Iconic Design — Way Wicked Kumiho

Hello, readers!

Originally I wasn’t going to do an Iconic Design post today, but my plan to do a Teenaged Wasteland post today got thrown out of the window because I got really sick with some Not-COVID virus last week, and just like that POOF. An entire week gone. So, I needed something quick and easy to talk about and oh look I’m currently playing in a Pathfinder 1E home game with James Ballod and some of our friends, I know! I’ll just talk about my PC. Yeah, that’ll work.

Sorry fam. I’ll be back to my usual content in December, but for now I need this easy article. Thanks for understanding!

The Concept

So Way of the Wicked is a 6-part Adventure Path that goes from Level 1 to Level 20, where the entire concept is that you’re playing irredeemably evil characters who work for the Church of Asmodeus. (At least, that’s where we’re starting. I don’t know where we’ll be going from that; we’re about to hit Level 4.) Normally evil campaigns aren’t my thing; I play campaigns to be the good guy, not the bad guy. But I really wanted to get in on this campaign, which features my Dead Suns table with James playing instead of GMing plus another good friend, and man being in a fun group can really motivate you to step outside of your shell a little bit. One place I didn’t step out of my shell, though, is kitsune. I absolutely wanted to play a kitsune villain because exploring what an irredeemably bad kitsune would be like sounded amusing, especially since I’ve studied fox mythology from across the world and know about gumiho / kumiho.

Foxes feature heavily in East Asian mythology across cultures and nations, but interestingly foxes tend to be “Mostly Good” in Japan, “Neutral with a few famous Evil ones” in China, and “irredeemably Evil” in Korea. Part of the reason for this is that the fox is considered to be a symbol of Japan much as the Panda is a symbol of China or the Eagle is a symbol of the USA. And if we’re talking real talk here, Japan did some really terrible stuff to China and Korea during World War 2 wherein Japan invaded most of its neighbors and many of the Pacific Islands. Anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea actually played a large part in changing Korean mythology surrounding foxes so that their version of the magical, shapeshifting animal was one that lured young people (usually men) into dark alleys and murdered them for their livers. It was a cautionary tale designed to try and remind Korean youths that their Japanese occupiers were dangerous and not to be trusted. And when translated to a kitsune PC, it’s absolutely fascinating….

Drawing more upon Asian mythology, in Hinduism the liver is an organ that’s associated with one of the seven chakra points on the human body. Chakra is like a mystical, life-giving energy that’s mostly involved with finding enlightenment in real-world theology, but is also heavily associated with supernatural super powers in Asian pop culture, particularly the wuxia genre. Combining these ideas, I decided that I was going to play a kitsune character who ate people’s livers for their chakra.

The Build

Below’s my character’s build! Important to note for this game, our GM has a number of home rules that we’re using.

  1. We have 25 Point Buy.
  2. All characters effectively have Weapon Finesse, Precise Shot, and Double Slice. Our GM believes those feats only exist to raise up certain options to baseline and that makes them inherently unfun, so we all get them for free essentially.
  3. There’s a list of mandatory campaign traits; we all have to take one and it essentially defines what crime we did to end up in prison. Having one of these “Crimes of the Forsaken” traits is non-negotiable.
  4. I had to actually get special permission from my GM to take the primalist bloodrager archetype, as this is generally considered a super OP archetype. I told him exactly what I wanted to swap, what I wanted in return, and why I wanted them and he was cool to make an exception for me.
  5. Weapon Focus (and virtually every option like it that requires the selection of a single weapon) applies to an entire fighter weapon group of weapons instead. This is REALLY helpful to me, as I’m planning on a natural attack build.

Okay, with that out of the way, on to the build!

