...It's Friday already? Wow, where'd the week go?
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, one that Andarious and I worked on together (he did the lion’s share of the concept and initial work, I did the refinements and detailing).
Note: There are two versions of this build. They’re identical except for one feat and your weapon choice, but the weapon choice is very significant in terms of how this plays. The two versions are the “Critical” version (damage-heavy) and the “Avenger” version (more versatility and defense).
No rest. No mercy. No matter what.
Required Books: Tome of Battle – yes, that’s it. Wizards.com web articles optional but strongly recommended for the Critical version, Weapons of Legacy (only implicitly!) for the Avenger version.
Unearthed Arcana used: None! (This build is extremely elegant in this regard.)
Background: Very, very simple concept: A crusader that hits hard at every level with no real buff time. We all know crusaders are like energizer bunnies – this one just uses sledgehammers instead of drumsticks. Maximize your choices at each level (so your granted maneuver selection is always up to par) and focus on keeping the heavy blows coming. As you may have noticed from how few sources are actually needed to bring the build to full strength, it works as a great showcase for crusaders in particular and the Tome of Battle in general – it’s kind of iconic that way.
The high levels are structured around a uniquely Crusader kill move – Greater Divine Surge – and using the other uniquely Crusader options to cover for this move’s weaknesses. The build is not based on this single high-level stunt, though – it’s just a natural progression from the original theme of heavy hits. GDS just happens to have a serious drawback that takes a bit of finesse to escape.
The original version of the build was the “Critical” version, which is plenty fine in its own right (honestly, Andarious somehow found one of the sweetest sets of Martial Study timing I’ve ever seen, even with the feat’s arbitrary three-times-only limit.). The “Avenger” version is a simple modification that I made to the build while thinking about the Storm Knight, and it turned out there was a different equipment choice that fit like a glove. It slightly changes how the build plays, though. The “Critical” version is more generalized, but depends more strongly on critical hits for obscene damage. The “Avenger” version is more reliable, but has slightly lower overall stats and is more strongly dependent on fighting opponents of alignments that oppose your own. There are reasons to favor either approach, so choose accordingly.
- Race: Half-Elf. Yes, you’re the least-loved PHB race without relying on anything setting-specific. Outside of core, any of the elf subraces will work so long as they lend themselves to melee – most important is the lack of a Constitution penalty. (That’s really the only reason we’re using half-elf here.)
- Ability Scores: 14/10/15/13/8/12 with the elite array; pump Int at 4, then dump the rest in CON. We assume a +1 tome of Con around level 14 or so; a bigger (and odd-numbered) one is of course more desirable.
- Alignment: Any of the four extremes. Well, technically crusaders can be any except True Neutral, but the “Avenger” version of this build benefits from having a corner-case alignment, ideally one opposing your campaign’s opponents. (For instance, fighting the Quori or Thay (largely LE)? Be CG. Fighting against the Cults of the Dragon Below or the Banites? Go LG. And so on. It does lend itself slightly more to being LG than CG, since the Avenger variant punches through DR/Cold Iron, like the chaotic demons, but not DR/Silver, like the lawful devils.)
Skill Notes: Max out Concentration; your few remaining points are up to you (maxing Intimidate works well enough if you want to go that route, for instance). You don’t have that many points to spend. If you’re willing to cross-class a bit, picking up the requirements for the Nimble Charge and Twisted Charge skill tricks would not go amiss; they make your White Raven charges mean.
Basic Equipment: The “Critical” version uses a scimitar as its weapon of choice (go ahead and use it with a shield most of the time – you’re charging with bonus damage that doesn’t care about handedness, so you could use the AC and don’t gain much from two-handing). The “Avenger” version uses a specific falchion, so a shield is out of the question. Defensively it’s pretty stock Crusader – get good armor and be ready to rumble. Speed matters, though, so as you can afford it, get faster armor without sacrificing defense.
Magical Gear Goals: Apart from the standard gear I list for most warriors (go go Eternal Wand of Heroics!) this build is largely concerned with its weapons. And here, you’ll see, is the key difference.
The “Critical” version benefits just from a Keen scimitar (and eventually, a Keen Kaorti Resin Scimitar) with as much accuracy on it as you can muster (look to the Martial Discipline enhancements here). For the record, that’s a 15-20/x4 critical hit property. Thus, multiplicative damage is ideal (Collision), but honestly any of the Burst effects would also be worth looking into since they’ll trigger quite often. For miscellaneous gear, look into anything that enables critical hits on normally crit-immune targets (there’s a few crystals in the MIC in particular, which stand out since you don’t have Use Magic Device.)
