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, we’ll be showcasing one of Sionnis’ builds.
EDIT: See here for something to check with your DM before using this build.
Never enuff dakka
Required Books: Magic of Incarnum, Complete Adventurer, Complete Scoundrel, Player’s Handbook 2, Complete Warrior, Dungeonscape.
Unearthed Arcana used: Flaws, but it’s no huge loss if they’re gone.
Background: There is no “overkill”. There is only “open fire” and “I need to reload”. And we don’t need to reload.
This build was created as a “glass cannon” for a short adventure (level 14), but it tickled everyone’s fancy when Sionnis presented his work for the group. It’s an interesting alternative take on the heavy-spike-damage rogue. (The one that actually saw play was slightly different than this - see the Variants section.)
The basic idea here is simple: the Manticore Belt’s totem bind lets you launch multiple spines against multiple targets as a standard action, giving you a decent number of attacks lowering neither your mobility nor your attack bonus (and despite working like a volley attack, it requires separate attack rolls for each spine). Therefore, it works like a more accurate version of Greater Manyshot – and combines very well with bonus damage per attack. Add in methods of boosting this damage and making it trigger reliably, and you have a pretty scary shoot-and-scoot damage machine.
And despite the name, it makes all the attacks at once and does so at a short range, so it’s probably more of a shotgun than a chaingun. However, most people associate shotguns with AoE effects in RPGs rather than high numbers of attacks, so we’ll stick to the chaingun nomenclature Sionnis originally used. Besides, if we changed the name now, I would have no excuse for posting this:
- Race: Azurin. Bonus feat, bonus essentia, everything you need.
- Ability Scores: 16/16/15/10/8/8; this build was developed for 32-point-buy. To get this under 28, shave two points off of Intelligence and one off of Strength, and budget accordingly. Points go into Dexterity, but pumping Constitution isn’t a bad call either.
- Flaws: Noncombatant and Vulnerable are the natural choices for a ranged glass cannon.
Skill Notes: Pick up the stealth skills and sensory skills, along with splashing a bit of movement (Tumble in particular). You have plenty of scout and rogue levels, so you aren’t under much skill pressure and can diversify as you wish. You can even pump Use Magic Device to taste, even though it’s not critical to the build.
Basic Equipment: You’re also a totemist: you are your own weapon. A mithral breastplate (at least until your Dexterity outgrows it) and a shield wouldn’t be bad investments, though.
Magical Gear Goals: Picking up an Incarnum Focus for your waist chakra is pricey, but think of it as your primary weapon when budgeting. Basic physical ability enhancers and anything that improves natural attacks (the expensive Amulets of Mighty Fists come to mind) would be in high demand too. Wands that synergize well with Sneak Attack (gravestrike, golem strike, vine strike, etc) are interesting choices too – and this goes double for ranger spells of the sort (since you don’t need UMD to trigger things like Hunter’s Eye). Interestingly, you have good reason to use psionic items as well – any item that can trigger Strength of My Enemy (at any level) or Grip of Iron (at 18+) make surprisingly good purchases for a primary ranged attacker like this.
Build Stub: Totemist 2 / Scout 4 / Ranger 3 / Rogue 11.
1 – Totemist – (Wild Empathy, Illiterate) (Expanded Soulmeld Capacity, Point Blank Shot, Cerulean Will, Precise Shot) (Shedu Crown (Heart), Kruthik Claws (Hands))
2 – Totemist – (Totem Chakra +1) (Manticore Belt (Waist: bound to Totem))
Cerulean Will is mostly used just as an extra point of essentia. It isn’t entirely essential but it helps. Here, you can invest the spare point into this feat to improve your Will save, the traditional foil for rogues. Shore it up when you need it by shifting the rest to the Shedu Crown and you’ll be decently strong-willed.
It’s worth noting that the Manticore Belt’s totem bind is a standard action, and it actually requires multiple attack rolls, so it’s basically Greater Manyshot on steroids. You know where this is going.
3 – Scout – (Skirmish 1d6/+1) (Indigo Strike)
If you aren’t attacking on a given round, you can still reallocate the essentia to your stealth skills (Kruthik Claws) or your mental saving throws (Shedu crown), or whatever else you choose to shape in their place – since they’ll have a dramatically lower essentia capacity than your Manticore Belt, you can actually max them both out and still have essentia to spare.
