Sunday, April 2, 2017

Discussions & Dragons

Discussions & Dragons

Roleplaying games have always had a strong relationship with violence. Some of its earliest roots were in wargaming, and the intervening decades have only refined and deepened the various ways of putting the hurt on the something. Depending on the game combat can be an exciting and visceral experience with lots of moment-to-moment tactical assessments and decisions that spring out from the status, position and abilities of yourself, your allies, and your opponents, all hard-coded in the game's rules to give you a solid framework to fight with.

By comparison, the rules for non-violent options can be a little looser. In D&D's earliest stages, social interaction was a lot more player- and DM-dependent (much like many other aspects of the game). The party would encounter some people, the DM would ask how they wished to proceed, the party would say what they wished and the DM would decide if that was fitting enough or maybe require them to roll some Charisma checks. As the editions progressed, they introduced more options such as nonweapon proficiencies and skills that governed all sorts of non-swording abilities your character might possess such as tracking, medicine, lore or deception and persuasion, allowing players to denote the various areas of expertise that their characters possess.

Of course, just because a character is skilled at a particular subject, it doesn't always mean that they're effective at it, especially when it comes to social skills. In a game like D&D the effectiveness of social skills tends to place a far higher burden on the skill of the player rather than the skill of the character when compared to other forms of character action- if you wanted to say "my fighter attacks the orc with a sword" or "my mage blasts the orc with a fireball" you can probably do so with a minimum of explanation, but if you want to say "my bard talks the orc down" you're far more likely to get the question of ""

I'm still not really sure why we do this. Part of it might be that the vast majority of people playing RPGs have been in far more conversations than swordfights in their lives and thus already come in with an existing sense of what sounds reasonable and what sounds like absolute bullshit in a conversation. Another part might be that unlike the other forms of interacting with the world conversations place far more importance on the internal motivators of the NPC to determine the effect of the approach. If the orc was devoutly loyal to the warboss then maybe the orc couldn't be easily bribed or scared away with a show of force, but might require the player to focus on exposing how the warboss is breaking with the orcs' beliefs or by convincing the orc to stand down so negotiations can take place and they can avoid murdering both the orc and the boss and bringing ruin to everyone... meanwhile, fireball only really cares if the orc is flammable or not (and maybe if the orc is nimble or behind cover).

If you think this is complicated, check out the work in social interactions in video games. In their earliest forms, noncombat options in RPGs and other video games could be close to non-existent, with social options being especially dire. While tabletop games have the advantage of human minds able to evaluate the situation and come up with innovative new ideas which can be evaluated and responded to in turn, most video games tend to be stuck with whatever options the developers had the foresight to code in. So if they remembered to put in some noncombat dialogue options then you might get the scenario (that shows up in a surprising amount of RPGs from the 90s and early 2000s) where you put all your points into the Talk Good skill, walk up to the last boss and say "Have you considered that you might be wrong?" Then if your Talk Good was high enough you can watch some minds get blown (usually figuratively, occasionally literally shortly after the conversation).

I'm not saying that can't be incredibly satisfying after a long campaign, but you're still basically following the tracks that have been laid out for you, with your largest contribution to the outcome being making sure you invested your skills appropriately to claim your ticket for the ride. This isn't really a condemnation of the developers either- writing complicated and engaging dialogues is hard work (and expensive if you have to record audio for all of it) and tends to be limited to particular characters in the game world rather than being easily reusable. Creating games where the conversation mechanics require more engagement and interaction from the player can often require adding on additional layers of abstraction in the form of a conversation minigame (which can still be fun, but may grow tiring after an entire campaign) while creating a conversation system that can function with random NPCs requires either wrangling some form of list of random lines large enough to avoid repetition or a random text generator skilled enough to remain coherent, or taking a page from the Sims and simply abstracting the conversation to the point where the characters say nothing of substance at all.

Conversations are hard and fake conversations can be harder.

So how does it stack up in Pathfinder? We've already examined how difficult it is to notkill something, but what if you wanted to notfight something? Pathfinder inherited 3e's skill system, including the stock standard social skills of Bluff (for lying), Diplomacy (for making friends, finding info and negotiating), Intimidate (for making threats) and Sense Motive (for figuring out what makes people tick). The system remained basically the same as 3e, where you put ranks into your social skills, roll a d20, add your bonus and hope you got a high enough result, where the target number either depends on the target's abilities (for Diplomacy and Intimidate) or skills (the opposed roll for Bluff vs. Sense Motive). Focus enough on your social skills and you could probably do a number on opposing NPCs... provided the DM agreed with your approach and course of action relative to the NPCs' motivations of course.

When Ultimate Intrigue was released, it presented a variety of information making a more interaction-focused game, including how to establish and run social conflicts. Among these rules were a more extended system of clashing social interactions between parties in pursuit of their own particular goals compared to the one-and-done roll system that the game had earlier. In other words... SOCIAL COMBAT!

Verbal Duels were Paizo's attempt to do for social interactions what their Relationship rules did for social bonding. They'd provide a high-stakes strategic game of conflict resolution where there was more to winning than just picking your highest talking skill and bludgeoning your opponent into submission.

Of course, like most conflicts, verbal duels take a bit of scene-setting, requiring a few simple ingredients:
1) A conflict with something at stake
2) Two (or more) parties who actively oppose each other

It could range from something like a trial or diplomatic negotiation or something more high-stakes like a debate over the merits of a gaming system. If it has a back-and-forth element between two or more parties and can't be solved with a one-and-done roll then it's Time To Duel! We cross words at dawn!

The stage is set and the players are ready, and shall soon engage in a high-stakes clash of ideals and beliefs, fighting through valiant skill and spirit. The thought fills you with Determination... seriously. Determination serves as your character's social hit point equivalent, with each participant having a Determination pool equal to their number of hit dice plus the average of their three mental ability score modifiers (Intelligence/Wisdom/Charisma), so for example this level 7 bard would have 7 from being level 7 and then another 2 from average ability score modifier ([2+0+5]/3=7/3, rounded down to 2) for a total of 9 Determination.

At its core, every exchange in a verbal duel is basically an opposed skill roll for a set ante, which starts at 1 at the start of the exchange and increases as the exchange drags on. The person who loses the exchange takes the ante in damage to their Determination, and anyone who hits 0 Determination is out. Right off the bat, we learn something interesting about Pathfinder- discussions aren't about learning about one another and reaching a mutually agreeable compromise, they're winner-take-all affairs where you grind your opponent into submission.

Now, at this point you might be thinking "if this is all about the opposed rolls, doesn't that favor whoever can stack their bonus the highest?" and you'd be absolutely right! That's why the system makes a few modifications to the normal skill system.

The biggest is that Verbal Duelists don't use their skills as-is, but rather assign them to different tactics in order to engage in a duel. A duelist's tactics are divided into one of ten different categories: Allegory, Baiting, Emotional Appeal, Flattery, Logic, Mockery, Presence, Red Herring, Rhetoric, and Wit. Different skills are associated with different tactics- your skill with Perform (Comedy) for instance could be used for Baiting, Mockery or Wit, but you could only assign it to one particular tactic for the entire verbal duel, forcing you to have multiple skills if you want to be good at multiple tactics. Having multiple tactics is important because some are weaker or stronger against other tactics and some serve different purposes- you can't open an exchange by calling your opponent a poisonous bunch-backed toad, for instance (it's really more of a counter-argument).

The skill bonuses themselves have been severely gutted- your skill modifier is now equal to your ranks in the skill (with the normal +3 bonus if it's a class skill) added to your Charisma modifier (even if it's not a Charisma-based skill, such as Sense Motive normally using Wisdom) and that's it. Everything else that would normally provide a bonus to your skill check instead provides a number of edges equal to 1 per 3 points of the normal bonus. Edges are spent to reroll a check you make with the skill or tactic they're associated with and can be gained from things like circumstance and skill use in addition to having what would normally be a high bonus from feats, items and other bonuses. This means that the skill range is a lot narrower in a Verbal Duel and a character who heavily invests in a skill will have a statistical advantage compared a similarly skilled character who doesn't invest, but won't be able to push the other character into the "don't bother rolling" range so long as both have similar levels of skill ranks and Charisma.

There may also be an audience component. Audiences may have particular biases towards or against a particular tactic, providing anywhere between a +5 and -5 bonus or penalty to a particular tactic, like a court who prefers reasoned arguments vs. a crowd who'd rather people skip the chatty stuff and just dunk on each other. A character may attempt to discern an audience's biases with a Sense Motive check, and if successful seed the audience, making a roll in order to gain an edge with a particular tactic the audience is biased in favor of (or an edge to use to counter a tactic an audience is biased against). The situation may be modified further if one party has a particular advantage or disadvantage that multiplies determination and adds or removes edges, such as by being a monarch in their own court and thus possessing a far more entrenched position than some upstart petitioner.

