As usual for the showcase, these builds are intended to spur discussion and perhaps inspire a few people in the spirit of the old CO boards. They come from members of my gaming group - me, Radical Taoist, DisposableHero_, Andarious, Sionnis, and Seishi - and I'll always identify who wrote the build at the start, so do not assume I'm the guy behind all of them (because I'm not!).
Unless otherwise noted, showcase builds use 28 point-buy, and have their snapshots evaluated using fractional base attack / saves (because it simplifies the math). None of them actually rely on fractional to be built, though. The format I use showcases their progression at key levels rather than just presenting the build and showing off a few tricks at level 20; most of these are capable of being played 1-20 if you so choose.
With that out of the way, let's get started. This week’s another one of mine. The response last week was almost unanimously for this particular build; I like it but had to make quite a few compromises along the way. I hope it lives up to the hype.
Another kind of gish
Required Books: Eberron Campaign Setting, Dragonmarked, Tome of Battle, Races of Destiny. (A couple dragonmark powers reference spells in the Spell Compendium and in Magic of Eberron.)
Unearthed Arcana used: Flaws, although you could do without them; it doesn’t mess with the timing at all.
Background: I’ve loved the lore of House Lyrandar ever since I first read about it (and, in fact, until they allowed custom avatars here, every avatar I’ve used on this forum has been based off of House Lyrandar). I’d just never made a character focused on a dragonmark. This is just an attempt to put those two together and make a character based around that particular style, without sacrificing too much in the way of substance. The first stab at this used Dragonmark Heir (and was actually trying to be reasonably “class-free” ) , but it turned out to be far more interesting to use the Storm Sentry from Dragonmarked. Although it never hits the full magical might of a classical "gish" build, it turns out that a dedicated dragonmark character can surprise you with how much magic he can still bring to the table - their main limiting factor is stamina, which the classes in Dragonmarked tend to alleviate somewhat by adding extra uses per day to signature powers.
Along the way, a secondary idea hit me: Since we’re forced to use half-elf for this, why not show off some of the specific strengths of that race and make it something to be proud of rather than something to shun? (The Eberron half-elves khorovar aren’t exactly outcasts, and have a distinct racial identity.) Normally, if people are playing with half-elves, they’re either exploiting subtypes to get both human and elf options, or they’re making Half-Elf Hippies using the bard substitution levels; this build goes in a different direction.
I envisioned this character as a sort of airship swashbuckler, and a lot of the choices were made in the context of him being used in airship encounters. However, a lot of the choices (weapons, most of the maneuvers, etc) are arbitrary and quite flexible.
- Race: This is fixed – you’re playing a Half-Elf. And not only that, you need to be related to House Lyrandar.
- Ability Scores: Start out with 15/10/13/14/8/12. Pump Strength at 4, then Charisma at every other opportunity. (This leaves you with an odd Constitution, so you’ll want to tome it at any point once you can afford it.)
- Flaws: You have plenty of Fortitude to spare, so Meager Fortitude is in. The other is up to you – either Murky-Eyed or Vulnerable are good starting points, as you have good means of compensating for these. Narratively, your powerful dragonmark is eating away at your overall health and comes with a few side effects.
Skill Notes: Max out Concentration and one other skill you like. You also need 5 (well, 4, technically, but may as well go for synergy) ranks in Balance and Tumble. Other than that, you’ve got a blank slate to spread the 82ish remaining points around (if you maxed out Tumble, you'll have more), and a surprisingly good skill list.
Basic Equipment: No particular demands here; equip like any other warrior. For style you’ll probably want to use a one-handed weapon (longsword or rapier preferred) and low check penalty armor (max dex doesn't matter, check penalty sort of does), but it realistically doesn’t matter much. Go for style and stubstance.
EDIT: Count has noticed something definitely worth mentioning here: Pandemonic Silver (Complete Warrior) is functionally like alchemical silver (just much more expensive), except that when it is drawn, it emits a fear aura for the round. The DC is based on the strengths of the winds surrounding you. This fits quite well with the style component of the build.
