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 one of mine, but I did it as an unofficial “build-off” against Andarious and Radical Taoist on the same theme. Three builds came up as a result: one using shuriken and flurry, a “Heavy Weapons Elf” with fewer feats but more maneuvers, and this one, straight out of Hong Kong action cinema). Oh, and brace for cheese – this build lives in the fondue pot.
NOTE: Incomplete versions of this build have shown up here before, but this is the first time it's seen in its entirety. Or in costume.
It’s Bullet Time
Required Books: Tome of Battle, Complete Scoundrel, Complete Warrior, Races of Eberron, Weapons of Legacy.
Unearthed Arcana used: Feat Rogue variant (Sneak Attack becomes bonus feats, as fighter).
Background: Lock and load your dual pistol crossbows, toss on the Matrix lobby scene theme music, and prepare to grind your game to a halt. This build falls under the “theoretical optimization” header in that it tries to max out the number of ranged attacks it can get without resorting to a functional infinite, and it turns out the easiest way of doing that was to blend pistol-type weapons with martial arts… and use the Aptitude weapon enhancement to bring it all to the fore. Yep, that is cheese that you’re smelling.
I'd like to open by saying that while this build uses pistol crossbows, it does work with DMG pistols - either the Renaissance flintlocks or the modern semi-automatics. It just won't be as effective: Pistols are one-handed weapons (so bigger attack penalties), have a lower threat range (this is important), and require an extra feat for proficiency (although this isn't a serious drawback: this build doesn't have any particular race demands, so picking a bonus feat race - such as strongheart halfling, which is virtually identical to the version I write up below - gets that). It's also not clear if your enhancements or quiver will work with them. But it's something to keep in mind.
If you don’t get the name, “Gun Fu” is a nickname for the blending of martial arts cinematography and choreography with modern weaponry. John Woo basically pioneered it, with The Matrix bringing it to the wider Western audience. A few scenes from Equilibrium should set the tone (although it isn’t my favorite movie to employ gun fu, it’s quite representative – and although this build is more reflexive than cerebral, with a reasonable investment in its defenses, it may very well be as untouchable in (normal) combat as a Grammaton cleric!)
- Race: Halfling, although it’ll work with any race. I’m using the standard halfling; Strongheart’s better (and can get you the pistols), but not needed. Elf is a good core-only alternative, as is (surprisingly!) Goblin (high speed for small guy), but if multiclass penalties are enforced, you need Favored Class: Rogue, Fighter, or Any.
- Ability Scores: 15/16/13/12/8/8, after racial modifications. Pump Dexterity at every opportunity and note the magic item requirements. If you want something less well-rounded, starting with a higher Dexterity is possible. If you’re not a halfling, you can round it out some better mental scores – you need 15 Strength, so a lot of points went there to start.
- Region: Native to either Talenta or Xen’drik. According to the Eberron Campaign Setting, this lets you treat their respective boomerangs as martial weapons. (Talenta Halfling is good.)
Skill Notes: You need to qualify for Uncanny Trickster, so max out at least four of your skills and buy at least four skill tricks. Thankfully, you start out as a rogue, so you have a lot of points to spend and aren’t under any particular skill pressure as we go. You’ll also get a few skill tricks; good ones for this build are Timely Misdirection (Bluff 8), Clarity of Vision (Spot 12), Back On Your Feet (Tumble 12), and Nimble Stand (Tumble 8). (You get three more beyond this at least; your options aren’t so limited.)
Basic Equipment: This matters less since the build really “matures” around 9th. If you’re playing it at lower levels than that (for reasons unknown…), pick up armor to match your Dex mod and a set of weapons which match your current feats (light maces, gauntlets, and hand crossbows). At the end you’ll have shed the armor and switched exclusively to hand crossbows and rely on no other gear.
Magical Gear Goals: Magic is VERY important to this build – you need two Aptitude light crossbows (or pistols, as mentioned above), a Spare Hand (MIC), and ideally Gloves of the Balanced Hands (MIC). A Tome of Dexterity +5, a tome of Constitution +1, and +6 items for Dex, Con, and Int aren’t bad calls either (add the +Dex to the Gloves at no extra cost, as per the MIC.). If you can swing it, pick up a maxed-out Quiver of Anariel – 128,000gp is expensive, but this is one of the few builds that will actually make good use of the infinite +5 ammo. You also need an item of legacy, although what it is doesn’t particularly matter. I’d suggest something that isn’t sunderable and with as few penalties as possible (to minimize these, pick (or design) an item that only has a least legacy).
