Weekly Optimization Showcase: Eat, Sleep, Gank

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Sorry about the delays! Here we go. (This was written under the "new format" and I haven't had time to switch it back yet - don't worry, this is the last new-format piece we've got, since the old-format one was much more popular.)

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, DisposableHero takes the stage again.

Real Ultimate Power

Required Books: Complete Adventurer, Complete Warrior, Champions of Ruin, Tome of Battle, Complete Mage
Unearthed Arcana used: Nothing directly. However, there are two nonstandard variants in use here. First, it takes Dragon Mag’s Kung Fu Genius feat (a slightly weaker version of Carmendine Monk that basically does a find-and-replace on the monk, switching Wis to Int). We don’t use it for Monk – we use it for Ninja. This is a case to be made for the DM, naturally, but we got it used here because DH was building this as an NPC in our games, and he’s in the DM seat. (Even without that, none of us think it’s an unreasonable request.) Second, it uses "intended" prerequisites for Invisible Blade (see here for the author's comments - basically the prereqs shifted to Weapon Focus: Dagger and Weapon Finesse).

Background: Ninjas. As we all know, ninjas are mammals. Being mammals, they largely divide their time between eating, sleeping, and ganking. They accomplish this ganking in a distinctive manner: by the time you see one, you’re already dead. Especially if they work alone – Law of Conservation of Ninjutsu, you see. Therefore, by making a ninja-type singularly focused on maximizing his personal Ninuitsu, the rest should just happen.

Or, in DH’s original words, “to create a sneak attack heavy rogue that deals big damage in melee combat, while limiting attribute dependence to the two key attributes of skill monkeys, dexterity, and intelligence. The final build gets Int (up to +3), Int Again, and Dex to AC; Int and Dex to damage; has Int-based spellcasting from assassin, and an Int-based death attack.  The majority of the key skills for this build are also based on Int and Dex.”

DH has, actually, used a variant on this build as a recurring villain in our games. One who managed to successfully kill a PC (…he got better. Serial resurrector, it seemed) and survive the inevitable counterattack from a team that emphasizes alpha striking. (…With 3 HP remaining, to be fair, but it’s still a survive.) Judge what level is appropriate to challenge your team, hire Eat Sleep Gank, and be prepared for someone to die.

The Basics

  • Race: Without flaws, your best race is probably Human or Strongheart Halfling (depends if you think the lower Speed is worth +2 Dexterity; I’d say it is). With flaws, Grey Elf (+2 Int, +2 Dex, -2 Con, -2 Str, LA+0) is the perfect choice for this in terms of ability scores. Of course, it’s hardly essential – DH ran Eat, Sleep, Gank against us as a shifter (+2 Dex, -2 Int – he dropped the Kung Fu Genius feat and used plain ol’ Wis, I believe), which is one of the real reasons I didn’t recognize what he was up to until he flat-out told us. Play experience suggests that race matters less than you’d think.

  • Ability Scores: 8/16/13/16/8/8 is an example of how extreme the spread can go; you can divide the points around a bit if you want to be tougher or wiser, but do not neglect Intelligence and Dexterity. The snapshot uses Intelligence all the way but you have some flexibility here.

  • Alignment: As with all assassins, you gotta be Evil.

Skill Notes: Hide, Move Silently, Search, Concentration, Tumble, and Spellcraft are all good skills here, along with the godlike Use Magic Device skill. You’ll need to get Disguise and Bluff up there as well (to meet Assassin requirements), but you don’t have a lot of support that demands too much investment in those skills. If you have points left over, consider skill tricks based around movement or deception.

Basic Equipment: Two daggers are your signature blades. You won’t need much in the way of armor, but mobility gear (masterwork tools for movement and stealth skills) wouldn’t go amiss.

Magical Gear Goals: The basic build here uses Greater TWF; as in most cases with this you can save a feat or two by swapping in Gloves of the Balanced Hands. We didn’t do this here, but it’s a good possibility. Towards the end, cheap metamagic rods – especially Energy Substitution – are your main mode of concern outside getting good at not being seen. In terms of weaponry, Swords of Subtlety are a good choice most of the time (swap the enhancement onto a dagger), particularly if augmented with the right gem to breach fortification. Finally, don’t forget your ranks in Use Magic Device: the right wands can make or break your style. (In particular, Minor Creation for poison and Solid Fog for concealment and holding enemies in place - your own spell list includes the Freedom of Movement effect you'll need. Wands of Gravestrike, Vinestrike, Golemstrike and so on can help with fortification.)

