Welcome to Iconic Design, where we discuss the creation of exciting new character builds for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game!
When I originally decided to include an Iconic Design article, I wanted to do an “every other week” thing, where one week I showed my readers how to build an iconic fantasy character and the next I would show off some cool builds. Well, folks. That’s not going to happen because when I sat down to write today’s Iconic Design back in February, Paizo’s new Bastards of Golarion product just happened to slide its way into my inbox. Ever since the Varisia relaunch back in 2012, Player Companions have been a joy to purchase because in addition to Paizo standard awesomeness in flavor, some of the most interesting player options added to the game have begun to emerge from the Player Companion line. Today’s installment of Iconic Design features the application of two such options: one from Magical Marketplace and the other from Bastards of Golarion.
The options that we are going to be building around today are the sneaky maneuver rogue talent and the Dirty Trick Master feat. Essentially, we are going to be building the most bad-ass combat maneuver fiend that the world has ever seen. Ever. Let’s look at the base components of this build.
- Monk (Maneuver Master/Qinggong Monk/Weapon Adept): The heart of this choice is, of course, the maneuver master archetype from Ultimate Combat. I like the Weapon Adept archetype for its ability to cover the maneuver master’s weaker attack bonus with Perfect Strike (losing Flurry of Blows is big in this regard). My chosen monk weapon is going to be quarterstaff, but you should feel free to use any of the monk weapons outlined by Perfect Strike for your character: double nunchaku could be awesome too!
- Ninja: We’re talking two levels of ninja for this build for two reasons. First, the ninja ki pool allows us to spend ki to make an additional attack during a full attack, something that the maneuver master cannot do because of the loss of flurry of blows. Second, we need two levels of ninja or rogue to grab the sneaky maneuver rogue talent. Anything else you get from this build (specifically poison use) is icing.
- Fighter (Lore Warden): Of course the ultimate fighter maneuver class is in here at least somewhat! We’re really going lore warden for the free Combat Expertise feat, which we’ll need to qualify for many of the combat maneuver feats (we can’t take ALL of them as monk bonus feats!). We’re staying for that third level, however, for the +2 bonus on all combat maneuver checks.
Early Levels (1–7)
So with this build, your primary ability scores are going to be Wisdom, Dexterity, and Strength. You’ll need an Intelligence of 13 to qualify for Combat Expertise and you won’t likely want to dump Constitution. You don’t want a negative Charisma for this build, as it’s a long time until the monk’s ki pool at 8th level, but you don’t need to invest in Charisma or Intelligence. You need a Dexterity high enough to grab Two-Weapon Fighting (I believe its Dexterity 15) and at higher levels you’ll need to plan to qualify for Improved Two-Weapon Fighting by 9th level, so grabbing a Dex of 15 and putting your 4th and 8th level ability boosts into Dexterity should be fine. Ultimately, this ability is a little dependent on multiple ability scores (also called MAD, a concept I’m sure I’ll have to address sooner or later). So yeah, your goal is to get Intelligence to 13 and Dexterity to 15, then bump up Strength and Wisdom as high as possible without dumping any stat.
Hey, this build needed at least ONE weakness (in fact, it has TWO)!
- Classes: Lore Warden 2 / Ninja 2 / Monk 3
- Feats: Power Attack (BF), Two-Weapon Fighting (1st), Combat Expertise (Bonus), Two-Weapon Feint (Bonus), Improved Trip (3rd), Improved Dirty Trick (Bonus), Improved Unarmed Strike (Bonus), Perfect Strike (Bonus), Improved Disarm (5th), Combat Reflexes (Bonus), Weapon Focus: quarterstaff (Bonus), Vicious Stomp (7th)
- Abilities: AC Bonus, Fast Movement, Flurry of Maneuvers, Ki Pool, Maneuver Defense, Maneuver Training, Ninja Trick (Sneaky Maneuver), Poison Use, Scholastic, Sneak Attack +1d6
Wowzers. This might take some time to digest, so allow me to help you. At 7th level, you are already a maneuver powerhouse. At this point in the game, your base attack bonus is only +4 but thanks to maneuver training, your CMB bonus is actually a +6. Maneuver master gives you a free combat maneuver during any full attack action at the cost of a –2 penalty on all combat maneuvers and ninja allows you to spend 1 ki point for another attack during the action. Despite having a +4 bonus, your attack progression looks like this (without ability score modifications):
- Base Attack Bonus: +4 (+6 with combat maneuvers)
- Modifications: (–2 while Two-Weapon Fighting, –2 on maneuvers while using flurry of maneuvers, –2 penalty on attack rolls with sneaky maneuver)
Did you figure out what the weakness of this build is? Pulling off all of your tricks simultaneously puts a huge number of penalties onto your attack rolls; I didn’t even include Power Attack or Combat Expertise in the modifications above. At this stage of the game, it is important to understand when to take each set of penalties. For example, you aren’t going to want to use Two-Weapon Fighting unless your opponent’s Dexterity is high enough that negating its benefits to the opponent’s AC outweighs the –2 penalty on attack rolls that you take while using Two-Weapon Fighting.
