Friday, December 26, 2014

A Pathfinder Build For A Dirty Trick Master

Anyone who's ever been in a fight, or even participated in sport combat knows that winning a fight is about more than who's the biggest of the strongest. It's often about technique, experience, and being able to predict your opponent and take advantage of the weaknesses you see. Some people, especially those who've come out ahead because they don't fight fair, are aware that a momentary advantage can be the difference between walking away from a brawl and leaving your blood on the pavement along with your dignity.

For those who want to duplicate this kind of experience in Pathfinder you should invest in a character skilled at using combat maneuvers against her enemies. More accurately you should invest in a character that specializes in the dirty trick maneuver.

Sign didn't say nuthin' about your eyes, though. Ain't much a fight if you can't see.

How The Dirty Trick Combat Maneuver Works

Before we get too in depth on mechanics I know that not a lot of players use combat maneuvers. Most players forget these maneuvers even exist until a monster uses one on the party, and for a brief instant in time players see how devastating a properly placed grapple, bull rush, or trip can really be. So here's a quick refresher on how dirty trick works.

Outlined in the Advanced Player's Guide a dirty trick maneuver can only be done in melee. It is a standard action where you roll a D20 and add your combat maneuver bonus to the roll. This provokes an attack of opportunity (unless you have the improved dirty trick feat), and if you are hit by the enemy then you add the damage you took as a negative to your attempt. If you beat the enemy's combat maneuver defense then you have succeeded, and may apply the blinded, dazzled, deafened, shaken, or sickened condition to the target for 1 round. For every 5 that you beat the target's CMD by the condition lasts for an additional round. The target can remove the condition as a move action, though.

So what does this look like? Well say that you wanted to blind your opponent; maybe you gouged him in the eyes with your thumb, or tossed your ale in his face. If you wanted to entangle your enemy maybe you undid his belt, or yanked on his armor lacings so they were out of true. If you wanted to deafen an opponent you might clap his ears, and if you wanted to sicken him you might kick him in the crotch.

Why Use Dirty Trick?

I'll tell you why; because there are lots of ways to win a fight. One of them is to debuff your enemy into next week.

Son, I'm afraid if you get up it's going to provoke an attack of opportunity.
If you're fighting a spellcaster and you manage to deafen her then that's a 20% miscast chance on any spells that aren't cast with the metamagic feat Silent Spell, and it's still serious negatives to notice anyone sneaking up on her. Add blinded to that and she can't target anyone specifically unless she has another means of sight. If you're fighting a swashbuckler or a rogue who depends on dexterity then leaving them entangled will reduce their dex by a -4 and any attacks by an additional -2. The list goes on and on, but if you combine the temporary status effects of dirty trick with other combat maneuvers like trip or disarm then you've got a character who doesn't need to be the best to win; he simply makes those he's fighting do so at an extreme disadvantage.

The Classes

Getting the best build for a dirty trick master isn't easy. But you're going to want to start off with at least one level of the Maneuver Master archetype (Ultimate Combat 58). This does mean you need to have a lawful character (and if you're trying to square "lawful" with "fights using dirty tricks" then you simply need to include something in the monk's credo to the effect of "there is a time for honor, and that time is not when my life and the lives of others are at stake"), and it means you won't be wearing any armor, so you're going to have to get creative. What the Maneuver Master gives you in addition to the unarmed damage, monk saves, AC bonus, and monk bonus feat (which can include any improved feat, so improved dirty trick is yours for the asking at level one) is something called flurry of maneuvers.

What makes this ability so special is that during any full-attack action a Maneuver Master may perform a bonus combat maneuver, regardless of whether or not it would replace an attack or require a standard action all its own to use. For this bonus maneuver the monk replaces his base attack bonus with his monk level for the purpose of calculating his combat maneuver bonus, but all combat maneuvers attempted in that round suffer a -2 penalty.

