Spheres of Might by Razakai
Alchemy SphereOriginal SA post SPHERES OF MIGHT
Seeing the sad state of martials in the Epic Level Handbook review inspired me to do a review of one of my favourite products.
Spheres of Might (referred to as SoM for the rest of this review) is a Pathfinder 1E supplement by Drop Dead Studious. Gradenko did a partial review of their previous product, Spheres of Power, which was an alternative magic system that did a pretty good job of solving some of the caster-martial disparity and making more interesting, focused characters rather than the toolbox batman wizard. SoM uses a similar system that gives martial characters 'Combat Talents', which lets them do things beyond 'roll skill check/full attack'. They're somewhat like feats, but rather than fiddly '+1 to attack rolls if you're underwater during a full moon' or requiring you to take a 10 feat long chain to pick your nose, you get things like the ability to swim through the earth or leap miles in a single action, impale enemies and swing them around as an improvised weapon, non-magical ways to craft powerful poisons and healing potions, and the ability to grapple and piledriver a dragon. Before we get into that, let's cover the basic mechanics.
Characters that use SoM effects are Practitioners, and each gain a progression of talents similar to how you have 4th, 6th and 9th level casters. Generally this corresponds to your BAB, but not always. You're either Proficient, Adept or Expert, which respectively gives you a talent every 1/2, 3/4 or 1 character levels. You also get a Martial Tradition at 1st level - this means you only start with basic light armor and simple weapon proficiency, but you get 4 talents immediately which typically include 1-2 Equipment talents, which give a group of proficiencies along a theme. For example the Knight tradition would give you talents that allow heavy armor, shields, a bunch of martial weapons like swords and lances, as well as a base sphere.
Rather than a 'caster level' for determining power and DC of effects, everything works off your Base Attack Bonus + practitioner modifier, which is usually a mental stat.
Combat talents themself are divided into a number of spheres. Spending a talent will get your access to a sphere, giving you a base ability. From there you can freely obtain more talents in that sphere.
To avoid the 'stand in place and full attack' problem, SoM refers to the 'attack action' - this is specifically an attack as a standard action, so most sphere effects won't trigger from full attacks, attacks of opportunity or the like. There's also a 'special attack action', which is the same but doesn't stack with other special attack actions - a bit like a Strike from Tome of Battle. This does mean you have a slightly annoying feat tax in the form of taking the Vital Strike chain (a feat that makes standard attack actions deal bonus damage when not used as a full attack) to keep your damage up.
Many talents count as feats for the purposes of requirements etc - for example the unarmed focused spheres all count as having Improved Unarmed Strike. This means you can avoid things like the infamous Whirlwind Attack feat chain. For the uninitiated, this is a feat that requires Dex/Int 13, Combat Expertise (a useless feat tax), Dodge, Mobility (yet more feat taxes) and Spring Attack all to qualify. In SoM you could quite easily grab this feat just by having a few useful combat talents.
Another issue Pathfinder had is that almost every combat maneuver would provoke an attack of opportunity unless you took a feat. SoM adds the Battered condition, which applies a small penalty to their defense vs those abilities and prevents them from taking AoOs when you do use one. This is generally easy to apply, and so encourages doing cool stuff rather than hit man with sword.
Generally there's no limit to how often you can use a combat talent, but some require expending Martial Focus. Practitioners are considered focused by default, and you regain focus by a number of combat talents, resting for 1 minute, or spending a full round action to defend yourself. A bunch of talents also gain effects for being focused, and you gain expend focus to treat a saving throw as a 13, which can guarantee passing saves in a lot of cases. Getting the talent to allow you to store 2 charges of focus is basically a requirement.
The book lists the classes next, but the spheres are more interesting so we'll dive straight into those. There's an absolute ton of talents so I won't cover each individual talent, but I'll mention the interesting ones.
Pathfinder does have an alchemist class, but as with every other interesting mechanic in the game it uses vancian casting and spell lists cribbed from the wizard/cleric. The Alchemy sphere is a way of using potions, poisons and other tools without needing magic or interacting with the byzantine crafting rules.
When you learn the sphere, you gain 5 free points in Craft (Alchemy), to a maximum of your level, plus 5 more for each talent after. This basically means you get free training in crafting alchemy without spending skill points. You'll see this in a lot of other spheres which is a really nice way of giving martials more skills rather than spending them all just to use their class features (shoutout to how Pathfinder fighters, despite being trained warriors, can't actually have enough skill points with a default intelligence to spot things, climb, swim and ride a horse).
You also choose from either the Formulae or Poison talent. Both have the same mechanics for crafting them - you can only hold a number based on your level+number of talents known, you can generally craft your entire stockpile in an hour or so, they cost no money, you're considered to gather the ingredients over the course of the day, but they're easily recognized as being unstable and so can't be sold, and expire after 24 hours. No stockpiling a warehouse of nerve gas for you. Note that you can refill during the day, but the minimum time is 30 mins, or 15 mins with a kit, so partial refills are doable during a break but probably not the entire lot.
Formulae! These are the general alchemist stuff like acid, fire, healing salves etc that exist in the base game, but improved. For example, this will be one of your go-to offensive attacks:
Improved Acid Flask (formulae)
Craft DC: 15
You create a flask of acid that functions as a splash weapon you can use as a ranged touch attack with a range increment of 10 ft., dealing 1d6 acid damage +1d6 per two Craft (alchemy) ranks you possess to the target of a direct hit, half that damage to targets 5 ft. away from the point of contact, and 1 point of acid splash damage per die of damage this weapon deals on a direct hit to targets 10 ft. away from the point of contact (to a maximum of half the damage dealt to the primary target). Targets who take at least 2 points of acid damage from the initial attack take half the total damage again on the following round.
You can increase the Craft DC for this weapon in increments of 10; each time you do so, the range for each damage increment increases by 5 ft. (for example, if you increase the Craft DC to 25, you would deal full damage to all targets within 5 ft. of the point of contact, half damage to all targets 10 ft. away from the point of contact, and 1 point of damage to all creatures within 15 ft.).
1d6+1d6/2 levels is the same progression as the PF Alchemist's bombs, and the 1/2 damage next round means they're an acceptable source of damage. A Craft DC of 15 can easily be hit at 1st level, and later you can get acid bombs that cover a very wide range as you buff your DC.
Aside from that, you can get similar effects with fire, ice, lightning, non damaging bombs that entangle, blind, create smoke (that can have poison added to it), foam that blocks movement or slippery grease. On the non-offensive side, you can create healing, curative and buffing potions.
Overall the damage and effects of the formulae aren't outstanding - a wizard is definitely going to out-blast you and do better debuffs. Your best damage choice is probably lightning, which deals 1d8+1d8/2CL lightning damage plus 1+CL sonic damage in a short line. Compared to a level 10 wizard throwing a fireball with 0 optimization for it, you'd be doing 38 average vs their 35, but they have the option of metamagic and various +CL effects. So how do you compete? With these:
You may expend your martial focus to use up to two alchemical items that can normally be used as a standard action as part of the same standard action but you take a -2 penalty on your attack roll (if any) and creatures affected by the items gain a +2 circumstance bonus to their saving throws against their effects (if any); using this ability includes all actions necessary to use the items, including drawing them (but not creating them).
Your target must be within range of both items. When you have at least 10 ranks in Craft (alchemy), and again at 20 ranks, you may throw an additional alchemical item as part of the same action, taking an additional -2 penalty to your attack roll and increasing the circumstance bonus to affected creatures’ saving throws by an additional +2 per item added.
You may expend your martial focus to use a single alchemical item that can normally be used as a standard action as a swift action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity; this includes all actions necessary to use the item, including drawing it (but not creating it).
Your alchemy items might not be individually powerful, but you can throw 3-5 of them at once, which definitely closes the gap. Being able to use them as a swift action opens it up for a lot of other characters types - a rogue-y type can make a sneak attack, drop a poisonous smoke bomb then slip away.
Other general talents let you control the area affected by bombs to protect allies, shape it into a different AoE entirely, or convert them into a weapon coating which acts like poison - sticking liquid ice on a weapon to make it repeatedly stagger and blast the target with cold damage is a powerful effect. RAW you can also coat a sword in Grenade which is, uh, interesting.
Overall Formulae offer quite a lot of utility and decent blasting/battlefield control potential, and I do like the flavour.
