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 Harsk, Pathfinder’s Iconic Ranger.
In Pathfinder Society, there are a number of prebuilt characters that players can play or that can join a party if a table doesn’t have enough players. These characters are called pregens, and they represent builds for Pathfinder’s Iconic characters. Generally speaking, you normally see the same two or three pregens taken over and over again unless you’re playing in a special game that requires their use, such as the Silverhex Chronicles. Some of the pregens, however, are outright traps and on today’s installment of Pregen Pick-Me-Up, a new category of Iconic Design that I just created today, we’re going to look at the most notorious of the pregens, identify his issues, and FIX HIM UP!
Allow me to introduce you to Harsk, the Iconic Ranger.
Hark’s character builds in PFS have a few major flaws, which I’m going to outline here.
- Harsk Uses a Heavy Crossbow: This isn’t a huge flaw, persay, but it IS a massive flaw when you’re using a Core Rules-only pregen. The reason is that there is absolutely no way for Harsk to make full attacks with his weapon; Rapid Reload only reduces the action needed to load his weapon to a move action, so he’s forced to take only a single shot every turn.
- Harsk is Core Rules Only: The previous issue could be easily alleviated by the Crossbow Mastery feat from the Advanced Player’s Guide, but since Harsk is a Core Rulebook class the expectation is that he uses only Core Materials.
- Harsk’s Damage Output is Terrible: Harsk doesn’t have ANY of the feats or abilities that give him multiple attacks (because he can’t reload his crossbow fast enough), nor does he have any of the feats that give him bonus damage. The net result is that we’re stuck with a character who does 1d10+2 damage at level 7. LEVEL 7. Not okay for PFS. Not even a little bit.
There are two major ways to fix PFS Harsk while sticking to the Core Rules only restriction: downgrade his heavy crossbow to a light crossbow or specialize in the Vital Strike feats by 7th level. Both will allow Harsk to deal extra damage when he’s fighting. This is something of a tricky situation; on one hand, the Iconic Hunter does archery a million times better than Harsk, and there isn’t much that we can do to fix the problem when she gets to use Core Rules and ACG material while Harsk is limited to Core Rules only. This supports the idea of taking the Vital Strike route. On the other hand, it is incredibly demoralizing for new players to hear that they picked the pregen that does everything slower than their allies; they’ll watch in envy as everyone else can move and attack and be stuck doing only one or the other. That said, I think the psychology of throwing bigger dice around is a win for the heavy crossbow, as well as for encouraging a different playstyle from the Iconic Hunter. Plus I want minimum changes from the Core PFS build.
- Classes: ranger 1
- Feats: Rapid Reload: heavy crossbow (1st)
- Abilities: favored enemy (giants +2), track +1, wild empathy.
This is basically identical to the Core PFs Harsk. Nothing new here.
- Classes: ranger 3
- Feats: Rapid Reload: heavy crossbow (1st), Precise Shot (Bonus), Endurance (Bonus), Deadly Aim (3rd)
- Abilities: combat style (archery), favored enemy (giants +2), favored terrain (mountain +2), hunter’s bond (animal companion), track +2, wild empathy.
- Ranger 1st-Level Spells Per Day: 0 + Bonus Spells from Wisdom.
The big change here is swapping out Point-Blank Shot for Deadly Aim. Point-Blank Shot is nice, but its not all that helpful when your build can’t make use of Rapid Shot and it has a way to take Precise Shot while ignoring its prerequisites. Talong Deadly Aim boosts Harsk up to 1d10+4 damage compared to the 1d10+1 his PFS equivalent is dealing, bumping his average per attack to 9 instead of 6.
- Classes: ranger 7
- Feats: Rapid Reload: heavy crossbow (1st), Precise Shot (Bonus), Endurance (Bonus), Deadly Aim (3rd), Point-Blank Shot (5th), Improved Precise Shot (Bonus), Vital Strike (7th)
- Abilities: combat style (archery), favored enemy (giants +4, humans +2), favored terrain (mountain +2), hunter’s bond (animal companion), track +3, wild empathy, woodland stride.
- Ranger 2nd-Level: 0 + Bonus Spells from Wisdom.
- Ranger 1st-Level Spells Per Day: 1 + Bonus Spells from Wisdom.
Harsk’s 7th-level build has a bunch of VERY odd design choices, the biggest of which is the acquisition of Far Shot. Why on earth would you give a character Far Shot when Point-Blank Shot is your only source of damage, and you’re using a weapon with a range increment of 30 or more? It makes absolutely NO sense. Harsk finally picks up Point Blank Shot at 5th level instead of Far Shot and takes Improved Precise Shot as his archery combat style feat, then Vital Strike as his 7th-level feat. Vital Strike bumps up Harsk’s damage from 1d10+7 to 2d10+7, which overall increases Harsk’s damage from a paltry 8 points on average (AT LEVEL 7?!?!?!?!) to a more respectable 20 points of damage, assuming he has the same weapon as he does in PFS. Is this an awesome damage bonus for a super optimized character? No, but at least Harsk actually feels competent in this build. Adding on to that is the fact that we picked a type of monster that Harsk is actually likely to deal with when protecting people from the hazards of nature … humans! Humans cause SO much more trouble than fey in the long run, after all.