When you are using feint, you are generally going to want to strike your opponent with a trip attack first so you can take the –2 penalty on your attack roll to get the free trip attempt instead of sneak attack damage with sneaky maneuver which provokes an attack of opportunity via Vicious Stomp. When you have a flanking bonus, I recommend taking your free maneuver first so you can trip your opponent first so your opponent is prone, reducing your opponent’s AC by –4, which is much needed for this build. When using dirty tricks, inflicting the shaken condition is very useful because it further reduces your opponent’s AC by –2. In essence, you’ll be taking tons of penalties so make sure to penalize your opponent whenever possible in return.
Mid Levels (8 –14)
Let’s see how this build advances in the middle levels of play. As before, I’m going to include attack bonuses and modifications in this spread so we can watch the penalties grow!
- Classes: Lore Warden 3 / Ninja 2 / Monk 9
- Feats: Power Attack (BF), Two-Weapon Fighting (1st), Combat Expertise (Bonus), Two-Weapon Feint (Bonus), Improved Trip (3rd), Improved Dirty Trick (Bonus), Improved Unarmed Strike (Bonus), Perfect Strike (Bonus), Improved Disarm (5th), Combat Reflexes (Bonus), Weapon Focus: quarterstaff (Bonus), Vicious Stomp (7th), Improved Two-Weapon Fighting (9th), Greater Trip (Bonus), Weapon Specialization: quarterstaff (Bonus), Improved Two-Weapon Feint (11th), Greater Dirty Trick (13th)
- Abilities: AC Bonus, Evasion, Fast Movement, Flurry of Maneuvers, High Jump, Ki Pool (cold iron, magic, silver), Maneuver Defense, Maneuver Mastery +2, Maneuver Training, Meditative Maneuver, Ninja Trick (Sneaky Maneuver), Poison Use, Reliable Maneuver, Scholastic, Sneak Attack +1d6, Wholeness of Body
- Base Attack Bonus: +10 (+13 with combat maneuvers)
- Modifications: (–2 on all attacks while Two-Weapon Fighting, –2 on all maneuvers while using flurry of maneuvers, –2 penalty on attack roll with sneaky maneuver, second maneuver during a flurry at additional –3, second attack during TWF at additional –3)
As you can see, the penalties have mostly plateaued off from the previous levels; now we’re mostly adding additional penalties to gain additional attacks, but those penalties only apply to those specific additional actions. If we’re looking at its full maximum, you get two attacks baseline (+10/+5) plus two-weapon fighting (+8/+8/+3/+3) and an extra attack from spending ki (+8/+8/+8/+3/+3). You also get two free combat maneuvers (+11/+8) that get a +2 bonus thanks to the lore warden’s maneuver mastery ability (+13/+10). If you trip an opponent, you also get two attacks of opportunity (+8/+8), though one of those attacks must be an unarmed strike. Once per round you can make a Perfect Strike (9/day currently). If going against an opponent with a high CMD, you can trade the ki point attack to instead add your Wisdom to one CMB check. You can also trade your primary weapon’s +8 attack for a feint attempt that applies to all attacks you make during the round, meaning all of your attacks can either deal +1d6 sneak attack damage or can take a –2 penalty to trade this damage for another combat maneuver check, one of which can be a dirty tricks attempt. (Dirty Tricks usually requires a standard action or is limited to one per round via Quick Dirty Tricks. This becomes relevant at end game.)
Complicated? Yes. But the number of penalties you can throw onto your opponent is staggering, as is the number of attacks you can pull off if positioned well. Fortunately for you, this build reaches critical insanity at the end game.
Behold critical insanity.
- Classes: Lore Warden 3 / Ninja 2 / Monk 15
- Feats: Power Attack (BF), Two-Weapon Fighting (1st), Combat Expertise (Bonus), Two-Weapon Feint (Bonus), Improved Trip (3rd), Improved Dirty Trick (Bonus), Improved Unarmed Strike (Bonus), Perfect Strike (Bonus), Improved Disarm (5th), Combat Reflexes (Bonus), Weapon Focus: quarterstaff (Bonus), Vicious Stomp (7th), Improved Two-Weapon Fighting (9th), Greater Trip (Bonus), Weapon Specialization: quarterstaff (Bonus), Improved Two-Weapon Feint (11th), Greater Dirty Trick (13th), Medusa’s Wrath (Bonus), Dirty Trick Master (15th), Ki Throw (17th), Greater Disarm (Bonus), Extra Ki (19th)
- Abilities: Abundant Step, AC Bonus, Diamond Soul, Evasion, Fast Movement, Flurry of Maneuvers, High Jump, Ki Pool (cold iron, lawful, magic, silver), Maneuver Defense, Maneuver Mastery +2, Maneuver Training, Meditative Maneuver, Ninja Trick (Sneaky Maneuver), Poison Use, Reliable Maneuver, Scholastic, Sneak Attack +1d6, Sweeping Maneuver, Whirlwind Maneuver, Wholeness of Body
- Base Attack Bonus: +15 (+19 with combat maneuvers)
- Modifications: (–2 on all attacks while Two-Weapon Fighting, –2 on all maneuvers while using flurry of maneuvers, –2 penalty on attack roll with sneaky maneuver, second maneuver during a flurry at additional –3, third maneuver during a flurry at additional –7, second attack during TWF at additional –3)
Okay. Allow me to explain why this build is insane. Dirty Trick Master, from Bastards of Golarion, allows dirty tricks conditions to stack with themselves somewhat. Two sickens becomes nauseated. Two shakens becomes frightened. That sort of thing. The one we’re looking at here, the one that is crazy good for our purposes, is dazzled. Two dazzleds becomes dazed, which effectively means your target can take no actions.