4 – Scout – (Battle Fortitude +1, Uncanny Dodge)
5 – Scout – (Fast Movement, Skirmish 1d6/+1, Trackless Step)
6 – Ranger – (Wild Empathy, Favored Enemy 1) (Track, Swift Hunter)
7 – Ranger – (Combat Style, Skirmish 2d6/+1, Favored Enemy 2)
8 – Ranger – (Endurance)
At this level, with no equipment, you have 5 essentia and can invest 4 of it in your Manticore Belt (and the remaining 1 into Indigo Strike), so you can make a volley of four attacks (at +14 each) that deal 3d6+3 damage after factoring in Point Blank Shot and Skirmish. 12d6+12+(double Strength modifier) is a surprisingly effective amount of damage, given how you can basically trigger it at will right now.
9 – Rogue – (Sneak Attack +1d6, Skirmish 2d6/+2, Trapfinding) (Swift Ambusher)
10 – Scout – (Improved Skirmish)
11 – Rogue – (Evasion, Skirmish 3d6/+2)
12 – Rogue – (Sneak Attack +2d6, Penetrating Strike) (Deadeye Shot)
Penetrating Strike is here to do to Sneak Attack what Swift Hunter does to Skirmish – provide a way of breaching critical hit immunity. It isn’t perfect, since you need to hit a flanked target to trigger it. To make the most of this, get a Distracting Attack ranger buddy or a wand of Phantom Threat. (Most things immune to the wand AND critical-hit immune are covered by the usual sneak attack wands, gravestrike/vinestrike/golemstrike.)
13 – Rogue – (Uncanny Dodge, Skirmish 3d6/+3)
14 – Rogue – (Sneak Attack +3d6)
15 – Rogue – (Skirmish 4d6/+3) (Bonus Essentia)
16 – Rogue – (Sneak Attack +4d6)
17 – Rogue – (Improved Uncanny Dodge, Skirmisj 4d6/+4)
18 – Rogue – (Sneak Attack +5d6) (Improved Precise Shot)
19 – Rogue – (Skirmish 5d6/+4) (Bonus Feat: Ranged Pin)
It also gives you hilarious synergy with other builds – such as sneak attackers (grappled targets are vulnerable to sneak attack, but unlike normal grapples, Ranged Pin doesn’t entail a risk that your rogue hits you instead of your victim) and jugglers (particularly Dungeon Crashers, who are repositioning targets next to obstacles for their own reasons). Pair up with the Pinball Brothers, say, and do the Deadeye Shot trick. An enemy gets used for Wall Pong (taking serious damage on each swing) and ends up nailed to the wall by the first of your spines (and simply skewered by the others, which get sneak attack damage since he’s denied Dex while grappled).
As an alternative, consider Crippling Strike. If you’re able to hit a creature without specific resistance to your attacks (i.e. if the target is vulnerable to critical hits and ability damage), they’re probably falling down after just one or two rounds of you attacking it on your own. This gets markedly meaner if combined with a Strength of My Enemy effect as well, adding on more Strength damage and improving your own. (Incidentally, SoME also works wonders with Ranged Pin.)
However, since you’re probably getting Strength damage via SoME several levels earlier, and are coming up against more and more monsters immune to it, we opted for Ranged Pin instead. Wish it could have come online sooner.
20 – Rogue – (Sneak Attack +6d6)
Snapshot: Reading a Tome of Dexterity +5, a Tome of Strength +4, wearing +4 item on Strength, with +6 on Dexterity, and Constitution, and a waist-chakra Incarnum Focus – yes, this is pricey, but remember that you aren’t using expensive normal weapons – gives us 178 HP, +15 base attack (Ranged +31 assuming Greater Magic Fang), 158 skill points (with many levels of Rogue, so many assorted skills are class skills, and you can get a sickening boost to your stealth skills through the Kruthik Claws) and saves of +18/+28 (Evasion)/+5. Note that the Shedu Crown can help with the low Will save. With extra gear, you can easily get an AC in the mid-to-high-30s without any real effort (possibly much higher if you try; I was able to get it up to 44 without any real cheesing), and you have Uncanny Dodge. (Oh, and Improved Uncanny Dodge with enough rogue levels to basically be immune to flanking.)
Your real strength comes from your incarnum, and your other feat infrastructure. Your have 7 points of essentia. Most of your melds can hold 4, but your Manticore Belt (with the incarnum focus and Improved Soulmeld Capacity hooked up to it) can hold up to 7; if you dig up an extra point from anywhere (gear, spells, etc) you shovel it into Indigo Strike. You also possess Skirmish +5d6/+4 (with Improved Skirmish effectively upgrading this to +7d6/+6, and Swift Hunter to allow it to penetrate fortification on your two types of favored enemies) and Sneak Attack +6d6 (with Deadeye Shot allowing you to trigger it more or less at will against particularly tough targets, or high Stealth and Initiative scores to trigger it during round 1 against multiple targets. If all else fails you have Penetrating Strike, which – under some tactical situations – allows you to continue to deliver Sneak Attack against fortified targets, even if your wands don’t do the trick.). Put together, this translates into moving 20’ (which can easily be tumbling, given your 40’ base speed without equipment) and firing a volley of seven spikes (under GMF), each at +31, and each dealing 8d6+9 (including Strength this time) with no questions asked, or 14d6+9 with a sneak attack. Against single targets (via a 20’ move + ready action for Deadeye Shot) this works out to an average damage output of 58 damage per spine, or 406 if all attacks hit (which, since they’re all made at +31 and average CR 20 AC is ~36, isn’t that unlikely an event. Incidentally, unless the target's fortified, they're probably dead: average CR 20 HP is only 409.).
