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, another Andarious build hits the showcase. I’d also like to thank the Radical Taoist for help in expediting this writeup in time for the deadline.
I casts the spells that makes the peoples fall down!
Required Books:Complete Arcane, Complete Mage, Complete Adventurer for the build. Books for wizard spells are to taste (probably at least the Spell Compendium though).
Unearthed Arcana used: We’re too straightforward for Unearthed Arcana this week.
Background: You’ve all heard it a zillion times before: Direct damage sucks, especially after, oh, around level 5-6 or so. Around that time, if not sooner, you should switch to save-or-lose spells or action-denying battlefield control effects, and leave dealing direct damage to melee (which starts to really come online around this time as well).
BOLLOCKS TO THAT WE’RE TRYING IT ANYWAY!
Kill it with fire, nuke the site from orbit, order three pounds of six-siders and roll them all. One could say this is almost “style over substance”, where ‘style’ refers to a playstyle rather than appearances or feel, but just like the Storm Knight and the Wizsassin, we aren’t sacrificing as much on the substance as you’d think. Just like most ‘optimization’ efforts respect the limits of the request, this is an effort to provide an optimized mage for someone who just wants to watch the world burn.
We have a couple alternative approaches to this that work out totally differently and have more math to support them, and they suggest that the Nuker might not be the most optimal blaster we could showcase… but the Nuker has another serious advantage over all of them. The build is deceptively simple (well, as simple as a wizard primary gets, really), and it’s hard to shut it down as long as you’ve got all the required books. It even uses Warmage – finally, an effective build to use warmage, although not in the way you think – which has some appeal.
But wait, I can hear you thinking, what about the Mailman? We’ve seen it, it’s a good build – and if you haven’t, the one-sentence version is that it uses bonus actions plus no-save effects to make delivering damage reliable. However, it relies, pretty strongly, on generating extra actions, particularly at the higher levels. While this is brutally effective (like anything that monkeys with the action economy), spells that grant bonus actions are far more likely to be banned or otherwise regulated, especially by experienced DMs, entirely because they can blow the game wide open. The Nuker is an alternative take on this – perhaps less effective at rapid spike damage than the Mailman, but with dramatically improved flexibility and less vulnerability to the banhammer. It also takes a different approach to saving throws – rather than focusing on no-save effects (though it has those too), it amps its spell DCs and works to exploit energy vulnerabilities where possible.
Be advised, there’s only so much you can do with damage at the lower levels. This build is pretty weak from 3 to 7 or so – exactly when normal direct-damage blasters are usually most effective. If you’re playing at this range, nearly any blasty-blasty build will probably be better. At levels above 7, this rapidly outperforms them. Thus, you can probably use it to teach new players (especially those who are still married to the concept of blasting after creating their first sorcerer or similar) about playing more sophisticated mages than magic missile gatling guns.
- Race: Grey Elf. The +2 Intelligence at LA+0 from a core book (MM) is too sweet to pass up here; any similar race might also do the trick. If you want an interesting variant, an Illumian armed with the Naenkrau power word might be an interesting approach, but it does add another book to the list.
- Ability Scores: 6/14/14/16/10/14 before racial adjustments (-2 Con, +2 Int). You’re pumping Intelligence at every level – your warmage casting is secondary, and we’re mostly interested in the slots rather than the actual spells(and don’t actually need the really high level warmage spells anyway; the heavy lifting is done by 1st-5th, even on the wizard side!), so you can afford a middle-ground on Charisma. Don’t hose Dexterity if you can help it; a lot of the best blasting spells are ray spells.
Skill Notes:You’re a wizard, spend the points accordingly. Concentration, Spellcraft, and Knowledge (Arcana) are good starting points, but you’ve got plenty of Intelligence (and over 80 unspent skill points) to pick up an assortment of other skills along the way.
Basic Equipment:Again, you’re a wizard. You’ve already got your spellbook and component pouch? Then you’re probably set.
Magical Gear Goals:Max out Intelligence like a boss – tome, headband, you know the drill. You’ll probably want a boosted Constitution as well, like all elf wizards usually do.It doesn’t particularly matter here; most of what we’re using warmage for is backup or fuel anyway. Your warmage side is oddly not used offensively as a primary mode of attack – rather, it augments the wizard side and supplements it when you wish to preserve your more potent spell slots. Think of your warmage casting, in a sense, as a swordsage would think of his default melee attack, except slightly less synergistic. If you find yourself casting as a warmage – especially early on – investing in +Charisma for increased DCs is a good thing; this becomes less important as you gain levels.
