How To Build The Winter Soldier in The Pathfinder RPG
A Character Conversion Guide
The Winter Soldier is an old spook story in the world of international espionage. A vicious killer who comes out of the shadows, destroys his target, and then vanishes without a trace. The man behind the mystique is, of course, Sergeant James Barnes. Captured by the enemy, and experimented on during the reign of the Nazis, Bucky fell back into the hands of Hydra's Soviet branch after the war was over. His mind and body were altered, turning him into a brainwashed, cybernetic killing machine who, when he wasn't in the field, was kept in suspended animation as little more than a weapon in cold storage. If that's the sort of character you'd like to bring to your Pathfinder table, then this handy guide should get you started.
If you like this guide, and you'd like to see other members of the Avengers, the cast of Game of Thrones, or even Gotham's heroes and villains, the Character Conversions page at Improved Initiative has you covered. Also, if you're looking for more gaming articles, general geekery, and other conversation pieces, check out my full Vocal archive while you're here!
Essentials (Race, Attributes, and Traits)
Bucky Barnes, despite the strange experiments he's been subjected to, is still human. For those who want to recreate the Winter Soldier, physical attributes are going to be key. Dexterity should take priority, though neither Strength nor Constitution should be far behind. The highest mental attribute you're going to want is Charisma, followed by Wisdom, and finally Intelligence. As with most heroes, there's no such thing as a dump stat here. You simply need to decide which attributes will govern the abilities you use most often, and give them priority.
Perhaps the most fitting trait for the Winter Soldier is Awakened From Stasis from People of The Stars. This trait allows you to gain a full 8 hours of rest with only 2 hours of sleep, but that benefit results from being held in a bizarre, suspended animation in a place you'd never seen before. For your second trait, you need to ask what will benefit your version of Bucky the most. Never Stop Shooting, for example, lets you act as if you had the Diehard feat, but the only actions you can take are drawing, shooting, and reloading a firearm. Reactionary gives you a +2 trait bonus to your Initiative checks, and Black Powder Fortune gives you a +2 bonus on Will saves against Fear and emotion effects as long as you have a gun in your hand. There are plenty of traits to pick from, just remember that you need to choose ones you'll use often.
If Captain America (whose character conversion has already been written up) is the symbol of heroism during World War II, then the Winter Soldier is the personification of the dark, moral grayness of the Cold War. Mysterious, deliberate, and with no compulsions about using whatever means it takes to get the job done, he wears no uniform, and bears no flag.
So a good start for the build is the Mysterious Stranger archetype for the gunslinger from Ultimate Combat.
Mysterious Strangers gain their grit from Charisma, rather than Wisdom, which is why you want a high Charisma score. The archetype also gives you a deed that adds a bonus on your firearm damage equal to your Charisma modifier, and it swaps out nimble for a bonus on Will saves (something you're definitely going to need). It also swaps out gun training for the ability to ignore a misfire a certain number of times per day.
The Winter Soldier is more than just a simple gunman, though. While his weapon of choice is certainly a mid-range rifle, he has no compunction about pulling a knife, or mixing it up hand-to-hand with his enemies. Additionally, he's a skilled operative, with the ability to slip in and out of places unexpected, and undetected. So how do you add that into the mix?
Well, the unarmed combat is easy. A single level dip into Brawler gives you solid unarmed damage, along with the advantage of Martial Flexibility, and even Brawler's Cunning if you had to take a 10 or 11 for your Intelligence, but don't want to miss out on certain feats. While you can invest in the Constructed Pugilist archetype from People of The Wastes to get that mechanical arm off the bat, you do trade in Martial Flexibility, which is a heavy cost.
The sneaky aspect is a bit tougher, but worth the investment if you're going to be doing a lot of stealth and intrigue-based work. You should take at least 2 levels of rogue in order to get both sneak attack, and evasion. However, if you want to get fancy, take 4 levels of the Survivalist archetype from Ultimate Combat. You lose out on trapfinding and trap sense, but you gain endure elements as a spell-like ability, and you can go double the normal amount of time before thirst and starvation begin to affect you. Level four also gives you that extra d6 of sneak attack, and Uncanny Dodge.
It should be noted, at this point, that there's a weak spot in your armor with this three-class build. While your Fortitude and Reflex saves are going to be off the charts, your Will save is going to be in the gutter. On the one hand, this could represent the years of torture and brainwashing Bucky underwent to turn him into a mindless killer. On the other hand, you may want to think about balancing that out so you don't fail every Will save that comes your way.
There's more than one way to skin a cat, and if the three-class recipe above doesn't fit with your wants, there are other options on the table.
The most obvious is the slayer, from the Advanced Class Guide. While archetypes like Executioner or Cleaner might be useful, just going straight slayer will get you a good mix of skills and combat capabilities, along with rogue and slayer talents (particularly Gun Training, if you're not mixing in another class that grants firearm proficiency).
And if you want to spice up that cocktail you could add 5 levels of Savage Technologist from the Technology Guide (barbarian archetype that gets bonus to Dexterity when raging, as well as bonus damage with firearms at level 5), or 5 levels of Fearsome Defender from Horror Adventures (a different barbarian archetype that provides bonuses on Intimidate and fast action, mimicking the Winter Soldier's constant edge of violence).
