Build of the Week: Devoted Poet
Have you dreamt of flitting across the battlefield, cutting down enemies one at a time with such grace and beauty that your bard has to scoop his jaw off the ground to keep singing? Well, there are already about five or six ways to do it in Pathfinder….but what if I told you now it can be done with a katana!?
There’s been quite a bit of enthusiastic talk about Pathfinder’s newest softcover Player Companion, Heroes from the Fringe. In addition to a number of incredible alternate racial traits, the book has finally given us an archetype we’ve been wanting for years: A Dexterity & Charisma based Samurai!
Archetype Analysis: Warrior Poet
Unless you are especially fond of Iaijutsu, the Warrior Poet is the perfect archetype for those looking to play a “fantasy samurai”, giving up every class feature other than Challenge, Resolve and Honorable Stand (i.e. the 3 good ones). Let’s break down the archetype quickly, shall we?
Dancer’s Grace: AC to Charisma while unarmored. This will make the archetype a very favorable dip, especially for Chaotic characters who are otherwise unable to go Monk.
Graceful Warrior: Weapon Finesse. Can be used with Glaives, Naginata and Katana, but this does not alter the weapon’s properties for any other effects (like Agile, or using them for Parry & Riposte). So it’s a fixed Bladed Brush.
Flourish: A pseudo-Talent you get roughly every 3 levels, starting at 1st level. You lose mount, weapon expertise, banner and greater banner. These can be found below.
Skirmisher’s Challenge: You only get your samurai level added to damage during a challenge with your first attack each round. If you are going for damage, you’ll probably get Vital Strike so this shouldn’t be a major issue.
Graceful Strike: At 4th level, you get half your samurai level to damage rolls when using Weapon Finesse. This is why you will regret multi-classing with this Samurai. This replaces mounted archer and demanding challenge.
Battle Dance: At 6th level, you get Spring Attack as a bonus feat, ignoring prerequisites. At 12th, you get Improved Spring Attack. At 18th, Greater Spring Attack. This replaces your bonus combat feats, but its well worth it as the only thing that makes these feats “not worth it” are the prerequisites.
So the initial reaction most people have to the class is to dip one level in it for Weapon Finesse and Charisma to AC, but I honestly think Graceful Strike and Challenge are good enough to stick with the class all the way. The Cavalier/Samurai Orders have come a long way since they first premiered, and I’m tempted to even say the class could make it as the foundation of your build, with maybe a couple levels of Paladin for flavor (and saving throws). But the archetype’s real power is in those flourishes I mentioned earlier:
Chrysanthemum’s Blooming: Vital Strike as a bonus feat is great. Being able to Spring Attack with your Vital Strikes makes this incredible. You have to be level 11 to get this, so you will have to retrain your 9th level flourish or wait until level 13 to get this. Great for a melee-heavy party who finds themselves in cramped quarters, and for avoiding the AoOs of monsters with reach.
Exodus of Jinin: +10 foot land speed. Can be selected up to three times.
Harmony of the Tranquil Garden: Blindsense as a move action is good.
Jininsiel’s Guidance: Uncanny Dodge, then Improved Uncanny Dodge.
Kitsune’s Mystique: Improved Feint, ignoring prerequisites. Can feint as part of a move action or spring attack. This makes the class really good for a high-mobility Devoted Muse, but it won’t ignore the Prerequisite for the Prestige Class.
Petals on the Wind: If your GM is hesitant about allowing this archetype,this will be why. It lets you make a 5-foot step when an opponent provokes an attack of opportunity. Enemy charging you? Five-foot step into a square to ruin that straight line. Using a combat maneuver? Now you are out of their reach. Worst of all, you are using a reach weapon and can use this ability when an ally provokes an attack of opportunity, allowing PCs to charge past you without you blocking their path, or just otherwise reposition you on their turns toward a fleeing enemy. As a GM, I would limit this to once per round and put a level restriction on when it can be chosen, if not outright ban it.
