Iconic Design — Some Kind of Dino-Cat-Cow-Thing?

I know many of my readers have been waiting for me to talk about Ultimate Wilderness’s new class, the shifter. This is tricky for me to talk about because I’m a contributing author for the product, but I’m going to do my best.

I don’t like Ultimate Wilderness’s new class, the shifter.

Now, to clarify, I don’t like the class’s execution. Personally, my math indicates that it’s a perfectly fine class damage-wise. I don’t care for the flavor—I don’t think ‘nature-paladin’ is a good niche for a class to fill, and frankly I wanted a class that wasn’t intrinsically tied to nature worship. I also think the class is too bare-bones in its features when compared to the two classes that are most similar to the shifter mechanically (monk) and thematically (paladin). More then this, I think I’m disappointed that the existing of the shifter likely means that Pathfinder will never get the sort of shapeshifter I want. (Good think I wrote it myself in Paranormal Adventures, I guess.)

Anyway, back to my, “The shifter’s not a bad class,” comment. There’s stuff you can do it with it—there’s just not MUCH stuff you can do with it. In any case, I think the build I have to show you today is pretty indicative of the shifter’s powers.

Build Concept

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

  • Classes: shifter 12
  • Feats: Weapon Finesse (1st), Shifter’s Edge (3rd), Power Attack (5th), Mutated Shape (7th), Weapon Focus (claws) (9th), Shifter’s Rush (11th)
  • Abilities: chimeric aspect, defensive instinct +3, shifter aspect, shifter claws (1d8; bypass cold iron and silver), second aspect, third aspect, track, trackless step, wild empathy, wild shape (5/day)
  • Aspects: Tiger (1st); Deinonychus (5th); Bull (10th)

Play Description

So comparing shapeshifters is hard because polymorph effects add a LOT of crazy stuff into the mix. First, to evaluate this build I’m going to start with some notes, because for a class that’s supposed to be the “beginner’s guide to polymorph effects,” this class is actually kind of complicated, and not always in good ways.

First off is defensive instinct. It’s this neat little ability that allows you to add your Wisdom to your AC, as well as a scaling +1 bonus almost exactly like the monk’s progression. This ability has a clause that’s likely supposed to be ‘neat,’ but it’s actually a giant trap. The clause is that if you wear armor as a shifter, you continue to benefit from half of your Wisdom bonus from defensive instinct. Friends, I cannot stress this enough—this is a HUGE mechanical trap because of this FAQ from a few years ago. Basically, if you wild shape into a new form while wearing armor, this FAQ states that you still count as wearing armor, and gain all of the penalties but none of the bonuses for doing so. This means that if you wildshape into something as a shifter, you lose your armor bonus to AC as per the standard rules for polymorph effects, but your defensive instinct doesn’t return back to equal your full Wisdom bonus. Basically, you turn off your armor and get half benefit from your class feature. As a result, I recommend going Dex-based shifter with a smattering of Strength, and just run around with no armor. Buy bracers of armor. They’ll stack with your defensive instinct without reducing it, and when you wild shape the bonus will go away, but at least you still have full Wisdom.

Another big trap in the shifter is the claws—at a glance, they make it look like you’ll ultimately stop caring about amulets of mighty fist but in actuality, the only DR that the shifter can’t naturally overcome is DR/magic and you’re probably going to still want that enhancement bonus to boost your accuracy and damage. Sorry, neck slot is still spoken for! (It’s a shame because the amulet of natural armor would have been SUPER useful for you.)

So, when building a shifter there are a couple of different builds you can do, but I personally think that tiger / raptor / bull is the best progression. If you take Weapon Finesse at 1st level, your tiger minor aspect will translate into a helpful bonus to Hit, while raptor comes online at 5th level. Raptor has the most natural attacks in the game currently, and throwing lots of dice is usually best when it comes to natural attacks because their damage tends to be low. Finally, bull comes online right after you get chimeric aspect, so you can fuse tiger / bull with your raptor shape for enhancement bonuses to your Str and Dex. It’s useful, and ultimately it’ll likely mean that you don’t need to worry about spending your gold on stat belts. (Instead, you’ll get to spend it on bracers and amulets! Yaaaaay!)

