Iconic Design: The Skillful Fighter

In Pathfinder, fighters are commonly thought of as, “The big, dumb, meat shield.” And those people who think that aren’t wrong—the fighter DOES have itself kind of stuck in a specific flavor of gameplay, and that isn’t necessarily great for the class. However, with the addition of newer options, it is possible to play a surprisingly skillful fighter. So today, I am taking a challenge—just HOW many skill ranks (or effective skill ranks, as the case may be) can I get onto a single fighter character?

I’ll need three books plus the Core Rulebook to make this work—the Weaponmaster’s Handbook, Villain Codex, and an all-new Player Companion, Heroes of the High Court.

Armed with paper knowledge, let’s get GOING!

Build Concept

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

  • Classes: fighter 9
  • Feats: Weapon Focus [any flail] (Bonus), Cunning (1st), Power Attack (Bonus), Peerless Courtier [Sense Motive] (3rd), Advanced Armor Training: adaptable training [Escape Artist] (Bonus), Peerless Courtier [Diplomacy] (5th), Advanced Weapon Training: versatile training [flails] (Bonus), Weapon Specialization [any flail] (7th), Furious Focus (Bonus), Greater Weapon Focus [any flail] (9th)
  • Abilities: armor training 2, bravery +2, weapon training +2 (flails)
  • Advanced Armor Training: adaptable training [Escape Artist] (Bonus), adaptable training [Knowledge: engineering] (7th)
  • Advanced Weapon Training: Versatile Training [flails; Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand] (Bonus), Versatile Training [polearms; Bluff, Intimidate]

Play Description

So I am almost positive that choice-wise, this is NOT the most effective way to build this fighter so he’s equal parts beast at fighting and doing skills. I’m sure you could pick different weapons and feats and take things in different order to have a much, much more powerful character. But the point here wasn’t to build the best fighter, it was to have the most skill points possible.

For this, I will be assuming that you (a) take all of your favored class ranks into skills, and (b) have at least a 12 Intelligence. I feel like if you want to be good at skills, those are both two very easy things to buy into. 2 point buy points for an Int of 12 isn’t a huge expense, after all.

Anyway, assuming you’re a straight, out-of-Paizo’s books fighter, you start with 2 skill ranks per level, for a total of 18 by 9th level, and your favored class bonus cranks this up to 27. I won’t assume you’re human for this, but obviously if you go human, you’ll have 9 more skill ranks then what I list here. Now, at 1st level, you’ll be taking the Cunning feat, from the Villain Codex. This simple feat is basically Toughness for skill ranks—you gain 1 more skill rank per level you possess. This bumps you from 27 skill ranks to 36. At 3rd level, you’ll be taking a new feat from Heroes of the High Court called Peerless Courtier. Each time you take this feat (you can take it up to three times) you choose Bluff, Diplomacy, or Sense Motive. You gain the chosen skill as a class skill, and you get to use your BAB as your ranks in the chosen skill. AWESOME, right? This feat will bump you up to an effective 45 skill ranks (5 maxed-out skills, or effectively 5 ranks per level). As I mentioned, we can take this three times, but we’re only going to take it twice (the second time is at 5th level, when we take it for Diplomacy). This’ll bump up our skill ranks from 45 to 54, or an effective 6 skills maxed out.

But don’t worry, we also have some classic choices in here! At 4th level, we pick up the Advanced Armor Training combat feat, which we’ll use to pick up adaptable training. This lets us pick another skill from a larger list so we can use our BAB as our ranks in that skill. We’ll get to pick the adaptable training ability up to two times, which we’ll do once at 4th level through the feat, and once at 7th level just by swapping the penalty reduction for it. At 4th level, we’ll be picking Escape Artist while at 7th level we’ll be picking Knowledge (engineering). This adds another 18 skill ranks to our total (72 skill ranks, or an effective 7 skill ranks per level) as well as adding Escape Artist to our list of class skills.

Finally, at 6th level, we’ll be taking the Advanced Weapon Training feat with our chosen weapon group, the unconventional FLAIL WEAPON GROUP, to get to use our BAB as our skill ranks in EVEN MORE SKILLS—specifically, we can pick Bluff and Intimidate with any weapon group, and the flail weapon group lets us pick Acrobatics and Sleight of Hand. All four skills are added to our list of class skills, and together they add an extra 36 skill ranks, for a total of 108 skill ranks at 9th level (or an effective 11 skill ranks per level).

This takes pretty much ALL of our build options, but without too much of a hassle, we’ve crafted a fighter that basically has the same number of maxed-out skill ranks as a rogue with an Intelligence of 16, or a wizard with an Intelligence of 28 (and a really strange choice in class skills). Again, this isn’t the most effective use of these abilities, but hey! It is pretty freaking cool to think that you could, if you wanted, do something THIS far out there with the fighter class now. The fighter sure has come a long way, hasn’t it? Overall, I’m pretty amused by this build. I don’t know that it would be something I would do personally, however—I’d much rather keep a few of these skills and build into tricks that let me use my skills in combat, like feinting or demoralizing. However, this is neat and I’d call it a challenge complete!

That’s it for this week’s Iconic Design. Tune back in two weeks for more ideas for your next PC or NPC! 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 Alexs 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.


  1. Luthorne

    Was a little surprised to see you didn’t invest in Owl Style/Swoop/Dive from Ultimate Intrigue, but yeah, I did notice Peerless Courtier adds to that, along with Martial Dominance. Can definitely potentially get a bunch of virtual skill ranks as a fighter.

    • Alex Augunas

      You will NEVER see me support that Style feat chain.

      I will not support a feat chain that basically requires you to throw skill ranks away. (You need to have ranks in the skills that you want to “sub your base attack bonus” for using those feats.

  2. Rosc

    Cunning is seriously one of the best additions to the game. I can’t wait to throw that into as many of my PFS characters as I can manage. As someone who’s had a crippling fear of playing 2+Int skills classes that aren’t Int casters or Summoners, I feel like this is a great way to convince myself to try a Cleric or Paladin.

    Seriously, though. 2+Int feels like a handicap that hits harder than an Oracle curse.