Iconic Design: Quick Draw McGraw

Welcome to Iconic Design, Private Sanctuary’s source for innovative and evocative character builds for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be looking at a build for a shieldmarshal build.

A few months ago, I got a request for a Shieldmarshal build, a gunslinging prestige class from Paths of Prestige. I figured that I’m on a roll with fixing up my arcane trickster build, so why not give this one a shot too? (See the pun? See it? SEE IT?)

Alright, I’ll move on now.

Build Concept

Here’s the basics of our build!

  • Race: Any. I’m going to assume you’re human because you’re from Alkenstar, but there’s no reason to restrict this race. If you go human, Precise Shot is your human bonus feat, and you take Deadly Aim at Level 3.
  • Gunslinger (Musket Master): I like me some d12s, so muskets it is! Plus their slightly better version of gun training is pretty attractive.
  • Shieldmarshal: Honestly, this isn’t a GREAT prestige class, so I’m only going to be dipping my toes into it for a single purpose: danger sense. Initiative bonuses plus the ability to act on all surprise rounds? Yes please.
  • Inquisitor (Sanctified Slayer): Halt in the name of Abadar! Yes, murder all the things for your god! Sure, having sneak attack dice normally isn’t great for a ranged character, but who cares? As you’ll soon see, your initiative will be so monstrous that if a surprise round ever happens, chances are you’re going to murder face with a sneak attack musket shot.

Have I piped your interest yet? Good! Step this way, and see this build for yourself!

Early Levels (1–7)

  • Classes: gunslinger (musket master) 5, shieldmarshal 2
  • Feats: Rapid Reload: muskets (Bonus), Point-Blank Shot (1st), Precise Shot (3rd), Rapid Shot (Bonus), Quick Draw (5th), Deadly Aim (7th)
  • Abilities: danger sense, deeds, eye for detail, gunmarshal, legal judgment 1/day, grit, gunsmith, musket training (muskets), nimble +1

Early levels, this build is a fairly standard gunslinger build. Rapid Reload, Point-Blank Shot, Precise Shot, and Rapid Shot are your bread and butter. Deadly Aim is needed for damage. Quick Draw not only synergizes well with the gunslinger’s initiative deed, but it is also a prerequisite for the shieldmarshal prestige class.

Form the shieldmarshal, we get the AWESOME ability to act in all surprise rounds, much like divination wizards can, plus a small bump to our initiative bonuses. That said, shieldmarshal’s offerings aren’t great; we can do better in other classes, as you’ll soon see.

Let’s move on to the mid levels!

Mid Levels (8 –14)

  • Classes: gunslinger (musket master) 5, shieldmarshal 2, inquisitor (sanctified slayer) 7
  • Feats: Rapid Reload: muskets (Bonus), Point-Blank Shot (1st), Precise Shot (3rd), Rapid Shot (Bonus), Quick Draw (5th), Deadly Aim (7th), Improved Initiative (9th), Friendly Fire Maneuvers (Bonus), Clustered Shot (11th), Coordinated Shot (Bonus), Extended Bane (13th)
  • Abilities: bane, cunning initiative, danger sense, discern lies, deeds, detect alignment, domain (tactics inquisition), eye for detail, gunmarshal, legal judgment 1/day, grit, gunsmith, monster lore, musket training (muskets), nimble +1, sneak attack +2d6, stern gaze, studied target +1, track
  • 3rd-Level Inquisitor Spell (1): heroism, ANY ONE
  • 2nd-Level Inquisitor Spells (3): invisibility, ANY THREE
  • 1st-Level Inquisitor Spells (4): divine favor, heightened awareness, litany of sloth, longshot
  • 0-Level Inquisitor Spells: brand, detect magic, light, read magic, sift, stabilize

So I’m really banking on this idea of the gunslinger with the fastest draw with this build, and going inquisitor helps this fantasy. A lot. First, at 2nd level, all inquisitors add their Wisdom to initiative checks, and Wisdom just happens to be the key ability score for the gunslinger’s grit. Neat! I also picked the tactics inquisition because at 8th level (which’ll be endgame for this build, but I digress) it adds the gunslinger’s Wisdom to ALL allies’ initiative, which is fantastic.

I’m also picking up Improved Initiative and taking heightened awareness as a 1st-level spell known for even more initiative shenanigans, and I’m trading judgment for studied target and sneak attack dice with the sanctified slayer archetype. This means that when you go first, you get to blow someone’s brains out with sneak attack. Makes winning initiative all the more satisfying. Around 12th level, you also get BANE, which is perhaps the most beautiful damage-dealing ability in the game. With your initiative, anyone that you beat in initative is likely getting a bane sneak attack gun shot right to the face, which is going to HURT.

What spells you pick with this build generally don’t matter too much, aside from heightened awareness. I tended to pick things that were generally useful, but am leaving most of the choices up to you. Fill your party’s gaps as you need to; you’re going to be a damage-dealing CANNON, so you might as well fill some other roles while you’re at it.

Let’s take a peak at the end game before we wrap this build up.

