So you want to be a Druid, but you don’t want to focus on spell-casting? Or maybe you do want to cast spells, but you don’t want to be completely useless in combat. Well, the first is pretty easy to make well. The latter is a very MAD (Multiple Ability Dependent) build, and leads to a rather mediocre spellcaster with some mediocre physical abilities.
In these coming weeks, I’ll be trying three different builds: the Feral Tiger, the Saurian Shaman of Mauling One Thing Really Well, and the Spellcaster Who Just Wants to Rip Throats. The Feral Tiger takes advantage of the Shaping Focus feat to let us Wild Shape as an 8th level druid while actually being a 4th level Druid with the rest of the levels going to Barbarian.
The Suarian Shaman of Mauling One Thing Really Well loses two levels of Druid to allow us to have the Ranger’s favored enemy class feature, and a bonus feat that we couldn’t get anywhere else. This is at the expense of one feat, some spellcasting, and the loss of Wild Shape at will at level 20.
Meanwhile, the Spellcaster Who Just Wants to Rip Throats is my best attempt at a character that can do Wild Shape pretty well while being, primarily, a spellcaster.
I’ll be using the traditional color code for Pathfinder guides
Blue is for important aspects of a build. If you see something in blue, you’d be a fool to not have it.
Green is for good aspects of a build. Be sure to consider these options.
Orange is usually situational. If your campaign calls for it, or your character concept needs it, these options aren’t necessarily bad.
Red is the danger zone. Stay away from these options. If your character concept demands it, maybe its time to change your character concept.
The Feral Tiger
The trick behind this build revolves around the Dire Tiger, a feat, a trait (though you can do without the trait if your campaign doesn’t allow them), and the Barbarian class. The final build is Druid 4 / Brutal Pugilist (Barbarian) 5. With the feat Shaping Focus, you can apply up to 4 levels of another class towards your Druid level for the purposes of Wild Shape. This will allow you to take only four levels of Druid, but get the Wild Shape capabilities of an 8th level druid. This is the goal, as 8th level allows the Dire Tiger to use Pounce, Rake, and Grab. The best part? The Dire Tiger has Grab on its bite and its claws. That’s the possibility of a Pounce, Rake combo straight into a grapple.
At 9th level, you feel no minuses from the grapple during the enemies’ turns, but the grappled enemy definitely feels the problem. Once it gets back to your turn, you can release the grapple as a free action and full attack with bite and two claws attempting to get the grapple back. Alternately you can maintain the grapple (and deal the damage of the attack that got the grapple), use your Rake ability to get two claws, and lay the enemy prone to further complicate getting away from you. As soon as that enemy is dead, turn around and pounce the next one. This build comes online at level 6 (without rake and grab), gets better at 8 (where you get rake and grab), and sees its full potential at 9 (where you get the third part of the Brutal Pugilist archetype).
Strength – This is the most important skill for you. You’ll need this pretty high to hit hard and to hit fast. I’d suggest getting this to 16 and using a racial bonus to get it to 18 (though you could get by with a flat 16). Without any other buffs, at level 6, when you can morph into the Dire Tiger, you’ll polymorph into a creature with 22 Strength (or 20 if you have a base strength score of 16). Even better: Wild Shape gives you a “size” bonus, so you’ll be running off of the equivalent of base 22 (or 20) strength.
Dexterity – This is definitely your second most important skill. You’ll want this as high as you can get it to help keep your AC high enough and to fix your amazingly awful reflex saves. You won’t have armor when you Wild Shape until sometime around level 9 (and even when you do have armor it can’t be metal), you’ll be raging for -2 AC, and our primary form, a Dire Tiger, gives you a -2 size modifier to your dexterity. Be wary. You’ll definitely be taking some hits.
Constitution – Remember, a negative con modifier means your constitution is literally killing you. Due to being a martial character (and a barbarian), you’ll definitely want something here. You’ll likely be taking a lot of hits, so your HP needs to support that, and getting a small bonus in constitution should help make up for your 4 levels in a d8 hit dice character. Your fortitude saves will be pretty good, though, so this only makes them better, and your rage rounds are determined by your constitution bonus. Try to get this to at least a 12.
Intelligence – You’ll need this for skill points, but otherwise it has no place in your arsenal. Don’t dump, but it’s fine to be 8. (Note: you’ll only have 3 skill points per level if you have an 8)
Wisdom – You’ll want this to be 12 for access to level 2 spells (specifically Aspect of the Bear and Barkskin), but your spellcasting will never go above level 2 spells, and you’ll usually have two different reasons you can’t cast spells in combat. Your will saves will be pretty low, though, even after a few levels in Druid.