Poisons! These have a long and sordid history in D&D. Gygax himself loathed them and put in countless restrictions on player use, and it's not improved much from there. PF poisons are typically incredibly expensive, 1/2 the bestiary is immune, and you need specific feats to not just fuck up and poison yourself. Does Alchemy fix this? Kinda.
Your basic poison takes a move action to apply, becomes inert after an hour or when you hit something with it, so you can pre-poison to some degree. The default effect is Fort save or fatigue, which applies a minor Str/Dex penalty and prevents run/charge - not particularly exciting. However, it's free, which is a great improvement over the default poison rules.
General talents improve the ways you can use your poisons - allowing you to apply them as a swift action, making them last 24 hours/more than 1 hit, improving the duration, letting you create AoE poison bombs, and most importantly letting you tailor poisons by picking a type of enemy and ignoring their immunity - so you can poison undead, constructs, demons etc.
Other poison types are a bit better. These include a minor damage boost, a poison that inflicts stacking fear each time they fail, one that confuses (which is a pretty nice debuff that gives them a 75% chance to act uselessly) or the amusingly named Three Wise Monkeys that inflicts deafen>blind>silence on each failed save. You also get access to beneficial poisons, such as one that gives a bonus to a physical stat at a penalty to a mental stat, or the Psychotropic Hallucinogen that boosts mental skills.
Overall poisons are still a bit weak, but usable. There's not much opportunity cost beyond the talents, and you'll get some free debuffs without impacting your action economy or your wallet. However, there is an exception...
Legendary talents! These are a separate section in each sphere, containing the mythical, wuxia and supernatural martial abilities. The book advises GMs to decide whether to allow them or not, just in case they hate fun. For Alchemy, this lets you create an elixir of youth, or the philosophers stone. Mostly just fluff as they require insanely high skill checks, but it's neat that your Alchemist at max level is immortal, has infinite money, and can resurrect people by shoving mercury down their throat.
The legendary poisons are more interesting. Hemorrhaging poison turns the damaging poison into a constant bleed which is... still pretty weak. Necrotic poison however gives a negative level on each save, and each time they fail, they have to make the same save again or gain another negative level. Negative levels in PF give -1 to just about everything, including saving throws, so someone failing this can trigger a death spiral. And if they get more negative levels than they have levels, they die and become a zombie. Kinda slow, but a nasty debuff. Petrifying poison does what it says on the tin - failed saves cause staggered>immobilized>petrified. Staggered is a decent debuff on it's own so this is a really unpleasant effect. An Alchemist using Cluster/Snap Toss could entangle a group while trapping them in an smoke cloud laced with this poison, which is a pretty good save or suck.
Overall, the Alchemy sphere isn't a powerhouse of damage, but it does offer a lot of fun options. Ninja and Rogue types will like the smoke bombs, anyone can splash in to grab some healing and cures, and it doesn't take a lot of investment for a usable poison build - Alchemy(Poison), Specialized Venom, Lasting Application and Necrotic/Petrifying lets you spend a move action up to an hour before a fight to make your next hits have a good chance to save-or-suck a target. Going all-in lets you pretend to be a wizard when it comes to blasting/BFC without having to stick on a robe, which is a worthy outcome for a sphere.
Next up: Athletics
Athletics Sphere, Barrage Sphere, Barroom SphereOriginal SA post SPHERES OF MIGHT
Thanks to the lack of full-attacking, SoM frees up the move action - and the Athletics sphere lets you do things with that. This sphere doesn't have much in the way of actual offensive abilities, but covers every movement option a character needs.
When you take the sphere, you choose from Climb, Fly, Leap, Run or Swim. Like how Alchemy gave you 5 x # of talents in Craft(Alchemy), this gives you 5 in the associated skill, with Run/Leap being Acrobatics. You can take a talent that gives you 2 of the other options, so for 3 talents you get full ranks in all 4 physical skills, and a +1/2 level bonus to Acrobatics with both Run/Leap chosen. You also get a minor boost to that movement type, such as Leap reducing fall damage or Swim doubling your speed in the water and letting you hold your breath longer. So nothing outstanding, but does mean you can easily become competent at all the basic movement skills. However, the remaining talents let you do a lot more with your movement.
The general talents are a grab-bag of mobility related options - increased movement speed, allowing you to add both Str and Dex to movement skills, talent versions of the Mobility and Spring Attack feats (the latter of which lets you run past a target and make an attack action against them without provoking, which is pretty great for hit and run).
Skillful Charge is basically Pounce for SoM, letting you use an attack action on a charge, which is always fantastic for any melee.
Whirlwind Flip is a standout that lets you regain Martial Focus whenever you successfully use Acrobatics to move past them and avoid an AoO - being able to regain focus without explicitly using an action is a powerful effect, as there's a lot of talents that are 'move and do X' you can combine this with.
Motion talents let you apply an effect when moving, but only a single Motion at a time unless you use the Multiple Motion talent to expend focus to use 2 at once.
Moving Target gives attacks a flat miss chance when you move.
Dizzying Tumble applies sickness to a target when you run past it due to you giving them motion sickness which is amusing.
Each movement type also gets some associated talents, which have some interesting effects.
Fly let's you use your wings (provided you have them) to kick up an obscuring dust cloud.
Leap lets you deal bonus damage by jumping on stuff, and lets you jump as part of a charge to fulfil your Final Fantasy Dragoon cosplay.
Run lets you run along walls and kick off them at the end to do a leaping attack, as well as letting you drop prone and roll out of the way of attacks and AoE effects which gives a surprisingly large bonus to your AC/saves.
Climb lets you go all Shadow of the Colossus on stuff but has a description that runs for like half a page and boils down to 'make a move action to climb on a large enemy, while you're climbing on it you get a bonus to attacks vs it, it gets a penalty to attacks vs you, and can try to dislodge you or stop, drop and roll to forcibly get rid of you at the cost of taking an entire turn'. The bonuses/penalties are actually decent and improve based on how big the creature is, so despite the complexity it's pretty cool.
You can also Indiana Jones your way around by swinging from ropes which is even more complex than climbing on enemies so it's kinda hard to figure out if it's good or not. I mean, look at this!
Rope Swing (climb)
If you have a secured rope, a set piton, thrown a grappling hook, or wrapped a whip or similar weapon around a point, you may use the attached rope or weapon to spring around the battlefield.
There are five methods for securing a rope:
Flail Group Weapon: Weapons from the flails weapon group may be used as if they were a grappling hook, though applying them requires a melee attack roll rather than a ranged attack roll. A length of rope may be used in this way also, taking improvised weapon penalties as appropriate.
Grappling Hook: You may throw a held grappling hook as a swift action, making a grapple check against a creature or a ranged attack roll against an unattended object. This deals no damage. You may use your Dexterity modifier in place of your Strength modifier on this grapple check. A creature may remove a grappling hook as a move action with a Strength or Escape Artist check against this sphere’s DC or a grapple check against your grapple CMD. The range increment of a grappling hook is improved to 20 ft.
Grappling Weapon: If you are grappling a creature via the grappling special feature of a weapon, a rope attached to that weapon counts as secure for the duration of the grapple.
Piton: You may draw a piton and rope and attempt to set it in an object or creature within reach as a standard action, dealing 1d4 + Strength modifier damage. This does not provoke an attack of opportunity. You must succeed on a melee attack to place the piton on a creature. A creature can remove a set piton as a move action with a Strength check equal to this sphere’s DC. If you fail to deal damage, your attempt fails.
Tie: You also may simply secure a rope to a suitable point within reach (a pillar, post, chandelier, etc.) as a standard action. Any creature within reach may untie this rope as a standard action.
Once your rope is secured by any of the above methods, you may, as a move action, attempt to move to any other legal square within the rope or weapon’s reach (as determined from the anchor point), to a maximum of 30 ft. without provoking an attack of opportunity, regardless of your normal move speed, by making a Climb check and comparing the result to the CMD of each creature adjacent to the start and destination points; success on this check allows you to complete the movement, and failure causes you to fall prone in a square adjacent to the creature whose CMD you failed to beat. Use your reach (not threatened area) to determine the maximum movement length when using a weapon from the flail group for this ability. This movement can include squares on elevated or recessed surfaces, or even walls. You may even end this movement on a wall or ceiling if you succeed on a Climb check against the surface’s DC. You must have a clear path towards the destination (this ability does not allow you to pass through solid obstacles or creatures, though it may allow you to circumvent an enemy if you have a clear path around them within the rope’s reach).
