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 build is primarily from Andarious mostly; I had several suggestions, but it was still primarily his. It was benchmarked by running it against last week's Inevitable Nightmare; it turns out the two make a pretty fun pairing (either against each other or together against the world).
The Number One Threat To America
Required Books: Tome of Battle, Complete Champion, Complete Warrior, Eberron Campaign Setting, Races of Stone, PHB2, Player’s Guide to Eberron.
Unearthed Arcana used: Whirling Frenzy rage (optional, highly recommended).
Background: So, you’ve read all the handbooks, and you’ve noticed a trend: Not a single one suggests leaving points out of Constitution. Most put it as, at least, your second most important stat, and even those are heavy, heavy SAD classes. And they have a point: Sooner or later, your Constitution – via hit points, nasty Fort-save vs death effects (Will gets a fair number of these too, but most are foiled by a simple Mind Blank), or even Constitution damage – is going to be the only thing between you and a nasty demise. So, let’s take this to its logical extreme, shall we?
The basic idea here was simple: Make a character who could legitimately say his primary ability score was Constitution. Andarious already had a chunk of this in place when I found it, and pointed out a few options he wasn’t aware of at the time, and the rest just clicked. It turned out to have enough offensive oomph “for free” that barely anything needs to be invested in it offensively!
And no, the name is not a bad pun on Captain America (it's actually closer to the Hulk), even though the build is superheroically tough. The tagline, however, is a pun on this interpretation, courtesy of one Stephen Colbert. You’ll see.
For a real stumper, as you read through this, think about it. How would you describe this warrior to others? Is he a savvy Diamond Mind warblade, or a savage raging barbarian? Is he a monk? Is there just a hint of druid? His fighting style will drive metagamers positively insane.
- Race: Warforged. Dwarf is an acceptable alternative outside of Eberron; I’ll leave notes throughout on how to manage this as a dwarf. You want +CON and immunities. Warforged composite plating, with no maximum Dexterity bonus by default and its existence as an extraordinary ability rather than a piece of equipment, turns out to be a pretty powerful advantage, so you probably don’t want to apply Dragonborn here.
- EDIT: Omen of Peace points out a pretty big goof on my end that makes Warforged stop working at level 15. The dwarf version still works after that point, but I'd maintain the warforged version is better up to then. See the Variants section below for how to handle this.
- Ability Scores: 14/12/18/10/8/8 before racial adjustments (+2 con, -2 wis, -2 cha). EVERY SPARE POINT GOES INTO CONSTITUTION. No exceptions. This build is tough. Really, really tough. No, tougher than that. Even tougher. Keep going. More. No, more. Look, you basically want your Constitution score to have its own gravity well. THAT tough.
Skill Notes: Umm…. This is kind of complex. Your later PrCs have tricky skill requirements, but it IS possible to hit them without that much cross-classing. I’ve listed at each level where the skill points go. Read through the build carefully before employing them. (The numbers you see are skill points to invest, not skill ranks purchased; I try to call attention to cross-class points when they show up, but I might have missed a few. If you’re building along at home, you’ll spot it.)
Basic Equipment: You don’t need any. Not even a weapon – your slam is good enough until you can shapeshift, then you are your own weapon. (Level 1 is probably too deadly to bypass a weapon or shield though (particularly because warforged are half immune to healing spells) so don’t skimp it if you’re playing 1-20. You can probably go without in the lower-mids, though.)
Magical Gear Goals: +Constitution through amulet and tome is a good place to start. Adding in plating enhancements is an interesting choice – you don’t need wilding clasps or magic to keep your plating while shapeshifted. I assume +5 Ghostward below (the enhancement applies to touch AC as well as normal AC); you can add more beyond that if you have the cash or want to customize.
Speaking of, if you can afford it, Wilding Clasps let you carry over your gear when you shapeshift. These are costly but very, VERY useful. Interestingly we do not assume any of them in the snapshots below; once you include them the results get nuts.
Build Stub: Warblade 6 / Barbarian 1 / Bear Warrior 5 / War Shaper 2 / Fist of the Forest 1 / Stoneblessed 3 / Deepwarden 2.
1 – Warblade – (Battle Clarity, Weapon Aptitude) (Power Attack) (Moment of Perfect Mind, Charging Minotaur, Wolf Fang Strike) (Punishing Stance)
This is a pretty basic warblade opening, but with obscene level 1 HP (comparable to a heavy horse, or nearly 50% higher than the benchmark Fighters) in exchange for next to no AC. Since you don’t have any of the warforged body feats, you start off with just “leather” armor, and warforged are a pain to heal; reserve Punishing Stance as a “rage” ability, particularly if you’re attacking with a big sword and a slam in the same Wolf Fang Strike or full attack.