Magical Gear Goals: Any of the Syberis Shard dragonmark focus items are good investments (EbCS); there isn’t a blowout-amazing item specific to the Mark of Storm (well, not a combat-related one anyway), but the basic Focus, Reservoir, and Channeling Rods are all interesting selections. .A basic +1 focus item will serve you quite well, even at the high levels (the results will be spectacular). You’ll also probably want to grab a few maneuver-granting items from the Tome of Battle (Iron Heart Vest, Ring of the Diamond Mind, etc.): you don’t have a lot of combat feats, so you’ll be using maneuvers to compensate, but your maneuver progression is delayed, so the items can expand your options quite a bit. (Note that these maneuver-granting items are NOT keyed to a specific maneuver – as your IL improves or your situation changes, they can reconfigure themselves given a day or so. You can use this to keep a pseudo-maneuver-progression going as you gain levels. Even the cheapest of these items will last you quite some time – by the time your IL is high enough to exceed the least-grade items, you’re gaining maneuvers normally again.) This is on top of your usual combat gear for warriors. I’d suggest Keening your weapon if possible – you have easy access to Shocking Burst, so you may as well run with it. Finally, due to its unusual feat structure, you’ll get a lot of use out of Eternal Wands of Heroics – honestly, there isn’t a warrior build out there that doesn’t benefit from these.
See also the Suggested Variants section below – this build works quite well with certain special weapons. These weapons also have the side effect of being very reasonably priced (a steal, considering what they grant, although it isn't entirely without cost), so if you're having difficulty affording all the support you want, keep that in mind.
Build Stub: Warblade 4 / Half-Elf Fighter 1 / Storm Sentry 5 / Eternal Blade 10.
Note: Levels marked with a * contain updates on your magical abilities; be sure to check ‘em out!
*1 – Warblade – (Weapon Aptitude, Battle Clarity) (Least Dragonmark, Mighty Dragonmark, Dragonmark Prodigy) (Moment of Perfect Mind, Steely Strike, Sapphire Nightmare Blade) (Stance of Clarity)
You’re a warblade, but you have a small number of basic magical powers to use to get a feel for your Storm heritage. Know the rules for Gust of Wind down by heart; you’ll be using it a lot. Updraft (from the Spell Compendium) is basically a turbo-charged Jump check, mostly used to gain a lot of altitude very quickly.
2 – Warblade – (Uncanny Dodge) (Steel Wind)
3 – Warblade – (Battle Ardor) (Dragonmark Mastery) (Disarming Strike)
Dragonmark Mastery allows you to expend AP to trigger your dragonmark powers as a swift or immediate action. This is actually quite good in your case – since they’re spell-like abilities, they lack somatic components. If you want, you can reach out with your free hand and grab someone, then (after the fighting about the grapple rules is over), you can use Updraft to gain a lot of height very quickly while holding on to them – Updraft isn’t based off of weight (it moves you in much the same way a Slide spell moves you, just vertically), so assuming you’re strong enough to support your foe, up they go! Updraft also protects you from falling from that extreme height, but it doesn’t protect what you’re holding – and you can just as easily let them go, plummeting to earth at terminal velocity.
For style points, grab them and wait until the following round to Updraft. Then, use Mastery to trigger a Gust of Wind while they’re in midair – Gust treats them as one size smaller if they’re airborne. This particular trick isn’t necessary, but it really “hits it out of the park” whenever you do use it, especially if you’re on an airship.
Of course, while all of this works well stylistically and tactically, Dragonmark Mastery is still perhaps the most sacrificial part of the build. This is where the ubiquitous Power Attack would go if you were doing the more boring, but more practical, route (probably alongside Wall of Blades for the same reason).
4 – Half-Elf Fighter – (Blade Mastery)
*5 – Storm Sentry – (Heir’s Mark, Improved Gust, Wind’s Embrace)
Storm Sentry levels each increase your dragonmark powers’ caster levels as if they were levels in Dragonmark Heir, so you’ll start getting higher altitudes with Updraft now. You’ll also start getting enough Gusts to use them more reliably, and the ability to trigger Feather Fall is appreciated, if not essential.