Charisma – Not only will you almost always be an animal, but you’re a barbarian. That’s two solid reasons to never, ever roll a charisma based skill check. Dump this stat as low as you can get it, and rollplay somebody who has absolutely no clue how the world works.
You’ll definitely want a race that takes a penalty to Charisma or Intelligence, as all of your other stats need a positive modifier. You’ll definitely want a bonus to Strength, which severely limits the options you can take. Due to the pure number of attacks you’ll get as a Dire Tiger, it isn’t necessary that your strength be as high as it would need to be for a fighter or single-class barbarian, but a +1 to attack and damage costs a lot when you have to purchase an Amulet of Mighty Fists. Also, just remember that any special racial abilities go away when you polymorph, so anything other than ability and skill bonuses aren’t nearly as important as they would be for other builds.
Human: Always great for their extra feat and variable ability score bonus. I’d suggest putting the variable bonus in Strength and draining intelligence (for 2 points) and charisma (for 4 points) to help your MADness.
Oread: Has two great bonuses, and a minus in the correct location. Take Crystalline Form as an alternate racial trait to make it harder to hit you if you get caught without Wild Shape. The favored class option isn’t worth taking.
Half-orc: Variable bonuses are great, and if you get caught outside of Wild Shape, ferocity may just save your life. Remember that ferocity goes away when in Wild Shape (unless you shape into something with ferocity). Extra rage rounds from the favored class option feel nice at early levels, especially considering your constitution is lower than the average barbarian’s.
Oni-Spawn Tiefling: Just like the Oread, these bonuses are pretty well placed, and the minus is in the correct location. Grab yourself some claw attacks so you can start focusing on your claw attack damage earlier. You could also grab Scaled Skin if you know there won’t be a bunch of energy damage in your campaign, and you can grab the prehensile tail since you definitely won’t be taking levels in sorcerer. Remember that any racial bonuses and abilities disappear while polymorphed, so most of the Tiefling’s customizable options are for moments where you’ve run out of usefulness for the day.
Half-elf: A variable bonus. Almost never a bad choice. Remember that your Elven Immunities go away in Wild Shape. The favored class bonuses will take awhile to help, but you can get +4 to Reflex saves and AC by level 20 (but you won’t get a single bonus until level 8) from the Barbarian favored class bonus, or 2 more uses of your 1st level cleric domain power from the Druid favored class bonus, and being a flat Druid opens up mediocre 1st level powers.
Shaping Focus: This feat allows you to count 4 levels of another class towards your Wild Shape Druid feature. The only reason we’re taking four levels in Druid instead of two is because Wild Shape is a prerequisite for this feat. If you do not take this feat, your Wild Shape will be stuck at small or medium creatures, and you’ll never get pounce, rake, or grab, which are pivotal to this build.
Power Attack: A scaling penalty to accuracy for more damage is usually a great choice. Your strength is high enough that the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Simply put, take it.
Weapon Focus (Claw): While not absolutely necessary, a +1 to attack (on your claws, of course) never hurt.
Improved Unarmed Strike: This feat doesn’t do anything on its own. We’d only take it as a prerequisite for Improved Grapple.
Improved Grapple: Though maybe not worth 2 feats, the center of this build is the Dire Tiger’s grab attacks. Bonuses to grapple are definitely helpful, but when there are 3 grab attacks, this feat is less useful.
Greater Grapple: A great finish to the feat chain. +2 to grapple, and maintain for a move action, which allows 2 grapple checks (useful for getting an attack in even if the opponent slipped away). If you lose your grapple, you’ll probably get it back with the bonus attack.
Combat Casting & Natural Spell: Natural Spell allows you to cast spells in your Wild Shape, but you shouldn’t really be needing to cast as an animal, as it already takes a standard action to polymorph. Combat Casting gives you a concentration bonus, though, so if you do like to cast spells in the middle of combat, it’s necessary. If you want to cast spells as an animal in the middle of combat, you’ll need both. Just remember to stay away from spells that give the opponents a saving throw. You likely won’t be able to use those effectively.
Magical Knack: Cast levels with a caster level of 6 starting at level 6. This brings Barkskin up to a +3 bonus. Overall a very beneficial trait.
Deft Dodger: Your reflex saves will be awful. A little boost will go a long way.
Belt of Strength: These will raise your already impressive +8 to strength when Wild Shaping and Raging by an additional amount. Try to get a +4 by the time you reach level 9 and you’ll have no problem killing anything that comes across your path.
