I'm back in the driver's seat! Sorry for the brief delay. I'm also trying something out behind-the-scenes, which should clear up the spacing issues somewhat. (EDIT: Well, that didn't work. Spacing will be borked for a bit until I can manually fix it.)
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 of Andarious’ builds is up. We have planned for you… MORE PAIN!
HEAVY WEAPONS ELF
WHO TOUCHED MY BOW?
Required Books: Tome of Battle, Races of the Wild (one feat, optional)
Unearthed Arcana used: None!
Background: I am Heavy Weapons Elf. And this… is my weapon. She weighs 1.36 kilograms and fires 2000gp custom-tooled arrows at 160 shots per minute. It costs 320,000gp to fire this weapon for twelve seconds. *manic laughter*
A few weeks back I showcased Gun Fu, a cheesy, theoretical ranged build, and mentioned it was part of a build-off against the others. This was Andarious’ entry, the one that kicked off the contest, though I believe RT was the one who named and fluffed it. It was originally designed as a cohort, hence its simplistic design, but it remains quite effective in anyone’s hands. It works alarmingly well if the leader is both a meat shield and a buffer; the A-Game Paladin is arguably the best such leader in the showcase so far (swap out Song of the Heart for Leadership and meet the Heavy); the two builds also gain combat momentum at around the same level (that is, a moderate start to a powerful finish).
Quick aside: When I say “designed as a cohort”, that implies that Andarious had a leader in mind. Turns out you’ve met her – the Heavy is a possible cohort for Aluonna, who isn’t too far off from the A-Game Paladin herself.
This build was the first in our group to observe that several ToB maneuvers worked equally well with ranged attacks as with melee attacks, and that those maneuvers tended to lend themselves well to the arrow-spam attacks that several archers are capable of making. Furthermore, unlike most special-effect attacks, they didn’t have the 30’ range limit that precision damage tends to use (I’m looking at you, Swift Hunter). This inspired everyone to try to make multiple-ranged-attack builds employing multiple attacks and ToB maneuvers. Gun Fu was my entry there, but I’m the first to admit that the Heavy Weapons Elf is significantly better at an actual game table.
And the mental image is at least as entertaining as the build itself. I mean, who ever imagines elves as big boisterous bruisers with thick Russian accents (and PhDs in Russian literature)? Okay, admittedly, it isn’t as tough as its namesake, but it works. And despite having quite a lot of Intelligence synergy, its Int is strictly average – but he’s yet to meet someone who can outsmart arrow through neck.
· Race: Elf. Oddly enough, none of your classes give ranged weapon proficiency, so you have to get it from another source, and elf is required for your prestige class anyway.
· Ability Scores: 13/18/12/10/10/8, after racial modifiers. Naturally, Dexterity gets pumped like there’s no tomorrow. As this is a cohort build, he can usually rely on his leader for melee defense, but desperately needs accuracy. You shouldn’t neglect the other ability scores either, particularly Strength and Constitution, but accuracy is your big bonus here. Note that the average Intelligence is by design: anything to simplify the math on a cohort is a good thing, and by having a +0 Intelligence modifier, all of the little warblade bonuses can be ignored. On a PC, this should probably be higher, but it doesn’t need to be insane: normal +Int items are probably sufficient here.
Skill Notes: Originally designed as a cohort, the skill loadout is quite simple: you pretty much just need Concentration and Jump. Use the remaining skill points to complement the team. Perception skills are hard to get on a warblade, but given their frequency, having a second set of eyes and ears that can make decent checks is appreciated. Diplomacy is a class skill, Tumble can help get you out of a bind, and Survival (cross-class) can combine well with Hunter’s Sense if you don’t have a tracker on the team. You can even pick up Intimidate at the later levels and come out just fine. Not usually his job, but… *chuckles*
Basic Equipment: Get the best damn composite longbow money can buy. Of particular note is the Elvencraft longbows (Races of the Wild), although strictly speaking these are optional. It’s a weapon modification that you add to any bow; elvencraft longbows can freely interchange between quarterstaff and longbow as you see fit (without an action – you could in theory bash someone unconscious, snipe his buddy, then 5’ step and club a third guy as part of the same full attack). The build was not designed with this in mind (as virtually every maneuver is one that works on ranged attacks), but it’s a very useful backup, and allows your cohort to make use of any maneuver-granting items you find without switching weapons. (You lack Weapon Finesse, though, so consider these to be backup at best).
