Iconic Design: Mouse, Monkey, Fox, Crane

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be looking at a Fox Shape build.

Tiny creatures are all the rage these days, it seems. I think there’s an aesthetic that’s too darn pleasing about knowing that you’re this itty bitty little guy and you’re beating the pants off of your enemies regardless. I’ve seen a lot of builds based around Tiny creatures, with the songbird of doom being the most famous, and I’ve decided that its high-time that I threw my hat in the ring. Since everyone knows by now that I’m a kitsune junkie, I’m sure no one will bat an eye at my decision to save myself 4,000 gp and just focus on the Fox Shape feat instead!

No eyes batted? Great, let’s get into the build!

Build Concept

Alright, so let’s talk about what the build looks like.

  • Kitsune: You need to be a kitsune to take Fox Shape. That’s enough of a reason to do this for me!
  • Ability Scores: Str 8, Dex 16, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 15, Cha 16. Normally I don’t telegraph ability scores, but you need a rather weird combination for this build: Dex, Wis, and Cha. This is probably what I would go with; easy buy-in for extra hp and for a higher Wisdom for some of the cool abilities that we’ll be grabbing.
  • Swashbuckler (Mouser): We only need a single level of swashbuckler, first to get “beginners Weapon Finesse,” but mainly to get the underfoot assault deed. This awesome deed gives you a neat way to enter an opponent’s space (which we’ll need), but it also causes any creature whose space you enter to take a –4 penalty on attack rolls against any creature sans you. If that was good enough, it also makes it super easy for you to flank; you count as flanking with any creature that is adjacent to your space AND threatening that creature. Overall, this is create for controlling where attacks go, but its only a single piece of this build.
  • Fighter (Unarmed Fighter): We also need but a single level of fighter, specifically the unarmed fighter archetype. This dip gives us a style feat of our choice without needing to meet the prerequisites. We’ll be taking Monkey Style and LOVING it! Monkey Style and its next link, Monkey Moves, aren’t great; the real power comes from Monkey Shine, which gives us a +4 bonus on attack rolls and to AC verses any creature whose space we enter. I’m sure you can see the theme building up now, right?
  • Monk (Kata Master, Master of Many Styles): Let’s be honest; we’re only doing this for two more low-level, low-entry style feats. After your two levels here, you’ll have the full Monkey Style chain at Level 4, which is exactly what we are looking for. Going monk also has the benefit of evasion, and I’m also trading out Stunning Fist for panache, via the kata master. Panache pools from multiple sources stack, so you’re effectively getting a panache pool equal to double your Charisma while you’re getting two feats you REALLY wanted anyway. Icing on the proverbial cake.
  • Warpriest: After our four dips are done, its time to settle down with the WARPRIEST! We’ll be worshiping Erastil, a Pathfinder deity of communities and rural areas, with this build.

And with that out of the way, its time to move on to the actual build description. Let’s hop to it!

Early Levels (1–7)

  • Classes: swashbuckler (mouser) 1, fighter (unarmed fighter) 1, monk (kata master, master of many styles) 2, warpriest 3
  • Feats: Piranha Attack (1st), Improved Unarmed Strike (Bonus), Monkey Style (Bonus), Monkey Moves (Bonus), Fox Shape (3rd), Monkey Shine (Bonus), Weapon Focus: bite (Bonus), Weapon Finesse (5th), Step Up (Bonus), Dodge (7th)
  • Abilities: AC bonus, aura, blessings (minor; animal, good), deeds, fervor 1d6, fuse style (2 styles), panache (monk, swashbuckler), sacred weapon (1d6), spontaneous casting, unarmed strike
  • Cleric 1st-Level Spells per Day: 3
  • Cleric Orisons per Day: 4

Do you know what’s REALLY funny about this build? Despite all of the multiclassing, its BAB is actually on-par with any 3/4 BAB class, which is definitely a feather in its cap. That’s my favorite part about it, actually. But that said, this build is REALLY complicated, so I’m going to do my best to break down how all of this works.

