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Pathfinder - Shuriken Spam Ninja Handbook

Last Updated: November 21, 2019

Disclaimer

I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.

RPGBOT uses 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.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
  • Green: Good options.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.

Introduction

Ninjas have access to a ninja trick called Flurry of Stars which allows ninjas to throw a big pile of Shurikens. That's a great trick, so let's take it to the logical conclusion and see exactly how many shurikens we can and see if it's effective.

Let's Talk About Shurikens

Shurikens are a unique weapon with a special rule:

Although shuriken are thrown weapons, they are treated as ammunition for the purposes of drawing them and crafting masterwork or otherwise special versions of them, and of what happens to them after they are thrown.

To understand that, we also need to know how magic ammunition works:

Ammunition fired from a projectile weapon with an enhancement bonus of +1 or higher is treated as a magic weapon for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction. Similarly, ammunition fired from a projectile weapon with an alignment gains the alignment of that projectile weapon.

That means that they are purchased as masterwork and magic weapons in stacks of 50. However, it also means that shurikens are single-use. Because they're single-use and we plan to use them in vast quantities, we need to find a way to cut the cost of magic shurikens. That's going to rely on Greater Magic Weapon rather than burning money on single-use ammunition.

However, it also means that you can draw shurikens as a free action like other ammunition without the need for the Quick Draw feat. This saves you a feat, which is a big deal in Pathfinder.

The numerical stats of shurikens are garbage. 1d2 damage at medium size, x2 crits, and 10 ft. range means that on their own shurikens are one of the worst weapons in the game. However, the ability to draw them as a free action and the other options surrounding them make shurikens a powerful weapon if you know how to use them.

Shurikens can't be used as a melee weapon. Normally you can at least use a ranged weapon as an improvised weapon, but you can't do that with shurikens. Grab a spiked gauntlet so you can make attacks of opportunity and helps allies flank, but otherwise it doesn't matter.

Abilities

Str: Strength applies to your Shuriken damage, so don't dump it too hard unless you really need the points. Unfortunately there isn't a way to apply Dexterity in place of Strength to your thrown weapon damage within the content options which I support.

Dex: Attacks, AC, Reflex Saves.

Con: You need hit points and Fortitude saves, but you're going to be spending more time trying not to be attacked than trying to survive damage.

Int: Great for skill ranks.

Wis: You need a bit for Will saves and Perception.

Cha: Use Magic Device and your Ki Pool both rely on Charisma.

25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy 15 Point Buy Elite Array
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Races

Dexterity increases are crucial. Small size is fantastic, and Charisma increases are also helpful because they help our Ki pool and make UMD a reliable option sooner. Darkvision is helpful for sneaky characters, but you can get it from spells or the Darkvision ninja trick.

You can use Reduce Person to reach small size, but small size isn't the goal: the intent is to be as small as possible to get sizes bonuses to attacks, AC, and stealth.

Traits

Very few traits matter to the build, so pick up Reactionary (or one of the equivalent race-specific traits) and something to boost your saves.

  • Hidden Hand (Combat): Doesn't work with Shurikens because they're ranged weapons instead of light weapons.
  • Reactionary (Combat): You need to go first before enemies act so that they will still be flat-footed. Surprise rounds only allow a Standard Action, so you can't make a full attack. Vanishing Trick only makes you invisible as the Invisibility spell, so your target is probably only denied their dexterity bonus against your first attack. Round 1 is where you are most dangerous, and only if you go before your enemies.

Skills

  • Use Magic Device (Cha): The build is reliant on casting Greater Magic Weapon to enhance your shurikens in place of burning money on permanent magic shurikens, so you'll almost certainly need UMD.