Amulet of Mighty Fists: Though this can be replaced by a belt, it stacks with it. Simply put, get one. You can throw flaming or shocking on it if your campaign proves to have lots of things weak to those elements. Otherwise, just get the basic bonus version.
Wild (+3 enhancement) Armor: Your AC is awful in wild shape. This enchantment lets your armor polymorph with you, providing a much needed bonus. I suggest either Horn or Leather Lamellar armor (eastern armor) as you cannot wear metal as a Druid.
Ring of Protection: This will carry through into your polymorphed forms, so definitely pick one up when you can afford it.
Amulet of Natural Armor: Your polymorph gives you a natural armor bonus of +6. You won’t be beating that with an Amulet. This may keep you alive until you can Wild Shape, though.
Many build guides I read don’t have an example of what can be done with the proposed build. I plan to fix that with every guide I release. Here is a character I’ve created using the advice from the guide above. (Please note, Tieflings are not valid for Pathfinder Society play, so some parts of the following build are much harder to get in Society play. The average build will work the same, but will be slightly less optimized.)
Base: Thelal Diraga, an Oni-Spawn Tiefling who has turned to nature as a way to avenge those killed by her fiendish ancestors. I took the claw alternate feature so we can immediately start with 2 attacks. I also took Prehensile tail to retrieve objects as a swift action (this replaces the sorcerer bonus that Tieflings get. Whether or not we’ll use it depends, but we might as well take it). I grabbed Scaled Skin so we don’t have a need for the Amulet of Natural Armor and can instead focus on our Amulet of Mighty Fists early. I grabbed Small to help AC and attack in our base form. Lastly, I took vestigial wings because it will help us if we ever decide to wild shape into a flying creature.
Strength 16 (18 after racial)
Wisdom 10 (12 after racial)
Charisma 7 (5 after racial)
We’ll be taking the two traits I listed above.
On our first level we take our first level in Brutal Pugilist (Barbarian) so we actually stand a chance at level 1. This immediately gives us rage, and we can take some metal armor initially if we really need help staying alive. We’ll also immediately grab power attack so that we can start with some bonus damage. Our strength is high enough that we shouldn’t have a hard time getting through armor classes. Just note that we’ll only have 6 rounds of rage until 6th level.
Second level is going to be our first level in Druid. I’ll be taking the Growth domain so that I can use enlarge person for 4 rounds per day. That should help us to keep our damage high. Again, though, we suffer a penalty to accuracy, so we may not want to do this if enemy ACs get troublesome.
Third through fifth level also go to Druid so that we can get Wild Shape as soon as possible. Since we’re only taking 4 levels in Druid, our BAB only lags behind the Barbarian’s by one.
At third level, we’ll take Weapon Focus: Claw so that we can have a bonus on our claw attack to make up for the missing accuracy we’ll have when we’re large. This will also come in handy when we polymorph into the Dire Tiger, since the +1 will apply to four attacks when we pounce.
At fifth level, we’ve finally unlocked Wild Shape. We’ll take the feat Shaping Focus here so that our level in Barbarian (and the next level) add to our Wild Shape capabilities.
The remainder of our levels will go to Barbarian. Our build comes online at 6th level.
At sixth level, we’ll take Surprise Accuracy as our rage power. If we need something dead during a rage, we’ll use this on our bite.
Sixth level is also the level we can Wild Shape into our primary creature: the Dire Tiger. We won’t have rake or grab, but we’ll still have pounce so we have no real excuse to not be full-attacking most rounds.
At seventh level we’ll take Improved Unarmed Strike. This won’t do anything for us other than open up Improved Grapple for our level 9 feat. We’ll also use Pit Fighter (from Brutal Pugilist) to give us a +1 to CMB on grapple. This won’t help until next level. This level is rather useless for us in terms of abilities, but it opens up some great options.
Eighth level allows the Dire Tiger to fully realize its potential with pounce, rake, and grab. As such, we’ll take Raging Grappler for our second rage power. This allows us to use a grapple maintenance check to throw an enemy onto the ground, or to drop ourselves to the ground if ranged opponents are giving us trouble.
As a note, due to Bruatal Pugilist, we only suffer half of the penalties for being grappled at the moment. At level nine, we don’t suffer any penalties.
Level nine gives us the above, and we take the Improved Grapple feat to make sure our grab attempts work.
