How to Build The Hulk in 'The Pathfinder' RPG
A Character Conversion Guide
For many comic book fans, the Incredible Hulk represents the slim margin by which the darker forces of human nature are held in check. For others, he represents the power that everyone holds inside of them. No one can deny that the appeal of the Hulk lies in the freedom that comes with letting the monster loose to smash until its heart's content, though. Even if we might regret that decision once our rage is spent, and we realize what we've done.
This guide will walk players through every step of creating their own Hulks using the Pathfinder roleplaying game. That said, this is not the only way to make a Hulk; it's your character so feel free to build it the way you want. This build has been field-tested, though, so it is a good idea to at least consider following these steps.
If you'd like to see the rest of the Avengers, along with my Gotham Knights and Game of Thrones character build series, check out the Character Conversions page on my blog Improved Initiative. Or if you'd like more articles about gaming advice in general, then take a tour through my other Gamers articles, or browse my entire Vocal archive to see what subjects I've covered beyond the battle mat.
The Beginning: Race, Attributes, and Traits
Before there was Hulk, there was Bruce Banner, a celebrated nuclear physicist. Bruce is a human, and his intelligence is likely his high score (though for practicality's sake it's a good idea to put good stats in strength and constitution as well, even if Bruce was the original 98 pound weakling as depicted in early comics). An outstanding scientist, it was only after his accident that he became truly unusual.
When it comes to traits, it's a good idea to think about what you want your Hulk to be doing. If he's going to be brewing up his own chemicals while on the road, then a trait like alchemical adept (which provides a +2 on all craft [alchemy] checks and states that unless you roll a natural one on a check that you ruin no raw materials) might be what you need. If a life on the run has made your Hulk twitchy, then reactionary (which provides a +2 to your initiative) is also a good option. Trait bonuses need to be geared toward abilities you're going to use often, so think carefully before just writing down something that fits thematically but which will never come up in-game.
Making the Monster: Class Choices and Abilities
This guide was originally penned several years ago, so while the initial formula I presented for a Hulk build is still valid, there is more than one obvious path to success. As such, I'll be listing the most commonly taken options so readers can choose what works for them.
Path One: Jekyll and Hyde
The obvious beginning for Bruce Banner is an alchemist, but not just any alchemist! The Ragechemist variant found in Ultimate Combat provides abilities that are conducive to a serious hulk-out. Ragechemists lose most of the alchemist's poison-based abilities, but instead gain the Rage mutagen feature, and increased natural armor and damage-dealing capabilities when they down that mutagen.
It's important to remember that when a Ragechemist takes any kind of damage during a round in which the Rage mutagen is active, the character has to make a Will save or take a -2 to both Intelligence and Will saves, and these penalties stack in successive rounds. It's a steep price to pay, particularly since alchemists do not receive a good base will save. Feats like Iron Will (Core Rulebook 129) can grant bonuses to help with this save since you're going to have to make it fairly often, and any and all items that can increase this save should be invested in heavily.
In addition to the Ragechemist players should add at least one level of the Drunken Brute (Advanced Player's Guide) to the list. The Drunken Brute grants the character the Rage class feature, which represents yet another strength and constitution bump, and it also gives a character the ability to drink a potion or similar item as a move action that doesn't provoke an attack of opportunity. That's a handy power given how many things this build might need quaff when it's time to roll initiative (though it will not work for extracts). Players also gain access to more armor and martial weapon proficiency, which can make what was an already dangerous character even more threatening.
While it's up to you if you want to pursue more than a single level of barbarian, you shouldn't take more than two levels. The Ragechemist is going to provide more useful, and more thematically appropriate, benefits to your character. Ideally the Drunken Brute should be your second level, but for those who want to max out their hit points you can take it as your first level instead.
The final addition is the Master Chymist prestige Class (Advanced Player's Guide). Based off the Jekyll and Hyde character archetype, this prestige class is what alchemists who rely too much on their mutagens tend to become; a divided being where one half will have its own feelings, alignment, goals, and desires separate from the other persona that it shares a body with. Worse, while it was mutagen that gave this chimerical form its birth, the changes begin to occur of their own volition after this class is taken.