So say that you came out of the gate as a level 1 Maneuver Master with improved dirty trick as your bonus feat. You could also take combat expertise as your 1st level feat and improved trip if you were a human and had a bonus feat. With that build up you could take your full attack action, trip the enemy, and then kick him while he's down in order to make him sickened. You take a -2 to both combat maneuvers (which is canceled out by the +2 you get from the two improved feats), and you've got a pretty solid shot at putting at least one opponent in a pretty compromised position.

But wait, there's more!
While you can keep taking levels of Maneuver Master (because we know that monks are strongest when they're kept pure), you could also multiclass and start taking levels of the fighter archetype Cad (Ultimate Combat 45).

In addition to a full BAB and bonus feats, Cad gives your character a lot of bonuses and extra opportunities to get your dirty tricks in. While these fighters don't get access to medium armor, heavy armor, or tower shields, they do gain dirty maneuvers which provides a +1 bonus to disarm, steal, and dirty trick CMB and CMD at level 2, and every 4 levels thereafter. The cad also gets catch off-guard as a bonus feat, and gains the ability payback, which grants him an increased bonus to hit and damage any enemy that has attacked him since his last turn. There's a slew of other useful abilities, but one that's going to come in very handy is the level 7 ability deadly surprise, which allows you to attempt a dirty trick as an immediate action if you hit an opponent denied its dexterity bonus to AC with a melee weapon or unarmed strike.

The setup I would recommend is 1 level of Maneuver Master and 11 levels of Cad, though there are certainly other, legitimate ways to achieve good results.


The level recommendation isn't random, and though it might work for Pathfinder Society that isn't exactly the reason I assigned a 12-level build. The reason will be obvious when you examine the feat list below. This list works for any sort of build, and does not assume that a character is playing a human or include fighter bonus feats. Combat maneuvers other than dirty trick can be swapped out to fit your preferred play style.

- Level 1: Combat Expertise (Core Rulebook 119): Take negatives to your attack to gain bonuses to AC.
- Monk Bonus Feat: Improved Dirty Trick (Advanced Player's Guide): Gain a +2 to CMB and CMD for dirty trick maneuvers. Do not provoke AOO when performing a dirty trick.
- Level 3: Improved Trip (Core Rulebook 128): Gain +2 to CMB and CMD for trip maneuvers. Do not provoke an AOO when performing a trip.
- Level 5: Dodge (Core Rule Book 122): Gain +1 dodge bonus to AC.
- Level 7: Quick Dirty Trick (Ultimate Combat 114): May replace a melee attack with a dirty trick maneuver.
- Level 9: Greater Dirty Trick (Advanced Player's Guide): Gain an additional +2 to CMB and CMD for dirty trick maneuvers. The penalty now lasts for 1d4 rounds +1 round for every 5 by which you beat the target's CMD. Removing the penalties now requires a standard action.
- Level 11 (or whatever level you meet the prerequisites at): Dirty Trick Master (Bastards of Golarion 25): Cause the condition affected by any dirty trick maneuver to worsen. Dazzled becomes dazed, entangled becomes pinned, shaken becomes frightened, sickened becomes nauseated. This worsened condition replaces the initial one, and may be removed with a standard action.

*It's also a good idea to supplement your dirty trick with Gauntlets of the Skilled Maneuver (Ultimate Equipment), which provide a +2 to a single combat maneuver. The same bonus can be granted to trip or disarm attempts by simply using a weapon with one of those qualities.

The Goal

Once your character has Dirty Trick Master (a feat that I wrote for Bastards of Golarion, if I'm to toot my own horn) you are a threat to any enemy you can touch in melee. With your high BAB from Fighter and Quick Dirty Trick you can perform several dirty trick maneuvers, and to top it off you still get your bonus maneuver from Maneuver Master. You can pull a dirty trick on anyone you catch flat-footed or that you flank (or who is pinned, as per the increased condition), and even if an enemy does remove the condition you put on him it still takes a standard action; that's a round that enemy had their options significantly limited. And if you have more than one dirty trick effect that's been stacked on, it takes more than one action to remove them.

