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Pathfinder - Character Optimization - Vigilante Archetypes Breakdown

Disclaimer

I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.

Temporary Note: Pathfinder Unchained and Occult Adventures were both recently added to the SRD. I'm excited to explore them, and I am actively working on adding their contents to my collection of handbooks. I appreciate your patience while I make these changes.

Vigilante Archetypes Breakdown

Vigilante archetypes attempt to open up other superhero concepts, and many of them have a lot of cool flavor. Unfortunately, they're almost all badly implemented and full of problems which are difficult or impossible to overcome.

Brute

The Brute is your classic Hulk-type monster. The social persona is just some normal guy, but when things get crazy he loses control and breaks stuff. However, the archetype has huge mechanical holes. You need Strength to back up all of your unarmed strikes (unless you do some crafty build stuff like Weapon Finesse and the Lethal Grace Vigilante Talent, which seems super weird for The Hulk), and 1d8 hit points is nowhere near enough to keep a character like this alive, especially since your armor doesn't work while you're transformed.

That said, the Brute is not completely unsalvageable. Keep your Dexterity high, and pick up Weapon Finesse and the Lethal Grace Vigilante Talent. Pick up Heavy Punches (see below), the Vital Punishment Vigilante Talent, and the Vital Strike feat chain. That gives you ridiculous damage on a single attack per round, it will scale exponentially. For defense, pick up Sizing Equipment (see below), a shield, and possibly the Unkillable Vigilante Talent. Then run around all weird and skinny and call yourself The Husk.

Chaotic Vigilante (Ex): Not a notable issue, and it certainly won't affect the effectiveness of your build.

Brutish Fortitude (Ex): Reverses the Vigilante's saves, going from two good saves to one good save.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Losing medium armor means that you'll need more Dexterity, and switching to unarmed strikes presents its own set of problems. Fortunately, Heavy Punches will give you a bunch of extra damage. Be sure to get your hands magically enhanced (see my Monk Handbook's section on permanent spells).

Brute Talents: Several of the talents are very good, but they're also completely essential to the function of the archetype. Without Sizing Equipment, the Brute will die almost immediately. Without Heavy Punches, the Brute's damage will be pitiful.

Tear Them Apart (Ex): A solid improvement to your damage output provided that you can hit reliably. Unfortunately, you'll be constantly trying to decide if you want Power Attack damage or Rend damage. It may be difficult to get both.

Replaced Features: dual identity (altered), saving throws, armor and weapon proficiencies, vigilante specialization, vigilante talents (altered), vengeance strike.

Compatible Archetypes:

Cabalist

The Cabalist is a really cool flavor with a poor implementation. Casting spells as a Magus with the Witch spell list is great, but adds an extra ability dependency to a class which is already fairly MAD (Magi use Intelligence for spellcasting).

Class Skills: Losing 2 skill ranks per level is really hard when your skill list is so long. You also lose some Rogue-like skills to gain some spellcasting-related skills. You need Intelligence for the Cabalists spells, which helps a bit.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency:

Spellcasting: The Witch spell list includes a lot of really great options, especially utility options not normally available to 2/3 casters like the Magus.

Spill Blood (Ex): Similar to the Rogue's Bleeding Attack. Bleed damage isn't a fantastic way to kill things, but it also fuels many of the Cabalist's abilities.

Cabalist Talents: A few additional talent options, a couple of which are worthwhile. It's also frustrating that they added extra talent options and removed half of the Vigilante's chances to take them.

Bloodbound Spell (Ex): The bonuses are really small.

Bloody Horror (Ex): Frightening Presence is strictly better and requires considerably less setup.

Shadowy Appearance (Sp): A 20% miss chance is a considerable defensive buff, plus it allows you to hide anywhere and makes you immune to Sneak Attack. The invisibility ability is great, but has a very short duration and only works once per day.

Replaced Features: Class Skills, skill ranks per level, armor and weapon proficiencies, vigilante talents (altered), 4th-, 8th-, 10th-, 14th-, and 16th-level vigilante talents, startling appearance, frightening appearance, stunning appearance.

