Author Topic: [WIP] Power's Guide to the Shifter class  (Read 175 times)

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[WIP] Power's Guide to the Shifter class
« on: February 19, 2018, 05:22:04 PM »
Introduction

Welcome to my guide for the Shifter class. I know what you're thinking: "Isn't the Shifter just a Druid minus? Wait, that's the Hunter. Okay, isn't it just a Druid minus minus? Wait, that's the Ranger. Okay, so is the Shifter just a Druid minus minus minus?" And the answer is "kinda, sorta, more or less, pretty much, yeah." Still, the Shifter has a few advantages on the Druid. For one, he has full BAB instead of 3/4 BAB and a d10 hitdie instead of a d8. For another... uhhh... he gets beast shape II stats and options at level 4 instead of level 6. And he gets Planar Wild Shape two levels early thanks to the new errata. Anyway, pay no attention to the fact that the Druid gets a ton of better shapeshifting options than the Shifter whose sole class feature is basically shifting or the fact that the Druid's large amount of self-buffs improve his wildshaped combat in ways the Shifter cannot or that he gets a free animal companion buddy which you don't. The point is that even a severely neutered Druid whose sole class feature is an extra super neutered Wild Shape is still a potent martial class, played right.

The basic idea: There are really just two ways to play a Shifter. One, you pounce from level 4 onwards, and collect Two-Weapon Fighting feats to do a massive amount of damage. Two, you are going Ape Shifter with a reach build.

Your stat needs don't really vary whichever of these two routes you pick. Basically Str, Dex, and Con are your most important stats. I'd say dump all your mentals to -7 (seriously, you need combat stats), but the new errata makes it slightly more unpleasant to dump wis unless you're starting on high levels, since it will reduce your duration and cost you more levels to perma-mode your wild shape. Anyway, for Wis there are 3 options on your wisdom. Option 1: 14 wisdom (enough for +1 to AC and +2 hours, on top of +2 will). Option 2: 10 wisdom (hey at least you avoided losing hours of wild shape or taking penalties to your will and perception). Option 3: 7 wisdom (or lower). The thing is that you should consider adjusting your point buy for lower or higher wis depending on whether you are playing a race with a wis bonus. You don't want to end up with 12 wis or 16 wis since the benefits are too marginal, and if you have 18 wis, you're probably squandering the combat stats you need.

You might have noticed I only count 1 AC for 4 wis. That's because fighting naked is for idiots. Always wear armor. You want that AC. Get a set of barding/armor for unusual creatures (animal-shaped armor, you have all the armor options humans do, but you pay extra) to put on when you're wild-shaped. Wild shape out of combat and have your party members equip it on you.

So, a Shifter's stat array:
10 point buy: 16 str - 14 dex - 12 con - 7 int - 10 wis - 7 cha
15 point buy: 16 str - 16 dex - 13 con - 7 int - 10 wis - 7 cha
20 point buy: 16 str - 16 dex - 13 con - 7 int - 14 wis - 7 cha
25 point buy: 16 str - 16 dex - 14 con - 9 int - 14 wis - 7 cha

Expect to put all your favored class bonuses into bonus health. The alternate favored class bonuses are all terrible. However, you should probably shift around stats a bit depending on your racial modifiers. Post-racial, you generally want at least 14 str, 16 dex (18 dex if large size), and 12 con (and don't forget what I said about wisdom - post-modifier 6-7, 10, or 14 only - you can go below 6 if you start at a high enough level or you use Adaptive Shifter and thus don't lose hours/day duration). Use a point buy calculator if you need to figure it out. You could dump str lower if you're planning on going weapon finesse with shifter's edge and use piranha strike, but Weapon Finesse will cost you an extra feat and Shifter's Edge now requires you to use str for damage (no agile AoMF) and the pounce builds will be spending their feats on TWF, Power Attack, and Planar Wild Shape. This means you will be picking up Shifter's Edge rather late, which is when it will give you more damage to be worth the investment anyhow.

A Shifter's Favorite Races

Core Races

Human: Your shifter is a martial with as many feats as a bard, druid, or cleric (fewer, depending on the archetype/domain options used). A bonus feat goes a long way and with 7 int the extra skill ranks are not bad either. You can also trade the Bonus Feat for Adoptive Parentage (get another race's weapon familiarity trait) or Military Tradition (get two martial or exotic weapon proficiencies, but GM may require you to fluff it to your local culture - I guess you make up a shifter culture for your character), and you could swap Skilled for Heart of the Fey (+1 racial bonus to reflex and will saves). It's always a good pick, especially if you're feeling feat-starved. There are ways to use Traits for weapon proficiencies (more on that later), but an extra feat is always welcome on a Shifter.

