How To Build Guts (From "Berserk") in The Pathfinder RPG
A Character Conversion Guide
Berserk, as both a manga and an anime series, is a dark, brooding, brutal journey. While it has light hearted moments, they only succeed in rendering the darker parts of the story into pitch black pools. The protagonist of this series is Guts, a hulking warrior with a mysterious, violent past, and an indomitable spirit that pushes him through any and all obstacles. From abuse that should have crippled him, to betrayal at the hands of his closest friend, nothing will stop him from achieving his goals. If you want to try and re-create Guts, this guide will help you bring the Black Swordsman era of the character to your Pathfinder table.
You'll find other character conversions like this one, including the Avengers, Game of Thrones, and more on the Character Conversions page of Improved Initiative. Also, if you're looking for more gaming goodness (as well as general trivia, articles about martial arts, weird history, and underappreciated horror movies), you should read through my full Vocal archive while you're here!
If you have a thing for mercenary badassess who lost an arm, and kept on swinging, then you might be interested in learning about legendary German warrior Gotz Von Berlichingen. If his name looks a lot like "Guts," that's because it's likely his life and accomplishments played a part in the series' inspiration.
Blood (Attributes, Race, and Traits)
Guts is, as far as we can tell, a human. A human who's been marked by fell powers, and who has lived a terrifying life, but a human nonetheless. Given his career and accomplishments, Strength and Constitution are his two biggest needs. Wisdom is also an important consideration for those who want to bring across his stubborn refusal to concede or give up, even when he can't even push himself out of the mud. His Charisma isn't anything to write home about (though he rarely has a problem intimidating a room into silence), and his Dexterity isn't so high it would be hampered by armor. His lowest stat is likely his Intelligence, given his lack of education and training beyond his only real trade.
The real trick for this character is choosing his background traits. Guts has had a strange, brutal life up to the time we meet him as the mangled warrior known as the Black Swordsman, and the right traits can help bring that across. Bred For War (+1 trait bonus to Intimidate checks, and to CMB because of your great size) is one way to bring across the ferocity and power Guts displays on the battlefield, and has since a young age. Traits like Demon Slayer (+2 trait bonus on weapon damage rolls against demons, evil fae, and plant creatures), or Demon-Proof Mind (+2 trait bonus against mind effects caused by evil outsiders) could easily represent his years of struggle against the Apostles.
The brand Guts bears after the demonic Eclipse is something that should also be mentioned, given how important it is to his history. For players who would like three positive traits instead of two, it's possible to take the Foul Brand drawback from Champions of Corruption. This symbol of an evil deity grants you negatives (in Guts's case, a -1 to Bluff, Diplomacy, and Disguise since it's nearer his face), which explains why it's impossible for him to hide who he is, and why he rarely bothers.
Given the title of the series, the most obvious class to build Guts from is the barbarian. However, given the size of the enemies he tends to face (like the infamous Zod the Immortal), and the size of the weapons he tends to wield, the Titan Mauler out of Ultimate Combat is an ideal choice. This class takes away your fast movement, trap sense, and uncanny dodge, but replaces it with bonuses for fighting enemies larger than yourself, the ability to wield massive weapons, and the ability to swing a greatsword one-handed. Something Guts has had to learn to do, given the loss of nearly half his left arm.
However, while Guts is a force to be reckoned with in melee combat, we tend to forget that he was also Griffith's assassin before he ascended to join the God Hand. Given that he's used to solo missions, and that he can sneak into a lord's parapet undetected (getting out is another matter), Guts should also have a few levels of rogue. How many? Well, 4 levels of the Scout archetype from the Advanced Player's Guide will do nicely, and grant you the Scout's Charge ability, adding your sneak attack to any charge attack you make. That's in addition to an infusion of skill ranks, evasion, a rogue talent, 2d6 worth of sneak attack, and giving up only a single point in your base attack bonus.