Compatible Archetypes:

Gunmaster

The Gunmaster trades some of the Vigilante's less useful abilities for access to Firearms and a couple of abilities from the Gunslinger. Altoghether, it's a very solid choice for a ranged Vigilante, though you lose access to Vigilante Specialization and all of the talents which require you to be either an Avenger or a Stalker.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Firearms are very powerful, and you'll want to be in light armor anyway.

Gunmaster: The Gunmaster is perhaps the only firearm-centric archetype/class which doesn't force the character to pidgeon-hole themselves into a single firearm. Grab a bunch and use whatever fits the situation, and you still get the scaling bonus to attacks and damage.

Gunmaster Talents: Several poor options. Nothing that you really need to have.

Nimble (Ex): A small, but helpful bonus to AC. The scaling is nice, too.

Replaced Features: armor and weapon proficiencies, vigilante specialization, vigilante talents (altered), unshakable

Compatible Archetypes:

Magical Child

The Magical Child adds spellcasting to the Vigilante in much the same way that the Cabalist does, but without the MAD issues. The Magical Child also gains a potent familiar which offers a lot of very interesting options. However, the archetype lacks directly offensive options common to most Vigilantes, so you need to rely on summons, attrition, and clever tactics to defeat your foes rather than outright killing them.

Class Skills: Losing 2 skill ranks per level is really hard when your skill list is so long. You also lose some Rogue-like skills to gain some spellcasting-related skills.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Light armor is fine. You'll likely want to pick up a mithral buckler to boost your AC a bit, too.

Spellcasting: The Unchained Summoner's spell list includes a lot of great support and area control options which are really helpful without relying on a high spell DC. The spellcasting is spontaneous so you don't need to carry around a potentially incriminating spellbook, and since it's Charisma-based you don't have the MAD issues presented by the Cabalist.

Transformation Sequence (Su): SHAZAM! The improved time for transformation is nice, but the added flair also makes it hard to conceal your dual identities.

Animal Guide (Ex): Familiars are excellent, and can do quite a bit. The biggest and most exciting part of this ability is that the familiar improves its form as you gain levels and eventually gains the ability to switch back to old forms. Be sure to read my Practical Guide to Familiars for help selecting your familiar forms.

Staunch Ally (Ex): You don't so much give up the "Appearance" abilities as grant them to your familiar. This is fine, since your familiar is typically either right next to you or off somewhere being more mobile than you are.

Replaced Features: Class Skills, skill ranks per level, armor and weapon proficiencies, 4th-, 8th-, 10th-, 14th-, and 16th-level vigilante talents, vigilante specialization, startling appearance, frightening appearance, stunning appearance, and vengeance strike

Compatible Archetypes:

Mounted Fury

The Mounted Fury gets a rideable Animal Companion and opens up the option of mounted builds to the Vigilante. This is mechanically fine, but a nightmare to roleplay. How do you explain being the only one dragging a horse everywhere, then having your vigilante identity suddenly appear with a horse? The issues get worse with less-common mounts like a wolf or a boar.

Class Skills: Handle Animal is a bad skill, and UMD is hard to give up when you're already a Charisma-dependent class.

Thorough Change: So you're disallowed from taking two mediocre tallents. Not a problem.

Mount (Ex): The mount options are very limited, especially if it's hard to explain why you're riding a wolf or a boar. Still, an animal companion is a powerful tool. Be sure to read my Practical Guide to Animal Companions. Acces to teamwork feats with your mount offers a lot of fantastic options, so be sure to read my Practical Guide to Teamwork Feats too.

Furious Charge (Ex): Charging is how mounted characters get their job done, so this is an almost-constant +2 to attacks, and losing the AC penalty is nice, too.

Mighty Charge (Ex): The threat component doesn't matter much since you'll probably be using a lance, but the free combat maneuver is nice.