Overall Strengths: Positively insane damage output, with skirmish-style triggers being quite easy to pull off, including multiple attacks against multiple targets from a very low level. He doesn’t rely on full attacks to keep the hail of spines firing, so the build has a serious mobility advantage over your typical sneak-attack TWF rogue. Very good stealth skills (augmented even higher via your melds) and an array of other skills available to you allow for a diverse support role. Since only one soulmeld is required but you get a couple extra for free, you can freely shift the other melds around to boost up whichever skills you feel you need (although the trapscouting skills tend to be on the incarnate list rather than the totemist list.) Ranged Pin allows for an unusual support effect which combines quite well with the suggested Strength of My Enemy item (if you can get it). Oh, and to add insult to injury, your Improved Uncanny Dodge blocks flanking from everyone with fewer than 19 Rogue levels, and similarly, you have enough Rogue levels to bypass anyone with 7 or fewer levels of Improved Uncanny Dodge (which includes an alarming number of builds that just dip Uncanny Dodgers for other reasons), even though you aren’t likely to be flanking your targets.
Overall Weaknesses: Like a lot of precision builds, your range is limited (30’ ), but that happens to be the range increment of your spines anyway. It’s difficult or expensive to enhance your spine attacks, since the Manticore Belt isn’t a weapon in the traditional sense (and picky DMs might even say it doesn’t even count as a natural weapon, since it’s triggered as a standard action instead of as a normal natural attack). Furthermore, a lot of your damage is precision damage, so you lose a lot of power against critical-immune enemies (although you can’t use augment gems on the Manticore Belt, you can buy ranks in Use Magic Device for wands of Grave Strike, Vine Strike, and so forth to help with this). Finally, your Will save is alarmingly low – general resistance gear + specific Will boosters and/or Mind-Affecting Immunity are good investments.
Variants: Sionnis actually went through a few different versions of this, but got the best overall results with this approach. One of the alternatives involved swapping some rogue levels for totemist (enough to get Double Chakra (totem)) and made use of the Heart of Fire; although it added less damage than this approach, some of that damage was fire, which allowed for some DR-bypassing. It’s hard to get enough essentia to make this approach work, but it’s an option. Another option (the one that actually saw play) had 5 levels of totemist and none of ranger; Ranged Pin came online earlier and Crippling Strike was taken at the high levels. (This version’s increased essentia allowed a greater load into Indigo Strike, resulting in comparable damage – but no real way of dealing with fortification. It still worked.) Yet another option involved using Swift Hunter instead of Swift Ambusher, and rotating the rogue levels to more ranger levels. Although this has markedly lower spine damage (trading 6d6 sneak attack for four favored enemies; remember that the Deadeye Shot trick makes Sneak Attack more reliable than usual), it has full base attack, picks up the PHB2 Distracting Attack ability (so it can essentially flank a number of targets as a standard action), and allows your 4d6 skirmish to bypass precision-damage immunity on your favored enemies without using a wand. You don’t gain quite as much benefit from full base attack or Archery combat style feats as a normal Swift Hunter does, though, since you aren’t relying on base attack to get extra shots off. (This is one area where the Manticore Belt isn’t quite as helpful as a bow.)
The easiest way to drop flaws from this build is probably to drop Cerulean Will (it’s really only useful as an extra essentia point early on; you’ll want to take more totemist levels to compensate, so use that variant instead) and probably let Ranged Pin go.
There you have it. Never underestimate the Manticore Belt. It's a fantastic enabler, and this build just keeps the damage coming fast and hard.
Since I forgot that it was Friday - combination of Sleep Madness (tm) and long hours plugging away on my master's thesis - I haven't spoken to my group about what to offer for the showcase next week. However, since I did get a request a while back for more of RadicalTaoist's builds, and I know he wouldn't mind, I'll offer a selection of his: [RT] Edge of the Light, [RT/TS] Always on Edge, [RT] #1 Snoipah, and [RT] Rusty!. All four of these fit different roles and goals, but do so with style. With four up for grabs, two votes per person will count (equally), if they're for different builds.