That is awesome.
BUT what is even more awesome is that the maneuver master archetype allows you to continue to stake standard monk bonus feats. And one of those standard feats is Medusa’s Wrath, which allows you to make two additional unarmed strikes during a full-attack action against an opponent who is suffering one of several specific conditions. Generally hard to puff off and requiring at least two turns to muster, one of those conditions is dazed.
For reference, here are your base attacks in this build: +13/+8/+3 (standard attacks), +13 (ki pool), +13/+8 (Two-Weapon Fighting), +19/+14/+9 (flurry of maneuvers extra maneuvers, plus +2 from maneuver mastery).
Here’s the rundown: Step 1, trade your highest primary weapon attack for a feint attempt. If successful, your target is denied its Dexterity bonus to AC against all attacks you make during the round. Step 2, make your free maneuvers against the target; the first one should be a trip attempt. If you succeed, you get two attacks of opportunity, both of which are sneak attacks. Take a –2 penalty on those attacks of opportunity (+11/+11) to use sneaky maneuver. If you hit with these attacks (likely because your target is prone), use the attacks to inflict dirty tricks (dazzled) onto your opponent. Thanks to Dirty Trick Master, they stack and now your opponent is flat-footed, prone, and dazed for a number of rounds based on how much you beat your target’s CMD by. Your turn continues; you still have two free combat maneuvers from flurry of maneuvers (+14/+9), two standard attacks (+8/+3), your Two-Weapon Fighting Attacks (+13/+8), and the two free unarmed strike attacks granted by Medusa’s Wrath (+13/+13). Your opponent is prone (–4 AC), dazed (no actions for a number of rounds), and denied its Dexterity bonus to AC against all of these attacks. If you’ve ever wanted to play as a blender, this is how you do it.
I’m not going to go into a full-on Mythic Build for this type of character, but Dual Path with champion and trickster is your best bet, as these builds have the best combat maneuver support. The most important option you can take, which must be selected at Tier 1, is Mythic Combat Reflexes, which allows you to take as many attacks of opportunity as you’d like during a turn. Mythic Two-Weapon Fighting, Mythic Improved Unarmed Strike, and Titan Strike are also must-haves. For the final feat, I’d take either Mythic Power Attack or Mythic Improved Dirty Trick.
With all of the penalties this build takes, you really need to invest in equipment that improves your attack bonuses. Whatever weapon you pick (in my case, a quarterstaff) needs to get to a +5 enhancement bonus ASAP and after that, you’ll want the dueling weapon ability from the Pathfinder Society Primer player companion, which doubles your weapon’s enhancement bonus for combat maneuvers. Grabbing an amulet of mighty fists with this set up is also recommended, as is acquiring a monk’s robe (boosts your severely-lagging unarmed strike damage and AC bonus) and while you’re at it, grab a pair of gauntlets of the skilled maneuver for a +2 bonus on one type of combat maneuver check. I’d pick trip because more things have a resistance to trip, but that’s just my thoughts.
Finally, I wouldn’t be TOO surprised if Dirty Trick Master gets hit with an errata. Inflicted the dazed condition is REALLY good, specifically because the victim can’t spend an action to remove the condition. My gut tells me that replacing dazed with staggered would be plenty fine, and a GM can rule it as such to tone down this build at the end game without flat-out breaking it.
For GMs who want to combat this build, find creatures with high CMDs, creatures with high natural armor or armor bonuses to AC that aren’t weakened much by being denied their Dexterity bonuses to AC, things that can avoid melee combat, and things that fly or are otherwise immune to trip.
And there you have it; a crazy blender-build. What do you think of this build? Is it something you’d want to try, or is it too complicated? Is the math intimidating, or is the promise of crazy blender tactics too enticing to turn away? Leave your answers and comments below and I’ll see you next week for another Iconic Design!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune monk, and his favorite pastime is acting as a one-fox goblin blender.