Iconic Design: Oh, Those Carnival Nights

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’ll be looking at an Iconic Design for a combat-ready familiar.

Its great to provide you with fresh, neat ideas every so often but sometimes I want to be selfish and provide you with a build that’s near and dear to my heart. I’ve done this one before during my second Iconic Design article, in which I shared a proposed build that I made for one of my followers. This time, however, you ain’t getting no second fiddle. This time you’re getting a full-on Alex PC build, so if you’ve ever wondered what sort of characters that I play, look no further!

Build Concept

Every now and then I stumble upon a character option that makes me glance twice because of its interesting design and mechanics. Today, such an option is the crown jewel of my entire build. When a buddy of mine asked me if I was interested in playing in Wrath of the Righteous, Paizo’s Mythic Adventure Path, how could I possibly resist playing my most experimental build in what is often talked up to be one of Paizo’s most challenging Adventure Paths. The part that makes this entire scenario icing on the cake is that my build revolves around an archetype for the rogue class. Yup, you heard right folks: for one of the most difficult adventures ever printed, your optimizer Alex is playing a rogue. But not just any rogue….

  • Rogue (Carnivalist): The lynchpin of my entire build, the option that made me do a double take, is the carnivalist archetype. You can find this jewel in the Animal Archive Player Companion, which is one of Paizo’s finest supplements in my humble opinion. The carnivalist archetype is unique among rogue archetypes in that it is the only rogue archetype to date that actually messes with the rogue’s sneak attack damage class feature. (Clarification, Kobolds of Golarion also has an archetype that muddles with sneak attack. Carnivalist is the only one available to PCs of all races.) The carnivalist archetype effectively reduces the rogue’s sneak attack damage by half in order to grant it access to a familiar at 1st level, like a wizard. But unlike a wizard, the rogue’s familiar has the ability to sneak attack. This is flipping awesome, but you won’t see why until later levels.
  • Valet (Familiar Archetype): Also from the Animal Achieve, familiar archetypes (as well as animal companion/mount archetypes) are one of my favorite design implements to evolve from the Player Companion line. Valet is an especially useful one because it essentially grants your familiar all of your teamwork feats at the cost of the Alertness feat. This familiar archetype is vital for the next link in my build’s chain.
  • Bellflower Tiller: I love Prestige Classes and I especially love this Prestige Class, but part of the problem with the Bellflower Tiller is that it grants (and requires) Teamwork Feats but doesn’t provide a way to gain any benefit from them if your party is uncooperative and doesn’t invest in them themselves. Which is why, of course, I decided to throw my middle finger at the party and rely on my familiar to be my best teamwork buddy ever! Teamwork feats aside the Bellflower Tiller prestige class has one of the most powerful self-buffing abilities in the game: scarecrow. In a nutshell, scarecrow grants you a morale bonus equal to half your Bellflower Tiller level against opponents who threaten your allies. A +5 morale bonus on attack and damage rolls is nice to begin with, as it is +1 more then what your friendly neighborhood bard could ever hope to grant you. However, there are tons of ways to make this morale bonus even bigger, which is what my middle game build will aim to accomplish through a number of different means. One of them is the courageous weapon ability, which adds half of your weapon’s enhancement bonus to any morale bonus that you benefit from. The other option that I took that messes with my morale bonus is listed below.
  • Bard (Archaeologist): There are several specific reasons that I chose to pick up a level in archaeologist bard. First, archaeologist trades inspire courage (a morale bonus that wouldn’t stack with my scarecrow ability) for archaeologist’s luck, a luck bonus. Because this is a luck bonus, I don’t even mind that I won’t be a dedicated archaeologist because I’m grabbing the Favored by Fortune faith trait for Ultimate Campaign, which increases all luck bonuses that I receive by +1. This is a fairly standard trick for the archaeologist that works just as well for me. But most importantly of all, I pick up a certain spell known called moment of greatness. Moment of greatness allows me to cast a spell on myself as a standard action that gifts me with a one-time doubling of any morale bonus that I benefit from. A spell that lasts one minute will typically last for one encounter, so at any point during the encounter I can discharge the spell to double my scarecrow’s hit and damage bonus. Additionally, it gave me the opportunity to pick up charm person, which is a nice spell to have when you’re a kitsune with a +1 racial bonus to the spell DC of enchantment spells. (And you know I’m going to be that kitsune!)
  • Sleepless Detective: Another Prestige Class! Sleepless Detective is a nice trick that I like to use to quickly get into Prestige Classes that require sneak attack dice. Relatively painless to get into, Sleepless Detective only asks that I have the Alertness feat and some skill ranks. Ironically enough I traded away the Alertness feat with my familiar archetype, but I don’t mind taking it as a regular feat in exchange for an extra sneak attack die one level sooner and the awesome ability to add my smashingly good Intelligence modifier to Perception and Sense Motive skill checks.
  • Fighter (Lore Warden): Rounding out my build are levels of Lore Warden, because I need two Teamwork Feats to get into Bellflower Tiller and I don’t want to have to feat starve myself to meet the Prestige Class’s prerequisites. In addition to an easy Combat Expertise feat, I also get two extra skill points for each of my fighter levels, which is a great benefit.