With the duelists ready and determined, tactics chosen, and audience in place the duel can finally take form.

One duelist (Duelist A) goes first (determined by the particulars of the scene- the prosecution might go first in trial, or the petitioner when speaking to the monarch) and starts with an opening, picking a tactic and rolling a 1d20 plus their skill bonus with that tactic, setting the ante from 0 to 1.

That roll then determines the DC and the other duelist (Duelist B) must decide to either make an attempt to increase the ante and counter the roll with a tactic of their own or back down and end the exchange, reducing their determination by a value equal to the ante and granting their opponent a free edge.

Should Duelist B's counter tactic's roll exceed the DC of Duelist A's opener then that roll becomes the new DC and Duelist A must decide to either counter that counter with a tactic (increasing the ante again) or end the exchange. Should Duelist B's counter tactic roll fail to exceed that of Duelist A's opener, then Duelist B is considered to have lost the exchange and reduces their determination by the current ante (which was increased when Duelist B chose to counter).

Once a duelist has lost an exchange by failing to counter or voluntarily ending the exchange, the duelist may choose to open a new exchange or concede the duel entirely so long as the duelist has determination remaining. Should the duelist have no determination remaining then the duelist has decisively lost the match. At the end of any exchange either duelist can also offer terms to end the match in a draw if the other duelist agrees to them, so feel free to throw your opponent a patronizing lifeline every turn.

In order to keep duelist from spamming the same tactics there are a few rules to complicate it. The first is that countering a tactic with the same tactic gives a -2 penalty so things don't degenerate into repetitive name-calling. The second (and more important) rule is that whenever you win an exchange with a particular tactic (with your opponent either failing to counter or choosing to end the exchange) you take a cumulative -2 penalty to all further checks with that particular tactic. So you can't take your best skill and spam it until victory without it rapidly deteriorating.

But hey, with all these tactics, checks and locks placed on degenerate strategies, surely this is a fine triumph as Paizo successfully created an exciting and engaging way of navigating social conflicts with character skill and player planning, right?



Solving Social Conflict

Verbal Duels may have rules, but at the end of the day they're still games of numbers and that means there's always a way to win.

Step 1: Be Attractive

The biggest edge you can have in a verbal duel is your Charisma modifier because that applies no matter what else you have. The Ironclad Logic feat lets you use your Intelligence modifier when assigning intelligence-based skills as a tactic, but that's still a feat you have to spend, and it normally only means it works when you're assigning Knowledge or Linguistics skills as tactics. This limits you to Allegory, Flattery, Presence, Rhetoric and Wit as possible tactics, and due to the fact that you can only assign one skill to one tactic it means you're bringing all of three tactics at best- Knowledge (history) and (religion) only work with Allegory, Knowledge (nobility) requires you to choose between Flattery and Presence, and Linguistics requires you to choose between Rhetoric and Wit.

You'd need to take things like the Diabolical Negotiator feat, Empiricist investigator archetype or Student of Philosophy trait if you wanted to turn other debate skills into Intelligence-based skills that you could use your Intelligence modifier with during a duel... except that Ironclad Logic also provides a bonus to your normal Diplomacy checks if you have a high Intelligence and are using Charisma on your Diplomacy checks. So you're effectively spending a feat and then taking another feat or trait or class ability to disable half of your first feat just so you can use the remaining half of your feat in a verbal duel to pick up one more tactic with an Intelligence-based Diplomacy skill (or possibly two if you're an Empiricist with an Intelligence-based Sense Motive as well).

This is the only way to use something other than Charisma in a verbal duel and it barely covers half the field. Better make yourself pretty or make yourself scarce.

Step 2: Be Skillful

If you have a good Charisma modifier, the next thing you need is a bunch of skills to go with it. There are ten different tactics, so it's a question of figuring out what skills you'll need to cover ground and how you want to arrange them. Keeping on top of all ten tactics means you need ranks in ten different skills, preferably full ranks in all of them if you want to do your best in a debate, which is admittedly a lot of skill points. So you'd need to figure out how to balance yourself between skills that help you avoid your enemies' words and skills that help you avoid your enemies' swords.

"How do you plan on spending your weekend?" "Oh, I'm going to sit in my basement and solve social conflict."

Except I lied. While there may be ten tactics in a verbal duel, if you want to be a master you're only going to need nine. Logic is a special case in that Logic's associated skill is... whatever skill happens to be most appropriate to the topic of the debate (usually Knowledge, occasionally Profession or Appraise or something else). So you might be able to conduct a logical thesis defense using your deep knowledge of plant life and animal habitats but you're going to be utterly sunk if you get into a civil rights or urban planning debate. Meanwhile, calling someone a poisonous bunch-backed toad is an evergreen tactic. Which leads us to our next step...

Step 2.1: Kick Logic to the Curb

Knowing stuff about stuff is a fool's errand. All the effort you could spend learning to accurately craft honest, reasonable and insightful answers about a well-understood topic is effort you could better spend learning to master the art of spewing all-purpose white noise at any challenger you face.

Nine skills aren't much easier to max ranks in than ten though, but there is one way to bypass this.

Step 2.2: Be a Bard

You might remember a little bit about the horrifying force multiplier that is the bard. Specifically, you might remember the Sheylnator, bardic master of romance. The big thing about the Shelynator was that by stacking bonuses you could boost your social skills to the stratosphere and steamroll any opposition, and while bonus stacking in a verbal duel just means you're going to get edgy rather than godlike, one core component remains intact- versatile performance, the bard's ability to use one Perform skill to substitute for two different associated skills. The rules for a verbal duel state that "The bard’s versatile performance ability allows two skills to use the bonus from a Perform skill, and a character with that ability can assign all three of those skills to different tactics, even though he technically might only have ranks in the Perform skill." This means you can get up to three max-rank tactics for the price of one max-rank Perform skill, if the Perform skill is also a Verbal Duel skill.

There are three Perform skills can be used as Verbal Duel skills- Act, Comedy and Oratory. Of the three, Act counts as Bluff but also Disguise (which isn't a skill used in your usual duels)... but Comedy counts as Bluff and Intimidate while Oratory counts as Diplomacy and Sense Motive, meaning that with just two skills a bard can cover six out of the ten (well, nine) tactics, provided the bard is level 6 or higher and has access to two or more versatile performance skills.

And with five skills they can cover all nine tactics with equally valid options offered for Allegory and Baiting/Mockery. Other variations are possible, but you want a core of Comedy and Oratory

Bards are already Charisma-focused and all of the skills in a verbal duel are already class skills for that +3 bonus in a scenario where any other bonuses have largely been washed away. There are a few archetypes that boost their effectiveness in verbal duels even further... unfortunately these two archetypes both replace versatile performance, the thing that makes bards the most cost-effective horror shows in a verbal duel.

Step 3: Use Effective Tactics

Effective Openers:
-Allegory: Allegory's special feature is that if you use it as an opener and your opponent concedes rather than counter, it increases the ante by 2 before reducing determination, which means you can do 3 points of damage in your first round. Not bad.

-Wit: Logic's big thing was that it gave +2 to your roll when used as an opener, but required you to have some sort of actual knowledge of the subject like a chump. Wit's big thing is that you can elect to get a +2 bonus to your roll, but if you fail you lose a point of determination (and take a -2 penalty to Wit checks if you fail by 5 or more). If you use Wit as an opener, you cannot possibly lose. Bonus: One of Wit's associated skills is Linguistics, because a universal truth of Pathfinder is that everyone appreciates puns.

Conditional Counters:
-Flattery: Gets a bonus when countering Presence, and if you win the exchange reduces the ante by 2 (so your opponent takes less damage) but gives you a free Edge

-Mockery: Grants a +2 bonus when countering a tactic with negative bias, and increases the ante by 1 if you win the exchange. Pretty circumstantial.

-Presence: Presence gets a +2 bonus when used as a counter to baiting or mockery, and also restores a point of determination if you win an exchange with it. This makes it garbage as your first move, but has potential later in the duel.

-Red Herring: Flattery, but even bigger. Use it as a counter and you get +4 to your roll, succeed at beating the roll and you automatically win the exchange but your opponent takes 0 damage and you get to start with an opener. It's a verbal reset button, provided you don't fail the roll.

It Exists:
-Rhetoric: No real bonuses, no real penalties, no real biases either. The Mario of debate tactics, and the most expendable one after logic.

Effective Counters:
-Baiting: Your opponent takes a -2 to counter it with anything other than presence. Most importantly, if your opponent ends the exchange rather than attempt to counter it you don't suffer the normal cumulative -2 penalty on future skill checks. Other skills may decay as the duel stretches on, but as long as your opponent never sinks to your level you can call someone a poisonous bunch-backed toad forever.