Now, like I said, I am totally going to provide you with some hard-fought math today. As a warning, math on polymorph builds tends to be REALLY tough because you have a whole bunch of different weapons that you’re rolling with. I’m assuming our guy doesn’t have an amulet of mighty fists (I can’t predict when your GM will give you loot and at what pace, sorry), and for our wild shape I’m assuming Deinonychus with tiger / bull minor aspects active. I’m also assuming you’re using the Mutated Shape feat to grow a pair of horns for a gore attack.

True Form

  • Ability Scores: Str 18 , Dex 25, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 14, Cha 8 (This includes +4 enhancement to Str and Dex from Bull and Tiger aspect.)
  • AC: 26 [22 when wild shaped] (10 + 7 Dex + 2 Wis, + 3 dodge + 4 armor)
  • BAB: +12
  • Claw Attacks: +18 to hit, 1d8+12 for damage.
  • With Power Attack, that’s –4 to attack rolls and +12 to primary attack damage rolls / +4 to secondary attack damage rolls.
  • AC of a typical CR 12 enemy is 27, so each claw has a 55% chance to hit baseline (you need a 9 or better), or a 35% chance to hit if you Power Attack (you need a 14 or better).
  • Average Damage (Normal): 9.075 damage PH (9 of 20 hits, average damage is 16.5.)
  • Average Damage (PA): 4 damage PH (8 of 20 hits, average damage is 28.5)

Deinonychus Form

  • Ability Scores: Str 20 , Dex 25, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 14, Cha 8 (This includes +4 enhancement to Str and Dex from Bull and Tiger aspect.)
  • AC: 26 [22 when wild shaped] (10 + 7 Dex + 2 Wis, + 3 dodge + 4 armor)
  • BAB: +12
  • Primary Melee Attack: +18 [+19 if claws] (1d6+13 or 1d8+13 for claws)
  • Secondary Melee Attack: +13 (1d6+8)
  • With Power Attack, that’s –4 to attack rolls and +12 to primary attack damage rolls / +4 to secondary attack damage rolls.
  • Primary Melee Attack (Foreclaws): 10.5 damage PH (12 of 20 hits, average damage 17.5)
  • Foreclaws with Power Attack: 13.275 damage PH damage (9 of 20 hits, average damage 29.5)
  • Primary Melee Attack (Gore/Bite): 9.075 damage PH (11 of 20 hits, average damage is 16.5)
  • Gore/Bite with Power Attack: 11.4 damage PH (8 of 20 hits, average damage is 28.5)
  • Secondary Melee Attack (talons): 4.025 damage PH (7 of 20 hits, average damage is 11.5)
  • Talons with Power Attack: 3.525 damage PH (3 of 20 hits, average damage is 23.5)

Average Hit / Average Damage Full Attack

  • Normal (claw/claw): 18.15 damage PH; 22.8 damage per Power Attack
  • Wild Shape (claw/claw/bite/talon/talon): 52.75 damage PH; 56.4 damage per Power Attack

So basically, our shifter is looking at an average of 52.75 damage per full attack while wild shaped, or 56.4 damage if she Power Attacks. As an average (meaning that we’re rolling 20 attacks and assuming we roll every number on the die once, which translates to a fair number of misses for 0 damage) 50-ish damage for a 12th level character is pretty average—it’s very close to what my arcane/abyssal crossblooded bloodrager did in Waking Rune. So while I don’t like the shifter class and don’t think I’ll be building another one on my blog unless some super-cool build or archetype gets released in the future, I also don’t think it’s a bad class. But whenever Pathfinder 2.0 rolls around, I certainly hope we get something that takes more risks in its design space. If you think you’ve done something cool with the shifter, then by all means, leave me your thoughts in the comments below. I could REALLY use something to get excited over with this class.

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. Rosc

    Oh man. I feel bad for the class after you linked that FAQ, but I couldn’t help but chuckle. Poor guys.

    When I got my hands on the class’ info, I kind of struggled to come up with a concept. It was flavor that won out when I thought up a ‘noble’ from Ustalav. Half Orc with the Toothy alternate racial trait, the Pass for Human feat, and Necromantic Affinity. My first two aspects would be Wolf and Bat, mostly for utility, while I played him up like a Gangrel from Vampire the Masqurade.

    Of course, my true love is for the Oozemorph archetype. And while I haven’t been this excited for a player option since the APG Summoner, but I acknowledge that it’s lack of definitions make it enough of an undefined RAW nightmare that I’ll likely never see it in PFS. I mean, come on, Reddit and the Paizo forums have figured out that Oozemorphs are technically more powerful if you break your class rules and teach Druidic to a non-druid to lose the more debilitating features. That would be like an Oracle curing their curse (but keeping spells/etc) by doing a Very Bad Thing.

