A Study of Slayers

By Melkiador

Introduction

        The Slayer is a hybrid of the Rogue and the Ranger class.  Unlike the other hybrid classes it offers little in the way of new abilities, hence much of this information could be gathered from reading guides for the Rogue or the Ranger.  The main new ability is Studied Target which increases your accuracy and damage against one target.

        The Slayer’s abilities allow it to be useful in a number of situations, from combat to scouting and even in social situations.  Despite being good at a lot of things, the Slayer doesn’t really excel at any one thing over any other class.  While it has a lot of abilities from its parent classes, very few of these abilities combo into anything extra powerful.

        The Slayer is great for playing the generic fantasy/action hero.  He is the guy who’s good in a fight.  He is good with the ladies and/or gents.  He is basically good at anything non-magical.  He is Han Solo.  He is Conan.  He is Aragorn.  He is Black Widow.

Ranking

I, as many others before me, am just ripping this off from other guides.

Blue: The best.  These abilities tend to define a class.

Green: These things are good, but not exceptionally so.

Orange: These are things that have uses, but you probably wouldn’t miss them if they were gone.

Red: The worst.  If you can trade these abilities out then you should.

Race Favored Class Bonus:

Because Slayers can be built many different ways, it is difficult to rate a race’s compatibility with the Slayer directly.  Instead, I will list which races most favor a build as they are added to the guide.  I will however rate the Favored Class Bonuses.

Dwarf:  A ⅓ bonus to  two common skills, Knowledge(dungeoneering) and Survival.  While the skills are common enough, their success is rarely essential.

Elf:  More skill bonuses, but this time to to Perception, Survival and Stealth, and reliant on you studying the target and at a ¼ progression.  While a bonus to Perception is usually great, having need of studying the target first makes it not very useful.

Gnome:  ⅙ of a Slayer Talent.  A pretty good choice.  If you consider that the Normal FCB bonus, if taken in full, gives as many hit points as a single feat, Toughness.  This FCB gives the equivalent of 3 feats with 2 FCB points left over.  Beware that the rest of the class doesn’t favor Slayer as strongly.  I am only rating the FCB.

Half-Elf:  A ½ bonus to Bluff and Diplomacy.  Not bad for a party Face.  But note that Half-Elf can also take the FCB bonus of Humans.

Halfling:  ¼ dodge bonus against Studied Target.  Not a bad choice, but not exciting.

Half-Orc: ⅓ on crit confirmation while using sneak attack.  Way too situational and doesn’t even stack with other such effects.  Fortunately, Half-Orcs can instead choose the human FCB.

Human: ⅙ of a Slayer Talent.  Still a good choice.  And even better, the Human has other racials that also work well with Slayer.  As noted above, Half-Elves and Half-Orcs also have access to this bonus and should take it.

Class Features:

Hit Die: A d10 is nice.  It gives you a little more freedom to drop constitution in those ranged builds.

Class Skills: A lot of good skills for scouting and social situations.  And a class feature to boost the rolls of some of them.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: You didn’t want heavy armor anyway.  A mithral breastplate gives you delicious  mobility.

Studied Target: This is the slayer’s iconic ability.  At 7th level you can activate it with a swift action, which is about all you need to do with your swift actions.  Before 7th, its activation in combat is more questionable, as it usually takes a move action or an immediate action with a sneak attack.  Ideally, you will be able to study before the combat even begins.  Barring that, you should almost always use the immediate action if you can get a sneak attack in.  Personally, I wouldn’t give up a move action to study, unless you have nothing else to do with your move action that round.

        Studied Target isn’t all about combat though.  Its bonus can be used on Bluff, Knowledge, Perception, Sense Motive, and Survival checks, which makes it a very versatile skill as the Scout or Face of a party.  And at 7th level you can also apply the bonus to Disguise, Intimidate, and Stealth.

Track: This ability may come up from time to time, but it’s a small bonus to something that can often be done more easily with divination magic.