-Emotional Appeal: +2 vs. logic, presence and rhetoric, but more importantly, if you successfully counter (even if they try to counter back) it raises the ante by an additional one point, so things get hairy faster.

A versatile bard with a full arsenal of tactics can be quite the threat. But while versatility can be a form of power, pure power has a charm all of its own.

Tactics bonuses have been reduced to three components, your ranks, class skill bonus and Charisma modifier. Class skills are a binary thing, either they're your class skills or they aren't. Charisma bonuses can be increased, but only so far, requiring increasingly convoluted things like magic items, levels, bonuses from old age, wishes, or gifts from a succubi. But skill ranks are even harder, since they're hard capped at the number of hit dice you have, which for most humanoid adventures translates to their level.

But there are creatures out there with lots more hit dice than an adventurer of that level would have, and with it comes a far higher skill cap. If any of those creatures also have a solid Charisma modifier then you're going to find out what it means to face the most skilled verbal duelist in the cosmos...

Step 4: Be a Dragon

This is a Great Wyrm Gold Dragon. At CR 23, it's a formidable foe for a level 20 party. But at 30 Hit Dice and 26 Charisma (a +8 modifier) with identical Intelligence and Wisdom modifiers it's rocking 38 Determination and a +41 to any given tactic (of which it will have at least four).

For comparison, a level 20 character would have +23 from ranks, and thus require a +18 bonus to Charisma (meaning a Charisma score of 46 or higher, requiring either mythic tiers or every other Charisma bonus in the game) just to break even, and due to averaging out mental scores will probably have a Determination in the low-to-mid-20s meaning that even if their offense is even the dragon has a serious defensive advantage. And should the DM also decide that the dragon has an advantageous set-up and multiplies the dragon's determination by 1.5x to 2x... might as well just throw yourself into its mouth right now.

The most dangerous place to encounter a dragon isn't in its lair, but in the courtroom.

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No one can stop it.

Not even this guy, because 20 hit dice just won't cut it

And even if you somehow manage to build yourself up to match Smaug, J.D. you're going to run into one final problem...

1. Tactics bonuses scale with skill points (which scales with level) and with Charisma modifiers (which don't exactly directly scale with level, but high-end creatures generally can have higher Charisma scores and modifiers). High-end foes have high-end offense.
2. Determination pools scale with hit dice (and thus level) and with your ability score average (which again, doesn't directly scale with level but does generally get a bit larger as things go on). High-end foes have high-end defense.
3. Every exchange starts with the ante at 1.

You want to engage in a thrilling high-stakes debate with a dragon? You're going to take off those 38 points of determination one by one. Sure, upping the ante increases the amount of determination that gets knocked off, but in order to up the ante someone has to roll a die. Unless you're going absolutely all-in on emotional appeals, you're looking at 38 d20 rolls one-by-one- or more because you're probably not going to win every exchange if your skills are equal. And even if you do go all-in on emotional appeals, you probably can't control the dice enough to ensure that you don't win any exchanges with emotional appeal, because as soon as you do you're going to say hello to that cumulative -2 penalty and watch your tool get placed back in the box. By the time one of you has been ground to dust after 40 or more die rolls it's almost guaranteed that you'll have worn your tactics threadbare by rhetorically beating a dead horse... unless of course you somehow managed to get the dragon to back down every time you call him a poisonous bunch-backed toad.

There are also rules for Multi-party Duels and Team Duels if you want to add even more die rolls to this thing.

Which brings us to the final step for mastering Verbal Duels...

Step 5: Just Don't

With the Verbal Duel mechanics, Paizo developers sought to create an engaging system of tactical decision-making and social role-playing whose framework would bolster interactions and avoid degenerate strategies of boring repetition.

What they got was a system wherein arts majors start by discarding logic and rhetoric in favor of jokes and puns that cascade into emotional outbursts and meaningless chatter until all are ground down by endless repetition of stale arguments and nothing is left but insults on the howling winds. And there's some dude in the corner claiming to be a dragon that absolutely no one wants to deal with.

Basically, it's the LARP version of the Internet.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Putting The Class Back In Class Warfare

A while back I did a write-up on how to make money in a Pathfinder game and in the time since there have been several books released, some of which have even tipped the scales.

Ultimate Intrigue was released in the past month and introduced a new class: the Vigilante.

Wealthy Scion By Day

Costumed Crime-Fighter By Night

The Vigilante is probably the single most mechanically fiddly class Paizo has produced since every level involves you picking from a list of abilities, be they social talents at odd levels that boost your social and support abilities in your civilian identity, or vigilante talents at even levels that boost your ability to fight crime in your vigilante identity. Now, as any comic book will tell you, living a double life is no easy thing, especially if your two lives give you twice as many responsibilities. But a vigilante can counter some of that burden and learn how to hustle with the Double Time social talent, allowing you to work faster and get shit done so you have more time to spend on your alternate lifestyle. With just the Double Time talent you can make Craft or Profession checks with only 6 hours of work per day instead of 8, and if you also invested in the Social Grace talent to actually be good at a particular Craft or Profession then you can do a day's work in only 4 hours... even if your profession happens to be soldier, shepherd, librarian or midwife. Surely those sheep can watch themselves for a few hours?

If you happen to have both Social Grace and Double Time as social talents, not only is every day a half day but it also qualifies you for the In Vogue social talent. So, what does it do? Well, Craft checks using your Social Grace talent make things that sell for 1/3 more than normal thanks to your fame, while Profession checks using your Social Grace talent double the amount earned, so you work half as often and make twice as much as anyone else in your line of work.

But you know, we can do better. Pathfinder Unchained did a revamp of the rogue and as part of that revamp did an alternate skill system called "Skill Unlocks" where having 5/10/15/20 ranks of a chosen skill unlocks special additional abilities such as letting you boost your diplomatic abilities so you can make friends for longer in a shorter amount of time. While a vigilante is not an unchained rogue, it can take the Signature Skill feat to gain the skill unlocks for one chosen skill. For Profession, those skill unlocks include earning your check result in gp when you make a Profession check instead of half of that once you have 5 ranks, doubling the amount of money you can make. Once you have 15 ranks you can make a Profession check to earn your money once per day instead of once per week. Put them all together and you'll make more money in four hours than most people make in four weeks. Who needs adventuring? (Answer: You do, because you're probably not hitting level 15 just by delivering babies).

(If we really wanted to be an unstoppable master of a chosen profession then there's also the Phantom Thief archetype on an unchained rogue, allowing us to have all the skill unlocks of an unchained rogue, add half our level to those unlocks so we unlock things faster and can qualify for 15 rank unlocks at level 10, add half our level to our skill checks so we can out-perform others and also lets you take vigilante social talents instead of rogue talents... were it not for the fact that the last bit prohibits you from taking "social grace and vigilante social talents that would require her to be a craftsman or professional" because gods forbid the social elite work a day in their lives.)

So what's a 15th level vigilante going to do with the ability to 60+ gold per day? Spend it all on an extravagent lifestyle? Well... not necessarily. There's a chain of social talents called Renown, Great Renown and Incredible Renown that lets your vigilante make a name for themself in a particular community, starting with a village-sized community of 200 individuals with the Renown talent and scaling up to a metropolis-sized community of around 25,000 individuals with Incredible Renown. With the Celebrity Perks social talent you can take advantage of your fame in your community and get free food and lodging, avoid having to pay taxes or bribes, and spend 1d10 minutes hobnobbing with fans to get free gifts of non-magical items (though if you sell any of them then you permanently lose this talent even though I'm not really sure how the hell they'd find out if you sold it on the other side of the world vs. lost it by giving it to a beggar or dropping it in a lake. Fans are scary). With only basic renown you can avoid paying for anything worth 1gp or less, while incredible renown lets you get gifts of up to 25 gp, food and lodging of up to 100 gp per meal/night and avoid taxes and bribes of up to 100 gp. Money looks after its own.

So if you find yourself in the professional world faced with someone who barely puts in any apparent effort, earns an absurd amount of money and yet sustains a lavish lifestyle solely by mooching off of everyone in their social circle then don't worry! It's not the result of a grossly unbalanced system that absurdly favors those born into a life of privilege... it's just that they're secretly Batman.

Ok, to be fair there are other explanations. The book also introduces several different vigilante archetypes which alter and/or replace the vigilante's class features with other abilities. One of them is the Magical Child.

With flashy transformations and lots of spells the magical child fights alongside a magical spirit guide who provides the child with guiding wisdom and merchandising opportunities and grows with the magical child's power, eventually unlocking mid-season upgrades alternate forms of ever-increasing ability. It's cute, colorful, whimsical... and totally capable of beating someone's ass.

