Envoy Polymorphic Disguise: trying to make it useful

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The Envoy Polymorphic Disguise ability isn't very beloved by the player base online. You give up your expertise bonus to every skill except Disguise (and then only to appear as your polymorphed form, not for disguise skills in general).

This starts as a single Polymorph 1 form, which upgrades to Polymorph 2 at 5th level (vs 4th for the spell), Polymorph 3 at 9th level (vs 7th for the spell), Polymorph 4 at 13th level (10th for the spell), Polymorph 5 at 17th level (vs 13th for the spell), and Polymorph 6 at 20th level (vs 16th for the spell). You only get the single form unless you invest expertise talents in additional forms, which you can do at levels 3, 7, 11, 15, and 19.

So at first glance this seems pretty bad compared to a spell caster. They can get better forms earlier, and each spell level provides four forms. So a 10th level caster can cast Polymorph 4 and has a total of 16 forms to choose from (four of the highest level), while an envoy at 10th level can only use Polymorph 3 and up to three forms if you forgo any expertise talents.

Bad right? Well, maybe not. You can hold your form permanently (the spell lasts minute/round, except for certain technomancers who can get a spell cache that provides Polymorph 1/2/3 permanently at levels 6/12/18), which may provide some benefits with the right choices, and you can change your alternate form as a standard action (available to spellcasters with a feat).

Can we come up with enough combat/utility/skills capability from polymorph forms to overcome the loss of your expertise bonuses and probably expertise talents? Maybe. Below are a list of abilities that I can see making it potentially worthwile.

1. Power Armor. If your form is a subtype other than your base form, your armor and (held) weapons merge into your form, but still activate. This means power armor still gives you AC, still gives you a strength bonus, and still provides environmental protections and armor upgrade abilities, but it can't be seen, doesn't limit your speed (VERY important), and doesn't impose armor check penalties. And no one will know you're wearing it. Pick one that uses one charge per hour, drop your gear you want to use in your new form, then transform and pick up your gear.

2. Speed/movement. Each polymorph form gets a free movement mode, and if you're in absorbed power armor that speed still applies. At 5th level your base speed can always be 40 (plus leg augmentations and fleet feat), at 13th level you can pick up a burrow speed, and if you make it to 20th level your base speed can be 60', or 100' with fleet and augmentation. You can also have a swim or climb speed at lower levels, if you want them, or even a fly, if for some reason you don't have Force Soles Mk2. Check out the Cephalume Symbiote adaptation (airjet Kirkik) racial trait for an additional +10 to speed and once per day double speed option.

3. Skill/ability check boosts. Medium and bigger forms get a bonus of 1-3 to strength checks/skills, small and smaller forms get a bonus of 1-3 to dex checks/skills. Make a tiny form for sneaking, piloting(!), slight of hand, or acrobatics, a big form for kicking down doors with a breaching weapon.

4. Reach/size blocking. As you advance you can be large or even huge as long as you want, and you can slap Compression (or Spathinae's swarm flexibility racial trait) on as an ability to avoid the downsides. Be a flesh wall to protect squishies behind you. The Cephalume has an option for extra reach as a racial trait, btw.

5. Defensive abilities/immunities. You can pick DR, energy resistance, and at the highest levels some immunities as part of you form. To some extent these can be done with armor upgrades, but you may want a form to fill one one gap if you don't have enough money or slots. And at 17th level (Polymorph 5) you can take fire elemental form and be immune to fire at the cost of cold vulnerability, not something available via any other method.

6. Permanent/swappable racial traits. At 5th level you can start having racial traits from other PC races, and you can have a second alternate form, allowing you to start swapping between set ups. If your form is designed to focus solely on a particular race/creature, you get a bonus ability, so if you're a Lashunta, you can have both the skill boost racial trait and limited telepathy at 5th level (and if you're non-humanoid, you can hide your power armor and have your 40' speed, as well). Here are some useful always on powers to use as utility/combat options:

a. Disguise shapeshifting. The Endiffian has the Simulacrum racial trait that allows you to appear as any humanoid in 1 minute and receive a +10 disguise bonus. You can mimic specific creatures.

b. Blindsight. Several races have 60' blindsight as a racial trait. They're also blind, but you don't have to be. Slap this on a combat form and use smoke, fog clouds, or other environmental concealment for an advantage.

c. Skill synergy. Lots of racial traits give bonuses to skills, and if they're dex they stack with your small/tiny/dimunitive size bonuses. Use the Lashunta racial trait to get racial bonuses to your favorite dex skills (piloting and stealth come to mind), and add in a Skill Focus to beat or equal the operative. Oh, and for Stealth don't overlook the Draelik ability to get a +4 in dim light, untyped. At 20th level you can get +9 to stealth just from your polymorph form, not counting insight bonuses. There may be other non-racial skill boosters out there.

d. Immunities/resistances. Generally racial traits can provide better protection than the defensive abilities granted by the spell's general rule. If your GM is insane you can get all the SRO or Shakalta immunities as a racial trait (or wait until 20th level to get one of those immunities via the spell defensive abilities). If he's not, you can still do things like the Android's constructed or Quorlo lithic traits to get racial bonuses to saves. If he's slightly bent he'll let you have the Suli resistance 45 to acid, cold, electricity, and fire.

