A.K.A. Character Generation Post, #2.

Last time we saw that I didn’t understand the stat generation system in Roleplayer (I blame Nob, more than my inability to read the rules, and I’m sticking to it).  The stats I got with my dice distribution were:

  • ST (6d6, best three) + 4 = 20
  • IN (5d6) – 2 = 15
  • WS (3d6) = 11
  • DX (4d6) – 2 = 15
  • CN (6d6) = 14
  • CH (4d6) = 16

As I dove farther into the leveling system, and saw the progression of the Unarmed Fighter Archetype, it became evident in short order that the Combat Feat system is slightly flawed, in that it is built off of the Monk class, which carries game creation cruft over from as long ago as AD&D, First Edition.

Okay, a meta-gaming digression, feel free to skip it if you don’t like it.

Dungeons and Dragons was originally built upon a class system.  More or less, your character is mostly defined by his or her class… all Fighters possess basically the same set of skills, all Thieves have the same raft of Thief skills (Climb Walls, Pick Pockets, etc.) and you progress uniformly based upon level -> every Thief who moves from first level to second level goes up the same amount in the Climb Walls skill and the same amount in the Pick Pockets skill, even if one thief is a urban pickpocket and the other one spent his entire first level dungeoneering and climbing up and down pit walls.  The advantages of a class system for game presentation are that you can pretty easily build a module adventure off of set capabilities and it will fit relatively diverse groups of players… because a 6-8th level Thief is going to be within a pretty small delta of capabilities whether or not the player is a half-elf who spends all of his time urban adventuring or a half-orc who spends all her time finding and removing traps in a campaign heavily driven by dungeon diving.

Lots of game systems sprung up in the mid-80s because lots of players and game masters don’t like this level of “bondage-and-discipline” gaming (where most adventures are built off of, “gimme a Cleric to heal, a Magic-User to provide artillery, a Thief to disarm all the traps, and two Fighters, one of whom is good at standing in front of the Magic User and making sure they don’t die, and the other of which has some sort of ranged capability).  The GURPS roleplaying system was built instead upon an utterly customizable list of skills and advantages; if you wanted to play a Fireball-tossing character who also was really stealthy and good at haggling in the marketplace, you could do that.  The problem with the GURPS system, of course, is that given a set amount of points to start, you can get wildly disparate skill sets and a group of adventurers who are difficult to get into your storyline, if you’re the game master.  In the middle you have systems like the Palladium RPG, which had what they call “Occupational Character Classes”, but the set list of skills you had as, say, a thief, were fairly well established and you had a large slew of other skills to pick and choose from with relative flexibility.

My first glance at Pathfinder had me thinking that it’s more like Palladium RPG than Dungeons and Dragons (which is awesome, because the original D&D is clunky), but the farther I delve into the game mechanics the more it seems like the Archetypes are bolted on to a system that was built originally off of the class assumptions.  They took AD&D and tried to incorporate the flexibility of Palladium, but they build the combat system in fits and starts.  It’s not unworkable, mind you, but it’s not as clean as it really should be given all the metagaming development work that was done between 1979 and 1995.  Here endeth the metagaming note.

In the specific case of the Unarmed Fighter, pretty much *all* of the Combat Styles that you can select are built more or less on the assumption that you’re a Monk.  That means most of them have requirements tied to Wisdom; from a metagaming standpoint this is because Monks use Ki, and (insert Kung-Fu requires inner knowledge/wisdom/enlightenment note here).

Well, that’s not a killer, but this is something I didn’t know before finally getting into the Feat/Leveling/Skill portion of reading the rulebook, and that Wisdom of 11 means that I’d pretty much have the most wretchedly underpowered Unarmed Fighter, like, ever.

So the choice is to either ask the GM to let me move scores around (ugh), toss the idea of playing the Unarmed Fighter, or start over.

Jaybird’s comment on the previous post got me thinking.  Here’s what he said: “I mean, seriously: nobody roleplays intelligence, wisdom, or charisma. Strength, Dex, and Endurance are used solely for bonuses.”

This is kind of odd for me, because I’ve *always* roleplayed intelligence, wisdom, and charisma.  If I play a character who has a low IN score, I usually act more like Jayne from Firefly than me.  If I have a low Wisdom score, I’m a lot more likely to take risks or have my character trust people that I, as a person, would avoid like the plague.  Charisma is harder to roleplay in the sense that trying to make really heroic inspiring speeches can come across as cheesy, but my low Charisma characters don’t ever try to do anything diplomatically and they say a lot of things that could be regarded as non-PC (for political correctness in a fantasy settings).  I’ve played campaigns where I was playing the half-orc fighter who kept spouting racial slurs at the elvish NPC group that had us dead to rights and I’ve played campaigns where I’ve been the human paladin who turns around and decks that guy with a snarled, “Cease your yapping, cur!  You shame us by your posturing, and insult our noble hosts!”