See, magical spirit guides use the rules for familiars, which means it also qualifies for familiar archetypes. One of those is the mauler archetype, which sacrifices things such as language, intelligence and spellcasting support in order to get ripped and bathe in the blood of your enemies. Not only does it get a bonus to strength that scales up by 1 point per 2 levels but at level 3 it gains a battle form that allows it to become the size of a human with the increase in strength that comes from going from a tiny creature to a significantly less tiny one and a +2 to strength on top of that. Since the Magical Child's companion gets upgraded forms off of the improved familiar list it's entirely possible to get forms that have a sizeable statistical advantage over your average familiar such as a tidepool dragon and can have a strength score of 20 in battle form when you get it at level 7.

If you're a Small creature like a gnome, halfling or a literal child then a medium-sized mauler familiar is big enough that you can ride it into battle if angry magical cats sound like your idea of transportation, and with a 20+ in strength a tidepool dragon can not only out-lift a trained pony but it can also do a little thing called "fly" (which it will probably have to do, since its base land speed is 10 ft per move action and it doesn't get any better when it gets bigger, leaving flying and swimming as its preferred modes of movement). In battle your familiar borrows your base attack bonus so it can hit as well as you can (or better if it's in warform and stronger than you are), so it can deliver quite a beating. Unfortunately, it only has half of your HP count so it can't take nearly as much abuse, but it does have damage reduction that reduces damage from nonmagical weapons by an amount equal to your vigilante level, so you can laugh as it murders its way through goblins (and then cry when everything past mid-level bypasses it).

The cabalist and warlock archetypes for the vigilante also have options that grant them familiars, and while they don't get new forms like Magical Child's they do share one feature- while not in vigilante form your familiar has a secret identity of its own as a seemingly normal animal, though more outlandish familiars might still need some other form of hiding. If you and your cat are both juggling your double lives, then why not make the most out of it with the decoy familiar archetype? As you level it gains the ability to lie better, speak any language you speak, mimic your voice exactly and even transform into an identical copy of you at-will. Whether it takes your place while you get dangerous or takes your kids out while you get smashed, your familiar has you covered (well, for a minute per level followed by an equal amount of time in its normal form before it can change back).

If you want a vigilante who can really transform, then there's nothing quite like the Brute archetype. The brute's vigilante form involves physically transforming into a larger form (and if you're a halfling you can tower over your fellow halflings now that you're the size of a regular human) and limits you from using skills based on Dexterity, Intelligence or Charisma and abilities that require patience or concentration, heavily based on the barbarian's rage except worse because the barbarian's rage doesn't apply an additional -2 penalty to Dexterity, Intelligence and Charisma ability checks and ability-based skill checks that you already can't use. So your alter-ego is a large, unthinking brute with serious anger issues... let's not dance around this much longer, this is the archetype for people who want to play as the Hulk.

That's totally understandable, since the Hulk is based on some primal ideas in the human condition and has featured in some great stories (and also books where he yells a lot and punches things). There have been some great stories where Hulk has battled with his anger and reached the point where his tremendous anger has so consumed him that he's lost the ability to tell friend from foe, threatening his allies while they struggle to calm him down by reminding him of their shared human connection and all they stand and fight for... wouldn't it be fantastic if this happened in literally every single fight?

See, while in vigilante form the brute "can't always tell friend from foe" and while it will attack enemies above all else, once there are no enemies around (due to them being dead, fled or hidden, for example) then the brute must make a Will save each round or continue fighting against allies and bystanders. The brute can make a new save each round and allies can make aid another checks using skills like Diplomacy to boost the brute's will save and help the brute calm down, but depending on how the DM rules it may require the allies to be within the BRUTE SMASH radius.

But hey, you made the save and the brute calms down... and turns back into the social identity slowly over the next minute (or faster if the vigilante invested in the right social talents). Ok, that's fine, we can handle going around in Bruce Banner mode and helping the party... science man, science man, does whatever a scientist can. Of course, once we get into mortal peril (combat starts, for example, or we end up in a trap or hazard) then we have to make that same Will save or we Hulk out again and may just make things worse if there are no enemies to smash. If there are enemies around then they get to deal with the fact that hulking out in the middle of combat takes an entire round, leaves the brute an easy mark for a beating and (as the game so helpfully reminds us) probably lets them learn both the social and vigilante identities of the brute so it rapidly becomes one of those "leave no witnesses" sort of days.

Ok, that kind of sucks, but surely the Will Save DC is static or even decreasing with level, creating a natural character arc out of the mechanic as your brute slowly learns to deal with the horrible urges of the transformation, right? No, of course not- the DC starts at 20 at level 1 and scales up by half your level, hitting DC 30 at level 20. The vigilante has a Good Will save, which scales at 2 + 1/2 your vigilante level, but the brute archetype dumps that in favor of a Poor Will save, which scales at 0 + 1/3 your vigilante level, so you're actually losing ground as you level and need to rely on magic items, feats, spells and class abilities (from classes that certainly aren't yours) if you even hope to maintain control of your character.

Alright, alright, we can handle this. We just have to hulk out before we get into trouble. Normally transitioning into vigilante form takes 1 minute, so either we have to invest in social talents that reduce the transformation time or we need to get used to transforming well in advance of any danger. It may block us from using 3/4s of our skill set but so be it. Now, a brute can only remain in vigilante identity for up to 2 hours at a time and up to 6 hours total in a 24-hour period, so wandering around in vigilante form when you don't need it is just going to burn up the meter. But in the era of the 15-minute adventure day we probably have enough time in reserve that we can afford to wander around and contribute as much to the group out-of-combat as the party fighter.

One minor complication is that when exiting vigilante form the brute is fatigued for a time equal to the amount of time spent in vigilante form. This means that when you roll your DC 20 + 1/2 level Will save after running out of enemies a failed save means it's murder time while a successful save means that it's now nap time, because going into vigilante while fatigued means you're not only fatigued and doing worse while fighting but you're going to be an exhausted wreck when you come out of it at the end of a fight. If you're somehow hard pressed enough to go into vigilante form while exhausted then you can only maintain vigilante form for a number of rounds equal to half your level (so a minute tops at level 20) and fall unconscious immediately afterwards and can't enter vigilante form for another hour.

There are a bunch of ways to remove fatigue from a target, such as the restoration line of spells or a paladin's mercy ability. Unfortunately, none of them work, because the brute "cannot ignore or remove this fatigue by any means except by waiting the appropriate amount of time." This can severely slow down your party's progression if you need downtime after every fight, or more if you also spent a few rounds beating on your party members. Should we decided to get clever and build a character who is entirely immune to fatigue it will completely backfire on us since an immunity to fatigue or exhaustion prevents the vigilante from transforming into the brute vigilante form at all, blocking it just as it blocks fatigue or exhaustion effects. So about the best way to cure the Hulk is to turn Bruce Banner into a vampire. Of course, if we're being pedantic it only blocks the transformation into vigilante form, so you could Hulk out and then get an item or spell effect that blocks fatigue right before you change back into your social identity (assuming your angry unthinking mind can go through with this plan or your allies can get close enough to do it without you smashing them). But while that trick is valid in the letter of the rules, it's pretty clearly against the spirit of the rules- all these restrictions and limitations are clearly there for a reason, and I'm sure that the reason is "to balance out all the cool Hulk things you'll be able to do in your vigilante form."

So, what sort of things can the brute do? Everyone knows that the Hulk is strong (strongest there is!), tough, durable and resilient, capable of facing almost any physical threat so long as he's angry enough.

The brute vigilante does approximately none of these things.

It provides no boost to strength, not even the strength boost that normally comes from changing size that the magical child's familiar benefits from. It provides no boost to Constitution either, no bonus hit points, temporary hit points, fast healing, regeneration, or damage reduction to make you even the slightest bit better at taking damage. One thing they did copy was the fact that when you change in size you damage whatever nonmagical clothing and armor you're currently wearing, and such items lose a quarter of their HP. Your magical pants will change size with you, but magical armor and weaponry won't scale up with you unless you take the Sizing Equipment brute vigilante talent, and even that one will give you a -1 penalty to AC and attack rolls while using the equipment until you hit level 6 because why should spending an ability slot grant you a basic ability without complications? For the first five levels you run the risk of fighting naked when you enter vigilante form... actually, it's worse since the form already gives you a penalty to AC for increasing in size (since you're now a larger target) and a further -2 penalty to AC on top of that to go with the reckless raging condition that is the brute's vigilante form. Combine that with the base HP count of a rogue and you have a character who basically cannot take a hit or operate long on the front lines of battle.