  • Ability Scores (25 Point Buy)
    • Str 14 / Dex 16 / Con 12 / Int 13 / Wis 10 / Cha 16
  • Race: Kitsune
    • Alternate Racial Traits: None
    • Character Traits: Crimes of the Forsaken (Murder), Nine-Tailed Scion (Race)
    • Favored Class Bonus: Gain 1/6 of a new Magical Tail feat.
  • Feats: Realistic Likeness (1st), Magical Tail 1 (3rd), Eschew Materials (4th; Class), Extend Spell (5th), Power Attack (6th; Bloodline), Magical Tail 2 (6th; AFCB), Fox Form (7th), Aspect of the Beast (8th; Shapeshifter Bloodline), Multiattack (9th), Magical Tail 3 (9th; Bloodline Feat), Swift Kitsune Shapechanger (11th), Quicken Spell (12th; Bloodline Feat), Magical Tail 4 (12th; AFCB), Vulpine Pounce (13th), Furious Focus (15th), Magical Tail 5 (15th; Bloodline Feat), Magical Tail 6 (17th), Weapon Focus: Natural Weapons (18th; Bloodline Feat), Magical Tail 8 (18th; AFCB), Magical Tail 8 (19th)
  • Class: Bloodrager (primalist, metamagic rager, urban bloodrager) 20
    • Bloodline:
      • 1st – Shifting Aspect
      • 4th – Spontaneous Change
      • 8th – Evolving Aspect
      • 12th – Primalist Rage Powers (Bloody Fist and Lesser Spirit Totem)
      • 16th – Primalist Rage Powers (Feast of Blood and Bloody Bite)
      • 20th – True Shapechanger
    • Features: bloodline, controlled bloodrage, fast movement, indominable will, meta-rage, restrained magic, tireless bloodrage, uncanny dodge
    • Spells (Total Known)
      • 1st (5; biting words, expeditious retreat, infernal healing, magic missile, protection from good), 2nd (5; mirror image, overstimulate, pouncing fury [swapped after 13th level], quick change [swapped after 11th level], see invisibility), 3rd (5; haste, heroism, fireball, protection from energy, tail strike), 4th (4; beast shape II, bestow curse, monstrous physique II, stoneskin)
      • Adopted Magic: sense vitals (7th), glibness (10th), bladed dash (13th), greater invisibility (16th), echolocation (19th)
      • Bloodline Spells: enlarge person (7th), alter self (10th), fly (13th), stoneskin (16th)

Playing the Build

So, this is essentially a 9-tailed kitsune build. Believe it or not, but I’ve never played in a campaign that got high enough for me to get all 9 tails without crippling myself. (I had an oracle in PFS that started the journey, but I never really played him enough to get all the way there.) I’m playing urban bloodrager for the flexibility; no penalty to AC and a bump to my Dexterity means that I’m pretty accurate and survivable, and by taking the Shapeshifter bloodline, I get claws whenever I bloodrage. This, combined with my bite natural attacks, lets me start with 3 natural attacks, which isn’t too shabby. I picked up Realistic Likeness for flavor and because the adventure was described as having a lot of subterfuge, so being a front-line melee who could turn into whatever I wanted seemed pretty sweet, and eventually I want Fox Form for similar reasons. For the most part, I don’t really use my character feats for the Magical Tail feats; the Nine-Tailed Scion race trait lets me use my Bloodrager class’s bloodline feats for those, and I also have the kitsune favored class bonus that lets me grab a couple extra Magical Tail feats as my Favored Class Option at 6th, 12th, and 18th levels.

So, the core of my shapeshifter build is the spontaneous change bloodline power, which allows me to swift action cast any transmutation spell on myself when I bloodrage. The bloodline has a ton of great options for this, like fly, enlarge person, alter self, and stone skin. As an urban bloodrager, I also swap damage reduction for a limited list of spells from other classes; I plan to mostly take bard spells like glibness and greater invisibility, but one of the nastier tricks I want is sense vitals, which is a divination spell that will allow me to temporarily gain sneak attack damage dice based on my caster level. I’m planning to try and talk the party into getting me a lesser rod of quickened spell or a similar trick to get this spell active on me faster, but I’m still messing around with it. One option I’m considering (but haven’t decided if it’s worthwhile) is adding a third archetype to my list: metamagic mauler. In addition to stacking with both primalist and urban bloodrager, metamagic mauler allows me to spend rounds of rage to apply metamagic feats to spells, so if I were to take Quicken Spell I could spend 4 rounds of bloodrage to quicken sense vitals on myself. That being said, Extend Spell’s a great option for Level 5 when I first gain meta-rage, allowing me to double the duration of my bloodrager spells for 2 rounds of bloodrage. It might not end up holding up as well at higher levels, though, since most of the best bloodrager buff spells work for rounds per level; if that’s the case, I’ll probably ask my GM if I can train into something like echoing spell, which is super nice because the echoing spell refunds its spell slot when I use it. At 8th level, I get Evolving Aspect, which actually gives me Aspect of the Beast (the 1st-level rage power simply gives it to me when I’m raging) and lets me pick a second option when I bloodrage. I haven’t 100% decided how I’m going to use this; part of me thinks that the best option is to pick the Darkvision option with the feat and take claws whenever I rage, since I don’t need claws when I’m not in combat and darkvision is useful all the time, but I’m still deciding. After all, it sucks to be locked out of 2 of my 3 attacks when I can’t rage for whatever reason.