Early Levels (1–7)

  • Classes: Bard (Archaeologist) 1, Rogue (Carnivalist) 2, Fighter (Lore Warden) 2, Sleepless Detective 1, Bellflower Tiller 1
  • Feats: Alertness (1st), Power Attack (3rd), Precise Strike (Bonus), Combat Expertise (Bonus), Improved Feint (Bonus), Feint Partner (5th), Evolved Familiar: reach (7th)
  • Abilities: Archaeologist’s Luck +1 (4+Cha rounds), Bardic Knowledge +1, Bellflower Crop, Evasion, Familiar, Forensic Thaumaturgy, Pet Performance (fascinate; 6+Cha rounds), Sneak Attack +2d6, Swift Sower +10 ft., Trapfinding +1, Uncanny Sleuth
  • Spells (1st): charm person, moment of greatness
  • Spells (0): ghost sound, mage hand, message, prestidigitation

So, by Level 7 things haven’t quite come together yet. I have a familiar as a 2nd level wizard would (not impressive) who can sneak attack for +2d6 (pretty cool) and has the precise strike and feint partner teamwork feats (nifty). At 7th level, I manage to pick up the eidolon’s reach evolution using Evolved Familiar, which allows my familiar to flank opponents. (Normally a Tiny creature can’t flank because it has a reach of 0; this evolution fixes that problem nicely.) Until then, Precise Strike is something of a dead Teamwork Feat but it is worth an extra sneak attack die at 7th level. Some people forget that the familiar is one of the best multiclass options in the game: it uses my base attack bonus for its base attack bonus, my saving throws for its own, and my skill ranks for its own and its hit points always equal half of mine. It is squishy, but not disastrously so.

On my end of things, I have a versatile skill set and the ability to grant myself a +2 luck bonus for a number of rounds each day. I managed to pick up Power Attack for extra damage and my fighter levels really expand the weapons at my disposal (I personally use a nodachi) and by grabbing Lore Warden, I was able to pick up Improved Feint, which allows me to use my winning combo faster: essentially, when I feint both my familiar and I can make sneak attacks. This is extremely useful before I pick up Evolved Familiar, as it’s the only way for my familiar to be able to catch my opponent off-guard, and therefore be able to sneak attack at all. Furthermore my familiar has all my ranks in Bluff (though none of my Charisma), so it isn’t horrible at feinting in combat if it needs to. This build’s biggest weakness is the fact that my familiar needs to be in my opponent’s space in order to attack until 7th level: what I often have to do is provoke attacks of opportunity on my character in order to ensure that my familiar can safely move into position.

Another one of this build’s weaknesses is the huge number of skill points needed in order to qualify for all of my prestige classes. I need 40 points by 6th level, so an Intelligence of at least 14 is necessary to make this build work. That’s all well and good considering that the Sleepless Detective prestige class gives me a small skill boost as a reward for my Intelligence. All in all, my build is very fun to play at this level, although I’m often scared out of my mind that my familiar is going to perish!