2 – Warblade – (Uncanny Dodge) (Sudden Leap)
3 – Barbarian – (Pounce, Whirling Frenzy, Still Literate) (Extra Rage)
Pounce and Whirling Frenzy are natural partners due to whirling frenzy’s second attack; this also couples well with Punishing Stance. It doesn’t come with a durability increase like standard Rage, but later on we’ll be replacing that anyway. Perhaps most notable (and surprising) is that Whirling Frenzy has an AC bonus, which can be used to offset Punishing Stance if you’d like.
4 – Warblade – (Battle Ardor) (Action Before Thought)
5 – Warblade – (Battle Leader’s Charge swaps Wolf Fang Strike) (Leading the Charge)
Voila, you’re a minor ubercharger, using the bonus damage from Battle Leader’s Charge and Leading the Charge (+15 is nothing to be shy about at this level!) in place of the usual Power Attack multipliers.
6 – Warblade – (Bonus: Endurance) (Steadfast Determination) (Insightful Strike)
We used warblade bonus feat to minimize the “suck window” with Endurance but no Steadfast. This level our saves are an impressive +12/+7/+12 with naught more than a +1 cloak of resistance. With Action Before Thought last level, and Iron Heart Surge next level, you’re built to resist.
Insightful Strike serves two purposes here. It lets us use that Constitution offensively (although there isn’t enough support to overcome the drawbacks enough to use it as a primary strike) and to give us a power strike against those we can’t hit with Power Attack (especially people with Elusive Target, which shuts down Power Attackers hard).
7 – Warblade – (Improved Uncanny Dodge) (Iron Heart Surge swaps Charging Minotaur)
8 – Bear Warrior – (Bear Form: Black)
Your bear form is freaking lethal. Assuming your only piece of equipment is your composite plating (persists during a Bear Form rage), and the rest of your gear is absorbed, you’re looking at a snapsnot of 121 HP, Speed 40, +14 melee with black bear natural weapons, +6 Strength modifier, and +17/+12/+17 saves. And your full suite of martial maneuvers, except those relying on Concentration, are all available as well – including Battle Leader’s Charge + Leading the Charge + Pounce.
By the way, since Bear Form completely replaces the ability score modifications from rage but leaves its other modifications intact, Whirling Frenzy is now clearly superior to normal Rage, since its only normal drawback is the loss of the Constitution increase, which Bear Form provides. The AC bonus in particular is quite nice, especially once your form gets bigger later on. It isn’t 100% clear how Whirling Frenzy’s extra attack works if you only make natural attacks (it may not work at all, in which case you have to make your iterative attacks as well via unarmed strikes, which will provoke AoOs until next level). Work this out with your DM.
9 – War Shaper – (Morphic Weapons, Morphic Immunities) (Improved Unarmed Strike)
As if a warforged needed more immunities (and if you’re doing the dwarf version, now you rival a ‘forged for those). The action cost to use Morphic Weapons doesn’t jive well with Rage’s limited duration (and your DM may say Morphic Weapons requires concentration, despite the bear warrior explicitly qualifying for this class), so you may have to do without them. That’s not such a big deal though, given the context of your next level.
10 – War Shaper – (Morphic Body)
Oh, look, your rage modifiers got even better, adding an extra +4 Strength and +4 Con. In that context, it’s a mighty level indeed.
11 – Bear Warrior – N/A
12 – Bear Warrior – (Scent) (Great Fortitude)
13 – Fist of the Forest – (AC Bonus, Fast Movement, Feral Trance 1, Unarmed Damage, Primal Living)
Note that the AC bonus works exactly the same way the monk’s does, except it’s keyed off of Constitution. That’s really the main reason FotF is here at all (unless the DM requires unarmed strikes to make use of Whirling Frenzy’s extra attack while in bear form), and it’s good enough to be worth spending the feats to enter. Primal Living isn’t a drawback at all (it normally interferes with how you’d play some of your characters, but for a warforged (doesn’t eat or sleep) barbarian/bear warrior (notoriously surly and more at home in the wilds), it’s basically a Cliffnotes version of your RP notes, isn’t it?), and Fast Movement is a nice boost at any point particularly for Lion Totem barbarians. Feral Trance, the hallmark ability of a FotF, is more or less reserved for when you’re out of rages, since its benefits to you while raging are minimal. Interestingly, you may be able to get around the “it destroys your gloves and boots” drawback of Feral Trance by using warforged components – they’re actually a part of your body, so it’s unlikely your body growing giant claws would actually destroy them.