You must have a free hand to use this ability. Movement using this ability counts as climbing for the purpose of the (climb) package’s movement bonuses. For every 4 ranks in Climb you possess, you may move an additional 5 ft. with this talent. If you possess the Mobile Striker talent, you may replace the movement portion of that talent with the movement granted by this talent.
Ropes or weapons affixed to creatures by any method above allow both the creature to which the rope is affixed (the target) and the creature holding the rope or weapon (the holder) to attempt drag and reposition combat maneuvers against each other. The holder may always choose to drop the rope or weapon as a free action on his turn or as an immediate action off-turn.
Example: Azeem the conscript is facing a force of kobolds in a tunnel. Two of them, wielding clubs, have moved adjacent to attack him, while two more are behind a barricade 30 ft. down the tunnel with crossbows. Jorr draws (a move action) and throws (a swift action) his grappling hook to attach it to the overhead scaffolding 25 ft. away, then attempts to swing to just behind the crossbow-wielding kobolds to a space 35 ft. from his current position, 10 ft. beyond the anchor point. Jorr must make a Climb check and compare it to the CMDs of all four kobolds, since two are adjacent to his starting position and two adjacent to his ending position. If he succeeds, he moves without provoking attacks of opportunity, springing over the heads of the nearby kobolds, swinging over the barricade and kicking off the tunnel wall to land beyond the far foe.
And finally, Swim lets you... hold your breath longer. I guess you can't all be winners
Of course, the real meat here is the legendary talents.
Sparrow's Path and Eagle's Path just straight up let you fly permanently, no ifs and buts. Take that casters!
Afterimage causes you to spawn mirror images in your path when moving, and anyone that knows the Mirror Image spell knows how good this is.
Flash Step just lets you straight up teleport instead of moving, albeit not through walls or anything you couldn't actually run through (boooo).
Air Stunt lets you double jump and run across the air. Neat but kinda irrelevant thanks to Eagle's Path. The real reason is it's a pre-requisite for Dragoon Leap, which lets you jump 100 ft x your Acrobatics skill check result horizontally, or 10 ft vertically. So a high level character can jump a good mile in a single round. The book doesn't quite spell out how this combines with the aforementioned talent that deals bonus damage for jumping on things unfortunately, so no orbital lance strikes.
Shark Swim lets you hold your breath for hours on end and swim at the same speed you can run - and combos nicely with Terrain Glide which lets you swim through earth, as long as you can hold your breath.
Capping it all off is Sky Spider's Touch, which lets you climb on smooth walls, then ceilings, then just straight up climb the air without even needing to use your hands which is a hilarious mental image.
So all in all, this is a pretty fantastic sphere. Pretty much any martial is going to want to pick this up for flight and potentially burrowing/swimming forever. Even without the advanced talents getting free points in 4 different skills as well as pounce and better movement speed is excellent. But really, you want the advanced talents so you can go Full Anime.
Next up is the first sphere that's just about killing dudes. Barrage is focused on quantity over quality with ranged attacks, and deals a ton of damage thanks to sheer number of shots, albeit at the cost of accuracy.
On learning the sphere, you gain the Point Blank Shot feat for free, offering a +1 bonus to close range shots - minor, but a useful free feat that also unlocks later feats and is generally considered a feat tax for archers. You also gain the titular Barrage talent, which is probably one of the most powerful effects in SoM. This lets you make a special attack action (so a standard action that can't be used with other special attack actions, but does allow for stuff like Vital Strike, albeit only on the first shot - no Vital Stiking 5 times in a round) to fire 2 shots at once at full BAB -2. At 6/11/17 BAB, which is when you'd get your next iterative attack as a full attacker, you can expend focus to fire 1/2/3 additional shots, at -4/-6/-8 to hit respectively. This counts as the Rapid Shot feat, and basically works the same way. Compared to a regular PF archer with Rapid/Manyshot, they'd be firing 1 more shot than you as a full attack, and would be more accuracy for their first few shots - but fortunately you have the following talents to compensate.
Blitz talents take effect when you hit a target multiple times in a Barrage, generally for hitting twice or more. You can only apply a single one at a time per hit, but you can apply multiple ones if you hit several times - e.g. hitting twice would apply your first Blitz talent, then the 3rd shot you could apply another Blitz.
Blitz talents themself are... ok.
Arrow Split makes your attacks count as one shot for the purpose of damage reduction, which is basically the much-loved Cluster Shot feat as applying DR once rather than 5 times makes a big difference.
Pinning Punishment causes enemies to get stuck to the floor by your arrows, forcing them to spend actions to free themself.
You also get a few Blitzes that make you intentionally miss to cause debuffs which are generally a bit weak as opposed to just murdering them with a ton of damage. I'd probably just stick with Split vs anything with DR, or Pinning vs anything without.
General talents on the other hand are pretty good. You gain get a two-talent combo that lets you fire in melee without taking AoOs, make AoOs yourself against nearby enemies, and count as flanking enemies.
Spinning Shot lets you fire a bonus shot at the cost of making all shots target different enemies during Barrage, giving you solid AoE.
You also get a few talents to alleviate accuracy issues by reducing Barrage penalties, and probably the best way to regain martial focus in the form of Mobile Focus, which automatically refocuses you if you move between 10ft and half your total movement in a turn. This lets you easily Barrage>Move>repeat.
Intercepting Shot lets you make AoOs to shoot down incoming ranged attacks which is pretty neat, especially if you get Combat Reflexes to get a bunch of AoOs.
As for legendary talents, there's a few gems.
Cone of Death lets you fire a, well, cone, of arrows that hits everything inside. You can take it up to 3 times, increasing the size of the cone each time - at higher levels you can have a 1000ft+ cone, letting you wipe out entire armies of mooks.
Ceaseless Ammo just lets you ignore non-magical ammo. If your GM is painstakingly tracking ammo, they're probably also the sort that'll ban legendary talents for being 'unrealistic' so eh.
Stair Shot lets you fire a bunch of arrows into a wall to make a staircase. Considering this is a legendary talent competing with things like 'flying' and 'travel a mile via jumping' this is not particularly great.
Barrage doesn't have a ton of talents, but it's very good at what it does. You can grab all the useful stuff in your first few levels and have a powerful attack option that scales well throughout the game. It's probably the most damaging sphere in SoM as the lack of full attack means firing 4+ shots in 1 turn is a rare skill.
After 2 excellent spheres, we come to one that is... less so. Barroom is an odd sphere that focuses on a mix of using improvised weapons and buffing yourself via getting absolutely shitfaced. If you want to be Jason Bourne killing guys with a rolled up magazine, look no further.
Learning the sphere gives you two effects. Brutal Breaker gives you proficiency with improvised weapons (meaning no -4 penalty like normal), lets them be treated as regular weapons for the purpose of enhancing spells in case you want a +5 Keen Holy Flaming Burst folding chair, and lets you pick up and swing an improvised weapon from around you as the same action, so no wasting 2 actions to pick up that bottle and glass someone with it. In addition, breakable objects (anything like wood, glass etc) can be damaged and broken as part of an attack for benefits. Disappointingly, the book explicitly says that if you pick someone up and use them as an improvised weapon, you can't treat them as a breakable object. No splitting a goblin in half over the head of another goblin.
You also get the Hard Drinker talent. This lets you drink stuff as a move action without provoking - you can get a trait that does this, but it's a pretty handy ability, as by default drinking a potion takes a standard action and provokes. Alcohol also gives you the Drunk status for Constitution modifer rounds, which interacts with other talents. The book also notes that drinking too much can make you sick, and you can become an alcoholic, but is fairly vague about the exact tipping point. Better hope your GM isn't straight edge!
Drunk talents all allow you to expend the Drunk status to trigger an effect of sorts.
Miracle Drink is probably the most notable, giving you a +2 bonus to Str, Dex or Cha for Con mod rounds, +4 at 10 BAB. This is a really nice bonus, and is a free action provided you can get drunk easily!
Reeling Steps lets you move and make combat maneuvers without provoking for 1 turn, and later boosts your skill with them. You also get a big bonus to dance!
Nice and Loose lets you roll twice on a Reflex save which can be a lifesaver.
Purge, well, purges all over an unfortunate target, letting you reroll a save vs poison as well as making the target tile difficult terrain that can cause people to slip over your stomach contents.
