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How to Build Harriet Tubman in The Pathfinder RPG

By Edited Jul 16, 2016 0 0
Credit: Wikimedia Commons Image

Harriet Tubman is one of those names we hear in our history classes, but we rarely associate her with anything memorable. She's talked about primarily as an abolitionist, and as someone who fought for women's suffrage. It's mentioned that she was a former slave who managed to escape the south, but it's downplayed in favor of the drier, political movements she was a part of.

Perhaps because our professors were afraid that if they gave us the whole story that we might pay attention?

Contrary to the image your history textbook likely left you with, Harriet Tubman was a freedom fighter, emphasis on fighter. A military scout, a spy, and a pistol-packing hardcase, Tubman knew that no one freed slaves because it was a right, and moral thing to do. They did it because someone busted their kneecaps, and broke the chains. She personally rescued over 300 slaves, and if you add in the body count from the raids she led on behalf of the Union during the Civil War, that number climbs into the thousands.

If you've been looking for a way to add a rebel, guerilla, and soldier like her to your Pathfinder game, this guide should get you started down the right path. And if you're interested in other Badasses of History, like Andrew Jackson (in case you need a villain for Harriet to oppose), Improved Initiative's Character Conversion page has you covered.


Race, Attributes, and Traits

Tubman, despite the claims of many of her enemies, is human. This gives us a floating +2 to an attribute, a bonus skill point, and a bonus feat. And, given the things she survived in her youth (such as lashings that gave her permanent scars across her back, and being struck in the head with a steel weight that gave her a lifetime of problems like seizures and narcolepsy), you might want to consider putting that +2 in her Constitution score. You're going to need a high Dexterity, and a good Strength score would be useful. While there's no such thing as a dump stat, Tubman's iron will and refusal to surrender even in the direst of circumstances likely means her Wisdom should take precedence among her mental stats.

When it comes to traits, there are quite a few that reflect Tubman's history, and achievements. The trait Clumsy Slave (make a Bluff check when dealing non-lethal damage to convince the target it was accidental) is ideal for someone who may need to act against slave owners, but who needs to conceal their intentions until the last moment. Other useful traits might be Confidante to The Oppressed (+2 trait bonus on Diplomacy checks to improve the attitude of enslaved and otherwise oppressed targets), or Freed Slave (gain +1 trait bonus on Will saves). Since those are all Regional traits, you might also want to consider Enemy of Slavers (+2 trait bonus to Diplomacy and Intimidate checks made to sway the minds of slavers, and anyone who keeps people against their will). Remember, when it comes to traits, pick something that's both accurate, and which you'll use often.



Harriet Tubman was born to an enslaved mother, and a free father. Her childhood was full of hardship and abuse, and she carried those scars for the rest of her life. Born in 1820, she escaped from her Maryland plantation in 1829. There were several false starts, but when she decided she was going to go for good, she went on her own. She moved through unfamiliar country, under the cover of darkness, and through hostile territory where she could be captured, killed, or worse. She met up with the Underground Railroad, and eventually found herself in the free north.

Despite having made it across that line, though, freedom is not a dish that sits right on the tongue when you know there are others you can't share it with. So Tubman became one of the Underground Railroads infamous conductors, shepherding runaways to freedom, and planning the occasional raid on a plantation. This was far more than a game of hide-and-seek, since if any of them were caught, the consequences would be dire. Tubman never lost a passenger, though, even if they started to lose their nerve and think about going back. At that point they might find themselves staring down the barrel of a Colt, since Tubman wasn't going to let one coward get the whole group caught.

Conducting dozens of raids, and personally shepherding over 200 slaves out of the ever more violent South was just the opening act, though. When the Civil War broke out, Tubman put her skills to use helping the Union army. She was a scout, a nurse, and a spy when necessary. In fact, she was essential in leading several raids into Confederate territory, one of which freed over 700 slaves, denying some pretty significant manpower to the gray war machine in addition to destroying supply lines, burning storehouses, and overall sabotaging the South's war efforts.

The best way to encapsulate this skill set is with the Scout, a Rogue archetype found on page 135 of the Advanced Player's Guide. Scout sacrifices Uncanny Dodge and Improved Uncanny Dodge, giving you the ability to get your sneak attack damage in whenever you move and attack (first as part of a charge, and second any time you move 10 feet or more before attacking). However, the Rogue, like Tubman herself, is a class of skills and talents.