Ok, maybe you can't out-endure the Hulk, but who can? You can at least be a glass cannon and deliver devastation on the battlefield, smashing all who'd oppose you, right? The brute vigilante gains the full base attack bonus of a warrior class while in vigilante form, making your attacks as accurate as any... but the avenger vigilante specialization gains a full base attack bonus in both forms, meaning that Bruce Wayne and Don Diego can still put up a fight in their civilian identities if needed, and unlike the brute vigilante an avenger vigilante can qualify for any high-level feats that require a high base attack bonus. But hey, the brute also gets a bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls that scales up to an entire +3 to both at level 19! A whole +3!

If your munchkin-like lust for power cannot be satisfied with your +3 then you can spend a vigilante talent on the Heavy Punches brute vigilante ability that lets you throw punches that do damage like a monk of your level and (not insignificant size), and even stacks with any other class like monk or brawler. Unfortunately, unlike a monk or brawler you don't get any of the other bonuses that let you treat your unarmed strike as though it had other qualities for bypassing the ever-present damage reduction of higher-level play, not even the ability to treat your unarmed attacks as adamantine weapons so you could properly smash robots and tear through stone or steel like it was tissue paper. But hey, you're still a vigilante, so you can take the Lethal Grace vigilante talent, which grants you the benefits of Weapon Finesse to apply your Dexterity bonus to attack rolls instead of your Strength bonus with certain weapons (such as unarmed attacks) and lets you add half your level to damage rolls with a finessable provided you're adding your strength bonus to damage rolls. With a Dexterity-based build you can somewhat compensate for your terrible AC and have a Hulk who floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee!

Of the remaining brute vigilante talents, Awesome Blow lets you knock people away provided they're smaller than you and you succeed at a check, and at level 16 use this and any other combat maneuver regardless of how much bigger an opponent is, though as a standard action it prevents you from making the most of a full-attack (your major source of damage at high levels) and only knocks people up to 10 feet away. Meanwhile, Total Destruction lets you throw rocks at people, throw people at people (provided they're two size categories smaller, so halflings in the case of a regular medium humanoid-based brute), and eventually at level 16 throw a really big rock at people that does 1d6/level damage in an area unless the targets succeed at a Reflex save, making it sort of a low-tech fireball equivalent provided you have enough junk to throw. Sadly it has a fixed range and can't benefit from damage boosts like critical hits, so no using it to solve interplanetary crises.

Lastly there's the Scale Surroundings brute vigilante talent, which lets you climb things in your brute vigilante form like some sort of... humanoid arachnid (not to be confused with the stock vigilante talent Rooftop Infiltrator which also gives a climb speed that's initially slower than Scale Surroundings but can benefit from certain speed boosts and can be used in your social form). Sadly there is not a single boost to your jumping capabilities in sight. If you really want to become unstoppable, the Mad Rush vigilante talent lets you take a penalty to your AC to make a full attack on a charge, and the Nothing Can Stop Me Now lets you smash through any obstacle that gets in your way provided you can destroy it with a single attack... provided you're an avenger vigilante, which is mutually exclusive with the brute vigilante archetype.

Now, if you wanted to play a character based on the Hulk your more munchkin-y friends might suggest a brawler for smashing foes or even the "rage literally grants supernatural power and transformations" ability of the bloodrager, but you know better than all of them when you pick the brute vigilante. Trying to figure out which half of your class you will need to access next, letting your situation determine when the party needs to advance or rest, gambling everything on the fate of a die and knowing that whenever there's trouble everyone will stop and wonder... what will you do next? And when you fail those Will saves and charge the party, you laugh secure in the knowledge that given all of your offensive and defensive abilities the party will have no trouble putting you down before you hurt anyone.

No other class can do that for you.

Friday, April 1, 2016

In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night, No Evil Shall Escape My Sight

In my first Murphy's Rules post I brought up one unfortunate feature of 3e: Creatures take a -1 penalty to checks to spot something for every 10 feet of distance between them and the target, so a 120 million penalty to checks puts the moon out of sight of even the most skilled observers, let alone the sun or stars.

Not so in Pathfinder. Of course, it's still a task beyond even level 20 characters, but things get a little different once mythic rules come into play.

Mythic rules are kind of sort of Paizo's answers to the Epic rules of 3e and earlier editions which were there to solve the problem of what your band of adventurers has gained enough power that they can murder everything under the heavens, chiefly by providing them with enough power to murder everything within the heavens (as well as a host of possible targets). But while epic rules in D&D are designed as something you enter into after you've gone through the first 20 levels of play, Pathfinder's mythic rules are something that can be slotted in at any point in the campaign, existing under their own rules that provide various boosts to your capabilities that stack on top of the things provided by your class and the like. So you can have level 20 mythic characters, or level 1 ones, who will be stronger than an equally-leveled non-mythic character (well, in theory).

Mythic creatures all have a number called its ranging from 1 to 10 (which is called the "mythic tier" for characters and "mythic rank" for monsters), which provides certain benefits such as feats, ability scores and common features for characters (monsters have different rules). Both possess mythic power, a wellspring of supernatural ability spent on anything from boosting your d20 rolls as part of the universal "surge" feature to activating various special abilities. Each mythic character chooses one of six "mythic paths" and gains a starting ability plus a path ability for each mythic tier, which can be chosen from the path or from a pool of common abilities. Mythic paths each focus on different things: Archmage is all about arcane magic, Champion is all about beating faces, Guardian is about being tough and defending allies, Hierophant is about divine magic, Marshal is about leading allies and Trickster is about being sneaky. You're not obligated to take any particular path, but some will probably be more useful to your character than others.

With the basics covered, let's meet Elrond Hubble the (half-)elven astronomer. Since an early age Elrond has been intrigued by that strange blue blur overhead that brightens and darkens as the hours pass. Always seeking, Elrond possesses an elf's keen senses, and is eagle-eyed even by those standards to the point where Elrond can read a book from fifty feet away. Elrond refines his eyesight further with divine ability that emulates birds of prey, and focuses on this skill through training and items, but it's of no use. No matter how hard Elrond tries, he can't see anything more than a few hundred feet away.

But one day Elrond encounters a strange meteorite and is exposed to its unusual energy. His body flooded with power, he turns his face to the heavens and for a brief moment... he can see! Now, what happened was that when Elrond was exposed to the power of the space rock, he ascended and gained his first mythic tier (a not entirely uncommon occurrence in the Pathfinder setting, at least three or four deities owe their starts to a magic rock). At 1st tier Elrond gains his basic features, a mythic path (Trickster, since we're trying to be a skill monkey), a path ability (he'll choose Unwavering Skill to be able to take 10 on all skill checks that are class skills, letting him steady his gaze), and a mythic feat slot, which he spends on the mythic version of the Eagle Eyes feat. Now, the Eagle Eyes feat normally lets you ignore the distance penalty to Perception up to -5 (the first 50 ft) and the mythic version lets you ignore up to -10 (the first 100 ft). But if you spend a point of mythic power as a swift action then for the next round the feat will eliminate all penalties to Perception due to distance. -120 million penalty to notice the moon? Gone. Distance to the sun? He might as well be standing on it. Neighboring stars? Sure. Hell, nothing can stop him from staring a few hundred septillion feet out to take a close look at the figurative or perhaps literal edge of the universe itself (or at least past its event horizon).... well, nothing save for having enough random solid junk in the way.

This raises (and perhaps answers) a lot of cosmological questions that Elrond is probably ill-equipped to answer, all of which will soon be forgotten because Elrond's all-seeing gaze only lasts for a single round (about six seconds). Sure, he can spend a point of mythic power as a swift action on his next turn to do it again for another round, but mythic power is a daily resource and a mythic character only has 3 + 2x tier points of mythic power per day. You can spend a feat and up to three path ability slots to get more points, but even at tier 10 you'll only have 31 points per day. Even going all-out and investing in paths and abilities that provide mythic power substitutes will only take you up to 40 uses per day, a mere four minutes of star-gazing. You can recharge your pool of mythic power by slamming down some ambrosia but it's an expensive habit at 10k a dose (or 5k if you''ve got someone who can make it for you). At tier 10 all paths gain the ability to regain mythic power at the rate of one per hour in addition to the full refill they get once per day, but that's still not enough to feed Elrond's need for stars in his life.