*6 – Storm Sentry – (Lyrandar’s Shield, Powerful Winds) (Lesser Dragonmark)
And now those gusts get far deadlier, as the DC will start to skyrocket. The CL boost from Lesser Dragonmark is quite nice as well. And yes, Updraft and similar secondary powers are dragonmark powers and thus get extra uses from the true Dragonmark feats; it’s not explicit from those feats, but it is from some of the other ones in Dragonmarked (i.e. Quicken Dragonmark).
Wind’s Favor is not chosen for combat – it’s chosen because it’s the power that all the airship controls look for. This build can steer airships without Charisma checks, which means you can act as a wonderful team pilot if you can get your mitts on a ship. If you need a combat application for Wind’s Favor, you have it already – use it to trigger your Storm Sentry powers. Here, that’s a Shield spell for 10 minutes/level. This doesn’t sacrifice your piloting ability – the Wheel of Wind and Water only checks if you have the Wind’s Favor ability, not if you have uses of it left for the day.
*7 – Storm Sentry – (Lyrandar’s Fist)
Lyrandar’s Fist is a lot spiffier now that you have a SLA that you aren’t going to want to use in combat (Wind’s Favor), and it’s a kill move if used on an airship unless the target can fly or Feather Fall.
*8 – Storm Sentry – (Storm Strike)
Shocking Burst isn’t all that impressive (am I alone in thinking that spending a greater dragonmark power on this is a bit overcosted? If a greater mark granted both Shocking Burst and Thundering, that might be a bit more worthwhile), but Wind’s Favor isn’t doing anything else for you in combat, so you may as well use it if you want it.
*9 – Storm Sentry – (Gale Force) (Dragonmark Adept)
Yes, there’s a feat with the same name as a prestige class. I don’t know either.
Downdraft gives you a way of countering flyers. It’s interesting in that the damage is based only on the distance you push them, and it’s the distance that is halved, not the damage, on a save. Basically if you have a target with an altitude of 50 feet or less, save or no save, they’re hitting the ground. If you don’t expect to deal with flyers, your other choice (Binding Winds) is a bit more interesting but less dynamic. (If you take Binding Winds, add 1 to your uses per day of Downdraft to see how often you use it.)
Gale Force makes the one-two Updraft/Gust trick from level 3 somewhat more interesting, because it can blow away medium creatures. And the DC’s getting up there!
10 – Warblade – (Swap Steel Wind for Mithral Tornado) (Absolute Steel stance)
This warblade level was delayed until Storm Sentry finished to make sure the warblade’s second stance was a third-level one, and to raise your IL high enough to get 4th level maneuvers. Be sure to keep two Diamond Mind maneuvers handy for next level.
11 – Eternal Blade – (Blade Guide, Eternal Training 1) (Lightning Recovery)
Eternal Training’s best use is to grab exotic maneuvers to flesh out your combat potential; your feats are still going to your mark. At this point you can grab maneuvers of up to 4th level, but you’re limited by prerequisites and schools. You’ll probably get more mileage out of choosing interesting Diamond Mind maneuvers as you advance simply because you have more prerequisites from that school; the only 0-prerequisite Devoted Spirit maneuvers are all level 1 and 2, and most of those lack synergy with your build, don’t scale well, or both. If you want Devoted Spirit at all, you’re most likely to find use out of Vanguard Strike (to share your incredible accuracy with the party) or Shield Block (which doesn’t actually need a shield to work). The usual standout among those maneuvers, Foehammer, is essentially made obsolete by your Eternal Blade ability to bypass DR.
However, if you picked up your Eternal Wand of Heroics at this point, you can bootstrap up Eternal Training a bit: Martial Study is a fighter feat. You can use that to pick up one of the 0-prerequisite Devoted Spirit maneuvers for half an hour, and then use Eternal Training (since Heroics won’t stack with itself) during your encounter to nab 1-prereq Devoted Spirit maneuvers instead. All the level 3, 4, and 5 Devoted Spirit maneuvers have only a single prerequisite, so as your IL gets high enough for them, you can use this trick to diversify. Divine Surge (a very deadly attack that is described as if it has a downside while it actually doesn’t) and Entangling Blade (which can be used to shut down slow fliers, particularly if combined with a Dragonmark Mastery fueled Updraft) both fit your concept well and work on any foe (note that the healing maneuvers require an alignment difference to function!).