If you want perfect weapons, the ideal choices are a pair of matching +1 Splitting Diamond Mind / Tiger Claw Hand Crossbows of Aptitude. These babies are as accurate as you want and churn out a hail of bolts the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while. (Since they rely on carrier effects on the weapons themselves, we use the quiver to supply the enhancement bonus, which will stack with the Martial Discipline properties on the bows.) Two of these, the quiver, the spare hand, the gloves, the tome, the headband, and the initial down payment on a least legacy will still leave a level 20 build with nearly 200,000gp left over, which is plenty for basic defensive gear. (The game seems to assume between 20-30% of your wealth in defensive gear, so this is actually about on target (~25%). Just be sure to keep your max Dex unrestricted: there’s a reason most gun fu protagonists fight in trenchcoats, flexible leather, or martial-arts garb.)
Build Stub: Feat Rogue 4 / Fighter 4 / Warblade 1 / Uncanny Trickster 3 / Legacy Champion 8
Note: Legacy Champion comes with a handful of bonus legacy feats; I’ve omitted these since your specific legacy item isn’t important to this build, and that will govern which legacy feats you choose.
1 – Feat Rogue – (Trapfinding) (Bonus: Combat Reflexes) (Improved Unarmed Strike)
2 – Feat Rogue – (Evasion) (Bonus: Power Attack)
3 - Feat Rogue – (Trap Sense 1) (Roundabout Kick)
4 – Feat Rogue – (Uncanny Dodge) (Bonus: Two-Weapon Fighting)
5 – Fighter – (Bonus: Weapon Focus (Light Mace))
6 – Fighter – (Bonus: Lightning Mace) (Boomerang Ricochet)
7 – Fighter – N/A
8 – Fighter – (Bonus: Improved Critical (Light Mace))
9 – Warblade – (Weapon Aptitude, Battle Clarity) (Rapid Reload (Hand Crossbow)) (Douse the Flames, Claw at the Moon, Moment of Perfect Mind) (Blood in the Water)
10 – Uncanny Trickster – (Bonus trick, Favored Trick)
11 – Uncanny Trickster – (Bonus Trick, Favored Trick) (Improved Uncanny Dodge) (White Raven Tactics)
12 – Uncanny Trickster – (Bonus Trick, Favored Trick, Uncanny Luck, Battle Ardor) (Point Blank Shot) (Fountain of Blood)
Interesting note: Fountain of Blood works with ranged attacks, although it’s of limited use. Consider this “doing them execution-style” and aiming for an R rating.
13 – Legacy Champion – (Reduced Lesser, Bond of Lore)
14 – Legacy Champion – (Replace Least) (Dancing Mongoose replaces Douse the Flames) (Hearing the Air)
Oh, and you’ll probably notice a trend here: Dancing Mongoose will work with ranged attacks.
15 – Legacy Champion – (Extra Least) (Bonus: Improved Initiative) (Rapid Shot) (Moment of Alacrity)
16 – Legacy Champion – (Bonus Legacy Feat) (Quicksilver Motion replaces Claw at the Moon)
17 – Legacy Champion – (Replace Lesser, Battle Cunning) (Raging Mongoose)
18 – Legacy Champion – (Extra Lesser) (Adaptive Style) (Diamond Defense replaces Dancing Mongoose)
19 – Legacy Champion – (Reduced Greater)
20 – Legacy Champion – (Bonus Legacy Feat) (Bonus: Quick Draw or Blind-Fight) (Time Stands Still)
Snapshot: Take the gear listed above to finish off with 191 expected HP, 147 final skill points (with 11 levels with all skills as class skills), base attack +16 (ranged attack +36 on a single basic attack (no need for GMW in this build), and it can climb to +40 thanks to martial Discipline, but will realistically cap at +38 due to TWF penalties), Fortitude +16, Reflex +26, Will +10. Defensively, it’s a function of items that are more or less free to choose, but assuming nothing more than Magic Vestment (on a badass longcoat, natch), you’re starting from 27 and going up from there (most of that from Dex, with Improved Uncanny Dodge (never denied Dex, and Rogue 13 required to flank)). This is good, but not amazingly impressive; it’s also overestimating a bit due to legacy item penalties.
What is impressive is
The usual maneuver loadout is Moment of Alacrity, Time Stands Still, Raging Mongoose, and Diamond Defense. Moment of Alacrity + Adaptive Style allows you to adjust your maneuvers at the last moment to match your foes, and boosts your initiative so high that you're probably acting first next round anyway (it’s the quintessential swordsage trick to always have the right maneuvers ready without “losing” a turn; although you know far fewer than a swordsage, we were limited to maneuvers that work outside of melee, so there was no real reason to not go this way). After it’s been used, Moment of Alacrity becomes useless without Delay tactics, so swap it for Quicksilver Motion or White Raven Tactics, depending on the scene (comes down to if you’re solo, or if you have a partner).
