Build of the Week: The Lion Blade
Build of the Week: The Lion Blade
The Spy. The Assassin. Agent of the Crown.
Today i’m going to show off one of my favorite Prestige Classes, the Lion Blade. The first iteration of the class itself predates the Pathfinder RPG, published in the 3.5e book “Taldors, Echoes of Glory”. An apt title, given the class itself is an echo of a bygone relic: multiclass prestige classes. Oh, sure, we still have the Mystic Theurge and Eldritch Knight, but while every other base class in Pathfinder got all new features like School and Bloodline Powers, the prestige classes continued to only advance casting or base attack bonus.
The Lion Blade had similiar problems. As a rogue, it cut your base attack bonus and sneak attack progression to hard to be an effective striker, but gave mediocre bonuses to your skills. As a bard, it cut off your spellcasting. Most of its abilities have been classified as “NPC only”, using the semi-obscure “crowd rules” to even function. Throw in a triple feat tax on entering the class in the first place, and you can understand why you don’t see more of Taldor’s best and brightest gracing your tables.
But we’ve had quite a few books released since 2006…including a whole new Lion Blade in Inner Sea Intrigue. That’s right: Those of you who still use the d20pfsrd should go ahead and close that tab right now, because the new class is an absolute blast to play.
Prestige Class Analysis: Lion Blade
Vishkanya boons are pretty easy to trade for in PFS and the race got a lot of love in Poisons & Potions, so I’m going to be taking that route today, but I’ll leave you with enough tools that you could still play the character using a core race.
Prerequisites: Bard 3/Unchained Rogue 3 is your default, but you’ll want to get into the Prestige Class as soon as you can. Deadly Courtesan, can get all your prerequisites by level 3. Alternatively, a Human or Half-Elf can use their bonus feat to make room for Accomplished Sneak Attacker. The Rogue Talents from War for the Crown are traps. An Atomie could also qualify with only 1 level in Rogue…and would be the deadliest Lion Blade in history.
Bardic Performance: Underrated. Its levels stack with all other classes that grant bardic performance. So a Deadly Courtesan/Bard gets +3 Daily Uses per level, and a Bard/Evangelist Cleric/Deadly Courtesan Rogue can get +5 Daily Uses per level. Even if you go Deadly Courtesan, consider a dip in another class.
Inspiring Poise: +2/+4/+6 to a skill check is only worth it if you have unlimited uses per day.
Dirge of Misfortune: Quite possibly the strongest ability of the Prestige Class. It will make some GMs angry since it means they have to roll most of their rolls publically. It’s also a blast with the Evangelist’s Touch of Chaos.
Master of Disguise: Save money on a Hat of Disguise I guess?
Move with the Crowd: High mobility is always good.
Slowing Strike: Combo with the Unchained Rogue’s debilitating injury and a Legbreaker weapon to instantly drop someone’s move speed from 30 to 0, immobilizing them.
Sneak Attack: Slower progression than a Rogue, but you don’t need damage to disable your enemies.
Unexpected Suggestion: The “unexpected” part is that this is a supernatural ability, not a spell-like ability or an enchantment effect. Note that this can always be used outside of combat.
Hide in the Crowd: The idea of an assassin shyly hiding behind their own teammate is what inspired this character. You can also ride alongside your mount for cover.
Expeditious Advance: Bonus movement speed is great. Part of this class was designed to Spring Attack, but you won’t have enough feats to do it until way past Pathfinder Society levels.
Perfect Surprise: Hands down the most powerful ability of the Lion Blade. The DC is ridiculously high; You will put Brawlers to shame.
Crowdstrike: This ability is very difficult to use without a crowd. Ratfolk can use swarming. Outside of PFS, a bards can pick up a wand of Illusory crowd. Other than that, your only option is while mounted…or in the same square as an unconscious creature. Which could work with Perfect Surprise.
Secret Step: This is beyond PFS levels, but I wanted to explain it because it’s a confusing ability. It let’s you move twice as fast in crowds (since the penalty is already removed using Move with the Crowd). And bonus AC to avoid AoO.
