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I want to build a Pathfinder Society character than can effectively attack with a whip from level 1. If possible, I would really appreciate if this character could have some kind of divine magic, especially but not limited to self-buffs. Damage might not be this character's focus, he could specialize in trip or grapple builds, if it would be more optimized.

I am aware of the free rebuild rules which would allow me to build my 1st level as I wished and rebuild out of potentially inconvenient choices at the start of his 2nd level. I am also open to using the retraining rules if I must. I do not wish to pursue a disarm build because armed humanoids are not all that prominent in Society.

I would also enjoy playing with a conductive whip and some kind of holy magic.

This is what I have so far:

Human Swashbuckler (Mysterious Avenger) 1 / Warpriest of Calistria 10

Initial Stat Block (20pt Buy): STR 8 DEX 19 (+2 Human Bonus) CON 15 INT 13 WIS 13 CHA 7

  1. Weapon Focus (Whip); Slashing Grace (Whip)
  2. Weapon Focus (Whip) [From Warpriest]; Retrain/Rebuild Weapon Focus (Whip) to Whip Mastery
  3. Combat Reflexes
  4. Weapon Specialization (Whip); +1 Dexterity
  5. Combat Expertise
  6. (nothing)
  7. Improved Whip Mastery; Improved Trip
  8. Greater Weapon Focus (Whip) [Bonus Feat from 6x Human Warpriest FCB]; +1 Wisdom
  9. Greater Trip
  10. Lunge
  11. Greater Whip Mastery

How could I best optimize this character?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm unclear what you're trying to optimize. You state that you want some divine magic, which suggests some paths that you could pursue, but are you interested in something that deals a lot of damage, trips effectively, or something else? Also, what's your end level? \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Nov 3 '17 at 14:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I added a sample build I'm considering; I want to be effective while fighting with the whip (if damage is a viable option I want to pursue it); but tripping enemies for free AoOs from my allies is also a path I would consider; as is dealing some damage with some supporting divine magic. \$\endgroup\$ – Nejosan Nov 3 '17 at 14:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since you're considering tripping, can you tell who else is in your party? Do you have other melee characters that could capitalize on a tripped enemy? \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Nov 3 '17 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't know, as this is a PFS character; but I think with Fighter, Brawler and Barbarian being popular choices I should have no issue with that. I would appreciate if I could capitalize on Tripped enemies myself. \$\endgroup\$ – Nejosan Nov 3 '17 at 14:27
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Whips are really really really really bad. We can “optimize” them to be the best they can be, but they will never be good. Everything a whip can do, there are other weapons that can do it a whole lot better, because whips require a number of feats just to get to where many weapons start.

Race

Human, because feats are way, way too important here.

Traits

  • Heirloom Weapon, because +2 to your trip checks is probably better than anything else you can expect from a trait and you’ll need every bonus you can get. Get someone to cast masterwork transformation on it at the earliest opportunity.

  • Defensive Strategist would be amazing for you, but you wind up not being compatible with worship of Torag. Combat Reflexes kinda ends up replacing it anyway. Sort of.

  • Reactionary is a good basic trait for anyone, really, and you are no exception.

Feats

The reason whips suck, primarily, is because they do not threaten attacks of opportunity. Without that feature, you cannot leverage their reach well, and it becomes impossible to make a trip-lockdown build. Improved Whip Mastery can allow a whip to threaten—but only at +5-ft. reach, not the whip’s usual 15-ft. reach that is its only notable quality. Moreover, that requires BAB +5 and three terrible feats (Exotic Weapon Proficiency, Weapon Focus, and Whip Mastery) to even get. That’s four feats to get to where a guisarme starts. You can’t spend four feats just catching up and ever expect to come out ahead.

But in any event, you need those feats, and then you need Combat Reflexes, Improved Trip, Greater Trip, and you probably need Weapon Finesse because you need a ton of Dexterity for Combat Reflexes and Greater Trip. Improved Trip also requires Combat Expertise, or better, Dirty Fighting, which will help with grappling later and maybe can let you disarm if you need to.

That’s now nine feats. That’s a lot even for fighters. And for a non-human non-fighter, that could be all but one feat for a character. These are all low-level feats, too, feats you need to get sooner than later.

And you want divine magic as well. That suggests warpriest as your only conceivable option—it gets bonus feats and divine spells. And importantly, though it does not get full BAB, it counts as having full BAB for the purposes of its bonus feats. You’ll need that for Improved Whip Mastery and Greater Trip. And conveniently it comes with proficiency in your deity’s favored weapon—find a deity in your setting that favors whips.

Multiclassing in Pathfinder is generally a poor choice, and a particularly poor choice for spellcasters. Dipping swashbuckler for swashbuckler finesse is thus not a good choice. We want Weapon Finesse, it’s true, but we don’t particularly want Charisma and Dirty Fighting does a better job of handling Int requirements than it does. I also don’t love Slashing Grace—as nice as Dex-to-damage is, limiting yourself to only using one weapon in one hand is problematic. Plus, I mean, we need so many feats. If retraining is on the table, Slashing Grace could be good early on, but by 6th there are other feats you want more and by 9th you want a second whip.

As for the other feats you suggest, we’re on the same page for most of them, but Lunge and the Weapon Focus–Specialization–Greater et al. line are really bad. Please don’t take them, uhm, ever, they’re terrible feats.

OK, so then, a warpriest build with all those feats. Human, because you need feats so badly. That means...

This is the basic build for just being competent with whips. Note that half these feats wouldn’t be necessary with another weapon. Play prior to 6th will be very painful, particularly 5th when you effectively have fewer feats than you should because you cannot use Combat Reflexes. And worse, you’re now getting to mid levels, and combat maneuvers in general start to get really lackluster.

