How To Build The Punisher in The Pathfinder RPG
A Character Conversion Guide
Frank Castle was just an average family man, until that fateful day when a storm of bullets took his wife and two children away from him. When the smoke cleared, and the smell of cordite faded, Frank watched as the criminals responsible for his loss walked away. That was when he took up the bloody trade of soldiering again, and brought a war to New York's underworld that rocked it to its foundations. A vigilante killer who is alternatively on the side of heroes, and against them, the Punisher's single-minded determination makes him a unique persona in a world of gods and monsters. If you'd like to bring his brand of justice to your Pathfinder game, here's a guide to help you get started.
Also, if you're looking for other Marvel heroes, along with characters from Game of Thrones, Gotham City, and more, you'll find them on the Character Conversions page at Improved Initiative. And if you're looking for more topics on comics, gaming, and geekery, check out my full Vocal archive!
Origin Story (Attributes, Race, and Traits)
Frank Castle, despite his feats of sheer guts and brutality, is a human. Which is handy for players who need all the feats they can get their hands on, and who aren't afraid to put an extra skill point to use. For his attributes, Frank is a soldier first and foremost. His Constitution, Dexterity, and Strength are his greatest weapons, though he's also a tactical thinker possessed of a single-minded determination. And while he isn't what you'd call handsome, the sheer force of his presence has been enough to loosen a few bladders when he steps into the room.
When it comes to his traits, there are all sorts of options to fit your gun-toting vigilante. Traits like Never Stop Shooting (act as if you have the Diehard feat, but you can only draw, reload, or fire a weapon) represent the Punisher's sheer, dogged determination to take his foes down with him. Other feats like Startling Report (+2 trait bonus on Intimidate checks for one round after firing a gun), Reactionary (+2 trait bonus to Initiative), or Bred For War (+1 trait bonus to Intimidate checks, and to any CMB check because of your size) are also useful to have. If you're having trouble choosing which traits out of the total list, though, remember that the traits you'll use most often are the ones that you won't regret.
The Big Guns (Class Choices)
Frank's background has gone through a lot of alterations since he first debuted as a Spider-Man villain, but the core of the character has always been his history of violence. Whether it was in the jungles of Vietnam, or the back alleys of New York City as a SWAT team officer, the Punisher was forged in the trenches of war. Which is why the original suggestion I made for his build was the Trench Fighter archetype out of Rasputin Must Die.
What does the Trench Fighter give you? Well, it makes relatively few changes to the Fighter's base package of abilities. It simply swaps out Armor Training, and in its place gives you Trench Warfare. This ability lets you add your dexterity modifier to damage done with firearms, and it increases the AC bonus you get from using cover to your advantage; an accurate description of the kind of tactics Frank uses when he decides it's time to wash the streets clean with blood. In addition, though, you still get the Weapon Training feature, which will allow you to use firearms, close weapons (knives, fists, spiked gauntlets, etc.), crossbows, and other groups common to the Punisher's armory to greater effect.
Also, while a single-class build is often strongest, you can add a few levels of another class to round out Frank's skills and abilities. Urban Ranger out of the Advanced Player's Guide, for example, widens your skills, and gives you a Favored Enemy, while still maintaining your full BAB. Additionally, the Brawler out of the Advanced Class Guide gives you unarmed damage, and Martial Flexibility, which can be a godsend when you're under fire. Mutliclassing isn't necessary, but it can be a help if you want to be adaptable.
Speaking of the hybrid classes, though, folks who want to embody the aspect of Frank more as a stealthy commando instead of as a one-man army might also enjoy using the Slayer as the foundation of his build. Slayer gives you solid skills, sneak attack, the ability to study targets to gain bonuses against them, and access to a lot of unique abilities from rangers and rogues. And if you're willing to embrace the darkness that still lingers in Frank from his debut as a villain, you might even want to use the Executioner archetype out of Advanced Class Origins, assuming your table would allow it.