Aside from that there's a handful of other small buffs. So some pretty great buffs, but so far we can only get wasted as a move action. So let's look at the general talents.
High on Fumes lets you expend focus as a swift action to get drunk, making it easier to trigger the Drunk talents. Swift+focus can be quite limiting though.
Double Chug lets you drink a potion and alcohol at the same time, giving you a small buff to saving throws. More importantly at 10 BAB you get 2 stacks of Drunk. This combines nicely with Focusing Buzz which causes drinking to regain focus, greatly improving your Action Drunk Economy.
There's also a number of talents focused on improvised weapons and breaking them. You can smash your weapons to deal bonus damage, bleed, confirm criticals, turn improvised weapons into shields, get bonuses to hit for surprising people with your unlikely weapon choice, treat improvised weapons as larger for the purposes of damage, give them increased crit range as well as treating them as if they had a special weapon feature such as reach. The book mentions the GM can choose to 'pose reasonable limitations on which items can gain which special features (for example, a sack of flour wouldn’t have reach, while a sandwich wouldn’t have deadly)'. To which I say:
Legendary talents have some interesting features.
Alchemical Dragon lets you down an alchemical weapon as if it was alcohol, then breath it in a cone. Unlike Alchemy's Chemical Coating sadly it specifies that it must be a liquid alchemical weapon, so no chugging a grenade to turn your face into a claymore mine.
Blazewater lets you pour alcohol onto a weapon and set it on fire, giving it Flaming Burst. A neat trick, but probably not as good as Chemical Coating - fire is commonly resisted, and 1d6 fire + 1d10 on crit isn't as good as 1d6 + 1/2CL + stagger, entangle or the like.
Eternal Buzz I'll just quote from the book - "your blood is treated as an alcoholic beverage". This lets you become perma-drunk at the cost of a swift action each time, and anything that eats you becomes sickened which is amusing but not impactful. The perma-drunk part is great but at a requirement of BAB +15 you won't see it for a long time.
Magic in the Spirits makes every weapon you use while drunk be treated as a magic +1 weapon, scaling with your BAB. You basically either need this or Gloves of Improvised Might to make your improvised weapons magical, as otherwise they're kinda useless vs a lot of threats.
Barroom isn't a sphere I particularly like outside of the comedy value. While the whole 'drunken master' and 'barroom brawl' are definitely known themes, it feels like a lot of this could be merged into other spheres. Things like Hard Drinker's move action drink effect, Blazewater, Alchemical Dragon and Miracle Drink could well be rethemed Alchemy talents for example, and rather than having like 5 talents that read 'break a weapon to get an effect' you could easily merge those into a smaller number and stick them into a different sphere. A fully buffed improvised weapon is certainly strong, but it's a lot of investment to overtake just having a regular weapon. And compared to the wide variety of themes most spheres have, this feels remarkably niche.
Next up: Beastmastery, Berserker and Boxing
Beastmastery Sphere, Berserker Sphere, Boxing SphereOriginal SA post SPHERES OF MIGHT: Part 3
Or "how to make the Ranger class obsolete with 3 talents"
After my disappointment with the last sphere, we have a return to form with the excellent Beastmastery sphere. The book simply describes the sphere as 'focusing on all forms of animal handling' which is a pretty fair description. It also explicitly says that summoned creatures and animal companions can never, ever learn this sphere - so no repeat of that obscure medieval RPG earlier in the thread where you can have a pyramid scheme of birds training birds to bring about the Birdpocalypse.
When you first learn the sphere, you choose either Handle Animal or Ride. Handle gives you the Handle Animal skill for free, and lets you Tame animals. It goes into a fairly detailed description of how this works, which boils down to 'spend 8 hours with an animal that isn't trying to gnaw your face off, make a skill check, you have a new pet'. There's limits on number and power of tamed creatures based on your level, so again, no Birdpocalypse.
Ride gives you training in the Ride skill, and the Defensive Rider ability, letting you spend AoOs to boost the defense of your mount. Handy.
General talents starts off strong with Animal Companion. As the name suggests, this gives you an Animal Companion as per a Ranger. You can put two points into it to buff it to Druid scaling instead. So yeah, just 3 talents to invalidate most of a PF base martial!
If having an Animal Companion isn't enough, Pet also gives you a wizard familiar - it lacks the explicitly magical effects a familiar has, but handy anyway.
You also get a bunch of talents that synergize with fighting alongside tamed animals - bonuses to defense when next to eachother, making free attacks when another one does and so on.
Mounts also get some talents that boost their abilities while you ride them, such as a bonus to armor, temporary hit points, and the like.
Handle Animal talents let you tame more animals, better animals, and tame them faster.
Bolster Beast lets you train an animal to effectively level it up, so that housecat you befriended at level 1 can carry on soloing wizards throughout it's career.
Greater Trainer raises the limit on the amount/level of beasts you can have at a time. BIRDPOCALYPSE NOW
Bee Keeper is precisely what it says. It does count as being twice the level for the purposes of training but on the other hand you become immune to friendly fire from swarms, so you can live inside a cloud of level-scaled wasps.
Broad Skills lets you treat any creature of animal intelligence as a potential pet, including some mindless creatures - so yes, you can recreate Slime Rancher.
Ride talents are a useful selection of tricks, letting you do stuff like treat your mount as cover, have your mount run things over, and rideby attacks.
Bronco Buster lets you mount a hostile animal and YEEHAW PARDNER it into obedience. With Broad Skills this works on a ton of stuff. Owlbears? Griffons? All will fall before your rootin, tootin might.
So far we've got some pretty great talents, but legendary talents is where this gets ridiculous.
Wild Speaker lets you Dr Doolittle your way through the world. Low impact but neat.
Beast Tamer lets you expend focus to instantly tame an animal, so basically a non-magical Dominate Beast. This combines with Broad Skills, so you can Dominate anything with <=2 Intelligence, and other legendary talents lets this last for hours at a time. But I'm sure we can do better...
...thanks to Mindless Mastery. Any mindless creature can now be tamed. Break into a wizard's tower, steal all his fancy golems and bring them back to the farm!
But we're not done yet. Monster Breaker lets you Bronco Buster ANY creature 'suitable to serve as your mount'. They do get a Will save to resist this effect, but nonetheless you can jump on an ancient dragon and break it like an unruly pony.
For any remotely nature or animal themed character, this is a slam-dunk pick. Getting a scaling animal companion for the cost of 3 talents is a steal, and from there you can just go into other spheres, or dive further to get a bunch of tricks. I don't know much about mounted combat stuff, but it seems like a great sphere for that as well. As for the tamed animal stuff, this probably needs a bit of caution when you pick up the various 'increase taming limit' talents as you can end up with a situation where the rest of the table twiddles their thumbs while your Cloud of Dire Bees solos the campaign. That's not even getting into the legendary talents - being able to point your finger at that rampaging chimera boss monster and turn it into a loyal pet, or jumping on a dragon and digging your spurs in until it complies can potentially be 'actual spellcaster' levels of power. But still, pretty awesome overall.
Much like Beastmastery being Ranger: The Sphere, now we have the Barbarian equivalent. Berserker is not a complicated sphere - it's about being tough and smashing things.
Learning the sphere gives you two abilities. Berserking let's you choose at the start of each turn to take a minor AC penalty in exchange for a minor temporary hp boost. The hp boost scales while the penalty doesn't, so it's not a bad trade. Against stuff that doesn't target AC like a lot of spells, it's a free boost to durability. Not bad.
Brutal Strike is another special attack action like Barrage. This applies the Battered condition for 1 turn (reminder: you can use combat maneuvers vs battered targets without provoking, and they take a penalty to their defense vs said maneuvers). You can expend your focus as part of this for a fairly substantial damage boost, and apply an exertion talent to it.
Extertion talents are a pretty good mix of debuffs.
Bell-Ringer, Bone-Breaker and Leg-Smasher are fairly similar, applying small, scaling penalties to will/concentration, attack/damage and AC/reflex respectively while they remain battered. No save, just suck.
Heavy Swing forces a creature to save or be staggered for a scaling duration. If they're already battered, they instead save or become dazed, and are staggered on a successful save. Dazed prevents targets from doing anything so this is pretty insane - with ways to boost your DC or lower their saves you can just stunlock them until they die. And even if they save, staggered is pretty potent as it prevents full-round actions.