Other than this, go for the usual wizard gear. The only “must-have” that isn’t an ability score booster is the orange ioun stone, though metamagic rods, blessed books, and rings of wizardry are always appreciated (go geometric scaling!).
Build Stub: Evoker 3 / Warmage 2 / Ultimate Magus 10 / Master Specialist 3 / Archmage 2.
1 – Evoker – (Familiar, Ban: Illusion, Enchantment)(Scribe Scroll, Still Spell)
Messing with minds is for less manly elves than you (i.e. all of them).
…All joking aside, the loss of Illusion does hurt, but without shadowcraft, their best spells at the higher levels are mind-affecting, as is most of Enchantment, which means a lot of foes are immune. They are the most expendable schools here.
Your familiar is probably the rat or the raven in a core environment, or the thrush (Dragon 349, grants an incredible +4 Initiative) if there are no restrictions on books. The little guy isn’t going to show up all that often, so pick him for a passive benefit.
Still Spell isn’t all that hot at the low levels; it was picked as an emergency failsafe for later levels. Any metamagic feat for which you qualify can be used here.
2 – Evoker – N/A
3 – Warmage – (Armored Mage (light), Warmage Edge) (Practiced Spellcaster: Warmage)
This is the classic way of getting Ultimate Magus to behave appropriately. Sadly, despite your massive Intelligence, warmage edge only applies to the warmage spells – which are only likely to be used in a primary offensive fashion for the next couple of levels.
4 – Evoker – N/A
5 – Warmage – ()
6 – Ultimate Magus – (Arcane Spell Power +1) (Spell Focus: Evocation)
7 – Ultimate Magus – (Expanded Spell Knowledge: 1st)
You’re not under any specific pressure for 1st level spells; the choice is up to you.
8 – Ultimate Magus – (Augmented Casting)
Here’s where the build’s main trick comes online – Augmented Casting, employed similarly to the way the Wizsassin used it: you tap spell slots on your secondary class to apply metamagic efficiently to your primary class. The Wizsassin used it to do things with assassin-only spells that could never be done before, while the Nuker uses his plentiful warmage slots to basically get Divine Metamagic for his wizard size. And if there’s one thing that ultimate magi do really well, it’s metamagic.
It’s limited by class level, so we race to complete Ultimate Magus. Note that you can’t use this on really high level spells, so you’re looking for really good 1st-5th-level wizard spells to use it. Spells higher than that have to pull their own weight, but your boosted caster level helps with that. (Your warmage caster level comes along for the ride and caps out pretty high as well, so surprisingly, your low-level warmage spells can sometimes remain useful for conserving wizard slots as well as for powering their metamagic.)
9 – Ultimate Magus – (Arcane Spell Power +2, Expanded Spell Knowledge: 2nd) (Spell Focus: Necromancy)
The Spell Focus is in Necromancy for drain effects, particularly Enervation which is online now, or powerful debuffs at later levels. A passable second choice is Conjuration (Stinking Cloud, Sleet Storm, Cloudkill, etc). Again, Expanded Spell Knowledge is pretty much a free choice; I’d suggest looking for SR: No or no-save spells to transfer over.
10 – Ultimate Magus – (Maximize Spell)
LogicNinja summed it up perfectly:
Empower is better for smaller dice (1.5*1d4 = 3.5 on average, just 0.5 less than the maximized 4), Maximize for larger dice (1.5*1d10 = 8 on average, 2 less than the maximized 10). Note that even for larger dice, the extra spell level increase may well not be worth it.
Usually, the extra spell level cost for Maximize tips the scales in favor of Empower. Here, since we’re getting metamagic on the cheap thanks to warmage spell slots + Augmented Casting, Maximize has less of a drawback (and is protected against the odd effect like Damp Power). This puts Maximize slightly ahead of Empower except on a few critical spells (i.e. the energy-drain necromancy spells), we think, so Maximize goes in.
11 – Ultimate Magus – (Expanded Spell Knowledge: 3rd)
Andarious recommends picking up Moonbow and Greater Fireburst for spike and AoE damage at this point, and I’d be inclined to agree that they’re excellent choices. Again, there isn’t a specific selection for your warmage Expanded Spell Knowledge here.
12 – Ultimate Magus – (Arcane Spell Power +3) (Extraordinary Spell Aim)
Rule One of military intelligence: Friendly fire, isn’t. Strictly speaking you can swap Extraordinary Spell Aim for more nuke-friendly metamagic, but I think your allies will appreciate you killing the enemies rather than your friends.
13 – Ultimate Magus – (Expanded Spell Knowledge: 4th)
Once again, you’re pretty much free on Expanded Spell Knowledge.For your wizard side, you’ve got access to Chain Lightning, Disintegrate, or Freezing Sphere, which look spiffy when you cheaply metamagic them.
