I’ve been through several character concepts for our new Pathfinder campaign, where I finally get to be a player. First I thought I’d be a magus, but the party ended up full of arcane spellcasters. Then I considered a starknife-wielding warpriest or a sword and board knight-like fighter. The knight would have been a good tank in a party lacking melee characters, but I had trouble figuring out a way to fit a lawful good character (an alignment I automatically associate with knights, even if they aren’t paladins) into a group containing rather a lot of chaotic neutral characters.
This brought me to another concept I’ve been wanting to try: Captain America (more his fighting style than his character, as he’s probably LG anyway). His fighting style in the films is really fun to watch, so I set about researching ways to replicate it in Pathfinder. In case you need a reminder of his style, there are several videos on YouTube.
The best class and archetype for this fighting style turned out to be the brawler shield champion archetype [I can only assume this archetype was built with Captain America in mind!]. It’s a bit of an unusual archetype in that it requires the character to meet the prerequisites of the bonus feats it gives (namely Shield Master and Greater Shield Focus). Despite this, it gives some very cool abilities, most notably Throw Shield and Returning Shield.
With the recent errata for the Advanced Class Guide, there’s a fair amount of conflicting, confusing and/or outdated information on this archetype on the web. I’m using the abilities and feats as they are in November 2015. I recommend checking with your game master to ensure you are both interpreting the feats and abilities in the same way, to avoid later conflict or disappointment.
Throw Shield lets you use your shield as a thrown weapon that does the same damage as your shield bash attack – including any increases from shield spikes. At higher levels, you perform some combat manoeuvers with the thrown shield. The Returning Shield ability means your thrown shield will come back to you without magic enhancements. You can also flurry with the shield, and choose for it to bounce off multiple targets. At level 12, you can substitute your unarmed strike damage for the shield’s damage.
In short, the shield champion archetype lets you replicate a number of Cap’s signature moves, like hitting someone with the shield, and then punching/kicking them, tossing the shield at someone to damage them or knock them over, and so on. The brawler’s martial flexibility opens up all sorts of options for dealing with specific situations.
Building Your Captain America
In my reading, I’ve come across numerous variations of this build. My version is just one possible build.
Strength is the most important stat for this build. A minimum of 13 Str is needed for several feats. Vibranium doesn’t exist in Pathfinder (as far as I know!), so mithral is the next best thing. Without it, my character’s reinforced heavy spiked steel shield weighs about 30 lbs (around 13 kg)!
Dexterity is pretty important as well, depending on the feats you want to take. My build requires a minimum of 13 Dex to start. Even with martial flexibility, you need to qualify for feats before you can use them.
Your other stats are somewhat less important. Constitution is good as you’ll likely be on or near the front lines. Wisdom will help your poor Will save. Intelligence is not important for feat prerequisites because of brawler’s cunning. Along with Charisma, these are probably your dump or flavour stats (I gave my brawler decent Charisma to fit in with her back story).
Acrobatics and Perception will probably be your first picks here. Intimidate is great too if you want to go that route. Knowledge (local) may also come in handy.
With so many to choose from, you’ll want to take advantage of martial flexibility by taking permanent feats that you’re going to use frequently, and gaining access to others through martial flexibility.
Brawlers must qualify for every feat they gain, whether they’re bonus feats, feats you’ll be taking with martial flexibility or those gained through the shield champion archetype. Below I’ve listed some feats you’ll want to consider.
- Prerequisites for Shield Master & Greater Shield Focus: Improved Shield Bash, Shield Slam, Shield Focus. These are all must-haves for this archetype, so I’ve made them bold in my build below as well.
- Two-Weapon Fighting: Discuss this with your GM before settling on your build. The brawler counts as having TWF when using her flurry, If your GM agrees (as mine has) that this is good enough to satisfy the prerequisites of feats, awesome. If not, you’ll need to work the feat into your build somewhere.
- If you use a heavy shield, you’ll probably want to hold it in your main hand to negate the extra TWF penalty, since it’s not a light weapon. Alternatively, the shield-trained trait will let you use a heavy shield as a light weapon.
Other Feats to Consider:
- Precise Shot: If you’re going to be throwing that shield into melee, you’ll need this feat, either permanently or through martial flexibility. Its prerequisite, Point-Blank Shot, gives a nice +1 when throwing within 30 ft, which is not a bad option for a permanent feat.
- Close-Quarters Thrower: If you want to throw your shield even while in melee, you’ll need this to avoid provoking attacks of opportunity. Its prerequisites are not too bad: Dodge and Weapon Focus.