The primalist archetype is a weird one in terms of balance, as it swaps one bloodline power for two bloodlines. I don’t really need or want the 12th or 16th level bloodline powers from the shapeshifter bloodline, but what I do want is the bloody fist / bloody bite / feast of blood rage powers. Most of these are from the Demon Hunter’s Handbook, and I had to get special permission from my GM to take bloody bite, as while the rage power itself lists no prerequisites, the section of the book that it’s in states it’s for half-orcs with a bite attack exclusively. My GM decided that since kitsune have a bite attack, it was fine as kitsune are kind of a less optimized barbarian / bloodrager pick than a half-orc. (Even as an urban rager, the bonuses I get for urban bloodraging are smaller than what a standard bloodrager gets.) Bloody Fist is the ultimate flavor; when I crit someone with a natural weapon or unarmed strike, I can rip one of their vital organs out. Bloody Feast lets me eat that organ as a full-round action to gain Hit Point healing and some combat benefits. Overall these choices are fun but not too powerful, fitting the character flavor I want perfectly. In each of the two level pairings I have, I’ve paired one of these arguably weaker rage powers with one stronger power to sort of balance the set out. Paired with Bloody Fist at 12th level is lesser spirit totem, which conjures a spirit that uses my Charisma to attack stuff. As a bloodrager, my Charisma’s not terrible so this isn’t an awful pick for me, essentially giving me another attack. I took lesser spirit totem so I could say that when my character bloodrages, I get a will-o-wisp like the kitsune in Japanese mythology. Bloody Bite, which I’m taking at 16th level, is the other strong rage power option; this one gives my bite natural attack bleed damage, which is simply strong.

Aside from those options, most of this build is me trying my damnest to pick as many of the good feats that require kitsune as a prerequisite as possible. I also don’t like gaining multiple tails at a time, so my build is designed so I never get two tails at the same level. (The journey is important to me.) Since I know this game will go all the way to 20th level, I’m also fine with my build taking until 20th level to get me all the tails. I only have 4 tails by 12th level, but starting at 15th level I basically use every feat I’ve got for more tails, with the exception of my 18th level bloodline feat, which I’m either using for Weapon Focus, Fleet, or Dodge; I’m planning on waiting to see what sort of high-level play experience we’re in for before committing to a feat. Heck, if our GM becomes a big fan of something like “silence on the party,” I might even use metamagic rager to take something like Silent Spell instead. In addition to Magical Tail, I also pick up what is arguably the most powerful kitsune feat chain; Swift Kitsune Shapechanger and Vulpine Pounce, which will let me Swift Action change from Human/Fox Form into my true form, charge, then full attack at the end of the charge. Fun times. The reason I let myself take these feats rather late in the build is simply that I can mirror their effects with spells; pouncing fury temporarily gives me pounce and is a transmutation spell, so when I want to pounce I can use my shapeshifter bloodline to cast the spell as a swift action on myself, then pounce. Quick Change is an hours-per-level long spell that also allows me to change shape as a swift action, and if I do it in combat my enemies are flat-footed against my attacks. Both things that kind of become obsolete once I get Swift Kitsune Shapechanger and Vulpine Pounce. I’m not 100% sure what I’ll be swapping them for, but right now I’m leaning towards old reliables like resist energy and glitterdust.

Speaking of spells, the urban bloodrager also lets me pick up spells from other spell lists that I wouldn’t ordinarily get. Obviously the trick is to pick strong transmutations that I can combine with my bloodline, but I’m also trying to pick up spells that fit the kitsune mythology. Sense Vitals (a divination spell) for powerful damage; glibness for kitsune lying; bladed dash because when I combine it with my bloodline power, it lets me move up to my speed, attack one person while I move, and it makes my move not provoke any attacks of opportunity; and echolocation because having 40-foot blindsight is powerful. Very, very powerful.