Mid Levels (8 –14)

  • Classes: Bard (Archaeologist) 1, Rogue (Carnivalist) 2, Fighter (Lore Warden) 2, Sleepless Detective 1, Bellflower Tiller 8
  • Feats: Alertness (1st), Power Attack (3rd), Precise Strike (Bonus), Combat Expertise (Bonus), Improved Feint (Bonus), Feint Partner (5th), Evolved Familiar: reach (7th), Paired Opportunists (Teamwork), Lingering Performance (9th), Combat Reflexes (11th), Improved Feint Partner (Teamwork), Bodyguard (13th)
  • Abilities: Archaeologist’s Luck +1 (4+Cha rounds), Bardic Knowledge +1, Bellflower Crop, Crop Guardian, Evasion, Familiar, Favored Barn (three settlements), Forensic Thaumaturgy, Pet Performance (fascinate; 6+Cha rounds), Scarecrow +4, Sneak Attack +4d6, Swift Sower +20 ft., Trapfinding +1, Uncanny Sleuth
  • Spells (1st): charm person, moment of greatness
  • Spells (0): ghost sound, mage hand, message, prestidigitation

By the mid-game, the build really starts coming together. I finally pick up scarecrow and my morale has never been higher as a result. Bellflower Tiller has a few extra class features that I can’t predict for; favored barn, which makes a community more hospitable to me, is such an option. Crop guardian makes my aid another attempts better, which is part of the reason I splurged for the Bodyguard feat by 13th level, and the improved speed on my swift sowing ability is nice considering we have to deal with a party member in full-plate; swift sowing allows my group members to use my speed (which receives a bonus) instead of their own when determining the group’s overland movement speed.

Let’s look at my familiar, shall we? Now that it has reach and a respectable +4d6 sneak attack die, it’s looking pretty deadly. It can flank with me now, so Precise Strike is going to bump that dice-age for both of us to +5d6 and whenever one of us feints, the other gets a free attack of opportunity via Improved Feint Partner. Most of the time I’ll be doing the feinting, as it’s a move action for me and a standard action for my familiar, but in play sometimes its easier for my familiar to feint, which nets me more attacks.

Now, you can wield whatever weapons you want with this build, but I personally wield a nodachi for the critical threat range (thank you, fighter proficiencies!). Now what I plan on doing around this level is grapping a glove of storing and a rod of quickening for my personal use. A glove of storing allows me to store or draw the item within it as a free action while the rod of quickening allows me to cast a spell with the Quicken Spell metamagic feat three times per day. I will never have the spell slots to quicken moment of greatness on my own, and considering that I only have about three spells per day at this level anyway, the rod/glove combo is an excellent way to pull off moment of greatness without sacrificing too much. My full-damage round requires a bit of set-up, but its worth it: start archaeologist’s luck on the prior round and on my death-round, end it, causing it to linger for 2 more rounds thanks to my Lingering Performance feat. During the lingering rounds, I can, if I want, use my road of quickening before I attack to double my morale bonus to hit and damage from scarecrow. All in all, a nice combo! As you can see, using my familiar to fight alongside me is one trick in my arsenal, not my entire strategy.

Endgame (15+)

  • Classes: Bard (Archaeologist) 5, Rogue (Carnivalist) 2, Fighter (Lore Warden) 2, Sleepless Detective 1, Bellflower Tiller 10
  • Feats: Alertness (1st), Power Attack (3rd), Precise Strike (Bonus), Combat Expertise (Bonus), Improved Feint (Bonus), Feint Partner (5th), Evolved Familiar: reach (7th), Paired Opportunists (Teamwork), Lingering Performance (9th), Combat Reflexes (11th), Improved Feint Partner (Teamwork), Bodyguard (13th), Coordinated Charge (Teamwork), Skill Focus: any Knowledge (15th), Eldritch Heritage: arcane (17th), Greater Feint (19th).
  • Abilities: Archaeologist’s Luck +2 (4+Cha rounds), Bardic Knowledge +2, Bellflower Crop, Clever Explorer +2, Crop Guardian, Evasion, Familiar, Favored Barn (three settlements), Forensic Thaumaturgy, Lore Master 1/day, Pet Performance (fascinate; 6+Cha rounds), Rogue Talent (offensive defensive), Scarecrow +5, Sneak Attack +5d6, Swift Sower +20 ft., Trap Sense +1, Trapfinding +1, Uncanny Dodge, Uncanny Sleuth
  • Spells (2nd): any two
  • Spells (1st): charm person, compel hostility, cure light wounds, moment of greatness
  • Spells (0): detect magic, ghost sound, mage hand, message, prestidigitation, read magic