Speaking of, a quick snapshot: While in bear form, with +3 Ghostward plating, we have 199 average HP, Melee +19 (with black bear natural weapons, possibly augmented with Morphic Weapons) and a Strength modifier +8, saves 25/16/25, Speed 40. Your AC is 21, FF/touch ACs of 20/17. A touch on the low side, but remember, that’s assuming NONE of your gear carries over, and you’ve got plenty of budget for Wilding Clasps.
14 – Bear Warrior – N/A
You qualify for a surprising number of these, mostly the movement ones that take just 5 ranks in a given skill. We worked the timing in here to get the skill tricks as early as possible, but the best of them require 5 ranks in Balance, which is hard to swing since it’s rarely a class skill.
15 – Bear Warrior – (Bear Form: Brown) (Shocking Fist OR Extra Rage)
The feat choice is up to you. At this point you should be able to get a +1 tome of Con, meaning nearly 300 HP in a rage (and you heal some of that every time you rage); Shocking Fist lets you channel that into pretty powerful electrical damage, which can be helpful in bypassing DR (it’s surprisingly hard to get natural weapons to do that if you aren’t assuming wilding clasps). Extra Rage just ups your daily stamina something fierce; it’s probably the best you can hope for if you’re doing the dwarf variant.
16 – Stoneblessed – Stonebond (Dwarf or Goliath)
If you’re warforged, pick dwarf. If you’re dwarf, pick goliath. These last few levels aren’t all that amazing, but they enhance your Constitution more and give us a very powerful ability at level 20.
17 – Stoneblessed – (Racial Battle Technique)
18 – Stoneblessed – (Stoneborn: +2 Con, and Stonecunning / Toughness) (Martial Study: Greater Insightful Strike)
The real win here is the extra +2 Con. Although if you’re a dwarf (and Stonebonded with goliaths), plead with the DM to exchange Toughness for Improved Toughness; +3 hp is under a 1% increase for you. (We’re assuming you’re a warforged though.)
Greater Insightful Strike doubles your Concentration check result for damage. +Skill items are cheap, and you’re already maxing Constitution like a boss; this maneuver will hurt. (It's one of the few easy ways to turn Constitution into an attack.) You can’t use it while raging, but unlike all your other attacks, it also doesn’t rely on Power Attack, so it’s always made at your best attack bonus. Also, the amazing Elusive Target feat can’t be used to reduce its damage, meaning they can’t nullify you the way they could nullify, say, a Frenzied Ubercharger. Just be careful they don’t redirect it.
19 – Deepwarden – (Trap Sense +1) (Bonus: Track)
Well, whatddya know. We managed to get into a serious ranger PRC without a single ranger-like level and with minimal cross-class skill ranking along the way. How about that?
Also, while the real payoff is next level, and it hasn’t been a primary skill for you, you do have the powerful Scent + Track combination now. It’s quite a bit late, but still appreciated, particularly because it’s hard to foil.
20 – Deepwarden – (Stone Warden)
Stone Warden replaces your usual Dex-to-AC with Con-to-AC, with all the same limits as Dex (max dex, flat-footing, etc). Lucky for you your composite plating has no max Dex bonus, then.
Incidentally, why Balance? Because while Uncanny Dodge lets you retain your Dexterity Constitution bonus to your AC while you’re flat-footed, that isn’t the only time you lose your bonus – it’s negated if you’re balancing, which can be introduced with something as simple as a Grease spell. Don’t get schooled by a first-level spell at level 20.
Snapshot: There are two forms here, so I’ll stat them out accordingly.
The normal (humanoid warforged) form has +6 items on Strength and Constitution, and a +5 Tome of Con. His plating is enhanced +5 Ghostward. Armed with a +5 amulet of natural armor, a +5 cloak of resistance, a +5 ring of protection, two ioun stones (Pale Green and Dusty Rose), a Luckstone, and a +10 Competence bonus to Concentration – that sounds like a lot, but it leaves him with over 250,000gp left to spend on other gear, possibly enhancing his natural attacks like his slam, or wilding clasps – you get the following stats:
HP 404, Melee +24 (as weapon with +5 Strength modifier), saves of +45/+31/+43, with base AC of 56, a flat-footed AC of 56, a touch AC of 49, and a hosed (flat-footed/touch) AC of 49. (The Balance ranks at the end were designed to retain that Con-to-AC while balancing, which is the only place from which that he was still at risk of losing his Dex bonus.) You have Speed 40 and full access to your maneuvers, including those with Concentration (at a skill modifier of +45). Your final Constitution in this form is a whopping 32.
(Feral Trance doesn’t add much to this numerically – the Dex bonus is overridden by Stone Warden, for instance – but it does give you a decent fallback position offensively. Just be sure your magic gloves and boots are warforged components.)