- Power Attack and Combat Expertise: Required for many of the Improved [Combat Manoeuvre] feats that you might want to use with your martial flexibility. However, from level 7, you can use your thrown shield to perform the bull rush, dirty trick, disarm, reposition, or trip combat manoeuvers, This means you can execute these from range, so provoking attacks of opportunity may not be much of an issue.
- Improved Grapple: Cap does a lot of grappling, and you’ll likely qualify for this one straight away, so it’s an option either as a permanent feat or a martial flexibility feat.
A note on the brawler’s bonus combat feats: The wording of this class feature is really weird. Check with your GM before selecting your bonus combat feats to ensure you are on the same page. Depending on what your GM says, you may need to shuffle things around.
Martial Flexibility Options
Depending on the combat situations you find yourself in, you may need to choose different permanent feats from those I’ve chosen above. I’ll list just a few feats you may want to consider for use with martial flexibility:
- Pummeling Style & Pummeling Charge: Although they’re only usable with your unarmed strikes, Pummeling Style will help you with overcoming damage reduction, and Pummeling Charge lets you make a full flurry after a charge.
- Step Up, Following Step & Step Up and Strike: If you want to make the lives of mages difficult, these feats will let you follow them around when they try to five foot step away from you.
- Missile Shield, Disruptive, Spellbreaker, Ray Shield: Missile Shield and Ray Shield are cool and thematically appropriate defensive options. Disruptive and Spellbreaker will make you even more of a problem for enemy spell casters.
- Distance Thrower: You already have the Far Shot feat when throwing your shield, but this feat will help reduce the penalties even further.
- Combat Reflexes: If you have good Dex and want to make better use of attacks of opportunity, this is the feat for you. It’s a prerequisite for a lot of other feats, which could open up some interesting options for you.
- Saving Shield: A way to protect allies with your shield, though it uses an immediate action.
- A few other feats to consider: Bashing Finish, Opening Volley, Two-Handed Thrower, Improved [Combat Manoeuvre]
Some equipment and magic enhancements to consider:
- Throwing Shield: Only costs 50gp and has a range of 20 ft. Plus, it becomes a free action to unclasp and throw. Unfortunately, it’s an exotic weapon. It’s a pity the archetype doesn’t give proficiency with this.
- Shield Boss – Reinforcing (Masterwork): Pretty cheap, and adds more hit points to your shield. It does make the shield weigh even more than it already does, but since this is your main weapon, the extra protection seems worth it.
- Impervious: In case your shield wasn’t tough enough already.
- Brawling Armour: Makes your unarmed strikes and grapples a bit better.
- Belt of Mighty Hurling: Increases the range of your thrown weapons, and lets you use your Strength bonus for attack rolls instead of Dexterity when throwing. [This item was how I discovered I had been incorrectly using my Strength bonus for throwing my shield. However, both I and my GM agreed that throwing a 15 lb shield around has more to do with Strength than Dexterity.]
- Even more equipment to consider: Amulet of Mighty Fists, Monk’s Robe, Boots of Speed, Swarmbane Clasp, Ring of Deflection, Fortification Armour
Here are a few traits worth considering for your Captain America build:
- Shield-Trained (faith): Use a heavy shield as a light weapon.
- Strong Arm, Supple Wrist (combat): If you move at least 10 feet before throwing a weapon, you increase its range by 10 feet.
- Shield Bearer (race, human): Extra shield bash damage, and once a day you can use your shield to give an adjacent ally an AC bonus.
- You may want to consider the mutagenic mauler archetype, as it’s one of the few brawler archetypes that stacks with the shield champion. You’ll be giving up martial flexibility though, which will make your feat decisions even harder.
- If you’re looking to add a little more monk flavour to your brawler, consider the winding path renegade archetype. You’ll be giving up some of your bonus feats for a choice of abilities. The most logical choice for this build would be the Mystery of the Unfolding Wind to increase your range with your shield. You’ll also lose your AC bonus, but will gain access to a number of monk abilities like evasion or fast movement, which could come in very handy.
This is what my character’s build looks like at the moment. She’s only level 3 at this stage, so I may end up changing some of the feats based on the situations we end up in.
1: Improved Shield Bash, Shield Focus (human bonus feat)
2: Point-Blank Shot
5: Pummeling Style, Weapon Focus (heavy shield) (bonus combat feat)
7: Shield Slam
8: Missile Shield (bonus)
9: Pummeling Charge
11: Disruptive, Spellbreaker (bonus)
13: Ray Shield
Have you thought about or tried a similar build? Share your ideas and experiences with us in the comments section below.