Administratively, I'm doing two different things here. One of the builds (Uberflank) uses the new format. The other (Flip the Bird) uses the old format. Both employ a spacing change fix, but I'm not sure which format is more useful to you as a reader. (Old format has level-by-level commentary interspaced with the build, new one has the build presented in a single place with attached commentary). Let me know which one you prefer and we'll use that on future builds.
Before I start, I'd like to say that it's pure coincidence that we have two Kenku builds this week. They'd make wonderful partners, though - hilariously so, in fact. Go ahead and read the MM3's section on Kenku in Eberron; we discovered how perfectly that fit these builds after we wrote them.
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, Andarious helps himself by helping others.
I got your back.
Required Books: Tome of Battle, Complete Warrior, Complete Adventurer, Monster Manual 3, possibly Complete Scoundrel (if you want skill tricks).
Unearthed Arcana used: None!
Background: This is another concept build – and the low requirements showcase it as Andarious’ style. The nutshell idea was to get as serious a flanking bonus as possible, and to do so reliably. Most of these apply to the self as well, so you aren’t really as selfless as it seems. This is a pretty straightforward task, but the results can be rather impressive when amalgamated.
And yes, that tagline is both a show of support and a thinly veiled threat, depending on who you’re speaking to.
- Race: Kenku (MM3). These guys are hilariously under-used (unless you’re the Radical Taoist, in which case they show up about as often as any non-human). Here, the main emphasis is on the Dexterity bonus and Great Ally. If you can’t use Kenku, my preferred replacement remains Strongheart Halfling. (If you use the bonus feat to nab Vexing Flanker, you’ve got the same results as with the kenku; you can’t combine Great Ally and Vexing Flanker, sadly.)
- Ability Scores: 12/16/14/10/11/8, before ability modifiers (+2 Dex, -2 Strength). The build’s focusedon single-ability Dexterity wherever possible – thank you, Tome of Battle – so you pump that at every opportunity, including tomes.However, you have many abilities keyed off of other ability scores: any items that boost Intelligence and Wisdom (including the obvious tome on the 11 Wisdom) help, but aren’t your primary focus – pick up the wizard’s or monk’s leftovers and you’ll be fine. (We snapshot using these, but they’re optional.)
Skill Notes: This is pretty flexible, but a sample loadout maxes out Tumble and Escape Artist (so nothing stops you from getting into a helpful position), putting several ranks into Hide and Move Silently (we snapshot it at 18 ranks, which is plenty for a non-primary stealther, especially with kenku’s racial stealth bonuses), and putting the rest of the points into Listen and Sense Motive, to aid with out-of-combat effects. If you’re investing in skill tricks, three good ones with this loadout are Easy Escape around level 5, Nimble Stand at 6th, and Quick Escape at 9th, but several other movement or sensory tricks are possible.If you’re playing from a low level, you might want to put ranks into Jump and retrain them later; at higher levels simple items should be enough.
Basic Equipment: You’re going to buy two short swords or daggers. There’s not much flexibility here – you need two weapons (although the second can wait until base attack and feats allow), and they have to be favored weapons of the Shadow Hand discipline, which cuts your options pretty short. Armorwise, you’re good with leather or studded leather to start (chain shirts are fine early on if you can stomach the check penalty), but you’ll quickly outgrow the max dex of light armor, so don’t over-invest in it.
Magical Gear Goals: Equip yourself like a sneak attacker – MIC augment gems are cheap and very good at this job, and the sword of subtlety (DMG) is a great investment in any case. If you can score Gloves of the Balanced Hands, you can possibly save a feat; see the variants section for what to do in this case. Otherwise, you’re basically a combat rogue with ToB levels – this isn’t a hard area to anticipate gear-wise.
Build Stub: Swordsage 4 / Swashbuckler 8 / Rogue 2 / Nightsong Enforcer 6.