Of course, each mythic path has a unique special ability gained at tier 10 that represents being at the height of your power and ability and being able to smack around lesser beings. In the case of the trickster, the Supreme Trickster feature grants Elrond the ability is to treat all non-mythic creatures as flat-footed against any attack he makes against them, even if they're normally immune to being caught flat-footed. For an astronomer that's more of a novelty than anything. Additionally once per round Elrond can regain a point of mythic power whenever he rolls a natural 20 on an opposed skill check against a mythic foe . This ability is probably the most worthlessly marginal tier 10 ability in the game. Not only does it only kick in one in twenty attempts, but the number of opposed skills in the game can be counted on one hand (Perception vs. Disguise, Sleight of Hand and Stealth, Sense Motive vs. Bluff, and Linguistics vs... Linguistics), and rolling a natural 20 doesn't matter if there wasn't a mythic foe around to see you do it. This is highly unlikely to come up all that much. If it were "mythic creature" instead of "mythic foe" then you'd at least be able to top off by playing peek-a-boo with your mythic allies for a few minutes in hopes of randomly rolling 20s, but that still wouldn't be fast enough for Elrond's purposes.

Compare the Trickster to the Champion, whose Legendary Champion ability lets you reroll attacks against non-mythic enemies and lets you regain a point of mythic power once per round whenever you roll a natural 20 on an attack roll, regardless of the foe. It's not difficult for a combat-oriented character to be able to make a half-dozen attacks per round or more with the right fighting style or attack-generators (such as Attacks of Opportunity), each one with a 1 in 20 chance of generating a point of mythic power. At this point you might say to yourself, "well, even if other paths have better ways to generate mythic power, I still need to be a trickster in order to use the trickster's skill-boosting path abilities." Good news though: You really don't.

The secret lies in the mythic feat called Dual Path, which does something really helpful: it lets you select one other mythic path, get the level 1 feature of that path and then whenever you would normally choose path abilities you could choose them from either path. Since it's a tier 1 feat and you get a feat slot at tier 1 then you can take it as your first feat to let you use the framework of your first path to house the abilities of your second, so you could have a Champion who dual paths into Trickster and then takes nothing but Trickster abilities but still winds up with the much nicer "Legendary Champion" ability. You don't even need to go that far, since most paths have enough interesting and versatile abilities that you won't mind mixing and matching to create the ultimate combination. Taking Dual Path as your first or second mythic feat is almost never a bad idea. Unfortunately, Champion is not going to work that well for Elrond since even if he does manage to find something he can shake a sword at while stargazing it doesn't return mythic power fast enough or reliably enough to meet his needs. But we have other options.

We return now to Elrond Hubble, and finding him floating in space above the planet of Golarion. This isn't really as bad as it looks because with the right equipment he doesn't need air, or food or water and is immune to the vacuum of space. Thanks to his mythic abilities he doesn't require sleep, and won't ever die of old age either, giving him all the time in the world to study the wonders of space while a permanent telepathic bond links him up to the folks back on the ground. His eyewear has been enhanced to pierce storms and atmospheric conditions, and with the right mythic abilities he can even pierce illusions as well as invisibility and the ethereal but seeing clearly in the dark can prove to be a problem.

Normally in Pathfinder the ability to see in the dark tends to cut off at certain distances- many races can only see up to 60 feet in magical darkness, but some like the deep-dwelling drow can see up to 120 feet in pitch blackness. Magical items that offer darkvision tend to also offer it in 60 foot distances or increments, but that's not really helpful at our scale. Fortunately, there's a really easy solution: the rod of shadows grants the magical ability to see perfectly in any sort of darkness, including magical darkness (the more complicated solution involves using mythic eldritch heritage and the robe of arcane heritage to worm your way into level 20 sorcerer abilities which you should otherwise not have access to). No distance limitations here. Elrond Hubble can see through anything at any distance that isn't a solid object (or maybe magical gas) and can do so for as long as he can keep his eyes open. Which is going to be a while, since he's also been permanently paralyzed.

Maybe he had his Dexterity drained to 0 or maybe it was a lovetap from a lich, but the point is that our astronomer here can't move a muscle on his own, though he's still able to take mental actions such as telepathy, activating his mythic eagle eye, and making Perception checks. You might think that an immobile Elrond would have to start worrying about facing and field of vision, but don't worry, we've got that covered. Now, course correction might be a bit of a problem if we don't want him to be whacked by any space debris or something, so we've taken the liberty of giving him a dozen or so tiny flying constructs immune to the rigors of space to help him in any way necessary. Such as one of them attempting to tear his throat out every chance it gets.

See, Elrond's path is the guardian, whose True Defender ability halves damage from non-mythic sources and also once per round lets him regain a point of mythic power whenever an enemy scores a critical hit against him. Since he's paralyzed, he's helpless and thus vulnerable to the coup de grace maneuver, which is an automatic hit and critical hit at that since he can't do anything to dodge it. Of course, a coup de grace still requires the victim to make a Fortitude save at a DC of 15 + damage dealt, and even if Elrond's Fortitude bonus is greater than the DC, rolling a natural 1 on the save still means that he automatically fails, which is a bit of a downer when the penalty for failing that save is instant death. Fortunately, Elrond's Guardian abilities also grant him epic damage reduction which the construct is unable to pierce, and when damage reduction completely negates damage then it also negates most of the other special effects that depend on damage, including the need to make a Fortitude save. So under the incessant onslaught of 0 damage critical hits from the murder-bot Elrond Hubble can keep his Mythic Eagle Eye feat going indefinitely, allowing him to gaze eternally into the endless void of space and telepathically send information to the folks back home. Fortunately, a combination of high level and significant resources invested in boosting Perception through boosting his Wisdom score have given Elrond Hubble a formidable Will save, to better endure the mental rigors and revelations of his work.

One really obvious revelation encountered in this sort of thing is that you're not alone. True, it's not a huge secret that the neighboring planets are all inhabited, even if the inhabitants might be undead and/or permanently on fire but even once you get away from the local solar system or planets around other stars you're still going to find random things floating around in the cold dark infinite void, many of which can be filed under the "Horrors Man Was Never Meant To Know" category. Scholars tend to refer to this collection of aberrations as the Dark Tapestry, and its alien powers tend to involve ruin, madness and other bad things. Fortunately these dark dealers of devastation don't deign to discern our designated dwelling... But as we all know, When You Gaze Long Into The Abyss, The Abyss Also Gazes Into You (And Takes A -120 Trillion Penalty To Its Perception Checks In The Process). Still, accidents happen and occasionally you find yourself up to your navel in Things That Go Squish In The Night.

Most aberrations are no match for a mythic hero, but should things go absolutely pear-shaped you might find yourself having to deal with the biggest powers in the Dark Tapestry. The Outer Gods are probably beyond anything mortals have to offer and rarely make their presence directly felt, but their greatest servants are the Great Old Ones, who possess strength that rivals that of demigods and demon lords.

This is the mightiest of their heralds, whose coming is generally seen as a sign that things have gone horribly wrong and are about to get worse.

You might have heard of him.

Good News: He's usually imprisoned in his tomb within the sunken city of R'lyeh, slumbering away in stasis thanks to the power of the Elder Sign.

Bad News: Occasionally the stars align, R'lyeh rises, the doors open and he walks once more.

Good News: R'lyeh is on a planet countless lightyears away (it's literally on Earth. The local year is somewhere around 1918 and there's an adventure path module where you go to Earth at that time and stuff Rasputin back into his grave)

Bad News: He's also capable of spaceflight and can reach your world in 2d6 days (or possibly more). Because that is a thing this game needed.

Now we could panic, hug our loved ones and prepare ourselves for the end of days, but with Elrond watching the stars we've got at least a two day warning period before the squid hits the planet. So let's get some friends together and get ready to hold the line.

Meet Aegis. Aegis is a half-elven paladin who is also a mythic tier 10 champion. Aegis is specifically a Divine Hunter, a paladin subtype that favors bows. Aegis likes bows, Aegis has a nice bow. It starts as a +5 composite longbow with the aberration bane property to increase its bonuses even further against aberrations like the Big C, while the phase-locking prevents our squishy friend from using any sort of teleportation or plane-shifting magic to close the gap or escape, the endless ammunition property does exactly what is says on the label, and the adaptive property lets us add any strength bonus we may have to the damage of arrows fired from the bow. Again, pretty nice.

Interesting fact about Aegis: One of Aegis' ancestors was an orc. It was probably on the human side since humans will romance anything, but you never know with magic. By tapping into that eldritch heritage, Aegis gains some of that orcish power. By getting the mythic feat, Aegis gains all the bloodline powers of an orc blood sorcerer of a level equal to Aegis's level (20) minus two, so 18 normally. By donning a robe of arcane heritage, Aegis' effective sorcerer level is increased by 4, giving Aegis the bloodline power of a 22nd level sorcerer (or a 24th level sorcerer for the first ability thanks to the mythic feat). There are some nice things in there, and Aegis is pretty happy about her heritage because Aegis is optimistic like that, to the point where morale bonuses linger for an additional 1d4 rounds after they'd normally stop because Aegis doesn't let things like the rules get her down.