So here we are at the home stretch. Pretty cool, eh? The thing I really like about this build is that my sneak attack damage is exactly the same compared to a standard carnivalist. Sure, I’m behind a core rogue by a lot, but I’m pleased with what I receive in return. I have two easily acquired bonuses on attack and damage rolls, which covers one of the rogue’s weaknesses. Once that final level of Bellflower Tiller is acquired at 16th level, however, the build is open to several different paths of progression. For example, taking four levels of carnivalist grants 1 additional sneak attack die (at 20th level), two more pet performances (distraction and Sleight of Hand), and a bonus on Handle Animal skill checks. Four levels of lore warden grants two more bonus feats, the maneuver master ability, and weapon training. Four levels of archaeologist grants a handful of additional spells per day and spells known, trap sense, a better version of trapfinding, a rogue talent, one use of lore master, and an improvement to archaeologist’s luck. The other route that you could do is the Master Spy prestige class; you would have to drop two feats from the build for Deceitful and Iron Will, however: I think that the easiest feats to drop in this regard are Combat Reflexes and Bodyguard. Master spy grants a handful of neat disguise-themed abilities as well as two more dice of sneak attack damage.

Ultimately it depends upon what you value as a player: if you want more sneak attack damage dice than a standard carnivalist, taking your levels either in rogue or master spy is your best choice. If you want more combat feats, maybe to specialize in a combat maneuver late-game, lore warden is the better choice. If you want to improve your numerical bonuses and get some diverse tricks, archaeologist is your best bet. Personally, I picked archaeologist: the extra +1 luck bonus, the rogue talent, and the additional spells per day and spells known were enough to dissuade me from taking levels in rogue or master spy.

In terms of my feats, I made sure to finally budget in Eldritch Heritage: arcane for the arcane bond class feature. If you select the arcane bloodline’s arcane bond with Eldritch Heritage, you get a familiar as a wizard level equal to your character level –2 and my rogue levels give me a familiars a wizard equal to my rogue level (currently 2nd level). This means that Eldritch Heritage’s penalty is cancelled out my by rogue level, so towards the end of the game I’ll have a familiar as a wizard of my level. Pretty nice for a two-feat investment, especially because the valet familiar has a bunch of cool aid another options, like being able to aid up to three allies at once.

In terms of spells, I’m mostly inclined to take spells that fit with the theme of my character and mesh with the kitsune racial bonus on enchantment spells. To that end, I like compel hostility as a spell although I’m not convinced on whether or not it’ll be useful at the level I’m taking it at. For my second level spells, I’ve narrowed my choices down to invisibility, suggestion, or allegro. Invisibility is one of those spells that you’d take regardless of what spell level it was given to you and suggestion is a neat spell that fits well with my kitsune racial bonus. Allegro is extremely tempting, however, as archaeologist’s luck counts as a bardic performance for its purposes and being able to cast a low-level haste on myself during a bardic performance is pretty neat.

Archaeologist grants rogue talents, so I like this option for its ability to grant me my absolute favorite rogue talent: offensive defensive. Even though I don’t have as many sneak attack dice as a true rogue, a +5 dodge bonus to my AC is nothing to scoff at and I value any ability that helps me keep myself alive, because let’s face it: when you’re a rogue, the enemy most likely to attack you is often the one you’re directly stabbing. That’s just how life works for the rogue, which is why offensive defensive is such a great rogue talent. I’ll take it in droves. I also really love the increased luck bonus, did I mention that?


Because this character was designed for Wrath of the Righteous, I should probably include my mythic content. Did I mention that the adventure path that we’re playing in is Wrath of the Righteous? I probably should have, eh?

  • Mythic Path: Marshal (decisive strike)
  • Mythic Path Abilities: Loyalty (1st), Directed Assault (2nd), Path Dabbling: Transformative Familiar (3rd), Press the Advantage (4th), Master of Escape (5th), Precision Critical (6th), Combat Buffoonery (7th), ???
  • Mythic Feats: Power Attack (1st), Dual Path: trickster (surprise strike) (3rd), Combat Reflexes (5th), ???

And there you have it; my personal character build for the Wrath of the Righteous adventure path! What do you think? Is this a build that you would like to see played at your table, or does it have too many parts? How far do you think I’ll get before I die a horrible death at the hands of Deskari? What mythic powers do you think I should take as my 8th, 9th, and 10th tier abilities? How about my final Mythic feat? Right now I’m leaning towards Extra Path Ability and either becoming a demigod or taking a legendary weapon, but I’m not 100% decided. Leave your answers and comments below and I hope to see you next time on Iconic Design!

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, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune harrower, and his favorite pastime is getting paid.

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.

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