Build Idea: The Lion & The Snake
The vishkanya is a natural fit for the lion blade, qualifying for the class with 4 levels of deadly courtesan unchained rogue. Flavor-wise, the vishkanya are predisposed toward intrigue and assassination; there is even a vishkanya Lion Blade in canon. Plus access to poison will make you an even deadlier assassin.
But let’s talk poison for a minute.
Poison gets a bad rep for a good reason. It’s expensive, can backfire and swathes of common enemies are immune. Even if the target fails their save, it usually just debuffs a stat… Oftentimes the only effect it has on combat is irritating your gm who has to recalculate an NPC’s stats. Enter Sleep Venom. The vishkanya sleep poison is free, has a scaling DC and most importantly will end a fight on it’s own. Since normal poison is so underwhelming, there’s a host of options to help support the strategy that work with the natural toxin. Furthermore, the Dirge of Misfortune ability of the Lion Blade and ability to hide behind allies while sniping with a wristlauncher makes it potentially the most effective PC poison build in the game.
The new vishkanya poison feats are also ridiculously useful. And the “doses” can be built up over tome by pre-poisoning your extra daggers, arrows and feather-weight darts. Especially useful if you go a ranged build with a tuned bowstring…which is sadly a little too feat intensive for me to honestly recommend pre-seeker. You can also use the rogue talent “lingering poison” and the amazing weapon “Calistra’s kiss” to store additional doses. Or, you know, use a tincture.
Now in the following build I’ll be using Evangelist Cleric in lieu of Bard, largely for Calistra’s domain ability. But if your game isn’t PFS legal, I highly recommend picking up Bard for the spell illusory crowd, which will let you use a number of your abilities without the need for the scenario to call out crowd rules. But you’ll want one or the other: it provides early game support with inspire courage and an extra 2 bardic music per day per lion blade level.
It is technically possible to use bard, Evangelist Cleric, Sensei Monk, etc… to get upwards of 9 bardic performances per day per level of Lion Blade, but starting Lion Blade sooner is more important for us.
And lest I forget, you will make an amazing skill-monkey, and probably be responsible for a good portion of your tables intrigue challenges…but that should be obvious for a dex/cha/int build with 6+ skill points per level, two skill feat prereqs and various oddball boosts like inspiring poise.
Build Options: Tools of the Trade
Deceitful: Prerequisite. Does let you qualify for the Misdirection Tactics tree.
Improved Initiative: Prerequisite.
Skill Focus (Perform): Prerequisite. I recommend acting if your playing a spy.
Accomplished Sneak Attacker: For non-Vishkanya.
Sleep Venom: Best poison in the game, since its free.
Dispelling Blood: Because many enemies that are immune to poison tend to still have magic effects that can be dispelled.
Unwravelling Blood: Not PFS legal, but so good. Break Enchantment more times per day than you’ll know what to do with.
Illusory Crowd: Also not PFS legal, but turns on many of your class features. Get a wand of it today!
Leg-Breaker: Sometimes you’ll want to reduce someone to zero move speed.
Calistra’s Kiss: Can hold 4 doses of Sleep Poison and effectively gives it +4 to the DC? Wow. I found my heritage weapon…
Sanpkhang: +2 DC for poisons for a mundane knife? Yes. Easier to store than an Elven Curveblade, you can keep multiples and you can always upgrade it with Injecting and Toxic.
Belt of the Weasel: So you can hide behind unconscious enemies in their square, slither around the battlefield breaking people’s ankles, stab from the square of an unconscious enemy using Crowd Strike and get to use perform (acting) to pretend your a snake! Win-win-win!
Lingering Performance: I almost forgot you were a bard.
Tuned Bowstring: Seriously? Throw in a durable arrow and your only concern will be running around every few minutes to pick up your ammunition…
Lasting Poison: Usually this will quadruple your uses of venom per day.
Snake-Tongue Concoction: Because you might have to fight like an entire army with your poison? Maybe?