Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Bullyboy

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Now without further ado let us present this week's crunchy little build, The Bullyboy.

He said "what" again.
When it's time to roll initiative most skill checks go right out the window. Except for acrobatics to avoid attacks of opportunity, or the occasional bluff check to feint or hide, most players focus on swinging swords or slinging spells. The Bullyboy though is a character who uses personality like a hammer, leaving enemies unsure of themselves and flat-footed against incoming assaults.

Did You Say Flat-Footed?

I heard all the rogues in the audience squirming in their seats. Yes, the ultimate goal of the Bullyboy is to render as many enemies as possible flat-footed against your attacks. This makes the rogue a natural choice, but spellcasters and gunslingers (who use touch attacks almost exclusively) might find this strategy useful as well. This is especially true for multiclass mongrels like fighter/rogues, barbarian/rogues, etc.

What's The Trick?

The feat you're building up to is Shatter Defenses (Core Rulebook 133). It requires the character to have Weapon Focus (Core Rulebook 136), Dazzling Display (Core Rulebook 120), a base attack bonus of +6, and proficiency with the weapon you're wielding.

The way Shatter Defenses works is that any opponent you hit who is shaken, frightened, or panicked is considered flat-footed against you until the end of your next turn. In case you were wondering yes, if you have two attacks that means your enemy is flat-footed against your second attack as well as your entire next round. Take note that you don't have to use the weapon for which you have Weapon Focus, but if you took the feat for a +1 to hit, why not use it?

Crank Your Intimidate

The Bullyboy has a pretty simple, two-round setup. The first round you make your enemies afraid of you. The next round, while they're still shaken, frightened, or panicked, you attack. Once you land even a single hit on a scared enemy, regardless of your weapon, you've got an entire round where that target is flat-footed. That means a lower armor class (most times), and an inability to take attacks of opportunity against you. Unless you've got mind-affecting magic or a class ability that lets you cause a fear effect though, you're going to have to roll your intimidate check. For that roll you're aiming to get higher than the target's hit dice+Wis modifier+10. Not an easy task.


Your focus on fear should start at character creation. You get to pick two traits, and one of those should be a trait that gives you a +1 on intimidate, and which makes intimidate a class skill for you. Bully is the most popular, but others like Viking Blood have the same affect for characters that want a different background.

Recommended Feats

-Dazzling Display: This feat is required for the build to work, but it's also the easiest way to demoralize all enemies within 30 feet of you. Generally speaking, unless you're only fighting a single enemy, this is going to be the feat you lead off combat with.
-Skill Focus (Core Rulebook 134): This feat gives you a +3 on a skill, and a +6 when you have more than 10 ranks in it. That's a good place to start (hint: half-elves get this feat for free at creation).
-Intimidating Prowess (Core Rulebook 128): This feat allows you to add your Strength and Charisma modifiers both to the die roll, which is a big bonus for characters playing bruisers who might not be comfortable putting a really big stat in Charisma.
- Gory Finish (Ultimate Combat 102): This feat allows you to take an attack action (a standard action) at your highest base attack bonus. If you knock your enemy into negatives you can take a swift action to intimidate all enemies who saw and heard what you did within 30 feet. Not a necessary feat, but it is a quick and dirty way to kill two birds with one stone.
- Persuasive (Core Rulebook 131): This feat adds a +2 to your Intimidate and Diplomacy checks. If you have more than 10 ranks in these skills, it adds a +4.
- Enforcer (Advanced Player's Guide): This feat allows you to make an Intimidate check any time you deal subdual damage to an enemy with a melee weapon, and it leaves them shaken for a number of rounds equal to the damage dealt if the intimidate is successful. Best when used with high-damage weapons.

Classes and Abilities

There are a lot of class combinations that can be used to make the Bullyboy work. Some of them are more effective than others though. Here are a couple of suggestions.

This is the obvious choice for the bullyboy. Barbarians are big, mean, uncouth, and often naturally thuggish when it comes to battlefield tactics. They also reach the +6 base attack bonus quite quickly. With the increase to Strength provided by Rage providing a slight boost to those who take Intimidating Prowess, and the benefits of Rage Powers like Intimidating Glare (Core Rulebook 33) which leaves an opponent shaken for a number of rounds equal to 1d4+1 per every 5 by which the barbarian exceeded the check by, they're a natural fit.