The “Avenger” version is named after its signature weapon: Faithful Avenger, one of the Nine Swords - the Devoted Spirit legacy weapon. The build was built and considered complete, but then I read this sword’s abilities and realized it made an almost perfect companion to the build. Legacy weapons come with their own minor issues (particularly weakened saving throws), but this sword will surprise you – particularly with how well it worked with a build that wasn’t designed with it in mind! Since you can’t modify legacy weapons and don’t have room for Improved Critical, you’ll want a Scabbard of Keen Edges with this approach.
Both builds benefit greatly from Diamond Mind rings as well, particularly at the later levels. These rings are essential to getting the most out of your high-level kill moves. You don’t need a strong one, though – any will do. Similarly, both builds really benefit from anything that a full-attack warrior would normally look for – its kill move is a full round action that doesn’t allow movement. Teleports or action-economy increasers are the way to go here, but don’t go overboard – shortly after the kill move comes online, you get Dancing Blade Form, giving you reach when it matters, and your swift action is a premium resource here.
NOTICE: The Tome of Battle contains one line which implies that even flat-damage boosts from maneuvers (such as the bonus damage on White Raven charges, Leading the Charge / Blood in the Water, Strike of Perfect Clarity, and so on) does not multiply in the case of a critical hit. This contradicts every other example of bonus damage in the entire game. Personally, I suspect all the maneuvers when the tome was being written used bonus damage dice, so that line would have been accurate (given the casual tone the Tome uses in places), but some maneuvers were later changed and that line was skipped. This build assumes that flat damage does multiply in the case of a critical hit. If your DM rules against this, replace the one variable feat (at level 12) with Power Attack and use your weapon two-handed. (Even the Critical build should switch to a falchion if this is the case.)
Build Stub: Crusader 10 / Eternal Blade 10.
1 – Crusader – (Furious Counterstrike, Steely Resolve 5) (Extra Granted Maneuver) (Crusader’s Strike, Charging Minotaur, Douse the Flames, Leading the Attack, Stone Bones) (Martial Spirit) (5/3)
2 – Crusader – (Indomitable Soul) (Leading the Charge)
3 – Crusader – (Zealous Surge) (Martial Study) (Battle Leader’s Charge, Wall of Blades)
4 – Crusader – (Steely Resolve 10) (Mountain Hammer > Stone Bones)
5 – Crusader – (Bonecrusher)
The Avenger variant gets Faithful Strike at this level as well. Basically, add one-third your level to attack and damage rolls against diametrically opposed alignments, or half of this to those who oppose only one of your alignments. This is a deceptively strong ability; if your campaign has a dominant villain alignment, this will grow to be your best friend.
6 – Crusader – (Smite 1/day) (Martial Study) (White Raven Tactics > Leading the Attack, Iron Heart Surge)
7 – Crusader – (Divine Surge)
8 – Crusader – (Steely Resolve 15) (White Raven Strike > Charging Minotaur) (Tactics of the Wolf)
…Or not. Note the lack of 18-20 reach weapons. Note the lack of high Dexterity, or Combat Reflexes. Note no Stand Still or tripping ability. You simply don’t have the infrastructure to take advantage of the Thicket. Meanwhile, Tactics provides you with yet more flat damage which multiplies on a critical hit, and is a bit more reliable to trigger compared to Leading the Charge (without any real competition between the two, since you use the first while getting into position to use the second). Similarly, White Raven Strike hits hard and stuns the target, giving you an action advantage – the same sort of thing Charging Minotaur used to do (by forcing opponents to move just to get back to their old positions). Except at this level, your weapons are probably much stronger than Charging Minotaur can be, and are quite accurate to boot so the auto-hitting is less important.
9 – Crusader – (Weapon Focus) (Elder Mountain Hammer)
Incidentally, the Avenger version starts getting cheap +Con items in Faithful Avenger around now. They’re online late – you get +2 at this point when you could easily have had that three or four levels ago – but it doesn’t eat up a slot, and in the end it saves you a lot of gold.
10 – Crusader – (Diehard) (Flanking Maneuver > Mountain Hammer) (6/4)
11 – Eternal Blade – (Blade Guide, Eternal Training 1) (Lightning Recovery)
Eternal Training is, as always, most useful in giving you new maneuvers known. Since you have enough Devoted Spirit maneuvers to basically have access to the whole school through Eternal Training, I won’t write more on that. Regarding Diamond Mind, there are several maneuvers at many different levels that have 0 prerequisites (Sapphire Nightmare Blade, Insightful Strike, any of the saving-throw boosters (including Diamond Defense) and Rapid Counter all come to mind). However, Diamond Mind doesn’t have a lot of 1-prerequisite non-stance maneuvers (just Emerald Razor – and you don’t have the Power Attack which makes this useful), so your Diamond Mind choices are usually defensive.