If your DM lets maneuver-granting items fulfill prerequisites (which is reasonable based on how the items are worded, and the looser meaning of "prerequisite" when talking about maneuvers (since maneuvers, unlike feats, don't go away when you lose a prereq), but falls under the generic "item-as-prerequisites" caution), you can add a Devoted Spirit amulet to the mix to get the 0-prereq, then Heroics, then finally Eternal Training for a 2-prereq maneuver. It’s worth noting that every single maneuver in Devoted Spirit except Strike of Righteous Vitality (and Immortal Fortitude, which Eternal Training can’t grant you) has at most 2 prerequisites, so the entire Devoted Spirit discipline can be available to you this way for critical encounters with a bit of prep time. Although it takes until level 16 to come online, Castigating Strike is probably the best choice at this level of complexity; although it requires an alignment difference, it uses your Dragonmark-fueled Charisma for its DC and gives you some extra AoE capacity. Plus, the only thing that stops this maneuver’s description from basically being a storm strike is that it lacks the right energy descriptors (and thus isn’t subject to energy resistance).
*12 – Eternal Blade – (Guided Strike) (Greater Dragonmark)
CL 15+ Control Winds is awesome. That is all.
13 – Eternal Blade – (Improved Uncanny Dodge, Eternal Training 2) (Shield Block)
However, I admit it - the only reason I'm taking this maneuver at all is because it's the best of the 0-prerequisite Devoted Spirit maneuvers to this build. If you read up on the proper use of Eternal Training - see the note at level 11 - you'll see why this matters. If you didn't, read the note at level 17.
If, even after reading that, Shield Block isn't all that tasty to you, switch it for Disrupting Blow. Will DC 20ish at this point isn't super-amazing, but it isn't bad either, and the penalty is pretty significant. For one, it specifically denies them immediate actions, meaning you can do something like smack them with this, then back up and use Gust of Wind or Lyrandar's Fist to push them overboard and they'll be denied their chance for a Feather Fall or emergency teleport. Anything that gives you extra actions over your opponent is something you have to take seriously.
14 – Eternal Blade – (Eternal Knowledge)
*15 – Eternal Blade – (Eternal Training 3) (Dragonmark Visionary) (Manticore Parry, Dancing Blade Form)
Strictly speaking you could choose Storm Tower instead of Storm Touch, but the latter complements your combat potential while honestly the former does not. I admit Storm Tower is probably the better thematic and defensive choice, but there's some fun synergy for Storm Touch here. The most interesting is to trigger the power (and touch someone with the first attack; note that you can actually do this as a swift via Dragonmark Mastery, so if you've got the AP, think of it as a boost) and then hold the charge; your touch attack is then considered “armed” while the duration lasts, and you can deliver the touches as separate attacks. (It’s actually quite explicit about this; you get one touch per CL, and any touches leftover after the initial casting can be delivered as normal touch attacks.) This matters because you can then use it to deliver a martial strike as a touch attack (which, with your attack bonus, probably can't miss except on a 1), along with a very nice 10d6+save-or-stun rider effect. Check out level 17’s note to see this taken to the extreme.
(This is also as good as your mark is going to get without equipment.)
16 – Eternal Blade – (Defensive Insight)
17 – Eternal Blade – (Eternal Training 4) (Avalanche of Blades)
18 – Eternal Blade – (Tactical Insight) (Martial Stance – Stance of Alacrity)
19 – Eternal Blade – (Eternal Training 5) (Finishing Move)
Also, I won’t lie: I’m a fan of Finishing Move, both mechanically and thematically. I grew up in the late 80s and early 90s; it’s all I can do to initiate this maneuver without announcing “FATALITY” afterwards. And I did say I was prioritizing style in this build anyway, so go ahead and finish him.
20 – Eternal Blade – (Island in Time)
You could also wear a Devoted Spirit amulet (of any grade), then cast Heroics from your Eternal Wand for Martial Study (Devoted Spirit). That, plus Shield Block from earlier, gives you three Devoted Spirit maneuvers, and with Eternal Training at IL 17, there's only one thing that can mean. You can, with a bit of prep time, pull out a Strike of Righteous Vitality - and spam it every other round thanks to warblade maneuver recovery.