Feats

  • Distance Thrower: Probably better than Far Shot for most ninjas, if you can manage to stay within 20 feet you won't suffer penalties. if you're within 30 feet, Far Shot is equivalent. If you're outside of 30 feet (see Sniper's Goggles), Far Shot is better. Of course, you can combine the two and attack at 30 feet with no penalty, then take -1 penalties for each 10 feet further.
  • Extra Ki: Without Wyroot weapons it's hard for you to recharge your Ki. More helps, but you also need a lot of feats to get the build up and running.
  • Improved Initiative: You need to go before your enemies.
  • Point-Blank Shot: Required, if only for Rapid Shot, but you're going to spend the bulk of your time fighting within 30 feet of your target, so this will present a consistent (if small) bonus to attack and damage.
    • Far Shot: With a range of just 10 feet, Far Shot is a good investment. You'll routinely be attacking enemies from 30 feet away, which normally means a -4 penalty to attack rolls.
    • Precise Shot: You'll probably spend a lot of time with allies fighting in melee, and -4 to attacks will lead to a lot of missed attacks.
      • Clustered Shots: You can usually overcome DR with special materials or by making your shurikens magic.
      • Improved Precise Shot: Concealment disallows Sneak Attack damage, but it's also not very common.
    • Rapid Shot: An extra attack means an extra chance to deal Sneak Attack.
  • Two-Weapon Fighting: -2 to attack and you get another attack.
    • Improved Two-Weapon Fighting: The penalty on iterative attacks makes them unreliable. But if you're doing well with your -5 attacks, this might be worthwhile.
      • Greater Two-Weapon Fighting: More attacks are always great, but at a -10 penalty you're really going to have trouble hitting. I don't think this is worth the feat.
  • Weapon Focus: +1 to hit isn't much, but it can make a big difference with the number of attacks we're planning to play.
    • Close-Quarters Thrower: You can usually turn yourself invisible or 5-foot step away, but this is helpful if you spend a lot of time fighting in cramped dungeons and small rooms.

Weapons

  • Shuriken: That's... why I'm here.
  • Spiked Gauntlet: Cheap, you can't drop it, you can't be disarmed, and you can still use your hand to throw shurikens.

Armor

  • Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.
    • Studded Leather: Your starting point. This should last through early levels. Don't bother enhancing because you're going to get a Mithral Shirt pretty quickly.
    • Masterwork Buckler: If you're using a ranged weapon or doing two-weapon fighting, a masterwork buckler offers a cheap way to boost your AC if you're willing to pay the -1 penalty to attacks.
    • Darkwood Heavy Shield: If you're in melee using a single weapon, a Darkwood Heavy Shield has no armor check penalty, so it's a cheap and easy way to boost your AC without cutting into your damage output.
    • Mithral Shirt: Mithral Shirt will be your best bet for AC until your Dexterity bonus hits +10, which will be extremely high level.
    • Haramaki: Strictly better than padded armor. With no maximum dexterity bonus, you can afford to make your Dexterity absurdly high without restriction, and can still keep enhancing your armor.
    • Mage Armor: A wand of Mage Armor gets you +4 AC for an hour at a time. For the same 9150gp for +3 Haramaki, you can buy 12 wands, netting you a total of 600 hours of mage armor. If you have a wizard in the party, buy them a pearl of power 1 for 1000gp, and they can get you hours/level of mage armor for essentially nothing.

    Magic Items

    This advice is in addition to my normal advice regarding magic items for rogues and ninjas. The assessments have been altered to suit the build.

    Weapons

    Because shurikens are ammunition it's a terrible idea to enchant them.

    Rings

    • Invisibility: You have Ninja Tricks for this.
    • Protection: A bit of extra AC is great, but don't rush to spend gold on this. We're planning to fight at range, so avoiding attacks is much more useful than attempting to negate them with high AC
    • Swarming Stabs: Only functions in melee.

    Staffs

    • Bolstering: Depending on the length of your campaign, you may go through several wands of Greater Magic Weapon. A Staff of Bolstering costs slightly less than 2 Wands of Greater Magic Weapon, and if you have a friend who can use the wand without Use Magic Device they can use the staff to get you a better enhancement bonus with a better duration than you could manage with a wand. You can recharge the staff using 2nd-level spells like Bull's Strength and cast Greater Weapon Weapon (a 3rd-level spell) at the same rate, which makes it easy to recharge the staff.