1 – Swordsage – (Quick to Act +1, Discipline Focus: Weapon Focus (Shadow Hand))(Shadow Blade) (Wolf Fang Strike, Sudden Leap, Burning Blade, Distracting Ember, Counter Charge, Sapphire Nightmare Blade) (Island of Blades
2 – Swashbuckler – (Weapon Finesse)
3 – Swashbuckler – (Grace +1)
4 – Swashbuckler – (Insightful Strike
5 – Swashbuckler
6 – Swashbuckler – (Dodge +1)(Combat Reflexes)
7 – Swashbuckler
8 – Swordsage – (AC Bonus) (Cloak of Deception, Assassin’s Stance)
9 – Swashbuckler – (Acrobatic Charge) (Daring Outlaw)
10 – Swashbuckler – (Improved Flanking)
11 – Swordsage – (Hand of Death)
12 – Rogue – (Sneak Attack +1d6, Trapfinding) (Improved Initiative)
13 – Rogue – (Evasion, Dodge +2)
14 – Swordsage – (Discipline Focus: Insightful Strike (Tiger Claw))(Dancing Mongoose, Pouncing Charge replaces Sapphire Nightmare Blade)
15 – Nightsong Enforcer – (Teamwork (See/Hear Allies), Sneak Attack +6d6)(Improved Two-Weapon Fighting)
16 – Nightsong Enforcer – (Agility Training)
17 – Nightsong Enforcer – (Skill Teamwork +2)
18 – Nightsong Enforcer – (Sneak Attack +7d6) (Adaptive Style)
19 – Nightsong Enforcer – (Flanking Teamwork)
20 – Nightsong Enforcer – (Opportunist)
Distracting Ember gives you a flanking buddy throughout your entire career – with Great Ally, that’s a swift action for +4 on your attacks, and later on will allow you to generate flanking bonuses while solo.
Your other maneuvers are good general-purpose moves (Sudden Leap is cheap swift-action mobility, Counter Charge is just mean with high Dexterity, and Sapphire Nightmare Blade helps against other high-Dexterity targets). Your stance is your primary battle stance for most of the build; Island + Great Ally gives you a pretty big shadow in tight quarters.
Acrobatic Charge is also a nice ability, but we won’t be using it for a bit. Remember it for now.
Also, remember Acrobatic Charge? It’s really sweet if you do Dancing Mongoose + Pouncing Charge at this point. You’re in the four-attacks-a-round range now with TWF (or six with Dancing Mongoose), and it can help you move between packs of enemies if your party is split up. (If you’re lacking a flanking buddy at the other end, use Distracting Ember instead.) You’re able to Sneak Attack for +5d6 if you’re in Assassin’s Stance, so your killing power isn’t as weak as it looks.
Snapshot: We’re toming Dexterity by 5 and Wisdom by 1, and packing +6 items on Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom. (Swashbuckler’s Insightful Strike isn’t getting any love here, but you do still have it and it isn’t halved off-hand like Strength, so keep that in mind, particularly if you fight enemies with +Intelligence equipment.). With this loadout, you’re looking at 199 hit points, +18 base attack (melee +36 with Greater Magic Weapon, with a full attack routine of +34/+34/+29/+29/+24/+19 (with Dancing Mongoose, Combat Reflexes, and Opportunist for extra hits, and with Acrobatic Charge and Pouncing Charge to use that more frequently), and base melee damage of 1d6+17; if you’re using a Tiger Claw move you get an extra +3 damage per hit), and saves of +14/+27 (Evasion)/+12. You have an initiator level of 12, which matters for Burning Blade, and you finish off with 114 overall skill points from reasonably generous lists.