For folks who are thinking about capitalizing on one of Guts's other names, the Century Slayer, I'd advice against taking the slayer class in his case. While it would allow you to keep a full BAB, you won't get the same benefits as the scout. Besides that, barbarian and rogue have always been very synergistic classes when taken together, so this combo is going to give you far more bang for your buck.
And for those who are waiting for the recommendation of the Constructed pugilist archetype for the brawler out of People of The Wastes, I would also advise against it. Much like in my Winter Soldier character conversion, it's important to remember that losing an arm and getting a badass replacement limb doesn't have to be a class feature. You need to ask what the class actually does for you, and you're going to get far more out of another level of barbarian or rogue than you would from the single level brawler dip here.
Fury (Skills, Rage Powers, and Feats)
Now we get down to the meat of the character. Let's begin with skills. We know Guts can move around a battlefield tactically, and we know he can infiltrate a castle with relative ease. So, Acrobatics, Climb, and at least some Stealth seem appropriate. Ride, Craft (weapons), Perception, Knowledge (Religion), and Knowledge (Planes) are also good skills to add, since we know Guts can fight from horseback, is hard to catch off-guard, and he has been hacking his way through the ranks of the Apostles in order to reach the God Hand themselves. You can't hunt an enemy like that without learning a little about them. Survival and Intimidate are good skills to add to the list, as well, if you have the ranks to spare.
As far as Rage Powers go, it's important to choose powers that don't depend on your barbarian level to be effective, and which are still helpful. For example, Smasher allows you to ignore the hardness of an item for a single attack, or Sunder check. This can, at least in theory, allow Guts to destroy items others might think indestructible. Strength Surge adds your barbarian level on a Strength check, Combat Maneuver check, or to your CMD. Even if you're not taking straight levels of barbarian, adding a bonus to ensure you don't get grappled at the wrong time is a good idea. Superstition is a good way to plow through the magical powers at the Apostles' command, and it can make up for a relatively weak Will save when combined with the bonus provided by your Rage. If you get to a high enough level, Fearless Rage can cripple an opponent who depends on the ability to cause fear in his enemies.
Now, for feats. Guts is nothing if not a close-combat powerhouse, but you have a limited number of feats to work with in order to bring him into sharp focus. While he does get a bonus feat for being human, and he can gain two feats in place of Rogue Talents, that's still a limited selection. So, here's the two areas you should focus on.
Primary Focus: The Devastating Blow
Guts can cleave his opponents in half with a single swing, and even gigantic enemies feel the raw fury behind his blows. This isn't an easy thing to accomplish. However, the guide One-Hit Wonders lays out a pretty straightforward path to dealing big damage on every swing. It includes:
- Power Attack and Furious Focus: Your bread and butter for a heavy-swinging brute, these two should be your first feats. In short, you swing harder, but take no negatives to your first attack. The only thing that suffers here are your iterative attacks (once you get them), and your attacks of opportunity (if you get to make them).
- The Vital Strike feat tree: Make a single attack as a standard action, and roll your weapon damage multiple times. If you can't take a full-attack action, or your enemy's armor class is too high for your iterative attacks to reliably hit, this allows you to deal a lot of damage all at once. Add in sneak attack, bonus damage against demons, and all your other bonuses, and you can be throwing a lot of dice. You can't take them until you're at least level 7, though.
- Divine Fighting Technique: This feat out of Divine Anthology allows you to bring together a lot of disparate elements. The option Greatsword Battler allows you to use the Vital Strike feat at the end of a charge. When combined with the sneak attack from the Scout's Charge, that can be a nasty opening salvo.
- Devastating Strike, Furious Finish, Death or Glory: These feats, found in Ultimate Combat, add bonus damage onto any Vital Strike attack you make, give you the ability to maximize your damage at the price of dropping out of rage, and allow you to attack something bigger than you are at significant bonuses, at the price that it gets an immediate retaliation if you don't kill it. Guts is something of an all-or-nothing fighter, and these feats will take up your feat slots from 7th level on up. If you're taking your rogue levels starting at level 6, your Rogue Talents can be used to help you pick these up.