14 – Ultimate Magus – (Twin Spell)
15 – Ultimate Magus – (Arcane Spell Power +4, Expanded Spell Knowledge: 5th)(Split Ray)
Prismatic Spray, Delayed Blast Fireball, Waves of Exhaustion, and Radiant Assault are fun spells when your caster level is this high. Your Intelligence at this point puts your DCs at 19+spell level (+1 for Evocation and either Necromancy or Conjuration), which is more than adequate.
16 – Master Specialist – (Skill Focus: Spellcraft)
Let’s hear it for bonus feats helping meet deadweight feat costs!
17 – Archmage – (Spell Power)
Oddly, losing the 5th level slot here hurts a lot more here than it normally would, since Augmented Casting only applies to 5th and lower spells, and there’s a lot of good 5th blast effects.
18 – Archmage – (Mastery of Elements) (Practiced Spellcaster: Wizard)
Your wizard casting level is only 2 behind your HD, so you don’t get the full Practiced Spellcaster benefit here, but even then it’s hard to find a better feat. (The illumian version above gets this benefit for free, so it can choose any feat here.)
19 – Master Specialist – (Expanded Spellbook)
9th level spells are online at last, and at insane caster level to boot.
Expanded Spellbook is a free choice. It’s also a worthless class feature as near as I can tell, saving you around a few hundred gold even after errata. (If it operated like Extra Spell, it’d be much more interesting.)
20 – Master Specialist – (Greater Spell Focus: Evocation)
Snapshot: Adding the +6 items on Int, Con, and Dex, a +5 tome of Intelligence, and an orange ioun stone (+1 caster level), we get the following result at 20:
HP 133, base attack +10 (ranged touch +15), saves of +9/+10/+19 (your familiar may modify these), and enough skill points to max out six skills (and nearly max a seventh). With a final effective Intelligence of 34, you have 5/8/8/8/8/6/7/6/5/4 spell slots with a DC of 22+spell level (+2 for Evocation, +1 for Necromancy); most of your heavy lifting is done by your DC 27 5th level spells boosted with cheap metamagic from Augmented Casting + warmage slots. These take effect at caster level 25, sufficient to breach the SR 32 on many high-level outsiders 75% of the time; while most of your 5ths hit CL caps, your higher level spells do not benefit from cheap metamagic, and need the boosted CL to hit their caps as well. Your warmage half has 6/7/7/6/4 spell slots at a DC of 12+CL (+2 evocation, which is most of the list); most of the good spells you’ll actually cast from here have no saving throw but a high CL (19), and they benefit from a +12 Warmage Edge. If you wish to cast from this side, invest in a cloak of charisma to increase its stamina. Note that Rings of Wizardry would apply to both sets of spells, so they become highly desirable items.
None of this assumes any of your wizard slots are spent on divination buffs. You’re usually too busy calling down the thunder to worry about buffs – the build’s designed to be as close to ‘ideal’ as we can get while still playing the way a blasty-blasty player expects. As such, it falls behind what the Mailman can do, especially if you’re only looking at a single round, but has increased stamina and cheap metamagic (plus a backup set of spontaneous slots) to avoid the usual wizard limit. The wizard casting is strong enough to include most of the Tier One “showing off” wizard stunts if you feel the need to do this, since it hits 9th and includes the full set of Conjuration, Abjuration, and Transmutation spells at a very high CL (and some of the metamagics you’d want to use on these spells are still in the build!), so if you’re facing challenges that are tough enough that you find your blasting playstyle just can’t keep up, it’s a seamless transition to a stronger casting type (as simple as getting new spells in the spellbook and filling the slots differently).
Overall Strengths: Incredible blasting efficiency, and because of it, incredible blasting capacity. Your "weaker" Warmage spells will drop with a CL of 18 before you buy an Ioun Stone. You'll beat the common SR of 26 95% of the time (2 or higher), and a more average CR 20 SR of 32 75% of the time, using your meaty wizard casting. That's assuming you bother with spells that allow SR at all, which you do not need to do with access to the Warmage list on top of what you learn as a Wizard. But more than anything, what you own with is efficiency over time. You have tons of low-to-mid level spell slots, and can combine them with the most efficient metamagic feat combinations for great blasting value on your spell slot and better stamina than your average wizard. Outlasting the ten-minute workday isn't your only asset to the team; you can prevent friendly fire with Extraordinary Spell Aim, so your tank never needs to fear your destructive AoEspells. You get fantastic flexibility with the wide array of warmage+wizard casting, with Mastery of Elements on top to get around any troublesome resistances. All these factors in combination with your SR piercing means less spell slots wasted on enemy defenses, and fewer actions wasted due to tactical issues like positioning. Moreover, those actions will count - a twinned maximized Scorching Ray doesn't tickle, especially when it's adjusted to an energy type to which your target is vulnerable, and you can spit those out practically all day long.