Vengeance Strike (Ex): A small added requirement. You probably want to be mounted when attacking anyway.

Replaced Features: Class Skills, dual identity, vigilante specialization, 6th- and 12th-level vigilante talents, vengeance strike.

Compatible Archetypes:

Psychometrist

I can't speak to the quality of this archetype as I haven't analyzed the options available in Complete Occult.

Warlock

The Warlock works much like the Cabalist and has many of the same problems with MAD, but the addition of Mystic Bolts as a viable combat option in both melee and at range dramatically reduces the Vigilante's need for emphasis on abilty scores related to combat. A Vigilante could start with 14 or 16 Dexterity, and not put a single ability score increase into it and get by just fine. This allows you Vigilante to put resources into Intelligence to improve their spellcasting capacity.

Class Skills: Losing 2 skill ranks per level is really hard when your skill list is so long. You also lose some Rogue-like skills to gain some spellcasting-related skills.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Light armor is fine. You'll likely want to pick up a mithral buckler to boost your AC a bit, too.

Spellcasting: The Sorcerer/Wizard spell list is arguably the best in the game, and even as a 2/3 caster access to that spell list is fantastic.

Mystic Bolts (Su): The wording is a bit confusing, but Mystic Bolts are normal attacks by default ("touching her foe" has no rules effect). The wording of the damage bonus is also abnormal; typically "plus" referring to a numeric bonus is listed as "+X", not "plus X". Still, I believe the intent is +1 damage per four levels, not +1d6. The ability to use the bolts with TWF is great, and I don't see any reason why Rapid Shot and Deadly Aim wouldn't work. You get to choose the energy types you can use, but gain new types over a long period. I recommend Acid, Electricity, Fire, then Cold. Mystic Bolts is intended to replace the use of weapons, so learn to love it.

Piercing Bolts (Ex): Unless you're using TWF (and you probably should), the "one bolt per round" will cover all of your bolts. Once you hit level 5 there's no excuse to not use TWF, even if you don't have the feat. Touch AC generally doesn't scale with CR, so as you gain levels you will almost always be trying to hit a touch AC in the range of 10-12.

Warlock Talents: Several fantastic options. You really need to be careful about which talents you take since Warlocks get so few.

Replaced Features: Class Skills, skill ranks per level, armor proficiencies, 4th-, 8th-, 10th-, 14th-, and 16th-level vigilante talents, vigilante specialization, unshakable, vigilante talents (altered).

Compatible Archetypes:

Wildsoul

Wildsoul offers three "Natural Course" options, all of which are mediocre at best.

Natural Course (Ex): You get to choose Avenger or Stalker in addition to selecting your "Natural Course". This is a crucial point of the archetype. The -10 penalty for using abilities like Bear Form and Shoot Webs is pretty gentle consider how weird it would be for Peter Parker to shoot webs during a polite dinner party. As a GM I would impose -20 and consider that exceptionally generous.

Replaced Features: vigilante specialization (altered), 2nd, 6th, 12th, and 18th-level Vigilante Talents.

Compatible Archetypes:

Arachnid

Clearly a play on spider man, Arachnid is a train wreck. Shoot Webs is the only worthwhile ability, and its limited usage per day means that you can't rely on it consistently. The other abilities fit the objective of the archetype, but by the time you get them they're completely obsolete.

Heightened Senses (Ex): Stalker Sense is a solid ability and gets some nice improvements as you gain levels. It won't make you very threatening at low levels, but it might keep you alive.

Shoot Webs (Ex): Tanglefoot bags are a great item, but stop being helpful when their DC 15 reflex save stops working reliably. Entangling enemies, especially flying enemies, is a massive tactical advantage. However, note that tanglefoot bags require an attack to use (possibly as part of a full attack) while this requires a Standard Action to use since it's a special ability.