A Round in the Life

Here are some tricks this build can do.

  • Swift action Bladed Dash allows me to basically run past someone without provoking and attack them once. I can then full attack them, either because I ended my movement adjacent to the target or because I set myself up for a position where I can use Vulpine Pounce to charge + full attack my target. My favorite, however, is to do this while I have sense vitals active, as I could theoretically bladed dash behind an enemy, striking them once along the way, then charge behind them into a better flanking position to take advantage of sense vitals.
  • Swift action haste is never a bad idea.
  • Swift action monstrous physique is probably the nastiest trick in the book, as there are a ton of powerful forms I could assume that have more natural attacks then what I would have in my base form.

My Character: Hanjae

To close out this article, I thought it might be fun if I shared the backstory I wrote for my Way of the Wicked character who’s using this build, Hanjae. Trigger Warning, it’s really dark and involves traumatic loss, blood, and cannibalism. There are no major spoilers for Way of the Wicked in this summary, as I wrote this before we started playing.

Hanjae was born Yeon Hanjae, to parents Yeon Hu and Yeon So aboard . Hailing from faraway Taeyin, the Yeon family left their homeland in search of a better life in Talingarde, hoping to use a combination of medicinal herbalism and occultic lore to find prosperity for themselves and their young son. Despite their isolationism, the people of Talingarde were warm and inviting to the Yeon family at first, and many were eager to purchase the medicinals they concocted. When Hanjae’s father, Hu, came down with a case of shapeshifter’s pox and accidentally revealed his true, kitsune form in a particularly bad fit of sneezing, the family was outed as shapeshifters to the public at large. Although the people of Martharyn were largely accepting of the Yeon family for their differences, individuals among them who compared the shapeshifting foxfolk to lycanthropes behind closed doors, the gossip surrounding them growing ever more outlandish until some claimed that the family routinely hexed the people of Talingarde with chronic illness simply so they could cure them of both their ails and their coin.

One day, Inquisitor Halston Krow came to the Yeon family, desperate for a remedy for his young son’s worsening illness. Hu and So went out to visit the ailing boy and did all they could, combing the finest medicines they could mill with chakra realignments and dozens of other, far stranger rites. Despite their best efforts, the boy died and Inquisitor Halston was stricken with grief. While drowning himself in a local tavern, a gossip told him the stories of the Yeon family, how they were actually sorcerous foxes who made healthy men sick for their own profit. Drunken and enraged, the inebriated inquisitor set himself upon the Yeon household in the dead of night and murdered both Hu and So in cold blood while Hanjae cowered beneath their bed in silent terror. For the next day, Hanjae remained there, immobilized by horror as blood pooled around him. It wasn’t until a business partner stopped by to check on the Yeon family after several days of absence that the people of Martharyn learned of the Yeon family massacre, and how their 10 year-old son was found half-starved in a pool of his parents’ blood.

A civics council eventually agreed that the Yeon’s properties would be sealed up and Hanjae fostered to a willing family until he came of age, at which point the house and all its belongings would be returned to him. As kind and accommodating as each of his foster families had been, all found the traumatized boy unsettling. For five years following his parents’ murder, Hanjae was stricken mute, able to reply only by writing responses on a small slate slab he kept with him on chalk. He complied with all tasks asked of him by his caretakers, went to school daily, helped his foster parents practice their trades and ran errands around Martharyn for them. But through it all, Hanjae’s eyes were empty and hollow, void of emotion, light, or laughter. Worse, Hanjae suffered crippling night terrors and awoke his foster families every night in fits of whimpering and screaming. Hanjae’s behavior was never blamed directly on him, but he was always, “Scaring the little ones,” or “Keeping the babies up at all hours, which isn’t good for their health.” Soon being shipped from home to home became a routine for Hanjae, never truly bonding with any of the people he stayed with.

