Iconic Design: Sleuthin’ and Shootin’

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 steel hound Iconic Design.

The investigator gets a really bad rep for being a no-combat class. I say phooey! The investigator is VERY good at combat, but its not good at combat in the same way that a barbarian or a slayer is good at combat. An investigator is a master of debuffs and hindering enemies while buffing himself (or his allies) with his extracts.

Anyway, in order to show my point, I’ve decided to do an investigator build today. Our topic today is the steel hound!

Build Concept

All right, here are the moving parts of our steel hound build:

  • Investigator (Steel Hound): This firearm-specialist archetype for the investigator is our focus point for today’s build. The steel hound’s ability to shoot at touch AC is going to be very valuable in the early game where the investigator lacks many combat abilities. It’ll also make pulling off our nasty debuff much easier.
  • Gunslinger: We’ll be taking one level of gunslinger; read on for why.
  • Race: As always, I’m not assuming any particular race with this build. Since the investigator is Intelligence-based, the gunslinger is Wisdom-based, and both are going to need Dexterity, you have a lot of flexibility as long as you don’t take any of those three stats as a dump stat. Going human is nice because it’ll give you Precise Shot MUCH earlier then we can afford to take it, in which case you can scoot up the build’s feat gain for the most part and add in Extra Grit in the blank spaces. Or even Deadly Aim, considering this build won’t have the feats to pick up Deadly Aim. Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and say that human is pretty awesome for this build, and I’m not really a fan of humans.

All right! With that out of the way, let’s look at the build.

Early Levels (1–7)

  • Classes: gunslinger 1, investigator (steel hound) 6
  • Feats: Gunsmith (Bonus), Point-Blank Shot (1st), Extra Grit (Bonus), Rapid Reload: pistol (Bonus), Weapon Focus (3rd), Ranged Study (5th), Precise Shot (7th)
  • Abilities: deeds (gunslinger 1), grit, inspiration, investigator talent (Rapid Reload, sickening offensive), keen recollection, packing heat, poison resistance +4, shot in the dark, studied strike +2d6, trap sense +2, trapfinding

So, the first thing that this build needs to do is address the major flaw of the steel hound archetype: the steel hound is an archetype build around using firearms at range, but in order to use the investigator’s key offensive class feature (studied combat) you need to meet a specific feat tax. Which you can’t do at the level you acquire studied combat in the first place. This means that normally, you as a gun specialist will have to go an entire level having the studied combat class feature while being unable to use it with your signature weapon. In order to solve this problem, I’m advising that you take a single level of gunslinger at some point before you hit investigator level 4. Starting as gunslinger 1 might be the best choice, since the steel hound archetype doesn’t actually give you a free firearm, so this way you have a weapon to use early on. Personally, I don’t think that any of the gunslinger archetypes are worth it for a 1-level dip, so I’m just going to grab one level of standard gunslinger, take a pistol, and move on to the investigator.

Level 1 of steel hound is as standard as any other 1st-level investigator; things don’t really heat up until Level 2. At Level 2, you trade poison lore (at least, I think its supposed to be poison lore; the current printing says ‘poison use,’ which investigators don’t get) for both Amateur Gunslinger and Gunsmith as bonus feats. We can’t take Gunsmith because we already have it from our dip, but Amateur Gunslinger instantly converts to Extra Grit, which is a fantastic boon. To make it even better, a steel hound can actually pick up Extra Grit and Rapid Reload as bonus feats in place of investigator talents, so you can bet that I’ll be spending some talents on those. Even though 7th level is a long time to go without Precise Shot, by 5th Level I’m picking up Ranged Study and am now looking at a +2 bonus on hit and damage rolls with my firearm, which is nice when you’re shooting at touch AC.