  • Unarmed Fighter and Master of Many Styles both have abilities that allow you to ignore the prerequisites of most style feats. By dipping three levels into these two classes (one fighter, two monk), we get the full Monkey Style feat chain by Level 4, much earlier then its usual prerequisites would allow.
  • The build has both swashbuckler’s finesse and Weapon Finesse because the former doesn’t allow you to finesse with claw attacks while the later does. That said, I make sure to wait until you 100% NEED the feat (5th level, when you get the animal blessing from the warpriest class; see below).
  • We’re taking Dodge to slowly build for the Crane Wing feats.
  • Polymorph effects have a special clause that states abilities that “add on” to your form can be used in conjunction with polymorph effects. Because the animal blessing “adds on” claws to your body, you can use them to “add on” claws to your fox shape too.
  • Warpriest is the only option in the game that allows us to scale the damage die of three or more natural weapons at the same time; the only caveat is that we pretty much have to worship Erastil; he’s the only Lawful deity with the animal domain, so he’s the only one that we can use for the animal blessing.

To end this stage of the game, here’s what our modest AC looks like before buffs and magic items: 22 (Dex +5, dodge +1, natural armor +1, size +2, Wis +3). Note that this includes the +4 bonus to Dexterity and the +1 natural armor bonus that you get for polymorphing into a Tiny creature.

As a wapriest, we can boost this by +2 by casting shield of faith, for a total of 24. Its not a great AC, though, so you’re going to want to invest in a jingasa of the fortunate soldier. I’d recommend doing so, as you likely have the fate’s favored trait to improve the benefit that you get from the divine favor spell; fate’s favored improves any luck bonus that you get by +1, and both the jingasa and divine favor grant luck bonuses. You’ll want to start thinking like this, because what REALLY hurts this build is that you can’t wear armor of any kind between your monk levels and it literally merging into your body. I’ve heard some people say that you can have items put on you after you transform, but I don’t know if that’s true or not; your mileage may vary depending upon where you’re running your game.

But now, we’re ready to move on to the next stage of the game!

Mid Levels (8 –14)

  • Classes: swashbuckler (mouser) 1, fighter (unarmed fighter) 1, monk (kata master, master of many styles) 2, warpriest 10
  • Feats: Piranha Attack (1st), Improved Unarmed Strike (Bonus), Monkey Style (Bonus), Monkey Moves (Bonus), Fox Shape (3rd), Monkey Shine (Bonus), Weapon Focus: bite (Bonus), Weapon Finesse (5th), Step Up (Bonus), Dodge (7th), Weapon Focus: claw (9th), Following Step (Bonus), Crane Style (11th), Crane Wing (Bonus), Crane Riposte (13th)
  • Abilities: AC bonus, aura, blessings (major; animal, good), channel energy, deeds, fervor 3d6, fuse style (2 styles), panache (monk, swashbuckler), sacred armor +2, sacred weapon +2 (1d10), spontaneous casting, unarmed strike
  • Cleric 4th-Level Spells per Day: 1
  • Cleric 3rd-Level Spells per Day: 3
  • Cleric 2nd-Level Spells per Day: 4
  • Cleric 1st-Level Spells per Day: 5
  • Cleric Orisons per Day: 5

This build is a lot easier to explain once we get past the first four levels, because from here on out its straight warpriest. The first order of business is picking up Weapon Focus: claw at 9th level, as that’s when sacred weapon improves to the point where its damage dice beats out your claw’s dice. At the following level we get a bonus feat, however, so if you’d rather have that feat first (Following Step), you certainly could take it early; after all, the increase in damage is only from a d3 to a d4 or so while you’re Tiny. Speaking of that, your #1 purchase for this build NEEDS to be an agile amulet of mighty fists; you need Dex to damage with your natural weapons and unarmed strikes ASAP; between being Tiny and your naturally poor Strength, you’re going to need to swap to Dex pronto.

Now that we’re focusing on warpriest, our spellcasting grows DRASTICALLY, (better still if you took Magical Knack as your second trait). You’ll have access to the best buffing spells in the game, so make sure you USE them. Ironskin will MAKE this build for you. Let me reiterate on ironskin; this spell is basically a personal-range barkskin, and it is VITAL for this build if it’s allowed. You won’t be able to wear an amulet of natural armor, so getting an enhancement bonus to your natural armor from this spell is fantastic for you. Prepare it, then stock up on pearls of power II so you can recast it as needed.

We unlock Major Blessing here, and for both blessings our character has super-powerful summons. He can summon a nature’s ally or a good outsider for a minute at a time with his blessing, which is FANTASTIC. We also get the ability to further upgrade our natural attacks (or one of them at a time, anyway) with the sacred weapon class feature. Less-than-awesome is the Sacred Armor ability, which won’t really apply while we’re shapeshifted, seeing as armor bonuses don’t do anything. But for those rare fights where being a fox doesn’t work for some reason, you can use sacred armor to boost your AC by treating your clothing as armor with a +0 bonus. Not optimal, but not all options are.