Still, warpriest is a good class, and fervor in particular is a fantastic class feature (you should always use it to quicken spells; the heal-or-harm effect is really small while quickening spells is amazing). Starting at 10th, one of the spells you get to quicken with fervor could be divine power, so that you get full BAB and that helps some with your CMB (as well as accuracy and damage).

As for after 6th,

Note that once you get Greater Whip Mastery, you probably want to get a second whip. You won’t be using two-weapon fighting (and thus you will not take penalties for it and so don’t need the feats for it), but the idea would be to use one whip to grapple, while the other hand is free to take attacks of opportunity and trip other people as well.

Unfortunately, your odds of succeeding at combat maneuver checks at this point are far from superb. But it seems like the best you can do. Past this point, we kind of just run out of decent, cost-effective feats to take. You are probably best at this point kind of... focusing on your spellcasting.

Abilities

$$\text{Wis} > \text{Dex} > \text{Con} \gg \text{anything else}$$

Probably. I mean, you really do want your spellcasting to be good, it’s your best class feature by far and fervor means you’ll be using it a lot. But you also want really good Dexterity for your CMB and AoOs, and really good Con because ideally, you’ll be drawing a lot of hostile attention to yourself.

All other ability scores are basically meaningless to you; feel free to dump them as hard as you can to get more of the above.

Blessings

Blessings mostly don’t interact much with your weapon choice here, but for the record, in Golarion among non-evil deities, the following blessings are available to you:

  • Chaos. The minor blessing is very much minor, and kinda liable to get forgotten. The major blessing is OK but not really helpful to your goals.

  • Charm. The minor blessing is actually really interesting—it allows you to protect an ally, which can go a very long way towards helping you control the battlefield. The major blessing is also pretty solid, though a lot things will be immune.

  • Community. The minor blessing isn’t terrible, but it’s not stellar either. The major blessing is OK too but again not amazing.

  • Darkness. Both minor and major blessing are pretty good, but I feel like Charm is just outright superior.

  • Earth. Acid damage is one of the better types to go with, and its unconditional, so the minor blessing is way better than, say, Chaos’s. On the other hand, the DR from the major blessing is really small.

  • Good. Basically a superior version of the Chaos blessing—superior because it is far more likely to have a campaign with a lot of evil enemies than it is to find a campaign with a lot of lawful enemies. If you want an alignment blessing, this is the one to go with.

  • Knowledge. Having to touch the target you want to learn about seems really obnoxious. The check result you get is quite good, but not good enough. Just have a smarty-pants in your party. The bonuses from the major blessing are nice, but kind of small-ish.

  • Law. See Chaos, pretty much the same story. Good remains the best alignment blessing barring a campaign with particular thematics.

  • Luck. Both minor and major blessing here are quite good. This is very strong contender.

  • Madness. The minor blessing is, in my opinion, a bad thing. A cowering, frightened, panicked, or paralyzed creature is 100% out of the fight for as long as that lasts: a confused creature has an opportunity to act normally. Seriously, awful. If you land one of those conditions, that enemy is effectively beaten anyway. The major blessing, on the other hand, is phenomenal—for someone who focuses on confusion. That isn’t you. Charm is strictly-superior here, I think.

  • Scalykind. Weird blessing for a human, but anyway: not useful. Tiny bonus to AC is tiny, and you want to use your whip, not fangs.

  • Strength. This would be phenomenal if, ya know, you weren’t Dexterity-based. The lack of a corresponding Dexterity blessing is really disappointing. But without a way to get non-Dex-based attacks of opportunity, this is wasted on you. If you can, that dramatically improves things.

  • Travel. Quite decent, but not astounding.

  • Trickery. A good pair of blessings, but neither is really terribly fitting or particularly helpful for you.

  • Water. Basically, see Earth. Fire shield is maybe kinda better than the DR, but it’s still not great, and cold damage is resisted more often than acid.

Anyway, based on this, I rather like Calistria for the Charm and Luck blessings, personally.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I could squeeze a bonus feat from human FCB at 6, and AFAIK this is a bonus feat just like the class feature, so I would use my Warpriest level to qualify as BAB and Fighter level, right? \$\endgroup\$ – Nejosan Nov 3 '17 at 14:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nejosan Good point about the FCB, yes, that’s a good idea and makes things a bit less painful. Will update my answer for that. As for an heirloom weapon, yes, you could use masterwork transformation on it. But it only gives +2 to a single sort of combat maneuver (choose trip, I guess?). By mid-high levels, a +2 will certainly help but it won’t be enough to really make combat maneuvers reliable, unfortunately. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 3 '17 at 14:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso I don’t see anything in my answer that “berates” the OP. My criticism is solely focused on the actual game-design behind whips, not at the OP’s desire to use them. And I strongly feel that my level of criticism here is entirely warranted and appropriate: the OP deserves to know just how truly awful the whip game design is before they attempt to use them. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 3 '17 at 18:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nejosan I think Power Attack is a waste (sure, you could two-hand the whip, but this is never going to be a high-damage build, too many feats going to just make whips usable), but the real advantage of going Str-based would be to try to use the quite-good Strength minor blessing. Better for whips, but the enormous hit to your spellcasting (plus the awkwardness of the progression and when you get bonus feats) made me decide not to suggest that route. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 3 '17 at 18:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman That is true, except the one thing bullwhips are legitimately good at is “threatening attacks of opportunity” as it were, so there really is no justification for that—and if they could do that, they’d be a legitimately interesting option. Instead they are 100% trap, and that is always bad for the game. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 3 '17 at 22:00

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