12 – Eternal Blade – (Guided Strike) (Exotic Weapon Proficiency OR Power Attack – see inside)
If you’re the Critical version, you’re almost certainly taking Exotic Weapon Proficiency: Kaorti Resin Scimitar. Keen that baby up and you have a 15-20/x4 weapon in a build with a lot of flat damage. Let the bodies hit the floor.
If you’re the Avenger version, you pick Power Attack; without the x4 of a Kaorti Resin weapon, you rely on the old mainstay of big damage output. The only feat that comes close to this one for utility in this build is Improved Critical, since you can’t add Keen to a legacy weapon, but you can still “cheat” a bit to grab that when you want it (via a Scabbard of Keen Edges or your ever-ready Eternal Wand of Heroics.)
13 – Eternal Blade – (Uncanny Dodge, Eternal Training 2) (War Leader’s Charge) (7/5)
14 – Eternal Blade – (Eternal Knowledge)
15 – Eternal Blade – (Eternal Training 3) (Martial Study) (Greater Divine Surge, Diamond Defense) (Immortal Fortitude)
Your Constitution should be as high as you can possibly manage at this point – assuming only the +1 tome at or around level 14 (when they’re affordable), you should have a 22 or 24 Constitution (depending on the strength of your +Con item – Faithful Avenger alone gives you a +4, but we know it’s a touch late on when those come online.) This allows you to make Greater Divine Surge into a SERIOUS kill move – you can dump up to 15 points of Con into this strike at this point, meaning it’s a strike with an extra +15 on the attack roll that deals +36d8 extra damage, and that’s before you factor in the flat damage from effects like Tactics of the Wolf (or the optional Power Attack). However, it renders you flat-footed, and you’ve just lost a LOT of Constitution for a kill move that strong. So, how do we make sure this move doesn’t actually kill YOU as well?
Simple. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The single most important resource in D&D is the number of actions available to you. Not only is this super strike likely to kill anything it hits (denying them actions)… you have ways of gaining more of your own, to cover for your vulnerability. Observe.
By this point, you have a Diamond Mind ring of some sort, probably for Moment of Perfect Mind. Between this and Diamond Defense, you know two Diamond Mind maneuvers, and thus Eternal Training can be used to grab Moment of Alacrity. Between Moment of Alacrity and White Raven Tactics, you should never be in a situation where your opponents are able to act after you, but before any of your allies act.
If you are alone, you delay until after your opponent, initiate Moment of Alacrity, deliver the Greater Divine Surge… and then are flat-footed for approximately no time at all (although if you’re still threatened after this, you’ll have to rely on potions or similar to clear the Con loss). If you’re fighting with allies, you instead White Raven Tactics your party’s cleric – now would be a perfect time for a Heal spell to go your way. (Healing is normally not worth it in battle, but losing that much Constitution certainly justifies it. Besides, since it’s a WRT-allowed heal, it’s not actually “costing” your team any actions, and it fueled a strike strong enough to win the battle. The tradeoff isn’t as bad as it looks.)
In a few levels, you’ll be able to take care of this on your own as well. The Avenger variant can already do it to some extent, but it isn’t all that impressive just yet (the sword can cast Lesser Restoration… very slowly, and only 3/day, meaning out-of-combat conservation of spell slots is fine). The real strength of the Avenger variant with this approach, though, is that it has room for Power Attack and has a base attack bonus equal to your initiator level – meaning that against foes that you would have hit anyway, thanks to the attack bonus from GDS, you can fully Power Attack for no net loss of accuracy (and at a -1:+11 return on your damage, in a sense, although not all of that multiplies).
16 – Eternal Blade – (Defensive Insight) (8/6)
The strongest defensive ability, I think, of the Faithful Avenger comes online at this level – it’s Boundless Determination. If you already know Immortal Fortitude, as we do, the stance also grants temporary hit points equal to your Crusader level (10) every round. This combines perfectly with Steely Resolve; although we only have 10 crusader levels, that's exactly what we'd expect from a maxed-out Stone Power, except without the attack penalty or limit on how (or even IF) we attack. Basically, once you enter Immortal Fortitude, you’re pretty much never dying.
Crusader 20 builds get more temporary HP out of this, obviously, but they don’t get all the awesome Eternal Blade goodies, like the ability to bypass DR on all of your superior flat-damage strikes.
17 – Eternal Blade – (Eternal Training 4) (Strike of Righteous Vitality)
Also, the Avenger variant? At this level, once per day, it can actually use Restoration on itself as a swift action. So, if you don’t have the full combo available to you due to a poor maneuver granting but you need to kill something now, you can still pull off the trick – use the strike, then immediately use the Restoration ability. (Flat-footedness prevents immediate actions, but not swift ones.)