Wrath of the Heavens: Ignore prerequisites for Shot on the Run. Would be nice if she could use Kitsune Mystique with it, but alas.
Build Options: Warrior Poet
Aasimar (Azata): +2 Cha/+2 Dex. The Favored Class Option for Cavalier will actually help you.
Elf: +2 Dex/+2 Int. 35 Base speed with Long-Limbed is pretty neat. And this does have Elvish flavor.
Halfling: +2 Dex/+2 Cha. Despite your small size for Vital Striking, you can get Fleet of Foot to get your speed to 30. The Cavalier favored class bonus is very relevant, especially if you focus on using reach weapons and Petals on the Wind to control the battlefield.
Human: +2 Any Stat. Bonus feat and skilled will both help, as is tradition.
Ifrit: +2 Cha/+2 Dex. I hear winning Initiative all the time is nice. Blistering Feint has some abuses too.
Kitsune: +2 Cha/+2 Dex. The Shapeshifting Savage is a total flavor win with Kitsune’s Mystique and the best way to feint at a range regardless of Int.
Tiefling (Rakshasa): +2 Dex/+2 Cha. The Detect Thoughts is Charisma based. Being able to hold an item in your tail while you use your 2H polearm is nice.
Ward Speaker: The Ward Speaker is the only other Archetype that stacks with this one, and it has some synergy for high mobility spring attackers (+10 ft Move Speed) and reach-weapon controllers (Following Step/Step Up and Strike). Losing Resolve really hurts, even with the reroll.
Devoted Muse: The archetype is almost custom tailored for a Devoted Muse (and considering the name of the Archetype and its adjoining Samurai Order, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was intentional). You get Cha to AC that stacks with your current Cha to AC, but only up to your Devoted Muse level. You get Flourishes that let you debuff people you feint, then do additional damage with your glaive or further inspires your allies. The Flourish Kitsune’s Mystique means you can Artistic Flourish people as part of your movement, letting you move close and then hit them with Harmonious Strike. You will need the 13 Int for Combat Expertise, as Dirty Fighting only lets you bypass the prerequisites of feats, but its not a terrible thing to have (especially if you want to bulk up your AC against big enemies you will never miss, like Oozes and Constructs).
Full BAB Dips:
Paladin: Hey look, Charisma to saves! And Smite stacks with Challenge! And the bonus AC from Smite stacks with Dancer’s Grace! I don’t recommend dipping for more or less than two levels. I highly recommend picking up Divine Hunter, even if you never plan on using Shot on the Run. Having a ranged option is always useful.
Swashbuckler: Not a bad one level dip if you are going Devoted Muse for the deed stacking, but nine-times-out-of-ten you will want to just go straight Samurai. You can’t use the Naginata or Katana to parry, but there are other options. If you are taking Devoted Muse, you should probably look into an Archetype that gives up Parry and Riposte, since the Prestige Class gives it to you anyway. Veiled Blade gives you Quickdraw for that Iaido feel. Courser will give you extra AC via dodge and more movement speed. And Picaroon will let you go Nobunaga with a firearm for ranged support. Oh, did I mention…
Gunslinger: 1 Level in Picaroon Swashbuckler and 1 Level in Mysterious Stranger Gunslinger might seem bizarre for a future Devoted Muse of Shelyn, but reread the “Deeds” section of Devoted Muse. That’s right, your Gunslinger and Swashbuckler deeds will stack with Devoted Muse! Just imagine the look on your GM’s face when your character pulls out a rifle and shoots down the enemy that tried to fly away when they were reduced to 10% of their starting HP.
Lower BAB Dips:
Unchained Rogue: I feel obligated to point that this is a bad idea. Finesse Training will not apply to your Katana or Naginata.
Occultist: Losing a point of Base Attack Bonus is usually not worth it for any Martial. But the Transmutation powers of an Occultist almost make up for it, especially with the +2 Will Save the Occultist provides. You will need some Intelligence to pull it off, and I’d probably take two levels to get Object Reading depending on the kind of GM you have.