Mage Masher, Shieldbreaker and Shrapnel are the Sunder related effects of SoM, each applying a special effect when you sunder a certain item type, causing excess damage to spill over to the item's wielder, as well as allowing you to roll your sunder check twice and take the best result vs battered targets. Mage Masher is for wands, staves, scrolls and other arcane items, as well as giving you a bonus to any saves resulting from the sunder, just in case you decide to smash that Staff of Power and level the neighbourhood. Shieldbreaker lets you ignore part of the hardness of armor, shields and weapons. Shrapnel instead lets you target an unattended object to create a cone of damaging shrapnel that inflicts battered. The damage scaling isn't bad, making this a decent AoE option, and scales based on the hardness of the material - so if you have a handy steel door around you can rack up some damage. This suffers the Barroom problem of actually needing a supply of items to do so though.
General talents are a bit of a mix, generally themed around being mad and hitting stuff.
Beat Down is an obvious grab, making Brutal Strike's Battered condition last longer for more stunlocking goodness.
Advancing Carnage is the various Cleave feats wrapped up in one - you can make a special attack that chains to multiple enemies. Taking it twice lets you step as you cleave, so you can mow down groups of enemies. Combine with Reaper's Momentum which allows you to make a free attack when you drop a creature to 0 hp and you can annihilate weak enemies. This synergizes nicely with Sanguine Invigoration and Savage, which respectively give temporary hit points (plus reducing fatigue/exhaustion if you expend focus) and recover your focus. This explicitly calls out that the creature has to be 1/2 your level or higher, so no attempting to cheese it by stabbing a bag of rats.
Extended Exertion lets you turn Brutal Strike into a full round action to apply 2 Exertion talents at once - sadly none of them debuff fort saves to make Heavy Swing easier to land, but combining two of the debuff talents into a hefty debuff isn't bad. Actually getting into melee without a move action can be tricky...
...so Barbaric Throw lets you Brutal Strike with thrown weapons, as well as throwing two handed weapons.
Deathless lets you carry on fighting even below 0 hp, but causes you to take damage whenever you act - useful in a close fight to get off one last swing, but pretty risky. However the damage gets absorbed by Berserking which helps!
Shatter Earth is an interesting one. As a full round action, or a standard if you expend focus, you can smash the earth to create difficult terrain and cause enemies within to become battered, or knocked prone if already battered. This explicitly combines with Shrapnel, allowing you to add in AoE damage - provided you can actually break the floor. This involves a bit of GM fiat - I'm not sure if anyone is going to bother to figure out just how deep the floor is in a building, and Pathfinder object HP is based on inches of thickness. The book helpfully suggests that a floor with no set thickness like the ground should be treated as 1 ft thick... but PF doesn't actually list a hardness/hp for earth. If we use stone instead, that gives us 120 hp which even at max level you probably aren't breaking in 1 hit without some specialized gear. It's a shame, as giving martials 'smash the ground to damage people and knock them over' is a pretty standard ability in many other games so this feels overly restrictive. I guess they're worried about you tunneling through stuff easily, but if you're spending a full round + focus just to use this AoE I'd rule it as just working regardless of whether you actually destroy the entire tile.
Legendary talents have some incredibly cool effects that compensate for the awkwardness of Shatter Earth by far.
Alter Terrain isn't one of those. If you manage to destroy a tile with Shatter Earth, you explicitly create a 5 ft deep hole rather than just leaving rubble, and can raise the terrain by 5 ft in adjacent tiles. I guess the intent is to allow martials a way to shape the ground, but 5ft/round isn't exactly a good combat usage, and I'm struggling to think of notable out of combat uses.
Flaming Riastrad is from the Highlander Handbook, which is a Scottish myth themed addition. This gives you immunity to environmental heat, and causes Berserking to project an aura of heat around you. Unfortunately this uses environmental severity rules from Spheres of Power which are a bit awkward. Until you hit high levels the effects only trigger once per minute, and even at max power it boils down to 'take a tiny amount of fire and nonlethal damage'. Cool idea, but probably should have just deal fire damage.
Warp Spasm is another Highlander talent that causes Berserking to negate a part of critical hits against you due to your aberrant anatomy. For people unfamiliar with the myth of Cúchulainn this might seem a bizarre effect, so I'll just quote this:
Negating crits is good, but this should really give an intimidation boost cause holy shit.
The first warp-spasm seized Cúchulainn, and made him into a monstrous thing, hideous and shapeless, unheard of. His shanks and his joints, every knuckle and angle and organ from head to foot, shook like a tree in the flood or a reed in the stream. His body made a furious twist inside his skin, so that his feet and shins switched to the rear and his heels and calves switched to the front... On his head the temple-sinews stretched to the nape of his neck, each mighty, immense, measureless knob as big as the head of a month-old child... he sucked one eye so deep into his head that a wild crane couldn't probe it onto his cheek out of the depths of his skull; the other eye fell out along his cheek. His mouth weirdly distorted: his cheek peeled back from his jaws until the gullet appeared, his lungs and his liver flapped in his mouth and throat, his lower jaw struck the upper a lion-killing blow, and fiery flakes large as a ram's fleece reached his mouth from his throat... The hair of his head twisted like the tangle of a red thornbush stuck in a gap; if a royal apple tree with all its kingly fruit were shaken above him, scarce an apple would reach the ground but each would be spiked on a bristle of his hair as it stood up on his scalp with rage.
Spell Sunder is one of the best reasons to play a Barbarian in PF, and it doesn't disappoint here. Get angry enough at wizards to chop their magic in half with an axe
Ruinous Tread causes ground you walk on to become difficult terrain. Neat visual, not great.
Rift Strike I'll quote from the book: "You unleash a powerful roar and swing a weapon with such extreme ferocity that you tear the very fabric of space and time, opening up a rift to another location." It goes into a bunch of rules but basically it's Teleportation but for martials. Disappointingly you can't travel to other planes though, and it does leave you exhausted for an hour, then fatigued until you rest as well as preventing you from reusing it till you aren't - so better go murder some stuff and revitalize yourself via Sanguine Invigoration!
If you want to be angry and hit people with a big sword, you can't go wrong with Berserker. Brutal Strike is a good damage booster and offers a lot of nice debuffs, and there's a lot of goodies here - everyone loves Cleave, free healing and bonus hit points. For Sunder focused characters this is a must pick, and if you're deciding to play a caster-less game having someone capable of casting Dispel Magic via Axe is vital. And being able to say fuck you to the rules of space time by being swole enough is perfect.
Boxing is the first unarmed sphere, so this is a good time to cover how SoM treats unarmed fighters. Learning any unarmed talent gives you the equivalent of the Improved Unarmed Strike feat, letting you deal lethal damage and fight with your fists without provoking AoOs. You also get an increasing boost to unarmed damage based on the number of talents in unarmed spheres along the lines of Monk unarmed scaling, so anyone can be good at punching as long as you have the right talents.
Boxing isn't about mindlessly punching stuff though - this is about patience and waiting for the right opportunity, as reflected in your first talent, Counter Punch. This lets you ready an action to attack the next enemy that makes a melee attack against you - this also works with light melee weapons rather than just your fists. If you succeed, you deal a bit of bonus damage and can apply a Counter talent to it. You can also choose an additional condition to counter, choosing from a list of effects like a creature casting a spell, moving and so on, and can apply more conditions as you gain levels. You can only Counter Punch once per turn though. So despite the damage boost this is a bit tricky to pull off - let's see if the Counter talents improve things.
Counter talents, as mentioned, can be applied once per Counter Punch.
Clinch and Terrifying Hook let you either Grapple or Intimidate as a free action on hit, respectively.
Haymaker and Liver Shot debuff the target, inflicting spell failure for verbal spells and sicken+reduced movement speed respectively.
Jolt Counter lets you expend focus to treat the target as flat-footed as well as battering them, which is pretty good if you can get some effects that work vs flat footed enemies.
Launching Uppercut is the flashiest effect. This lets you expend focus to make a bull rush vs the target, which normally pushes the target back. However, this one lets you instead move the target vertically - during their turn they're stuck in the air and potentially unable to hit you, and will take falling damage and fall prone on landing. You can also use this on a willing ally which deals no damage, but throws them into the air - niche but amusing. Regardless of actual power, being able to Shoryuken people is almost a requirement if you're going to be an unarmed fighter.
General talents compensate for the weakness of Counter Punch a bit with a lot of ways to improve it.