Feat-Wise, this is the place where we FINALLY get our second style for fuse style: Crane Style! We needed more defense after all, so why not go for the absolute best defensive style ever. (How a fox can enter Crane Style is beyond me, but I don’t care if the mechanics don’t!) We actually manage to grab the entire chain in this stage of the game while still having rule for Following Step, which is helpful for keeping gaps between you and whomever you are harrying small. This won’t always happen, mind you, but if you’re enemy is wasting significant time moving away from you, then chances are they aren’t blowing you up with wicked amounts of damage. (SIDENOTE: To the best of my knowledge, you cannot stop foes from leaving your square with Stand Still as part of this build, as the attacks of opportunity granted by Monkey Shine and Underfoot Assault aren’t considered to have been triggered from “moving into or out of an adjacent space,” because currently your space is not adjacent to you. As a result, you won’t see Stand Still in my guide, because I don’t think it actually works.) I also pick up Weapon Focus: unarmed strike at this point so it can start scaling off of my warpriest bonus rather than my d6 monk bonus.

With all that said, here’s the final AC count, with Crane Style counted in. (Remember that Crane Style is a –1 penalty to your attack rolls for fighting defensively, thanks to Crane Riposte. I’m also assuming that you have ironskin and shield of faith, which is CL 12 thanks to magical knack, active): AC 34 (deflection +4, Dex +5, dodge +5, natural armor +5, size +2, Wis +3).

That’s pretty darn hard to hit! Let’s see if we can keep up the pressure in the end game.

Endgame (15+)

  • Classes: swashbuckler (mouser) 1, fighter (unarmed fighter) 1, monk (kata master, master of many styles) 2, warpriest 16
  • Feats: Piranha Attack (1st), Improved Unarmed Strike (Bonus), Monkey Style (Bonus), Monkey Moves (Bonus), Fox Shape (3rd), Monkey Shine (Bonus), Weapon Focus: bite (Bonus), Weapon Finesse (5th), Step Up (Bonus), Dodge (7th), Weapon Focus: claw (9th), Following Step (Bonus), Crane Style (11th), Crane Wing (Bonus), Crane Riposte (13th), Weapon Focus: unarmed strike (Bonus), Quicken Blessing (15th), Combat Reflexes (17th), Stand Still (Bonus), Swift Kitsune Shapechanger (Free Choice) (19th)
  • Abilities: AC bonus, aura, blessings (major; animal, good), channel energy, deeds, fervor 5d6, fuse style (2 styles), panache (monk, swashbuckler), sacred armor +4, sacred weapon +4 (2d6), spontaneous casting, unarmed strike
  • Cleric 6th-Level Spells per Day: 1
  • Cleric 5th-Level Spells per Day: 3
  • Cleric 4th-Level Spells per Day: 4
  • Cleric 3rd-Level Spells per Day: 5
  • Cleric 2nd-Level Spells per Day: 5
  • Cleric 1st-Level Spells per Day: 5
  • Cleric Orisons per Day: 5

End Game! And we JUST manage to get 6th level spells! Nice!

Featwise, I don’t have much for you. Quicken Blessing for faster claws and animal friends, Combat Reflexes for more attacks of opportunity, Stand Still if you want it, and Swift Kitsune Shapechanger if you want to shapeshift faster. (That last one’s optional.) Really, at this stage of the game, the higher-level spells are your reward, as you get some pretty potent spells at this level in the game.

With all this in mind, let’s look at a pretty typical set-up for our fox.

  • Base Abilities: Str 8, Dex 16, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 15, Cha 16
  • Ability Modifiers: +4 Dex (Fox Shape), Belt of Dex/Con +6, Headband of Wis +6, character advancements in Con (1), Wis (1), and Dex (3).
  • Final Abilities: Str 8, Dex 29, Con 20, Int 10, Wis 22, Cha 16
  • AC: 45 = 10 + 9 Dex + 6 Wis + 8 natural armor (w/ ironskin), + 5 deflection (shield of faith or ring), +5 dodge (Dodge plus Crane Style plus Acrobatics ranks) + 2 luck (jingasa of the fortunate soldier with fate’s favored trait); you also get an effective +4 dodge while you’re in another creature’s space and you can use Crane Wing to gain another +4 dodge against one attack, usually the first attack.
  • Attacks: 2d6 per attack if Medium, 1d6 if Small. Attack bonus is 15 BAB + 9 Dex + enhancement bonus (easily +5 because of sacred weapon) + 2 size for +31/+26/+21. One bite attack at +31, two claw attacks at +31, for a total of +31/+31/+31/+26/+21. Each attack does weapon damage + 9 (Dex) + enhancement bonus (+5), and +8 (Piranha Attack, which lowers all attack rolls by –4). If you’re fighting someone evil, you can use the good blessing for an extra +1d6 damage. You also may be able to add flaming, frost, or shock to your weapon with sacred weapon.