Endgame (15+)

  • Classes: gunslinger (musket master) 5, shieldmarshal 2, inquisitor (sanctified slayer) 13
  • Feats: Rapid Reload: muskets (Bonus), Point-Blank Shot (1st), Precise Shot (3rd), Rapid Shot (Bonus), Quick Draw (5th), Deadly Aim (7th), Improved Initiative (9th), Friendly Fire Maneuvers (Bonus), Clustered Shot (11th), Coordinated Shot (Bonus), Extended Bane (13th), Extra Bane (15th), FREEBIE (Bonus), Point-Blank Master (17th), FREEBIE (Bonus), Warrior Priest (19th)
  • Abilities: bane, cunning initiative, danger sense, discern lies, deeds, detect alignment, domain (tactics inquisition), eye for detail, gunmarshal, legal judgment 1/day, greater bane, grit, gunsmith, monster lore, musket training (muskets), nimble +1, sneak attack +4d6, stalwart, stern gaze, studied target +1, talented slayer, track
  • Slayer Talents: X (8th)
  • 5th-Level Inquisitor Spells (1): ANY TWO
  • 4th-Level Inquisitor Spells (3): ANY FOUR
  • 3rd-Level Inquisitor Spells (4): heroism, ANY FOUR
  • 2nd-Level Inquisitor Spells (5): invisibility, ANY FOUR
  • 1st-Level Inquisitor Spells (5): divine favor, heightened awareness, litany of sloth, longshot, ANY TWO
  • 0-Level Inquisitor Spells: brand, detect magic, light, read magic, sift, stabilize, ANY ONE

And boy, does this build know how to end a game. +4d6 sneak attack (or +5d6 if you want to swap out Extra Bane for Accomplished Sneak Attacker) AND +4d6+2 bane damage. Pinch me, I’m dreaming. On top of that, you end with 5th level inquisitor spells and a bunch of useful class features and abilities, including one slayer talent of your choice. (If you want to go damage, take combat trick and pick Accomplished Sneak Attacker, but you honestly don’t NEED that extra d6 of damage if you don’t want it.) Warrior Priest isn’t the most optimal choice, but it is a nice way to squeeze a little extra initiative out of this build.

And here’s our FINAL initiative tracker, not including any magic items you find! Dex + Wis + 4 (Improved Initiative) + 2 (Reactionary) + 4 (Heightened Awareness) +2 (gunslinger’s initiative) + 1 Warrior Priest + 1 (Danger Sense) = Dex + Wis + 14.

In short, you win initiative. Period.

I hope you enjoy this build! I’ll be back next week for some more Pathfinder goodness, both on Guidance and in Iconic Design. What did you think of this build? Is this something you would use? If not, what turns you off? Would you have rather seen me do a full 10-level shieldmarshal build? What sort of characters or options do you want to see me tackle next? Leave your comments below, and I’ll see you back here next time at the Know Direction Network! 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 also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.

Alex Augunas

Alexander Augunas lives outside of Philadelphia, USA where he tries to make a living as an educator. When he's not shaping the future leaders of tomorrow, Alex is a freelance writer for esteemed Pathfinder Roleplaying Game publishers such as Paizo, Inc, Radiance House, Raging Swan Press, and more, and also acts as a co-host and blogger on the Know Direction Network, where he has earned the nickname, "The Everyman Gamer." Recently, Alex has forayed into the realm of self-publishing through his company, Everyman Gaming, LLC.

2 Comments

  1. Joe Ducey Reply to Joe

    Since you were asked to do shieldmarshal, I understand the choice, otherwise I would have said a 1 level dip in Diviner Wizard gets you the same bonus (plus a familiar which could get you another +4 to Initative). I will say I like the 3rd level ability of shieldmarshals to open doors as a swift. I think most GMs ignore the move action to open a door, but if yours doesn’t it’s a nice ability. Also, getting half-levels that stack with Gunslinger deeds is pretty nice. Going either Shieldmarshal 4, or gunslinger 6 gets you the 7th level deeds which are better than advertised IMO. Targeting for disarm/trip/confusion, Startling is can be a great debuff for the party as it makes the target flat-footed for a round, or a deed that mimics Clustered Shots. Of course this loses 5th level spell casting (and potentially greater bane if you go Shieldmarshal 4, instead of Gunslinger 6), which can be pretty significant losses. (I disagree generally with the idea that 5 is the time to get out of Gunslinger, since I think 7 gets you a set of abilities that help the rest of the party shine, instead of more I didn’t misfire so I hit and do damage.)

    If you picked a non-human race Ifrit gets you another +4 as an alternate racial trait for a Dex + Wis + 22 + magic items (Wildfire Heart). (Of course that -Wis hurts.)

    Solid Build all around (despite my general dislike of the Gunslinger as a class – mechanically not flavor-wise). (Honestly the build probably favors a human to get the extra feat at the beginning to start with Precise and Point-Blank and get to Deadly Aim and Clustered Shots earlier) I would normally suggest Improved Precise Shot for a ranged character but the fact is Gunslingers just don’t need it.

  2. It’s cool to see someone get creative with a “meh” prestige class like shieldmarshal and turn it into something that can really poor on the pain. Though I’m surprised you haven’t done a Kitsune gunslinger build yet, the sweet dex bonus and wacky feats could make for fun fox gunners even if they do scream “Mysterious Stranger”. At least to me anyway.

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