Slayer Talents:  These are limited feat level abilities, and you get them every 2nd level, barring archetypes.  There are a number of good options, which I will attempt to go over below, but the one people seem to like the best is the Ranger Combat Style talent.

Sneak Attack: This is a very variable class ability.  While more damage is always useful, the Slayer, unlike the Rogue, doesn’t really get enough dice for you to go out of your way to Sneak Attack for damage alone.  That said, there are some abilities that trigger on Sneak Attack that can be very useful.  So, while you could build around Sneak Attack, you could just as easily let it be a small bonus you may occasionally receive.

Stalker: Add Disguise, Intimidate, and Stealth to studied target.

Advanced Talents:  I’m mostly underwhelmed with these.  They don’t seem to be more powerful than the non-advanced versions.

Swift Tracker:  I’m still not a fan of Track, but this makes you faster at it.

Slayer’s Advance:  This basically lets you double move as a move action once or twice a day.  It’d be more exciting if you could do it more often, but more movement can always find a use.  Obviously good for an archer trying to keep his distance.

Quarry: A Track heavy ability, but it also offers an attack bonus towards its one target.  Its use of a standard action means that you won’t want to use it if you are already in combat, but it’s good if you can set it up before combat.  Its other major limitation is that you can only use it once per 24 hours. However it does become much more useful with...

Improved Quarry: This ability changes Quarry from a standard action to a free action, which means you could use it in combat.  It also improves the attack bonus a little.  But more importantly it lowers the cooldown from 24 hours to 10 minutes, meaning you could use it almost once per fight.

Master Slayer:  It’s a thematic ability,  and good for quickly shutting down an enemy with a low Fortitude save.  While powerful, it’s not very exciting and few level 20 encounters are going to give you enemies with a low Fortitude save.

Slayer Talents:

Slowing Strike: Cutting someone’s speed in half isn’t that exciting.  It does have use in chasing someone down or keeping your distance as an archer.

Blood Reader: Know your Studied Target’s hit point total.  Knowledge is power, but this is too “meta” for a lot of groups.  Don’t be surprised if your DM bans it.  Useful for knowing if an enemy only needs one more hit to take down.  Also effective against Spy’s, as a peasant with 100 hit points is probably up to something.

Deadly Range: Normally you can only Sneak Attack within 30 feet, and this increases that by 10, for every time you take it.  The problem with this is that there aren’t a lot of ways to set up sneak attack from range anyway.  Also eventually overshadowed by the Sniper Goggles magic item.

Foil Scrutiny: A +2 to Bluff, Disguise and saves vs Mind Reading.  More flavor than power.  This is for the Slayer who wants to be James Bond.

Poison Use: Poisons aren’t usually worth the time and money.

Ranger Combat Style:  Bonus feats are always good, and this can let you access some feats earlier than you normally could.  You can only get 3 feats from 3 picks of this talent though, so unlike the Ranger, you will find yourself needing to meet the prerequisites to pick up the whole chain of your fighting style.

Rogue Talent:  I will cover these in a separate section.  Whether you are using the Core or Unchained Rogue talents will vary from game to game, but assume Core.

Studied Ally: If you like using Aid Another, then this makes you better at that.  It may pair well with Aid Another Teamwork Feats with the Vanguard archetype.

Trapfinding: This is of variable use.  It depends on how often you encounter traps and how deadly those traps are.  Many parties prefer to just take the hit from the trap and heal the after-effects.

Slayer Talents(Rogue Talents):

Bleeding Attack: The Slayer’s low number of Sneak Attack Dice mean that this will never cause a big bleed.

Camouflage: A +4 to stealth that works most of the time.  Stay away if you expect your game to often take place in locations without natural foliage.

Combat Trick: A bonus combat feat is always nice.

Fast Stealth: Move at full speed while using stealth.  I can’t see much use for this.  Speed should only be a factor if your party is engaged in combat and you need to stealth into position for a sneak attack.  While it may come up occasionally, I doubt it will be used enough to be worth a buy.