The Master Chymist requires an alchemist who can make at least 3rd level extracts, and who have either the feral mutagen (which I would recommend) or infuse mutagen discoveries. That means that it takes at least 7 levels of Ragechemist, with a single level of Drunken Brute. This means that level 9 is when you really start hitting your high notes.
In addition to the flavorful effects of having an honest-to-goodness Hulk and Banner pair on your hands, the Master Chymist gains other useful abilities. Increased access to extracts, continuing bomb damage, but also access to chimerical abilities that alter the shape and powers of the Hulk form. These abilities can make Hulk tougher, stronger, and may allow him to remain in the world for longer periods of time. Master Chymists also gain Brutality, allowing them to do even more damage on top of their bestial, altered physiology.
For this build to work, players need to take either the infuse mutagen discovery (allowing the creation of multiple mutagens) or feral mutagen (which provides two claws and a bite attack, along with an intimidate boost). If a player takes only one of these, that's 1 of 3 discoveries before becoming a Master Chymist.
So what should the other two be?
Well that depends on what you want to do with your Hulk. If you want him to be a bomb-thrower, then it's a good idea to take the precise bombs discovery to keep your allies out of the blast. On the other hand if you're intending to be mixing it up with enemies in melee then it's a good idea to also take the infuse mutagen (for backup imbibing), or a discovery like spontaneous healing which will keep you on your feet just a little bit longer.
As to the Advanced Mutagen ability granted by the Master Chymist class, again it depends on what you want your Hulk to do. If you're going to be a grappler (a personal recommendation) then the Burly ability will be useful for clamping down hard on enemies. Dual Mind provides a bonus to that dangerously low Will save, and Extended Mutagen allows the Hulk to exist for longer periods of time.
Ask what it is you're planning to do (especially if it's something other than Smash), and pick your discoveries accordingly.
Path Two: The Brute
When Paizo came out with Ultimate Intrigue, the idea was to give players options for putting together spies, masked avengers, and fantastical superheroes. It's why the book gave us the Vigilante class, and if you want to deal with Hulk problems from level one, then the Brute archetype is going to be right up your alley.
The Brute does basically what it says on the tin. When you metamorphosize into your Vigilante identity you become a bigger, more brutal version of yourself. You hit hard, dealing damage like a monk of your size and level, and you gain access to Vigilante talents that let you stack even more damage onto your unarmed strikes. Your transformation destroys your clothing and equipment, though, and you need to make a Will save to stop yourself from attacking your allies if there are no enemies present. And when you enter a stressful situation (like combat), you'll need to make saves not to be forced to shift, which is a painful process that can quickly give away your identity.
Path Three: Rageshaper
For fans of Ang Lee's take on the Hulk, or who want a character that's more on par with Cu Chalainn's riastrad of Celtic myth, there is a third option on the table as well. The shifter was brought to us thanks to Ultimate Wilderness, and within that book is the archetype of the Rageshaper. This archetype turns your shifter's claws into slam attacks, gives you potent rage like a barbarian, and increases your size when you activate it. It's a full-round action, though, and like the Hulk's furies, you need to make a Will save to come out of it. And if you run out of daily rounds without making the save to revert, then you go berserk. Though for each round you spend in this way, your Will save DC is reduced by 2.
In addition to sheer size and strength, Rageshapers eventually gain damage reduction, and the ability to ignore hardness. So if you're looking to do a lot of smashing, then this path might be more appealing. Especially since the Hulk's preferred form of movement (great leaps) is another ability that you gain as you increase in level.
Which Should You Choose?
Both of these options are perfectly functional, and they have similar drawbacks (ie., forced transformations, Will saves to avoid penalties, etc.). The question you need to know going in is how much of a separate entity do you want your Hulk to be (Master Chymist allows for significantly more differences between the two personas), and how long are you willing to wait to build your power base (Brute is ready to go from session one, whereas Master Chymist takes some time to build up steam).