Corkscrew Set Up lets you make an attack roll vs a target when readying your punch - this doesn't deal damage, but forces them to remain adjacent to you unless they make a check to escape. At higher levels it actually deals damage - less than an unarmed strike, but a decent consolation prize.
Cross Counter lets you expend focus to retaliate vs a target making an attack of opportunity vs you, and they have to reroll their attack if you hit - pretty punishing.
Gazelle Punch increases your reach with Counter Punch, allowing you to move towards enemies and counter them. The range increases at higher levels, so this drastically increases the chance of actually countering when combined with stuff like Corkscrew Set Up.
Heavy Counter lets you Counter with any melee weapons - so yes, you can use a greatsword with Launching Uppercut to pretend you're Dante. Using it with a reach weapon might also work well to mark off a wide area of the battlefield.
Raging Bull lets you instead ready a charge - this means no counter talents on hit and no damage boost, but you gain vastly increased range.
Shoulder Roll is neat - once per round you can spend an AoO when attacekd to get a scaling dodge bonus, and counterattack them if they miss.
There's also a bunch of talents that give you various buffs for counter punch, but a lot require spending immediate actions so action economy is rough.
There's only 3 legendary talents for Boxing, but they're not bad.
Intense Conditioning is a Counter talent that requires expending focus - if they fail a will save, on failure they have to make a will save to be able to use the action that triggered the counter. Using this vs a melee attacker and giving them a condition reading 'make a will save or you can't attack' or a caster getting 'make a will save to cast any spell' is very powerful.
Cutting Comeback lets you replace your counter punch with trash talk - trash talk so potent they literally take damage as well as becoming shaken. Shame you can't combine with the above talent as the idea of shaking the big tough fighter so badly he gains performance anxiety over swinging a sword is fun.
Chasing Assault kicks ass as it interacts with Launching Uppercut. When you launch a target, you can make an immediate action to leap into the air and make a free attack against them, slamming them into the ground. Our Devil May Cry build is slowly but surely coming together.
Despite the cool factor, Boxing is sadly hard to recommend. Counter Punches are strong but require a ton of levels and investment to reliably work, and the reliance on immediate actions/expending focus is hell on the action economy. You're also very vulnerable to your GM knowing what conditions you declared and therefore enemies deciding to not trigger them, even if this behaviour isn't intentional. With enough points in Boxing at high levels you can probably make it work, but I'm not sure the payoff is really worth it.
Next up: Brute, Dual Wielding, Duelist
Brute Sphere, Dual Wielding Sphere, Duelist SphereOriginal SA post SPHERES OF MIGHT: Part 4
It's pretty clear why people were looking forward to this one. Brute is about being big and shoving people around. While it's marked as an unarmed sphere, anyone can use it, and as we'll soon see pretty much anyone who melees will want to.
Your basic talent is Shove - as a move action you can move up to 1/2 speed, make a melee touch attack (so ignoring armor) to deal Str mod damage (or Dex mod if you have weapon finesse) as well as Battering the target for 1 turn. This is nuts. Damage and a debuff while still allowing you to move around and take an attack action? With speed boosts from Athletics etc even 1/2 speed is a good distance, and there's a ton of support for Shove. It also mentions Manhandle talents which are effects that apply a single one of when you Bull Rush, Drag, Overrun and Reposition maneuver - it does note you can't use them if you use the maneuver as a free action though, to prevent infinite chains.
General talents are numerous and great. This is going to be a lengthy one as almost every talent is worth covering.
We start off strong with Brace Weapon - this lets you use a shield or 2h weapon for overrun (a combat maneuver that lets you move through a target's space and knock them over), letting you add enhancement bonuses to your check. The real benefit is that this lets you do the same with Shove - not only adding your +hit bonus, but adding +damage bonus as well as stuff like flaming weapons. So already Shove is basically on par with a weapon strike.
Break Defenses causes creatures you use a Bull Rush, Drag, Overrun and Reposition maneuver on to provoke AoO from allies - in a melee heavy group this can get pretty crazy, as you just shove a sucker straight into your buddy's swords.
Dominoes makes it so if you bull rush, drag or reposition a creature into another creature, you can trip the second creature as a free action. Battlefield control via physical might!
Earthquake Stomp is a bit like our old friend Shatter Earth - as a full round action (or standard via expend focus) you trip all nearby enemies, with a scaling radius. Gets very nice with some trip-related talents we'll get to later, but the radius is sadly a bit small.
Focused Might makes Shove restore focus when it hits. No fuss focus restoration while you carry on racking up the damage makes this the premier focus recovery options for a lot of builds.
Follow Through lets you make a free bull rush or reposition when you attack a target - while you can't Manhandle with this, it's a free move you can combine with stuff like Dominoes to cause absolute chaos.
Greater Shove lets you add 1/2 your BAB to Shove's damage, and add stuff like Power Attack to it. SHOVES FOR THE SHOVE THRONE
Hammer causes stuff to take damage if you'd rush/drag/reposition them into a wall or other creature - including from slamming them into the floor.
Hostile Movement lets you move creatures in other directions as you bull rush them, making it a lot easier to smash them into walls and their friends. It also explicitly lets you rush them vertically into the air!
Muscular Surge lets you take a move action to hulk out for a bit, giving a substantial boost to jumping, strength checks and carrying for a few turns, but fatiguing you afterwards. Has some utility, but the real use is a legendary talent we'll see in a bit.
Quick Force lets you rush/drag/reposition as a move action rather than standard. This sadly means less shoving, but this is pretty vital as you can rush a target twice in a turn combined with Follow Through.
You cleary aren't, so onto SMASH. This causes those maneuvers to also deal damage equal to your unarmed damage or a light weapon you're wielding, and adding their weapon bonuses to those maneuvers. This is actually kinda disappointing as it doesn't work with 2h weapons unlike the rest of the sphere.
Finally we have the combo of Stampede and Unstoppable. Stampede lets you charge stuff without provoking AoOs, and Unstoppable combines to make your charge smash through objects, difficult terrain, and people so you can Kool Aid Man through a wall and then straight through whatever unlucky bastard was behind that wall.
Manhandle talents are all pretty staightforward. You can stagger, trip, entangle, grapple, steal or disarm as part of the affected maneuvers, or follow it up with a second rush in order to push a guy straight into next week. Throw requires expending focus, but finally lets you actually pick up and throw a guy so points for style.
Legendary talents help with the aforementioned Muscular Surge. Giant makes it's effect permanent, and you can now activate it to increase it's power and make you count as 1 size larger for the purpose of combat maneuvers. Titan is even better, permanently making you count as 1 size larger, and letting you activate it to become 2 sizes larger. If you want to pick up a dragon and use it to hit another dragon, these are your talents!
Terrain Trasher lets you tear chunks of the scenery out and throw them at people. Not terribly useful, but fun.
Thunderous Clap is what the Shatter/Shrapnel combo should have been. It takes a full round action+expend focus, but you create an AoE with a pretty substantial area that deals decent damage in a cone or burst around you. This also bull rushes targets - this is a free action so no manhandling, but it can cause absolute chaos vs large groups. You can even choose to project it in a long range cone to avoid friendly fire - it's long range enough that you can potentially smack flyers straight out of the sky.
As you can tell from my tone, Brute is a fantastic sphere. A brief dip gives you one of the best move action martial abilities around, and diving will turn Bull Rush into a lethal attack that thanks to Titan, can be used on just about everything. This might have some problems late game when absolutely everything can fly, but I'm pretty sure landing a Bull Rush>Manhandle Entangle will knock things out of the air so combine with Eagle's Path for premier anti-aircraft defense.
Two Weapon Fighting is infamously full of issues and loops you have to jump through in D&D/Pathfinder. Generally you need multiple high stats, lengthy feat chains and you're absolutely neutered if you're unable to stand there and full attack something. The Dual Wielding sphere probably doesn't quite match the damage of TWF being able to sink half a dozen hits into someone via a full attack round, but it does greatly compensate with utility and less investment required.
When you learn the sphere, you get the imaginatively named Dual Attack talent. This lets you make a free offhand attack whenever you make an attack action with a mainhand. There's a few standard restrictions like being limited to light/one handed weapons, taking a -2 to attack rolls (and -4 if your offhand isn't light), and reducing the damage you get from Strength, but it's basically the Two Weapon Fighting feat without the stat requirement.