So for me, the numbers are kind of important, because they give me a guideline on how I play the character out.  I’m trying to come out of the other end of this process with an Unarmed Fighter Minotaur… but he could be a scion of a noble house banished from his homeland for some family shame, or he could be a minotaur who suffers from wanderlust, or he could be an overconfident honor-seeker who thinks that going away for ten years and coming home having defeated an army or three with his bare hands is the best way to establish his own primacy.  If I was playing GURPS, I’d pick one and build that.  But in this game system, some bit of randomness is supposed to add some spice, right?

So I went with re-rolling the stats.  Because getting a decent Wisdom Score is kind of important (I could live with a 14, anything better than that is gravy) I distributed the dice differently:

  • ST: (4d6, best three) + 4
  • IN: (5d6) – 2
  • WS: (5d6)
  • DX (6d6) – 2
  • CN (5d6)
  • CH (3d6)

This gave me results worse than above, but I got what I needed (ability modifiers shown)

  • ST: 20 (+5 ST modifier)
  • IN: 13 (+1 IN modifier)
  • WS: 15 (+2 WS modifier)
  • DX: 14 (+2 DX modifier)
  • CN: 14 (+2 CN modifier)
  • CH: 11 (+0 CH modifier)

This gives us basically the exact same ability modifiers we had before, except we traded a +3 bonus for CH and a +1 bonus for IN for a +2 bonus for WS.  That’s a big net loss, but I can work with this.

Man, that 13 in Intelligence really sucks a lot worse than a 14.  Why?  Because in Pathfinder, every time you level, you get skill ranks equal to your base skill rank for your class, plus your Intelligence bonus.

Metagaming section warning! Skill Rank defaults are:

  • Barbarian : 4
  • Bard : 6
  • Cleric : 2
  • Druid : 4
  • Fighter: 2
  • Monk: 4
  • Paladin: 2
  • Ranger : 6
  • Rogue : 8 (and now we see how Rogues catch up to the other classes in capabilities)
  • Sorcerer : 2
  • Wizard : 2

So the difference between an IQ of 13 and an IQ of 14 is the difference between 3 skill ranks per level and 4 skill ranks per level.  Whereas if I was a Rogue, it would be the difference between 9 and 10.  Whoo.

Oh, well.  Fighters get bonus feats, which makes up for it.

We’re likely starting with 12,000 exp in a medium progression game, according to Nob.  That puts me as a level 4 fighter.  Okay, what does that mean?  Well, 4d10 for hit points, plus the Constitution bonus of +2 per level, so 4d10+8 HP.  Roll that when I get my polyhedron dice handy.

Let’s back up a step at talk about what we’re staring with, as a level 1 Fighter.

Three skill levels (two for 1st level fighter, one for my IN)
One feat of any sort
One bonus combat feat for being a fighter

As an Unarmed Fighter Archetype, there are some differences between me and a normal fighter, namely:

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: An unarmed fighter is not proficient with medium armor, heavy armor, or shields. An unarmed fighter is proficient with all monk weapons, including exotic monk weapons.

So light armor and monk weapons only, at this point.

Unarmed Style: At 1st level, a unarmed fighter gains the Improved Unarmed Strike feat and any single style feat (see Chapter 3 of the Rulebook or follow the link) as a bonus feat. The unarmed fighter need not meet all the prerequisites of the style feat he chooses, but style feats that grant additional uses of the Elemental Fist feat cannot be taken until the unarmed fighter has that feat. This ability replaces the bonus feat at 1st level.

Oh, okay.  So now I have one normal feat (of any sort), Unarmed Style, and one style feat.

Improved Unarmed Style: You are considered to be armed even when unarmed—you do not provoke attacks of opportunity when you attack foes while unarmed. Your unarmed strikes can deal lethal or nonlethal damage, at your choice.