e. Luck. Need an insurance policy against disaster in combat? Check out Worlanisi racial traits that turn your first natural 1 every day into a natural 20, or that as a reaction let you or an ally within 15' reroll something. (Same race, so both available at 5th level with a Polymorph 2 form.) Or perhaps you'd like to combo the latter with a +2 racial bonus on your reroll? Check out the Jububnan's ability called wanderer's pluck. The Worlanisi stuff is once per day (so switch forms when used up), but the Jububnan ability works with rerolls from those hybrid glasses, the dreamer theme (at 12th level), the feat save rerolls, or anything else.

f. Damage. You have incentives to be big, fast, and in power armor to be strong. So melee. Perhaps you'd like to add half your level in damage when you move and attack via the Ferran momentum ability? Or is something immune to your damage type or vulnerable to a type you don't do? Take the suli Elemental Assault and convert half of your damage into an energy form of your choice as a swift action.

g. Arms. Forget the expensive augmentation to add two arms. Just pick the skittermander racial trait for six arms, carry everything you need in combat without worry.

h. Grapple master. Ok, you're not full BAB. But you can get +6 to grapples by combining the skittermander +2 racial and the wrikreechee untyped when attacking smaller creatures (remember, you can eventually be large and even huge late career). Take the feat, get a grapple weapon.

i. Damage avoidance. Gray phase for a few reactions per day to have a 20% miss chance? Kayal/fetchling shadow blending to have a 50% miss chance in dim light (hey, some creatures don't have low light vision, and you're not always in range of darkvision, I guess)? (Remind me to build a shadow mystic who uses this on a polymorph form.)

To be continued.

I found this trying to find stuff for Endiffians but i actually quite like this.

Did the continue ever continue?

No, got distracted and didn't come up with any new ideas.

For skill builds, I note that you may be able to take Additional Skill Expertise to pick up a normal expertise skill that you don't ordinarily get as a result of taking this ACF. Combine that insight bonus with any racial/other bonuses you can get from a polymorph form. Alas, they're all Cha/Int skills, so no supercharging your piloting or stealth via this method, you still need Skill Focus or Synergy for those.

This is probably the only use of a skill expertise I could imagine taking instead of another polymorph form.

You are a saint and a scholar, and I've quite enjoyed your other bits of work on polymorph! I actually rather like this version of the Envoy, so I'll share my thoughts, concepts, and encounters while playing one!

1. Augments are technically equipment, and an argument could be made that polymorph and augment interactions are no good... but you aren't technically using polymorph, you're using UMA shape change with polymorph-compatable forms! While the question of size comes into play with this (maybe wanna stick to medium or small size aasimar/tiefling envoys as a result), this has two potential views in tandem with subtype shenanigans with powered armor as far as I can see...

A. Since it is another permanent shape you can morph into, you can purchase augments unique to each shape. This is how we play it at my table presently, and although it didn't really mean much at low levels save for rethinking my $ investments. In the teens it has become a pretty nice method of using cheap augments (I <3 you, species grafts) to gain even greater versatility than could be handled with expertise.

B. More fuel for the argument with your GM to let you keep your augments because LFAN is amazing and I don't like giving it up ever.

2. Being free of requiring an expertise focus does free up any expertise talents that don't require expertise dice. Examples that jump out to me include Universal Diplomat, Biometric Implants (very fitting), and Surgeon.

3. You only need so many forms to be effective. Infiltration aside (make a custom super-human and maybe a custom super kobold or other reptilian to get around anywhere unquestioned), you only need a pinch of the weird to get the most bang for your buck. Pester your GM for unique forms and unique form abilities, such as a Yrgytchees' gravity manipulation or a Stomakera's hide in plain sight and stealth boost. Make sure your mesh generics are support-focused as hell, and ideally scale more uses with level too. The Perfect Storm adventure path is AMAZING for this!

4. This is the big takeaway, and why I don't understand the hatred. This is essentially an any time permanent scaling powerful SLA that only requires you sacrifice Expertise and Expertise Talents... but you can polymorph your way into almost equal bonuses to niche skills ON TOP OF being a different being on the fly! In the beginning, it is going to sting hard and out loud for everyone to deal with, but by level 20 you can turn into a Voidshard Vampire and create an endless army of thralls (You're a shapechanger, so you're carte blanche ALWAYS the vampire that sired them even after changing to another form!) before turning into a Lightweaver and perma-invising and then shifting into a Solmyr and using your RP to force good saves to be rerolled en masse, and then turn into a Mummified Prophet and solar battery up another 4-5 RP. This is a complicated, low up front reward option for the Envoy, but in both flavor and long term power it is an amazing investment completely different from any other option in the game.

5. This is a small bit but a goodie... powered armor + onboard computer + spell gem understanding improv + spell chips + polymorphing into another type/subtype = A very big surprise when your otherwise normal human looking infiltrator shape starts unloading and breaking the action economy. You're a shapechanger, so there's no true sight magic detection that will catch you smuggling in murder tools, and dear gods this leads to some AMAZING espionage.

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