  2. Bignorsewolf

    As someone that spends a lot of time shapeshifting wands of mage armor or a pearl of power you can hand to a friend are a great investment for AC

    • Alex Augunas

      Indeed! I was just pointing out that bracers of armor work (and potentially scale higher than mage armor eventually).

  3. ChessPwn

    Your power attack is wrong. The claws take a -4 for +8 since you have more than 1 natural attack. So that’s 4 damage per successful power attack hit that you lose.

    • Alex Augunas

      This is incorrect—you’re thinking of how natural weapons worked in 3.5. In Pathfinder, primary natural attacks are primary natural attacks regardless of how many natural attacks you attack with. (The only time primary natural attacks become secondary is when you attempt to wield a manufactured weapon alongside them.) So when you attack with two claws, a bite, and a gore, all attacks are primary so they all get the damage boost from Power Attack.

      You can find this in the universal monster rules section of the PRD / Bestiary.

      • ChessPwn

        No I’m not remembering 3.5 since I’ve never played that.

        Universal Monster Rules
        Natural Attacks
        Primary attacks are made using the creature’s full base attack bonus and add the creature’s full Strength bonus on damage rolls.

        If a creature has only one natural attack, it is always made using the creature’s full base attack bonus and adds 1-1/2 times the creature’s Strength bonus on damage rolls. This increase does not apply if the creature has multiple attacks but only takes one.

        Power attack
        his bonus to damage is increased by half (+50%) if you are making an attack with a two-handed weapon, a one handed weapon using two hands, or a primary natural weapon that adds 1-1/2 times your Strength modifier on damage rolls.

        So if YOU were to read the PRD that you’re telling me to read you’d see that primary natural attacks normally only get 1x str to damage. Thus they don’t get the 1.5 str to damage nor do they get the boosted power attack.

        If you’re going to call someone wrong whose correcting you at least do the courtesy of making sure you’re actually correct beforehand.

  4. ChessPwn

    Also Mutated Shape requires 19 wisdom and you only have 14 wisdom, so you don’t qualify for that gore attack you’re using. So with the power attack fix and losing out on your gore power attack probably drops your DPR and your normal DPR is like 10 less from not having the gore putting you at 42 DPR at lv12.

    • Alex Augunas

      So you’re incorrect about Power Attack (see above), but correct about Mutated Shape. My mistake—I missed that entry.

  5. ChessPwn

    Also just noticed that I think you added to much damage to your primary natural attacks, you list +13 damage base, but I see 5 str and 6 from shifter’s edge and since there’s no AoMF adding to that I see you only reaching +11 damage not +13.

  6. ChessPwn

    Also just realized that you’re adding shifter’s edge to all your attacks, it only applies to the natural attacks that are using your shifter’s claws aka your talons. The bite, foreclaws, and non-existent gore don’t get the shifter’s edge bonus damage. That’s 6 damage from 3-4 attacks, plummeting your DPR even more.

    • ChessPwn

      Just wanted to note that I’ve found that there’s another valid view on the feat so with no clarification it’s possible that it applies to all your wildshape natural attacks and not just the ones that use your claw damage.

  7. ChessPwn

    So using your numbers I get DPR of 53.13.
    Using the correct numbers of
    2 claws +18 1d8+11
    2 foreclaws +12 1d6+8
    1 bite +17 1d6+11
    DPR is 35.15
    Add correct power attack to this and we get
    2 claws +14 1d8+19
    2 foreclaws +8 1d6+12
    1 bite +13 1d6+19
    DPR is 31.26
    Power attack is dropping DPR.
    Now if shifter’s edge only applies to the two claws
    2 claws +18 1d8+11
    2 foreclaws +12 1d6+2
    1 bite +17 1d6+5
    DPR is 27.90

    So it’s doing 50% or 60% of the damage of his Bloodrager. This is why people think it’s not “a perfectly fine class damage-wise” and it would seem that correct math indicates this view is correct opposed to “your math” that gave them about double the damage to prove otherwise.

    • Kristal Moonhand

      It’s a testament to just how janked Shifter is that even the devs working for Paizo don’t understand how half of it works.

      • ChessPwn

        To be fair he’s only a freelance that is often hired by Paizo, he’s not actually a DEV that works for them.