Well, I can’t take any of the elemental styles and stay true to the vision, because I don’t picture this guy as “really a Monk with Mortal Combat finishing moves”.  On the other hand, I have this nice set of horns that do massive damage on a charge, and charges normally don’t work on difficult terrain… but there’s this Style Feat called “Dragon Style“…

Prerequisites: Str 15 (got that), Improved Unarmed Strike (got that), Acrobatics 3 ranks (don’t need it, yay class bonus!).
Benefit: While using this style, you gain a +2 bonus on saving throws against sleep effects, paralysis effects, and stunning effects. You ignore difficult terrain when you charge, run, or withdraw. You can also charge through squares that contain allies. Further, you can add 1-1/2 times your Strength bonus on the damage roll for your first unarmed strike on a given round.

Man, that’s nice.  You think hiding up on the rocky hillside is going to protect you from my charge?  Think again.

Dragon Style it is!

Going to hold off on the other Feat for the moment.  Put it in the bank.

I start with 2+1 = three skill ranks to spend.  I can use them to pick up Class skills (where they count for a +3 bonus on rolls) or non-Class skills (where they just count as +1).

To start, I think I’ll plop 1 skill rank into Intimidate (giving me a +3), 1 skill rank into Survival (giving me a +3) and one into Swim (also a +3), because we’re starting in a port city and I don’t trust my GM farther than I can throw him (also +3).  So far, so good.

Racial bonuses for the Minotaur:

Medium: Minotaurs are Medium creatures and have no bonuses or penalties due to their size.
Normal Speed: Minotaurs have a base speed of 30 feet.
Darkvision 30 feet: Minotaurs can see in the dark up to 30 feet.
Intimidating: Minotaurs are scary to behold and get a +2 racial bonus to Intimidate and Bluff checks.
Tough hide: Minotaur hide is tough and better at deflecting damage than skin, giving them a +2 bonus to natural armor.
Horn: A minotaur’s horns can be used as a weapon dealing 1d6 of damage plus strength modifier (that’s a +5 for me, wicked).  When charging, the horns do 2d6 points of damage plus ST modifier x 1.5, rounded up, so that’s +8 (more wicked).  If using a weapon and horns at the same time, a minotaur can attack with its weapon at full attack bonus and also with its horns as a secondary natural attack.

Okay, now I’m getting a bit far afield.  Sorry, we’re getting even more complicated!

A level 4 unarmed archetype fighter has picked up the following advantages:

At 2nd level, an unarmed fighter gains a +1 bonus on saving throws against effects that cause the exhausted, fatigued, or staggered conditions or temporary penalties to ability scores. This bonus increases by +1 for every four levels after 2nd (to a maximum of +5 at 18th level). This ability replaces bravery (which I would otherwise get, as a Fighter).  I also get one bonus feat (combat feat), and 3 skill points.  Banking those.

At leavel 3, I get DR equal to 1/2 my level against non-lethal damage or damage taken while grappled, but I don’t get armor training. I get 3 skill points.  Banking those, up to 6.  I get a normal feat (that’s for any class), so I’ve got two normal feats to choose, and one combat feat.

At level 4, I get a bonus (combat) feat.  I have a base attack bonus of +4 for class, +4 to my Fortitude Save, +1 to my Reflex save, and +1 to my Will save.  Also, +1 to an Ability Score.  Oooooh.  I think I’d like to take +1 to my IN, just so that from next level – this level? – ah, *this* level, ability score increases come before skills – on out I get 4 skill improvement points per level instead of three (plus, my IN bonus goes up generally)…

OKAY, so stuff left to do/summary so far:

4d10+8 HP
A total of 10 skill levels to spend (3 from 2nd, 3 from 3d, 4 from 4th)
two normal feats to choose (one still unchosen from 1st, one from 3rd)
two combat (bonus) feats to choose (one from 2nd, one from 4th)
+9 total base attack bonus (+5 from ST, +4 from level 4 fighter)
* this is important, because picking the feats, sometimes this matters.  My base attack bonus at level 1 was +6, at level 2 +7, at level 3, +8.  So I have to make sure that when I pick my feats, I don’t pick one that I didn’t meet the prereq for, when I *was* at that level.  Yaw!
* so those two combat feats, if they have a default combat bonus requirement, one of ’em has to have a “default attack bonus” of +7 or less, and the other +9 or less

Should have this guy wrapped up today or tomorrow, and we can talk backstory.


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.


  1. I think the key issue with the feats is that they vary wildly in power. Some feats are must-haves, others are terrible. And fighters really aren’t built for unarmed combat. If I were you I would look into the Monk, if you don’t want the mysticism that goes with it, take a look at the Martial Artist archetype that sways out the mystical abilities for more mundane (but still useful) abilities.

