Sunday, July 21, 2019

Air Support in Pathfinder: 4 Ways To Get Your Party Airborne ASAP

Flying is one of those things that happens in every Pathfinder game, sooner or later. Whether it's for epic dragon fights, or so you can avoid the deadly bastions of an enemy fortress, the ability to add a third dimension to your party's combat and movement capabilities is a game changer.

The question so many parties face, though, is how do you get into the air?

All right, Ragnar, we just have to get this rope around his neck...
Most of us are content to wait until we hit mid to high levels before we can finally start flying around. And while there are plenty of abilities like bloodline powers or racial feats that kick in around 11th or even 15th level, that's not what this week's installment is about.

Because if you really want to get the most out of being able to defy gravity, then you need to get your hands on that power as soon as possible. So the following methods are meant to get you high in the sky before you hit 6th-level or so. Also, we're looking for permanent ways for you to fly whenever you want to, rather than just for a few minutes when you happen to be in a fight.

Now then, on with the list!

Option #1: Character Race

Some of us are just born lucky, I guess.
One of the appealing traits of fantasy races is that they offer unusual capabilities or helpful bonuses. Some races even grant you a natural flight speed that you have at creation. Your maneuverability will vary, and you'll have to make a lot of Fly skill checks, but the ability to be high in the sky from level 1 onward grants you serious advantages that cannot be overstated. From ignoring difficult terrain, to staying out of the reach of melee-focused enemies, there's a lot to be said for those who can take wing using just what the gods gave them.

Some of the options you have include:

- Gargoyles: According to the playable stat block in the Advanced Race Guide, gargoyles have a natural fly speed of 50 feet. While most DMs probably won't let you have a gargoyle, it is one of the most powerful natural fliers out there.

- Strix: Also statted out in the Advanced Race Guide, the strix is probably one of the most commonly-denied races players have requested. With a natural fly speed of 60 feet, or 20 feet if they have the wing-clipped trait, most dungeon masters view strix as a flying monkey on their backs. If you get one, hold tight and have fun!

- Wyvaran: Paizo's answer to the Dragonborn, the wyvaran is another race that got a lot of attention in the Advanced Race Guide. They have a 30 foot fly speed, but their maneuverability is absolute crap. Fortunately, a high enough investment in the Fly skill can help you get around that minor inconvenience.

- Gathlain: These small-sized, woodland-looking creatures have a surprising among of speed when it comes to getting into the sky. With a 40 foot fly speed, but rather crap maneuverability, you can do quite a bit with them if you can persuade your DM to let you have one.

- Aasimar: While most people are familiar with the Angelic Wings feat aasimar can take later on in the game, there's actually an alternative racial feature that grants them a 20 foot natural flight speed at creation. It's a feature that shows up more than once in my most recent collection 100 Unusual Aasimar, and while it isn't the best speed, it can be boosted through any spells and other items that increase your character's base speed.

- Skinwalker: Skinwalkers debuted in Blood of The Moon, and the Bloodmarked variety have the ability to take Bloodmarked Flight once their BAB hits 5. This adds flight to their list of features they can use when they transform, and their transformations last basically as long as the player wants, making this a solid contender for full-BAB characters with an open feat slot.

While not being added to this list, honorable mention goes to the tengu. Their ability to glide and thus prevent falling damage is very useful in an aerial campaign, and the feat Tengu Wings allows them to grow functional wings for a short period of time per day, but it's not enough to keep up with the rest of the options in this section.

Option #2: Animal Companion

Mount up, loser, we're going adventuring!
Animal companions tend to fill more of a tank role, with bears and wolves as some of the standby favorites. However, there are a lot of animal companions out there that can fly... and some of them start as Medium-sized animals! The vulture is one of my favorites for this purpose, but there are one or two others on the list.

This is ideal if you're a small-sized druid, ranger, hunter, or other class that naturally receives an animal companion. You could even use it for clerics with the Animal domain, or those who take feats like Animal Ally out of Faiths and Philosophies. If you don't get a full druid level to advance your companion, then taking the feat Boon Companion out of Ultimate Wilderness is a smart idea. And if you want to play a Medium-sized character, but still want to fly, then you should consider the feat Undersized Mount out of the Advanced Class Guide. There are also some ranger archetypes that get flying mounts, like the hippogriff rider, if you're willing to wait a few levels to claim your sleek ride.