Half-Elf: Similar to human but with worse feat options. You can also trade the Skill Focus for Dual-Minded (+2 Will saves) or a weapon proficiency. Multitalented perk is thoroughly useless and as such I recommend swapping it out for Fey Thoughts and picking up Sense Motive and something else as class skills or taking Blended View for darkvision. Failing that swap it for Jungle Affinity.

Dwarf: The big question is whether you lose your racial +2 bonus to all saves vs spells and poisons while shapeshifted. If you do lose it, skip playing dwarf unless you are playing Lycanthropic archetype Shifter. If not, then it's a decent pick. +2 racial bonus to all saves vs spells and poisons is great, especially when you add the Glory of Old trait (+1 trait bonus to all saves vs spells and poisons), and Steel Soul feat (another +2 racial bonus to all saves vs spells and poisons). You can also use Heirloom Weapon to gain proficiency in a Dwarven Longhammer/Longaxe for monkey reach builds, although having a large size longhamer/longaxe as your heirloom weapon will be interesting to explain (family of shifters and/or wizards who are fond of enlarge person, I guess?). Swapping languages for Xenophobic for another +1 vs mind-affecting saves is also recommended, but you'll be stuck speaking Dwarven only until you have reached level 2 and invested 2 skill ranks of linguistics. Better have a party member pick up Dwarven as a bonus language from his int bonus at level 1 or invest a rank into linguistics so he can play translator. Replacing Defensive Training and Hatred for Slag Child is not a bad call either.

Non-Core Races

Aasimar: Your options are to go Archon-Blooded (+2 Con, +2 Wis / Intimidate, Sense Motive / continual flame) or Garuda-Blooded (+2 Dex, +2 Wis / Acrobatics, Fly / see invisibility). The +2 Dex from Garuda-Blooded has some use for Combat Reflexes build (bear in mind pouncing Shifter with Tiger shape still has a 10 foot reach for a spare Combat Reflexes feat). If your GM would rule you lose your Celestial Resistance trait when Wild Shaped, definitely replace it with Deathless Spirit. If not, Deathless Spirit is still not a bad given Planar Wild Shape (esp. if you're going to pick up the celestial template instead of fiendish). You should probably also replace Darkvision with Halo which you can use while wild-shaped and if Archon-Blooded, replace your spell-like ability with Incorruptible for the Corruption Resistance spell-like ability. Continual Flame is redundant when you have Halo.

Tiefling: You would want Hungerseed (+2 Str, +2 Wis, -2 Cha / Disguise, Intimidate / alter self). Mostly a pick if you want the Smite Good alternate racial trait, I suppose.

Other races
You don't want them.

Question: What about Skinwalker? It's so thematically fitting!
Awful idea. You can only have 1 polymorph effect at a time. The Change Shape racial cannot be used while Wild Shaped. Losing your change shape perks makes the race trash.

Aspects

First, do not forget that Wild Shape states: "Each major form details the abilities the shifter gains with that major form and at what level; she gains these instead of the form abilities from beast shape II, but she still gains beast shape II abilities that are size dependent." Let's detail those size dependent abilities:
  • Tiny animal: If the form you take is that of a Tiny animal, you gain a +4 size bonus to your Dexterity, a –2 penalty to your Strength, and a +1 natural armor bonus.
  • Small animal: If the form you take is that of a Small animal, you gain a +2 size bonus to your Dexterity and a +1 natural armor bonus.
  • Medium animal: If the form you take is that of a Medium animal, you gain a +2 size bonus to your Strength and a +2 natural armor bonus.
  • Large animal: If the form you take is that of a Large animal, you gain a +4 size bonus to your Strength, a –2 penalty to your Dexterity, and a +4 natural armor bonus.
For wild shape options, the following options are worth considering as your main form: Deinonychus, Tiger, and Monkey. For perks, Snake (AoO build) and Mouse (evasion) are both good. The stat enhancement options don't stack with other enhancement options (like the belt everyone grabs) and they burn up precious minutes of shifter aspect, so I'd sooner just say "grab a belt of physical perfection" than burn shifter aspects on them, but you can do it if you want. Just remember that temporary bonuses to constitution are awful since you don't get temporary HP from it. When the constitution bonus vanishes, you lose the health it provided in the first place, and if that knocks you negative, then you're negative. This is the same problem Barbarians face with from their Rage power.