    • The Feats subsystem pretty clearly appears to mimic the idea of GURPS’s “Advantages”. And you’re right, they don’t appear to be systemically well thought out. One of the nice things about the GURPS Advantages system is that they *aren’t* all worth the same thing.

      I’m still figuring out which Feats I ought to take; since I’m unfamiliar with the combat system it’s not clear yet. Suggestions?

    • 3.5’s monk is…problematic. It’s pretty much required to have a monk’s belt and bracers of armor just to keep within spitting distance of fighters.

      Monk with vow of poverty keeps up. But nobody lets you use Vow of Poverty, because anyone OTHER than a monk with it is ridiculously broken.

      Last time I played an unarmed fighter it was a Tree Troll Monk (smaller, but took improved natural attack) — which basically fought like Yoda in Episode II. Small and hard to hit, ridiculously fast, and he still spent a lot of time screwed. (You trying attacking some weird Rose-based Golem with your bare hands. I did more damage to myself).

      Before that — well, D20 modern has some interesting ‘martial art’s supplements that can help. The parry/counter/redirect attack feat chain is pretty nice.

      It’s designed for unarmed fighting armed in melee — parry (the first feat) says “If an attack would hit me, I get to roll an opposed attack roll. If I score higher, I block it”. A few levels later you can take “counter” which says the same thing, but you get a free attack of opportunity on the guy. Redirect attack? If you win the opposed roll, you can choose to have the attack hit someone else.

      (Basically at the top level, if you’re unarmed and three guys with swords are swinging at you, if you beat a roll, you can make the sword hit one of the other mooks. Or you can hit the guy who swung it back).

      • The Rolemaster geek in me says: If you’re fighting more than two people, untrained, or more than three (trained), they’re getting punished for getting in each other’s way.

        • I had a lot of fun with that feat chain with my martial artist. OTOH, it was D20 modern. Everyone else had guns. Getting into melee with them and having them shoot each other was the only way to avoid getting shot.

          • Ya needed some points for blindfighting then. Use some sort of weapon to knock out the lights, and you’re good. (actual tips from a blind person my friend trained with).

      • The best monk build in Pathfinder is the Zen Archer. They use a longbow, and can active their flurry of blows through it. By all accounts it’s very dangerous.

  2. I mostly play casters, so I’m not good on fighter feats. This post should lead in in the right direction though.

    • Those guys are mostly minmaxing. I’m not as much about character optimization as… doing something slightly different, which is why I was going Unarmed in the first place. But there’s some good game notes there.

      • That’s my approach to class guides. Even if your concept isn’t optimised, a guide may give you some useful tips.

  3. Warhammer handled this in a different way.
    All the character levels went up to about 7 to 9 or so.
    But you could change classes at any time. I think there was a limitation on attaining 3rd level before a class change. Don’t remember that well.

    • Wasn’t Warhammer the one where you rolled randomly to determine your (starting) class?

      • No. Warhammer was the one where you started with a set of basic accoutrements determined by your starting class, so your character was half-outfitted from jump.
        They had changed it later on to Warhammer 3000 or something like that, which was a totally different game. Never played that one.
        But I always saw the limits on class progression as unduly low; a drawback rather than a benefit.

        • WFRP had you roll randomly for starting career. Originally, it might have even had you roll for starting race (in the newest edition, the one I’m familiar with, that’s an optional rule).

          It’s also the case that the original game gave you a bunch of equipment along with your first career, but in the newest edition it just gives a suggested equipment list and has you buy it.

        • Must be thinking of something else. I seem to remember a game where you rolled your initial class randomly. Each class had a list of class features per level and also “branch points” where you could transfer to specific other classes. So each time you gained a level, you either roll and take the first level of a random new class, gain a level and a new feature of an existing class, or take a branch point and take the first level of a specific new class. Most classes had relatively low level branch-points to other, similar classes, and a few classes, including, IRC, all the magic-using ones, were only available by branching out from a high level of another class.

  4. Rolemaster handles the class/skills differently.
    For one thing: you start out with “racial skills” (stuff you basically picked up as a kid).
    For another: any class can get any skill. It’s just some class/skill combinations cost a lot, and others cost relatively little. (if you’ve got a good GM, he’ll make sure you need to train to actually develop your skills). So a Fighter learns all weapons easily (and a bunch of other combat skills like quickdraw, etc)… but a Ranger (that’s a semi-magic user) might only learn some weapons easily (and have each rank cost more , even so).

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