Friday, October 16, 2015

How to Weaponize Your Intimidate Check in Pathfinder

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All right, obligatory reminder that this blog pretty much runs off your support aside, let's pop the hood and get into the gears for this week's crunch build.

The Bruiser: Weaponizing Your Intimidate Check

Intimidate is one of the most commonly used social skills in Pathfinder. If there's a guard getting in your way, or a merchant who's trying to screw you on a deal, you make a veiled (or not so veiled) threat to get them to reconsider their actions. During combat you can make an intimidate check to demoralize an enemy, leaving them shaken if you can beat a DC equal to 10 + the enemy's hit dice + the enemy's wisdom modifier. Not only that, but the duration of the shaken condition goes up by 1 round for every 5 by which you beat the enemy's DC.

Bullets are expensive. Tell me, what's your life worth?
I've talked about using intimidate in combat before with what I titled The Bullyboy build. That build was fairly rogue-centric, as it used your intimidate check to render enemies flat-footed in order to let you get your sneak attack more readily. While there are some very good suggestions and feats in there, The Bruiser does something a little different; it allows you to create fear on a level we typically reserve only for characters like Batman.

So What's The Trick?

It all starts with the humble feat Enforcer. Found on page 159 of the Advanced Player's Guide, this feat simply says that whenever you hit someone and deal non-lethal damage, you can make an intimidate check as a free action. If your check is successful, the enemy is shaken for a number of rounds equal to the damage dealt. On a critical hit they're frightened for one round, and then shaken for a number of rounds equal to the damage dealt.

That's not a bad start, eh? Say you have a Strength modifier of +3, you're swinging two handed, and you roll minimum damage. That's still a minimum of 5 rounds the enemy's shaken.

Run faster than my horse, and you may yet see another day.
Here's where the numbers get crunchy. You need to have a class that receives sneak attack as a feature. You then take the feats Sap Adept and Sap Master from page 116 of Ultimate Combat. The first feat states that when you deal non-lethal sneak attack damage with a bludgeoning weapon that you add a bonus to the dice equal to twice the number of sneak attack dice you rolled. The second states that when you deal non-lethal sneak attack damage to a flat-footed opponent that you roll the sneak attack damage twice, and total it. Add in the Bludgeoner feat, found on page 90 of Ultimate Combat, which allows you to deal non-lethal damage with a bludgeoning weapon at no penalty, and you've got a nasty trick up your sleeve.

But there's a cherry to go on top of this sundae!

The Thug archetype for the rogue automatically adds on 1 more round of shaken to anyone demoralized by your intimidate checks. Not only that, but anyone who is shaken for 5 rounds or more you can just decide to make frightened for 1 round instead.

Given the sheer number of rounds you can tack on, it's a safe bet your enemies are going to spend more time running out of the fight than they'll spend getting in your way.

EDIT: The feat Cornugon Smash (From Cheliax: Empire of Devils), allows you to make an intimidate check as a free action whenever you strike an enemy with an attack modified by the Power Attack feat. So if you really want to live up to the bruiser archetype, all you need is Power Attack, and 6 ranks of intimidate to snatch this feat.

You could also combine this with the monster feat Hurtful (Monster Codex). Hurtful says that when you intimidate a creature within your melee reach in combat that you may make a free attack on them as a swift action. If the attack misses, though, then the shaken status is removed from the creature. Useful, but only if you don't need your swift or immediate actions for other class abilities.

Tweaking The Engine

You're going to have a lot of feats leftover, especially if you decide to play a rogue/fighter combination who uses an unpleasant disposition to browbeat enemies. That's why it might be a good idea to also use the Shatter Defenses feat, found on page 133 of the Core Rulebook, to render enemies flat-footed against your incoming attacks. Also, given the sheer number of rounds you could leave enemies shaken for, Shatter Defenses is going to be sure you get your sneak attack in for pretty much the rest of the fight (it is a one-two punch, though. You hit a shaken enemy once, and it's flat-footed against you till the end of your next turn. All the more reason for those fighter levels to give you a higher bab, and more attacks).

Just remember, some enemies are too dumb to intimidate.
The Bruiser, combined with The Bullyboy, will give you a lot of options in average combat for using your intimidate skill to its best, possible effect. However, it's important to remember that there are a lot of enemies in the game that you simply cannot intimidate. Mindless undead, plants, constructs, creatures immune to mind effects, paladins, all of these and more will simply not be affected by your intimidate checks. Additionally, because of extremely high hit dice, many big bosses will simply be too high for you to effect unless you have geared your intimidate score to a ridiculous level. That's why it's important to have a backup plan in place so that when you can't brutalize your foes, you can still contribute to the fight.

That's all for this week! I hope you found this little guide to be of use, and that you hand it off to all your friends around the table. If you'd like to get more updates from Improved Initiative, just plug your email into the box on the right, or follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.


  1. Cornugan Smash automatically applies Demoralize when using Power Attack (which is the only prereq) and works for every attack made this way...

    1. I feel like the Cruel weapon property deserves an honorable mention here-it inflicts Sicken for 1 round whenever you hit an opponent that's already shaken. Putting somebody at -4 to hit, -2 to damage, and -4 to all saves is a pretty decent debuff, and the casters in your party will thank you for it.

  2. Blade of mercy trait also allows a scimitar wielding sport fan to deal some nonlethal damage (with a trait bonus to damage), if your character worships Sarenrae (or whatever passes for the sun/dawn god in your campaign. Please note, that this trait is from The legacy of fire Player's Guide, so check with your GM before picking it up.

  3. And add the +1 Merciful Weapon Special Ability for another +1d6 of non-lethal weapon damage. My only concern with the non-lethal build are creatures that are immune to non-lethal damage. Otherwise, it's cool build with lots of weapons options like the Sai for a Ninja variant. Could use a 2W build, and keep one "merciful" weapon and keep a "lethal" weapon for those things that cannot be hurt with non-lethal...

  4. Cavalier or Samurai with the Order of the cockatrice as also a good way to go. You get Dazzling Display as a bonus feat at level 2, and +2 to hit against demoralized opponents. Plus he can dazzling display with any weapon, and it's only a standard action. I built a Samurai 2/Rogue(Thug)1/Fighter(Cad)8 for a campaign specializing in demoralizing and dirty trick. Double chained Kama with Merciful on one end and Cruel on the other. Definitely my favorite character I have made yet.

  5. Swashbucklers can join the "Intimidate when you hit in melee club when they hit 3rd level with Menacing Swordplay - and a three-level dip into Swashbuckler combines very well with Rogue or Ninja for sneak damage. Unchained Rogue gives you similar DEX-to-damage as the Swashbuckler, but that DEX-based damage helps Ninja builds excel.

  6. Ultimate Intrigue added Shadows of Fear, which lets you apply sneak attack damage once per round against targets affected by a fear effect.