In the same style, although Eternal Training is limited to Devoted Spirit and Diamond Mind, you can still “cheat” a bit and grab Strike of Perfect Clarity if you want that extra Iron Heart edge – you’ve got the prerequisites and an Eternal Wand of Heroics for Martial Study (Iron Heart). (You won't be able to combine this with the Strike of Righteous Vitality mode, though, since two castings of Heroics don't stack. If you absolutely must do both, you'll need to fork over the 45k for a master-level Iron Heart Vest.)
So, in a sense, even though you don't finish off knowing any 9th level maneuvers, but you have access to three of them with differing levels of preparation.
Snapshot: With +6 items on Strength, Constitution, and Intelligence, and +4 on Charisma (pricey, I know, especially for a warrior who wants dragonshard items), we’re looking at 218 HP, +20 base attack (or melee +32 with any weapon + Greater Magic Weapon, plus maneuvers like Lightning Recovery), saves of Fortitude +19, Reflex +12, Will +6, IL 17 (with Eternal Training), and a suite of very powerful Dragonmark powers (CL 17) – Gust of Wind 9/day (DC 24), Updraft 4/day, Wind’s Favor 3/day, Downdraft 2/day (DC 19), Control Winds 2/day (DC 21; the weather effects themselves may have a higher DC), Storm Touch 1/day (DC 21). You also have 'pseudo'-spell-like effects through Storm Sentry class features - essentially varying grades of Feather Fall (Wind's Embrace), Shield (Lyrandar's Shield), Bigby's Forceful Hand (Lyrandar's Fist), and Personal Weapon Augmentation (Storm Strike). That’s a surprisingly large array of magical abilities on a primary warrior character, and their CLs and DCs are quite respectable. (Downdraft’s low DC is not all that significant, since it’s more dependent on altitude than save DCs; anyone under 50’ altitude will have the same effect if they pass or fail.) In fact, a high-CL Control Winds can level a small town, to say nothing of what it can do in an airship scenario. (A mere Dragonshard Focus +1 (Storm) can let you manage manage CL 18 Control Winds, which is even more impressive – able to reach DC 30 tornado-force winds from perfectly still air!) You don’t inherently know any extremely high-level maneuvers, but you’ve got a pretty high IL, and can thus make good use of Eternal Training, Eternal Wands of Heroics (Martial Study), and maneuver-granting items to expand your repertoire.
Overall Strengths: While not the strongest of the warriors I’ve made, it has a lot of style. You’re alarmingly accurate in melee and pack a decent array of martial maneuvers (especially when you consider Eternal Training), you have a lot of good ways to employ every action type, and your wind powers are extremely strong. You have enough Gusts of Wind to actually employ that as a signature ability (twice per encounter or so on an average day of adventuring), and a DC high enough to make you want to. Your powers have a nice steady progression at nearly every level, particularly with novice maneuver items (the only serious surges in power come from adding on new dragonmark feats, and any dragonmarked character experiences those), making this a very easy 1-20 experience. The Grab/Updraft/Gust combo is a lot of fun if you can get it to work. Oh, and although you don’t rely on Dexterity, you can only be flanked by people with 18 levels in Rogue, which is something if you’re in melee.
Overall Weaknesses: Your Will save is in the pits. I deliberately avoided using Wall of Blades (because you don’t have a swap available when the better Manticore Parry comes online) and Iron Heart Surge (because, as awesome as it is, it shows up everywhere, so it’s refreshing to avoid it), so you might want to use an Iron Heart Vest to shore up that weak spot. Surprisingly for a warrior, you have no direct combat feats (including Power Attack – your Eternal Wand of Heroics might be seeing a lot of use for that alone), so your combat variety is supplied entirely by standard special attacks, your maneuvers (which are a bit delayed by Storm Sentry) and your wind powers (which have a per-day limit, although you do have a lot of them and equipment can provide more).