The Weaknesses

While every character build has something it's really good at, it will also have something that it's really bad at. While the dirty fighter we've outlined here is great for debuffing enemies in ways that will not give them a saving throw against the attack, the build does have some weaknesses. This character will have a very low AC (unless you toss the monk level and use bonus feats to get heavier armor or replace the monk level with another class, which is an option), and he will have issues with opponents that are very large, who remain out or melee range, or who are invisible/incorporeal. While this character will not have the biggest damage output in the party, those bonus feats can also be used to increase how hard he's going to hit once he's stacked status conditions onto the bad guy.

The key with the Dirty Trick Master (just like any other build) is to recognize what your weaknesses are and to have something else you can fall back on when your big gun doesn't work. Are you fighting enemies that are large sized and have multiple legs? Why not throw a tanglefoot bag at them to keep them tied up for a couple of rounds, and then either shoot from a distance or stick and move (assuming you invest in mobility and spring attack)? What do you do if an enemy is immune to being blinded or sickened? Well entangle and pin them instead, or ask if their enhanced senses are hearing based and deafen them. What if you want to avoid getting splattered all over the battle field? Well try using smoke sticks to give yourself concealment, or invest in a cloak of displacement.

Whatever your weakness is, you need to prepare for it so there are no fights where you're just sitting there doing nothing but pissing and moaning that your special trick won't work. Even if you're not single-handedly reducing the big bad into a buffoon who's got spit in his eye, his pants around his ankles, and a solid shot in the gut to knock the wind out of him, you can still do something to help out the rest of the party.

If you're looking for something to do with all those bonus feats then you might want to check out The Bullyboy and my Ultimate Aid Another builds. Remember that it's your character so make it into whatever you want!

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  1. I dont fully undestand, what exactly allows the character, at level 1, to attack, trip, and dirty truck all at the same time? My understanding of this is that you can either attack and throw out a manuver, or use two manuvers.

    1. Some maneuvers, like trip or disarm, may be done in place of a regular attack. Other maneuvers, like grapple or dirty trick, take a standard action to perform. It will say what kind of action a maneuver takes in the description.

      Some classes overcome this limitation through their features. The Maneuver Master monk, for example, can perform a flurry of combat maneuvers. Any maneuver. So you could, at level one, do 2 dirty tricks. Or a dirty trick and a grapple. Or a dirty trick, and a trip. And that potential only goes up along with your level.

      I think you're misreading the "kick him while he's down" as an attack. It is, in fact, a description of what the dirty trick it. You trip them, and then "perform a dirty trick" to make them sickened. The flavor for how you make them sickened is something like, "I kick him in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him."

    2. EDIT: What the dirty trick IS (meaning what it looks like to observers).

    3. That's exactly what i was doing, thanks for clearing that up!

  2. One problem with your build, though. You only dip into Maneuver Master, but flurry of maneuvers uses your monk level in place of your BAB. Doesn't say "may use", so that means you are effectively taking a larger and larger penalty as you level up as you don't get to use your BAB and instead only get to use your one monk level when calculation your attack bonus.

    1. I do not believe that is correct. You replace your BAB with monk levels ONLY for the levels of monk you have. If you're a Monk 2, Fighter 8, then your BAB is considered a 10, not a 2 for Combat Maneuvers.

      The monk text ONLY refers to how you treat your monk levels.

  3. Hi!
    Great guide but I think you cannot make two dirty tricks with flurry of maneuvers at level 1. Because during the full attack action one of the attacks must be either a melee attack or a combat maneuver that could be performed instead of a melee attack (trip/disarm). Just the additional maneuver is not penalised for being a standard action (grapple/dirty trick).

    1. Which is pretty much exactly what's in the example. You trip as your regular attack (trip attacks can replace any melee attack), and then you make your dirty trick as your flurry of maneuvers.

      I don't believe, upon review, that I claimed you could do two dirty tricks in a single flurry at level one.