Class-feature wise, you’re packing Sneak Attack +7d6 and use either Island of Blades (far easier flanking) or Assassin’s Stance (+9d6 total Sneak Attack) as necessary. You have five readied maneuvers; which set you’re using depends on whether you’re operating solo or in a group. Your default (group mode) is probably Burning Blade, Wolf Fang Strike, Pouncing Charge, Dancing Mongoose, and either Sudden Leap or Cloak of Deception. Operating alone, you need to provide your own flanking partners, so you switch to Wolf Fang Strike, Distracting Ember, Cloak of Deception, Pouncing Charge and either Counter Charge or Hand of Death. Adaptive Style lets you switch around as necessary, but functionally will let you reload a bit quicker (you can use Opportunist and Combat Reflexes to keep the damage coming on Adaptive Style rounds, not to mention your passive flanking benefits).
Finally, we come to your namesake: flanking bonuses. Normal flanking bonuses are +2 to you and +2 to your buddies. Uberflank laughs at this – Great Ally, Improved Flanking, and Flanking Teamwork increase those to +7 to you and +3 to your allies. You also pack Distracting Ember (so you can flank with yourself) and Opportunist (so if anyone takes advantage of the +3, you say hello with a sneak attack).
Overall Strengths: Passive teamwork support from early levels, definitely encouraging the group to operate together and be aware of placement opportunities. Powerful Sneak Attacks (one die short of full Rogue, although they are a bit back-loaded) and nearly full base attack is something anyone’s got to take seriously.Positively sickening flanking bonuses – if it helps, this basically converts the 1st level Island of Blades stance into the 8th level Swarm Tactics stance, except you can continue to supply bonuses of that magnitude with Assassin’s Stance with the right placement or boosts. Your saving throws are also quite good as a baseline, but that’s no excuse to get sloppy on the defenses.
Overall Weaknesses: Most dramatically, this build is foiled outright by Improved Uncanny Dodge or other abilities which prevent flanking. These aren’t amazingly common, but it means that rogues, barbarians, warblades, and certain prestige classes are your primary bane, and you should be cautious around certain monsters as well. It also inherits most of the same weaknesses a TWF rogue does – namely, the need for full attacks (although your boosts help with these a lot and you’ve got Pouncing Charge) and caution around fortified enemies (MIC crystals can help here, but it can be difficult to switch them on two weapons at once if you’re caught with your pants down mid-combat). Also, curiously, you lack Uncanny Dodge of your own, so you’re especially vulnerable while flat-footed.
Variants: You can save a feat with Gloves of the Balanced Hands, flaws, or playing a Strongheart Halfling (though this costs you Great Ally, and you might want to use Vexing Flanker to get the bonuses back up). This allows you to shift up Improved Initiative and/or Adaptive Style earlier, and saves you a slot for other possibilities, such as Greater TWF (if you find the insane flanking bonuses are good enough to let that hit, and didn’t shave ITWF with the Gloves) or Extra Readied Maneuver.
A particularly twisted variant, but one that requires a bonus feat to pull off early (and is thus best used if you’re a Strongheart Halfling instead of a Kenku), is to employ a spiked chain. It is, weirdly, the only two-handed Shadow Hand weapon, and its reach helps provide more flanking benefits than normal (albeit not due to Island of Blades, which requires you to be adjacent rather than merely threatening your target). The reach is the big thing (more threatened area = more flanking angles and more use of Combat Reflexes); you can also possibly look into Setting Sun throws with this as well (switch Wolf Fang Strike for Mighty Throw – don’t view it as a throw, view it as a Dexterity-based trip that can pull targets into dogpiling positions). If you do this, consider replacing Two Weapon Fighting with, of all things, Power Attack – you won’t be getting flurries of sneak attacks without the second weapon (particularly because Dancing Mongoose is half as effective), but you will be able to switch your +7 flanking bonus and the +4 prone-target bonus into extra damage when needed. (This approach emphasizes the high attack bonus more than the high sneak attack damage, and isn’t in the main build because honestly, spiked chains are over-used.).
There you have it. I don't think it's possible to get your personal flanking bonuses any higher than this while still remaining effective elsewhere.
Next up: Hop on over to Flip the Bird to discuss next week's plans! But leave a comment here on Uberflank as well. For a real laugh, combine the two...