Iconic Design — Some Kind of Dino-Cat-Cow-Thing?

I know many of my readers have been waiting for me to talk about Ultimate Wilderness’s new class, the shifter. This is tricky for me to talk about because I’m a contributing author for the product, but I’m going to do my best.

I don’t like Ultimate Wilderness’s new class, the shifter.

Now, to clarify, I don’t like the class’s execution. Personally, my math indicates that it’s a perfectly fine class damage-wise. I don’t care for the flavor—I don’t think ‘nature-paladin’ is a good niche for a class to fill, and frankly I wanted a class that wasn’t intrinsically tied to nature worship. I also think the class is too bare-bones in its features when compared to the two classes that are most similar to the shifter mechanically (monk) and thematically (paladin). More then this, I think I’m disappointed that the existing of the shifter likely means that Pathfinder will never get the sort of shapeshifter I want. (Good think I wrote it myself in Paranormal Adventures, I guess.)

Anyway, back to my, “The shifter’s not a bad class,” comment. There’s stuff you can do it with it—there’s just not MUCH stuff you can do with it. In any case, I think the build I have to show you today is pretty indicative of the shifter’s powers.

Build Concept

Any information important to understanding the build or its roots goes here.

  • Classes: shifter 12
  • Feats: Weapon Finesse (1st), Shifter’s Edge (3rd), Power Attack (5th), Mutated Shape (7th), Weapon Focus (claws) (9th), Shifter’s Rush (11th)
  • Abilities: chimeric aspect, defensive instinct +3, shifter aspect, shifter claws (1d8; bypass cold iron and silver), second aspect, third aspect, track, trackless step, wild empathy, wild shape (5/day)
  • Aspects: Tiger (1st); Deinonychus (5th); Bull (10th)

Play Description

So comparing shapeshifters is hard because polymorph effects add a LOT of crazy stuff into the mix. First, to evaluate this build I’m going to start with some notes, because for a class that’s supposed to be the “beginner’s guide to polymorph effects,” this class is actually kind of complicated, and not always in good ways.

First off is defensive instinct. It’s this neat little ability that allows you to add your Wisdom to your AC, as well as a scaling +1 bonus almost exactly like the monk’s progression. This ability has a clause that’s likely supposed to be ‘neat,’ but it’s actually a giant trap. The clause is that if you wear armor as a shifter, you continue to benefit from half of your Wisdom bonus from defensive instinct. Friends, I cannot stress this enough—this is a HUGE mechanical trap because of this FAQ from a few years ago. Basically, if you wild shape into a new form while wearing armor, this FAQ states that you still count as wearing armor, and gain all of the penalties but none of the bonuses for doing so. This means that if you wildshape into something as a shifter, you lose your armor bonus to AC as per the standard rules for polymorph effects, but your defensive instinct doesn’t return back to equal your full Wisdom bonus. Basically, you turn off your armor and get half benefit from your class feature. As a result, I recommend going Dex-based shifter with a smattering of Strength, and just run around with no armor. Buy bracers of armor. They’ll stack with your defensive instinct without reducing it, and when you wild shape the bonus will go away, but at least you still have full Wisdom.

Another big trap in the shifter is the claws—at a glance, they make it look like you’ll ultimately stop caring about amulets of mighty fist but in actuality, the only DR that the shifter can’t naturally overcome is DR/magic and you’re probably going to still want that enhancement bonus to boost your accuracy and damage. Sorry, neck slot is still spoken for! (It’s a shame because the amulet of natural armor would have been SUPER useful for you.)

So, when building a shifter there are a couple of different builds you can do, but I personally think that tiger / raptor / bull is the best progression. If you take Weapon Finesse at 1st level, your tiger minor aspect will translate into a helpful bonus to Hit, while raptor comes online at 5th level. Raptor has the most natural attacks in the game currently, and throwing lots of dice is usually best when it comes to natural attacks because their damage tends to be low. Finally, bull comes online right after you get chimeric aspect, so you can fuse tiger / bull with your raptor shape for enhancement bonuses to your Str and Dex. It’s useful, and ultimately it’ll likely mean that you don’t need to worry about spending your gold on stat belts. (Instead, you’ll get to spend it on bracers and amulets! Yaaaaay!)

Now, like I said, I am totally going to provide you with some hard-fought math today. As a warning, math on polymorph builds tends to be REALLY tough because you have a whole bunch of different weapons that you’re rolling with. I’m assuming our guy doesn’t have an amulet of mighty fists (I can’t predict when your GM will give you loot and at what pace, sorry), and for our wild shape I’m assuming Deinonychus with tiger / bull minor aspects active. I’m also assuming you’re using the Mutated Shape feat to grow a pair of horns for a gore attack.