Detailed Build: Devoted Poet
I’ll keep the crazy gunslinger shenanigans for another time. This build is pretty easy to adapt in the event that your GM won’t let you use Petals on the Wind (see below). If you are interested, there is even a wonderful miniature from Reaper for this PC.
- Race: Kitsune (Skilled, Fast Shifter)
- Class: Warrior Poet & Ward Speaker Samurai 3/Courser Swashbuckler 1/Divine Hunter Paladin 2/Devoted Muse 5
- 20 Point Buy: Str 10, Dex 15 (+1), Con 14, Int 13, Wis 10, Cha 17 (+1)
- Feats: Weapon Finesse (B1), Combat Expertise (1), Step-Up (2), Shapechanging Savage (3), Improved Feint (B3), Dodge (4B), Combat Reflexes (5), Precise Shot (B6), Mobility (7), Twinned Feint (B8), Combat Patrol (9), Spring Attack (11)
- Class Features: Challenge (1), Propitiation (1), Petals on the Wind (1), Order of the Scales (1), Dancer’s Grace (1), Graceful Warrior (1), Skirmisher’s Challenge (1), Kitsune’s Mystique (3), Swift Target (4), Deeds (Derring-do, Dodging Panache) (4), Panache (4), Swashbuckler Finesse (4), Aura of Good (5), Detect Evil (5), Smite Evil (5), Diving Grace (6), Lay on Hands (6), Artful Defense (7), Artistic Flourish (Circling Strike/Deadly Strike/Distracted/Harmonious Strike) (8) Deeds (Kip-Up, Precise Strike, Wall Run) (8). Parry & Riposte (10), Limitless Art (10), Flourish (Confused/Staggered) (11)
So you might notice immediately this character has a buffet of feats that have left you at some point in your career scratching your head and going “why would I ever take this?” But give a Devoted Muse a Glaive and stuff starts to get weird. The Sa-muse-arai here excels on three fronts: Defense, Mobility and Control.
Defense wise, the PC gets to add its Charisma modifier to Saves, Armor Class, Dodge AC (Artful Defense) and Deflection AC (Smite). It will have a ton of hit-points and it’s reach weapon means it won’t have to get too close. If someone does manage to roll high enough, you can use your Glaive or Stiletto Heels to attempt a Parry & Riposte, or just get out of the way with Dodging Panache and/or Petals on the Wind. You also get a handful of free d20 rerolls with Propitiation and heal with Lay on Hands.
On the Mobility front, you never have trouble getting exactly where you need to be, even on other player’s turns. You’ll have 50 feet move speed and Spring Attack with a Reach Weapon and free Feinting. You can make 5-Foot Steps in lieu of Attacks of Opportunity, which also means you can move when an ally provokes an attack of opportunity without provoking the ire of PvP.
Which leads up to Control. Using a Reach Weapon with Combat Patrol has been a staple since 3.5. But being able to Confuse and Stagger multiple enemies at a time without having to use magic will let you lock down enemies as you move in for the kill with Spring Attack. Even if an enemy is too far away or flying, you can still use Shapeshifting Savage and Twinned Feint to hit two enemies at once with these conditions. And when you do finally strike your enemies, you get an extra 2d6 damage. Not bad!
Offensive Variation: You can go a little more Offensive by dumping Swashbuckler for another level of Devoted Muse. Then take Order of the Blossoms and Accomplished Sneak Attacker. You’ll get +2d6 Sneak Attack and an extra +1d6 on Deadly Strike, plus the powerful Inspirational Strike ability (+3 to attack and damage to you and all allies when you hit a feinted enemy). You’ll still get Parry and Riposte with Devoted Muse, but you can offset the loss of movement speed with Exodus from Jinian.
Control Variation: Giving up on the Spring Attack route opens up the opportunity to use Standstill with Combat Patrol to keep the battlefield completely under your thumb, but GMs prone to using Martial enemies will probably hate you.