Web Specialist (Ex): Wasting a uise of Shoot Webs on a climb speed is pretty sad considering a potion of Spider Climb costs 50 gold. Of course, being a Spider Man-derivce character without the ability to climb walls without a potion is pretty sad, too. The ability to create a temporary rope is very situational, but obviously fits the theme. This is made even worse by the fact that at this level all of your allies are flying.

Web Master (Ex): Finally your 18th-level vigilante can do what Spider Man figured out how to do in his first few days of being a super hero! The mechanics of rope swinging are left completely unexplained, so have a good discussion with your DM about how exactly this would work.

Falconine

Falconine starts of really rough with a garbage talent and a situational bonus to Perception, but past level 10 it really hits its stride when you gain flight.

Soft Landing (Ex): The fact that you still need to be within arms reach of a wall to get the full effect is insulting.

Eagle Eye (Ex): Situational, but Perception is still the most-rolled skill in the game, and the majority of those cheks are visual.

Take to the Air (Ex): Permanent flight while in Vigilante persona. It's unclear how this interacts with the wing-flaps under your arms, but I think we can just assume that you'll never need those now so they'll just be politely forgotten.

Deadly Dive (Ex): This is impressively lethal, but you'll need a speed boost of some kind to reach the full 20d6 damage. You can't combine this with charge abilities, Vital Strike, or anything else interesting, so be sure to pick up the biggest total damage you can manage on a single attack. Also note that this provokes two attacks of opportunity: one for the movement and one for the attack. You can potentially remove both by using a reach weapon, so grab a Glaive. You'll still need to deal with enemies with long reach, so consider Enlarge Person to improve your own reach or Mobility if you're going to come to terms with drawing an occasional opportunity attack..

Ursine

Natural weapons are hard to make viable for a PC, and Ursine doesn't provide enough to fix that.

Deadly Claws (Ex): Natural weapons aren't great, especially since you don't gain additional attacks as your BAB increases, and making them viable for a humanoid requires a big pile of feats to keep pace with a modestly enhanced magic weapon. You'll probably want to use real weapons instead.

Bear Jaws (Ex): A third primary natural attack is pretty nice. At this point you're getting three attacks, all of which apply your full Strength bonus to damage, which can outdo TWF pretty well at this level. However, it will still fall of sharply once everyone hits BAB +6/+1.

Thick Hide (Ex): This is very late for such a small bonus. Remember that Natural Armor and enhancement bonuses to natural armor (like that provided by an Amulet of Natural Armor) stack.

Bear Form (Ex): After spending 17 levels trying to make your lousy natural weapons work, you suddenly need to learn to polymorph. The feats should translate without too many issues, fortunately, but it's still a weird shift in how your character functions. Be sure to read my Practical Guide to Polymorph, if only for the explanation of the mechanics.

Zealot

Much like the Cabalist, the Zealot makes the Vigilante a 2/3 spellcaster. And again like the Cabalist, it makes the Vigilante very MAD. Wisdo mis the Vigilante's only viable dump stat, which makes the Zealot especially problematic.

Class Skills: Losing 2 skill ranks per level is really hard when your skill list is so long. You also lose some Rogue-like skills to gain some cleric-like skills.

Weapon Proficiencies: Most deities' favored weapons are martial weapons, so you'll almost never get anything from this. If you manage to find a deity with Unarmed Strike as their favored weapon, be sure to pick up Fist of the Avenger to turn this into a free bonus feat.

Spellcasting: Inquisitors are a 2/3 caster with a spell list similar to Clerics, including a lot of great support options. However, they're also a Wisdom-based spellcaster, which means that the Vigilante's only dump stat is now your casting stat.

Aura (Ex): Very rarely has an effect on the game.

Inquisition (Ex): Many Inquisitions are very good. Read my Practical Guide to Inquisitor Inquisitions for help selecting an Inquisition.

Zealot Talents: A couple of truly fantastic options, but most are terrible.

Replaced Features: Class Skills, skill ranks per level, weapon proficiencies, 4th-, 8th-, 10th-, 14th-, and 16th-level vigilante talents, vigilante specialization

Compatible Archetypes: