Best Pathfinder thread ever.
I have been trail-rationing all the good stuff here for days. Kudos to all for a rightly impassioned and yet flameless (and often extremely well written) debate. This is what these boards should be all about.
I do hope the developers are reading. So much grist for the creative mill here!
1. Is there anything in another PFS-legal race that is worth giving up the human alternate favored class bonus for?
2. If I do go human, is there any reason not to give up the human bonus feat and "skilled" racial trait in exchange for +2 to 2 different abilities?
Yes. There are plenty of feats worth taking as a sorcerer. Because some of them lead to better feats on the harder-to-reach branches of feat trees, there are decent arguments for keeping the feat-and-skill-point instead of taking +2 Cha.
In addition, you're likely to find yourself hungry for skill ranks as a sorcerer: that +1/level is worth having in itself, if it's allowing you to max out Knowledge Arc, Perception, Spellcraft, Stealth, UMD. Your need for Spellcraft isn't as acute as a wizard's, but you'll still find yourself wanting it for identifying spells as they're cast, and then too if you ever pick up a Ring of Spell Knowledge. If you dabble in charming, you may also want some ranks in Diplomacy and Linguistics. So yes, skill ranks are valuable to you.
3. Other than Spell Focus in whichever school I decide on, probably conjuration for increased grease DC, what feats should I look at taking on a low level sorcerer?
If you're taking SF (Conj), I can't recommend Augment Summoning too highly. Other lowlevel picks: Improved Initiative, Toughness, Superior Summoning, Extend Spell.
4. Are there any truly compelling arguments against taking the arcane bloodline?
5. If I do go arcane bloodline, bonded item or compsagnathus familiar?
Familiar, and take Improved Familiar at 5th or 7th.
6. Traits? Clueless here as I'm not really sure which ones are really going to help.
As others have suggested, Magical Lineage is a gem. Lore Seeker is insanely good (possibly - hopefully - not PFS legal, I wouldn't know). Eyes and Ears of the City is a great second. Gifted Adept is okay, and Charming is nice if it fits the specifics of your character.
7. Level 1 spells. I got a scenario's worth of credit for GMing First Steps, and I was planning on buying a wand of mage armor with my 2 PP. That would allow me to pick up grease and color spray at level 1. Good idea? Bad idea? Terrible idea? Bloody genius?!? I'll also probably add more GM credit to the character and will likely add a wand of magic missile and a wand of infernal healing to my equipment by the time I hit level 2.
Decent idea. Colour Spray goes on being useful longer than most people notice (1 round area stun? not bad, though you'll still want to swap it out eventually). Other 1st level goodies: Enlarge Person (works on your familiar too), Silent Image (great once you have a familiar with wands - or a faerie dragon), Summon Minor Monster (superior augmented celestial skunks, for the win; but not until 3rd or so).
Happy to see this is still proving useful.
In Pathfinder terms the guide is quite old now, so please do continue to update it with new gear, feat and etcetera options - and older alternative feats, too.
Clustered Shots is certainly a strong feat, for example. It doesn't do much for One, though - or for any archer at very high levels - since a +5 bow renders it largely redundant (Epic DR withstanding). I'm not fond of having that looming redundancy, myself, but if you're not playing to high levels, Clustered Shots is gold. (And I suppose it comes back into play if you're heading into epic levels, but that's a whole 'nother ballgame).
I swear I will post that sorcerer guide soonish.
Hello all, just checking in (and apologies that I'm not often around to respond to posts or private emails; life and all that)
Jehova, that's smashing, and good to see: in one sense I wrote ZAMM with a lingering sense that the class really might be pushing out the powerboat too far. How splendid that he has peers.
Other stuff here: can't reply to it all, but I like the Wish stuff (though it is a more limited spell in Pathfinder). A fair number of the other queries are actually addressed in the guide - but it's a long and involved read, I know, and I don't have the online layout skills to make it pretty. Flight capability can be used to move underwater, but where the reference for that is I haven't a clue (I did check it at the time I wrote the guide).
Adaptive is a great new (sorta) boon for the zen archer, indeed all archers; and the other gear notes here are all interesting. I stick to pure core in the guide, and it was written pre- the new gear book, so input on equipment will be useful.
On a side note, I'm just finishing up a guide to the sorcerer. I'll post that someday soon.
Glad it's useful, DrDeth.
Lastoth, it sounds like your DPR calc doesn't factor in Boots of Speed, which are a key item for a zen archer (and a bargain at the price), or the zen archer's high chances of criticals (high because triple-roll Perfect Strike and flurry give so many attack rolls, and Improved Critical can be taken at 10th as a monk bonus feat). Because the boots are haste-based, their extra attack doesn't stack with the archer's ki-spend extra attack (though it will with the basic flurry, and very nicely too). From 15th level, with boots and the robe, a zen archer is doing 2d10 per arrow, and is better off with unarmed damage whenever he uses his boots.
Vestrial...chill, dude. You've found a schtick that works well for you at 5th level: that's great; have fun. You asked the boards why Snake Style wasn't a good choice for a zen archer, and I've told you: feel free to disagree, but there's no value in getting snippy about it (which is how you're coming across). Snake Style won't work so well as your character progresses, because your AC will become excellent in itself and doesn't need propping up with a feat-bought alternative. Your range of swift action ki abilities will become marvellous, but will present you with multiple dilemmas in themselves. Your points about 'breadth of character' and 'boringness' don't have anything to do with this twofold issue. A character has as much breadth and interest as you allow with your roleplaying abilities; it has nothing to do with numbers on the page.
Vestrial, it's great that you enjoy playing your character, and that you find him (her?) a deep and immersive experience. However, a number on your character sheet does not make your character deep. Sense Motive is not a shallower skill than Profession (Carpenter); nor is Climb a shallower skill than Sense Motive. Your character is as deep as your roleplaying capabilities and investment make him. You don't know that my zen archers are shallow, any more than I know yours are Tolstoyan creations.
A 12th level zen qinggong archer, built with one of the three feat plans outlined in the guide, and with two easy-to-live-with vows, has 19 ki points and 9 ki spends. 6 of these spends require swift actions. They're all useful, and the majority are so good that the zen archer is already faced with big dilemmas in spending his single swift per round. Extra attack vs unarmed damage is the hardest choice, but ignoring total cover and ignoring total concealment are also superb, and when you need them they're priceless - though qualified, because they block you from doing full ki damage/attack routines.
At 12th, you also have barkskin (+5, 2 hours, standard) and +4 dodge (swift, 1 full round). With barkskin (a paltry expenditure of 3 ki for 6 hours) you already have AC33, touch 28. This is more than competent (a competent total AC being 20+level). You'll rarely need to expend a swift ki for extra AC, but if you do, you can raise your AC to 37 (touch 32) for an entire round for 1 ki. In addition, the +4 dodge bonus applies to CMD, which matters for archers (grab and sunder both being nasty for you). At 12th the guide's main example character has a CMD of 44: the +4 ki point raises this to an excellent 48. With 19 ki, you can be spending 4 in each of four combats per day, with three to spare for 6 hours of barkskin. This is more than enough for a tough adventuring day.
Swift/immediate actions are one of the most severely rationed action groups in the game. The zen archer already has hard choices to make with his ration of one per round. Snake Style is an okay option at first glance, but it becomes a fairly poor choice for a zen archer because it runs into the carcrash of swift options the class already has. As if that weren't enough, it is unnecessarily shoring up two of the zen archer's best defences - total AC and touch AC. Meanwhile, it does nothing for CMD (which matters, as pointed out above), and it only lasts for one attack. +4 dodge - should you ever need it - lasts an entire round, and applies to three defensive scores.
None of this detracts from the fact that Snake Style isn't a terrible choice - and if you find it makes your character deeper, there is that for it (though see above). I think you're on the right track, insofar as investing defensive feats in the zen archer is a good idea, because the class can stand up to melee (and thus flurry consistently) with a sufficient and affordable investment. But the zen archer isn't the ideal platform for snakiness, because that style replaces scores that aren't remotely in need of replacement, and because it competes for severely limited actions for which the archer already has multiple splendid options.
+2 DC gives DC36 at 20th level, with the moderate 20pb build described in the guide. As outlined in the sample combats, that is fairly decisive, and certainly not to be sniffed at.
There is nothing wrong with your taking snake style if you want it, but I'll point out again that a nicely built 20pb zen archer has no need of an alternative to AC. Her defences are immense without any need for a feat-bought substitute.
In addition, it's a shame to build a zen archer where multiple assets are running off swift/immediates. Zen archers get some of the best ki abilities in the game. At moderate levels, the extra attack is marvellous: at higher levels, the unarmed damage is superb. Not only do you not need snake style, but using it hinders your offensive capabilities (not to mention the zen archer's other versatile ki spends).
The guide is not a 20th level only exercise. It gives you a great deal of helpful information (I hope) about various ways of building a zen archer from greenhorn to endgame levels. You are welcome to your own opinion, naturally :)
Snake style isn't ideal for a zen archer, for two reasons. First, snakiness requires swift or immediate actions both to activate and to use. This puts it in direct competition with ki point swift action expenditure, which you want to do often in key combats, for unarmed arrow damage or extra shots. Second, as a zen archer your AC is competent at moderate levels and eventually almost unparalleled. Spending feats to replace such an excellent defence is wasteful.
In addition, Mantis style gives you decisive bonuses to stunning arrow DCs at the highest levels: in the long run, that's the style a zen archer should take for maximum potency.
Check the sample fights on the class guide. The zen archer never takes damage at all: his defences are so high that snake style would be an irrelevance. Better to be using those swift/immediates for offense.
So even if you just take it as a feat and not a class feature you get the bonus attempts, I was under the impression that if you take it as a feat it is the normal number of times a day.
You get a stun per monk level, by the wording of the feat.
It isn't clear that you get the alternate monk class feature benefits (paralysis etc) - I'd rule not, if I were GMing - but it doesn't matter. At high levels, one round of stun isn't just all you need, but is the least-resisted condition a monk can apply with the multi-flavour ability. It's supernatural (so no SR), and a zen archer's arrow-stun at 20th, with the right feats, is DC36. A spellcaster can get the same DC with full investment at that level, but will tend to come up against spell resistance.
If you have time for a bit of reading, click on my name and hunt out the zen archer guide to see what this does to foes at the highest levels.
ps: I like the goblin builds, by the way. You can certainly get some decent mileage out of goblinhood with a zen archer, though human and dwarf are superior. The better attack balances out the lower damage a bit, and the Stealth is useful.
Can anyone point out to me how this archer Porpentine showed us is able to use Stunning Fist attacks with a bow?
Gr'Rakt, apologies for not getting back to your private message.
Lyu gains stunning fist arrows at 17th level, courtesy of the zen archer class ability, Ki Focus Bow. As laid out in this thread, he doesn't have it at 15th - but he will soon, and it's a stonking ability when he finally gets it.
I'll also repeat for Gr'Rakt and anyone else who sent me a private message, that I did post a full zen archer guide on these boards. It's around here somewhere, though I'm afraid you might have to dig for it.
Draco, this is an interesting 'thinktank' point to raise, and thanks for raising it.
I mulled this over a while back (offboard) and put together a system which cut out the middle man (ie the unarmed strike), partly to see if doing so could help the Monk Issue. Herebelow some quick thoughts:
(1) non-giant humanoids don't generally have natural attacks, because if they did it would slow down the game quite a bit. Every character would be capable of making multiple attacks from 1st level. Avoiding game-slowing is a good general rule.
(2) the rules on interaction of natural and manufactured attacks are...a bit cobwebby, let's say. Cobbled together oover several editions (and indeed games). Giving PC races natural attacks exposes new players to what are currently rather complex rules. So, the ineraction of natural/manufactured attacks rules would have to be rewritten more efficiently for unarmed removal to work well.
(3) The monk - well, you can't consider unarmed attacks without considering him, really. Natural attacks would change him greatly, because more than any other class, that (or the unarmed strike) is what he's all about.
(4) as has been said, everyone gets AoOs, all the time.
Other stuff, too. Will look at my notes. Good topic.
True, but the etcetera applies too. PfE isn't the spell it used to be, back in its glory days (at which point it nerfed significant tracts of both the conjuration summoning and enchantment compulsion subschools)
Jal Dorak wrote:
Not in Pathfinder. Note, too, that celestial/fiendish beasts aren't good/evil summons, even though they're summoned by good/evil spells - so large parts of the summons lists are neutral and unblockable with protection from whatever
Note that, in Pathfinder, all three of these effects are alignment dependent. PfEvil does not give blanket protection from possession/compulsions - and etcetera.
Stealth's a class skill already, so the trait is only getting you the difference between your Wisdom and Dex bonusses (still a decent boost).
Fly is nonclass, so - once you've bought a flight item and invest a rank - you're getting the difference between Wis and Dex, plus 3. More bang for your buck - and a hovering archer is a nice thing to be.
Stealth is a sound choice all the same. I think there's even some flavoursome mileage in going with something wacky, like Disable Device (for nonmagical traps and sabotage) or Sleight of Hand. It's only a trait, after all.
It's important because, at high levels, flight is important; because a zen archer's Wisdom is going to be sky-high; and because an archer who can reliably hover - even in high winds - is well placed to deliver flurries untouched by many foes.
Wisdom in the Flesh (Fly) isn't the only trait a zen archer should think about taking, but it's a decent choice and good at high levels.
On a separate note, I did get around to posting a guide to the zen archer, but it seems to have been buried in the boards. If people are interested in the archetype it's probably worth a look.
Finally - it's worth noting that flurry of blows is currently in a state of suspended animation ruleswise: see various other front-page threads for more details. Crucially, this affects how the zen archer (and the sohei) may work. Or may not work at all. Watch those spaces.
Didn't we just run this discussion in another thread?
Mabven and Dunkerson are right. You can twiddle with the fluff text all you want: the crunch is that a Robe of the Archmagi provides an armour bonus, not an armour enhancement bonus. Despite Lazar's admirably long-running campaign to the contrary, there *is* such a thing as an enhancement bonus to armour, and it stacks with an armour bonus.
Argue RAI all you want. On a board like this, until we get errata otherwise, we have to go with RAW.
You've hit the nail on the head, in that it's the crunch text that's confusing: the various defenses we're coming up with are largely based on fluff (eg mage armour creating a force field effect). Mage armour gives an armour bonus: rules as is, pure crunch, an armour enhancement bonus can be stacked onto an armour bonus. Magic vestment is particularly problematic, to my mind, because it can be applied not only to pieces of armour, but to clothing. A vest of armour+2 (an item using the bracers of armour setup) does seem to me a viable target for magic vestment , pure crunch.
Basically, it'd be good if mage armour and/or magic vestment were clarified a bit. A clearer line in mage armour , to the effect that it cannot be augmented with any armour enhancement bonus, might do the trick - but personally I don't much like the fact that it gives a plain armour bonus in the first place. This invites the understanding that an enhancement bonus might be stacked atop it. As is, mage armour doesn't allow armour enchantments that give straight armour enhancement bonusses...but magic vestment isn't an armour enchantment .
Better, I think, to change to wording of magic vestment . Add 'Nonmagical item of clothing' or 'nonmagical regular outfit of clothing' to the target line and I think we're sorted.
(nb: this is a good time to be discussing this sort of thing, since a new edition probably isn't a thousand miles over the horizon)
@ Lazar - yes, all true and well put.
But the simpler question still stands: if you can stack magic vestment on a suit of full plate, why can't you stack magic vestment on a vest of mage armour?
I've seen you mention elsewhere, as here, that armour bonusses and enhancement armour bonusses are the same and don't stack. But this doesn't work, or plate and magic vestment don't work. Is there any other decent logic to prevent a vest of armour+2 getting a magic vestment +2?
Blackest Sheep wrote:
Don't get me wrong - I want this not to work. It absolutely shouldn't work. But your reasoning here isn't convincing. The description of 'an outfit of clothing' is an addendum to the target of the spell - which doesn't mention any items of clothing at all, only 'armour or shield'. Your quote clarifies that clothing can be a target for magic vestment - not that 'an entire outfit' is the only get-up that you can cast it on. And in fact an entire outfit probably isn't a viable target, since the core gear outfits include multiple items - boots, cloaks and so on.
So no. Wanting to be convinced, not convinced by this.
If only this were true, Lazar. You've just written that plate armour and magic vestment don't stack.
Pathfinder is relaxed on changing item slots. Instead of bracers of armour +2 , I take a vest of armour+2 . On this, I cast magic vestment (+2) , which specifically states that it can be cast on clothing as well as armour.
I'm not saying I like this. I am saying that I've never seen a good reason why this doesn't work. This is the OP's point.
Mage armour - and so bracers - give an armour bonus. Magic vestment gives an armour enhancement bonus. If these things can't stack, then you can't cast magic vestment on plate. You can. So the question is still open - can you give mage armour items armour enhancement bonusses? If not, why not?
A couple of errata for the Guide (wish I could go back and edit now, but there we go):
(1) on One's 6th level sheet, his flurrying base attack should be +6
(2) in the Feats section, Deadly Aim is suggested as the 3rd level open feat - which is correct, but all the more so since, of course, it can't be taken by a zen archer at 1st.
A zen archer monk can still take stunning fist frist level right? Cause as stunning fist is written it can be taken any 1st monk as a bonus feat without meeting the prequistes. If these is incorrect please tell cause as i said before i want jawbreaker asap since im adventuring with this guy its an easy way to take care of those pesky spellcasters.
A zen archer can take stunning fist when he qualifies normally.
By the way - with those stat rolls, you would do very well to go dwarf. You'll still have a perfectly average Cha after taking the racial minus, and your saves will be excellent. Darkvision is also an asset for an archer who can ignore concealment and eventually total concealment...
With stats like those, John, you'll have to work hard to go wrong :)
You have a lot of things working off Wisdom as a zen archer (offhand I think eight; maybe in descending order of importance bow attack, ki points, three AC types, CMD, Will, Perception). If you have the opportunity to start with a 19, I would go that route. A 13 in Con isn't the end of the world if you take Toughness, which leaves the 14 for Dex. And no dump stats - lucky you!
Sunbeam - I imagined the same scenario. The issue is that (i) you have to all travel for 1d4 hours across the Plane of Shadow to reach the Ethereal, and (ii) while on Shadow, you appear to move at 50mph relative to the Material.
So you and your party shadow walk at the gates of the Tower of Evilismo. You travel for 1-4 hours across Shadow and enter the ethereal. By my reading, you're probably now 50-200 miles from the Tower...and travel on the ethereal looks to be generally rather slow, so I'm not sure how long it takes to get back back to the Tower's ethereal parallel.
That's how it looks to me, anyway, and is how I'd GM it.
Incidentally, thanks, Mergy,for addressing these points clearly and well. I enjoyed writing the guide, but I don't have time to check back in here as often as I'd like.
Generally,the spoiler section 'bits readers might disagree with' is a good first port of call for rules queries. This is in the first post of the guide, before the test fights. Deadly Aim flurry, ki focus bow, vows and other points are discussed there.
(1) Sunbeam, if you're referencing the solar fight - One is using his normal monastic ability to turn ethereal. Shadow Walk is an interesting package, but see the Guide for a discussion of its imprecision when used for Material-Shadow-Ethereal-Material travel. Nothing stops One using Shadow Walk to reach the solar via the Ethereal if he has a free day, but etherealness is far quicker and an effective stealth combat option. (Shadow walk is attractive partly because it isn't self only, but of course this has no impact in the Beastmass fights)
(3) A zen archer can certainly take vows, rules as written. This is discussed early in the Guide, in the spoiler section before Beastmass, marked 'bits readers might disagree with.' Essentially, a zen archer lacks Still Mind, just like a ninja: both can take vows; both have nothing to lose.
(4)Qinggong is absolutely compatible with zenhood by the book. And yes, it is a cherry-picking archetype.
Glad people are discussing this, finding it interesting and (last but not least ) enjoyable to read :)
Pointblank +1, deadly aim +4, bow +1, str +2. With 4 flurry bab, you get two notches of Deadly Aim, just as you quote.
re dumping Dex - quite true, so it would have to be Str first - which bites. 14s in the physical stats is certainly the optimal way to go, if your game stretches to 20 point buy.
re the comment on stunning with an arrow - have another shufti at the guide, or the rules themselves.
I like the idea of the Wisdom-based Sorcerer dip.
Glad to be of service, gents and ladies.
Helaman - you're right, I should really have addressed non-minmax stat builds.
Briefly - with a 9 in either Int or Cha, you'll have to drop one of the physical 14s to 12. Constitution is the least important of the three to a zen archer, so drop that first and make sure to take Toughness early.
If you want both Int and Cha at 9, you're best off dropping Dex to 12 as well. This starts to hurt, though - you need that AC if you're going to be a melee-ready monk archer, flurrying from the midst of your foes.
Still fairly minmaxish, either way, but perhaps more attractive if you want something less full on...
First consider what you lose:
(1) Competitive Spell Resistance . This is a powerful ability and thus carefully calibrated. As soon as you multiclass away, you fall behind an expected 50/50 curve. The difference is immediately noticeable.
With those things in mind, a bit of devil’s advocacy: by dint of tradition the monk gets his real capstone ability (Quivering Palm) at 17th level. The zen archer’s last new perk - Ki Focus Bow - also arrives at 17th; after that you get the semi-fluffy Perfect Self and not much else. That leaves a three-level window for dipping if you want it. You’ll miss the palm and ki bow if you delay them, but on the other hand, a boost at low levels might be fun. So:
- One level in wizard (Diviner, Foresight focussed school) gets you a free supply of mage armour , one d20 reroll a day, +1 initiative, surprise round readiness, backup scrolls of mage armour for 12gp, and a familiar or bonded item - Alertness and +2 Fortitude or Reflex, +3 hp or +1 natural armour (from Ultimate Magic’s turtle familiar) would all be welcome, as would a free mighty masterwork bow (though your DM might bridle at free mightiness). On the other hand, (1) to (4) above all apply, your lower base attack will delay some feat entries, mage armour potions are cheap already, you have attack rerolls (in Perfect Strike) and you’re not going to be surprised often...and what are you going to sacrifice to get 11 Intelligence?
This is only really an option if you’re playing with high point buy or roll odd or lucky, and given the trades mentioned it’s an attractive but not outstanding deal...except there’s more. You’re playing an advanced material archetype, so presumably you have access to advanced spells, including the 1st level wizard spell gravity bow . This increases arrow damage dice by one size step for a minute per caster level. Your ki point gives escalating unarmed arrow damage...you see where this is going.
Gravity bow is my least favorite type of spell, a standard casting short-duration buff. You have to ask yourself, is a fight-opening casting worth the loss of a fight-opening flurry? Still, you’ll occasionally get to prep up before fights, this is the only buff of this type you’re likely to use, so it’s not getting in the way of anything else in that regard; and it is good. At most levels it gives a moderate damage bonus to unarmed-style flurry shots (anywhere between +1.5 and +4.5), with a larger bonus on unarmed-style Vital Strikes (+3 to +9, with an odd -6 at 15th level, where the wizard level delays access to Improved Vital Strike). At the highest levels (16th up) the bonus to flurry damage is +7, and the bonus to Vital single shots is +21 from 17th - 12d8 a shot, compared to the straight zen archer’s 6d10. These figures compare a straight zen archer to one with a single level of wizard, and assume both characters buy a monk’s robe at 11th level.
Gravity bow notwithstanding, if you take the arcane route the Magical Knack trait is an option, for +2 caster level and longer-lasting mage armour and gravity bow . With that it might almost be worth starting half-elf and taking two levels of arcane archer later. You’ll meet all the other prerequisites by 8th, and this is all quite fun, but I don’t think an extra 5 burning hands damage on your single-shot is ultimately worth the loss of all that zen (and human) goodness.
With the hefty investment of 12 Intelligence you could also stick with three levels of wizard in order to get the advanced material spell arrow eruption . This isn’t as excellent as gravity bow , but you’ll get ki expenditure and all feats and class abilities on three arrows - which means you could be making up to three big Pinpoint unarmed Vital Strikes in a round. Good stuff, except that you’re well set up against multiple foes already, and three wizard levels knock back both your flurry and your base attack badly. Note too that arrow eruption won’t replicate gravity bow .
- One level of cleric (Luck and Travel domains) gets you +10 speed, lots of Wisdom-fuelled d20 rerolls, some immunity to difficult terrain, some small-change healing, a minor weapon proficiency, and access to the whole 1st level cleric spell list, plus two non-cleric domain spells. This is not unattractive, but you’re giving up a point of base attack as well as the things mentioned above. Also, the only core deity giving these choice domains is Desna, who requires you be within one step of CG - which means starting zen archer, then changing alignment and tacking a cleric level on the very end (do the reverse and you’re likely to lose your cleric abilities) ...and how are you going to know when the ‘very end’ is? Luck rerolls are the main attraction here, but the only core deity with them who would allow a Lawful alignment is Shelyn, and her other domains don’t have much synergy with the way of zen.
- One level in barbarian at 1st (switching alignment at the end of it) gets you +10 speed, Rage and 4 hit points, and doesn’t hurt your base attack. This isn’t bad, but it isn’t wildly good for a zen archer, because your best bow will be calibrated to a certain Strength bonus and you don’t want to be unable to use it when you’re not raging.
- Two levels in inquisitor work rather well, both in terms of power and concept: a bow-wielding heathen-hunter of the church - now there’s a figure to send the infidels running. A brace of levels allows you to add your Wisdom bonus to initiative (for a likely eventual bump of +12) and gives you fractionally better saves (and better than monk means significantly good), a mild improvement in skills, a few 1st level Wisdom-based spells, a Judgment, a domain power, and repeating crossbow proficiency.
You can take the initiative two ways: retain Improved Initiative and beat the speed of light to the draw, or spend that feat somewhere else (on an early Dodge, for example, or perhaps on Rapid Reload; see below). Caster-wise you get three 1st level spells; cure light wounds, divine favour and shield of faith are decent choices. Your judgment is a swift action, usable for one fight a day, and for an archer the +1 sacred bonus to damage is attractive (because rare), though +1 attack is also good; either way divine favour gives a luck bonus, so stacks. Domain-wise, a core LG monk-inquisitor of Shelyn can take Luck for the d20 rerolls; this is splendid with a flurry, though the standard activation bites. If you worship Erastil or Gozreh (LG/LN) you can choose the Feather subdomain - inquisitors can take them - which makes Fly a class skill, gives +1 Perception, and gives you +2 initiative if you can act in surprise rounds - which with your Perception you often will. Other useful subdomains include Restoration (because fatigue is bad for you) and Tactics (allow an ally to roll initiative twice plenty of times per day), both of which are Lawful-friendly.
Then there’s the repeating crossbow. This is a trap. To summarise, you’ll have a better range than a bow with the heavy repeater and a frightening threat range (with Improved Critical and Perfect Strike), but your damage will be worse (no Strength), you’ll incur opportunity attacks when you reload until 11th level or so, you’ll need a grey-zone-friendly DM (since it’s not at all clear that a crossbow qualifies as a bow - various game wording suggests otherwise), and the whole shebang will cost you three feats (Rapid Reload, Rapid Shot, Crossbow Mastery), one of which is redundant, which means losing feats elsewhere (for One this would mean delaying Stunning Fist and losing Lightning Reflexes and Improved Initiative). In short, you’ll be bending your DM’s ear to gain a mechanical disadvantage for flavour purposes. Stick with your old faithful mighty composite and this is a decent dip.
- Three levels in fighter (archer archetype) gets you ranged sunder (to 30’), a +5’ range increment, some hit points, and not much else. Distinctly worse than straight zen.
- Three levels in fighter (weaponmaster archetype) gets you +1 CMD against bow sunders, +1 bow attack and damage, and some hp. You do better staying zen.
Summary: the zen archer is decent to start with and never stops getting better. I suggest sticking with it, though an inquisitor dip has its merits and a level of wizard is worth it if you think you can swing gravity bow in your game.
Qinggong and Vows
The 2011 Pathfinder book Ultimate Magic has a flurry of great high fantasy options, including two stand-out choices for monks - the qinggong archetype and vows. Qinggongitude allows you to cast off your drab generic monk abilities for shiny new ki-fuelled alternatives. You can combine qinggongness with zen, and you can combine them well. Meanwhile, the vows are ki pool-enhancing restrictions. You can see these are designed to mesh - more ki for more ki powers.
The vows are tricky, as intended. There are two that look playable to me from low level, each of which gives 4 extra ki by 20th level - the Vows of Cleanliness and Truth. The Vow of Celibacy seriously limits the healing you can accept (no laying of hands or touch cure spells) and the Vow of Fasting limits healing and mage armour in prohibiting potions: the latter is fine at high level, though, when One takes it. The other oaths are tougher still or plain annoying (Vow of Silence). One takes Cleanliness and Truth at 5th, and Fasting once he’s got an item of armour at 15th. Taking a vow means you never gain Still Mind, but no problemo, you don’t get that anyway (and the wording doesn’t imply that you have to had had it to take vows, as noted in the Beastmass introduction).
With the qinggong trades, your ki pool much more obviously becomes spellcasting in miniature. Don’t go overboard - you’re generally exchanging cost-free abilities for handsome but sometimes costly ki powers, and there are some traps - but there’s certainly some rich cherry-picking to be had here.
First look at the zen archer class abilities you’d be happy or content to give up at the right price. I reckon these are Slow Fall (a happy loss), High Jump (content), Wholeness of Body (content), Timeless Body (happy) and Perfect Self (content).
Second, look at the replacement rules, which are finickety. You can swap out these abilities as soon as you get them, at 4th, 5th, 7th, 17th and 20th level, for qinggong powers of 4th, 4th, 6th or lower, 16th or lower and 20th level or lower respectively. You can also delay some switches to get slightly better qinggong swaps, because the default monk abilities are given boosted levels as ki powers, and there’s nothing to stop you swapping a power after you’ve gained it: for example, wait for 8th level and you can exchange Wholeness of Body for restoration . In any case you probably don’t want to do all these switches, because you’ll lack the ki to use them.
Third, look at the qinggong activation rules. Most of the ki feats are free actions, and these include various critical feats. I think the intention here may be to allow Blinding Critical, for example, to be activated after confirmation - but it’s not at all clear that this is so, and without clarification this makes all the critical feats a bit greyzone (see Zen Oddities, later). Nine of the feats are immediate actions. These too are less attractive than they might be, because often you’re expending a swift action each round, and so have a dearth of immediates. The spell like abilities are generally standard actions, meanwhile, and this doesn’t detract from their attractiveness, because some are choice precombat buffs and others versatile out of combat options.
Given these considerations, in order of merit (and coincidentally attainment) I think the best trades are;
- Slow Fall for barkskin at 4th level. You lose your weakest class ability for a spell-like that gets you a +5 natural armour enhancement by 12th level, something you’d normally only be able to afford much later, and which ultimately gives you 50,000gp to spend elsewhere. A juicy low-hanging cherry.
- Wholeness of Body for restoration at 8th level. It’s self only, but your cleric will still be happy to be relieved of castings of this - and if you lack a cleric, this is the spell that’ll be top of your wishlist. You’re only getting it a level after a cleric, and as a ki power it’s a spell like, so it has none of the normal expensive material components. Finally, it eliminates fatigue and exhaustion as well as the headline negations - useful for an archer. A far better deal than a handful of hits for 2 ki.
- Timeless Body for either battlemind link or shadow walk at 17th level. First a note on Timeless Body: you might think this is pure fluff. Not quite; it’s one of the very few things in the game that protects against a ghost’s Corrupting Touch. That’s a rather specific eventuality, though, and as a monk you have a solid AC against incorporeal attacks (note that even your force armour bonus applies) and the Fortitude to halve Corrupting Touch damage anyway - hopefully - so immunity isn’t crucial.
Battlemind link is exorbitant, at 4 ki, but it’s good if you’re in the right company. Does it allow improved Perfect Strike’s extra attack dice to be shared? I would have to say not, given the repeated mention of two dice rolls; and given those mentions, few GMs will allow two players to choose from a stonking 4d20 each on two attacks. Still, this can get you two attack rolls on multiple shots in a flurry, even as it buffs a co-archer in the same way. It’s potent, so long as you actually have a ranged ally. If you do - and take a few vows to gain ki - this is choice. Most parties don’t have room for more than one regular archer, though, so unless you want to get into hiring hench-archers, it’s worth looking at alternatives.
Thus shadow walk . This is a strange old spell and requires some GM adjudication. Certainly it gives you the following basics: 400 miles travel in an adventuring day (compared to 28-40 miles on horseback, 5-96 aboard ship), an associate of any size per level (more than triple the capacity of teleport ), some planar exploration, and a quirky touch attack. You need to make enquiries in town, get in some retail therapy, hire a crowd of henchlings, 3 ki will probably get you there in an hour or two, and 3 more will get the whole lot of you back to the Tower of Evilismo in time for lunch.
Beyond that things get a little hazy, as they often do with illusions. You and your co-travellers move to ‘the edge of the Material Plane, where it borders on the Plane of Shadow’: there, you all move at 50mph relative to the Material, reducing the latter to ‘a blur.’ The Shadow Plane itself is a ‘colourless duplicate’ of the Material, and Magically Morphic.
Do you crash into colourless duplicates of Material barns and trees as you zoom along? Presumably not, since the spell would warn you of that. Can you cross colourless water, or pass through colourless shadow walls? I presume you can - you’re at the borders of the planes, and Shadow is morphic - but you should check this with your GM. Personally, I think shadow walk generally works as a kind of Illusion-flavoured sub- teleportation ¬, in which you lose instantaneity and augment your passenger allowance - and possibly get some random encounters along the way - but you’ll need to discuss this with your GM.
You can also reach other planes with 1d4 hours travel across the body of the Shadow plane. Which other planes? Well, certainly the Ethereal, since these two planes are transitive and overlap. Given a couple of hours you can turn the whole party ethereal, for the best part of a day, and explore the Material unperceived by anything lacking true seeing or ethereality, unobstructed by any barriers save those composed of force...though where you’ll have ended up relative to the Material isn’t exactly clear. Possibly you can all hunt incorporeal foes the same way. Possibly shadow walk allows greater planar travel, via the Astral, but you’ll need to discuss that with your GM too. And you can cast shadow walk on unwilling targets (DC16+Wisdom modifier) and then abandon them on the Shadow borders, where they have 50/50 chances of becoming lost or stepping back somewhere on the Material...but possibly not where you are, which is useful if you need a comparatively nonviolent way of losing someone. Lastly, as a ki power your shadow walk is componentless, and so lends itself well to silent getaways. It has to be added that your ability is inaccurate - it’s for city to city and not room to room transport - but this is still a nice out-of-the-ordinary package, and one which provides some useful backup to your party’s primary casters.
Zen Achilles’ Heels
Monks don’t have many defensive holes. Archers do, but the zen archer’s CMD makes up for two of the worst: as long as you wield your bow it will rarely be sundered, and you stand strong against grapples.
There’s a third archer weakness you remain susceptible to, and that’s Strength loss. A greatsword fighter loses Strength, he swings a bit weaker: an archer not only shoots weaker, but takes a penalty when using his calibrated mighty bow. Your monk saves help, but some Strength reducers - natural fatigue, waves of exhaustion - can nerf you without a save.
Your best defense against this is to not worry about it overmuch. The penalty for using an over-strung bow is a flat -2. At low levels it might be worth toting a backup bow to avoid this, but as you and your primary bow become more powerful, this minor penalty is more than offset by enhancement bonusses and weapon special effects.
Zen and the Party
The fights above show the zen archer in action, and I hope they’re useful: but they show him in isolation, which leaves out a large part of the game. Here’s a quick rundown of how other classes might work in a team. First, what they can do for you:
Cleric : as mentioned, you can do amazing things with your ki points, but not if you waste them on healing yourself, poorly. 2 ki for your level in healing sucks. Get in line and make friends with the cleric.
Wizard : make friends with him too. For one thing, he can explain things to you, like how to time Quivering Palm. For another, he can cast mage armour on you. Flatter the wizard. Bring him cakes.
Bard : save a slice for the bard, too. His performances are disproportionately sweet for you, since you have many attacks to buff and ranged damage bonusses are rare.
Paladin : he’s Lawful, you’re Lawful, you’re not evil (or one of you isn’t there) and you’re both in melee regularly. He can do a good lot of healing, and quite often he can dismiss fatigue and exhaustion, too.
Now what you can do for them:
(1) You can tank. Yes you can. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: the zen archer doesn’t have to be your traditional shrinking violet archer, scurrying around behind the lines. Look at One: nothing can hit him. He doesn’t incur, he ignores cover and he’s tough as old boots. In fact One is more than a tank, because he’s so mobile; he’s more of a helicopter gunship. That’s at 20th level, though. What about before then? Can you duke it out from the get-go?
Not at 1st, no. Your fists are never going to be much for duking, and you can’t shoot in melee until 3rd. From 4th level onwards, however, you start doing reliable damage faster than foes will take you down. You’ll still get beaten up a bit, but eventually the beatings will fall by the wayside as your defenses outrace your foes’ attacks. In the meantime, you can get wherever you need to be and have a good touch AC, saves and CMD - and no one should underestimate these defenses. Fighter-types look like better tanks if all you consider are hit points and total AC, but melee monsters are built more cannily than that. The fighter has poor saves and touch AC and he’s going to be trampled and drained; the ranger suffers generally; the paladin has great saves but a poor CMD and will be grappled, tripped, tricked, sundered and disarmed; and the barbarian is good if done well, but no one has the defenses you do against special attacks, and that’s where you really shine as a tank: not in soaking up damage so much as maneuvers and save-or-sucks.
Your tank/gunship career falls into four stages. At low level (1st-3rd) you’re still a skirmisher. At medium levels (4th-8th) you start doing enough damage to take things down before they can do you, but be judicious - you’re still going to take some pain, as all tanks do, and you’re still vulnerable to really good grapplers and the like. At mid-high levels (9th-13th) your damage will do for many monsters inside two rounds. It’s only at high levels (14th+) that your defenses consistently start to baffle monster attacks: your AC and CMD are then solid, and your damage too.
Still, you can tank a bit from roundabout 4th level. That’s a sizeable claim for a monk, so let’s examine it. Below are stats for One at odd levels, alongside stats for a melee monster with a CR of his level +1 - a Challenging CR for a whole party, but that’s the thing about tanking, you get the grief. These stats follow the Bestiary monster build table rules for simplicity, so do note that damage is the average if all attacks are successful. The monster is getting a high attack bonus (as befits a combat beast) and medium damage (average of high and low from the Bestiary build table). ‘Rds’ is the number of rounds it should take One to put the beast down on his own: if there’s a dash here, One’s going to get himself killed single-handed, in which case he shouldn’t be tanking. Other things to bear in mind are that (i) One is assumed to be using mage armour from 2nd until 14th level, via potions, a loaned pearl of power or amicable party assistance; (ii) from 13th level, where it lasts more than 2 hours per ki point, he’s also assumed to have barkskin active; (iii) this kind of average damage overvalues tail-end flurry attacks and Hammer the Gap, but doesn’t reflect a zen archer’s high rate of criticals, extra attack rolls, high-DC stun and so on: this seems to balance out pretty well; and (iv) One’s gear is within the Wealth By Level guidelines and with no item worth more than half at any level. Thus:
Lvl** Att** Dam**AC**HP** ***** CR** Att** Dam**AC**HP** Rnds
There are oodles of variables here. On the whole, though, I think these figures are a rough but useful yardstick. The upshot is that (i) your attack and defense ultimately reach points where the monsters can’t tag you nearly as often as you tag them, and (ii) you end up doing so much damage that it doesn’t matter if they do, but (iii) to start with you can’t be too gung-ho. Frontline by all means, but mix it up with range courtesy of your mobility. Your party will love you for your damage and ability to shrug off special attacks, but not if they have to spend a fortune raising you.
(2) You can counter battlefield control. Wizards control the field by placing obstacles: you ignore them. You’re unobstructible. Concealment and cover mean little to you. Wall of force? Dimension door. Black Tentacles? Fat chance. Even when you’re bogged down in useless enemy spods you can tactically take out the real threats - the bosses, casters and sneak attackers - without incurring and without penalty. You’re mobile, you’re precise, and you have the Perception to hear your own wizard’s muffled scream. He’ll be grateful when you shoot the darkmantle on his back.
(3) You can lead the marching order. Or you can scout, which is essentially Extreme Leading. It’s the frontrunner who tends to make Perception checks on the road, and ditto saves against nasty fight opening abilities. This is special attack tanking lite, and you’re the (wo)man for it. As far as scouting goes... well, you can do it if the party needs it. Given your defenses and supernatural mobility you’re less likely to get dismembered or dominated than almost anyone else, and you can get into places like nobody’s business. Don’t tread on the rogues’ toes too much, though - they get antsy about that.
The Art of Zen
There are classes with a gazillion options and others who’ll fit on two pages at 20th. You’re stuck in the middle along with the paladin and ranger. Zen Qinggong monkdom ends up giving you about half a dozen class abilities/activated feats to remember, plus another dozen or so uses for ki. This is both pro and con. Great versatility means great power, and you lack that: you’re too streamlined to be able to do everything. On the other hand, you have a character who is going to run sweet and smooth once you get used to what (s)he can do.
Playability aside, you want to make the most of what you’ve got. You won’t always have just the right tool for every occasion, so you’ll need to improvise, experiment, and combine. Making the best of that is the art of zen.
* Grasshopper : so you can jump like jiminy. At 4th you can vault a 30’ chasm, at 20th you can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Great Flying Daggers images, but pits aside what can you do with this - particularly since you eventually have dimension door and etherealness ?
Generic monks often combine jumping with Spring Attack. You don’t need that schtick, which renders jumping slightly redundant. There’s still Shot on the Run - an interesting feat, but only choice if your DM houserules away the Pathfinder position on combining vital strikes with attacks that aren’t ‘attack actions’ (standard actions). The idea here is to be doing something you can’t with Abundant Step: leap through a second floor window, shoot and leap away - or leap and shoot midair. You can’t do this with Abundant Step because you can’t take actions in its wake, but in any case, your leaping shot is only going to be really tasty if you can get Vital goodness on it.
Still, there are other jump tricks you can pull. From 5th level you always jump as if with running start: arguably, you’re now partially immune to difficult terrain. Low scrub, rubble and so forth doesn’t impede you much when you can make full-impact standing jumps as part of movement. In addition, you can make leaps while climbing (to reach ledges or windowsills, hunting spider style - a decent Climb bonus at the very least; perhaps Acrobatics to replace it) or while using Stealth (to leap unseen over walls, for example); and you can jump to safety as if running while disabled, entangled, exhausted, fatigued, nauseated, prone or staggered, though you may incur opportunity attacks and your speed (and so jump distance) may be reduced by some of these.
At high levels, jumping remains useful if you invest in a broom of flying . You can make standing-running jumps from it, or you can call it to soar overhead and leap onto it; you can attack after such a leap, too, which dimension door would prohibit. Conversely, you can have your broom hovering out of sight and leap from a high window onto it: again, this leaves you an action to make good your escape.
* Smashing Arrows : at 3rd level you get the Point Blank Master feat free and don’t incur opportunity attacks when firing a bow in melee; at 9th you can make opportunity attacks with your bow courtesy of the Reflexive Shot class ability. Neither talent makes your bow a melee weapon, though, and so, by the book, neither allows you to make real melee attacks - you’re still making ranged attacks with a ranged weapon, you’re just not incurring (and it’s not even clear from Reflexive Shot that you threaten with the bow). This all matters because it means you can’t charge with your bow, flank with it, or use the core combat maneuvers with it.
The advanced combat maneuvers - trick, steal and the like - don’t reference ‘melee attacks’, so you can try them while adjacent, but you won’t get your nice bow plusses on CMB since none of them are weapon-based. There is one maneuver you can get mileage from with a ranged weapon, though: you can smash objects. This isn’t in the combat section, but it uses a CMB check and has specific rules for ranged attacks.
Smashing most objects requires blunt or slashing weapon damage. But guess what? You’re playing an archetype from the advanced material, so chances are you have access to blunt arrows. Traps and doors, cage bars, machine gears, anchor chains, levers, latches, hinges...ranged smashing is versatile. Smashing is a CMB attack and thus a standard action, and CMB probably isn’t your strong suit, but you’ll get your bow attack plusses, your check is opposed by the object’s AC (likely puny) and you get a +5 bonus if you use a full round. You’ll be doing half damage (because your weapon’s still ranged) but often you’ll still do enough, and at top levels all your arrows become ki focus and per that ability overcome hardness as adamantine does - normally not even a +5 weapon will get you that. Note also that the range of your bow is an asset here: you have ten range increments - 1100’ with a composite bow, 1600’ if you spend a ki - and you’re accurate enough that, with a full round action, you can smash at pretty much anything actually visible at that distance. A fortress, say, or a galleon.
The more a new class twists the rules, the more likely it is to create some new wrinkle within them. The zen archer is pretty twisty, and it does create or highlight the occasional snarl. It’s good to be wise to these ahead of time, and even better to make your GM aware of them, so that (s)he can plan accordingly:
Perfect Stun, Ki Focus Bow, Deadly Aim and Vows : I dealt with these four in the introduction to Beastmass, but it’s worth mentioning them again here. This guide was written in January 2012, by the way: if you’re reading this much later, it may be worth checking for updated printings or online errata on these points.
Qinggong Criticals : also previously mentioned and worth reiterating. The qinggong archetype offers various critical feats, which can be activated as free actions. Can you activate them after confirming, though, or do you have to gamble that you’re going to make a big hit? This is unclear at the time of writing. My hunch is that you should be able to activate post-confirmation, but until that’s clarified, these are best simply avoided.
The Prone Conundrum : as previously noted, a zen archer’s bowshot doesn’t become a melee attack simply by virtue of it not incurring. This leads to some weirdness when foes fall prone. Rules as writ, not only do you get no bonus when a foe drops at your feet, but in fact he gets a +4 bonus to AC against your adjacent archery. Since dropping prone is a free action that doesn’t provoke, this is a peculiarly effective anti-zen tactic, particularly for spellcasters.
In defence of zenness, it’s worth pointing out that the zen archer trains extensively in using his bow at melee range, that it seems odd for him to take a stonking penalty when expertly shooting a prone victim in the head pointblank, and that the old rules as written clearly don’t allow for ranged attacks intended to be made without penalty at melee range.
My personal GM decision here would be to add riders to the Point Blank Master feat (which the zen archer gains at 3rd level), and to the Reflexive Shot class ability (gained at 9th). I’d say that the former removes the penalty for making ranged shots against prone adjacent targets, and that the latter allows a zen archer to gain the melee bonus for bow attacks against prone adjacent targets. Your own GM’s mileage may well vary. Note that simply allowing the bow to be treated as a melee weapon has wider and perhaps undesirable ramifications, as mentioned previously.
The Ki to Happiness
At 4th level you get your ki pool. Think of this as daily spellcasting in miniature; a powerful resource, heavily rationed. One gets 7 points at that level, and ends up with 33 at 20th without investing extra feats - more than most generic monks, but still not heaps. In a challenging encounter he’s going to spend one every round he fires his bow (usually on unarmed bow damage), so if he fights four challenging combats of five rounds each in a day he’s got 13 points to spend on things like Abundant Step. Wise as he is, his resources are strictly limited, and ki is limited in other ways, too: first, most uses are swift actions and you only get one of those a round; second, from 17th, you might want your ki focus arrows to be bypassing DR and hardness, so you want to leave a drop of ki in the tank.
With all that in mind, let’s finish up by looking at the zen’s basic ki abilities. In reverse order of merit:
- Heal (2 points): bottom of the barrel, because so inefficient. Were it double level in healing, or level plus Wisdom bonus, it might be worth it.
- +20 Jump (1): cheaper than dimension door and useful at low levels if you happen to be 20’ short of a chasm’s width.
- +20 Speed (1): you’re already fast, but this is useful at low levels to catch fleeing foes. Or you could just, you know, shoot em.
- +50’ Range Increment (1): situational, but a hefty bonus if you do need to shoot from afar; you rarely will.
- +4 Dodge AC (1): this is quite nice. The only problem is that the attack options are nicer, and with limited points and swift actions you’ll only really use this in an emergency. Note that it also translates into +4 CMD.
- Ignore Total Cover (3): this is expensive and may slow up the game with discussion, but it’s pretty plain; if you have prior knowledge of a foe, and your arrows have a clear path to reach it, you can use this. It’s good, but you’ll probably use it less than ignoring total concealment.
- Etherealness (3): Su, so no opportunity attack incurred, this is very good for scouting, escape, and fighting incorporeals. Note that your speed is halved, your vision limited to 60’ on the Prime Material, and that you can’t attack across the boundary. Don’t go thinking you can buy a ghost touch bow and shoot from the ethereal at the dragon; it doesn’t work like that. Expensive but nice.
- Ignore Total Concealment (2): choice. You still need to pinpoint a foe’s square to use this - either that or you’re firing blind, which will also work if you guess the right square or line. The seeking weapon ability is a good reference point. At mid and high levels some creatures (and many spellcasters) use various forms of partial and total concealment in preference to boosting AC; they do so at their peril when facing a zen archer, who can ignore not only mists, fogs, low light and blurs , but darkness, supernatural darkness, displacement and invisibility. (It’s worth noting that blur and displacement are ambiguous in classing themselves as concealment, however).
- Abundant Step (2): it’s self-only and you can’t act after using it, but this is very good all the same. Note that you don’t require line of sight to your destination. If you’re feeling luxurious, you can take single shots and follow with dimension door , even after using a swift ki point elsewhere.
- Extra Flurry Attack (1) and Unarmed Arrow Damage (1): these are both top of the range abilities, and I rate them as equally excellent - so equal, in fact, that they can present a bit of a dilemma. Zen archers are rare among monks in that they get two great offensive ki options. You can have an extra attack or unarmed damage... but not both. They’re both swift actions, so you have to choose. Which do you go for?
Overall and in the long run, the answer is unarmed damage. It’s often a close run thing, though, it varies from level to level, and it depends in particular on when you purchase two key items; boots of speed and a monk’s robe . I suggest getting both at 11th, and I’m basing the following comparison on that assumption:
before 9th level : extra attack wins hands down. Your unarmed damage is no higher than 1d10, which only gives a point more damage than a normal longbow arrow. You get the extra attack at 4th and unarmed arrows at 6th, but the latter is redundant for a long time: it’s a waste of ki to use one for +1 damage on a standard shot.
9th-10th level : if you take Vital Strike you now have a specialised use for unarmed arrows: 2d10 damage is worth a ki point. On a flurry, you’re still much better off taking an extra attack.
11th-14th level : your new boots give you access to haste , and your extra ki attack doesn’t stack with that spell (because it’s a similar effect). At the same time, your new robe boosts your unarmed damage to 2d8. When the boots are active it’s a given that you’ll use unarmed damage if you’ve the ki available. When you don’t use the boots? It’s swings and roundabouts. At 11th, unarmed damage will give you +22.5 damage on five flurry shots, if they all hit. An extra attack will give you 19.5 damage, but it’s at your best attack bonus, it gives you another chance to threaten, it can add more damage with Hammer the Gap, and it gives you more versatility if you face multiple foes. Generally, I think the extra attack is still a better option at these levels.
15th level + : now your unarmed damage goes up again, to 2d10 (with a monk’s robe . You can also take Improved Vital Strike. From this point onwards unarmed arrows are the way to go, whether you’re hasted or not. You’re getting +6.5 damage on each flurry arrow, +19.5 on vital strikes. Combat archers can hit as accurately as any other type of fighter; what they normally lack is damage. You don’t, because of this. Superb.
Here endeth the guide.
Hang On, Though...Who Honestly Cares About 20th Level?
A good point, so let’s briefly detour to check it out.
It’s true that 20th level games are rare, and that a 20th level character isn’t entirely representative of any build as a whole. Besides, the accepted wisdom has always been that monks are pretty butch by this point, so One isn’t really proving anything, is he, except that the ‘pretty’ is surplus to requirements? The gripe some have with monks is that they can seem feeble at lower levels, where they’re most often played. So how does a zen archer do at that point? Is he weak where it matters most?
Well, no. Like a wizard, a zen archer never stops improving. Like a wizard, he isn’t going to rule the world at 1st level. Even at that point he’s an asset, however, and his power curve is unusually steep. Here are some quick notes on what to expect from low level zenness (1st to 6th), assuming a monk built along One’s lines:
1st Level : one of the first things you’ll notice is the synergy between archery and monk fu. You shoot the goblin, he closes you down, you surprise him with a kick in the criticals. You shoot the orc, he charges past you to reach the wizard, you take him down with an unexpected headbutt. You shoot the hobgoblin, he moves up and tries to sunder your bow, you get another unanticipated attack of opportunity - and he takes the damage as a penalty on the sunder attempt to boot. No one expects the zennish elbow. This is a nice lowlevel perk.
You’ll also notice that you have a shedload of feats - five if you’re human, not including the virtual Rapid Shot you gain while flurrying. Your human fighter buddy will have three, and will lag behind you in this regard for almost your entire careers; only at 20th level will he surpass you, with 22 feats to your 21, and by that point you’re getting so much elsewhere that a feat more or less is no big deal. It’s true that the fighter will generally have access to better feats, but not so much where archery is concerned; you have special dispensation there, and will gain several key archery feats before the fighter.
The third thing you’ll notice is that, as nonmagical gear goes, your weapon of choice sure don’t come cheap, and being a monk you start out with a measly 35gp of alms in your motheaten pocket. This bites. You can just about afford a basic shortbow at the outset, and won’t get a properly calibrated composite longbow for a while. Consequently your damage is paltry. You can flurry (at +1/+1) but only do naked 1d6s - an average of 7 damage if both shots hit, which they likely won’t, the average CR1 AC being 12.
The party tank may pity you, but don’t worry - your ascendance is imminent. Meanwhile you get one use of Perfect Strike, you can take the invaluable Precise Shot, and you have the Perception to spot the wolf in the night and holler. The party will be glad to have you for that, if little else.
2nd Level : you might take Point Blank Shot at this level, and you can afford a 14 Strength composite longbow: your GM might even let you have a masterwork one sometime (at 600gp it costs just over half your expected wealth). You also gain Weapon Focus. Your archery improves markedly: within 30’, with a masterwork bow, you’re now flurrying at +5/+5 for 1d8+3, an average of 15 damage if both shots hit - which they may, the average CR2 AC being 14.
By now you’ll also start noticing the potency of the flurrying Perfect Strike. You’re making three attack rolls a round when you use your feat, and it’s amazing the difference extra rolls make. Not only can you hit when you really need to, but you’ll find yourself scoring criticals with surprising regularity - you’re getting a 15% threat chance from your three attack rolls (or approximately that, according to the mathematicians). You may not be the party powerhouse, but you’re now contributing meaningfully to combats, and your skills mean you can do so outside it, too.
3rd Level : now you start basing shots off Wisdom. You don’t incur with adjacent bowshots, either. You’re making twinshots at +7 with Deadly Aim, and doing an average 19 damage within 30’ if both shots hit.
You’ve nine feats if you’re human - almost twice a human fighter’s allowance - and it shows. The party barbarian might be doing 19 damage a hit, but unless the enemy line up for cleave, one hit is all he’s getting. You can get caught up in melee with him and survive to tell the tale, since between the two of you you’ll kill almost anything you’re likely to face in a couple of rounds. Oh, and your monk-fu means you threaten, so your mates get flanking.
4th Level : your normal base attack is still only +3, but when you flurry it’s +4: consequently you can now use two notches of Deadly Aim on flurry shots. You also unlock the mysteries of ki, which means you can make three Deadly bowshots on a flurry. They leave your bow at a velocity of +8 apiece, against an average CR4 AC17, and do 37.5 damage if they all hit.
Quite often you’ll now find yourself outdamaging the fighters, who often have to move and often aren’t very good at it. You’re tough, you don’t incur, and consequently it’s already tricky for the opposition to stop you getting off flurries (another couple of levels and neither concealment nor cover will help them, either).
It’ll be a long time before you use ki for unarmed bow damage, as One does: it’s the extra attack you’ll use for now. This isn’t bad, because it’s more flexible. You don’t spend your ki at the start of the round, like One - you shoot twice, regard the battlefield, then muster a third shot if need be. You have 7 ki points, and you can eke them out by spending shrewdly.
This is also when you start to become noticeably more mobile. For a ki point you can have speed 60. That gives you the juice to jump 30’ chasms when you take 10, and plenty of movement to stop escaping foes.
You also have enough defences to start hanging around in melee a bit - or at least to not shrink from it when a flurry is called for. Your AC is only 19, and your CMD 24, but you can boost these to 23 and 28 with a ki point. If your GM allows qinggong abilities, you can also be casting barkskin for +2 natural armour with a 40 minute duration, for another 1 ki. You can afford a dose or two of mage armour for big occasions, too.
5th Level : you might take a couple of vows here: cleanliness and truth, for example. You should also be able to afford a +2 Wisdom headband. Now you have 10 ki. Before the advanced material introduced vows - and indeed zen archers - a Pathfinder melee monk would likely have 4 ki at this juncture. The low level monk might have sucked in those days, but here are ten good reasons why he doesn’t now. On a flurry, you can make three Deadly Aim bowshots at +10 apiece. Don’t forget to buy a bar of soap and a few spare habits.
6th Level : this is the zen archer’s first eureka moment - several things come together here to elevate you beyond expectations. You get four attacks on a ki bow flurry (+12/+12/+12/+7), and with Specialisation, two notches of Deadly Aim and a +2 bow you’re doing 1d8+11 per shot within 30’ (the bow exceeds your single-item limit by its mundane base cost, but you might be allowed that around mid-level). That’s an average 62 damage per round on hits.
You also ignore less than total concealment and cover at this point, and with +15 Perception you can pinpoint the foes who seek them. When you use Perfect Strike on a flurry, you’re making five attack rolls, with a 25% chance (approximately) of a x3 threat.
In many combats you can now dictate the pace. You can clear the spods from anywhere in the field, you can take down runaways or snipers at several hundred feet, and you can put down tough enemies in a couple of rounds. You have enough ki points (11) and Perfect Strikes (6) to see you through a decent day’s battling. You can get around many mundane obstacles with a ki-fuelled jump modifier of +37. You don’t have the best hit points or armour in the world, but your CMD and saves are impressive. All in all, the party will be glad to have you around - and from here on in, things only get better.
Seriously, Though...Doesn’t a Fighter Ultimately Out-Arch a Monk?
Offensively? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Actually, a fighter archer has a higher attack bonus than a zen archer, but does less damage per arrow and (obviously) gets fewer arrows per full attack. He gets some archery feats a bit earlier, some a bit later, and fewer feats overall at all levels shy of 20th. He lacks the zen archer’s panoply of special archery abilities. In general, he’s less effective offensively on any battlefield that incorporates obstacles or melee threats. Most battlefields, in other words. Offensively he’s behind the zen archer at low levels (because a zen archer has many more feats), is occasionally on par for a level or two, then falls behind decisively at 17th, when Ki Focus Bow kicks in.
Defensively? The fighter isn’t even close. Why do defenses matter to an archery comparison? Because the zen archer’s are so high that he can ignore melee threats. This is what makes him stand out from the archery pack. Other archers get closed down, they have to scurry back behind the tanks, losing full attacks in the process. The zen archer just goes on flurrying.
This is why One wins Beastmass and a fighter archer doesn’t. Stat up a 20th level fighter archer and try it, if you like, but you can probably see the issues without running the combats. Fighters are defensively problematic. Zen archers are defensively excellent, and consequently go on being offensive long after the fighter is dominated, damaged or running for cover.
What about sohei archer monks? At the time of writing, a sohei archer can take Rapid Shot and Manyshot and use them on a bow flurry. He also gets a slowtrack Weapon Training progression. With gloves of duelling the training nets him +5 bow attack and damage at 18th level.
Punchy perks, pal, but at what price? The sohei gets six monastic bonus feats, of which five can be invested in mounted combat...not a field that lends itself terribly well to bowmanship. Meanwhile, the zen archer gets ten bonus feats, of which nine can and should be invested in archery. None of the zen’s archery bonus feats require prerequisites. Some are fighter-only, some are available before a fighter would get them, and one (Perfect Strike archery) is only available to the enlightened. An embarrassment of riches in the feat department is one of the zen archer’s great strengths. The sohei archer lacks this pleasant embarrassment. He still has his ten normal feat slots, of course (11 if human), but archery is feat intensive, and the zen archer gets free rein with his own open slots elsewhere - for example, he can put a few more in archery and a good number in defense, which is what makes him such a bastion.
+5 attack and damage at 18th level just about makes up for this disparity - but bonus bow feats aren’t all a zen archer gets. He has four archery-related ki powers the sohei never receives (expanded range, unarmed damage, total concealment, total cover). He gets Reflexive Shot (which is essentially another free feat, Snap Shot), Zen Archery, and eventually Ki Focus Bow, which allows stunning arrows and much else besides. The sohei archer is hot, but he’s not zen hot.
Why One Beats Beastmass
Stat Spread : One begins with 14s in all physical stats. A normal monk has a hard time pitching them so low. The zen archer can afford the better Wisdom because his archery relies on it and he can shoot in melee. Because of that, lots of traditional monk stuff becomes very tasty. One’s Quivering and stun DCs are competitive, and he can eventually use both with his bow. He gets a big tank of ki, an okay (eventually excellent) AC in all departments, a good CMD and Will save, and excellent Perception. High Wisdom monks are great - it’s just that melee monks can’t really afford to be them.
The Way of the Miser : the zen archer sinks gold into one weapon and no other. At romper-suit levels he has a workaday unarmed strike and ranged bow, but pretty soon the bow takes care of everything. He doesn’t need an extortionate amulet of mighty fists . He can shoot in melee and he rarely gets grappled. Most combat builds need two and in many cases three weapons, for grappling, melee and range. The savings here are considerable - which is good, because it means you can invest in (among other things) your expensive but eventually impressive monkish defences.
Flurrying Bow : normally the monk’s flurry equates to a free Two Weapon Fighting feat chain with two cherries on top, one for scaling with monk levels rather than base attack, another for incorporating Doubleslice (the ability to use some maneuvers as attacks, rather than standard attack actions, is balanced out by monastic weapon limitations, in my opinion). That’s good stuff. For the zen archer, flurry roughly equates to level-based Rapid Shot, with more or less the same cherry action going on...but it’s a juicier deal, for four reasons. There are no Improved or Greater Rapid Shot feats in the core rules; ranged attacks are safer; full ranged attacks are easier to achieve consistently; and last but not least, you’re making all those attack rolls with a x3 critical weapon. Normal monks don’t get much mileage out of criticals: the zen archer does, all the moreso once you add Perfect Strike and Improved Critical into the equation.
Perfect Strike, but Better : the generic monk gets Stunning Fist at 1st, which is a good feat so long as you religiously invest in Wisdom ...which a normal monk can’t, so it tends to look better on paper than in action. The zen archer gets Perfect Strike instead, and to my mind this is preferable; rolling twice on an attack is a big deal. Moreover, the zen archer improves the feat greatly at 10th level, rolling three times and using either of the discards to confirm a threat. This not only gives a greater chance to hit and threaten, but improves the confirmation chance too - the basic Perfect Strike feat actually diminishes this chance slightly (since you’re restricted to the lower of two d20s to confirm), but two confirmation rolls alters the balance. This synergises well with Quivering Palm/Stunning Fist - with which you don’t want to miss - and with Improved Critical, which you can also pick up as a bonus feat at 10th.
Unarmed Bow Damage, Improved Vital Strike, Pinpoint Targetting : on single shots One can ignore vast amounts of AC for high-CR beasts and does a base 6d10 damage - 10d10 plus triple mods on a critical - at the price of 1 ki. You have to wait for this to come together, but at 9th level you can have Vital Strike and the unarmed damage, and already that gives you a decent ranged one-shot. It’s hard for foes to stop you flurrying, but if they do, you still have this up your sleeve.
Ki Bow : ranged death and stun. Ranged Elemental Fist and Touch of Serenity too, possibly. Oh, and the ability to ignore hardness below 20 at range. No one else can get this little package, because normally you can’t have a ranged ki focus weapon.
Best of Both Worlds : at a basic design level, the zen archer trades defense for offense. It’s an even deal on the face of it, but an even trade of defense for offense is great deal, as the game acknowledges in the design of many feats. One loses disease and poison immunity, which is fine (because his Fort is high), evasion and improved evasion (which he’ll miss, but he can get evasion with a ring), Stunning Fist (which he at least part-gains as a feat), CMB (which he doesn’t miss) and a few other minor trinkets. In return, he gets a ranged routine that can put down pretty much anything in a few rounds, regardless of concealment, cover or position - and he retains the defensive perks that are the monk’s real strengths: high saves and mobility, Spell Resistance, excellent CMD, good touch and flatfooted AC, and good total AC at higher levels.
One is built with 20 point buy - 14/14/14/7/17/7. The only real question here is, can you afford to buy an 18 Wisdom from the off, for immediate racial escalation to 20?
With 20 point buy the answer is no: you’ll benefit greatly from all three 14s on the physical side, you’d have to drop one of those to an 11 to afford an 18 Wisdom, and you’re already down to minimums on Intelligence and Charisma. If you’re playing with 25 point buy, cheer, max your Wisdom and forgo the last buy point. (If your DM rules that you have to spend all points, cheer more mutedly and raise Strength to 16 instead). If you’re on 15 point-buy, drop Wisdom to 16 and Constitution to 13 and make sure to take Toughness early.
If you’re rolling randomly, a zen archer is an option so long as you roll or can allocate a high Wisdom and solid physical stats. If you’re allowed to allocate your stats, the zen archer wants them in the following order, top to bottom: Wisdom, Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Charisma.
There’s a lot to be said for dwarven monks, though I do like human with this archetype and stat spread. You definitely want two skills - Acrobatics and Perception - and Stealth is an asset. At high levels you may also want to put a point or two in Fly, and if you want Mantis Style you need three points for Heal. With 7 Intelligence the human skill bonus comes into its own, and the feat is gold. The human +2 stat goes in Wisdom, obviously. The advanced racial options have a rare monk-favoured-class alternative for humans - +1/4 ki - but I consider this a poorer deal than bonus hit points for a d8 combat character.
Dwarf is neck and neck all the same. +2 Wis and +2 Con are lovely for a monk of any stripe, and the dwarven resistances to magic and poison never go amiss; nor does darkvision. The question you gotta ask yourself (punk) is, how heinously are you going to suffer in your game if you go into it with 5 Charisma? Can you get away with being a dwarven Quasimodo? Don’t be surprised if your DM creates some grief for such a personage: if you’re using the stat allocation I’ve suggested then you’re pushing out the minmax boat to begin with. Stats aside, there is also a slight lack of zen synergy to consider with the dwarf. You lose speed, which reduces your jumping, though this is a peripheral concern for a zen archer. You never see any benefit from the dwarven carrying perk. You’re down a skill point on your human buddy, which means losing Stealth or going half-speed on both Acrobatics and Stealth. Resistances and darkvision aren’t vital to you, since you have good saves anyway and will soon be able to ignore total concealment. Finally, you can cherrypick the best dwarven abilities by investing in a magic belt at high level, and there’s no corresponding belt of humankind. All in all there’s plenty of good stuff, but when you stat the dwarf out he isn’t better than the human zen archer. This is a fine choice even so.
Behind this photo-finish the other races are a ragged and rather unattractive bunch. Halforc is what it so often is; close but no cigar. Elf and halfelf bring nothing substantial to the zen archetype. Halfling might even sneak up past them, because the advanced rules offer an alternative racial sniping ability (good with halfling Stealth and the zen archer’s decent single shot) as well as a favoured class monk option (+1 grapple CMD and +½ stunning attack ) - but the latter may be less attractive for a zen archer than for a generic monk, who may have more varied stunning attack options (see discussion prior to Beastmass), and smallness leads to lower archery damage once you start combining unarmed damage and the Vital Strike feats. Gnome trails in last.
Beyond the core races - but only just, in power terms - is the goblin. Yes, you’ll be small, but you’ll also be extremely dextrous (+4), and extremely stealthy (+4 bonus, on top of size and Dexterity modifiers) - and you get a Ride bonus, which is a monk class skill. Compared to a human you’ll be on -2 damage per arrow at any level, and on at least -5 damage per arrow on higher level unarmed Vital Strike shots; but you’ll be shooting with +1 attack, which evens up the damage a bit, your AC will be three points higher at any level, and your CMD will be exactly the same as a human’s. This is still inferior to human and dwarf, but it’s a stronger option than the remaining core races. A skill point in Ride and a few in Stealth make it flavoursome - fear the little monk on his mighty goblin dog - and DMs who don’t allow other Bestiary races may still feel inclined to allow a humble goblin.
Feats are one of the glories of zenhood. As mentioned, you get ten of them as bonusses, and all but one (Improved Unarmed Strike) can and should be invested in bowmanship, because you get to ignore their prerequisites. On top of these gifts you get your bow flurry - which is equivalent to an entire improved Rapid Shot feat chain in itself - and Reflexive Shot, which is another bonus feat (Snap Shot) in disguise. Much of this goodness is frontloaded. Much of the excellence of zen arises from this richness of featage.
In fact you get so many bonus feats that you may find yourself with more slots than you know what to do with. Archery is not unintensive featwise, but zenhood has all the basics built in. Furthermore, you won’t ever need Rapid Shot or Manyshot: neither works with your bow flurry, and you can’t use Manyshot with Vital Strike and unarmed bow damage, because Manyshot requires a full attack and Vital Strike an attack action, which is a standard action. Basically you have feats to burn - happy days, but where to burn them?
Here’s my advice: spend a bit on defense. Spend on defense and the zen archer becomes that rare thing, an archer who can ignore melee threats. Ignore melee, and almost nothing can stop you getting away a flurry every round. Flurry every round, and your enemies will quail before you.
Spend on defense, because the zen archer is implicitly designed to work this way. You don’t incur with melee bowshots from 3rd level and you can make bow opportunity attacks from 9th. You already have a better AC and CMD than most monks (because you have better Wisdom), and you can ignore the soft cover of a melee. There’s a pattern here. These clustered abilities invite augmentation through feat investment, and the zen archer is designed so that you can afford to augment them.
I’m going to lay out three feat spending plans in a second, but in all three plans the bonus feats are the same, so I’ll fillet those out and consider them first.
- The Free Feat Fest : Zenhood gives you four set archery feats: Perfect Strike at 1st, Weapon Focus at 2nd, Point Blank Master at 3rd and Weapon Specialisation at 6th. These are all tasty. Combat classes that lack Weapon Training always need more attack bonusses, so Weapon Focus is useful. Archery damage bonusses are rare, so Specialisation is useful. Point Blank Master is the zen archer’s theme tune. Perfect Strike is not only potent but improves markedly at 10th level (for you), at which point it really starts to boost critical chances as well as attacks. This last point is worth remembering as you choose other feats.
Monasticism gives you the normal improved Improved Unarmed Strike and another five selective feats, which you can also invest in archery. Note that the monastic Improved Unarmed Strike isn’t irrelevant to you, because it allows you to make opportunity attacks with a bow in both hands from the outset. This matters because sunder attempts on your fragile bow may well be attempted even at low levels, and a successful unarmed opportunity attack will impose a decent penalty on the maneuver attempt.
This leaves you five selective bonus feats to invest, and to my mind the best choices fall into place quite naturally. At 1st level Precise Shot is excellent - indeed, you’ll be glad to have this for your entire career. At 2nd level, Point Blank Shot gives useful boosts, and soon you’ll be using it all the time with Point Blank Master. At 6th level, Improved Precise Shot is gold - ignoring all but total concealment and cover is wonderful - and at 10th, Improved Critical kicks in alongside improved Perfect Strike. Finally, Pinpoint Targetting is a powerful feat to have at 14th, which is why a fighter won’t get it until 16th: if you’re not sure about this one, have a quick skim of the Bestiary and look at how much it lops off the Armour Classes of high CR monsters.
You have ten open feats remaining, eleven if you’re human. I’m going to lay out each spending plan with the human feat in brackets, then discuss the selections.
- The One Plan : Toughness, (Improved Initiative), Deadly Aim, Defensive Combat Training, Lightning Reflexes, Vital Strike, Hammer the Gap, Stunning Fist, Improved Vital Strike, Ability Focus Stunning Fist, Mantis Style.
This is One’s set up. It’s specifically designed for a high level game: essentially, it gives you maximum offense and defense from 17th level, when Ki Focus Bow kicks in. It’s good at low levels, too, but lands you with a next-to-useless feat from 13th to 16th, when you’ll get little from Stunning Fist. Some notes on the choices:
(1) Toughness: I rate this highly for a zen archer for the reasons given above: if you can stand the heat of melee, you can execute more flurries. Your archetype gives you a starter pack of melee resistance, but you still need added durability. This is it.
(2) Improved Initiative: your flatfooted AC isn’t your strongest suit, so this is nice to have - but you’re not liable to go down under one attack, so I rate it as optional.
(3) Deadly Aim: you definitely want this, but at 1st level your attack bonus is too low to make it worthwhile. 3rd level is the natural place for it.
(4) Defensive Combat Training: at 5th this only gives you +2 CMD: Dodge would give +1 AC and +1 CMD. The difference is that Defensive Combat Training goes on giving, and if you’re only going to take one of these two, this suits you better. Why? Because grapplers and sunderers are the stuff of archers’ nightmares: bows are always fragile, and you can’t use a bow in a grapple. A grappled low level zen archer is in trouble. Fortunately you’re a monk, and so get your Wisdom and monk AC bonus added to CMD, but you need to give this defensive statistic extra attention. Take this feat, no more nightmares.
(5) Lightning Reflexes: monks have great saves, but don’t go thinking they’re failsafes. One boosts Reflex because the highest DCs in the Bestiary fall into that category. If you’re not playing to levels where you might face tides of shoggoths a save bonus feat is less attractive, though it’s still worth considering putting a trait into either Fortitude or Reflex.
(6) Vital Strike/Improved Vital Strike: if the zen archer is so great when he flurries, why would you want to sink two feats into standard attacks? Four reasons: unarmed damage, surprise rounds, move-equivalent abilities and Pinpoint Targetting. Just like a melee monk, you get mileage from these feats because you have high basic damage dice (though you have to expend ki to get them on bowshots). As a zen archer you also have excellent Perception and a decent initiative, which means you’ll often get the jump on your foes, and it’s nice to kick off with a 6d10+24 stunning arrow. You also gain two versatile move-equivalent mobility options at 12th and 15th levels, dimension door and etherealness . With vital striking, you can shoot and then dimension door , or turn ethereal and then shoot an incorporeal creature. Finally, you can pick up Pinpoint Targetting at 14th level, which will allow your stunning vital strikes to pierce the armour of anything you ever meet. Lots of good synergy here.
(7) Hammer the Gap: it doesn’t look like much, this feat, but there’s zen synergy here, too. First, you can make the most of its cumulative damage, because you get more attacks than most people. Second, the damage this feat gives is multiplied on criticals... and because of Improved Critical, Perfect Strike and the sheer quantity of attack rolls you make, you get more criticals than most.
In fact, even if Elemental Fist is considered available to you as a ki attack (ie Ki Focus Bow material), Hammer the Gap is still preferable. Both feats supply +28 damage on the eight attacks you make at 20th, and at first glance a flat +1d6 energy per shot is greatly superior to a cumulative +1... but energy resistance is common as muck, and none of those bonus dice are multiplied on a crit. At mid-high levels these two damage bonus feats are about evens in terms of desirability, but the higher you play, and the more chances you get to hit a crit, the better Hammer the Gap becomes.
(8) Stunning Fist/Mantis Style/Ability Focus (Stunning Fist): One invests three feats in Ki Focus Bow, at 13th, 17th and 19th levels. Unless you’re starting play at 17th level, this is frustrating: you’ll get little out of Stunning Fist for four levels. Does this hamstring One at 13th to 16th? Nah; he has enough going on that he can afford this advance spending. Still, you might prefer to get an immediate payback from all your mid/high level feats, which is why I’m laying out two alternative spending plans below.
- The Payback Plan : Toughness, (Improved Initiative), Deadly Aim, Dodge, Defensive Combat Training, Vital Strike, Hammer the Gap, Dimensional Agility, Improved Vital Strike, Stunning Fist, Ability Focus Stunning Fist.
With this build, every feat starts paying off as soon as you take it. There’s no early investment in Ki Focus Bow. If you play it to the highest levels this’ll be less potent than the One Plan, but if you only tend to play until mid-high levels (as most people do), this may be more attractive for you. Some additional notes:
(1) Dodge: Defensive Combat Training keeps on giving, as discussed, but Dodge is arguably more useful at early levels. Traditionally this is seen as a weak feat, but it’s a shade stronger in Pathfinder, where +1 CMD matters - and as also discussed, CMD matters to you more than most. Taking both feats accelerates the rate at which your defences outrace your foes’ attacks. If it seems overly turtlish to take both, don’t forget that your bonus feats are already taking care of your offence.
(2) Dimensional Agility: again this isn’t a highly rated feat, because (until he takes Quicken Spell) a spellcaster’s dimension door is a standard action. Yours is a move, though, and it becomes an entirely different animal if you can take your standard, swift and attack of opportunity in its wake. By the time you take this, at 13th, you have the ki to use Abundant Step several times per day (19 ki with a couple of liveable-with vows; see later). Abundant-step into a sealed room, through a wall of force and/or adjacent to a foe, and make an unarmed damage vital strike shot as a standard-and-swift. Put stun on that shot from 17th and you’re the envy of ninja everywhere.
- The Reflex Plan : Toughness, (Improved Initiative), Deadly Aim, Combat Reflexes, Defensive Combat Training, Hammer the Gap, Snap Shot, Improved Snap Shot, Dimensional Agility, Stunning Fist, Ability Focus Stunning Fist.
Like the Payback Plan, this one avoids early investment in Ki Focus Bow at the price of being less awesome at the highest levels. Not every feat has maximum immediate impact, though, because the Reflex Plan incorporates a feat tree - Combat Reflexes at 5th, Snap Shot at 11th and Improved Snap Shot at 13th. The downside here is that Snap Shot is redundant: you mimic it with Reflexive Shot at 9th. You also miss out on the synergy of unarmed damage arrows and the Vital Strike feats. On the plus side, you end up threatening to 10’ with your bow, with Combat Reflexes you can make plenty of opportunity attacks, and with Hammer the Gap you can make them count. You take Dimensional Agility so that you can make opportunity attacks after phasing in adjacent to a foe.
That’s it for blueprints. Not seeing your favourite monk feat in these plans? Well, there are alternatives. Some of them interesting, some not as good as they appear at first glance. Here’s an alphabetical run-through:
Cloud Walk: this is often overrated. First off, it simulates air walk , which doesn’t allow direct ascent and leaves you vulnerable to weather and wind effects. Second off, it only gives a maximum speed of 50, which is much the same as you’ll get with an item of flight (not a great expense at these levels). Third, you have to end each round on solid ground, which means you can’t hover - a useful thing for an archer - or bypass significant tracts of terrain. Fourth and not least, Slow Fall will be the first ability you’ll want to lose if you’re allowed to acquire qinggong abilities (for barkskin’s eventual +5 bonus; see later). Basically, this is no substitute for a flight item, and once you have that, this is largely redundant.
Clustered Shots: this isn’t terrible, but it will be less and less useful as you advance and your gear improves, and ultimately it becomes redundant against anything but typeless DR. It’s much better if your GM uses the Massive Damage optional rule, but at high levels he probably won’t.
Devastating Strike: this gives you +8 damage on unarmed bow Improved Vital Strikes, and the extra damage is critiplied. This is a solid choice, but three feats invested in single standard attacks seems to me overkill.
Djinni Style and its elemental counterparts: these end up adding +12 elemental damage to each Elemental Fist arrow shot, if your GM or the errata decide that Ki Focus Bow allows Elemental Fist arrows; each style also gives other minor benefits. The upsides of these feats are obvious, the downsides less so and multiple. First, as with Stunning Fist et al, you only see the archery benefits from 17th level, when Ki Bow kicks in. Second, these styles are all reliant on having Elemental Fist and on that being a ki attack; this isn’t necessarily so at the time of writing. Third, getting both Stunning Fist/Mantis Style and Elemental Fist/an elemental style will take four high level open feats, which means some pre-17th level investment and also means missing out on something - probably Mantis Style, which takes the edge off your stunning arrows, which is actually rather a pity; had One done this, he would have failed Beastmass when he met the solar. Fourth, elemental resistances - and immunities - are everywhere, and by sinking a feat into one energy type you make this an issue for yourself: for example, had One been counting on Marid Style, he would have seen much of the bonus damage lost in encountering two cold immunities and two resist cold 10s in the course of the seven Beastmass fights. Fifth, the style feats are designed to present monks with the dilemma of where to spend the first swift action in combat - which is why One activates Mantis Style only once, maybe twice in seven fights. A swift ki point on unarmed arrow damage gives significant bonusses (+6.5 on each flurry arrow from 15th level with a monk’s robe , +19.5 when using Improved Vital Strike). Sure, 1d6+12 elemental damage trumps this on flurries, but not if it comes up against resistance 10 (at which point it drops to +5.5). Sure again, you can have both Marid Style and unarmed damage going from round two, but - as Beastmass illustrates - many key high level encounters don’t last long enough for that to make a difference. Despite these drawbacks, an elemental style certainly remains a punchy choice if Elemental Fist is admissable as a ki attack - essentially a high level alternative build, with less emphasis on stun and more on raw damage.
Elemental Fist: see discussion elsewhere. I like its energy versatility, but Hammer the Gap still has the edge over it for reasons discussed in that feat entry.
Extra Ki: this is also tempting, but a vow or two give you plenty of bonus ki without feat expenditure (see later).
Quicken Spell Like Ability: with your 17th or 19th level open feat slot, you can take this for Abundant Step. If you’ve taken Dimensional Agility, you can now phase in and make a full flurry. This is pretty scorchio, though your stun DC will suffer, and some GMs may balk at allowing you such an unusual Bestiary feat (it is perfectly core, though).
Shot on the Run: this is fun, but doesn’t give you a standard action attack - thus, you can’t use Vital Strike with it by the book. Your DM’s mileage on this may vary, though, so check. This also applies to Parting Shot, though that’s a less attractive feat.
Touch of Serenity is a much more interesting choice. Unlike the death and stun effects, serenity affects beasts who are immune to criticals (like the shoggoth). As with Elemental Fist, the applicability of this feat to Ki Bow attacks needs clarification.
Wind Stance looks tailor-made for a mobile monk archer, but it’s a trap: it applies against ranged attacks only and requires at least a 10’ move, thus you can’t benefit from it on flurries or on single-shots if you use Pinpoint Targetting (because you can’t move).
One last note on Quivering Palm: none of the big beasts in the sample fights fell to the deadly arrow, so it might seem a waste to even consider Ability Focus for it. Not necessarily, for two reasons. First, a campaign monk isn’t going to face beasts this bad every day of the week: not all villains have critical immunity or regeneration, and there are fewer in Pathfinder, where crit immunity is rarer.
Second, only two of the big beasts above are actually immune to Quivering Palm: the shoggoth (critical immunity) and the tarrasque (endless regeneration). The devil, linnorm and solar can all fall to the death shot - it’s just that One is going solo, and he’s too thick to know how to do it right. Now, if he was in a party, someone clever might take him aside (hello, wizard!) and explain how to do this better - shoot the death shot, then wait until the beast is hit with the Good weapon, cold iron or etcetera that will cancel its regeneration for a round - and then activate Quivering Palm, a free action that can be triggered at any point within the next many days. Invest Ability Focus and do that, and the devil, linnorm and solar all fail their saves and fall to the monk, instantly.
You need three core items: a bow, a belt and a headband. There are two more items you shouldn’t miss: boots of speed and a monk’s robe . Following standard wealth guidelines, you can acquire and upgrade these five items at the following levels, with enough gold left to pick up subsidiaries:
4th: +1 bow (2600gp)
Three notes on pricing here. First, multiple stat boost items are priced at (1+1.5+1.5): you can check this by retropricing the standard items. In other words, all additional enchantments after the first follow the normal rule of 150% cost. Knowing this, you can price out your belt with Strength upgrades running slightly ahead of Dexterity and Constitution.
Second, these bows assume a 14 starting Strength; and third, there are no core rules for increasing the Strength pull of a composite bow. By the book, you’ll have sell your old bow at half price whenever your Strength increases (at 7th, 13th and 15th level, if you follow the plan above). This is an extremely suckitudinous complication. A kind GM might help you out, but brace yourself for some wealth loss if (s)he takes a hard line on this.
Roundabout 18th I think it’s worth considering adding +2 Intelligence to your headband, for another 6000gp, specifically to get Knowledge (Planar), because you’ll see a lot of use for that skill late on. Unless you’re a dwarf, it’s worth adding Dwarvenkind to your belt at the same time. It’ll cost 22,350gp, but the save boosts and Darkvision are worth it.
The bow is pretty straightforward. Straight plus enhancements are absolutely the way to go, not least because they help you overcome DR types. Roundabout 18th you can afford an additional special ability, too. Ghost touch is an asset to most combatants, but you can already turn ethereal if you’re facing incorporeals. I prefer Merciful for a zen archer. The vast majority of creatures will go down to nonlethal damage just as readily as they do to lethal, and having nonlethal at your disposal gives you the choice of taking captives or making kills. If you’re facing undead or constructs you can turn off your mercifulness as a standard action.
You could afford a monk’s robe as early as 8th level, but at that point it’s only getting you +1 AC, +1 CMD and +2 damage - not a bargain for 13,000gp, which is 40% of your standard budget at that point. The robe is a better deal if you wait until 11th level: now it gives you +2 AC, +2 CMD, +4 damage and an extra stun once you take that feat. Obviously you should sell this at 20th level.
Boots of speed are a bargain at 12,000gp. You’ll be spending elsewhere and may decide to wait on these, but note that their extra attack, plus a swift ki point for unarmed bow damage, makes a startling difference to your damage output (you can see this reflected on the table in ‘Zen and the Party’, later, in the entries from 11th level; enhanced Perfect Strike registers at the same point). The extra movement and jump distance are also welcome. If you hoard your cash you can afford both boots and robe at 11th: the two items work very well together with ki.
These five items aside, what else might you buy?
Neck slots present most monks with a dilemma - amulet of mighty fists or natural armour? - but both are exorbitant, and a qinggong zen archer needs neither until late in the day, if ever. The natural armour bonus is welcome if you’re not allowed to take barkskin as a qinggong ki ability, but even then it’s not a priority; the bonus isn’t cheap and doesn’t affect touch AC or CMD. You can easily wait until 15th level before investing in a neck item at all. An option One doesn’t take is the duelling quality on an amulet of mighty fists , which does boost initiative nicely. The advanced material also offers the necklace of ki serenity , but at 16,000gp it’s an expensive way to get a couple of ki points and a bit of extra oomph on dimension door .
You should start investing in a ring of protection early, and much later a ring of evasion will be pleasant to have - but at high levels you also want counterspells stacked on each of these, as the fights above show all too well. This will only cost you an extra 6000gp for each ring, plus whatever the wizard may or may not charge you to place dispels/greater dispels in them. It might be worth buying him some scrolls for emergencies - the caster level of these is unimportant, since the rings make the spells automatic counters.
Eventually flight capability is almost a necessity. In this regard the broom of flying may be an iconic item, but what adventurer would ever consider such an incitement to literal and figurative downfall? What monster (which DM) could resist trying to knock you off your perch? There are boots and cloaks that offer flight at lower prices, with greater fly speeds - and, being slotted, they dispel all fears of being bullrushed into the wide blue yonder.
All the same, a zen archer should consider the broom. By the time you can afford the 17,000gp outlay you shrug off Reflex saves and maneuvers: that leaves you free to weigh up the key advantage of a broom - action economy. You only need to activate your broom once a day: thereafter you’re a standard action to the good in every fight requiring flight. It’s also much cheaper than most slotted flight items, given your needs. Winged boots are okay and wings of flying superb, but you shouldn’t forgo boots of speed or a cloak of resistance for them: combined boots are dear, and a multicloak is prohibitively expensive. Your best alternative to a broom is a carpet of flying . This is 3,000gp dearer for a 5’x5’ model, and offers unlimited air miles, but every gold piece counts, even at 20th, and you’ll have to do without one minor item for this - probably the +2 Intelligence (and associated Knowledge) on your headband.
An efficient quiver is cheap and attractive, but it’s a potential archer trap because it makes such an obvious target for a dispel . You have a bit of Strength and because armour encumbrance isn’t an issue you can already carry all the arrows you’ll ever need, most of them presumably packaged up inside your backpack.
Bracers of archery I’ve discussed previously. You need your GM to allow a shirt (or whatever) of armour to free up your wrists slot, and even then, you need to consider whether the bracers are money well spent. They only merit attention because ranged damage bonusses are hard to come by. If you can’t get them, the +1 attack-skill-check ioun stone is an okay replacement, though you’ll have to forgo a minor item to afford it.
Bracers of armour are unusually priced: at low levels 1000gp for a +1 set is a bargain, but adding juice quickly becomes a major expense and is best left until 15th level or so, when a +5 set is affordable. In the interim, keep a few potions of mage armour handy for special occasions. It costs you 25,000gp to buy a permanent armour bonus better than that you gain from mage armour : at 50gp a vial, you could have potions running for more than two months of 8-hour days before reaching that figure. If you have an arcanist in the party, it might be worth buying a [/i] pearl of power I [/i] and getting a proper mage armour casting per day.
If and when you can fit them in, do also pick up eyes of the eagle . Perception is almost as important as initiative, which is to say that it’s both a skill and a combat statistic. A +5 combat bonus for 2500gp is excellent value.
The advanced Pathfinder material offers up some interesting mundane gear. Do get some blunt arrows - so that you can do nonlethal and bludgeoning at range - and a handful of smoke arrows (situationally useful on foes’ or on allies’ squares) as well as a masterwork backpack to tote all that ammo.
If you’re playing with these, happy hunting: there are several fine choices. From the combat traits Reactionary is solid (+2 initiative), though Killer (+critiplier damage) works well with flurrying and Perfect Strike, and the save bonus traits are all good, if dull. Exile can get you the same +2 initiative with a noncombat trait. Wisdom in the Flesh is a good partner for any of these: from the Religion trait list, this is tied to a LN deity and allows you to select any one physical skill as a class skill and key it to Wisdom. You could go wild with Disable Device - though you’ll be limited to mechanical traps and sabotage - or Sleight of Hand, though a Lawful monk might be a bit limited in exploiting this. You could also choose Fly for an eventual +8 bonus (+5 for Wisdom over Dexterity, +3 for class, though you won’t get a class bonus until you have a means of flying and can invest a rank), or +5 to Acrobatics (and so jump) or Stealth. Not bad for a half-feat.
The Porpentine’s Guide to Zen Archery
This is an exemplary guide to the zen archer monk archetype. I’m not praising my own work: what I mean is that I’m going to present a zen archer as an example, then put him through some high level challenges to show how the class runs and where it ends up. After the fights there’s some discussion and a guide, but I’m going to lead with examples to illustrate the way the zen archer works in play. That’s the plan: on with the show.
One would be a zen archer. Rain and shine since childhood, One has sat at the grotty feet of Ichi, his flea-ridden, novelty-bearded sensei, studying the way of the bow. He’s a slow learner, this One - but now, at last, he’s ready to go forth and bring monastic law (and monastic fleas) to the world.
Many escapades and 19 levels later, One will be ennobled as Lord Ghostslayer and given stewardship of the Nine Kingdoms he calls home...but not yet, not yet. For the moment One is a 1st level human Zen Archer Qinggong monk, built with 20-point buy, and he looks like this:
Name: One. Race: Human. Class/Level: Zen Qinggong Monk 1. Favoured Bonus: H∞.
Age: 25. Height: 6’1”. Weight: 180lbs. Alignment: LN. Pointbuy: 14/14/14/7/17/7 = 20.
Strength 14, Dexterity 14, Constitution 14, Intelligence 7, Wisdom 19, Charisma 7
Traits: Exile, Resilient
Skills: Acrobatics +6 (1 rank, 3 class, 2 stat), Perception+8 (1 rank, 3 class, 4 stat), Stealth +6 (1 rank, 3 class, 2 stat)
Gear (35gp): shortbow (30gp, 2lb), 20 arrows (1gp, 3lb), 20 blunt arrows (2gp, 3lb),
Kobolds quail before him. One improves well with age, though- here he is at 6th, primed to unleash hell:
Name: One. Race: Human. Class/Level: Zen Qinggong Monk 6. Favoured Bonus: H∞. Age: 30. Height: 6’1”. Weight: 180lbs.
Strength 14, Dexterity 14, Constitution 14, Intelligence 7, Wisdom 20 (22), Charisma 7
Traits: Exile, Resilient
The Way of One:
Skills: Acrobatics +11, jump+37 (6 ranks, 3 class, 2 stat/6 class, 20 speed), Perception+15 (6 ranks, 3 class, 6 stat), Sense Motive+10 (1 rank, 3 class, 6 stat), Stealth +10 (5 ranks, 3 class, 2 stat)
Gear (16,000gp): composite str14 longbow+2 (8600gp, 3lb), headband of wisdom+2 (4000gp), ring of protection+1 (2000gp), cloak of resistance+1 (1000gp), 2 potions of mage armour (100gp), 10 smoke arrows (100gp, 10lb), masterwork backpack (50gp, 4lb), 200 arrows (10gp, 30lb), 10 monk’s outfits (50gp, 10lb), 40 blunt arrows (4gp, 6lb), cold iron knuckles (2gp, 1lb), soap (1gp, 2lb), 83gp
Encumbrance (light 66lb): 66lb
Finally, here he is in his pomp at 20th:
Name: One. Race: Human. Class/Level: Qinggong Zen Monk 20. Favoured
Bonus: H∞. Age: 30. Height: 5’. Weight: 130lbs. Alignment: LN. Pointbuy: 14/14/14/7/17/7 = 20.
Str 18 (24), Dex 18 (24), Con 14 (20), Int 7 (9), Wis 28 (34), Cha 7
Speed 90, fly 40
Traits: Exile, Resilient
The Way of One:
Skills: Acrobatics +27, jump+71 (16 ranks, 3 class, 7 stat, 1 luck/20 class, 24 speed), Fly+17 (1 rank, 7 stat, 1 luck, 4 item, 4 man), Heal+16 (3 ranks, 12 stat, 1 luck), Knowledge Planar+20 (20 ranks, -1 stat, 1 luck), Perception+41 (20 ranks, 3 class, 12 stat, 1 luck, 5 item), Sense Motive+17 (1 rank, 3 class, 12 stat, 1 luck), Stealth +30 (19 ranks, 3 class, 7 stat, 1 luck)
Gear (880,000gp): belt of physical perfection+6 & dwarvenkind (166,350gp, 1lb), tome of wisdom+4 (expended, 110,000gp), manual of strength+4 (expended, 110,000gp), manual of dexterity+4 (expended, 110,000gp), composite merciful str24 longbow+5 (73,100gp, 3lb, hardness 15, hp55), vest of armour+8 (64,000gp, 1lb), ring of protection+5 & counterspells (56,000gp; greater dispel 660gp), headband of wis+6 and int+2 (Know: Planar, 42,000gp, 1lb), ring of evasion & counterspells (31,000gp; greater dispel 660gp), greater bracers of archery (25,000gp), cloak of resistance+5 (25,000gp, 1lb), luckstone (20,000gp), broom of flying (17,000gp, 3lb), boots of speed (12,000gp, 1lb), bottle of air (7250gp, 1lb), ioun stone+1 armour (5000gp), eyes of the eagle (2500gp), handy haversack (2000gp, 5lb), 2 ioun torches (150gp), mwk backpack (50gp, 4lb), 300 arrows (15gp, 45lb), cold iron knuckle (2gp, 1lb), 2 weapon cords, 7gp
In the haversack: 20 monk’s outfits (100gp, 20lbs), 2 holy waters (50gp, 2lb), 2 unholy waters (50gp, 2lb), 5 smoke arrows (50gp, 5lb), 40 blunt arrows (4gp, 6lb), soap (1gp, 2lb), waterskin (1gp, 4lb)
Encumbrance (light 266lb): 67lb with broom. Encumbrance for broom (light 200lb): 194lb
At this point One is ready to undertake the Trial of Beastmass , in which he must single-handedly defeat the seven toughest creatures fully detailed in the Bestiary, and do it within two days - that is, with only one rest. Uncommon resilience, extreme offensiveness and a dash of versatility - these are the qualities Beastmass requires. Can the Trial be overcome? Why would One even try? Well, he probably gets a Blue Peter badge or something (please excuse the in-joke for British readers). Anyway, some brief pre-match analysis, also known as ‘bits readers might disagree with’:
Perfect Stun : at 1st level One gains Perfect Strike, which ‘replaces Stunning Fist.’ At 11th level he qualifies for Stunning Fist and takes it. Now, monks get beefed-up versions of various feats, and Stunning Fist is a case in point. Monkhood gives extra stuns as well as an assortment of alternative effects, from fatigue to paralysis. When a zen archer monk takes the feat, does he treat it as a beefy monk feat - does he gain a use per level and the alternative effects?
It’s worth noting that the official online site links Perfect Strike’s replacement of Stunning Fist to the feat, not the class ability. This seems to suggest that zen archers have dormant beef-up class potential, which becomes active when the feat is taken. I’m going to make a judgement call here, though: I think the intention is that One gains a stun per level (as per the feat description) but not the alternate effects (as per the class text). This means that, when he eventually gains Ki Focus Bow, One can shoot stunning arrows but not paralysing ones. Do mark this guide for faq if you think this is a point worth clarifying.
Ki Arrows : at 17th level One gains Ki Focus Bow, and treats ‘all arrows fired from his bow as if they were ki focus weapons, allowing him to use his special ki attacks as if his arrows were unarmed attacks.’
What is a special ki attack? The ki focus weapon quality gives a list, which ‘includes’ ki strike, Quivering Palm and Stunning Fist - but it doesn’t give a definition. This is a shame, because the new material gives us various feats that look like they might well be ki attacks, too. The use of ‘include’ does seem to leave room for additions, but it’s impossible to be sure. For example, several monk archetypes get a beefed-up feat as a straight replacement for Stunning Fist - are these ki attacks? Elemental Fist and Touch of Serenity both look likely candidates. Then too, Ultimate Magic describes ki powers in its treatment of the qinggong archetype - is an offensive ki power a ki attack?
Again I’m going to make a judgement call here for the time being: I reckon the Stunning Fist substitute feats are ki attacks, because they replace a ki attack class ability. To avoid greyzoneness, though, I’m not going to use either Elemental Fist or Touch of Serenity in One’s build. Again, mark this guide for faq if you think a definition of kit attacks would be nice to have.
Deadly Aim : on 07/08/11 Pathfinder released an errata to the effect that, when a monk uses Combat Expertise or Power Attack with flurry, he ‘uses his improved flurrying BAB to determine the effect of these feats.’ This applies equally to Deadly Aim. I’m incorporating this, although it’s worth noting that (a) it’s not a huge change (-2 attack/+4 damage at 20th), (b) it’s not necessarily advantageous to a monk, who doesn’t have attack bonusses out of the wahooly, and (c) it doesn’t change the outcome of any of the Beastmass fights. (I’ll also note that I think this is good errata, but that it’s liable to confuse people, since the monk’s flurrying base attack - +1 per level - isn’t laid out plainly on the monk’s class table, which is where many people will look for it. It would be good if this were made clearer in future printings or versions).
Zen Vows : at 5th level One takes the vows of cleanliness and truth; at 15th level he adds the vow of fasting (‘a monk can take a vow at any level’). Can a zen archer have these? ‘A monk who takes a vow never gains the Still Mind class feature’: zen archers never gain it in the first place. Note, though, that the wording doesn’t say you have to have Still Mind to swap out, and in fact this is careful writing, because ‘any user of ki’ can take a vow - and other users, like the ninja, don’t have Still Mind either. So the zen archer falls into the same category as a ninja here; he doesn’t have Still Mind, and thus has nothing to lose when he avows himself.
Gear : One has a vest of armour , since Pathfinder has no magic slot flavour restrictions: a robe, shirt or vest would fit the bill anyway. This allows him greater bracers of archery . He still misses out on armour and shield slots, of course. He also stacks up some secondary enchantments on their traditional slots, but he pays the 150% secondary rates.
More controversially (in duel terms), One wears two rings of counterspells with greater dispels in them. PCs need magic items, beasts don’t, and at these levels, against at-will greater dispels , item nerf protection is mandatory. He pays for both the rings and spells as normal, of course, and the counterspells are gone for good when they’re expended.
Qinggongness : In place of infinite Slow Fall, One takes barkskin for 1 ki; it lasts 3 hours 20 minutes a pop and gives a +5 natural armour enhancement. By default he simply uses this three times a day at noncombat intervals. He starts off 3 ki down each day to reflect this. He also has restoration (2 ki) in place of Wholeness of Body from 8th, and shadow walk (3 ki) in place of Timeless Body from 17th, though these don’t play much significance in the Trial.
Skills : it won’t matter in the Trial, but I’ll just note here that items built on fly/overland flight give nice bonusses to the Fly skill, just as the spells do, though the items routinely forget to mention half the goodness. One’s broom of flying gives +8 (+4 for half caster level, +4 for good maneuverability). You have a maneuverability, it’s good, you get the bonus.
Fight Rules : no one flees for good - the pride of monkdom and the Bestiary are at stake. Single d20s always result in 10, multiple d20s (like full attacks) go 10-11-9, 10-9-11, and repeat. Threats kick in when the percentages from hits (not misses) build up to 60% within or over rounds (eg. 12 basic /20x2 hits would offer one threat and confirmation). Strictly mathematically speaking, multiple 20x2 threats don’t produce exact 5% threat chances, apparently, but for a game guide I reckon a flat 5% per pip will do. If there’s a decisive close call I’ll flag it. Rough but simple...
Or nearly so. One has Hammer the Gap, which adds a cumulative +1 damage to hits on a successful run of shots. This damage is critiplied, which means he does more damage on a critical if it occurs later on in his flurry routine. To keep this fair (and conservative), I’m going to add the following rider: if One crits during a full attack, it occurs on the first shot if he hits once or twice, the second shot if he hits three/four times, the third shot if he hits five/six times, and the fourth shot if he hits with seven or all eight attacks.
One’s Attacks : it’ll save time to deconstruct these now. Throughout the trial, One either flurries with his bow or shoots as a standard action. He always uses Deadly Aim, and he has his merciful bow set to nonlethal by default.
On the default flurry he activates his boots for haste (free action), spends 1 ki on unarmed arrow damage (swift action), uses Perfect Strike - which gives a 30% threat chance on one shot (actually 29.95%, apparently) - and attaches up to two Su or Ex abilities to the best shots - Quivering Palm and Stunning Fist. This is bow attack option no.5 on the 20th level sheet above. If he thinks stunning is better than raw damage he activates Mantis Style on his first turn, which takes up his swift action and so prohibits unarmed damage that round.
If he’s limited to a standard shot, by default One uses Pinpoint Targetting, Improved Vital Strike, Perfect Strike, Quivering Palm (subsequently Stunning Fist), and spends one ki point again for unarmed damage. He doesn’t bother activating the boots on single shots. Mantis Style is again an option, if he has reason to prefer stunning to damage. Pinpoint Targetting means he can’t move in the same round, so he has to forgo it now and then. Pinpoint Targetting and the vital strike work together because the first is a standard attack action, and the second can be tagged on ‘when you use the attack action’ (which is to say, a standard action used for an attack). If they were both standard actions they wouldn’t combine, but as written they do. This is bow option no.2 on the 20th level zen archer above. Okay, buckle up, here we go.
On the First Day of Beastmass (Dawn): One vs the Shoggoth
Perturbed by the trials ahead, One leaves bright and early to see a smart friend, a merman monk - but One is hardly smart himself, being minmaxed, and gets his days mixed up, departing on the first day of Beastmass itself. He’s cruising along through the sunbeamy sea on his trusty broom, taking nips of air from his bottle every four minutes, bow in hand, when he detects a disturbance in the currents and something vast hoves into view. Avast! It is the dread shoggoth, the first of One’s adversaries.
The ocean has 90’ visibility, and this is good for the shog (a nice charge distance) so we’ll use it as the start point. Everyone has smashing Perception, no one is surprised. The shog has +11 Initiative, but One goes first. Also the ocean is studded with tiny harmless jellyfish just where the fight occurs, so everything has normal concealment beyond 20’, which the shog ignores through tremorsense... though in fact One does too, courtesy of Improved Precise Shot. Also, One is half out of air when the fight kicks off: he has 20 rounds, and loses an extra round each time he attacks. The shoggoth is only a CR19, so we’re trying to stack some chips in its favour here.
Ding-ding, round one: One doesn’t shoot, because the water imposes a minus 34 penalty on ranged attacks - bummer. He does ready his pinpoint vital shot when the ooze comes within 5’.
Shog’s turn: it begins its Maddening Cacophony (free action), and charges 90’, trampling. One saves against the cacophony (on a 2), saves against the trample (on a 9) and evades. Is he engulfed? No, because he isn’t trampled - and even if he was (it’s a close save, after all) the shog would need to make a grapple check (as if Swallowing Whole), for which it requires a natural 20. In the meantime One’s readied shot goes off: it hits on a 2 and does 50 nonlethal after DR (oozes aren’t immune to nonlethal). The shoggoth is on 283 hp but immediately heals to 293hp (it’s only nonlethal damage, of course, but the distinction is irrelevant here). One acts immediately before it next round.
Round two: One goes for the Full Monty flurry, haste and all. He hits seven times for 248 nonlethal damage after typeless DR. The shoggoth is immune to the Quivering Palm, the stun and the criticals that One would normally threaten, but it’s on 45hp. What else does it have up its soggy sleeve?
Not enough. The shoggoth fast-heals 10 hp again, but the truth is it can’t hurt the monk. It needs natural 20s to slam or succeed on maneuvers. One saves against the cacophony and saves and evades the trample: we could rule that he fails a save against the latter, since it’s borderline, but he can survive it and won’t be engulfed. The shog can’t flee in this fight and has no ranged ability. Engulf is its trump, and since it’s none too bright, it’s going to fast-heal and try that again. One reduces it to unconscious primeval sludge in 3 rounds (conservatively) and kills it stone dead with a few more rounds of unmerciful flurries thereafter. 6 ki (including the day’s natural armour) and 2 charges of the boots of speed used, and the Quivering Palm wasted, but job done!
On the First Day of Beastmass (Noon): One vs the Balor
One falls unconscious and wakes to find himself on his damp broom, in a charred cavern, 10’ by 10’ and 100’ high, lit by guttering candles. As he explores there is a sound like the shrieking of flensed souls and the towering balor appears in midair before him! The combatants are 10’ apart, One wins initiative, but we’ll say the demon gets a surprise round, because I don’t want Beastmass to come down to initiative. The Balor is big on brains, so we’ll say he’s done his homework on One, too, and we’ll do it for him now.
The balor is a SMACC - a Spellcaster on a Mighty Awesome Combat Chassis. He’s pretty offensive toe-to-toe, but his real strengths are his spell-likes - implosion, fire storm, at-will greater dispel and dominate , quickened telekinesis , and the CR17 marilith he can summon. Boojah!
Actually, none of this is going to work on One and the balor knows it. The offensive spell-likes need 10s to go through One’s Spell Resistance (which equals success for the balor, per fight rules), but One then saves on a 2 against anything. Telekinesis fails against One’s AC, CMD and saves, and the marilith is a one-round road-bump - she can’t hit or grapple the monk barring natural 20s, and One’s flurry hits her seven times and crits once for 408 nonlethal damage, which doesn’t do wonders for her health.
Worse, the balor knows it can’t touch One physically. It too needs natural 20s to succeed on all maneuver checks (telekinetic or otherwise), and ditto on attack rolls. It needs consecutive natural 20s to slay One with its vorpal weapons. If One was a normal monk he might take fire damage when flurrying, but that’s someone else’s problem. The balor can’t bullrush One off the broom, or sunder his bow, or disarm it, or telekinese it, or get One in a grapple where he can’t shoot and gets burned. The balor can’t even quick-telekinese itself a tower shield out of some conveniently handy steel plate, because it happens to know that One can shoot around total cover for 3 ki a round.
So what can the demon do?
Plan A: targetted greater dispels at will against One’s gear (area dispels won’t work on items). Per fight rules it’ll succeed against One’s SR and will easily succeed on dispel checks against the bow, belt and headband (on a 7, 6 and 2), which it has identified as One’s key items. Unfortunately, the balor also knows that One wears two rings which will automatically counter its first two greater dispels , but still, this plan has merit. It’d be better if the balor could sunder the suppressed bow, but that won’t be an option... curses...
Plan B: if the balor can do 83 damage, it can use power word stun - no save - but it’s going to have the devil of a time doing that much damage.
Finally - Plan C - the balor can just make full attacks, hoping for vorpal strikes. It gets seven chances a round, but the likelihood of getting consecutive 20s is miniscule.
The balor goes for Plan A. The greater dispel bounces but one ring of counterspells is emptied. For pride’s sake, the demon uses quickened telekinesis to throw up a mass of cave rubble between One and itself, but the rubble is cover, not total cover, and the monk ignores it (Improved Precise Shot).
Round One, One’s turn: he flurries. He hits five times, critting once, for 306 nonlethal. The balor saves against the stun (on a 9) but has 64hp remaining, and is unconscious unless it can stop One shooting next round, which it can’t (it can’t flee, has no healing or buffing to make teleport a viable temporary retreat and it can’t hide from the perceptive monk). Next round it gets porcupined and, some ki-less-, haste-less flurries thereafter, explodes in a blinding flash of demonic fire, but One saves against it (on a 6) and evades. 7 ki and 3 haste used so far...
On the First Day of Beastmass (Dusk): One vs the Pit Fiend
Again One passes out, but doesn’t wake to find himself free - he’s still in the cavern, though the candles have gone out and it appears altered when he explores, 60’ by 60’ by 60’. Maybe this is a different hellhole?
Anyway, bummer. He could turn ethereal or (possibly) shadow walk his way out of here, but instead he waits for his next Beastmass beast, meditating on his ioun torches . Suddenly a gate opens, its hinges weeping blood, and the indomitable force that is the pit fiend steps into the darkness. The combatants are 50’ apart, One has darkvision, but the devil wins initiative for real.
Round One: the fiend may be the smartest beast in the Bestiary, so we’ll give it advanced knowledge.
Like the balor, the pit fiend is a SMACC. Its combat chassis is less offensive but better defensively, and its spellcasting is superior - it has wish . It can also summon a CR16 horned devil, but it has no silver bullets that’ll shoot down zen archers. For starters, the fiend is (surprisingly) only Caster Level 18, and so needs a 12 to overcome One’s Spell Resistance. It’ll fail that check under fight rules, but then One will make all his saves on 2s anyway. The horned devil won’t hit and will go down in a round (Perfect Strike gives seven hits, with one crit, for 408 nonlethal). The fiend has some touch spells ( scorching ray and the initial portion of meteor swarm ) but the ranged touch attacks fail against both SR and AC; and like the balor, the fiend needs natural 20s to hit One with melee attacks or maneuvers. Its poison, disease and constrict are useless. So what can it do?
Plan A: targetted dispels. It’s heard its demonic opposite tried this and failed, though. Damn those slightly cheesy rings! It could cast invisibility and a persistant image of itself to gain time, but the monk’s range mean the illusion will only buy off one bowshot, and the invisibility will fail as soon as the devil targets One’s attended items with a dispel.
Plan B: wish for the worst.
The fiend likes the second option. It wishes .
Our zen archer plays by the book (rings aside), so ditto the beasts (initiative aside): the devil can do anything on the normal wish list. Destruction will do 35 damage on a save, the humble true strike more next round if the fiend survives that long, since it could then Vital bite for 57 (after One’s DR is applied) - but a chunk of damage is no good if the devil can’t follow up. Summon monster viii is nothing but a round of unhelpful flanking. Waves of exhaustion? The monk’s SR will nerf it, and anyway, the fiend happens to know One has restoration ; besides, he’d still be able to use his bow at a flat -2 penalty. Wind wall? The monk will just run into it, or fly into it, or shoot up the apertures at the top or bottom of the cylinder...
(Point of law for zen archers to remember and mention in a non-confrontational manner if and when necessary: a wind wall has to be vertical. Not horizonal, not diagonal. The fiend could make it a cylinder or square, but not a cube or a cone. This means it can’t close off the top or bottom with arrow-negating wind. In the cave the bottom might be closed by rock, but there is likely a 10’ wide aperture at the top: were One up there, he’d be looking down a 90’ wind tunnel at the devil. For a 3rd level spell this is still a formidable obstacle to archers...but it’s not the 100% arrow-negator it’s sometimes presented as being.)
...But wait! The diabolical genius has a better plan - deeper darkness . As a devil it has See in Darkness. The monk may have darkvision, but he can only overcome supernatural darkness if he has daylight or the like - which he lacks - and despite appearances the pit fiend is horribly quiet (Stealth+28) and its spell-likes are silent. In deeper darkness it can throw quickened fireballs and get dispels off unseen while flying around. It can nerf One’s belt and for two rounds and he’ll be at -6 on all physical stats, which means -60 hp, -3 AC, saves and CMD, -2 bow attack and -3 damage; then it can take out his headband, for another -3 bow attack, Will, Perception and AC, and then ...
Muahaha. The ioun torches wink out: the entire cavern goes utterly black. The devil flies up 30’, using Stealth, and ends its surprise round with a quickened fireball for the hell of it, but One evades (on a 2). One gets a reactive Perception check as the devil moves, or perhaps as the fireball pellet whirrs towards him; either way, his result (51) beats the fiend’s Stealth result (46 with distance): he has pinpointed its squares.
Still Round One: One’s first turn. The fiend is 50’ away laterally and 30’ up. One can’t see it, but he knows the squares it occupies.
He flurries. He spends 2 ki to ignore the total concealment miss chance for one round (swift action) and hits five times (because of Perfect Strike), critting once, for 254 nonlethal damage - a reduced figure, because he lacks the swift action to gain unarmed arrow damage and is also beyond Point Blank Shot range. (Note that there’s no rule to stop him using ki twice a round - what he lacks here are two swift actions).
The fiend is down to 96 virtual hp, but it’s irrelevant, because One has Stunning Fist on the first arrow and the pit fiend needs a 16 to save. (It would need a 14 to beat Quivering Palm, were it available, though it wouldn’t die because its regeneration is still functioning this round). It’s stunned, with or without One’s Ability Focus or Mantis Style. He flurries again next round without hasting , rendering the fiend unconscious, then kills it with some hasteless, ki-less flurries, because his +5 bow overcomes Good DR. If you rule that he needs an actual Good weapon or spell to stop the regeneration, then he repeatedly coup-de-graces the unconscious form to a mulch of minus-whatever-you-like with his hundreds of arrows, eventually realises the regenerating gobbets need something more, pours holy water on the sizzling goujons, then flurries again. He’s used the boots of speed 4 out of 10 times, has used 5 of 20 Perfect Strikes, 5 of 21 Stunning Fists, and has expended 11 of 33 ki points.
On the First Day of Beastmass (Night): One vs the Tarn Linnorm
At last One is transported away from the Charred Caverns. He finds himself on a mossy bank, with the moon sailing overhead and a dark mountain lake winking at his feet... quite charming, really. But wait, what’s this? Warship-sized ripples arrow none-too-stealthily towards him and, as he draws his bow, a mighty two-headed drake breaks the surface, sending arcs of spray moonwards: lo! It is the tarn linnorm, and it means business. Everyone ignores the low light on attack rolls, no one is surprised, and One goes first - but that’s going to be dull, so let’s give the linnorm a turn because of its sheer awesomeness.
Round one: the linnorm may be the only creature in the Bestiary bar the tarrasque that has a realistic hope of sticking a combat maneuver on the zen monk: on a 17 it can grapple him. It still needs natural 20s to hit him on melee attacks, though, so the grapple would be a standard action with a minimal chance of success - and anyway, the cunning-but-brutish linnorm believes it has better options. As a full round action it raises its twin heads and breathes two titanic overlapping cones of acid, for 44d8 damage, with 4d6 Strength damage to follow next round...except there’s a DC32 Reflex save against each breath weapon, and One makes them on 5s and evades them both.
One’s turn: he flurries. Five hits, one crit, for 306 nonlethal. The linnorn is on 79 virtual hp, but the opening arrows hit on 2s. The linnorm fails its Will save (it needs a 14), wouldn’t die if Quivering Palm were available (because it’s regenerating this round), but is stunned. One strikes it into unconsciousness next round without haste or a ki point and kills it soon thereafter, because his +5 bow overcomes cold iron DR, and so stops the beast regenerating (though you might rule he needs an actual cold iron weapon, in which case he eventually smacks the arrow-riddled drake with his knuckles). Its Curse of Death falls on One (DC29 Will) but he shrugs it off effortlessly, scratches at a monastic flea (their jump skills are most impressive) and settles down to supper. It’s only tofu, but he’s taken no damage all day so he rewards himself with an extra chunk.
On the Second Day of Beastmass (Dawn): One vs the Ancient Gold
One wakes early and flies up to watch for trouble. He’s 100’ up on his broom, crosslegged, bow athwart his knees, when he perceives the dragon of dragons (well, at least of those fully detailed). The dawn skies are clear and our doughty archer isn’t caught unawares - he sees sun glancing off the gargantuan shining drake at 640’ (maximum sight distance 840’, the average for plains), and at that distance the gold perceives him only on a 20. For the first time we have a favourable surprise situation - though in actual play, in open settings, a hyper-perceptive zen archer can expect these fairly often. One even has the luxury of standing and waiting a round before attacking.
Surprise Round: One single shots. Distance gives him a -10 penalty, but Pinpoint Targetting negates every shred of scaly armour the gold has. It goes from AC39 to AC5 and One hits on a 2 for 59 nonlethal damage. The gold saves against death, but the monk wins initiative.
Round 1: One single-shots again and this time he crits for 130. The dragon isn’t stunned and is on 188hp.
The ancient’s turn. It roars, contorts its vast sinuous coils, and heals to 338 virtual hp ( heal gets it back 150 hp a time; it can cast the spell up to a dozen times). Impudent human! Still, the dragon is smart and its Beastmass quarry is somewhat pricklier than it anticipated. Having healed it sensibly considers its options. Let’s go through it, since One is going to win and it’s going to be a long and repetitive fight. The salient points are;
A: One can always hit the gold. Even if it teleports away and buffs to AC51, the zen archer can use Pinpoint Targetting to take a shot a round against AC9, which he’ll make on a 2 at anywhere up to 640’; and he’ll crit with every other single shot, for 189 nonlethal every two rounds. If the dragon doesn’t buff but stays beyond Point Blank range, One can still flurry and hit five times (with Perfect Strike) at up to 110’, critting once, for 298 damage, or three times at up to 480’, using ki for range and doing 107 a round if he doesn’t crit, 172 if he does (50% chance on first such long distance flurry, 100% on second).
B: The gold needs 17s to hit One in melee. Even if it teleports away and buffs, it can’t get a melee bonus greater than +39 and still needs 14s to hit. The gold’s breath weapons are also useless: One saves and evades the fire (on a 4) and makes the Fortitude save to entirely avoid the weakening breath (with a 7). (I think the Bestiary has an error on the ancient gold’s cone breath range, by the way; it should be 60’, not 120’). Combat maneuvers aren’t viable either (natural 20s needed); nor are offensive plane shifts (One saves on 2s).
C: At some point in this long fight One is going to think about putting up Mantis Style. He’ll do less damage that round, but his stun DC will go up to 36 thereafter. The gold needs a 12 for that, will fail, fall out of the sky for a bit of damage, and will start the next turn prone and probably still within One’s vast range. Since this is a borderline fight-changing save, we’ll say the gold saves against every other stun once Mantis Style goes up, but the stunned rounds are still going to mess it up badly - not least because it reduces it to moving on the ground, while One hovers 100’ above it.
D: The gold has basic dispel magics , which might circumvent One’s rings if you want to rule it that way, but the dragon only has a Caster Level of 15 with its true spells. This means it needs a 12 to nullify One’s belt, his most crucial item. The dragon might eventually nullify the bow for 2 rounds (it needs an 11, so it’ll take two castings to do this using the multiple d20 fight rule; it might quicken to cast twice in a round) and it can easily nerf the headband or broom - but these things aren’t crucial to One. He still bypasses the dragon’s DR/magic (his arrows are Supernaturally ki focus weapons, and gain that quality whenever he shoots) and he still hits with Pinpoint Targetting; he also hits with three attacks of his flurry at up to 160’ with his dispelled bow.
E: The gold has antimagic field , which will take some sting out of One’s arrows, but if it uses this it can’t cast heal - which it has to do repeatedly and urgently, because One is always doing significant damage.
F: The gold has up to 12 uses of heal ; 7 sixth level slots, 5 seventh level ones. This could keep it feeling moderately chipper for about 10 rounds at 150hp healing a pop, assuming it casts no quickened dispel magics . The thing is, this takes up the dragon’s rounds and slots, and One has 30 ki points post- barkskin and only needs one each round, to spend either on unarmed damage or on increased range. Eventually the dragon is reduced to cure moderate wounds if it wants to heal. Each cure heals 19hp, which doesn’t remotely counter One’s damage, and the dragon can’t quicken these, because it has run out of higher level slots.
The gold’s only other significant ability is geas/quest . This is lethal - no save, and CL26 to counter Spell Resistance - but it has a 10 minute casting time.
The upshot is that One looks like he might take his first Beastmass damage when the dragon dispels his broom, but actually the broom uses overland flight , which uses fly , which means the broom descends gracefully and the drop deals no harm. And that’s all the dragon has. One slays the earthbound gold with an arrow to the eye roundabout round 10 from 110’ altitude. He hasn’t used his boots of speed on the Pinpointed single shots, but he’s probably still used 5 of 10 hastes , 13 of 33 ki (including barkskin ), 10 of 20 Perfect Strikes, 10 of 21 Stunning Fists, and his Quivering Palm. Game on!
On the Second Day of Beastmass (Noon): One vs the Solar
How to kill angels? It ain’t easy, that’s for sure - and One is aware of that, because despite being on the thick side, he has Knowledge (Planar). He knows this is the Bestiary’s best shot at a win. The solar - a CR23 SMACC healer-buffer par excellance - is facing off against one measly 20th level human, so we’re not going to let it buff ahead of time. It will do that as soon as it feels threatened, though, because it’ll plane shift to Heaven, magic up to the hilt, then use miracle to plane shift back and wish to greater teleport to the battlefield. Buffed, it defeats One in a dozen rounds, courtesy of DR15/epic, regeneration 15, copious healing, holy aura (+4 all saves), limitless CL20 greater dispels , and the deadly downwards spiral of the power words blind, stun and kill. In short, One has to defeat the solar before it gets a standard action off.
One is transported to the angel’s earthly residence, which is a rustic cottage surrounded by heavenly gardens. The solar is tending its sunflowers. The monk approaches on his broom, flying through the earth 5’ under the angel’s vineyards, ethereal (3 ki) and unperceived, because although the angel’s true seeing spots ethereality, it doesn’t penetrate solid objects. One creeps about, making auditory Perception checks through a foot of earth to hear the solar’s secateurs (results of 51 are eventually good enough), then rises up close or adjacent to the solar (5’ step) and comes out of ethereality (dismissing is a standard action which doesn’t provoke. This is One’s surprise round). Everyone perceives everyone. One goes first.
He activates Mantis Style and flurries. He hits only with the first three shots, doesn’t threaten, doesn’t do unarmed damage (no swift action left) and doesn’t overcome the angel’s epic DR, so that’s a paltry 66 nonlethal. The solar is still on 297 nonlethal hp, but it fails against the stun - it needs a 13 now the monk is making like a mantis. Since this is pretty borderline and a fight-changer I’m going to ignore fight rules and say the angel saves against every third stunning arrow.
Solar’s turn. It’s stunned, but still regenerates to 312 hp.
One’s turn. He flurries against a stunned AC40. With unarmed damage back online again, he hits four times (because of Perfect Strike) and crits once (50% chance from last round, 60% chance this round). That’s a better 196 nonlethal after epic DR, and the angel (116 virtual hp) is stunned for a second time: it still regenerates to 131hp.
One’s turn - and in fact two failed stuns are all he needs. He flurries, hits four times, crits once, and does another 196 nonlethal after DR. The angel is unconscious on minus 65 virtual hp and regenerates to minus 50. One stops expending ki and haste, flurries the carcass awhile longer, then finally gets with the programme, pours unholy water on the divine remnants, flurries some more, rinses and repeats. ‘There can be only One,’ he murmurs contemplatively, as he takes the dead solar’s bow as a memento.
(On the other hand, maybe the angel makes its second save. I think it’s slightly unlikely, but I’m no mathematician and if it does, that’s the only chance a solar requires. It 5’ steps back and vanishes, then reappears fully healed and buffed 12 rounds later, majestically ready to avenge the mortal’s insult. With a buffed AC of 49 and a Will save of +27 it beats the stun on a 9, heals damage almost as fast as One can inflict it (Pinpoint Targetting nets him one hit and one crit every two rounds against AC16 for an averaged 50 damage a round, after DR and regeneration) and once it dispels One’s belt it has him in range of the power words . Our doughty zen archer is stuffed.)
We’ve still got the big guy for One to fight, though, so let’s get a breath of life in him and on with the show, eh?
On the Second Day of Beastmass (Dusk): One vs the Tarrasque
One has 1 charge of haste , 17 ki points, 6 Perfect Strikes and 8 stuns left for his last fight. He goes first. He flurries, he hits (openers on 2s), he stuns (the tarrasque needs a 20 to save). One spends the next few rounds pumping stunning flurries into the beast, followed by about 340 coup-de-grace vital-strike arrows, reducing the tarrasque to about minus 16,000 virtual hp (taking into account DR and regeneration, obviously), which gives him all the time he needs to shovel the machinegunned remains into four bags of holding he’s hired for the day, then turn ethereal (3 ki) and dump them out on the Ethereal Plane, where the beast drives all ghosts to extinction over the course of a decade, then starves into a permanent coma (because regeneration can’t heal starvation damage).
In recognition of his services to the multiverse, One the Zen Archer is awarded the title Lord Ghostslayer and stewardship of the Nine Kingdoms he calls home, where he lives happily ever after.
So the solar was only a narrow victory. Still, One put on a rather good show, didn’t he? Can a wizard or cleric beat Beastmass? Can a paladin or barbarian? How many builds can do it without taking a single point of damage? Let’s look at why One does well, and then consider some build points.
As Lightbulb notes, the zen archer is pretty good defensively - better than you might think at first glance.
This is because (a) he can invest much more deeply in Wisdom than most monks, and this affects all his armour types, as well as CMD, and (b) he gets ten bonus feats, of which nine can and should be invested in offense (because he can ignore all prerequisites that way). (in fact he gets more than that, because Reflexive Shot is Snap Shot by any other name, and of course his bow flurry is a virtual Rapid Shot feat chain in itself).
This leaves Lyu with almost more open slot feats than he knows what to do with. Archery's covered by the bonusses, so where to burn them all?
Defense is a great option, because the zen archer already has a bunch of class abilities that allow him to linger in melee. By dropping a fair share of open slot feats into defense, the zen archer ends up being able to ignore most melee threats, which means he doesn't have to scurry back behind the tanks, which means he gets off more flurries...which makes him better offensively.
One of these days I'll get round to doing a proper zen archer guide :)
Just a side note...
I'd be keen to know all that.
My sense has been that rolling 2d20 and having to use the lower roll to confirm must reduce the chance of confirmation - but very slightly, and in a hard to pin down way.
Three rolls, with one of two lower discards to confirm...my gut feeling is that this raises the chance of confirmation, and not so slightly, either - two rolls are two rolls, after all.
So imp Perfect Strike is a much better deal than basic PS. Basic improves attacks and threats but very slightly at the expense of confirmation. Advanced PS improves all three, especially since the zen archer can gain Improved Crit as the same level.
None that I've seen. I haven't built one myself, though, as I kind of expect it to be corrected. It'd still be interesting to see how one compares. If you want to compare it to Lyu, he's 15th level, built with normal wbl and 20pb.
Losses at a glance: -6.5 damage per arrow from base dice (d8 vs 2d10), dimension door, quivering palm, slow fall (which Lyu turns into Barkskin, so a sohei would want to be losing something else)
Gains: +4 bow attack and damage from Weapon Training and gloves of duelling
Petty Alchemy wrote:
I like putting Monkey Style on Zen Archers. To better troll enemy archers.
I think Mantis Style is better at high levels, though, which is why Lyu has 3 ranks of Heal already in place. At 17th he takes Ability Focus (Stunning Fist, or stunning attack, if you prefer) and at 19th Mantis Style. With both feats, he has a DC36 stun at 20th when he decides to expend a swift action on it. This is about as high as DCs get at 20th level - I think a wizard gets the same on one spell with all feats and whatnot attached, and there's one beast in the Bestiary that can also muster a DC36.
You've got Lyu's sheet up here, RD, if you want to check. They're plenty high enough for the average CR15 AC30, and Lyu is getting a greater chance to threaten regardless, because his first arrow is at 30%. You asked if someone could post an archer with greater than 150 damage at 15th: Lyu is that archer. Indeed, the chances are solid that he gets a crit each round, and he does well over 200 then (232 with six hits of which one crits, iirc).
Have a look at Lyu's feats, too. He gets substantially more than Dayer at 15th, just as he will at any other level bar 20th. He gets almost all the archery feats he'll ever want, most of them 'for free' (ie as monk feats/class abilities; not really free at all, of course), several of them before they're available to a fighter (and very nice the likes of Point Blank Master, Improved Precise Shot and Pinpoint Targetting are, too). Improved Snap Shot would be nice, but Lyu could have taken that (and Combat Reflexes) had he really wanted it. I considered it. Greater Focus/Specialisation would be good too, of course, but the zen archer more than makes up the damage with 2d10 arrows and extra attacks.
I'll say again, too, that not having Point Blank Master is a bit of a loss for Dayer. What do you do when someone closes him down?
Which brings us back to the relevance of Lyu's AC, and of positioning.
Here's the thing. Lyu doesn't care about positioning. He doesn’t incur, he ignores cover, he doesn’t get hit. He’s not a conventional tank: he’s more of a sci-fi hovertank, being so mobile. Nothing much damages him, and nothing much can stop him getting off a full attack.
Evil Badguy looses his huge battlebeast: it charges Lyu the zen archer, closing him down. Does Lyu have to draw his longsword, or withdraw? No, sir: Lyu avoids the charge and flurries seven arrows into the battlebeast’s face, hitting six times, critting once, for 232 damage.
Evil Badguy commands his minions to surround Lyu. Lyu ignores them. They can’t hit him, grapple him, or sunder his bow, and he can shoot Badguy through their soft cover, without penalty, without incurring.
Evil Badguy casts domination, Lyu saves. Badguy casts black tentacles, Lyu wades through them unharmed. Badguy casts fog cloud, deeper darkness, invisibility; Lyu ignores them. Badguy raises a wall of force: Lyu drops the last minion with 51 damage (with almost a 1-in-3 chance of threatening 153), then dimension doors through the wall, or turns ethereal and earthwalks under it. Badguy flees, Lyu increases his range and shoots him down.
Why does Lyu need the Vital Strike feats? Partly for the latter eventuality: he has two excellent mobility options that take up a move action. In either case he can use a standard attack beforehand. Partly also for surprise rounds, which, with high initiative and Perception, Lyu gets often. With a potential 153 damage - and stun, from 17th level - he can decide many battles before the normal rounds have even begun.
The zen archer’s two niches:
(1) Battlefield Uncontroller. The wizard controls the battlefield by placing obstacles, whether of flesh, force or arcane energy. The zen archer ignores them. He can make full attacks against his deadliest foes, regardless of their defensive tactics.
(2) Hovertank. The zen archer has a tank’s AC. To this he adds a monk’s saves and CMD, touch AC, and Spell Resistance. He can suck up not only conventional attacks, but also combat maneuvers and the spells, spell likes and supernaturals that are the banes of fighters. None of this mires him in melee. He can still shoot anywhere he wants, with or without moving to get there.
If all you're comparing is feats, then the zen archer gets more than the fighter all the way from 1st to 19th level. At 20th a human fighter has 22 to a human zen archer's 21. This doesn't include the monk's ranged flurry, which is equivalent to an entire ranged feat tree in itself - one the core fighter can't access. The hidden feats - monk bonusses and 'class abilities' - are one of several reasons the zen archer is excellent.
As to whether AC is relevant - yes, I think it is. Look at Lyu: he can be up there in melee, giving flanking bonusses (courtesy of monastic unarmed headbutts), sucking up attacks, and nothing much can touch him. He doesn't incur, he doesn't fail saves, he doesn't get hit, he doesn't get maneuvered. He only gets better at this from here on in.
And re the Vital Strike feats - they're giving Lyu 51 damage with a standard action, 153 on a crit, and with 3 attack rolls, two confirmation rolls and a 19-20 threat range, he has a regular chance of seeing that. In addition, in two levels he'll be attaching Stunning Fist to this, with a sky-high DC. So, for example: surprise round stunning Improved Vital Strike, foe does zilch, then Lyu finishes it off with a flurry against stunned AC.
Dayer is a tidy package, for sure, but what I wanted to illustrate here is that (a) zen archers are much more offensive than you might expect, and (b) they're defensively so strong that nothing much can touch them.
On the offense side, I'll just reiterate that Lyu does 203 damage to Dayer's 177 (with Hammer the Gap and his boots active) when all attacks hit, and more on a standard too.
The only mistake I can see in my post above is that Dayer gets three uses per day of his reroll, and it applies to any archery roll. Fifteen improved Perfect Strikes is still superior to that.
The best archer, at almost any level you care to mention, is the zen archer.
15th level isn't particularly favourable, but Ravingdork posts a solid fighter archer at that level way up above (Dayer) - and presents him beautifully too - so here's a zen archer at that level for direct comparison. Note that Lyu is built with 20pb, Dayer with (as far as I can tell) 26pb.
Name: Lyu. Race: Human. Class/Level: Qinggong Zen Monk 15. Favoured Bonus: H∞. Age: 30. Height: 5’. Weight: 130lbs.
Strength: 14 (18). +4
Hit Points: 161
Base Attack: +11/+6/+1 Base Flurry: +13/+13/+8/+8/+3/+3
Traits: Resilient, Wisdom in the Flesh (Fly)
The Way of Zen:
Acrobatics +22 (15 ranks, 3 class, 4 stat)
Gear (240,000gp): belt of physical perfection+4 (64,000gp, 1lb), composite str18 longbow+5 (50,800gp, 3lb), headband of wisdom+6 (36,000gp, 1lb), bracers of armour+5 (25,000gp), ring of protection+3 (18,000gp), cloak of resistance+4 (16,000gp, 1lb), monk’s robe (13,000gp, 1lb), boots of speed (12,000gp, 1lb), ioun stone+1 armour (5000gp), masterwork backpack (50gp, 4lb), 10 monk’s outfits (50gp, 10lbs), 1 holy water (25gp, 1lb), 1 unholy water (25gp, 1lb), 2 smoke arrows (20gp, 2lb), 300 arrows (15gp, 45lb), 40 blunt arrows (4gp, 6lb), cold iron knuckles (2gp, 1lb), soap (1gp, 2lb), waterskin (1gp, 4lb), 7gp
I’m going to split the comparison into three parts: defense, offense and out of combat.
Defensively Lyu is streets ahead, as a monk should be. Dayer doesn’t get his buckler bonus when he’s shooting, since a bow takes two hands to use, so Lyu’s AC is 14 higher than Dayer’s when they’re both archering (43 to 29). This is the difference between a CR17 marilith needing 19s or 5s to rip either dude to shreds. Lyu’s touch AC is 13 higher, and his flatfooted AC is 14 higher (the buckler being valid there). Dayer is also lacking Point Blank Master, and so incurs with bowshots. Lyu’s saves are not only better across the board (5, 3 and 12 higher), but notably more consistent: like all fighters, Dayer comes up short on Will. Against a CR15 neothelid, Dayer needs a 15 to avoid instant bleeding unconsciousness: Lyu needs a 3. And again, Lyu is well ahead on CMD (52 to 42/50 sunder), which is important here - archers are vulnerable to both grapple and sunder. For example, the neothelid needs 8s to hit Dayer midcombat, and 9s to grapple and then swallow him whole; it needs natural 20s to hit Lyu, and 19s to grapple him. Lyu also has Spell Resistance 25, a smidgeon of healing, and the ability to gain +4 AC, touch AC and CMD with one of his 21 ki points (3 of which he always spends on 7½ hours of barkskin, incidentally). Finally, Lyu has 161 HP to Dayer’s 145, and the monk has the AC and saves to defend his total. This matters, because at these levels Lyu and Dayer are likely to start coming up against power words - probably stuns first, as with the CR13 glabezru and the CR16 planetar. Dayer is below the critical 150HP where this spell is a killer, and he’ll struggle against the power words blind and kill when they start to turn up too. In short, like all fighters, he’s defensively problematic.
This is only to be expected. Also to be expected is that Dayer should make up the shortfall offensively. He doesn’t: he’s better than Lyu here, but not by as much as you might think. On a standard single attack he appears much more accurate (+34 to Lyu’s +24), but the average CR15 AC is only 30, Lyu has three Perfect Strike attack rolls to get the 6 he needs for that, and he also has Pinpoint Targetting - Dayer doesn’t qualify yet - which knocks oodles off AC at these levels (for example, it reduces the marilith’s AC to 17, the neothelid’s to 4). Lyu does a lot more damage on a standard attack, too - 51 to Dayer’s 33.5, because it’s not worth Dayer’s while to take the Vital Strike feats - and Lyu has a 30% chance of a threat and an improved chance of a crit (two rolls). On a full attack, Lyu can shoot seven arrows, ten times per day, doing 203 damage if all his shots hit, and he has a 90% chance of a threat on seven hits, a 70% chance on the more likely five hits. Again, Dayer is much more accurate (average +28 to average +22), but Lyu is still hitting AC30 without fuss, and he has three rolls on one attack. In terms of offensive add-ons, Dayer gets a 10’ threat range and multiple opportunity attacks (which is tasty), and he can reroll one attack per day and make one x4 crit per day, but Lyu trumps the latter two abilities with his 15 zen-improved Perfect Strikes: if I haven’t emphasized it enough already, these greatly increase the probability of both threatening and critting over the course of a day. Lyu can also gain +500’ range for a ki point, and ignores total concealment and cover for a few ki more, which means, amongst other things, that he doesn’t worry about invisibility: he has the Perception to pinpoint a foe’s squares, and that’s all he needs.
I’ll reiterate here that Lyu has significantly less point buy than Dayer, who is himself an effective archer. Nor is this a particularly good level to consider the zen archer at, offensively: two levels from now all arrows Lyu fires will become ki focus weapons, which will allow him to shoot a stunning arrow each round (DC31 at 17th: DC36 at 20th) and a slaying arrow once per day (DC29 at 17th: DC32 at 20th): arguably, it would also allow him to add Elemental Fist, the elemental style feats and Touch of Serenity to his arrows, should he take those feats. It can also be argued that he activates the generic monk’s alternate stunning attack effects once he takes the Stunning Fist feat; if so, he can add these effects to arrows too, from 17th, including 1d6+1 rounds paralysis at 20th level. He doesn’t need any of this debatable stuff, though. With one round of stunning - and often without it - he ends up being able to put down just about anything in under three rounds.
Finally, there’s the out of combat stuff to consider. For Dayer, there’s not a great deal to add to the equation. Lyu can dimension door, he can turn ethereal as a move action, he can jump like jiminey, he has top-notch Perception and a smattering of other skills. To summarise, he’s well ahead of Dayer defensively and out of combat, and he’s not far behind offensively. At 17th he’ll overtake Dayer in that department too. At 20th level Lyu can defeat a solar, the tarrasque, a tarn linnorm, an ancient gold, a pit field, a balor and a shoggoth, with only one rest, without taking a single point of damage. Zen rocks.
I agree on special ki attacks - what exactly they are is a rather misty raw/rai area at the moment. Clarification would be great.
On attacking prone adjacent foes...well, -4 is actually pretty major; and it's actually -8 compared to someone attacking with a melee weapon (-4 instead of +4), which is huge.
If the scenario of the monk tripping the wizard seems dubious, scrap that and consider this instead: the wizard runs up to the zen archer and falls prone at his feet, thus gaining +4 AC against him. The wizard can still cast while prone. So long as he has Combat Casting, this is a sensible move against a zen archer, whose unarmed attacks are going to be decidedly lacklustre (getting him to not use his bow is a success in itself). Given that the zen archer is a close-quarters archer specialist, does this make sense?
On Distintegrate: I'm glad you think it should be a sunder attempt - I do too, but I don't think the rules come and out and say that. For one thing, the smash objects rules don't say they're only meant for unattented objects: for another, Disintegrate is explicitly an object-destroying spell, and actually I think the option to target attended objects probably should be in the spell's remit - it nerfs the wizard to rule this out entirely.
First of all, I want to say how much I enjoy this archetype. Smooth to play, interesting at every level up, fundamentally different in playstyle from a basic monk - good design all round.
Second, I have some queries. To wit:
(1) Ki Focus Bow: "At 17th level, as long as he has at least 1 point of ki in his ki pool, a zen archer may treat arrows fired from his bow as if they were ki focus weapons, allowing him to use his special ki attacks as if his arrows were unarmed attacks. This ability replaces tongue of the sun and moon."
What constitutes a special ki attack?
Only in the description of the ki focus weapon ability is there anything like a definition. Here it says that these special attacks 'include' the Stunning Fist feat, the stunning attack class ability, Quivering Palm and the ki pool DR negators.
My question here is, what about the monastic-flavoured feats in the new Pathfinder material - in particular, Elemental Fist and Touch of Serenity? These look as if they might well be 'special ki attacks', because they're substituted for the stunning attack class ability by several of the new monastic archetypes. In addition, the ki focus weapon ability list 'includes', which appears to leave room for these kinds of additions. But at this point I'm inferring, and I'd love to have a clear definition.
(2) Point Blank Master/Reflexive Shot and Prone Foes:
So here's this archer monk who spends all his days studying the art of close-quarters bowmanship. An enemy wizard runs past him; the monk trips him with an attack of opportunity. What happens next?
By the book, the zen archer gains no bonus to attack the adjacent, prone foe with his bow. Furthermore, he takes an effective -4 attack penalty. Despite being an expert at this kind of thing, he's taking a stonking penalty to attack.
This is RAW, but is it RAI? Personally I'd like to add riders to the Point Blank Master feat and the Reflexive Shot class ability to offset this quirk (the first to negate the penalty, the second to get the normal melee bonus), but would like to get some feedback first.
(3) Distintegrate and Attended Objects:
This isn't zen archer specific, but the bow matters to him and he likely has a lot invested in it. I'd just like folks' opinions on how this would work. For example: a 10th level zen archer is midfight with an 11th level wizard, who casts distintegrate at the archer's attended bow. By the book, I *think* the wizard probably needs a 3 to make the ranged touch attack (probable +7 against AC10); the bow then uses its attendant's (better) save, which probably has about a 40% chance of stopping the bow turning to dust. It's a +3 bow at this point, and costs 30% of the monk's normal wealth by level, so its loss is obviously a rather big deal (almost exactly the loss of a level's worth of wealth, actually - the kind of semi-permanent drain Pathfinder has largely done away with).
There's all kinds of mess here, though, largely because attacking objects is a slightly cobwebby corner of the rules. Does the bow gain its wielder's Dex bonus? What about other touch AC bonusses? Does Distingrate ignore hardness? Does the bow gain its attendants resistances and immunities? What about Spell Resistance? And what about the rule that a weapon can only be sundered by a weapon with an equal or greater enhancement - does that have any impact on Distintegrate? And why doesn't that rule apply to other magic items?
Anyway, big messy rules query there. Any answers or opinions on any of these much appreciated, and do Faq this if you think there are points worth it. Cheers,
We play in Farringdon, as a default - a nice quiet upstairs room - with a couple of upstairs pub rooms near Tottenham Ct Rd as backup.
Thanks for replying - I'll email
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