For fun, let’s take a look at what a Core-only heavy crossbow Ranger can look like in the mid levels and the end game.
Mid Levels (8 –14)
- Classes: ranger 14
- Feats: Rapid Reload: heavy crossbow (1st), Precise Shot (Bonus), Endurance (Bonus), Deadly Aim (3rd), Point-Blank Shot (5th), Improved Precise Shot (Bonus), Vital Strike (7th), Weapon Focus: heavy crossbow (9th), Pin-Point Targeting (Bonus), Improved Vital Strike (11th), Iron Will (13th), Shot on the Run (Bonus)
- Abilities: camouflage, combat style (archery), evasion, favored enemy (giants +6, humans +4, fey +2), favored terrain (mountain +4, forest +4, urban +2), hunter’s bond (animal companion), quarry, swift tracker, track +7, wild empathy, woodland stride.
- Ranger 4th-Level Spells: 1 + Bonus Spells from Wisdom.
- Ranger 3rd-Level Spells: 1 + Bonus Spells from Wisdom.
- Ranger 2nd-Level Spells: 2 + Bonus Spells from Wisdom.
- Ranger 1st-Level Spells Per Day: 3 + Bonus Spells from Wisdom.
This is pretty standard for rangers. Since Harsk’s damage is low, we want to maximize our chances of hitting with the Weapon Focus feat. Neither Pinpoint Targeting nor Shot on the Run is incredibly awesome, but at least Pinpoint Targeting allows for some extra, low-miss damage to be thrown at enemies when Harsk demands it. (Pinpoint Targeting is a standard action to use, which means that it isn’t an attack action and thus can’t be combined with Vital Strike. Other then that, this is a very simple, “rounding the edges” sort of build for Harsk, though he does get to boost his base damage to 3d10+9 for an average of 25 plus enhancement bonuses. Again, not great but workable. (I guess.)
- Classes: ranger 14
- Feats: Rapid Reload: heavy crossbow (1st), Precise Shot (Bonus), Endurance (Bonus), Deadly Aim (3rd), Point-Blank Shot (5th), Improved Precise Shot (Bonus), Vital Strike (7th), Weapon Focus: heavy crossbow (9th), Shot on the Run (Bonus), Improved Vital Strike (11th), Iron Will (13th), Pin-Point Targeting (Bonus), Improved Initiative (15th), Greater Vital Strike (17th), Far Shot (Bonus), Improved Iron Will (19th)
- Abilities: camouflage, combat style (archery), evasion, favored enemy (giants +10, humans +8, fey +6, magical beasts +4, undead +2), favored terrain (mountain +4, forest +4, urban +2), hunter’s bond (animal companion), quarry, swift tracker, track +7, wild empathy, woodland stride.
- Ranger 4th-Level Spells: 3 + Bonus Spells from Wisdom.
- Ranger 3rd-Level Spells: 3 + Bonus Spells from Wisdom.
- Ranger 2nd-Level Spells: 4 + Bonus Spells from Wisdom.
- Ranger 1st-Level Spells Per Day: 4 + Bonus Spells from Wisdom.
Again, nothing super impressive but still pretty cool.
Finally, let’s talk about some changes that you can make to this build to further improve Harsk from his base build.
- Crossbow Mastery: Bump back Improved Precise Shot to 10th level, drop Pinpoint Targeting, and pick up Crossbow Master as your 6th level combat style feat. Crossbow Master allows you to reload any crossbow as a free action, including a Heavy Crossbow, which makes the heavy crossbow SO MUCH BETTER.
- Rapid Shot: Ditch Vital Strike for Rapid Shot at 7th level; this feat will allow you to make multiple attacks, bringing your total number of attacks per round up to 3. Very, very helpful.
- Point-Blank Master: Push back Shot on the Run to 18th level and take Point-Blank Master at 14th level. This awesome feat allows you to ignore attacks of opportunity when firing your crossbow, which is super useful. Plus who needs Far Shot anyway?
- Have Some Fun: You no longer need Improved Vital Strike or Greater Vital Strike, so have some fun! Pick up a ranged Weapon Mastery feat from the Weapon Master’s Handbook, or take some feats to let Harsk switch hit with his brother’s axe.
- Alternative: If you want to stick with the Vital Strike build, drop Iron Will for Devastating Strike, which adds +2 damage to your Vital Strike attack for every Vital Strike feat you have.
So if I was in charge of making the PFS Pregens, this is how I would make Harsk. What do you think? What would you change or do differently? Do you have any table experience with Harsk? If so, I’d love to hear about it, and I’d love to hear from YOU especially! For the rest of December, I’m going to continue with my theme of “Improving the Iconic Characters,” so if there’s an Iconic Pregen that you’d like to see improved, either from PFS or from the NPC Codex, leave your choice alongside your comments below or on our Facebook group 3.5 Private Sanctuary, or in our forums. Until next week, I’m signing off! 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.