Rogues are masters of misdirection and nuanced untruth, but the best variant fit for the Bullyboy is the Thug (Advanced Players Guide). The Thug starts off strong right out of the gate with its first-level ability, Frightening. This automatically increases the duration of any shaken effect caused by the Thug by 1 round, meaning that enemies are shaken for a minimum of 2 rounds with a successful intimidate. Additionally, if the target is shaken for 4 or more rounds, the player can upgrade the effect to frightened. The rogue trick Strong Impression grants the character the feat Intimidating Prowess.

Other Classes
Other classes can have the Bullyboy's build applied to them. Sorcerers, for instance, have high charisma in addition to spells that cause fear. Fighters willing to take advantage of psychological warfare are another option. Alchemists who specialize in the feral mutagen and the beastly bonuses it offers might like to soften their opponents up mentally. Even gunslingers, whose strange, deadly weapons are a terror all by themselves (and who at higher levels can use abilities like Menacing Shot to cause fear) might find some use out of this build. Remember though, just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Keep The End Goal in Mind

As with any other build trick, the important thing with the Bullyboy is not to lose sight of the end goal; namely to knock enemies flat-footed after the first round of combat and to keep them flat-footed (in addition to shaken) for as long as possible. It is just as important to ask yourself what you're going to do once your enemies are where you want them, however.

The most obvious answer is to sneak attack them. When combined with the Thug's ability, sneak attacking any intimidated opponent is a slam dunk. That's not the only benefit of having an enemy flat-footed though. It means their armor class goes down significantly, and if one is using a touch attack from spells or firearms, then the player is likely aiming for a 10+deflection modifiers. It also means the enemy's Combat Maneuver Defense goes down, which is a blessing for those who use maneuvers to control an enemy's effectiveness. That said, you need to look at what you can do, and what that ability means in terms of effectiveness on the battlefield.

Lastly, remember that for every trick there's a counter. Constructs, undead, mindless creatures, demons, devils, paladins, and others are all immune to fear of any sort. If you find yourself fighting these creatures then you're going to have to dig deeper into your bag of tricks, because scaring them off simply is not an option for you.

Don't Forget to Roleplay

When you get too caught up in numbers it's easy to forget you still have to roleplay. So you've got to ask yourself one question; how are you intimidating?

There's a multitude of ways to do it. Do you draw your rapier and make an elaborate bow which shows off your extreme skill with the razor-sharp steel? Do you sock the head of your mace into your open palm, idly looking at which of your enemies is getting his skull cracked first? Do you smile beatifically and explain who you're going to kill and in what order? Or do you give a long speech of all the fiends who came before this sorry group of adversaries, and who ended their lives stretched dead at your feet? Ask yourself how your character is intimidating, and in what way, before you throw that die. Who knows, if you put in a good performance your storyteller might even give you a roleplaying bonus on the attempt.

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  1. This looks like a lot of fun. A short list of items that work best for this would be awesome.

  2. I'm building a Bloodrager for this, and can't wait to get shatter defenses. I'm hoping the DM allows unchained intimidate!

  3. So Shatter Defenses will not work for the rogues in the party as it specifically states that they are flat footed "to your attacks" until the end of your next turn.

    1. The assumption is that, if you're going this route, that you are a rogue, or at least some type of character that would get a large benefit from your enemies being flat-footed.

  4. Wished this worked without having to take a two-feat dive through Weapon Focus and Dazzling Display. You also forgot the uses of unarmed attacks and flurries; I have a rogue/monk with whom this would work wonders if I wanted to waste (yes, waste) two feats to specialize AND call attention to myself.

    Interestingly enough, the Shatter Defenses feat doesn't say that you have to hit them with your Weapon Focus weapon; you just have to hit them. And considering that with Enforcer they're going to be shaken by the monk side's nonlethal hit for quite a bit (and a free action to keep that going, especially if you're going to just keep to nonlethal), you could really stack the damage up ...

    ... but I still wish there was a way to get Shatter Defenses without that particular two-feat dip.