Dual Wielding doesn't have the standard 'add one of these to your attack', instead having a long list of general dual weapon talents. Unfortunately they're not terribly interesting, despite being mechanically effective, so I'll keep it brief.
Mercurial Flow, which doubles the Strength bonus of your offhand, which is a pretty huge damage boost.
Following Strike lets your offhand attack cleave to an adjacent enemy at no cost, which is pretty substantial.
Impossible Reload solves the 'dual hand crossbow fighter' argument by letting you reload without needing a free hand, for all your swashbuckler/medieval riot cop needs.
Tandem Offensive is interesting - whenever you hit with your mainhand weapon, your offhand weapon gains it's enhancement bonus and material. So you only need a single magical weapon, solving the painful gold cost of keeping two weapons up to date. However, it only works if you hit, and doesn't inherit any special effects, only your standard +X - so it's not ideal.
There's a plethora of small but effective talents that reduce accuracy penalties, apply debuffs, and let you expend focus to reroll misses or get a substantial boost to damage.
Legendary talents include Cyclone Cut, which lets you create a cutting whirlwind around you, dealing damage in a pretty good AoE. The damage itself is a bit vague though - it refers to "weapon damage" but doesn't say whether this actually gets a bonus from Strength or the like. If not, it's a pretty underwhelming attack. If so, it's a great way of cutting down swarms of weaker stuff.
Three-Sword Style is an amusing talent that lets you tri-wield via holding a sword in your mouth. Despite being a bit silly, it's a lot of extra damage!
Triangle Slash is the upgrade to Three-Sword Style, allowing you to expend focus to make an attack action with each weapon. This means each of your 3 hits gains full benefits from spheres, feats like Vital Strike and so on - this is a fairly obscene amount of damage and means mouthswords are by far the best dual wield build.
Dual Wielding isn't a particularly exciting or flashy sphere, but it's hard to argue with it mechanically. You can have a viable dual wielder pretty much from level 1 just by grabbing the essential talents, which isn't something PF has ever really pulled off. You'll never quite match the raw damage of a hasted TWF fighter, but you'll definitely have enough tricks to compete.
Fortunately, Duelist is quite a flashy sphere unlike our last entry. This has quite a few focuses - bleed damage, disarming, quickdraw, and a few nice utility talents. Despite the name, it can support quite a few character types thanks to being weapon agnostic - although the clear focus is either on your classic rapier wielding duelist, or the iaijutsu samurai.
On learning the sphere, your base ability is Blooded Strike. This lets your attack actions, disarms and AoOs inflict a small amount of bleed damage, which stacks with other bleed damage unlike usual. You also never provoke AoOs from combat maneuvers vs bleeding targets, giving you a pseudo-Battered with perfect uptime. The bleed damage is very low, but as we'll see shortly it has a lot of support.
Bleed talents, as their name suggests, trigger whenever you cause a target to bleed.
Hurricane Strike is a fun, flashy move that lets you make an additional attack against all enemies within your reach - albeit at a damage and accuracy penalty, although the damage penalty does get removed at higher levels. This is pretty powerful as it doesn't say you can't double attack the same enemy that triggered it! Unfortunately you can only use it when drawing your weapon, so you'll need to find a way to easily re-sheathe it, or be stuck with it as an opener. Still, excellent talent and a cool visual.
Leg Cutter is an interesting one, as it lets you take a small attack penalty to force a target to make a saving throw or fall prone. This totally bypasses the whole Trip combat maneuver and associated system, so you can knock things down that nobody else usually could without magic. Has some great synergies we'll see later too.
Open Vein is your focus expender, and applies a much more powerful bleed. Combine with Perforating Wounds which causes you to deal additional damage equal to the bleed, or Debilitating Injuries which causes them to take an attack roll penalty equal to their bleed, and you can pull off some nasty debuffs. Note you're limited to one bleed talent used at a time though, so no stacking all this in 1 hit.
Disarm talents continue the 'incredibly obvious naming' theme by applying when you disarm something.
Swift Slice is the obvious choice - this lets you make a swift action melee attack when you disarm, or as an AoO if they're bleeding. The AoO version is generally superior as you can have multiple AoOs per turn, but only the one swift, and most SoM talents work off AoOs.
Whirlwind Draw can be pretty good when combined with Hurricane Strike, as it lets you sheathe your weapon as a free action whenever you disarm. Seeing as disarms inflict bleed, you can Disarm>Hurricane Strike>Whirlwind Draw>repeat each turn, to inflict consistent AoE damage and keep a target weaponless. With some later spheres you'll see even better ways of doing this.
Traitorous Blade is interesting due to the vague wording. When you disarm, if you have a free hand you can catch their weapon and stab em with it as a swift action. So far, so good. At BAB+10 though, 'you may instead make the granted attack as a free action that can be taken once per round, even if it’s not your turn'. There's nothing to say this ever expires - so can you disarm someone and forever have a magical freestabbing knife, as long as you never let it go? I'm guessing it's supposed to just be upgrading it from a swift to free action, but it's odd.
General talents have quite a few required pickups for any aspiring duelist.
One flaw with bleed is that any magical healing removes it. Not so with Long Cuts, which makes it require a noticeable amount of healing to close your bleeds.
Ooze Ichor takes care of the other common issue of bleed immune enemies by allowing you to bypass immunities, albeit at reduced damage. Bleed those skeletons!
The above talents took care of bleed immune enemies, but what to do when your disarming duelist fights a bunch of things that don't have weapons? Bind Weapon lets you instead choose to bind your weapon to a target's, preventing them from moving until they successfully break that bind. This even works vs stuff with natural weapons, and counts as a disarm - so you're never unable to trigger your talents.
...And Stay Down! gives you a free AoO that deals bonus bleed damage whenever an enemy falls prone within your reach. This obviously works very well with Leg Cutter and just about any other way of knocking people down. To add insult to injury, if they bleed from this attack that have to make an Acrobatics check to get up due to slipperiness. This means that if you do manage to bleed+prone a big burly fighter in plate that hasn't bothered with that skill, he's probably staying there until he's dead. Nice.
Defensive Slice is a fantastic defensive talent - whenever a ranged attack is made against you, you can make an AoO against the projectile to swat it out of the air. If you have good accuracy and enough AoOs, this can really neuter archers.
Legendary talents start off with the amusing Dervish Launch - this lets you twirl a disarmed weapon around and flick it at an enemy nearby as a ranged attack, regardless of the size. Feel free to disarm a giant's enormous fuckoff maul and launch it 30ft into his buddy's face.
Bleed Air offers our first martial save or die. When you bleed a targe that's already bleeding, you puncture their lungs, causing them to suffocate in 1d4 rounds unless they save. Suffocation immediately renders you unconcious, then dead. Takes a bit of RNG and doesn't work vs things that don't breathe, but nasty.
Jugular Cut is the upgrade - anything you make bleed will drop dead in 3 turns unless they save. And they have to keep on saving as long as they're bleeding. Most things are probably dead within 3 turns at the level you can get this, but pretty fun nonetheless.
Sever continues our Save or Die/Suck theme. If you disarm a target and roll inside your weapon's base critical range (so a 15% chance for the average rapier), the target has to make a save or lose their hand. As you can imagine this inflicts a ton of bleed damage and a long list of obvious penalties such as being unable to two-hand weapons, chance to fail spellcasting and so on. While the chance is fairly low, if this lands they're probably finished.
Vacuum Cut is another great addition to our Being An Anime build. This lets you expend focus to project a cutting wave of force, letting you strike a target with your melee weapon at range. However, the damage is slightly reduced until you get to higher levels. Combined with the focus cost, the requirement to draw a sheathed weapon, and the fact it's reasonably short range, it's not that great - but it is cool.
Vacuum Slice on the other hand is definitely worthwhile. This requires a full round action, presumably to dramatically unsheathe your hanzo steel, and instead creates a conal projection. Pretty substantial AoE, but unfortunately does not apply any debuffs or effects, so no stacking up bleeds and the like. Still, points for cool.
Duelist is definitely one of my favourite spheres, and not just because I'm a katana loving weeb at heart. It has a bunch of strong mechanical effects, interesting synergies both with itself and other spheres (including one in the next post), and some really flashy moves. Anyone that wants a more precise melee build can't go wrong here.
