Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pathfinder's One Hit Wonders: Tips to Build a Bigger, Badder Brute

We've all seen that player. When battle is joined dice scatter like a shotgun blast, and the number is high enough to make you wince. There's no magic, no sneak attack, just pure, unadulterated might behind every hammer blow. For those who are looking for the secret of the bigger, badder brute, it's not much of a secret at all. You just need to know how to bring the pain.

Step One: Choose Race and Traits

Starting from the ground, up.
When it comes to your bruiser it's important to begin at the beginning. Humans are the obvious choice because of their bonus feat and the floating +2 stat bonus (which you should add to your strength score), but both half-orcs and half-elves have their merits too. The former offers proficiency with the falchion and greatax, as well as half-orc ferocity, and the latter offers elven immunities along with low light vision. Both of these alternate race choices still provide a floating +2 stat bonus as well.

As far as traits go there are several, solid choices to provide an extra edge. Bloodthirsty (Ultimate Campaign) deals 1 additional point of damage when you reduce an enemy to 0 hit points, or when you confirm a critical hit. In the case of the latter the 1 point is increased by the weapon's critical modifier, which makes it a solid choice for high-crit weapons. Axe to Grind (Ultimate Campaign) provides a +1 trait bonus on damage to enemies who are only threatened by you in melee.

Step Two: Choose Your Class

When it comes to sheer strength two class choices are a cut above the rest; fighters and barbarians. While both can get the job done, it's important for players to carefully weigh the pros and cons of each class and what it offers.


Nuff' Said
A fighter's strength lies in his or her ability to wear any kind of armor, and to wield even the largest arms with relative ease. Combined with weapon and armor training, as well as the sheer number of feats fighters receive, they are a slam dunk for a one-hit-wonder. The best fighter for doling out punishment in one, fell swoop though is the Two-Handed Fighter variant, found in the Advanced Player's Guide.

This variant loses armor training and bravery, but gains bonuses to sunder attempts and resistances, as well as the devastating ability of Overhand Chop. This ability, gained at level three, allows a Two-Handed Fighter to make a single melee attack with the attack action or a charge, and to add double his strength modifier to the damage dealt rather than 1 1/2 times when using a two-handed weapon. At level seven this variant gains Backswing, which allows the doubled strength modifier to be added to all attacks made as part of a full-attack action.


Nuff' Said 2.0
Known for raw power and a massive damage output, barbarians are often the fan favorite when it comes to doling out the harshness. With a full BAB of their own, barbarians are capable of wielding just as many weapons as the fighter. While barbarians lack the feat selection of the fighter, they make up for it with Rage, and with their Rage Powers.

For those who want to split their foes from crown to crotch though, the Titan Mauler (Ultimate Combat 30) is the way to go. These barbarians lose out on Uncanny Dodge and Fast Movement, but they gain the ability to wield two-handed weapons in a single hand, as well as the ability to wield over-size weapons at no penalty. These abilities are called Jotungrip and Massive Weapons respectively, and it's the latter that really solidifies this build as a one-hit-wonder. Bigger weapons equal a bigger damage potential, and that's what players are looking for. While you cannot wield a large greatsword, you can wield a large bastard sword just like the iconic barbarian does.

EDIT: Since it seems the fans wanted it, the Titan Mauler now does allow you to wield large-sized two-handed weapons, thanks to changes made in the rules.


The backbone of any brute, the right feats make the difference between a one-shot knock-out, and a dozen rounds of sparring back and forth on the battle mat. The following feat suggestions are chopped into groups.

- Power Attack (Core Rulebook 131)
- Furious Focus (Advanced Player's Guide 161)

The first two feats that any powerhouse should have, Power Attack increases damage by +2 (+3 for a two-handed weapon), and decreases to-hit by -1. Furious Focus negates the negative for the first attack made in a round (the only attack for most characters until level 6). At a BAB of +4 and every +4 thereafter the base damage goes up by +2 (+3 with a two-handed weapon), and the negative tacks on an additional -1. That's +6 at level 4, +9 at level 8, +12 at level 12, etc.

