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How To Build an Imperial Commissar in The Pathfinder RPG

A Character Conversion Guide

By Neal LitherlandPublished 3 years ago 6 min read
Commissar Severina Raine, Dispensing Justice

There are few sights as awe-inspiring, or as outright terrifying, as that of an imperial commissar. In their iconic peaked caps and greatcoats, it is their job to motivate the troops... through whatever means necessary. Sometimes that means charging the guns of the enemy with sword in hand, bolt pistol barking. Sometimes it means executing those who falter in their duty, making it clear to every guardsman that no matter the terror before them it cannot be worse than the officer at their backs.

For those who want to embody this unique combination of hero and monster in your next Pathfinder game, the following guide should help get you started!

To see more guides like this, make sure you check out the Character Conversions Page over on my gaming blog Improved Initiative! And if you just want more geeky content, such as Which Space Marine Chapters Best Represent The Garou Tribes of Werewolf: The Apocalypse? then make sure you check out my full Vocal archive as well!

Foundation (Attributes, Race, and Traits)

Commissar Ibram Gaunt, with the Tanith First and Only.

Taken from the best of the best produced by the Schola Progenium, commissars represent some of the finest examples that humanity has to offer (aside from those who have already been augmented to become space marines). As such, a commissar should be human... however, given all of the variations and options for human traits, feel free to choose the options that best fit your concept.

While a true commissar will have been pushed to excel in all attributes, priority should be given to their Intelligence, as well as to their main combat attribute (Dexterity for those who favor ranged combat, Strength for those favoring melee, etc.). As far as their background traits go, make sure you take traits that are going to actually come up in your game to help you fulfill your role. Helpful (grant either a +3 or +4 bonus when using Aid Another instead of +2, depending on the version of the trait) is a solid choice for this particular build. Blessed Orphan (once per day gain a +1 trait bonus on a saving throw) would fit with the background of many commissars, but Reactionary (+2 trait bonus to Initiative checks) and Bully (+2 trait bonus on Intimidate checks, and Intimidate is always a class skill) would also slot into their typical role.

The Wall (Class)

Give them nothing! Take from them... everything!

A commissar must be a warrior, a commander, a motivator, a hero, and a villain... all things to all soldiers beneath their command. And while their abilities could normally be mimicked by a bard, magic is heresy in the grim darkness of the far future. So how do you provide that kind of morale bonus, that kind of protection, without spells and supernatural abilities in Pathfinder?

The answer is with a cavalier. And while the base class is functional, I will be breaking with tradition in this guide to recommend a third-party archetype for this class... the Inspiring Commander from Rite Publishing's The Secrets of Tactical Archetypes.

The Inspiring Commander trades in their mount, bonus feats, cavalier's charge, and most other abilities one would use as a traditional cavalier. What they gain is an ability that mimics bardic inspiration, but which uses their Intelligence modifier, and is an extraordinary ability rather than spell-like or supernatural. This neatly kills two birds with a single stone. Not only that, but they gain the ability to use Aid Another more quickly, to provide a larger bonus, and even to use this ability on allies that aren't adjacent to them (making a Perform [Oratory] check), allowing them to put their battle cries and combat advice to brutal effect.

Combining this with the Order of The Lion (the most obvious choice, as all commissars are sworn to their duty in the name of the God Emperor) allows you to grant both competence bonuses and morale bonuses to your companions, in addition to the flat bonuses that come with using Aid Another. In addition to a cavalier's capacity to use a variety of weapons, wear most armor, and a full base attack bonus, this makes them an extremely inspiring force on the battlefield.

Shock and Awe (Skills and Classes)

You! Who gave you permission to bleed?

Cavaliers, as a rule, don't get a lot of skill points to throw around. An Inspiring Commander will have more due to their Intelligence bonus, but you still need to choose your skills carefully. Sense Motive is a useful option (even if you don't take feats like Snake Style, which can allow you to make Sense Motive checks to evade attacks), as are Bluff and Intimidate. Perception is always useful (and it could be made a class skill with a trait like Eyes of The City if you want the full benefit). Other skills should be taken to fit the campaign you're in (Ride if you're going to be doing a lot of mounted combat, Knowledge if you're dealing with particular foes/situations, or even Spellcraft if you're witch hunting, as the Commissariat would put it).

As for your feat choices... well, you have a lot of options. Largely, it's going to depend on what sort of campaign you're playing.

One of the most general recommendations are feats that boost your Aid Another bonus, and how often you can grant it. I mention several of these in Aid Another is More Useful Than You Think (in Pathfinder), but the combination of Combat Reflexes and Bodyguard is not one to be ignored... particularly given how big the bonus you can offer as an Inspiring Commander is. Additionally, since you receive Teamwork Feats for free as you advance in level, feats like Outflank, Precise Strike, and Coordinated Charge can be brutal... especially since you can grant use of these feats to all your allies for use in the proper situation.

It's also important to consider what weapons you're going to be using, and what your own combat style is going to be. Because if you're going to be using firearms (or truly advanced technology), then you'll need Exotic Weapon Proficiency just to handle those weapons. If you're going to be using mostly ranged tactics, then Point Blank Shot and Precise Shot will be quite helpful, while Power Attack will be useful for Strength-based melee. If you want to combine the two then Two Weapon Fighting along with feats like Sword and Pistol will allow you to wade in, slashing, shooting, and bellowing your war cries to your allies.

The Legend (Equipment and Story)

Other than their iconic uniform, commissars are generally allowed wide leeway when it comes to their armaments and armor of choice. Whether they prefer a chain blade or a power sword, a las pistol or a bolt pistol, seems to largely be a matter of authority and preference.

With that said, if you're looking to outfit your commissar with equipment that feels like it followed them from the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, then I would definitely recommend looking through both the Savage Company Campaign Setting, as well as the Infantryman's Handbook. Both of these books are absolutely stuffed with sci-fantasy arms and armor that may take you a while to afford, but they will be the polish atop your commissar's boots. Of course, if you don't have access to those books then more traditional magical arms and armor will have to do. A benevolent weapon, as well as the ring of tactical precision will greatly assist in offering even bigger Aid Another bonuses, as well, so keep an eye out for those!

Lastly, consider the story you're using for this character in your campaign. Are you going full universe transfer, and your commissar fell out of a warp rift into another setting? If you're playing in the Golarion setting, is this character instead a political officer in Cheliax, or even Nidal, bringing hellfire and brimstone to the line to drive their troops forward? Is it somewhere in between? Because while their abilities are fun (as well as extremely useful), it's important to remember that the best commissars are also characters in their own right, so don't be afraid to make them people beneath their grim determination.

Also, if you're looking for an extra bit of amusing inspiration, consider checking out 100 Fantasy Battle Cries (And Their Histories)... if nothing else, it should provide a bit of insight about who your commissar is, and where they come from!


About the Creator

Neal Litherland

Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.



Blog: Improved Initiative and The Literary Mercenary

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