On your first round, use Time Stands Still to unload 7 attacks (4 from base attack, +1 TWF, +1 Improved TWF from the gloves, +1 Rapid Shot) twice. (You can add in Raging Mongoose if you want, but I prefer Quicksilver Motion as your opening swift, since you’re almost never in the right position when battle starts.) Each attack splits into two bolts (28 shots). Thanks to Improved Critical’s 17-20 crit range, 20% of those shots will threaten, triggering an extra splitting attack (averaging 11.2 extra shots) against any target. Any threats that confirm trigger another splitting attack against the same target (the number of confirmations varies based on target's AC, but Blood in the Water and Battle Ardor (as good as Power Critical here) makes this almost trivial, especially since with equipment, this build's ranged attack bonus is +34 with the first attack, +2 per discipline employed in the attack (usually +4 in this scenario: Time Stands Still + Blood in the Water), and the average CR 20 AC is 36.). These extra attacks (against any target on a threat, or against the same target on a confirm) can also produce extra attacks if they threaten or crit, and so on. This works out, against a single target, to 7 shots fired per initial attack roll. You have unlimited +5 bolts to fuel this.
If there's a target adjacent to anyone you hit, every successful bolt that hits triggers another attack roll against the adjacent target (Boomerang Ricochet), with an independent chance to threaten or crit, triggering extra attacks against that second target if either happens. (I haven’t figured out what result this has on the expected number of total shots fired, but suffice it to say it’s a lot.) While the initial ricochet and any confirmed-crit extra attacks must go to the second target, the threat extras can branch back to the first target, or to a third one, in a hail of metal. (Every gun-fu movie needs at least one scene where the hero mows through a small army of mooks single-handedly without being touched; this lets you do just that.)
On off-rounds, you can use your swift action to reload recover maneuvers, then do a normal full attack. This works out to the equivalent of one and a half Time Stands Stills every round, once you consider Splitting. (Normal movement is fine too – once you’ve charged up Blood in the Water, you don’t need your trigger feats.) Diamond Defense is readied as an emergency boost to saving throws, since you will be a target after doing this. Quicksilver Motion lets you reposition yourself while still unloading full attacks. White Raven Tactics is mostly there for team support, which is always appreciated.
This is also a rather conservative estimation of how the attack routine looks – it ignored Raging Mongoose and effects like Haste. Before we look at that,
Also, let’s assume a single target this time, so no Ricochet. This is the other major gun-fu archetypal scene, where you’re fighting another single elite fighter, usually another gun-fu user.
Full attack: 4 attacks from BAB, +1 from Rapid Shot, +2 from ITWF, +1 Haste = 8 base attacks per full attack. Each Splits, so 16 bolts.
Time Stands Still + Moment of Alacrity: 16 attacks -> 32 bolts.
-> Full Attack + WRT = 8 attacks -> 16 bolts.
-> Full Attack + Raging Mongoose = 8+4 attacks -> 24 bolts.
72 base shots, assuming only a single target. But wait! We haven't considered your two trigger feats!
Just from a roll of the dice, 20% of these will threaten, launching another attack (which splits, so 14.4 attacks = 28.8 extra bolts). 20% of THOSE will also threaten, launching another, and so on. A simple limit gives us the total number of extra bolts: +48 (from 24 expected cumulative threats). Of those 24 threats, for simplicity, I will assume every one confirms (Given a high AB + Intelligence + Blood in the Water from earlier critical hits; this isn’t that unreasonable an assumption: you only need 6 critical hits to hit the average CR 20 foe on everything except a natural 1. Given the army of mooks you probably chewed through getting to your opponent, this also explains why most such opponents engage in pre-fight banter – they’re waiting for Blood in the Water to cool down!). These confirmations launch another 24 attacks at the target, splitting into another 48 bolts. 20% of those will threaten and confirm, launching four more bolts from two extra attacks (threat and confirm), and so on. Another limit shows that this will add +180 bolts.
So, our grand total? 72+48+180=300 bolts fired in a single round. In modern terms, that’s 3000 rounds per minute: this is a reasonable rate of fire for your average helicopter-mounted M134 minigun. From single-action crossbows, wielded akimbo.