- Vital Strike (Core Rulebook 136)
- Improved Vital Strike (Core Rulebook 128)
- Greater Vital Strike (Core Rulebook 126)
- Devastating Strike (Ultimate Combat 95)
- Furious Finish (Ultimate Combat 102)
- Death or Glory (Ultimate Combat 94)

Despite its name, Vital Strike is not precision damage. It allows players to make a single, standard attack action, and to roll all of their weapon dice multiple times based on the how many attacks the character has as part of a full attack action. So that's double the weapon dice at +6 BAB, and triple the weapon dice at +11 BAB. Devastating Strike adds an additional +2 per die of weapon damage to a Vital Strike attack, up to a bonus of +6.

Furious Finish allows a character with Rage to make a maximized Vital Strike attack. This drops the character out of Rage, and leaves him or her fatigued. Lastly, Death or Glory allows a character to make a single melee attack against a large or larger opponent at big bonuses, but the trade off is that the enemy gets an attack on the character at the same bonuses immediately after.

- Raging Brutality (Ultimate Combat 114)
- Weapon Focus (Core Rulebook 136)
- Weapon Specialization (Core Rulebook 137)
- Greater Weapon Focus (Core Rulebook 126)
- Greater Weapon Specialization (Core Rulebook 126)

Raging Brutality allows a character who is currently raging to expend 3 rounds of Rage as a swift action to add his or her constitution modifier to the damage dealt to all enemies struck in that round. Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization are the traditional feats for fighters, and they add a +2 to hit and a +1 to damage respectively. The greater versions simply offer the same bonuses, which stack.

Rage Powers

Don't get even. Get Mad. Really, really mad.
Rage powers are one of the major advantages of Pathfinder barbarians, and they provide a little more oomph. The more levels of barbarian someone has, the more puissant they become.

- Powerful Blow (Core Rulebook)
- Bleeding Blow (Ultimate Combat)
- Crippling Blow (Ultimate Combat)

When it comes to dealing straight damage to all enemies, the Powerful Blow tree is a barbarian's best friend. A single blow during combat receives a bonus of +1 damage. It goes up the more levels of barbarian a character has achieved. Bleeding Blow allows this bonus damage to be converted into bleed damage, and Crippling Blow allows this bonus damage to be dealt to an opponent's strength or dexterity scores. Other rage powers can deal damage to specific creature types, or give the barbarian other kinds of attacks, but for straight damage Powerful Blow is the way to go.

Oversized Weapons

Sometimes a short sword just won't do.
Even with all of the right feats, the right rage powers, and a strength score that's through the roof, a one-hit-wonder needs the right tool for the job. In this case that means an oversized weapon. Why? Because they let you roll more dice.

A large greatax, greatsword, greatclub, or great-whatever will deal 3d6 damage. Sadly they're too big for you to use, no matter what rules you've got. If someone makes you  bigger though, then your weapon gets bigger. Also you can wield a large sized bastard sword in two hands, and characters take a relatively small negative (-2) for wielding inappropriately sized weapons (which is negated if a player has the Titan Mauler's Massive Weapons ability).

Final Notes

When all is said and done, a one-hit-wonder is made up of a lot of little numbers from a dozen different sources. Every build has its flaws though, and players need to keep them in mind if they're going to prepare for any situation a game might through their way. When it comes to preparation, players can never go wrong with alchemical items (this list provides some of the best of the basics).

One-hit-wonders are melee combatants, which means they can't chase down flying creatures, or deal a lot of damage at range. These brawlers also tend to be fairly vulnerable due to a lack of shield. They have no protections against magic, and when it comes to hordes the one-hit-wonders might find themselves overwhelmed. The above suggestions are meant to create characters who go toe-to-toe with a single opponent, nothing more and nothing less.