Generally speaking, we're looking at level 1 and level 4 respectively for animal companion flight, which isn't too bad. Provided, of course, you're not too big for your animal companion to haul you aloft.

You need to make sure your animal companion is properly trained so you can ride them, you'll likely need to get the proper saddle made for them, and you might want to take some mounted combat feats to help you run and gun through the skies. If you're going to be shooting from the saddle, that gives you penalties, so it's a good idea to take Mounted Archery. If you're going to be casting spells from a moving mount (as opposed to casting before or after your mount moves), that forces you to make concentration checks, which is also something to keep in mind.

Option #3: Familiars

Oi! Make with the magic already, Mephisto!
We tend to think of familiars as delicate little flowers to keep protected and safe... but you can turn them into a harrier, and rain death from the skies if you want to. With the right options, a familiar can make a perfect perch for an evoker who wants to provide fire support from a distance, or for a conjurer who wants full access to control the battlefield like it was a chessboard.

But how do you make such a tiny animal something you can ride on?

Well, this is another lovely present from Ultimate Wilderness. Because in addition to animal companion archetypes, the book also gave us familiar archetypes. The one you're going to want most for this plan is the Mauler. These familiars are always dumb and aggressive, but that's exactly what you want in a battle mount. At level 3, they can grow to a medium-sized version of themselves, which makes them easily able to be ridden by smaller casters, or by Medium-sized ones with the right feat.

If the idea of a half-mad gnome evoker riding a hawk the size of a condor into battle, blazing bolts flying from his hands as he and his familiar screech in triumph appeals to you, then this is definitely the direction you should be going.

This isn't just an option open for strictly arcane casters, either. If you take Eldritch Heritage in Ultimate Magic for the Arcane bloodline, then that grants you a familiar. You could also take the feat Familiar Bond out of the Familiar Folio, if you want something a little more expedient but which is much more useful for a melee class that just needs a familiar that can become a mount. And, of course, there is a magus arcana that grants you a familiar, as well as several other paths to acquiring such a bonded companion.

The thing to remember is that your familiar/mount needs to be able to carry you and your gear, and that you need the proper skills to ride it the same way you would any other mount. As it grows in level, though, it will gain more natural armor, and Maulers will also gain damage resistance when they hit higher levels. And if you are a caster, you can share spells with your familiar, allowing you to buff it up to become even harder to hurt, and giving it other capacities while it carries you through the battlefield.

And if you take a dip into a different class, Boon Companion works for your familiar just as it does for an animal companion.

Option #4: Eidolon

You didn't forget about me, did you?
The summoner is known for making terrifying tanks via their eidolons, but it's also possible to give yourself a flying mount pretty much right off the bat if you invest the points. A base avian form, and a small-sized summoner can be a deadly combination. Especially if you add in some other traits that let the bird blast from a distance, or if your summoner gets hold of the right scrolls, wands, and other spells to provide the right kind of support from their place on-high in the sky.

Unlike many of the previous options, eidolons are one of those things you can't really tap into from other classes. So for this one, being a summoner is really the way to go.

Make Sure You Bring Your Squad To The Right Campaign

Before you get too caught up in designing your ideal aerial wing, there's one last thing to keep in mind when it comes to these ideas; fliers need room to fly!

It sounds obvious, but it's one of the reasons I wanted to bring an airborne party to a game like Giantslayer, rather than one like Emerald Spire. Because while there may be times in the former adventure path when the party finds themselves underground, or constrained within a relatively small arena, there will be plenty of opportunities for high-flying shenanigans, ranged games, and all sorts of airborne adventures. Whereas in the Spire... well, you're inside all the time, often in cramped, narrow, dungeon-crawl style halls. Not the best place for a halfling wizard named Iceman and his hard-eyed arctic hawk Mauler.

That's all for this week's Crunch topic! For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or if you'd like to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

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