In short, this build is designed for options, especially at high levels. Regardless of whether you’re in kitsune or fox form, you can use all of the natural attacks described here. Typically, kitsune form is going to have higher damage dice but +2 less damage from your Dexterity bonus (an acceptable trade) while your fox form will grant you a whopping +5 Dexterity, plus the ability to enter your foe’s space for additional defenses and harrying power. Ultimately, it comes down to what you need; if you want to bug and harry an opponent as a fox while slowly whittling them away before returning to your true form for the kill, you can totally do that! (And as a matter of fact, you might want to check out the Vulpine Pounce feat if you do that; you could literally bug an opponent until they withdraw from you, and then just charge them down in your true form with Vulpine Pounce and STILL get all of your attacks. That’s just mean.

Next week, to counteract all of this damage and scariness, I got something a little more lovey-dubby for you. Make sure you come on back to Iconic Design next week for the Iconic Design that no one asked for and no one wants. Take care!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue and his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune FOXMONKEYMOUSECRANE!

Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at http://www.everybodygames.net, or support him personally on Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/eversagarpg.


  1. Minor problem – Cat’s Grace isn’t on the cleric list.

  2. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    You also have the option of picking up Divine Protection (Charisma to all saves) since you’re a Warpriest. I kind of expected to see Lunge in here as that clears up the only issue the build has, being unable to threaten squares around it. With Lunge and Stand Still, if they try and do more than 5-ft step away from you, you can try and force them to remain in an adjacent square so you can 5-ft step and full attack in their square.

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      I didn’t take Divine Protection because I feel guilty telling people to take it; its SOOOO good.

      Lunge and Stand Still actually don’t work together; unlike Power Attack, Lunge only lasts until the end of your turn and Stand Still builds off of attacks of opportunity. The only other option that I can think of would be to find a way to cast the longarm spell every turn. Ultimately, I didn’t want reach THAT much.

      What I’d REALLY like to see from the PDT is clarification on whether or not a creature’s space is considered to be adjacent to that creature. It would clarify many issues not only for builds like this one, but also for Tiny and smaller creatures in general.

      • Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

        Good point on Lunge, but the nice thing about Lunge is it specifies making the decision before any attack is made. So, technically, one could decide to use Lunge before making the Attack of Opportunity, and the effect of the feat would persist until the end of the players’ next turn (or next round).

        Probably not how it’s intended to work, and it’s highly likely to expect table variance if one tried to use it.

  3. Kyle Hamilton-Lecky Reply to Kyle

    I really love this build and may use a lot of it for a future character. One thing about the deity choice for the Warpriest element though is that Horus, the Egyptian god, is Lawful Neutral and has the Animal Domain. It’s weird because he is not in the Inner Sea Gods deity appendix, but he is in an official Paizo book. Obviously Erastil works, but Horus may provide a little more flexibility for people trying to use the build.

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      Makes sense; Horus isn’t a Core Golarion deity. He’s relatively obscure there because the Egyptian Pantheon left Golarion thousands of years ago.

      A kitsune who worships Horus could be really cool if you used my Kitsune Compendium and made him a firekin (or just flavored him as a fennec fox variant from Osirion for PFS). But unless you take the time to develop the flavor like that, it would be weird to have a Tian Xia kitsune worshiping an ancient, obscure deity.

      • Kyle Hamilton-Lecky Reply to Kyle

        I agree if would totally be a little strange. You would definitely need to make the explanation a core part of your character’s backstory. I just wanted to suggest it for the added flexibility and anything so people don’t have to worship Erastil, the Lawful Good god of patriarchy, is good in my book. Also I didn’t notice you say you were only doing Core deities.

        • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

          Never did. I just try to keep my builds as universal as possible. Stating “Erastil” was even a bit much for what I usually do on Iconic Design. 😉

    • Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

      Horus wasn’t in Inner Sea Gods because Horus was introduced in the Mummy’s Mask AP if I recall correctly.

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