Hanjae regained ownership of his family home on the day of his 18th birthday, his foster family at the time insisting he leave and take up residence there. The council had removed all sign of the massacre that happened in the Yeon home long ago, but none had bothered to clean the home or perform basic maintenance, making the house weathered and ill-suited for habitation. Hanjae spent his days doing simple work for carpenters and other handymen and used what knowledge he gathered repairing his family home, though as shoddy as the repairs were due to his inexperience, he had a functional roof over his head and needn’t worry about the ravages of the elements. With his home somewhat livable again, Hanjae began pouring over his parents’ artifacts, trying to fill the void in his heart left by their horrific deaths with whatever scraps of information he could find of them. In doing so, he poured over countless texts on chakra and herbs, as well as legends from his family’s homeland. Then one day, Hanjae found the register for his parents’ business. The first name he saw was Krow, Halston. Reading that name immediately triggered Hanjae’s traumatic memories, hearing his parents’ butcher shout that name, “You poisoned my son, Vasley Krow! You poisoned him!” Spurred onward by heartache, Hanjae visited every foster family he had stayed with and asked them of Krow, eventually learning that he was still serving Martharyn as an inquisitor. Hanjae needed to see for himself; he shapeshifted into a bloke of a boy and lazed about the church until heard him. A voice that had tormented his dreams for nearly a decade. The voice of his parents’ murderer. Something broke in Hanjae’s heart that day. Something crucial. For the first time in eight years, he spoke, muttering a promise under his breath to a murderer who hadn’t noticed him. “I’ll kill you.”

For the next five years, Hanjae planned the murder of Inquisitor Krow meticulously. Assuming the guise of a relatively unexemplary human, he took a job at the Inquisitor’s church and watched Krow constantly, noting every moment and memorizing his schedule and habits. By night, he scoured his parents’ books for anything he could find that might help him on his quest to end Inquisitor Krow. Instead, he found amidst his parents’ belongings a tome on chakra, the channels where spiritual energy resides within mortal bodies. From them, he learned how to access his own chakra, tapping into his inner strength to enhance his physical endurance, strength, and agility as needed and trained himself constantly, preparing himself to murder a murderer. Finally, after five long years of preparation, Hanjae began making his moves. He stalked Inquisitor Krow constantly, waiting for the perfect moment to strike at the man who ruined his life. One night, after the Inquisitor staggered out from a bar, Hanjae knew that it was the time to strike. He used his shapechanging powers to assume the form of Inquisitor Krow’s dead son, a form he perfected after months of studying the boy’s likeness in an old painting Krow hung within his home, and lured the inebriated inquisitor into an ally. Once there, Hanjae struck. Calling upon his personal reserves of chakra, he quickly murdered Krow, plunging his teeth into the inquisitor’s neck and ripping out his throat before he could make so much as a whimper. His parents were avenged. Waves of satisfaction poured over Krow, filling him with a giddy ecstasy as Krow took his final breaths. Hanjae jeered and taunted the dying man, overwhelmed by the moment, inflicting every cruelty his mind could come up with as 13 years of silent suffering poured out from the young man’s soul. In his indulgent throngs, Hanjae pulled Krow’s liver from his body and bit into it, wanting Krow to see his murder devour him like the useless slab of meat he was. In that moment, a surge of power the likes of which Hanjae had never experienced before flooded his senses. Later, Hanjae would recall from his parents’ writings that mortal chakra tends to coalesce in the liver, but for a moment Hanjae knew only bliss. Then he was thrown to the ground as several inquisitors, who had noticed Krow’s absence, stumbled upon the site of his murder and apprehended Hanjae.

During his trial, the judge demanded to know why Hanjae had murdered Krow, but Hanjae refused to speak of his parents, instead speaking only of the thrill of the hunt and of the satisfaction of bringing low a murderer. Although some suspected that perhaps Hanjae’s motivation was one of revenge, the maddened fox gave away nothing that supported or denied this, and regardless of motive Hanjae had unquestionably committed premediated manslaughter, so Hanjae was charged with murder and sentenced to death. He was shipped off to Branderscar Prison to await his sentence, his hands bound in iron mitts and his face muzzled so as to prevent him from using the deadly jaws and claws he had used to eviscerate Krow.

In Conclusion,

I hope you enjoyed this build, as well as a snippet of some of my fiction writing. Next week I’m planning on another Teenaged Wasteland article, but in the meantime a very safe and happy Thanksgiving to all our USA readers! Take care, and eat tons of Turkey!

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.