- Reckless Rage: Found in the Advanced Class Guide, while you are raging you take an additional -1 on your attacks, but gain an additional +2 damage when using Power Attack (modified for the size of the weapon you're using). Just to make sure your enemies really feel it.
Secondary Focus: Deadly Shots
Guts isn't a one-trick pony, and he's never been shy about using whatever weapons are available. However, if you're putting most of your focus into his heavy swing, then you're giving up your starting feats, and all your feats from level 7 on up. So what do you take with your 3rd and 5th level feats, and your Rogue Talents if you take your rogue levels earlier in the game?
Well, you need to remember that Guts has a bit of artillery to hand... so to speak.
- Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Firearms): Guts keeps a cannon in his prosthetic arm, ready to deliver a devastating blast when he needs an advantage. You can get this feat with a normal slot, or by taking the Firearm Training Rogue Talent.*
- Quick Draw: Guts has fast hands, and he can put half a dozen knives into a target when they're not expecting it. This lets you throw daggers without worry, and that can be an advantage when the target is flat-footed, since every throw comes with strength and sneak attack damage attached to it.
- Point Blank and Precise Shot: If you're going to rely at all on your cannon, hand crossbow, or thrown weapons, these two feats are absolute requirements for avoiding negatives and scoring a little extra damage. Both are on page 131 of the Core Rulebook.
* If you're planning on making any use of the hand cannon, and you follow the suggestion of the culverin in the equipment section, you may want to take the Stand Up Rogue Talent instead of using the slot for a combat feat.
Equipment and Story
Guts comes loaded for bear once he's survived the demons' sabbath, lost an eye and an arm, and taken up a quest for vengeance. Most of his equipment is fairly standard at this point, including a masterwork greatsword, a bandolier of knives, a short sword on one hip, and the "hand" crossbow on his left forearm. The most difficult piece of equipment to bring to the table, though, is his combat prosthetic.
Difficult, but not impossible. As mentioned in Replacing Lost Limbs With Magical Prosthetics in Pathfinder, there are both regular and magical options for his combat limb. A simple, non-magical option would be to treat it like a culverin (hand bombard) sized for an unusual creature. While the prosthetic in the anime, and in the comics, uses magnets to allow Guts to get a two-handed grip on his greatsword again, it would likely require some kind of enchantment in order to mimic that effect while still following the rules. A construct limb (page 115 of Ultimate Magic) would allow Guts a full range of mobility, and grant a shield bonus as well, for example.
Lastly, we have your story. You, the player, need to decide how closely you're hewing to what's set forth in the anime, and how much of it you want to make your own. For example, is your Guts a baby found beneath a hanged woman, raised (and abused) by mercenaries, only to find a soldier's life is the only one he can live? Is he a demon hunter set on his path by personal betrayal, or did he perhaps suffer his maiming at the Worldwound, and is simply continuing the fight? Is he still a lone wolf afraid that he'll bring ruin to his friends, or has he learned that when he fights as part of a group that they're stronger than any of them were as individuals?
If you're looking for some additional inspiration, you may want to check out some of the following:
- 100 Random Mercenary Companies: If you need a stand-in for the Band of The Hawk, then you might find suitable replacements with the Firehearts, the Unbroken Swords, or even the Cursed might fit quite well for your version of the Black Swordsman.
- 100 Knightly Orders: While Guts was never truly a knight, though many of the Band of The Hawk were raised to that rank, there are several orders where his skills would fit quite well. The Guardians of The Obsidian Gate, for example, are unparalleled demon hunters who would fit perfectly into Guts's need for vengeance, while the Howl is the sort of order that would encourage his fury, and which might have an item like the Berserker Armor in the depths of its vaults.
- 100 Gangs For Your Urban Campaigns: From the Rippers to the Steel Fists, there are several gangs in this collection that fit Guts's look and style. Whether he fell in with them as a way to make a living, or if you wanted an urban version of the Black Swordsman who earned his wages in back alleys rather than the open campaign trail, this is a solid collection with a lot of options.