    Wands

    • Abundant Ammunition: Unfortunately, Abundant Ammunition doesn't work with special materials or magic ammunition, so this won't help much.
    • Magic Weapon: Doesn't work on ammunition.
    • Greater Magic Weapon: Permanent magic shurikens are a trap. The purpose of this build is to throw as many shurikens as possible as quickly as possible, which means that you're going to be eating through ammunition very quickly. Normal Magic Weapon doesn't work on ammunition, but Greater Magic Weapon works on up to 50 pieces of ammunition at a time. A single charge will last 5 hours and is worth 225gp, which sounds expensive, but compare that to 2,000gp for a stack of permanent +1 shurikens. However, if you plan to live long enough that you'll eventually use up the wand, get a Staff of Bolstering instead.

    Wondrous Items

    • Amulet of Hidden Strength: 9,000gp gets you two more Ki points a day, which means two more flurries of stars.
    • Sniper Goggles (Regular or Greater): This is a massive damage boost for you, and allows you to fight at range greater than 30 feet while still dealing Sneak Attack damage.

    Permanent Spells

    • Reduce Person: Effectively -1 damage, +2 to attacks, +2 to AC, and +2 to Stealth.
    • See Invisibility: Very helpful, especially if your spellcasting allies aren't handy. If your enemies are invisible and don't know that you can see them, it's easy to surprise them. You can also get See the Unseen, but that requires the foresight to activate it ahead of time.

    Example Build

    Wait, how much damage?

    As described above, the purpose of this build is to throw as many shurikens as possible as quickly as possible and do as much damage as possible with each of them.

    At each level I'll detail our "best case scenario", which is a full attack made with shurikens against a target denied their Dexterity bonus and within 30 ft. This does not include magic items or permanent spells, both of which will greatly affect your attack bonus.

    Abilities

    12 (10) / 18 (20) / 12 / 11 / 8 / 14 (16)

    Race

    We'll use halfling here. Small size, Dexterity, and Charisma are great. I like the Fleet of Foot alternate racial trait, but it's not strictly necessary. The halfling favored class bonus for ninja is terrible, unfortunately, so use the favored class bonuses to get extra skill ranks.

    Skills

    Your specific skills don't matter much, so long as you max out Stealth and Use Magic Device.

    Traits

    We'll take Reactionary and Life of Toil, but the second trait doesn't matter much.

    Levels

    Level Feat(s) and Features Notes and Tactics
    1 - Ninja 1
    • Feat: Two-Weapon Fighting
    • Poison Use
    • Sneak Attack +1d6

    At first level you're a very conventional TWF ninja. Flank whenever you can, or throw shurikens if it makes sense.

    Best Case Scenario: +4/+4 1+1d6

    2 - Ninja 2
    • Ki Pool
    • Ninja Trick: Flurry of Stars

    Flurry of Stars may be difficult to use at this level, but when it works it works really well. With TWF and Flurry of Stars you get four attacks at full BAB -2. Unfortunately, without Sneak Attack you're not doing much damage with those attacks. You may consider taking Vanishing Trick here instead and delaying Flurry of Stars to 4th level.

    Best Case Scenario: +5/+5/+5/+5 1+1d6

    3 - Ninja 3
    • Feat: Point-Blank Shot
    • No trace +1
    • Sneak Attack +2d6

    You need to be within 30 feet to make a Sneak Attack, so this is an easy boost to attack and damage. It's also a crucial prerequisite. The additional Sneak Attack die nearly doubles our damage output.

    Even if you're not going to try shurikens this early, don't overlook Ki Pool. You can spend a point of Ki as a swift action to make an extra attack at your full BAB, which complements two-weapon fighting nicely and can present a useful damage boost even if you're in melee waving daggers around.