Finesse Rogue: The problem with this choice is timing.  If you want weapon finesse, you will need it sooner than later, and there are other stronger talents to choose in the low levels.  So, finesse will probably be picked up by your level 1 feat pick, making this talent useless, unless you use retraining to swap out the feat for the talent in later levels.

Firearm Training: Decent if there is easy access to firearms in your campaign.

Grit: Requires Firearm Training.  Gives you two feats for the price of one, but if you are getting this far into gunslinging, you should probably start taking levels in Gunslinger.

Hard to Fool: Be warned that there are actually two rogue talents with this name.  This is the APG one, that allows you to roll twice on a sense motive check a limited number of times per day.  Not that great.  The version from Ultimate Combat is very good, but Slayers don’t seem to have access to it.

Lasting Poison: This makes poisoning better, but poison isn’t an optimal combat style.

Powerful Sneak: Minimally increases your sneak attack damage.  The worst talent so far.  For reference, this is a +⅙ damage per sneak attack die.

Rogue Crawl:  You can move around while prone.  I don’t see a lot of use for this.  If sniping ever becomes a valid option, then this might as well.

Slow Reactions: Prevent Attacks of Opportunity if you hit with a sneak attack.  I mostly see team based uses in this.  By shutting down an enemies AoO, you give your teammates freedom to get in better positions.

Snap Shot: You can go first in the surprise round, but you have to attack with a ranged weapon.  Combos fairly well with the Vanguard who can always act in the surprise round.

Sniper’s Eye: Less than full concealment doesn’t stop your ranged Sneak Attack damage within 30 feet.  It’s very situational.

Surprise Attack:  You consider everyone and anyone as flat-footed during the surprise round, apparently no matter what.  Also pairs well with the Vanguard who can always participate in the surprise round.

Swift Poison: You can poison your weapons faster, but you probably shouldn’t be bothering anyway.

Terrain Mastery: As the Ranger ability.  This is good if you expect to spend most of your time in the same terrain type.

Trap Spotter:  Notice traps without even trying.  Obviously good, if you are your party’s trap expert.

Unwitting Ally: Odd for being an advanced talent.  This still isn’t a great choice.  You can bluff an enemy into helping you flank another enemy for 1 round as a swift action.  You can only do this once per enemy bluffed.  While sure to be of use, it is still very situational.

Weapon Training: Weapon Focus is great for many builds.

Advanced Slayer Talents:

Assassinate: Instant kill with a long windup.  While situational and hard to pull off by requiring multiple criteria, this is still a powerful ability in the right situation.

Rogue and Ninja Advanced Talents: Covered below.

Slayer Camouflage:  Requires terrain mastery.  Lets you hide in plain sight in a favored terrain.

Woodland Stride: Unhindered while moving through natural difficult terrain.  Be Legolas walking on snow.

Advanced Slayer Talents(Rogue and Ninja):

Deadly Sneak: Advanced Powerful Sneak, which was just the worst.

Evasion: You are going to have a good Reflex save anyway.  You may as well take no damage when you make it.

Hunter’s Surprise: Once per day you can freely sneak attack a target for one round.  Not so great if you are sneak attacking for damage.  But if you are sneak attacking to trigger other things, then this has a strong use.

Knock-out Blow: A once per day chance to inflict 1d4 rounds of unconsciousness isn’t that great to me.  If you find yourself needing capture targets alive then maybe, but otherwise Assassinate is just clearly superior.

Master of Disguise: +10 to disguise, once per day.  It’s nice if you want to be a master spy.

Opportunist: Extra attacks are always good.  

Stealthy Sniper: This makes you better at sniping.  I don’t like sniping, because it doesn’t work well in a team based game and lowers your relative damage per round if your party is in combat taking full attack actions.

Class Skills:

* Can be used with Studied Target

** Can be used with Stalker and Studied Target

Acrobatics: Good for getting in position for a flank.

Bluff*:  Useful for setting up a Sneak Attack in the right situation, but I like it better for social situations.