Mid Levels (8 –14)

  • Classes: gunslinger 1 / investigator (steel hound) 13
  • Feats: Gunsmith (Bonus), Point-Blank Shot (1st), Extra Grit (Bonus), Rapid Reload: pistol (Bonus), Weapon Focus (3rd), Ranged Study (5th), Precise Shot (7th), Rapid Shot (9th), Critical Focus: pistol (11th), Improved Critical: pistol(13th)
  • Abilities: deeds (gunslinger 1), grit, inspiration, investigator talent (amazing inspiration, combat inspiration, expanded inspiration, quick study, Rapid Reload, sickening offense), keen recollection, packing heat, poison immunity, shot in the dark, studied strike +5d6, trap sense +4, trapfindingx

Originally, I was going to build this character under the suggestion of my local Pathfinder Society Venture Lieutenant, James McTeague. Basically, back in the day you could use the rogue magic investigator talent to qualify for Arcane Strike, which allowed you to qualify for Riving Strike. This nasty combo would have allowed you to give an extra –2 penalty on saving throws against spells to your enemies, which is pretty sweet. Sadly, that errata went the way of the dinosaurs, so instead I grabbed a bunch of cool critical hit abilities. The idea is to improve your chance to critically hit with the pistol so you can regain grift faster (and deal more damage).

There are a couple of other neat tricks hovering in this build. Amazing inspiration, which increases the investigator’s inspiration die to d8, is fantastic. Combat inspiration, which reduces the inspiration cost of using inspiration on attack rolls and saving throws, is equally incredible, though you’re not often going to need that extra inspiration die for your guns; save it for your saving throws. You also get the incredibly good talented shot ability, which lets you pick gunslinger deeds as investigator talents, but honestly you have all of the best gunslinger deeds already from your one level in the class. That said, there are some excellent gunslinger deeds for us to choose in the end game, so let’s finish off this build once and for all.

Endgame (15+)

  • Classes: gunslinger 1 / investigator (steel hound) 19
  • Feats: Gunsmith (Bonus), Point-Blank Shot (1st), Extra Grit (Bonus), Rapid Reload: pistol (Bonus), Weapon Focus (3rd), Ranged Study (5th), Precise Shot (7th), Rapid Shot (9th), Critical Focus: pistol (11th), Improved Critical: pistol(13th), Inspired Strike (15th), Blind-Fight (17th), Ricochet Shot (19th)
  • Abilities: deeds (gunslinger 1), grit, inspiration, investigator talent (amazing inspiration, combat inspiration, expanded inspiration, improved combat inspiration: pistol, quick study, Rapid Reload, sickening offense, talented shot: expert loading, talented shot: lightning reload), keen recollection, packing heat, poison immunity, shot in the dark, studied strike +8d6, trap sense +6, trapfinding

End game! For our talented shot ability, we’ll be picking up two of the best high-level gunslinger deeds: lightning reload and expert loading. Expert loading helps our investigator keep his gun together while lightning reload allows him to load firearms without provoking attacks of opportunity. I’d take lightning reload at 16th level (investigator 15) and expert loading at 18th level, respective.

Feat-wise, there’s not much left to take by this stage in the game. Since shot in the dark already allows us to ignore concealment, I decided to do the unconvential route and build for Ricochet Shot, which allows for antics like this: shoot the ceiling tile above your target to ignore all cover on side target. It’s a pretty awesome Grit Feat, one of the best for gunslingers by far as long as you’re willing to take the relatively worthless Blind-Fight prerequisite. The final piece that I decided on taking was the 19th-level improved combat inspiration talent. This basically means that our investigator can add inspiration to his pistol attacks without spending any inspiration, so that’s an extra +1d8 on all attack rolls. Pretty nifty, but if we’re being realistic we’re not going to use it much unless we’re shooting outside of touch AC range. The Inspired Strike feat also allows our investigator to add her inspiration die to damage rolls with her weapon. An extra +1d8 damage could be pretty awesome for our build.

One of the more unique things about this build that I ultimately like is that it doesn’t pick up Deadly Aim. The reason is simple: because of Inspired Strike you don’t really need Deadly Aim, especially when you factor in that you’re getting a +9 to hit and damage from studied combat. In truth, this build is on par with a gunslinger in terms of hitting and damaging foes attack bonus-wise, and damage isn’t too far off either. Setting up the studied combat is vital, and if you feel like you already have too much of an attack bonus for this build, I would recommend dropping improved combat inspiration and picking up the domino effect talent from the Advanced Class Origins book. This talent allows you to make any foe that’s adjacent to one of your studied targets into a studied combat target after you hit the already studied target. Confusing, yes. Profitable? Even more so.