The first Rogue Talent you take should be Firearm Training, since Tubman's preferred weapons were guns. Grit is a good follow-up Talent, but you may also want to invest in Camouflage, Surprise Attack, Escaping Stunt, Heads Up, Fast Stealth, and Canny Observer are also Talents you may find quite useful while on those night raids.

As to Tubman's skills, it's a good thing Rogues get so many, and that humans get a bonus skill point every level. The skills you'll want to invest in are Perception, Intimidation, Diplomacy, Bluff, Survival, Disable Device, Sense Motive, Knowledge (local), and Stealth. That's the minimal number, assuming no negative from your Intelligence score. However, if you have bonus points left over, you might want to consider Disguise, Sleight of Hand, and Heal.



Credit: MorgueFile Image

As with any character who's going to take up a righteous cause, Tubman will need all the skill and wits you can muster. Of course, a few tricks up the sleeve is also par for the course. While these are not the only feats you can take, they lend themselves well to a night-fighting, gunslinging guerilla warrior.

- Point Blank and Precise Shot (Core Rulebook 131): These feats are bread and butter for anyone who's going to be shooting or throwing during combat. Bonus to close-range hit and damage, and ignore the -4 for shooting into melee. Recommend as your first level feat, and human bonus feat.

- Liberator (Ultimate Campaign): A story feat, Liberator gives you a +1 bonus on attack rolls, weapon damage, and skill checks when your actions would directly lead to the freedom of those held in bondage. If you personally rescue over 200 slaves (a number Tubman easily bests), then you can, as a standard action, also impart bonuses to the slaves you are rescuing.

- Chainbreaker (Andoran, Spirit of Liberty): Once per round when you deal damage to a creature you know traffics in, or owns, slaves, you may add a bonus +1 for every 4 hit dice you possess.

- Deadly Aim (Core Rulebook 121): Take a negative to hit, and get a bonus to damage. A great way to make sure your pistol or musket does serious damage to a foe.

- Endurance and Diehard (Core Rulebook 122): Gain the ability to act as if disabled when brought below 0 hit points, and gain bonuses on saves related to extended activities. A good explanation for why even a cracked skull wouldn't stop her from setting out on her mission.

- Weapon Focus (Core Rulebook 136): Gain +1 on attacks with a certain type of weapon. Best if you find yourself favoring something, and want to be sure it hits.

- Persuasive (Core Rulebook 131): Gain a +2 on Diplomacy and Intimidate checks. This increased to +4 when you have 10 or more ranks.

It should be noted that if you are planning on using non-lethal damage, or your Intimidate check, then you may want to examine Enforcer (Advanced Player's Guide 159), along with Sap Adept and Sap Master (Ultimate Combat 116). The sap feats allow you to get more sneak attack damage when you're dealing non-lethal damage, and Enforcer says that when you deal non-lethal damage, you make an Intimidate check as a free action. If you succeed, then the target is shaken for a number of rounds equal to the damage you dealt. That's a lot of rounds dealing with a -2 to almost everything, if you get a sneak attack in on a slaver. These three feats could easily replace Diehard, Toughness, and Endurance, if you'd rather put your Intimidate check to good use.

Have Gun, Will Travel

Gear and Story

Credit: MorgueFile Image

Tubman, like any savvy fighter, brought the right tools for the right job. If she was going on a night mission to steal people from the plantations, then she'd bring clothing that blended with the area, along with small, mobile weapons, and the right tools. So a set of masterwork thieves' tools, an easily concealed pistol, and enough survival tools (like a compass, some trail rations, and maybe some alchemical aids like Bloodblock along with a healer's kit) would be enough for an in-and-out, stealth mission. For bigger challenges, though, like a raid on an enemy plantation as a scout, it pays to pack more weapons. Alchemist fire is ideal for burning down barns, or enemies, and enchanted ammunition can give you a huge range of options, even if it isn't fired from a magical weapon.

Like any field operative, Tubman could go in with nothing, and get the job done. But an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure.

Lastly, you need to ask what sort of story you want to tell with her archetype. The slave who becomes a hero is a great tale, but are you following in Tubman's footsteps, or are you making your own story? What drives you to break the chains? And do you fight for one group of people, or will you keep going until no one has to live in bondage?



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  1. "Harriet Tubman: 10 Facts." Legacy. 14/07/2016 <Web >
  2. "Facts About Harriet Tubman." Facts Barn. 14/07/2016 <Web >
  3. "Harriet Tubman." Biography. 14/07/2016 <Web >
  4. "Character Conversions." Improved Initiative. 14/07/2016 <Web >
  5. Advanced Player's Guide. Redmond, Wa.: Paizo, 2010.

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