The Build.
Build Stub: Ninja 3 / Swashbuckler 3 / Assassin 5 / Swordsage 1 / Invisible Blade 3 / Unseen Seer 5

1 – Ninja – (Ki Power (Ghost Step: Invisible), Sudden Strike 1d6, Trapfinding) (Two-weapon Fighting, Kung-Fu Genius*)
2 – Ninja – (Poison Use)
3 – Ninja – (Sudden Strike 2d6, Evasion) (Craven)
4 – Swashbuckler – (Weapon Finesse)
5 – Swashbuckler – (Grace +1)
6 – Swashbuckler – (Insightful Strike) (Daring Outlaw)
7 – Assassin – (Senak Attack 1d6, Death Attack)
8 – Assassin – (Poison Save +1, Uncanny Dodge)
9 – Swordsage – (Discipline Focus: Shadow Hand) (Martial Stance) (Shadow Jaunt, Cloak of Deception, Drain Vitality, Burning Blade, Burning Brand, Wolf Fang Strike, Island of Blades, Assassin’s Stance)
10 – Invisible Blade – (Dagger Sneak Attack 1d6, Unfettered Defense)
11 – Invisible Blade – (Bleeding Wound)
12 – Invisible Blade – (Dagger Sneak Attack 2d6, Uncanny Feint (move action)) (Improved Two-Weapon Fighting)
13 – Assassin – (Sneak Attack 2d6)
14 – Assassin – (Poison Save +2)
15 – Assassin – (Sneak Attack 3d6, Improved Uncanny Dodge) (Shadow Blade)
16 – Unseen Seer – (Damage Bonus)
17 – Unseen Seer – (Eclectic Learning*: Creaking Cacophony, Silent Spell)*
18 – Unseen Seer – (Divination Spell Power +1) (Greater Two-Weapon Fighting)
19 – Unseen Seer – (Damage Bonus)
20 – Unseen Seer – (Advanced Learning*: Hunter's Eye, Guarded Mind)

Build Notes

Level 1
Kung-Fu Genius, as noted above, is used here to switch Ninja over to Intelligence. It’s not a RAW ability but it’s not an unfair request either.

Level 6
Sudden Strike meets the requirements for Daring Outlaw, giving us Sneak Atack +2d6 from our three swashbuckler levels (a good benefit for one feat!). Craven’s adding our Character Level on top of that. You also get Insightful Strike (the swashbuckler one). This allows some pretty powerful ganking from a relatively low level.

Level 9
Martial Stance is needed to get around the “1st-level-only” clause in martial adept dipping, but now we have both Island (for when things get tight) or Assassin’s (for when we’re invisible – Ghost Step, Cloak of Deception, Shadow Jaunt, etc). Our precision damage per hit works out to +7d6+9 per hit, which is hard to beat at this level.

Level 12
By now, we picked up a few extra goodies from Invisible Blade levels (more Intelligence synergy), including two extra dice of sneak attack (with full base attack) and Improved TWF. If you’ve got the Gloves of the Balanced Hands, grab Shadow Blade here instead and move in one of the variant feats at later levels.

Level 17
At this level, we make the second of our “liberties” arguments: The Unseen Seer has the same Advanced Learning class feature as the Warmage, and the Warmage Advanced Learning has a variant, Eclectic Learning, in the PHB2. We propose using the same shift on the Unseen Seer’s Advanced Learning – rather than any spell up to your maximum level from a narrow school, it’s any spell up to one step lower, from any other school. (If this bothers you, use a feat on Extra Spell; the effect is the same.)

The spell we’re grabbing is Creaking Cacophony, which cheaply says that those in its area take +50% damage from sonic effects. You energy sub THIS to match the elemental assassin effects (either Burning Brand, Fire Shuriken/Ice Knife, or an energy subbed version of the same).

Why go through this? Simple: Energy damage attacks convert precision damage into that type of energy damage (so a Sneak Attack Scorching Ray deals all of its sneak attack damage as fire, for instance). Sneak Attack doesn’t multiply by default, being an extra-dice effect – but +X% effects on top of it work just fine. So if you attack with, say, Ice Knife while using a Cold-Substituted Creaking Cacophony your massive precision damage (+12d6+17 at this point) is subject to a multiplication of its own (from about 50 to nearly 90 extra energy damage per attack). Just be sure to match the energy type of Cacophony and your attack form to something the target doesn’t resist. (It’s not clear what happens if they’re already vulnerable, but it’s unlikely to double it further.)