18 – Eternal Blade – (Tactical Insight) (Martial Stance) (Dancing Blade Form)
The Avenger variant’s Faithful Strike also caps out at this level: a whopping +6 attack/damage vs diametric alignments (or +3/+3 for those who oppose you on just one component). That adds up (and multiplies), and it translates into quite a lot of extra Power Attack.
19 – Eternal Blade – (Eternal Training 5) (Strike of Perfect Clarity) (9/7)
The Avenger version is capped at 15-20/x2 (and even that assumes a Scabbard of Keen Edges), but in exchange it gets a lot of other options instead, as I’ve highlighted throughout this writeup.
20 – Eternal Blade – (Island in Time)
The Avenger variant also gets a decent capstone here – Resiliency is a sort of super-Steely Resolve, which allows you to basically counter any build similar to this one that relies on single-strike insano-damage attacks. If two of these guys squared off, they could survive each other’s kill moves once.
Snapshot: Both variants look more or less identical snapshot-wise. Assuming +6 Strength and +6 Con items (note that the Avenger variant gets the +Con boost from his weapon on the cheap, in exchange for getting them late), and a +1 Tome of Constitution – yes, this snapshot uses far less of your gear than we usually use! – you’re looking at 262 HP, base attack +20 (melee +31 with nothing but Greater Magic Weapon; the Avenger variant also gets Holy/Unholy and Faithful Strike to boost this even more against his true enemies, but suffers a slight attack roll penalty for using a legacy weapon; you’re at a net benefit most of the time), saves of +18/+6/+5, and the full range of Energizer Bunny tricks (lots of maneuvers of multiple action types and ways of gaining multiple actions yourself).
Check the progression spoilers to see how this build rolls. It gets positively disgusting later on, without any setup or special positioning involved (well, nothing serious anyway). Remember that you can use the Eternal Wand to pick up missing feats (like Improved Critical or Power Attack, depending on the variant). Its kill shots can easily do over 300 damage, although they're a touch slow.
Overall Strengths: Very good progression. Early on it’s got some iconic abilities that are designed to work well with the visceral satisfaction of a critical hit. At the later levels (15+) it gets some positively disgusting damage boosts, as well as the means to recover from the strain of using these moves. The build itself is also a very tough nut to crack (note how powerful the basic snapshot is with the guy essentially in his skivvies?). The Critical variant gets insane damage output throughout the build, while the Avenger variant trades some of this insanity for dramatically improved defenses (although it loses combat potency against neutral foes, those who disagree philosophically will learn to hate you all the more.)
Overall Weaknesses: Your kill move is very immobile for a martial adept – full round action combined with, ideally, your swift to make sure you aren’t vulnerable for long. The build doesn’t have high saves, particularly the Will save: it relies on a Diamond Mind ring for that for most of its career, plus Diamond Defense, but even then you should get good resistance or immunity gear. Investing in +CHA items also helps cover Will due to Indomitable Soul, and this will also improve your smites, so it’s better than +WIS. (Incidentally, it looks like you can combine a smite attack with a martial strike, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this unless you have Lightning Recovery handy.) Although it has Eternal Training, it also takes all three allowed Martial Study feats, meaning you can’t use the Eternal Wand of Heroics trick to get new maneuvers mid-battle. Finally, both routes have a drawback: The Avenger route is actually at a net attack roll penalty against unaligned or identically-aligned targets, and suffers penalties in other areas (HP, for instance). Meanwhile, the Critical version loses a LOT of its potential damage (when not using its kill move), and most of the money sunk into your weapon, when fighting foes you can’t crit.
Variants: I discussed the two major variants along the way: Critical and Avenger flavor heavy crusader. If you can get a bonus feat somehow (flaws, a random elf subrace, etc), a hybrid approach is possible – using the Critical version, armed with a falchion instead, and grabbing Power Attack as well as the exotic weapon proficiency. If neither legacy weapons nor Kaorti resin are available, you can still function just peachy as any other crusader would – I’d suggest a falchion and grabbing Power Attack as your 12th level feat, operating as if you were the Avenger variant with the Keen Edge spell. You also might want to shift Power Attack earlier if you can, but this would probably delay Extra Granted Maneuver (and thus the Energizer Bunny effect).
There you have it. It’s a pretty simple, iconic ToB build that resorts in hitting your foes, and hitting them hard, without any particular setup demands. And everything it does is pretty uinquely crusader (particularly in the Avenger variant) - without resorting to the AoO tank stereotype.
Next up on the showcase: I still have Gun Fu to display. Once it goes up, it will be joined with a list of complete or almost-complete writeups for other builds - we listened to your requests and narrowed our focus accordingly.
So, as with last week, you can let me know in the thread what sort of broad archetypes you'd like to see. More melee, more casters, more social/support, more offense, more defense, characters using incarnum... I'll use the feedback to know which builds to focus on.