Ready For War (Skills and Feats)
The Punisher is an entity geared toward a single, deadly purpose. However, there's a lot more going on behind the scenes than you might think. For example, Perception and Intimidate are two skills that will serve him very well in the field. If your Punisher is maintaining and creating his own gear, then Craft (Alchemy) and Craft (Firearms) might also be good investments. If you want to ferret information out of contacts, then Diplomacy might be a good skill to have, and Sense Motive can be useful for making sure no one lies to you. Stealth isn't a bad investment, given that Frank tends to ambush his targets whenever possible. If you're going to expand your armory, and you're serious about bringing the heavy artillery, then Use Magic Device is also a good skill to have.
As for feats, Frank is going to have a pretty wide variety of them. The following list is assuming the advanced firearm rules from Reign of Winter are not in play, which means firearms are still considered exotic weapons instead of simple ones, and that most guns can hold no more than a few rounds at most. If that's not the case in your game, then adjust as needed. These feats are separated by sections, but the order in which you take them is up to you.
Basic (1st-5th Level) Recommended Feats
- Point Blank and Precise Shot (Core Rulebook 131): Gain a +1 to attack and damage with ranged weapons within 30 feet, and ignore penalties for targets in melee.
- Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Firearms) [Core Rulebook 123]: Gain the ability to use firearms at no penalty.
- Rapid Reload (Core Rulebook 132): Firearms are a huge pain in the rear to reload, and they're prohibitively expensive, so carrying an entire bandolier of guns isn't recommended. As such, you should be able to reload them quickly when you need to. If you're going to pop between guns and crossbows, taking this feat twice is not a bad idea.
- Gunsmithing (Ultimate Combat 103): You can repair damaged guns, and craft new ones. Unless you have a Microchip character, then you'll be building and maintaining your own arsenal.
- Amateur Gunslinger (Ultimate Combat 89): While not a necessity, Amateur Gunslinger can give you the Quick Clear deed, which can be a lifesaver in the heat of battle.
More Shots Vs. More Damage
The question you need to ask yourself is whether you want to focus on doing more damage in a single shot, or if you want to get as many shots as possible. If you're using weapons that have a high-capacity, or which you can reload as a free action, then feats like Rapid Shot (Core Rulebook 132) and Two Weapon Fighting (Core Rulebook 136) are great ways to fill the air with lead.
If, on the other hand, you want to focus on making every shot count, then you might want to invest in feats like Vital Strike (Core Rulebook 136), which will let you roll your weapon damage multiple times. This is particularly good if you have to move, or if you're attacking during an ambush and you only get a standard action to take your shot. When combined with Devastating Strike (Ultimate Combat 95), this can add up to big numbers in a big hurry. It's made even worse if you're firing enchanted rounds (which might add bane damage, for example), or rounds that have poison in them (as per the pitted bullet rules on Ultimate Combat 141).
The following feats are useful additions to your Punisher's armory, but not required. These feats include:
- Quick Draw (Core Rulebook 131): If you're going to be using any thrown weapons, or you want to make sure you can draw and fire whenever you get the chance, this is a feat for you.
- Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization (Core Rulebook 136 and 137): The oldest combo in the book, these two feats, combined with the Improved versions, can make you particularly deadly with a given kind of weapon. Little bonuses can add up to big results.
- Point Blank Master (Advanced Player's Guide 167): You don't provoke attacks of opportunity when firing a ranged weapon in melee.
- Prone Shooter (Ultimate Combat 113): If you've been prone since your last turn, you may ignore the penalty prone imposes on any crossbow or firearm for which you have the Weapon Focus feat. Handy if you're going to be doing any sniping.
- Vengeance (Ultimate Campaign): Since Frank lost his entire family to a particular crime syndicate, Vengeance would give him bonuses to saves, attacks, and damage against anyone who's a member of that gang. If anyone should have this feat, it's The Punisher.
- Improved Precise Shot (Core Rulebook 128): If you're going to level 11, the ability to ignore anything less than total cover, and anything less than total concealment, can give you a huge advantage over foes who think they're fighting smarter than you. Definitely one to add to your list.
