Iconic Design: Black Fox Down

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, Alex is going to use one of his cohorts to explore variant multiclassing.

One of the more talked-about options in Pathfinder Unchained is the new multiclass system, which is called variant multiclassing. Perram, Anthony, and I talked a little bit about variant multiclassing on Know Direction, and ultimately my views on the system haven’t changed: the system is perfectly serviceable if you view it as, “mandatory Eldritch Heritage” rather than a unique system designed to diversify characters.

Nowhere is this truer than with the sorcerer variant multiclass options, which basically boil down to the Eldritch Heritage feat line. All things considered, though, I actually have a character in one of my campaigns that takes Eldritch Heritage, so I figured that for an episode of Iconic Design, I would give Shira, my slayer, a well-deserved moment in the sun.


Shira’s from the same campaign as Kyr’shin, my kitsune cavalier. She’s Kyr’shin’s lifeline into kitsune culture; Kyr’shin grew up among elves as the adopted “son” of a noble family and so he doesn’t really know that much about his own people. Shira was the second kitsune that Kyr’shin ever met, and seeing that she’s something of an outcast too, she had few reservations about joining Kyr’shin on a micro adventure when they had first met.

In both her human and kitsune forms, Shira has intense melanism, which is basically the opposite of albinoism. She’s a dark-skinned human and has night-black fur in her kitsune form as the result of a shadowy taint in her bloodline. Although she isn’t particularly magical, she has a much better aptitude for magic than Kyr’shin does, especially shadowy spells and illusions.

Build Concept

In her original concept, Shira was a ninja, but in today’s world a much better option exists for her: the slayer. Particularly, the stigyian slayer. So let’s go over the build quickly and get started!

  • Stigyian Slayer: This archetype trades out two talents and the stalker ability for several very potent magical abilities, including the ability to become invisible several times per day, the ability to use wands and scrolls of many of the best stealthy, espionage-type abilities, and the ability to transform into a gaseous mist for a few minutes each day. Overall, its one of the best (in my opinion), and it fits the shadowy theme that I’m going for perfectly.
  • Sorcerer Variant Multiclass: At the cost of her 3rd, 7th, 11th, 15th, and 19th level feats, Shira gains a few bloodline abilities and a bloodline bonus feat. This is actually the exact-same feat investment that you would pay if you were taking the Eldritch Heritage feat chain enough times to get all of the available bloodline feats, except instead of being restricted to Skill Focus, you have a small list of mandatory feats that you can pick from. Honestly, sorcerer VMC is one of the best options available under the system for this reason.

Alright, so let’s take a look at the build!

Early Levels (1–7)

  • Classes: slayer (stigyian slayer) 7; secondary class: sorcerer
  • Feats: Power Attack (1st), Furious Focus (5th)
  • Secondary Class Features: bloodline: shadow (1st), bloodline power: shadowstrike (3rd), bloodline power: nighteye (7th)
  • Abilities: invisibility 1/day, slayer talents (trapfinding, fast stealth), sneak attack +2d6, spell use, studied target +2 (two targets; swift), track

Ugh, TWO feats! That’s got to be a first for me. Power Attack and Furious Focus are all I get at this point in the game, which is what it is. Shira is actually our group’s trapfinder, so picking that up instead of a bonus combat feat is far more important for my build than bonus feats. Additionally, the fast stealth talent is an iconically Shira ability in our game, so I felt like I had to take it to complete her.

The shadow bloodline has a number of bloodline powers that are totally worth it, especially for an espionage/assassin-focused character. Because it’s a melee touch attack, Shira can actually sneak attack with her shadowstrike bloodline power, and based on its damage progression plus her sneak attack damage, this bloodline power can actually be quite potent for rendering guards and lesser enemies unconscious. Then at 7th level, Shira gains nighteye, which is a 30-foot darkvision that later improves to 60 feet. Kitsune don’t have darkvision, so this is a straight buff for Shira.

So, this seems pretty minimalist at this point. Let’s move on and see if our build gets any more meat on its bones.

Mid Levels (8 –14)

  • Classes: slayer (stigyian slayer) 14; secondary class: sorcerer
  • Feats: Power Attack (1st), Furious Focus (5th), Rapid Shot (Bonus), Deadly Aim (9th), Manyshot (Bonus), Signature Skill: Stealth (13th), Improved Precise Shot (Bonus)
  • Secondary Class Features: bloodline: shadow (1st), bloodline power: shadowstrike (3rd), bloodline power: nighteye (7th), bloodline feat: Quick Draw (11th)
  • Abilities: advanced talents (none), invisibility 3/day, quarry, shadowy mist form, slayer talents (trapfinding, fast stealth, combat style [archery]: Rapid Shot, combat style [archery]: Manyshot, combat style [archery]: Improved Precise Shot), slayer’s advance 1/day, sneak attack +4d6, spell use, studied target +3 (three targets; swift), swift tracker, track

Now we’re getting somewhere. So, let me explain what happened here that made the feats blow up. Ranger combat style happened. Stigyian slayers don’t get slayer talents at 4th or 10th level because of the archetype (which includes the ability to cast invisibility once per day at 4th level, plus once more per day for every 4 levels attained thereafter as well as the ability to use gaseous form for a number of minutes per day equal to the slayer’s level), but that’s still plenty of time to pick up the archery combat style. That’s right, folks, you guessed it: Shira is going to be a slayer switch-hitter.