Magical Gear Goals: You’re an archer. Equip yourself accordingly with whatever seems good and you’re golden. I’m particularly fond of spell storing arrows – have your mage load them up with specialized, situational takedown spells in advance and keep them in a special quiver for special occasions. Although the CL won’t be amazing, you can still unload as many basic spell effects per round as you have attacks, and against multiple targets, without the mage having to waste spell slots on similar effects. This translates into an incredible “action advantage”, but it can get kind of costly if you use them regularly.
It’s expensive, but a Quiver of Anariel or related ammo-supplier can be very useful given the number of attacks you’re making. You don’t need anything fancy here, just the basic one will do – enhance up the bow to save some money. If you have a bit to spare, the options for different special materials aren’t expensive to add to this quiver.
EDIT: I can't believe I forgot the Energy Bow. That's your top priority, hands down. Unlimited base ammunition (but compatible with specialist Spell Storing arrows), Force damage type (it's not entirely clear if the force arrows get bonus damage from the bow's enhancement bonus, but the accuracy still applies), automatically accomodating any Strength bonus, and a ranged "Power Attack" effect (in a build with full base attack and plenty of ways to compensate for missed attacks) - you quite literally couldn't ask for more. You probably won't be able to Elvencraft the thing, but that's always a side option anyway.
Build Stub: Warblade 10 / Eternal Blade 10.
1 – Warblade – (Battle Clarity, Weapon Aptitude) (Point Blank Shot) (Wolf Fang Strike, Sudden Leap, Moment of Perfect Mind) (Blood in the Water)
Blood isn’t perfect in this situation (you only threaten on 20s), but it’s the best of the first-level stances for people unloading a lot of attacks. You’ll use this as your default stance as a result, switching to later stances for tactical or defensive purposes as needed. The low critical threat rate means that giving up your Blood bonus isn’t as intense a loss as it is in most Blood in the Water builds, so don’t be afraid to switch.
An interesting alternative is Bolstering Voice. It’s one of those party-support effects that no PC would “waste” space on, but would work on a cohort. It’s not in here because the leader is intended to use Inspire Courage (both Inspire and Bolster provide Morale bonuses), but if you’re not an Inspire leader, switch it up.
2 – Warblade – (Uncanny Dodge) (Douse the Flames)
3 – Warblade – (Battle Ardor) (Precise Shot) (Wall of Blades)
4 – Warblade – (Action Before Thought > Wolf Fang Strike) (Hunter’s Sense)
Since you probably lack Survival, Hunter’s Sense isn’t spectacular, but it will help you locate hidden foes. And Sandvich. So moist and delicious…
5 – Warblade – (Improved Initiative) (White Raven Tactics)
6 – Warblade – (Improved Uncanny Dodge) (Woodland Archer) (Iron Heart Surge > Douse the Flames)
Speaking of ranged attacks, look at Woodland Archer carefully. It’s got three maneuvers, although we’re only going to use the first two. The first one, Adjust for Range, is the only thing you really need to worry about most of the time on a full attack: if you miss, your next attacks get +4, which is nearly as good as if you hadn’t missed in the first place. This one combines well with Haste effects and anything that adds bonus attacks at your highest attack bonus – it gives you a good shot against high-AC targets. (However, under the ideal pairing with a buff-based leader, this maneuver loses some of its panache). The second maneuver is Pierce the Foliage, which basically says that if you hit a foe despite concealment, you ignore concealment from now on. This is almost as good as Improved Precise Shot, except available five levels earlier, and it comes with Adjust for Range on the side.
7 – Warblade – (Battle Cunning) (Covering Strike)
8 – Warblade – (Don’t swap anything)
9 – Warblade – (Dancing Mongoose) (Weapon Focus: Composite Longbow, Blind-Fight)
10 – Warblade – (Iron Heart Focus > Action Before Thought) (Hearing the Air)
IHF is amazing for many warblades: like Diamond Defense, you can now use one ready maneuver slot to cover all three saves, but unlike Diamond Defense, it’s available much sooner.