Level 20
Hunter's Eye from the ranger list has been discussed on the showcase before, but here, it benefits from Divination Spell Power, and helps make your sneak attacks absolutely devastating on the takedown front.


Snapshot: We'll go for the long-game version again, and boost up Intelligence at every level. Arm up with a +5 Int tome, a +1 Con tome, and the usual three +6 boosters on Dex, Con, and Int; an orange ioun stone rounds out the gear. That gives us 174 average HP, +16 base attack (melee +28 with Greater Magic Weapon, and up to Greater TWF for numbers of attacks), and saving throws of 12/21(evasion)/11. Your final precision damage amounts to Sudden Strike +2d6, Sneak Attack +9d6 (using Assassin's Stance), Dagger Sneak Attack +2d6 and Craven for a total of +13d6+20 (averages 65.5) on each of your seven normal attacks (with the ability to boost this up by 50% to 98.25 when playing around with energy effects). Magically, you cast as a 10th level assassin (CL 10 non-divination, CL 12 divination) with 6/6/6/5 base spell slots and a DC of 21+spell level, along with a death attack DC of 26 (and thanks to Poison Use and some of your other effects, you can weaken enemy Fortitude saves quite a lot). Note that this magic can boost up your Sneak Attacks by another +4d6 if you so choose (to 79.5 or 119.25 depending on your other magic support).

In terms of ability scores, this looks like +6 Dexterity and +11 Intelligence - and those get put to work. You add Dexterity and Intelligence to damage, Intelligence to AC (twice, although the second time is capped at 3), Intelligence to spell slots and spell/death attack DCs (listed above). Thanks to this, it shouldn't be hard to get other defenses up there as well - basic equipment alone got me to AC 48, for instance.

Overall Strengths: Again, Eat Sleep Gank was successfully used as a recurring villain in DH's long-running game, so I figure I'll let him discuss the strengths and weaknesses from firsthand experience.
The strengths of the build are versatility, skirmishing and ruggednessthat is unusual for its role.  It will have an unusually high armor class for a rogue type because of intelligence to armor class and an ability focus on Int and Dex, and as you can attest is very elusive, making it surprisingly durable for a stealth and skirmish type of character.  Shadow Jaunt, Ki Power, Freedom of Movement, and plenty of skill points for acrobatic skills gives it plenty of mobility to move into flanking positions and the heavy precision damage and dual wielding mean it will not take long at all to down even well protected enemies.  Energy Substitution and the Energy Sneak Attacks make it pretty versatile at dealing with enemies as it can bypass DR by swapping to energy attacks and vary the type of energy being used. Having use magic device and the surprisingly versatile assassin spell list gives a lot of options for troubleshooting unusual situations and if Eclectic Learning can be used twice, picking up dispel magic gives an unusual by solid angle for helping to take down casters. [TS: I listed Hunter's Eye above for all-out numbers, since Dispel hits a rather annoying CL cap, but the point is important nonetheless.]

Using it as an NPC was fun because the build is well equipped for hit and run attacks and evading party counterattacks which makes for a very solid lone wolf style boss encounter which is very hard to do. Any reasonably optimized party should chew up most stealth and skirmish types pretty handily if they don't have some big guys to support them.  ESG is capable of tar and feathering most of the party with some choice spells before unleashing a deadly attack against a single party member, and the "Jaws is in the water" effect from seeing an enemy appear, drop a truck load of damage on a party member and then disappear into thin air creates great tension even for really powerful parties.

Overall Weaknesses: Again, quoth DH:
Weakness are to battlefield control types who can exploit fortitude and will saves, which are fairly low and especially low in non-fractional accounting.  Most spells like this are targeted and the correct way to combat them playing this build is to keep out of sight as much as possible, target the weaker caster enemies who might be able to mess you up at the outset, sneak up on them, lower the boom, score the kill, and get back into the shadows and set up for your next victim.  If this gets trapped in the open for any length of time it won't do very well.