Variants: You can get rid of Dragonmark Adept and Mighty Dragonmark if you want (particularly if you’re playing at a higher level) to get rid of the flaws or pick up certain combat feats (I still need a way to mainbuild Power Attack without flaws; as it stands I'd probably swap Mastery for it). The maneuver selections are pretty open – in fact, they’re open enough that you could pretty easily swap Crusader instead of Warblade and get a completely different feel for your character. (This gets you Devoted Spirit and White Raven instead of Diamond Mind and Iron Heart, and drops a bit of the Eternal Blade’s Intelligence synergy in favor of more maneuvers with a better recovery method.) If you’re OK with fewer maneuvers, starting off with Swashbuckler 3 can get you the opposite result – a Dexterity/Intelligence warrior who picks up the Sublime Way after mastering his mark. (There's a substantial difference between Swash3/Warblade 1 and Swash3/Crusader 1 as far as gameplay is concerned; while normally you don't just dip warblade for Int synergy, here you've got Eternal Blade for that.) If you don’t like some of the mark powers and you’re okay with a smaller magical repertoire, you can probably drop a couple of the other feats (Dragonmark Visionary is probably the most expendable, although the extra use of Control Winds is awesome), in exchange for other combat infrastructure. Since you’ve got such a strong mark, you also have access to some of Dragonmarked’s more interesting feats, including Mark of the Dauntless, which renders you immune to stunning and dazing (two immunities which are always appreciated), or Stormrider, which gives you amazing poise and a few innate energy resistances.
There’s a couple other oddball choices you can make – in particular, this build works quite well with Kamate, the Iron Heart legacy weapon. It’s a perfect thematic choice and it isn’t a bad call mechanically either – you use Iron Heart like a pro (and the way it grants you Steel Wind effectively gives you an extra readied maneuver), its accuracy powers can easily cover for your flaws, and it has storm-themed spell-like abilities at respectable CLs with DCs powered by your Charisma. Who would think twice if this guy pulled out max-CL Lightning Bolts or Chain Lightnings? It even picks up Shocking Burst on its own, meaning you can direct your mark powers towards the Storm Sentry features instead. (Well, I'll be honest, it isn't perfect: most of WotC’s designed legacy weapons aren’t optimal choices, and Kamate’s save penalties are killer. Plus, I’m assuming martial weapon proficiency with it is enough, since it’s a martial weapon if you use it two-handed.) Alternatively, Supernal Clarity (the Diamond Mind legacy weapon) benefits a lot more from Storm Strike (if you’re still using it in the late game, a +5, 15-20 weapon with haste effects is about all you could ask for), and the saving throw penalties are a lot more manageable (Fort only, which you have to spare, instead of all three). Sadly, its attack bonuses come online rather late, and its capstone ability is of questionable use for warriors. (You can use it to cover for your Control Winds ability and Storm Sentry buffs, but otherwise it just lets you move, trigger your Eternal Wand, or chug potions; you also get it at the same level you pick up Island in Time, which is thematically the same ability, just designed for warriors.) It would have been much more interesting for warriors if S.C.'s version of the ability had been an immediate action or if it could be shared with others, but what can you do?
Finally, since I’m an unabashed fan of the Tales of… series of games, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note this build’s (unintentional, I promise!) similarity to another noble-born swordsman who makes exclusive use of wind magic, and may even have a sword that grows in power as he does. Getting a good magic bow and a pair of Crystals of Returning (basically lets you switch weapons on the fly) puts you well on your way to emulating Woodrow (Garr) Kelvin, from Tales of Destiny.
There you have it. How’s that for a Lyrandar captain, an airship swashbuckler, or an unusual wind-and-lightning-themed “gish”?
Next up, I have a proposition for you. If you vote for the Inevitable Nightmare or Captain Constitution, the other build will follow, and then we'll continue along the list. (They were built independently, but the latter wound up being benchmarked against the former, so they work as partners or rivals.) If the vote instead goes to the Heavy Crusader or to Gun Fu (note: theoretical build), I'll rotate the entire list after that to a new set of three builds that I haven't even mentioned so far (I might reveal their names later in the week, but for now, the air of mystery will remain to build tension.)
...Oh, one last thing. The captain has asked me to remind you that as spell-like abilities, dragonmark powers have no verbal component. Anyone caught shouting “Fus Ro Dah!” when employing Gust of Wind will be thrown overboard. No exceptions. Have a nice flight!