The raging bear form loses all of his gear (and presumably can’t use Feral Trance either) given no wilding abilities. You can easily afford to add these on if you want, but we left them out for snapshotting. Only his composite plating remains (yeah yeah, insert Transformers: Beast Wars robot bear joke here), as does the effect of the tome of Con. Here, we are looking at 464 HP, Melee +30 (brown bear natural weapons with strength modifier of +12), saves of +41/+25/+41, with a base AC of 57, Flat-footed AC of 57, Touch AC of 50, and hosed AC of 50. In this form he also has speed 50 and is size Large (with the corresponding reach), and you finish with a truly mind-boggling 44 Constitution. These numbers assume NONE of your over 250,000gp in remaining wealth were spent on Wilding Clasps, which can easily push the numbers higher (why yes, I do feel like clipping one to my +6 Constitution gear, thanks!).
In both forms, he has Base Attack +18, can’t fail Fortitude saves on a natural 1 (and has a bonus high enough to basically always pass them on any other result), has two (freely chosen) skill tricks, has a huge immunity list (warforged+war shaper+Improved Uncanny Dodge (Rogue 10 needed to flank)), and is capable of initiating a suite of martial maneuvers. A few, most notably Greater Insightful Strike and the Diamond Mind counters, can’t be used while raging, but can continue to dish out serious damage output even against targets who use Elusive Target to negate power attacks. Those that can be used while raging include Iron Heart Surge (anything that gets past your immunities won’t stay long) and Battle Leader’s Charge (mostly used to avoid AoOs while charging), along with the +13 charge damage to yourself and allies from Leading the Charge. (How can he use Leading the Charge in a form that can’t speak? BECAUSE HE’S A BEAR AND HE DOESN’T NEED REASONS THAT’S WHY.)
Overall Strengths: This is one tough cookie. Most dramatically, he gets Con to AC twice, along with Improved Uncanny Dodge and a host of other goodies. It’s hard to negate all of his defenses, and all of them came with immense boosts to Strength or damage in other ways (insightful strikes with +45 Concentration modifiers). Once he rages, he’s a juggernaut – seriously, just try to stop him. Great saves and Steadfast Determination will throw you for a loop, to say nothing about his huge immunity list and Iron Heart Surge. Even if you do manage to break through, you’re looking at over 450 HP between you winning and him killing you.
Overall Weaknesses: Reliance on melee tactics is just about it, really. This is exaggerated a bit since gear is absorbed during a rage; you’ll need Wilding Clasps on mobility gear. None of the usual melee weak spots here, including the Will save, are actually weak. This build does, however, mature VERY late, although it remains competitive until then. Similarly, without the right magical gear, heavy damage reduction will slow him down (hard to get natural weapons to bypass that without gear), but given how he was really built for defense first, that’s not all that surprising. (That’s also why Shocking Fist is there.)
Variants: I gave details along the way of handling this with Dwarf instead of Warforged. I prefer warforged myself, but still…Should work with any +Con race. At a higher point-buy (say, the high-power 32 pb), the quintessential CON race, Mongrelfolk, becomes an option. Mongrelfolk come with an Intelligence penalty, and this build literally cannot function with less than 10 Int, so you either need a higher PB or some painful guttings (8 Dexterity or 6 Wisdom. And I'm not sure how fun a character with 10 Int, 6 Wisdom, and 4 Charisma would be to act as.) I still prefer warforged for the immunities (even more “can’t stop me” effects), but if you want raw numbers, in 32pb, it’ll be hard to beat mongrelfolk. And, as I noted above, Dragonborn remains an option almost regardless of race for even more Constitution (although here, it costs you access to your composite plating, which is a pretty powerful bonus!).
Omen of Peace points out that Warforged do not meet the type requirement for Stoneblessed (and, by proxy, for Deepwarden) - a big goof on my part. If you're following the build as originally presented and you like the 'Forged, finish the last five levels off with something like the last three levels of Bear Warrior and two extra levels of War Shaper for simplicity. Alternatively, five levels of a Tome of Battle class would be interesting. If you're fixing this goof by playing a dwarf (or mongrelfolk), and thus lack the 'Forged's immunities and composite plating, you should definitely go for broke with Dragonborn and budget for Wild armor or wilding clasps.
There you have it. I'm very pleased to showcase this one; it's one of my favorites, and Andarious deserves serious credit for making it work. It's obscenely tough and, through that toughness, gets a pretty impressive melee presence.
Next up is another choice: From two weeks ago, we still have the Heavy Crusader or (the fun but largely theoretical!) Gun Fu to showcase. From earlier, we have the Nuker (it's back), along with one I haven't offered before, intended for DM use only (i.e. a high-power villain build), the Dread Lord of the Dead. You know the drill: just let me know which'll show up next week in the replies.