Hearing the Air is there to provide anti-stealth support. This stance + Blind-Fight + Spell Storing arrows can really ruin an assassin’s day. Between this stance and Hunter’s Sense? HIDE, COWARD! HE WILL FIND YOU!
11 – Eternal Blade – (Blade Guide, Eternal Training 1) (Order Forged from Chaos)
You get your third ranged attack here, and hopefully your leader (and possibly Woodland Archer) are making that attack accurate enough.
Order is another of those excellent maneuvers that works best on a cohort – if he’s ever in a position where a full attack isn’t possible, but he’s got a move action available (i.e. he’s readying), Order allows him to reposition the team advantageously. In the context of your ideal leader, this lets you reposition your team’s melee in full-attack range (so they can benefit from the team leader’s buffing ability). Alternatively, the leader might have White Raven Tactics; hitting the Heavy Weapons Elf with this allows the elf to recover maneuvers and exchange the team leader’s swift for a move action on the entire party. KOME, MEN! VE MUST PUSH LITTLE KART!
12 – Eternal Blade – (Guided Strike) (Rapid Shot)
Guided Strike will only be used against really, really tough foes (like iron golems if you lack the right type of arrow), since your swifts are usually eaten up with movement or counters. One less thing to worry about, by and large. However, it IS worth noting that not all of the Eternal Blade swift class features work with ranged attacks. This one does. So break little coward toys! MORE RUBBLE, LESS TROUBLE!
13 – Eternal Blade – (Armored Uncanny Dodge, Eternal Training 2) (Iron Heart Endurance)
If you’ve got your cohort’s survivability to a suitable level already, and would rather switch to an all-out offense mode, a passable alternative is Moment of Alacrity – time this right, and you might be able to take two turns in a row (moving from low Initiative one round to high Initiative on the next practically does this). Your high baseline Initiative makes this less useful than it is on an average-Dexterity character, though.
14 – Eternal Blade – (Eternal Knowledge)
15 – Eternal Blade – (Eternal Training 3) (Martial Study) (Diamond Defense, Raging Mongoose) (Supreme Blade Parry)
First, Eternal Training is now usable in nearly every encounter for the day. Realistically you won’t have that many maneuvers to choose from with it; I think the best one open to you is either a Diamond Mind save counter or Shield Block (which oddly does not require a shield to perform). But it’s worth mentioning, especially if you took an elvencraft bow (as you can grab a melee strike if you need it and still be able to deliver it – the Insightful Strikes, Mind Strike, and Disrupting Blow are passable options.)
Second, Diamond Defense. Largely, this replaces Iron Heart Focus, but you can still pack both if you’re fighting spellcasters. That’s two maneuvers readied that can each cover all three saves. (You still hang on to Moment, though, and rotate it in if you expect enemy mages.)
Third, Raging Mongoose. Yes, this works with ranged attacks, and will probably be your boost of choice for quite some time.
Fourth, Supreme Blade Parry. You’ve now got an offensive stance (Blood in the Water), a defensive stance (Supreme Blade Parry, best used if swarmed), a utility stance (Hunter’s Sense) and a sensory stance (Hearing the Air). That’s a pretty good set of roles you can switch between as needed. Plus, this one lets you shout out “I AM BULLETPROOF!” if you’re going for full Heavy schtick.
16 – Eternal Blade – (Defensive Insight)
You get your fourth iterative attack right now, though. Don’t forget you have that.