What’s a switch-hitter, you asked? Basically, it means that Shira is designed to be proficient both at range and at melee with the hopes that a melee foe will foolishly move into her threatened area to avoid the pressure put on it from her bow. (Also, if Shira’s allies get into melee, she can join them, invalidating the need for feats like Precise Shot.) So Shira picks up many of the best bow feats thanks to her combat style, and she also invests one feat into Deadly Aim. I might ultimately end up swapping Deadly Aim out for Improved Initiative if I find that she doesn’t get to act enough at ranged, but flexibility is the credence of the switch hitter, after all.

You’ll also likely note that I took a feat from Pathfinder Unchained on Shira; Signature Skill. When unlocked, the Stealth skill vastly improves one’s sniping ability, and when combined with the stealthy sniper advanced talent (which I honestly might swap with Manyshot for the endgame slot), Shira effectively takes NO penalty on Stealth checks made to snipe and combined with fast stealth. Absolutely fantastic. At higher levels, Signature Skill allows Shira to treat her opponents as being flat-footed against even more of her attacks when she exits Stealth, which means she can effectively pepper someone up with arrows each time she comes out of hiding. She can also hide long enough to study a few opponents, designate one to be her quarry, and then just go to town.

So, how does she hold up at the end game? Let’s see!

Endgame (15+)

  • Classes: slayer (stigyian slayer) 20; secondary class: sorcerer
  • Feats: Power Attack (1st), Furious Focus (5th), Rapid Shot (Bonus), Deadly Aim (9th), Manyshot (Bonus), Signature Skill: Stealth (13th), Improved Precise Shot (Bonus), Extra Slayer Talent: rogue talent [opportunist] (17th), Shadow Strike (Bonus),
  • Secondary Class Features: bloodline: shadow (1st), bloodline power: shadowstrike (3rd), bloodline power: nighteye (7th), bloodline feat: Quick Draw (11th), bloodline power: shadow well (15th), bloodline power: enveloping darkness (19th)
  • Abilities: advanced talents (evasion, stealthy sniper), improved quarry, invisibility 3/day, master slayer, quarry, shadowy mist form, slayer talents (trapfinding, fast stealth, combat style [archery]: Rapid Shot, combat style [archery]: Manyshot, combat style [archery]: Improved Precise Shot, combat trick: Shadow Strike), slayer’s advance 2/day, sneak attack +4d6, spell use, studied target +3 (three targets; swift), swift tracker, track

End game! Shadow Strike and Extra Slayer Talent, Shira’s final two feats, are something of placeholders; as a cohort, she’s not likely to progress to a high enough level to get those abilities in our game anyway, but its fun to speculate. The other option that I could see myself taking is breaking my previous rule and grabbing Point-Blank Shot and Precise Shot so Shira can stay hidden and snipe all day if she wants to without worrying about hitting her allies. That said, she’s not really the type to hide about when her comrades are engaging head-on unless doing so is directly beneficial to the plan, so its not really required for her build. Plus Rapid Shot and Manyshot aren’t useful for someone who is focused on sniping. Regardless, stacking the stealthy sniper advanced talent with Signature Stealth for a –0 on Stealth checks to stealth is awesome, hands-down. I also picked up evasion because it’s a no-brainer

In terms of my sorcerer powers, 15th is the all-important shadow well ability, which is basically hide in plain sight. Now, if Shira wants to, she can hide, unleash a volley of ranged attacks against a target’s flat-footed AC (thanks to Signature Skill), then on her next turn run to a nearby, shadowy area and hide using the Stealth skill, regardless of whether or not she’s being observed. This is how you stealth! At 19th level, Shira also gets enveloping darkness, which is good, but the 1/day tagline really hurts its use. This is sort of a “save my butt” ability.

Despite looking sparse, this build is filled with neat tricks for my slayer. Whether or not you want Eldritch Heritage or variant multiclassing depends on a few variants, however. VMC is rigid and ultimately gives you shadow well at a much later level. (Under Eldritch Heritage, you can take it as early as 11th level.) That said, variant multiclassing doesn’t have the whole –2 to your sorcerer level penalty that Eldritch Heritage has and instead of being forced to take a Skill Focus that you might not want, you have some flexibility in that fifth feat. Overall, I like this build and will probably mess around with it some more. Probably.

Got any questions or comments? Leave’em below! I also REALLY want to hear about any uses of variant multiclassing that you’ve had so far. How did it work for you? Do you/your players like it? Would you use it instead of standard multiclassing? I’m looking forward to your answers!

By the time you guys see this, I’ll be heading to PaizoCon! Wish me luck!

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 "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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