Variants:  Besides the obvious "save a feat with Gloves of the Balanced Hands" thing? DH suggests looking into Ambush feats - you've got the Sneak Attack to spare. An interesting example is Disembowelling Strike (-4d6 sneak attack, +1d4 Constitution damage, once per day per target, slashing weapons only). Combine with some Atramen Oil, powerful Constitution-damage poison (Dungeonscape has a lot of these), and using the Drain Vitality strike to actually deliver your Death Attack, and you stand a pretty good shot of actually killing a decent CR opponent outright using Death Attack itself - and if it survives, that's quite a lot of Constitution damage to recover from.

There you have it. I'll let DisposableHero close out this showcase with his own designer notes, as I think he summed it up nicely.
The goal when designing it was to make the cadillac of rogues, able to handle all the basic functions the skill/trapfinding role usually requires while being very strong both solo and as part of a team.  It has incredible offensive potential with a flanker or just by making good use of short term invisibility and hide to get more sneak attacks in.

Next up: As promised, next week will include [AR] Slash and Burn, along with your choice of the following. After this, we're going back to one a week for a while (sorry, the flash step excitement kind of created a backlog). In your comments, please choose between [TS] Lord of the Fallen, [RT] Edge of the Light, and [RT] Quiet Murder.

Weekly Optimization Series

These are NOT all my creations! The lead authors are identified as follows: [TS] Tempest Stormwind, [AR] Andarious Rosethorn, [RT] Radical Taoist, [SN] Sionnis, [DH] DisposableHero_, [SH] Seishi.

[TS] The Pinball Brothers: Large And In Charge (Melee, Lockdown, Charge, Juggling)
[TS] Ashardalon Reborn: I Will Swallow Your Soul (Melee, Fear, Negative Levels, AoE, Theme)
[AR] "A"-Game Paladin: Play That Funky Music, Knight Boy! (Team Support, Melee, Theme, Single-Class)
[RT] Uncanny Trapsmith: Get in, make it look like an accident, get out. (Skillmonkey, Stealth/Scout/Infiltration, Unorthodox Methods, Theme)
[AR] Wizsassin: *Everything* is permitted. (Spellcaster, Support, Sneak Attack, Utility)
[TS] Phantom Rush: General Gish Gouda. (Gish, Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Early-Entry PrC)
[TS] Storm Knight: Another kind of gish. (Melee/"Gish", Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Unorthodox Methods)
[TS] Inevitable Nightmare: The weapon you only have to fire once. (Melee, "Unorthodox" Methods (no charging), Reliability)
[AR] Captain Constitution: The number one threat to America. (Melee, TOUGHTOUGHTOUGH, Defense, Theme)
[AR] Nuker: I casts the spells that makes the peoples fall down! (Spellcaster, damage, blasting, damage)
[TS] Dread Lord of the Dead: Let the Reaping Begin! (NPC-only, Variable (combat/casting/leadership), Iconic Villain, Theme)
[AR] Heavy Crusader: No Rest. No Mercy. No Matter What. (Melee, Damage (No charging), Variable, Theme).
[TS] Gun Fu: It's bullet time (Ranged, THEORETICAL, Twin weapons, Theme)
[RT] Face First: We should talk. (Psionic, social, mind-control, info-management)
[SN] Chaingun Porcupine: Never Enuff Dakka. (Ranged, Skirmishing, Spike Damage, Incarnum)
[RT] Always On Edge: The Mortal Draw deals death. (Melee, Generalist, Dungeoneering, Stunt)
[AR] Feral Druid: Real feral taste. Zero druid calories. (Melee, offense, damage, murder)
[RT] Rusty!: Man's Best Friend (Sentry, Support, Backup, Rearguard)
[RT] The T3 (Tashalatora Triple Threat): My Kung Fu is More Powerful (Hybrid, Flex-Function, Melee, Caster)
[RT] The #1 Snoipah: Boom. 'Eadshot. (Caster, Theme, Spike, Trapscout)
[AR] Dreamblade: Rest in Pieces. (Melee, Damage, Single-Class, Combo/Momentum)
[AR] Evasion Tank: “When fighting angry blind men, is best to stay out of the way.” (Melee, Tank, Unorthodox Methods (attack negation), Theme)
[DH] Psycarnum Warrior: ↑↑↓↓←→←→BA Start (Melee, Tank, Psionics, Incarnum, 1337 h4x)
[AR] Heavy Weapons Elf: WHO TOUCHED MY BOW? (Ranged, Cohort, Damage, Unorthodox Methods (ranged ToB))
[RT] Gnowhere Gnome: A little man who wasn't there (Caster, Stealth, Single-Class, Elusive)
[AR] Uberflank: I got your back. (Melee, support, stunt, teamwork)
[TS] Flip the Bird: Everyday I'm shuffling (Ranged, harrier, unorthodox methods (ranged ToB / off-turn movement), support)
[DH] Eat Sleep Gank: Real Ultimate Power (Stealth, Assassination, Spike, Magic Versatility)
[AR] Slash and Burn: Mind, Body, Blade, Flame / Aspects of a greater whole / which delivers death. (Melee, Theme (flex-style), Damage, Stunt)
[RT] Edge of the Light: Cut, Fade to Black (Melee, Defense/Offense, Momentum, Tactical)
[RT] Quiet Murder: Cut throats, not corners. (Melee, Stealth, Harrier, Tactical)
[TS] Wand Overdrive: Say Hello to my little friends. (Caster, support/artillery/variable, wand specialist)
[RT] God Hand: What did the five fingers say to the face? (Melee/Gish, Unarmed, SAD, Theme)
[AR] Zero Buff Time Gish: Try to keep up! (Gish, Speed, Movement, Opportunity)
[TS] Robo Tackle: I Am Iron Man. (Melee, setting-specific (Eberron), positioning, theme, stunt)