Next up: Equipment (and a bit about traditions), Fencing and Gladiator
Equipment Sphere, Fencing Sphere, Gladiator SphereOriginal SA post SPHERES OF MIGHT: Part 5
Equipment is effectively how SoM handles proficiencies and those general feats that every martial has to grab. Anything that didn't really fit into another sphere goes here. So while it's a bit plain, every single character is going to grab a few talents here. When you learn the sphere you don't get any base abilities, but grab a single talent for free.
There's a ton of general talents here and most are quite dull (albeit useful) so I'll give a quick overview. You can get armor proficiency, shield proficiency, weapon finesse+Dex to damage as a talent, improve your reload time with crossbows and guns, fire additional arrows when you fire a bow, get a bonus to AC when unarmored or with a free offhand, bounce your throwing weapons off stuff, deal precision damage with crossbows and guns... there's a lot of useful stuff here for just about anyone.
Discipline talents give a group of associated proficiencies, and sometimes a small bonus. For example Knightly Training gives proficiency with 'knight' like weapons such as lance, longsword etc, and reduces the AC penalty when you charge. Or Huntsman Training gives most ranged weapons, axes, and reduces the penalty from firing at a distance.
Legendary talents are also relatively plain, except for Get Over Here! It does exactly what you think.
Rather than having to burn talents on Equipment, all SoM classes get a Martial Tradition. I mentioned this earlier, but can explain in a bit more detail now. Every tradition consists of 4 talents - this usually gives 1-2 Equipment talents, 1-2 associated spheres, and 1 sphere of your choice. For example the Bushido Warrior tradition gives Armor Training (so you can wear medium/heavy armor), Bushido Training (katanas and so on), the Duelist sphere, and either Beastmastery(Ride) or Duelist(Draw Cut). Note that no SoM class gets anything beyond basic weapon and light armor proficiencies at the most. It's a neat way to customize your character, and the book states that you can make up your own traditions within reason as long as they stick to the 4 talent rule.
Fencing is a fantastic sphere. This is your feinting/duelist(but not Duelist)/sneak attack/swashbuckler sorta sphere and covers a lot of themes, as well as having a ton of synergies.
You start off with Fatal Thrust, which is basically Bad Sneak Attack. You deal +1d6 damage, +1d6 more at 5 BAB and higher to anything that meets the Sneak Attack criteria. Not great, but free damage. Only works with the attack action and AoO though. You also get training in Bluff, so you can feint in order to actually land your Fatal Thrust.
Exploit talents are effects you can apply 1 of when you make a Fatal Thrust. You can make a free steal, disarm or trip - the free disarm in particular is very powerful with Duelist. You can Fatal Thrust(Disarm), which bleeds so you can Hurricane Strike, expend focus to trigger Swift Slice to make a AoO which again triggers Fatal Thrust+bleed, which lets you Leg Cutter to prone them, which lets you ...And Stay Down! for another AoO... this all relies on landing your disarms etc, but still, you get some ridiculous attack+debuff chains going.
Aside from that you can apply penalties to attack rolls, movement, AC, damage reduction, pretty much everything. It's a good set of debuffs here.
General talents focus on supporting Feint plus some utilities. Fast Feint lets you Feint as a move action, and lets you expend focus to move after feinting. Feint Strike lets you make a swift action attack after Feinting. Expert Feint makes Feint last until the start of your next turn rather than just one attack. And Unlikely Feint lets you Feint unintelligent and animal targets at a penalty. Combined, you can Feint as a move action against any target, making them vulnerable for the entire turn to your Fatal Thrust and also getting a free attack. Very nice.
Skewer lets you expend focus to double your Fatal Thrust damage and apply a second Exploit. Pretty good burst.
Parry and Riposte lets you expend focus + an AoO to parry attacks and counterattack, which is a pretty good defense if you're confident in your +hit bonus.
Verbal Feint lets you trash talk enemies and therefore feint at range. Useful for ranged attackers when combined with Death From Afar that lets you Fatal Thrust at range. Hopefully your GM doesn't force you to come up with a new insult every time.
There's also a few mobility and control tricks - extending your range, forcing targets to move in a direction of your choosing, chasing after enemies that try to step away, all small bonuses but quite handy.
Legendary talents include Master of Deception, which causes your feint to apply confusion. This gives a pretty good chance for enemies to waste their turn and it's totally free, so pretty good.
Parry Anything lets you parry spells. More ways to bully mages!
Master of Words is intriguing. It allows you to use Bluff, Diplomacy or Intimidate interchangeably. The actual usefulness of this I'm not sure about, but I guess you could pump one skill sky-high and just rely on it for everything? Swap Diplomacy for Intimidate and scare the king into giving you a better reward! Swap Bluff with Intimidate - everyone knows you're lying, but they're far too scared to do anything about it. This does require 3 different spheres though so it's a painful set of requirements.
So overall a really good sphere. It covers everything from your traditional backstabbing rogue to the archetypical fencer/duelist, but can be used by just about anyone who wants a bit of precision damage and can meet the requirements. It has incredible synergy with Duelist, so combining the two will give you a highly effective and entertaining fighter. Free Bluff is just the cherry on top, so you even get some passable non-combat usage.
Speaking of Intimidate in the last sphere, we come to the sphere focusing on it. Gladiator is about showboating and scaring people. Intimidate tactics have been a mainstay of Pathfinder martials for a while, and so this can be a good sphere to build around.
Your initial talent is Boast, which lets you perform a boast as an immediate action after you crit, kill an enemy or succeed on a maneuver. By default you get Prowess, which gives you 5E style advantage on your next hit. If you can't make use of immediates, it's not a bad move, but as you'll see we can do better. You also get Strike Fear, which lets you expend focus as a full round action to demoralize everyone in 30 ft, or take a penalty to do so without expending focus. Demoralization by default is just a -2 to most rolls, but we'll get a lot of ways to take advantage of it. You also get ranks in Intimidate for free!
Boast talents replace your Prowess boast, and many of them are superior.
Bloodthirst lets you make a free attack. Simple, but an effective way to get immediate action attacks. Not as good as the sphere-specific ones generally, but it's easy to use.
Exemplar gives the Prowess effect to all allies nearby, which is pretty good in a martial heavy party.
Inspiring Pose lets you flex hard enough to cure effects from your allies - everything from poison to supernatural charm. the power of swole compels you
Demoralization talents interact with your intimidate effects in a variety of ways.
Piercing Fear gets around those pesky immunities by letting you expend focus to bypass immunity. Kinda required for most campaigns.
Coward's Bane gives you 5E-advantage on your first attack per round vs a demoralized target which is kinda nuts considering SoM characters typically make 1 big attack per round.
Cow Enemy lets you demoralize as a swift action - good for action economy, but the talent Cornugon Smash lets you demoralize as a free action, so probably better if you can qualify for it.
Frightful is how you turn your fighter into a wizard-tier debuffer. By taking penalties on the Intimidate check, you can instead apply frighten (enemy must flee if possible), or panicked (enemy just cowers helplessly). Combine with Piercing Fear and Strike Fear, and if you can stack enough +Intimidate you can open fights by reducing everything in sight to a quivering wreck that you can coup de grace at your leisure. Move over Sleep and Hold Person!
Master of Fear makes this even easier by letting you Strike Fear without using focus, and reducing it to a standard action. Follow up with Punish the Meek which makes your attacks extend fear duration and you can easily fearlock stuff infinitely.
Aura of Fear is a fun legendary talent that gives you a dragon-style auto-fear. Stuff that fails multiple rolls gain increasingly nasty fear effects, although it only works vs equal or lower level stuff so not great vs bosses.
Speaking of non-boss talents, Burn the Chaff causes melee hits vs feared targets that are 1/2 your level to be autocrits that trigger a save or die. Pretty niche, but fun for mowing down hordes of mooks.
Nightmare Fuel lets you expend focus to permanently fear a target. If the target is aware you're within 60 feet it becomes automatically shaken, and this can only be removed by medium to high level spells. Not exactly useful in combat, but a hilarious fluff move. Annoying recurring npc you can't murder? Nightmare Fuel them and become their personal boogeyman.
So Gladiator is pretty laser focused on being spooky, but that's a great niche what with the ability to bypass immunities. Going all-in lets you end fights without even swinging a weapon, and a light investment gives a decent debuff. Boasts aren't amazing, but they're a useful bonus if you don't have much to do with your swift actions. Definitely a good choice.
Next up: Guardian, Lancer, Open Hand