The Punisher's main schtick is that he always has the right gear for the job. Most of the time that means a solid suit of body armor to help him live through the fight, and enough ammunition and back-up weapons to be sure he'll be the last man standing. In addition to your guns and ammo, though, it's a good idea to keep a long-ranged weapon like a crossbow, and melee weapons like a dagger on hand. If you want to be sneaky, a cestus or spiked gauntlet allows you to take melee attacks of opportunity, but doesn't prevent you from drawing your gun and shooting once the AOO has been settled. It's also a good idea to keep your options open, with some guns that have single targets, and some guns which have the scatter ability. A double-barreled weapon can be great if you stick everyone in place with tanglefoot shot, and then unload a dragon's breath cartridge for your second attack.
Beyond your basic weapons, though, you need to think tactically. For example, this list of The Best Alchemical Items For Your Pathfinder Party includes some of the best aces you can keep up your sleeve. A well-placed thunderstone can seriously tilt the odds in your favor, especially if there are spell-casting enemies who will be at a 20% chance to lose any spell they cast if they fail the save. Tanglefoot bags are a great way to hobble enemies you don't want getting away, and to debuff targets who would otherwise be a problem. Smokesticks create instant concealment, and when used properly they can force the enemy to fight on your terms. Or they can be used as a distraction, setting your foes up for your ambush. Healing items like Bloodblock or Troll Styptic are also great for ensuring you stop bleeding, and do a bit of healing, once you get behind cover or inside concealment. And, of course, nothing gets a party started like setting someone ablaze with an alchemist fire.
Additionally, since we're in a high-fantasy setting, it's a good idea to make sure Frank has a series of potions on hand to help give him an advantage. Low-level spells like true strike, detect secret doors, protection from arrows, and see invisibility will all make sure that no one gets the drop on you.
Also, if you can get your hands on some high-level magic items, here are some recommendations. An eversmoking bottle combined with either fogcutter lenses or a Goz mask will give you the ability to flood an area with smoke, and shoot at flat-footed foes with impunity. The Iron Bands of Binding can wrap someone up completely, taking them out of the fight unless they're strong enough to break out, or powerful enough to cast freedom of movement on themselves. Bane ammunition for a variety of creatures will ensure you're shooting rounds that will do the most damage, and make short work of any foes of a certain type. Also, the gloves of reconnaissance will make sure you never walk in unprepared for what's on the other side of that door.
Story and Inspiration
Perhaps the most important part of any character conversion is your story. How much of the original are you going to take, and how much are you going to change? For example, was your family murdered by the undead, and thus you're hunting them to extinction? Were your children and your wife a victim of war crimes instead of criminal violence, and now you're seeking out the officers who gave the order to kill them? Was it your husband who died, or your father, and now you're picking up his guns to make the point that when you kill a Castle, you'd better raze the whole clan to the foundations if you don't want to spend your whole life looking over your shoulder? Who's in Your Character's Rogue's Gallery? may be a very useful post to help you fill in some of the blanks.
The degree of homage is up to you... but remember, you should feel free to adapt in order to tell the story you want to. If you're looking for inspiration, though, you might want to take a look at the following:
- 100 Random Mercenary Companies: Frank was one of the best, and if you want to give your Punisher a good origin story then why not make him a former member of an elite mercenary company? From the Dogs of War to the Harbingers of Sorrow, Frank would fit right in with several of these companies. Or, if you want to give him a knighthood instead of the Medal of Honor, you might want to look at orders like the Servants of The Roaring Lance or the Ministers of The Broken Blade found in 100 Knightly Orders.
- 100 Gangs For Your Urban Campaigns: Frank is a low-level vigilante, and he tends to focus on very human enemies. If you need gangs for him to oppose (or you want to pick one in particular whose enmity he's earned), then this collection has all you could ever ask for.
- 100 Random Bandits To Meet: Frank's foes don't tend to survive an encounter with him, but sometimes he has long-running enemies, and even snitches and spies among the criminal elements. From the Darkskull to the Man Eater, there are all sorts of villains whose Wanted posters Frank might have hung up in his shooting gallery. And if you want to go for a nautical theme instead, then you might find 100 Pirates to Encounter to be right up your alley, as well.