Lastly, while multiclassing is an option, I would personally recommend against it for this build. Pick a barbarian or a fighter, but don't try to slap them together. Rage Powers' effectiveness are based on a barbarian's level, and combining a rager with fighters, alchemists, and even rangers may have short-term bonuses, but multiclassing can sap the effectiveness of these abilities in the long term. Fighters also gain the most benefits from taking a straight class, as weapon training bonuses, as well as higher level feats like Greater Weapon Focus and Greater Weapon Specialization only become available to those who dedicate themselves to the disciplined art of steel.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Unfortunately Titanmauler is poorly written and doesn't allow you to bypass the size limits in the Equipment section of the CRB. Despite the flavor of the class, nothing in the wording lets you wield a Large sized two-handed weapon. The best you can do is wield a Large sized bastard sword or waraxe in two hands. At level 6 you take no penalties for doing this, but it's hardly worth losing all those barbarian class features just to remove a -2 penalty on a weapon you could already wield.

  3. Unfortunately Vital Strike doesn't work that way. Vital strike allows ONE attack that round that doubles the damage dice you roll for that Weapon. Then you add on your normal damage increasers like Str, magic, sneak attack, feats, abilities etc. If Vital Strike worked on full attacks, Archers would decimate the battlefield doing Full attacks with Many/rapid/haste and firing off 5 attacks per round each doing double damage at level 7-8 depending on class.

    On a side note there is a spell called Lead Blades that effectively increases your weapon damage to the equivalent of a size larger. Combine that with Enlarge Person and you've got a solid foundation for mass Carnage. Get a wand of both and give em to your caster to use on you.

    1. On second thought, I suppose you could stack Vital/Enlarge/Lead Blades for a nice mighty one massive hit would work excellently for rounds you couldn't use your full attack. But for rounds you could full attack you're gonna do more doing 2-5 attacks with all enhancements with a 2h wep (plus AoO's)

    2. You seem to have mis-interpreted the language; at no point does it say you get to multiply everything for Vital Strike. Weapon dice are all that get re-rolled, and that's what it says.

      Regardless of whether or not you would do more damage with 2-5 hits (assuming you aren't like some players who even with 5 attacks will only hit once or twice) the purpose of the build is to create the single biggest single attack. The elements are laid out in such a way that you can use them at all times; magic is a nice bonus, but if you're a martial based class with no casting then you should focus on your own class abilities rather than the boosts other PCs can give you. They're nice, but if you can't get them you still need to be effective.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. With a Lance. While charging with Spirited Charge.

    5. You can also get the trait Curiously dangerous and make UMD a class skill so you get a bonus of +4 + your ranks in UMD. By level 6 if you're dropping ranks into UMD (which isn't a bad choice IMO) it lessens the reliance on spell casters, you should have 10 + Cha modifier. I play in Pathfinder Society games and spell casters are not guaranteed nor is healing. Being more self sufficient isn't a bad thing. Efficient Quiver and/or Handy Haversacks reduces the cost action for ~4k gold (for both)

      Forgive the deleted comment and seemingly random response last time lol. I didn't realize you had replied and I thought I replied to the other comment from the other guy.
      Buffing this way takes 2 rounds maximum which is about how much time it takes for enemies to reach you on average. Just enough time to wreak havoc with a 10-15 foot reach. There isn't much that can stand in your way while hasted and charging.

    6. Ok I went back and reread what you wrote and misinterpreted that as you trying to say you rolled double damage on all attacks on a full attack.

    7. Working on a similar build. Using Titan Fighter to get a Large Two hander weapon instead of a Titan Mauler. Strapping a bandoleer with enlarge potions and an impact enchant on the weapon. But I was thinking about getting two levels in Oracle for Lame Curse and free Lead Blades(fatigue immune and replacement for the enchant so i can get something else). But I don't know if that would be good enough to replace two more Barb/fighter levels. Any suggestions?

  4. The third printing of UC clarifies that the Titan Mauler can, actually, use oversized two-handed weapons, but takes an additional penalty of -4 for doing so.