Oh, and it manages this with wizard primary casting, and gets up to an effective 18th level in that class, with most of the good schools intact. If you take on a mission where blasting just won’t help, or if you just want to try something out, you can easily do that – most of the feat and Ultimate Magus infrastructure will still apply, and the warmage casting makes sure you always have some (albeit low level) blasting available at a high CL.
Overall Weaknesses:The Nuker suffers from typical squishy wizard weaknesses, and doesn't have any special capability with defensive buffs. You'll want Rings of the Diamond Mind to shore up those sorry Fortitude and Reflex saves, and the usual array of miss-chance buffs (Improved Blink (transmutation) and Shadow Phase (conjuration) come to mind) to avoid archers or skirmishers. Your rejection of the Illusion school denies you a lot of defensive Wizard tricks (Silent Image, Displacement, Greater Mirror Image, Greater Invisibility), so be careful. While you can bring the hurt, obscenely-high HP monsters will take time for you to whittle down - you don't have the feats or resources to play games with the action economy and do more in fewer rounds. Enemies with godly Touch AC and saves can be a pain - you'll want to Forcecage + Acid Fog them right away. In general, the skirmisher archetype is this build's worst enemy: a good Swift Ambusher build with the Acrobatic Backstab trick could work this guy over quick, possibly in a single round if not a single attack. Invest in detection spells – and remember that contingency is actually Evocation.
Variants: As mentioned above, the multiclass spellcaster approach lends itself really well to Illumians, particularly Naenkrau illumians. Krau alone gives a free +2 Practiced Spellcaster on both casting classes gets the CLs slightly higher and frees up your 18th level feat – a fun (but cheesy) choice involves using Extra Spell to learn Disintegrate off the Adept (DMG) list, where it appears as a 4th level spell (and thus a valid companion to your Augmented Casting – say hello to twin/split Disintegrates for 20d6 if the target makes four successful DC 29 saves, with +35d6 added per failed save). Naenkrau makes this even sweeter: By leaving a 4th level warmage spell slot open (not a hard thing to do here), you add another +1 to the DC of all your 4th level wizard spells. You can do the same thing for another lower level of spells, or give up one of your higher-level wizard slots for +1 to the DC of all other spells of that level. (You can apply this to the 5th level spells as well if you devote one level of Archmage casting to the warmage as well; you won't lose much on the wizard side by doing this!) However, these benefits cost you two points of Intelligence (so the Naenkrau advantage is nowhere near as good as it seems, though the Krau advantage is nice), and it adds another book to the equation.
Alternatively, if you like the elf but you would like a technical wizard who keeps a bit more of that versatility, quit being a specialist. Go Elven Generalist (RotW) instead, for both of the possible substitution levels you can take. That's another spell slot, and doubles your familiar bonus – the Thrush recommendation above translates into a +8 Initiative boost that stacks with your Nerveskitters and related effects. This forces you to drop Master Specialist, and while we’re at it, drop the Extraordinary Spell Aim feat as well. In their place, take two more levels of Archmage and one of Loremaster (yes, really, bear with us). Two more of Archmage gives you Mastery of Shaping (making Extraordinary Spell Aim unnecessary) and Arcane Reach (giving us backup offensive options in the form of Touch of Idiocy, Vampiric Touch, and Greater Plane Shift). That one level of Loremaster, thanks to your amazing Int, can pick up the Applicable Knowledge secret. That's a free bonus feat, any one you qualify for, that can be taken as late in the build as you could want. The feat freed up from Extraordinary Spell Aim will have to go towards Skill Focus: Spellcraft, you can grab all sorts of cool options with the latter feat. I would suggest Transdimensional Spell, but I'm a jerk who likes to take an Ethereal Jaunt and then blast enemies from a different dimension. That's just me; Energy Gestalt, Arcane Thesis, Residual Magic, Fell Drain, and Repeat Spell are all good options.
There you have it. The other wizards laughed at you when you said you’d go with blasting. Funny how smoking piles of charcoal don’t laugh.
Next up: I kind of had to crunch to churn this out in time for Friday, so for next week, we'll concentrate only on builds that I've already written up: the three from last week. We've got Andarious' melee Heavy Crusader, my ranged (and sligtly theoretical) Gun Fu, and my intended-for-DMs-but-wow villain, the Dread Lord of the Dead. Go ahead and let me know which looks most interesting below!