Deinonychus and Tiger are the same concept: You get pounce. Deinonychus is the faster, medium-sized option which get 2 extra foreclaw attacks at level 8. Tiger is the larger option, which gives you bigger attacks, more strength and natural armor, and a larger reach. The +4 stealth bonus at 8 is still outweighed by the -4 size penalty to stealth and the -2 dex from wildshaping, for a -5 stealth penalty total, making you -1 worse at stealth than you would be as a regular medium creature.

Monkey is a lot like using Lycanthropic Wild Shape, except you get large size and you don't get pounce. You can also mix in a Snake minor aspect with the Monkey shape for the AoO bonuses. Even though you don't have pounce, with a reach weapon, you can attack enemies 20 feet away (25 with a five foot step, 30 if you also add Lunge, even more if you're swinging a whip), so it is possible to go full melee (2H or dualwield whips advised), but you could also go ranged. If you are going ranged, then the bow is a good pick from level 8 onwards (the prehensile tail lets you hold a reach weapon while firing a bow, then when you're not shooting anymore, grab the reach weapon with one hand, pass the bow to the tail, and wield the reach weapon in both hands, giving you the 20foot AoO radius - remember, switching hands is a free action). If you're using the Military Tradition human trait (or Arms Master + Quick Learner), just get an Orc Hornbow for your bow and a Dwarven Longhammer (or a Gnome Ripsaw Glaive) for your reach weapon.

For weretouched shapes, you either want Tiger (pounce + stealth bonus) or deinonychus (high speed, pounce, and talon natural attacks from your feet), or something with flight speed (falcon for perception bonuses, owl for stealth bonuses) as you play archer. Since your size does not change with lycanthropic wild shape, I would strongly recommend the deinonychus form for pouncing since you get extra talon attacks from your feet.

Arms and armor

As I said above, don't go into battle naked. Just because your equipment melds into your form when you wild shape, doesn't mean you can't equip yourself after you enter wild shape. This is very important because armor fitted for animals (it's just a cost multiplier to your normal armor options, see here.) is a crucial source of AC, and armor spikes are a crucial source of manufactured weapon attacks while in animal form. Note that while you are "prohibited" from equipping metal armor, armor spikes are mechanically treated as weapons and shifters can equip metal weapon (see: scimitar proficiency). If your GM insists metal armor spikes should be treated as metal armor, you can either equip Rosewood armor (you might want a Magical Talent magic trait for the Create Water orison so you cannot run out of water) or just have your armor spikes crafted out of special materials, like obsidian (masterwork it and the fragile quality disappears) or liquid glass (+800gp, but you get +1 damage). You can totally wear metal armor though if you don't care about losing half your wis modifier to AC though. It's just 1 point of AC if you started with 14 wis. The "prohibition" against wearing metal armor doesn't affect anything else (hurray!). If you have 10 wis or negative wis, honestly, just wear metal. The AC bonus per 4 levels portion doesn't have any restriction based on what armor you have equipped, so later on, mithral breastplate is definitely the way to go. Mithral makes it count as light armor for mobility, and you only have a -1 armor check penalty (Armor Expert combat trait and Sargavan Guard region trait can both reduce it another 1, bringing you down to a penalty of 0 if you want).

Sadly you are not proficient in the grand art of armor spikes, so either burn a feat, use Heirloom Weapon (armor spike), use a racial choose-your-own-weapon-proficiency or double up on Quick Learner and (Adopted->)Arms Master traits so you can wield them effectively. The other question is whether you can two-weapon fight with armor spikes. Your GM might say "sure" (same as how a monk fights with Flurry of Blows or how you can enchant unarmed strikes as a single weapon), "as long as you pay for two armor spikes" (goodbye Heirloom Weapon trait), or "no" (in which case you will need a Dwarven Boulder Helmet or Weretouched archetype). Generally the mechanical interpretation trends strongly to the last option, since people will not let you use armor spikes as two weapons and armor is considered either spiked or not spiked. In the event of using a Dwarven Boulder Helmet, your choices are generally either Human with Military Tradition or Arms Master + Quick Learner trait combo to be proficient in both Armor Spikes and Dwarven Boulder Helmets. Since the boulder helmet uses the same limb as your bite attack, you cannot use both in the same full attack, though. Armor spikes are different because they don't need to be located on limbs. They can be on shoulders, chest, wherever. Armor spikes aren't spiked gauntlets (which is a separate item to buy). Your GM might (reasonably) rule that the boulder helmet counts as wearing metal armor, in which case you could opt for one made out of stone or bone instead (which makes it a fragile weapon, until you enchant it with a +1 property), or just say "screw it" and lose the half your wisdom bonus to AC perk (should be 1AC tops, really). Remember that Dwarven Boulder Helmets are not an upgrade until you have greater two-weapon fighting because you give up a bite attack for TWF.