Your following round has your swift action recovering maneuvers, followed by a normal full attack, just as before. If you have to move, you can do so as well; a single attack at this point has Blood in the Water charged up so high that it doesn’t need trigger feats to be significant. (Incidentally, if you unleash a full attack, the 16+40 extra shots slows your sustained rate of fire to 1540 rounds per minute. If you’re firing on the move during recovery, it drops to 1295 rounds per minute.)
Overall Strengths: Setting aside your skills (which put you as an “expert” ), combat-wise, this is one of those cheesy builds with a single trick, but oh what a trick this is. Without resorting to functional infinites, it easily gets hundreds of shots per round against single targets, and far, far more of them against bunched-up targets, including the ability to daisy-chain attacks through walls of targets and just keep going. And although each individual bolt starts out doing next to no damage (and is thus blockable by DR), even a 0-damage bolt can charge up Blood in the Water, and by the end of the first round each bolt may be dealing more damage than Strike of Perfect Clarity.
Overall Weaknesses: Setting aside the whole Theoretical Optimization (and thus not really meant to be played) thing? It’s quite reliant on a specific set of magic items, and has a low Will save (it’s got Diamond Defense to dodge well-timed spells, but burning its next swift action is not an insignificant cost to an action-heavy build like this). Also, you’re a bit of a glass cannon, so although you’ve got about the appropriate budget for defensive gear, it might not be enough to cover for everything (especially if you’re planning on picking up anti-caster or anti-stealth gear; you’ve probably favored the Clarity of Vision trick, but using Hearing the Air as a last resort costs you Blood in the Water.).
Variants: If you’re going for perfection here (and you have no reservations on cheese), exchange the Fighter levels for the Targeteer fighter variant from Dragon 310. It’s more or less identical to the normal fighter except for weapon proficiencies, but importantly it has unique targeteer-only features that can replace a bonus feat. The most interesting one to us is Sniper: When you make a ranged full attack, you can give up one or more attacks you could have made from your full attack routine to increase the threat range of your next attack by 1 per attack given up. (Added *after* Keening, thankfully). You can see where this is going – give up every iterative attack from your initial full attack, and your first shot has a 10-20 threat range. Since each shot splits to fire two other attacks, which are subject to the same threat chance, you are statistically guaranteed a threat, which triggers Roundabout Kick for two more, and so on, with Lightning Mace picking up the slack and speeding up the attack count. This will actually lead to functionally infinite attacks, each pretty quickly growing to deal a functionally infinite amount of damage. You can also combine this with Time Stands Still, using Sniper on the first shot in the first full attack and then taking the second full attack as normal, or to use Sniper on both full attacks to increase the odds of getting that crucial first threat. To fit Sniper into the build, dump Point-Blank Shot and Rapid Shot; the second freed-up feat slot can be used for Boomerang Daze. (Anyone who sees this and survives is going to be dazed – both because of the ridiculous damage-based save DC on the feat, and because of the sheer awesome you just delivered.) Incidentally, yes, this produces an effective primary-ranged build that does not use Point-Blank Shot.
If instead you want to tone down the cheese, you have a couple options. The first is to simply drop Splitting from the weapons. This dramatically lowers the number of attacks, basically to the point where the build is actually playable at the table. You're still hurling out a hail of fire, but it won't be on the order of hundreds of attacks per round. (I'm not doing the math to figure out what this'll be - it'll be a lot, but not an unmanageable number unless you're chewing through walls of mooks.) Realistically, it's Splitting that pushes this build into the No Sane DM Would Allow territory, although technically its the use of Aptitude that makes it theoretical. Without Splitting, it's not quite so bad, and it maintains all its stylishness. You could also switch to the actual pistols - compared to hand crossbows, the slight decrease in accuracy, significant decrease in critical threat range, and dramatic increase in style aren't necessarily bad things if you're starting with the build as presented.
I'd also like to note that we have other builds that are related to this (Tome of Battle + ranged attacks), but significantly less cheesy. If you'd like a less spectacular but far more playable build in this vein, it's coming - once there's enough breathing room after the gunsmoke clears.
There you have it. This is also why I never allow Aptitude when I DM.
As I promised, we haven't been idle. Here's the new selection of builds to choose from for next week - they feature more of everything people have asked for. My signature's adopted a new tag system to identify their lead authors, so I'll adopt that here now too. Next week, pick one of the following: [SN] Chaingun Porcupine, [SN] Handy, [RT] Face First, [RT] Quiet Murder, and [DH] Eat, Sleep, Gank.
There's even more than this planned for later, but I figure, we'll start the voting with just these five. Comment on Gun Fu, and let me know which direction the showcase should go in the thread!