For items, I’ll be using a +4 Strength belt, a +1 Amulet of Mighty Fists, +1 Wild Leather Lamellar Armor, and a Ring of Protection +2. This is probably more money than most characters have at this point due to buying consumables (and maybe a weapon if the claw attacks are proving too weak, or you need something adamantine to bypass hardness); I’d drop the +4 strength to +2 if you find it hard to afford this set of equipment.
What can this build do?
While Wild Shaped and raging, this character has a 32 Strength and an average round with 3 natural attacks. She’s also got an 8 BAB. This means her base bonus on attacks (when Power Attacking) is 15 (11 Strength + 8 BAB – 3 Power Attack – 1 size), and her base bonus damage is 17 (11 Strength + 6 Power Attack). After adding in the +1 Amulet of Mighty Fists and the Weapon Focus: Claw bonuses, this means that your claw attacks are +17 (2d4 + 18 | 20×2), and your bite attack is +16 (2d6 + 18 | 20×2). This means that your claws average 23 damage a pop and your bite averages 25.
Each of the base three attacks has grab (and, as stated in the above section, you suffer no penalties due to having 5 levels of Brutal Pugilist) and your CMB is pretty good: +20 (11 Strength + 1 size + 8 BAB), but it’s +23 to grapple (+2 from improved grapple, +1 from Pit Fighter). According to the statistics located here, the average grab maneuver has a 70% chance of succeeding, and your attacks have a 75% chance of hitting. After a bunch of statistical analysis, you have an 89.47% chance to grapple in a turn. This lowers several key stats that make succeeding on your attacks easier. Your chance to maintain the grapple is raised to 95% when you get the +5 for controlling the grapple. Without any buffs aside from items, rage, and wild shape, one claw averages 19.32 damage per round and our bite averages 19.69 damage per round (as per the EDV calculation from here).
Because grappled is literally a game of tug of war with dice, we should note the CMD here as well. After all, if you grapple something, but it can control the grapple just as easily as you started the grapple, why would you even bother? Your CMD is 32 (10 + 8 BAB + 11 Strength + 2 Dexterity + 1 Large)
Let’s go through a regular round progression. We should plan to start our first round at least 10 feet away from an enemy so we can start with a pounce, and we should almost always have Barkskin going when we know danger is coming. Pouncing give us +2 to all of our attack rolls (including our grab checks), which gives us an average damage of 109.27, and increases our chance to grapple enough that we’ll have to roll really badly to not land it. The damage dealt is almost enough to guarantee we one shot the average baddie and that’s before factoring in what happens if we grapple them early.
If we grapple the enemy in the middle of our pounce (do the rake claws last to almost guarantee they hit), they suffer a -4 penalty to their dexterity, and therefore their armor class goes down by 2. You’ve also made it harder for them to hit you (they suffer a -2 on all attack rolls and combat maneuver checks (except those to grapple) and they can’t do actions that would require two hands).
Here’s the only place this build could fall apart. If the enemy attempts to control the grapple themselves, they have a 25% chance to control it. You still take no minuses from being grappled due to Brutal Pugilist, so their best action is to release the grapple and get to a place they can’t be pounced. If this happens, just pounce somebody else. Every round you can pounce without provoking an attack of opportunity is a round well spent.
Let’s assume it comes back around and you still have the grapple. You have two options. Maintain the grapple (95% chance on the average creature) and deal damage, dealing (assuming you grappled with a claw and are using rake) 60 damage on average. Or you could go for two even worse positions. Depending on the circumstance, you may pin the enemy or make the enemy prone.
Pinning the enemy has some nasty consequences when it comes to combat. The enemy now has -4 AC on top having lost their dexterity and dodge bonuses. Need something dead? This is how you do it.
Due to Brutal Pugilist, you can choose to make the enemy (and/or yourself) prone when you maintain the grapple. Having a problem being shot at by a ranged opponent? Lie down. Unlike pinned, the effects of prone stack with those of grappled, so on less dexterous opponents or opponents you want to ensure stay around (as they must stand up for a move action [that provokes attacks of opportunity]), this is the better option. They suffer a -4 on melee attack rolls and a -4 on AC against melee attacks (using this, you can continue to fight an enemy when you’re both prone as if neither of you were). They do, however, get a +4 AC against ranged attacks (the only reason you should ever make yourself prone as well).
Lastly, if the opponent is still alive and still grappled by the start of the third round, apply the other condition to them. A Prone, Pinned, Grappled enemy is going to have a lot of trouble doing anything of use.
And that’s the build. I should be releasing the other two guides within the next month or so, so be sure to stick around to see what savage, awful things I can figure out to make your Wild Shaping a useful combat endeavor, instead of just a useful utility. Until then, stay lucky.