If you use Heirloom Weapon, remember that you can pay for a Masterwork Transmutation spell to turn an Heirloom Weapon into a masterwork weapon and then you can have it enchanted into a magic weapon.

The build

It's pretty simple, really.

If you are making a TWF pounce shifter, you want:
Power Attack
Two-Weapon Fighting
Planar Wild Shape
Improved Two-Weapon Fighting
Greater Two-Weapon Fighting

If you are making an archer, you want:
Point Blank Shot
Precise Shot
Deadly Aim
Rapid Shot
Manyshot
Planar Wild Shape

Those are your must-haves, really. If you are Large size, consider fitting in a Combat Reflexes feat for the AoOs, especially if you're a monkey.

If you are going melee monkey, get a Lunge feat, Power Attack, and Planar Wild Shape really. Just get a good large 2H reach weapon, and don't forget Combat Reflexes for AoOs. You already threaten 5-10 feet with your natural attacks. If it is a dualwield whip monkey, then it's the same as a TWF pounce shifter except you need to go Human to invest Military Tradition into both Whip and Scorpion Whip exotic proficiencies so you can swing scorpion whips as whips for lethal damage (otherwise whips are trash without the Deadly magic property). Improved Whip Mastery is not really in the works (too many feats) so if you want the AoO, I'd recommend using an Heirloom Weapon trait for a large reach weapon. At level 8 as a monkey, you can use your prehensile tail to hold your two whips while you switch to your reach weapon and vice versa. Switching hands is a free action, holding two whips in one hand (but not wielding them) is not a problem, and at level 8 "you can use your tail to hold and manipulate objects as if you had a third hand, but you cannot use it to wield weapons or shields," so this all works fine.

About Planar Wild Shape:
I strongly recommend taking Planar Wild Shape asap (at level 5). It's an excellent feat to boost your shifter as it gives you a strong suite of resistances, some powerful damage reduction, and a single smite (ignore the charisma, you get bonus damage equal to your level to all attacks for boss-killing). Assuming you are playing a good-aligned campaign, it might be in your best interests to take the Fiendish template (since your odds of facing enemies with the good subtype are much much lower than your odds of facing enemies with the evil subtype), which requires a neutral alignment. There is a downside to Planar Wild Shape though, and that's that allied spellcasters will have to overcome your SR to buff you (unless you spend a standard action suppressing SR). And having a celestial or fiendish template does not give you the good or evil subtype, so you still cannot overcome alignment-based DR with it. Also, just to be clear, Planar Wild Shape only requires you to expend 1 extra use to turn into planar wild shape ("When you use wild shape to take the form of an animal, you can expend an additional daily use of your wild shape class feature to add the celestial template or fiendish template to your animal form."), and the Shifter says that hours of duration are counted as daily uses for feats, so if you use Planar Wild Shape, you spend 1 extra hour to turn into planar wild shape, but if you stay in Planar Wild Shape, you will just continue to use hours of duration normally. So it's generally in your interests to stay in planar wild shape instead of paying double cost to turn back into wild shape.

For clarity's sake, here are the celestial and fiendish templates:

Celestial:
Senses gains darkvision 60 ft.
Defensive Abilities gains DR and energy resistance as noted on the table
SR gains SR equal to new CR +5
Special Attacks smite evil 1/day as a swift action (adds Cha bonus to attack rolls and damage bonus equal to HD against evil foes; smite persists until target is dead or the celestial creature rests).

Celestial Creature Defenses
Hit DiceResist Cold, Acid, and ElectricityDR
1–45
5–10105/evil
11+1510/evil

Fiendish:
Senses gains darkvision 60 ft.
Defensive Abilities gains DR and energy resistance as noted on the table
SR gains SR equal to new CR +5
Special Attacks smite good 1/day as a swift action (adds Cha bonus to attack rolls and damage bonus equal to HD against good foes; smite persists until target is dead or the fiendish creature rests).

Fiendish Creature Defenses
Hit DiceResist Cold and FireDR
1–45
5–10105/good
11+1510/good

Planar Wild Shape is less valuable if you are a Weretouched Shifter and thus have DR/silver, although the DR still overlaps (so your enemy needs to overcome both DRs or else whichever DR is bigger will apply) and the celestial/fiendish DR is bigger than your silver DR from class levels.
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