Aegis has some friends. There's Elrond Hubble, of course, since we couldn't do this without him. There's also Old One Eye, a level 20 mythic Ranger who is a champion with a dual path into Marshal. Old One Eye really, really hates aberrations ("damn varmits killed my pa") and has devoted everything to learning how to destroy them. There's also Levity, a bard who may or may not be mythic (but is at least level 17) and Dr. J, a high-level non-mythic alchemist. No one knows why Dr. J is here. Maybe he's a cohort or something.

The A-Team may be assembled, but there's one minor problem: only Elrond Hubble can see what's coming. The rest of them are affected by the paltry limits of mortal sight. There are spells that let you share sensory information, but those are usually limited to things like a wizard and a familiar. Now, Elrond could explain that their guest is currently fifty thousand light-years out and slightly to the left or even provide a more exact position by taking a level of Gunslinger to access the gunner squire archetype, but that might not be enough for our purposes. So Doctor J pulls out three vials and offers a solution.

Aegis, seeing no problem with this, immediately chugs one down and has an out-of-body experience. As an alchemist, Dr. J can prepare various extracts containing arcane spells and with the infusion ability they can be used by other non-alchemist characters, allowing for a useful bypass to access some caster spells that would otherwise need a custom magic item to use. The spell in question is Marionette Possession, which lets the caster shoot their soul out and into the body of a willing (or unconscious...) creature nearby. In our case, it really doesn't matter where Aegis goes, so we'll just park her in Old One Eye's body for the moment. Elrond Hubble (either freed of paralysis or maybe just hooked up to an IV) then consumes another vial of Marionette Possession and jumps into the now vacant body of Aegis. Not to be outdone, Aegis drinks a vial of Marionette Possession while in Old One Eye's body and thus comes into possession of her own body while Elrond Hubble's soul is still in it.

So... what was the point of all this? Well, possessing a target lets you use the target's physical abilities and your own mental abilities, but the target still can use its own senses and both souls can share information telepathically. We want Aegis' body with Elrond's senses, so by shuffling her out of her own body we can let Elrond take temporary ownership of the body, and then be pushed back down into the radar role when Aegis returns. Since they're both half-elves they both have the same Keen Senses trait, allowing Elrond's supreme vision to function normally even in Aegis' body (his gear has also been transferred over) in a really convoluted plot to allow two characters to share exact information. But again... why?

A brief primer on ranged combat: All ranged weapons have what is called a range increment, and when you make an attack against a distant target you take a cumulative -2 penalty to attack rolls for each ranged increment past the first, but that penalty can be reduced to a -1 penalty per increment with the far shot feat. Ranged increments tend to be in the 50 to 100-odd foot range for missile weapons such as bows and crossbows or the 10 to 30 foot range for thrown weapons and those increments can be increased by doing things like doubling them with the distance property. Mythic heroes can take the mythic version of the far shot feat which lets them spend a point of mythic power as a swift action to ignore all ranged increment penalties for one turn, but there's still a maximum range cap of ten ranged increments on missile weapons and five ranged increments for thrown weapons. Fortunately for us, the mythic champion has the an ability that not only multiplies your ranged increments by five but also removes the increment cap.

It's well and good to be able to shoot at an unlimited range, but you probably need to be able to see where you're aiming since being off by even a fraction of a degree means being off-target by billions of miles. Aegis could have the same mythic eagle eye set-up that Elrond has, but that comes with a problem since both eagle eye and far shot require you to spend a swift action to activate them, both last only one round, and you only get one swift action per round, which is an even bigger bottleneck for mythic characters than usual since so many of their abilities are swift action abilities that also compete with their regular swift action abilities. If the DM won't let you use a really big grid for accurate coordinates then you need some way to keep both in action. By getting her soul out of her body, Aegis lets Elrond possess it and treat it as his own, letting her jump back in on top of him so she can have all the physical benefits of her body and her own swift action while also letting him spend a swift action of his own to use his enhanced senses (all of which he can use through her body since both are half elves with the Keen Senses feature and she has identical copies of all of his magic items) and share it with her. It's a wonky way to get around the swift action block that normally limits sight/range- the alternative involves finding a really good spotter.

For a little while Aegis is going to be the target of some boring spells that boost her attack and damage rolls. Aegis taps into her orcish heritage to grow in size, becoming bigger and stronger, and drinks a potion of gravity bow to make her arrows hit as though they were from an even bigger bow. She activates her Divine Bond ability and boosts the power of her bow even further, giving it the aximoatic and holy properties to boost its damage against chaotic and evil opponents, plus the seeking ability offered through her Divine Hunter feature, which lets her shots ignore miss chances other than the 1d20 attack roll (she could also add the distance property, but that's not really needed at the moment). Levity the bard fires up Inspire Courage and casts haste at some point. Old One Eye spends a point of mythic power as a free action to activate endless hatred and really hate aberrations (boosting the bonus even further), and then activates the Marshal's mythic bond ability to share that entire bonus with Aegis and the rest of the group for the next couple of rounds.

Finally, Aegis does two things: First she spends a swift action to activate Smite Evil, allowing her to choose one evil target in sight, adding her Charisma modifier to her attack rolls against the target and her AC against the target's attacks, plus add her paladin level to damage rolls against the target and then spends a standard action to use her orc bloodline's touch of rage ability, letting her add half of her effective sorcerer level as a morale bonus to her attack rolls and damage rolls (and will saves) for one round. Since it's a standard action it would normally be harder to attack, but her optimism trait lets morale bonuses linger for the next 1d4 rounds (and even if she didn't have it we could always have a different mythic character such as the under-used Levity use it on her, or have her spend a point of mythic power to get an extra standard action for the round and then use it).

Next round, it's showtime.

First Aegis spends a point of mythic power as a minor action to activate Mythic Far Shot and ignore the range increment penalty. Then she activates deadly aim to take a -6 penalty to hit in exchange for a +12 damage bonus (+18 with the mythic feat). Then she shoots. With her enlarged arrows dealing 3d6 base damage plus her various strength bonuses (+6 inherent from her bloodline, +6 from her belt, +6 from bloodline size boost power), even an average strength of 12 can be turned into a mighty strength score of 30. So how much damage does she do?

3d6 base + 10 strength +18 deadly aim + 20 smite evil + 5 enhancement (+2 bane) +3 luck +2 sacred +12 morale +4 competence +12 favored enemy +2d6 bane +2d6 holy +2d6 axiomatic= 119 average damage per shot (96 minimum)

100+ damage per shot is no chump change, and the big thing about bows is that it's not too hard to simply spam arrows at your enemies. As a level 20 paladin she already has four attacks, and taking the precision ability three times means all her attacks are at full accuracy. Archers can take the rapid shot and manyshot feats to fire two more arrows per round, with the mythic versions adding two more arrows on top of that, plus another attack from the haste spell for a total of nine shots per round.

Accuracy-wise most of her damage bonuses also provide a similar bonus to accuracy, pushing her into the mid-50s to hit against a target number of AC 49, so only a natural 1 can save her prey. But with a mythic champion... not even that. Our target's non-Euclidean nature means that all attacks against him have a 50% miss chance, but the seeking property on her bow completely negates that. Her attacks bypass his damage reduction thanks to smite evil (and also being made of stuff that bypass his DR), and they also shut down his healing ability on contact. So he eats nine arrows and dies immediately, the only point in rolling a d20 is to see if you can roll critical hits and kill him even faster. Of course, he'll resurrect himself 2d6 rounds later and stagger around in a cloud of fog wondering what in the name of himself just happened, but that just means he eats another nine arrows which will stuff him back into R'lyeh until the next time he wakes up.

End Result? You can noscope the Big C from the other end of the galaxy. In fact, you can serve up calamari fritters from the other end of the universe, provided there aren't a bunch of stars and planets blocking your way. If there are, well... there are ways around that one too.

With all the MP flying around you might worry about sustainability. Elrond Hubble can keep things going indefinitely through 0 dmg critical hits but only when paralyzed. Fortunately, the Guardian is only the second easiest method of generating MP. The true power is in the hierophant, which only requires that you take 20 points of damage in a round, which adventurers do all the time. Since it doesn't require a particular source self-inflicted injuries are perfectly fine. Self-flagellate or better yet self-immolate: a wall of fire does 2d6 + caster level points of damage to any creature passing through it (or sitting in it), making it easy to get a fairly predictable amount of damage per round. You're still shedding HP each round, but there's nothing stopping you from fixing that. Healing 30+ points of damage a round will keep you ahead of the curve, and a tier 10 hierophant gets maximum healing from any source, almost as if they wanted this to happen. Two of the hierophant's starting abilities let them spend a point of MP to cast one of their spells, so a mass cure or mass heal spell can undo five to twelve rounds of damage for one round's worth of MP generation, provided you're fine with keeping an active eye on people.