True Form

  • Ability Scores: Str 18 , Dex 25, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 14, Cha 8 (This includes +4 enhancement to Str and Dex from Bull and Tiger aspect.)
  • AC: 26 [22 when wild shaped] (10 + 7 Dex + 2 Wis, + 3 dodge + 4 armor)
  • BAB: +12
  • Claw Attacks: +18 to hit, 1d8+12 for damage.
  • With Power Attack, that’s –4 to attack rolls and +12 to primary attack damage rolls / +4 to secondary attack damage rolls.
  • AC of a typical CR 12 enemy is 27, so each claw has a 55% chance to hit baseline (you need a 9 or better), or a 35% chance to hit if you Power Attack (you need a 14 or better).
  • Average Damage (Normal): 9.075 damage PH (9 of 20 hits, average damage is 16.5.)
  • Average Damage (PA): 4 damage PH (8 of 20 hits, average damage is 28.5)

Deinonychus Form

  • Ability Scores: Str 20 , Dex 25, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 14, Cha 8 (This includes +4 enhancement to Str and Dex from Bull and Tiger aspect.)
  • AC: 26 [22 when wild shaped] (10 + 7 Dex + 2 Wis, + 3 dodge + 4 armor)
  • BAB: +12
  • Primary Melee Attack: +18 [+19 if claws] (1d6+13 or 1d8+13 for claws)
  • Secondary Melee Attack: +13 (1d6+8)
  • With Power Attack, that’s –4 to attack rolls and +12 to primary attack damage rolls / +4 to secondary attack damage rolls.
  • Primary Melee Attack (Foreclaws): 10.5 damage PH (12 of 20 hits, average damage 17.5)
  • Foreclaws with Power Attack: 13.275 damage PH damage (9 of 20 hits, average damage 29.5)
  • Primary Melee Attack (Gore/Bite): 9.075 damage PH (11 of 20 hits, average damage is 16.5)
  • Gore/Bite with Power Attack: 11.4 damage PH (8 of 20 hits, average damage is 28.5)
  • Secondary Melee Attack (talons): 4.025 damage PH (7 of 20 hits, average damage is 11.5)
  • Talons with Power Attack: 3.525 damage PH (3 of 20 hits, average damage is 23.5)

Average Hit / Average Damage Full Attack

  • Normal (claw/claw): 18.15 damage PH; 22.8 damage per Power Attack
  • Wild Shape (claw/claw/bite/talon/talon): 52.75 damage PH; 56.4 damage per Power Attack

So basically, our shifter is looking at an average of 52.75 damage per full attack while wild shaped, or 56.4 damage if she Power Attacks. As an average (meaning that we’re rolling 20 attacks and assuming we roll every number on the die once, which translates to a fair number of misses for 0 damage) 50-ish damage for a 12th level character is pretty average—it’s very close to what my arcane/abyssal crossblooded bloodrager did in Waking Rune. So while I don’t like the shifter class and don’t think I’ll be building another one on my blog unless some super-cool build or archetype gets released in the future, I also don’t think it’s a bad class. But whenever Pathfinder 2.0 rolls around, I certainly hope we get something that takes more risks in its design space. If you think you’ve done something cool with the shifter, then by all means, leave me your thoughts in the comments below. I could REALLY use something to get excited over with this class.

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 Alexs 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. If you like Alex's writing and are interested in supporting him while getting professional-quality material for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game while doing so, check out the Everyman Gaming, LLC catalog, which is listed under Rogue Genius Games at the following locations: http://drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/6101/Rogue-Genius-Games/subcategory/19574_25289/Everyman-Gaming-Catalog

1 Comment

  1. Oh man. I feel bad for the class after you linked that FAQ, but I couldn’t help but chuckle. Poor guys.

    When I got my hands on the class’ info, I kind of struggled to come up with a concept. It was flavor that won out when I thought up a ‘noble’ from Ustalav. Half Orc with the Toothy alternate racial trait, the Pass for Human feat, and Necromantic Affinity. My first two aspects would be Wolf and Bat, mostly for utility, while I played him up like a Gangrel from Vampire the Masqurade.

    Of course, my true love is for the Oozemorph archetype. And while I haven’t been this excited for a player option since the APG Summoner, but I acknowledge that it’s lack of definitions make it enough of an undefined RAW nightmare that I’ll likely never see it in PFS. I mean, come on, Reddit and the Paizo forums have figured out that Oozemorphs are technically more powerful if you break your class rules and teach Druidic to a non-druid to lose the more debilitating features. That would be like an Oracle curing their curse (but keeping spells/etc) by doing a Very Bad Thing.

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