    Best Case Scenario: +7/+7/+7/+7 2+2d6

    4 - Ninja 4
    • Ability Increase: Dexterity
    • Ninja Trick: Vanishing Trick
    • Uncanny Dodge

    Vanishing Trick is just all-around good. It's good on any ninja. Unfortunately it won't let you full attack and sneak attack on every attack while you're in combat, but it's great for positioning yourself before you get into combat.

    Best Case Scenario: +8/+8/+8/+8 2+2d6

    5 - Ninja 5
    • Feat: Rapid Shot
    • Sneak Attack +3d6

    5th level is a great level. Rapid Shot gets us an extra attack, albeit at a -2 penalty, and we get an extra Sneak Attack die. But on top of all that, this is the earliest level at which your friends can cast Greater Weapon Weapon. Because it's the highest-level slot available to your party, don't expect the wizard to forgo Fireball in order to give you +1 with your shurikens, but it may be time to start looking for a wand.

    This level also marks when we have picked up all of our most crucial character options. Despite a relatively poor attack bonus, 5 attacks, each potentially dealing Sneak Attack damage, is excellent. If you have allies who can provide you with bonuses to attack and damage (bardic music, cleric buffs, etc.) those bonuses are extremely effective for you.

    Best Case Scenario: +6/+6/+6/+6/+6 2+3d6

    6 - Ninja 6
    • Light Steps
    • Ninja Trick: Combat Trick
    • Bonus Feat: Improved Initiative
    • No Trace +2

    At this level we have every ninja trick we care about (at least until we get Ninja Master Tricks), so pick up Combat Trick to help pick up all of those feats we want. Improved Initiative, coupled with our already excellent Dexterity and Reactionary, gives us a truly excellent initiative bonus. Going first is the best way to guarantee that we can deliver a Sneak Attack.

    Best Case Scenario: +7/+7/+7/+7/+7 2+3d6

    7 - Ninja 7
    • Feat: Far Shot
    • Sneak Attack +4d6

    10 feet is a brutally short range for a ranged character. Moving 10 feet further away without losing attack bonus goes a long way to improve your survivability.

    Best Case Scenario: +8/+8/+8/+8/+8 2+4d6

    8 - Ninja 8
    • Ability Increase: Dexterity
    • Improved Uncanny Dodge
    • Ninja Trick: Weapon Training (Shuriken)

    8th level brings our first iterative attack. Because it's at BAB -5 it's not likely to hit often without other buffs. Fortunately, Greater Magic Weapon also improves at this level, so if you have allies spending spell slots to enhance your shurikens you'll get another +1 to attack and damage.

    Our second ability increase also means another point of Dexterity bonus.

    Your choice of Ninja Trick isn't especially important at this level, but Weapon Training gives us Weapon Focus, and even tiny bonuses to our attacks can result in significant improvements to our damage output.

    Best Case Scenario: +11/+11/+11/+11/+11/+6 2+4d6

    9 - Ninja 9
    • Feat: Improved Two-Weapon Fighting
    • No Trace +3
    • Sneak Attack +5d6

    Improved Two-Weapon Fighting is a gamble. You get another attack at BAB -5, so it's not clear if you'll be

    Best Case Scenario: +11/+11/+11/+11/+11/+6/+6 2+5d6

    10 - Ninja 10
    • Master Tricks
    • Ninja Trick: Vanishing Blade

    10th level brings Master Tricks, which means it's time for Vanishing Blade. We also get another point of BAB, which always feels good.

    You should spend basically every fight invisible at this point. Improved Invisibility means that, in most cases, you can sneak attack every turn without issue.

    Best Case Scenario: +12/+12/+12/+12/+12/+7/+7 2+5d6

    11+

    11th level and beyond is a blank canvas. You have everything that you strictly need. Since you're throwing 7 shurikens a turn, it should be apparent by now why permanent magic shurikens are a mistake, but by now you should also be able to easily afford wands or staffs which can be used to enchant your shurikens.

    At this point consider class dips, but you may want to stick to ninja to continue advancing your Sneak Attack damage dice. Each die means up to 7d6 more damage per flurry.