Climb:  Useful, but you can usually find a way around using it.

Craft:  No special need for this ability.

Disguise**:  Good for those who want to be a spy.

Heal:  No special need for this ability.

Intimidate**: Good for social situations

Knowledge(dungeoneering)*: Good unless you don’t expect to spend time in dungeons.

Knowledge(geography)*: I’ve never seen someone use or take this.

Knowledge(local)*:  A very common skill.

Perception*:  The most common skill.  You will roll this more than any other.

Profession:  No special need for this.

Ride:  Unless you have a mount that scales with level, riding isn’t worth the investment.

Sense Motive*:  Good for the face.

Stealth**:  It’s hard to imagine a Slayer that can’t sneak.

Survival*:  If you want to be a tracker, this is your skill

Swim:  You can usually find ways around needing this skill.  Obviously worth more if in a water based campaign.

Feats:

With so many valid fighting styles, there are more feats than I can handle at this time.  I will try to update this section in the future.

Archetypes:

Bounty Hunter:

        Dirty Trick: This is the only reason this is a good archetype.  You can stack up multiple Tricks to enable more sneak attacks to trigger more Tricks.  Unfortunately, the rest of the archetype doesn’t offer nearly as much.

        Submission Hold: The problem with this ability is that you will already be focusing your feats on Dirty Tricks, so won’t have build room to be good with grapple.

        Incapacitate: This is basically assassinate, but slightly weaker and non-lethal.  

Cleaner:

        Deceitful: If you weren’t going to track anyways, then these bonuses are used more.

        Without a Trace:  I have never had a case where this would be useful.  You’d need to be playing criminals in a fairly legalistic world.

        Mislead: That it can only be used on yourself makes it fairly useless.

Cutthroat:

        Street Stalker: Change the Track bonus to work with a more common skill.

        Opportune Target: Free action study in a surprise round.  Decent at the level you get it, but once Studied Target becomes a swift action, it loses a lot of its worth.

        Stab and Grab: Not very familiar with the Steal maneuver, but the ability has too many requirements.

Deliverer:

        Deity’s Favored Weapon:  Usually not a big deal, but you get it for free.

        Determined Zeal:  This is basically two feats for the price of a talent.   But only if your target is 2 alignment steps or more away from you. Note that you don’t have to hit your opponent to get these bonuses.  You just have to try to attack them.

        True Believer:  You are better at fighting till the last hit point.  It’s circumstantial, but it could easily save your party.

        Divine Anathema: Bonus Damage against your enemies.

        ***Special Note.  This archetype overly favors non-neutral alignments, because everything requires your enemy to be two alignment steps or more away from you.  A lawful good Slayer would receive the benefit almost all of the time as he will only rarely come into conflict with someone who is Lawful Good, Neutral Good or Lawful Neutral.  So, if you are Lawful Good this is a Blue archetype with Blue abilities, but if you are true neutral this is Orange or maybe even Red.

Grave Warden:

        Holy Water Sprinkle:  Intended to be an extra 2d6 damage a round when fighting undead.  The potential to draw flasks of holy water as a free action means that you could theoretically full attack with the flasks.

        Death Ward:  It costs 100 gold in flasks of holy water a pop, but you could otherwise do it all day.  Useful when fighting anything that relies heavily on negative energy attacks.

        Dustbringer: Assassinate against Undead.

        *** Special Note.  This archetype is only worth it if you expect to be fighting mostly undead in your campaign.  In the average game, these abilities won’t come up often enough to be worth their cost.  

Pureblade:

        Aberration Hunter: Mostly worthless.  If you wanted this archetype you were going to have ranks in Knowledge(dungeoneering) anyway.  The immediate action study against aberrations is somewhat useful, but becomes mostly redundant at 7th level with swift action Studying.  But if you consider this is just replacing Track, it’s not that bad of an ability.

        Alien Prescience: Unlimited detect aberrations is great if you are hunting aberrations.

        Discern Weakness: Not a bad trade, but not exciting.

