls to see if he can get anything more. He rolls a 33, utterly blowing our DC out of the water. “He has the mannerisms of a former soldier. He’s eyeing all of your valuables a bit too intently, and seems to appraise all of you as potential threats with his gaze. From his expressions, he seems cowed by all of you, but is probably thinking that he could take you with some help from friends. The troll story is an outright fabrication, an excuse to get you to follow him.”

There are some generic phrases that I stay away from. The biggest is, “You think he’s hiding something.” That doesn’t really give the players much to go on, RP-wise. What can they really say to that? “What are you hiding from us?” Yeah, like they’re going to answer that question honestly. I think it’s better to describe things one might notice about their facial expressions or body language to hint at where PCs should take the conversation, rather than just a binary, “You know they lied,” or “You don’t believe they are lying.” That said, sometimes being blunt can save precious table time.

It is also a bit vague how often a PC can roll Sense Motive in a conversation. If Bluff vs. Sense Motive is rolled after every sentence in a conversation, the PCs figuring out they’re being lied to is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Eventually, you’ll see a party member roll an 18+ when your NPC rolls a 3 or so, and then the jig is up. So, one should limit how many times the PCs can roll. My personal preference is to allow them to roll whenever the subject changes. If they don’t detect a lie on a given topic, they can’t just keep talking about it until the NPC slips up. Their failed roll indicates that they trust the NPC on that matter. However, if an NPC is telling a number of different lies, they might get some of them and decide its best not to take anything that NPC says as actionable intelligence. I wouldn’t consider that meta-gaming, its really meta-cognition. If I’ve caught someone telling me three lies, I wouldn’t believe the lies I didn’t catch. I’d just distrust that person entirely.

I’m gonna keep this article short, as my next one will be one of my useful, but ultimately dry mathematical analyses. This pretty much covers my thoughts on the most under-utilized skill in the game. Don’t be fooled, roll Sense Motive!