17 – Eternal Blade – (Eternal Training 4) (Time Stands Still)
18 – Eternal Blade – (Tactical Insight) (Improved Precise Shot)
19 – Eternal Blade – (Eternal Training 5) (Quicksilver Motion)
20 – Eternal Blade – (Island in Time)
Snapshot: Armed with a +5 tome of Dexterity, a +1 manual of Strength, and +6 items on Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution, you’re looking at 205 expected HP, +20 base attack (Ranged +38 with Greater Magic Weapon on your composite longbow), and saves of +18/+18/+8 (with Diamond Defense and Moment of Perfect Mind). Your eight warblade maneuvers readied are probably Time Stands Still, Raging Mongoose, Diamond Defense, White Raven Tactics, Order Forged from Chaos, Covering Strike, Wall of Blades, and Quicksilver Motion or Sudden Leap (depending on what magic gear you’ve invested into mobility). Note that you have Rapid Shot (extra attack, -2 to all attacks) and Woodland Sniper: Adjust for Range (on a miss, +4 to all ranged attacks for the rest of the round), so you’re uncommonly good at throwing out the full attacks, even at the full range of the bow (no 30’ cap here). Finally, 20 levels of Improved Uncanny Dodge make you virtually immune to flanking and Dex-denial, so you’re virtually immune to sneak attacks. (Mix this in with your surprisingly good anti-stealth effects – despite poor sensory skills – and you’re a rogue’s nightmare.) DID THEY THINK THEY COULD HIDE FROM YOU?
Overall Strengths: Full attacks always worked well on a boost/counter-happy warblade, and they work well on an archer. You’re getting the best of both worlds. You’re also a reasonably simple build (there isn’t that much to keep track of on their turn), and a perfect force multiplier – thus becoming an ideal cohort for a buffer. (As above, I mentioned that this was designed as the cohort for an Inspire Courage machine.) Finally, you actually have a few party-support effects that people wouldn’t normally expect on a warrior: Covering Strike that can hit an entire enemy wall, high Initiative + Order Forged from Chaos + White Raven Tactics, Blind-Fight + Hearing the Air + (either Woodland Archer: Pierce the Foliage or a Spell Storing Arrow of an anti-invisibility effect), and Hunter’s Sense (without Track or Survival, sadly, but with the ability to recognize people by scent as easily as by sight, meaning you see through visual glamers with relative ease).
Overall Weaknesses: This was designed as a cohort, rather than an independent character, but it will still work as an independent one if need be. Its reliance on ranged attacks limits its options in battle, along with its skills (the need to keep Jump and Concentration maxed for some of your maneuvers prevents too much flexibility there). Will saves are a concern, so keep that Moment of Perfect Mind on hand and don’t hesitate to Mind Blank the Heavy. Anyone who holds extended conversations with his Sandvich needs all the mental support he can get.
Variants: If you want a total reduction of cognitive load (i.e. worry less about controlling your cohort rather than yourself), drop Woodland Archer and move Rapid Shot / Improved Precise Shot earlier. This frees up a feat for whatever you’d like; Martial Study (Shadow Blink) gives you another swift-action reposition, if you so choose. An alternative for this extra feat adds further cognitive simplification: If your team uses a lot of buffs that modify Strength (instead of simply boosting attack or damage rolls), consider a Bone Bow (Frostburn) instead – it’s a composite longbow that shifts its strength bonus to match its wielder’s, no matter what, at the cost of being Exotic.
If you want to use an Elvencraft bow (Races of the Wild), you’re in luck: this allows you to pick maneuver choices that do not require ranged attacks. Doing this probably requires you to cram in Weapon Finesse somewhere (since it’s difficult to be both Elvencraft and Feycraft… ), but it would let you switch seamlessly between the maneuvers here (which work on ranged or melee attacks) and the largely more powerful melee strikes. (Even with no variation at all, you can use this with Eternal Training to pick up some of the more interesting Diamond Mind attacks.)
There you have it. A damn fine Tome of Battle build that combines an unusual focus (archery + initiator!) with a cohort-friendly design so you can make good team. Pair this guy up with the A-Game Paladin (or a Song of the White Raven Crusader, such as Aluonna from Dead for Nothing) and be prepared to stand atop a massive pile of enemies while your leader makes you unstoppable. CRY SOME MORE! AAAAAGGHHHH WAAAHAHAHA!
Next up: Take your pick from [DH] Eat Sleep Gank, [RT] Edge of the Light, and [RT] Gnowhere Gnome. Go ahead and place your vote!
I'm also working on new builds of my own to add to the list, as well as a side project (not quite Something Completely Different, but not as fixed as these templates). Additionally, we're almost at a consensus on what to do with other forums (discussion is sporadic and game nights delayed, so it's slow, but progressing). I'll reply with an update soon!