        Steely Mind: Good for resisting and breaking enchantments

        ***Special Note. This archetype has the same problem as the Grave Warden.  It’s great if you expect to be fighting aberrations all of the time, but otherwise the abilities will often go unused.

Sczarni Executioner:

        Class Skills: A fair trade.  More and less useful skills are traded for likewise useful.

        Bloodstained Hands: You have to be evil or lose the archetype.

        Focused Killer: Studied target 1 better against humanoids and one worse against everything else.

        Painful Strike: Chance to sicken on Sneak Attack.  A nice little debuff.

        Assassinate: You just have to take the regular talent at that level.  You probably would have grabbed it eventually anyway.

        Swift Death: Be better at assassinate, once or twice a day.

Sniper:

        Accuracy: Great for making that long shot.  If you are playing ranged, you’ve probably given up on your Sneak Attack dice anyway.

        Deadly Range: This is weird, because there is already a Deadly Range talent and it doesn’t get worse with additional picks of the talent like this ability.  I suppose you can have this and then take the regular talent for further range increases.  The whole thing doesn’t seem worth it to me though.  You aren’t going to get many sneak attacks from range anyway.

        ***Special Note:  There is a developer post that Deadly Range is likely getting replaced with a new ability:

Deadly Sniper (Ex): At 2nd level, when the sniper makes an attack against a target who is within his weapon’s first range increment and completely unaware of his presence, that attack ignores the 30 foot range limit on ranged sneak attacks, and if it is a sneak attack, he adds his sniper level as a bonus on his sneak attack damage roll. After this first attack, the target is aware of the sniper’s presence.

        Deadly Sniper:  At first glance this is a weak ability, as Slayer Sneak Attack damage isn’t very interesting, but if you combine it with the Assassinate talent, then you can truly be a deadly sniper.  Of course, you’ll have to wait 8 levels from when you get this ability to get Assassinate.  In the meantime, I guess you could use it with Slowing Strike, which would slow them getting to the location from where you are sniping.  While this ability isn’t bad, it can be duplicated by a magic item: Sniper Goggles.

Stygian Slayer:

Weapon and Armor Proficiencies: So badly worded, because it technically takes away all of your weapon proficiencies too, but I’m pretty sure you were only supposed to lose medium armor and shields.  Hope that your DM is reasonable enough to see through the Rules as Written, but otherwise just pick a race that gives free weapon proficiencies.  Elf has a good selection of free ones.

Invisibility: Great for scouting.  While you get a limited number per day, it’s still there often enough for you to have it when you need it.

Spell Use: So much for so little.  Though you will still need to purchase all of those scrolls and wands.  I suppose you could emulate this with maxed Use Magic Device, but the Slayer isn’t good at that skill by default.

Shadowy Mist Form: Another good trade, though it’s mostly a fun ability.

Vanguard:

        Lookout: Take the track bonus and apply it to initiative.  So, so good. So good.

        Tactician: Borrowed from the Cavalier, it’s a solid ability.  You get a bonus teamwork feat and then the ability to make it useful to your entire party.

        Vanguard’s Bond: Too many requirements for too small a bonus for too short a time.  While not great in combat, you could also use it out of combat for things like boosting your teammate’s stealth against a single target.

        Ever Ready: You always act in the surprise round.  And since you have such a good initiative, you probably act before the enemies who tried to surprise you.  If your DM is feeling generous, you may even be able to combine this with Tactician and the Lookout teamwork feat, to drag your entire party into the surprise round with you.  

Magic Items

Here we will review magic items that are intended for use by a Slayer, or items that happen to be unusually useful to a Slayer.  In addition to these special items, Slayers should seek out the default magical items desired by most classes.  These default items are sometimes referred to as the big 6, and they include Magic Weapon, Magic Armor, Stat Boosting Belt/Headband, Ring of Protection, Cloak of Resistance, Amulet of Natural Armor.  These default items are not exactly required, but are highly recommended and even assumed by most published content to be present on your character by a certain level.