A Certain Set of Skills (Skills and Feats)
Whichever route you end up taking, you'll have access to a fair number of skills. You also get a bonus skill point for being human, which is going to come in quite handy. The skills you're going to want are Perception, Acrobatics, Survival, Sleight of Hand, Intimidate, Disable Device, Stealth, Disguise, Linguistics, Use Magic Device, and Knowledge (Local). You don't have to max all of your skills out, but the ones you're going to use most often (like Stealth, Acrobatics, and U.M.D. if you're planning on using magic items in combat) should be as high as you can get them.
Choosing your feats is a little tougher, but you do have the advantage that with Martial Flexibility you can grab a combat feat you don't know, but qualify for, for a brief period of time. This will help you fill in any gaps you find yourself facing, especially if you find that a combat maneuver would fix your situation, but you didn't take the feat to let you perform it without eating an attack of opportunity.
These feats assume that you're going to focus on dealing damage at range, and with firearms whenever possible.
- Point Blank Shot and Precise Shot (Core Rulebook 131): Gain a bonus on ranged attacks within 30 feet, and ignore the penalty for shooting into melee.
- Deadly Aim (Core Rulebook 121): Take a negative to your ranged attack, gain a bonus on damage.
- Rapid Reload and Rapid Shot (Core Rulebook 132): You may fire an additional time per round when making a full attack with a ranged weapon, and you can reload that ranged weapon more quickly. Rapid Reload is best taken if you plan on using one particular type of firearm, rather than whatever is loaded, and quick to hand.
- Clustered Shots (Ultimate Combat 92): Add all your damage together before subtracting your enemy's damage reduction.
If you're going to be more of an in-your-face fighter, you might want to add the following feats to your repertoire.
- Power Attack (Core Rulebook 131): Take a penalty to your attack, and gain a bonus on damage. The bread-and-butter of melee combat.
- Deflect Arrows (Core Rulebook 121): Once per round, if you have a hand free, you can deflect a ranged attack that would otherwise hit you. Works for bullets as well as crossbow bolts.
- Two-Weapon Fighting (Core Rulebook 136): Make an additional attack with your off-hand as a free action. This is great for the slayer/barbarian combo in particular, as Sword and Gun lets you slash and shoot without drawing attacks of opportunity.
These are, of course, just the base pool of recommended feats. You should feel free to take them in the order that best benefits your style, and which gives you the best advantage based on how your version of the character operates in the field. Lastly, for those who are planning on doing a lot of unarmed combat, the Boar Style fighting feats out of Ultimate Combat.
Gear and Story
The Winter Soldier is flexible when it comes to his tools in the field. Everything from handguns and knives to rifles and vehicle mounted weapons are something he can use to wreak havoc. However, while his specific gear changes from mission to mission, he does have a signature item that goes with him everywhere; his cybernetic arm.
There are several ways you can recreate this item, according to Replacing Lost Limbs With Magical Prosthetics in Pathfinder. Some players may prefer the permanent fixture of a clockwork limb, found in Magical Marketplace. This item allows you to deal lethal damage with your unarmed strikes, and provides a bonus against being disarmed whenever you hold a weapon in that hand. These limbs can be made from special materials (like adamantine, for example), and they can be enchanted as if they were a weapon, provided the ability can be added to an unarmed strike.
However, an alternative method (and one that may be less of a headache) is to use the Construct Limb modification found in Ultimate Magic, which can be placed on any Small or Tiny construct. This provides the wearer with a shield bonus, and it grants them use of any special attacks the construct had (such as a slam attack). And if you do get a natural slam attack, then you can add 1.5 times your Strength modifier to damage, as well as 1.5 times your Power Attack damage, which explains why people who find themselves on the wrong end of Bucky's left hook tend to go down with busted power armor.
Lastly, you need to decide how much of the Winter Soldier's story is going into your version of the character, and how much is going to be your own creation. For example, was he a Kellid, captured on a raid in Numeria and experimented on until he became a soldier of the Black Sovereign? Was he, perhaps an ancient Azlanti found hidden in a pod that let him survive Earthfall, and treated as a curiosity by the war colleges in Nex? Or was he an Eagle Knight who went missing in Cheliax, only to return with no memory of his former self, carrying out the orders of the infernal royalty?
If you're looking for inspiration for additional background details, check out the following:
- 100 Knightly Orders: The Winter Soldier's unique talents would be extremely useful to the Ministers of The Broken Blade, as well as several other orders in this particular list.
- 100 Gangs For Your Urban Campaigns: Whether it's a hitter for the shadowy organization known as the Eyes of Alaris, or a contractor for the Killers, the Winter Soldier could help any gang quickly rise to a position of prominence.
- 100 Random Mercenary Companies: From the guerrilla fighters of the Jackdaws, to the elite irregulars of the Gray Fox Brigade, a part of your Soldier's legend could very easily have sprung up from these infamous free companies.