Lastly, ask what sort of game you're bringing the character to. If it's meant to be an Avengers homage, then the Brute might be more thematically appropriate. However, if you're going to be out in the hinterlands doing more traditional fantasy hero stuff, and constantly moving around, then you might get frustrated that your Vigilante loses out on several class features since the class is supposed to remain in one rough area over time.
Unlike some builds your Hulk is a product of chemistry and magic, rather than a carefully chosen feat tree. However, there are still several feats that can make combat that much more overpowered in your favor.
Improved Unarmed Strike (Core Rulebook 128): Make unarmed attacks as if armed. You get this for free as the Brute, but it's also a prerequisite for the following feats.
Improved Grapple (Core Rulebook 127): Make grapple attacks without provoking attacks of opportunity. Add +2 to CMB and CMD for grappling.
Greater Grapple (Core Rulebook 125): Gain an additional +2 to CMB and CMD for grappling. Maintaining a grapple is now considered a move action, allowing a possible two grapple actions per turn.
The tree above is good for those who want to grab enemies and crush them into pulp. It utilizes the extreme strength of the Hulk, and takes away many enemies' abilities to harm you (since two handed weapons can't be wielded while grappled, and casting spells becomes much more difficult).
Power Attack (Core Rulebook 131): Take a negative to your to-hit, gain a bonus to damage.
Improved Sunder (Core Rulebook 128): Receive a +2 to CMB and CMD on sunder maneuvers. Perform a sunder maneuver without provoking an attack of opportunity.
Greater Sunder (Core Rulebook 125): Gain an addition-al +2 to CMB and CMD for sunder maneuvers. Any leftover damage when an item is sundered is transferred to the wielder.
While there are other feats (the Vital Strike tree is appealing for Hulks who are going to wield a greatsword or similarly huge weapon, for example), these two most mimic the character's comic book style. As always, feat selections should be geared toward your fighting style and what most benefits your Hulk.
Speaking of fighting styles, if you wanted to give one to your Hulk, regardless of which path you take, I'd recommend the Boar Style feat tree found in Ultimate Combat. The sheer amount of bonus damage it can give you when you make unarmed strikes and hit more than once can add up, allowing you to tear enemies to a pulp in fairly short order.
As to your Hulk's skills, there are a few stand-out choices. Craft (alchemy) is good if you're going to be making things along the road, and Intimidate is very useful if you want to occasionally make people more forthcoming without having to smash them. Use Magic Device is always good to have, especially if you need to buff yourself, and Perception is a go-to favorite. Spellcraft is useful if you have the points and space, but more necessary for the alchemist approach than the brute.
What's Your Story?
Whatever path you take to your incredible ending, it's important that you know who and what your version of Banner and the Hulk are, and what sort of story you want to tell with them.
For example, are you a wandering do-gooder, just trying to direct the thing you sometimes become so that you can help people with it? Are you a former mercenary who tried to profit off of your other side, but found that the toll was simply too high? Are you a lone adventurer, sticking to the fringes of society because you're being hunted by enemies who want to duplicate your powers, or who want revenge on you because of something your other side did?
For more inspiration, consider checking out Who's in Your Character's Rogues Gallery?, as well as some of the following supplements to help you flesh out your background.
- 100 Random Mercenary Companies: Whether you used to be a soldier of fortune, or one particular group of sellswords wants the secret to the weapon you keep inside you, this is a solid place to start your search for who has you looking over your shoulder.
- 100 Nobles to Encounter: If you're looking for a fantasy version of General "Thunderbolt" Ross, then this is the place to find him. From dragon riders and arch dukes, to field commanders and sworn knights of the realm, there are several folks in here who would easily fill the role of Hulkbuster.
- 100 Prisoners For A Fantasy Jail: If your Hulk put somebody away, then this supplement just might have them. From master schemers and evil alchemists, to demon-possessed monsters and cruel warlords, there are all sorts of enemies in here. As well as a few friends, if your Hulk needs fellow outcasts to protect.