And that’s all I got to see about my steel hound build this week. What do you think? Leave your questions and comments below and in the meantime, I’ll be back with another build next Friday and another article on Monday. 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 steel hound. Although I guess I should call it a ‘steel fox’ instead.

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. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    “The reason is simple: between having Inspired Strike (anywhere from +1 to +8) and Arcane Strike (+4 at this point), you don’t really need Deadly Aim, especially when you factor in that you’re getting a +9 to hit and damage from studied combat. ”

    Left over from the previous build?

    Also, why not take Siege Gunner Gunslinger, this lets you use your Intelligence for Grit instead of Wisdom. If you forgo taking ‘Extra Grit’ in place of Amateur Gunslinger, you can keep access to the Deadeye Deed via Amateur Gunslinger. Sure, Amateur Gunslinger still functions off Wisdom, but now you have two pools of Grit to pull from using Intelligence and Wisdom.

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      Yeah. My original build used Arcane Strike and Riving Strike to further penalize enemies, but since it used the minor magic talent to get that ability, the build became illegal the day after I had written it (and one day before the Pact Magic Kickstarter went live!!!), so I had to rush to fix it fast.

      The Amateur Gunslinger thing doesn’t work because the feat states that you “immediately trade it for Extra Grit.” It doesn’t give you a choice.

      • Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

        “If you gain levels in a class that grants the grit class feature, you can immediately trade this feat for the Extra Grit feat.”

        It doesn’t say you have to trade it, only that ‘can’ trade it. So unless there has been some FAQ or errata (or even a pending one) that I’m unaware about (possible, I don’t keep track of gun options), then your ability to choose is still there.

  2. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    Also, I find it hilarious when people say that the Investigator is a ‘non-combat’ class. It’s got more combat potential than the Rogue does. Between Inspiration, Studied Combat/Strike, Mutagens and Extracts, it kicks the Rogue’s teeth in, takes his lunch money *and* steals his girlfriend. Also, the Rogue’s mother likes him better too.

    Then, to top it all off, the Investigator is far better out of combat than the Rogue as the Investigator, while only having 6+int in skills per level, is incentivized to boost his Int for his combat ability and Extracts. Then, with Inspiration, (and some smart talent choices), he can get 1d6/+1d8 added to nearly every skill check… for FREE!

    Non-combat class… HA!

  3. So I’m not entirely sure why you stick to the 1 lvl of gunslinger. I understand the “get a gun from lvl 1” idea and the fact that you can’t take ranged study before you have studied strike.. But assuming you would start at lvl 5, is it really worth picking up the gunslinger level? More access to grit? The Extra grit ability?

    Really nice build though. Investigator looks like such an interesting class. I’d probably sink all of my money into tanglefoot bags and smokesticks.

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      Why would you assume that you start at Level 5?

      Taking the Gunslinger level gives you a grit pool, which means your Amateur Gunslinging feat from the Sleuth Hound archetype instantly upgrades to Extra Grit. Instead of having 1 grit per day with a maximum of up to your Wisdom if you get lucky and either crit often or deliver the killing blow to a bunch of folks, you get grit equal to your Wisdom plus 2. Plus, when the Steel Hound unlocks the ability to pick gunslinger deeds as talents, you’ve already got your bases covered for three of them.

  4. Currently, I’m seeing the Investigator’s Studied Combat as providing an insight bonus on melee attacks only. Is this lost on a firearm, or am I missing something key?

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      Check out the Ranged Study feat, from the Advanced Class Guide.

      • Thank you! I see I’ll need Weapon Focus in the chosen weapon and have to be at least 4th level in Investigator before I can choose Ranged Study.

        I’m considering taking the Gunslinger variant Musket Master up to level 5, with retraining of Rapid Reload (Musket) to (Rifle), in hopes of getting a reload down to Free Action and adding my DEX to damage.

        Would love to see your take on such a character, but you’ve been a big help thus far with what you’ve provided and the mention of Ranged Study.

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