Now, you might argue that an intergalactic arrow barrage is kind of not really in the spirit of things and you'd be totally right- Lovecraftian problems deserve Lovecraftian solutions.

The basic change is that Aegis is going to ditch all the archery feats and then she's gonna devote all her resources to getting ripped. An 18 base is the highest you can start with, then add a +2 racial bonus and the +6 inherent bonus from orcish ancestry, then put every ability bonus you get from 20 levels (5 points) and 10 mythic tiers (10 points) into strength and then the best magical strength-boosting belt money can buy. But it's not enough.

Levity is switched over from a bard to a skald, a bardic variant with the ability to let allies rage like a barbarian, granting a +6 morale bonus to strength at higher levels, but it's still not enough. Our friendly neighborhood alchemist offers up an alchemical grand mutagen to boost her strength even farther. Unfortunately if a non-alchemist drinks an alchemist's mutagen, the character gains no benefit other than an upset stomach, but all we have to do to avoid that is have Aegis take one level of Alchemist instead of one of her paladin levels because this is in no way a bad idea (it helps that the 20th level of paladin has some actual detriments to it). With the right paladin spell, Aegis can draw on sacred celestial strength for a few minutes to boost her abilities again, but even that's not enough.

In Pathfinder, the best way to get huge is to actually get Huge. Turning into other, bigger things usually grants a size bonus to your strength score. Now, we could use another alchemical infusion to turn into a huge monstrous humanoid, but we can do better than that. A druid's wild shape ability lets it turn into an increasing variety of animals, plants, and even elementals, including Huge ones at higher levels. The powerful shape feat makes you an especially bulky version of your chosen form, while the mythic version makes you even bigger, so you can turn into a Gargantuan earth elemental instead of just a Huge one for an impressive +16 to strength. This becomes even more relevant when you realize that a mythic druid can share this ability through the pack wild shape ability. While it may divide the duration, a druid can use it for hours at most levels and at-will at 20th level, thus letting the entire party wander around as burly balls of earth.

Putting this all together and Aegis is surprisingly ripped.

18 base + 2 racial + 6 inherent + 10 mythic + 5 level + 6 enhancement + 6 morale + 8 alchemical + 4 sacred + 16 size = 81

So, what does that mean? Well, it's a +35 bonus to things that depend on strength like certain attack and damage rolls, including the damage rolls of thrown weapons. Now, thrown weapons are still the loser cousins of the ranged weapon family, and can't get nearly the amount of projectiles in the air as arrows can. But there's more than one way to win by volume. By taking the mighty hurler ability three times, Aegis can chuck objects up to her size. Of course, such objects would be unwieldy as hell unless she takes the two-handed thrower feat to let her throw them as normal.

So how big would they be?

Carrying capacity is based on a table that provides a given amount for basic strength scores and then doubles every five points above that (which is 4x for every 10 points). As a stock medium humanoid with 81 strength, Aegis can lift 153*4^6 lbs of stuff as a light load, which is 300 tons ("short tons" of the 2,000 lbs variety as opposed to the 2,240 lb "long ton") and change, and can lift triple that as a light load. But since she's in the form of a Gargantuan earth elemental, her carrying capacity is 8x that of a human, putting her at around 2,500 tons as a light load. But we're not done here. Muleback cords add 8 to your strength for the purpose of carrying capacity while a heavyload belt triples it, and as a mythic character Aegis can take the Display of Strength universal ability to boost her strength by 20 for the purpose of carrying capacity and boost it further with the mule's strength ability, which boosts your carrying strength by 5 each time you take it. Even without Mule's Strength, that puts her at an effective strength of 109 and thus a capacity of over 366,000 tons. If our druid friend spends another point of MP, Aegis can also gain the benefits of the regular Powerful Shape feat, counting as a colossal creature for the purpose of lifting and size-based attacks, doubling her capacity again to over 732,000 tons, while taking Mule's Strength just once would boost it to 1.46 million tons

With that kind of strength she'll have no problems using the weapon group that's had the best track record against the Great Old Ones:


This is the Seawise Giant (among other names), a supertanker longer than the Empire State Building is tall and at 724,000 tons fully laden is the heaviest ship mankind has ever made. With Mule's Strength Aegis could dual-wield it. By activating her Bonded Weapon ability she can turn it into a +5 seeking supertanker, with her hurling vengeance ability granting it the throwing and returning property. So how much damage does it do?

Back in 3e, the Hulking Hurler calculated damage by doing up to 5d6 for the first 400 lbs of an object's weight, plus 1d6 per 200 lbs after that (so about 10d6 per ton), which would require Aegis to roll around 7.24 million d6s for damage, enough to kill our target and thirty thousand of his closest friends. Unfortunately, that rule doesn't exist in Pathfinder for obvious reasons.

The universal rules for throwing rocks (or other big large things) put it at twice the slam damage for a creature of its size, or about 4d8 total for a colossal creature. But Aegis can throw an object two size categories larger than a normal hurler of her size, which upscales it to 8d8. Sadly, this is the same number no matter if we're throwing two hundred tons or two hundred thousand tons. Adding it to many of our old bonuses and the 1.5x strength bonus from two-handed thrower gives us:

8d8 (36 average) +52 strength +19 smite evil + 5 enhancement + 11 morale + 18 deadly aim + 3 luck +2 sacred +12 favored enemy = 158 average

A little better than our average damage per arrow, even if we don't benefit from things like the Bane, Holy, and Axiomatic properties that Aegis could put on her old bow. Now, we could spend an MP using hurling vengeance to teleport it back into our hands with every attack, allowing us to make a full attack and take advantage of things like haste and mythic rapid shot, but boomeranging a supertanker across the galaxy five to seven times a round just doesn't have quite the right style to it. I want to settle this decisively with one big attack.

A single big attack is rare in Pathfinder outside of some lance charges because no matter how hard you can swing your weapon you're still better off making that same attack four or more times a round as part of a full attack, which has the side effect of reducing mobility since most combatants would rather stand in one place and keep swinging rather than forfeit most of their damage by moving their speed (unless they have the ability to move and full attack in the same turn with pounce). In an effort to fix this, Paizo created the Vital Strike chain of feats, culminating in Greater Vital Strike, which let you make a bigger attack as a standard action. Vital Strike multiplies your damage, but only the weapon's damage dice and not any of the other dice or modifiers. For most characters three feats for a couple of extra dice of damage is a pretty lousy trade unless you're only making one attack per round that uses a bucket of dice to begin with, such as a T-Rex's solitary bite attack.

Since we're making a single attack with a bunch of dice it also works for our purposes. Throwing Greater Vital Strike onto our supertanker attack gets us up to 32d8 plus the previous modifiers, giving us another 108 average damage and pushing it to 266 with one attack. Still not enough. Even at maximum damage it's not enough.

But while Vital Strike only multiplies your damage dice, but Mythic Vital Strike multiplies everything that would be multiplied on a critical hit, including our large strength bonus and other static modifiers. It still doesn't multiply extra dice from things like the holy or axiomatic properties, which is why I didn't bother with acquiring them for our +5 seeking supertanker.

With Mythic Vital Strike our we quadruple our original damage, putting us at 632 damage on average... which is still not enough. Another 40 to 60 points of static modifiers multiplied through Mythic Vital Strike would be enough to seal the deal, but I've used up most of my big ones and I don't really want to nickle and dime my way through the SRD. Now, Aegis could just spend a point of MP to bring her supertanker back to her hand and another MP to activate amazing initiative, granting her a bonus standard action she can use to repeat the attack for maximum overkill, but it's still making two big attacks when I only want to make one. A critical hit would do double damage, or triple with Mythic Improved Critical (supertanker), but relying on random chance just isn't my thing. We want a silver bullet.

And we have one. The named bullet spell works with bullets, arrows, and even thrown weapons like our +5 seeking supertanker, and it's on the spell lists of both Elrond Hubble and Old One Eye. Now using it properly does require that we beat our target's spell resistance (a formidable 41) to affect it, but we're mythic, we have various feats and items to let us bypass it effortlessly. Effect? A successful attack (which we can automatically make) does some extra damage we don't care about and becomes an automatic critical threat which we can effortlessly confirm into a triple damage critical hit. Vital Strike isn't multiplied by a critical hit, but they do add together, so our Vital Strike (+300% damage) adds to our 3x critical (+200%) damage for a total of 6x (+500%) our base damage, taking us from 158 damage to 948 damage (968 after the spell's bonus damage), deep-sixing our target with room to spare.

When the Sleeper of R'lyeh wakes then the end will be nigh, because Aegis sees all and we have a boat with his name on it.

Toot toot motherfucker