[TS] Holy Fire: Just getting warmed up! (Casting, damage, theme (fire), theme (sacred), blasting)

[TS] Groundhog Mage: ♪Let’s do the time warp again♪ (Casting, stunt, setting-specific (Faerun), spell stamina / versatility, spontaneous wizard)

[RT] Captain Charisma: All she wants to do is dance (Hybrid (melee/support), SAD, Theme (criticals), Theme (flex-style))

[TS] Assassin's Speed: A blade in the crowd (Melee (technical), iaijutsu, SAD, theme (Assassin's Creed), tutorial)

[RT] Something for Everyone: A.K.A. The Last Sorcerer RT Will Ever Build (Caster, Damage, Trapscout, Takedowns)


Want to see how the entire group rolls?
[All] Party Optimization Showcase: Dead for Nothing
[TS/RT/AR] Optimization Article: The Flash Step
[RT] Optimization Article: Kung Fu Witchcraft


Seishi: I think it might be fun to have a one-off [game] tuned fairly, but with the intention of wiping the party. 

DisposableHero_: if [my campaign] has taught me nothing else, it is that with this group, nothing tuned fairly will ever wipe the party

RadicalTaoist: I've been throwing **** at this group that's 5 levels over CRed in DFN, and have yet to wipe the party.

3.5: Definitive Shopping List (gear guide PDF)


5e Eberron homebrew rules (PDF) (Artificer, Warforged, Changeling, Kalashtar, Shifter, Dragonmarks) | Discussion thread

I like it! Hats off to DH.

I vote for Edge of the Light.
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56788208 wrote:
I do, however, have one last lesson on this subject. That last one? The only build in this post that can one-shot average opponents[by dealing twice as much damage as they have HP? I would argue that it is not optimized. Why isn't it optimized? Because it's overkill. Overkill is NOT optimizing. This means that there are portions of this build dedicated to damage which can safely be removed and thrown elsewhere. For example, you probably don't need both Leap Attack AND Headlong Rush at the same time. You could pick up Extra Rage feats for stamina, feats to support AoO effects, feats that work towards potential prestige classes, and so on. However, you could also shift our ability scores around somewhat. I mean, if you're getting results like that with 16 starting Strength, maybe you can lower it to 14, and free up four points to spend somewhere else - perhaps back into Charisma, giving you some oomph for Intimidating Rage or Imperious Command if you want. You can continue to tune this until it deals "enough" damage - and that "enough" does not need to be "100%". It could easily be, say, 80% (leaving the rest to the team), if your DM is the sort who would ban one-hit killers.
Tempest_Stormwind on Character Optimization
So when do you think Bachmann will be saying she met a mother the previous night that had a son who got a blood transfusion using a gay guy's blood, and now the son is retardedly gay?
When she meets CJ's mom?
Resident Pithed-Off Dragon Poon Slayer of the House of Trolls
Edge of Light as well.

The build doesn't do well against Uncanny Dodge or fortification, but that's standard for SA builds, anyways.   But being a level 11 for SA vs Uncanny dodge (or maybe 14, if you include the Swashbuckling levels) means it definitely isn't going to be taking out enemy rogues.

Fighter vs Warblade analysis http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/19573526/Analyzing_the_Fighter_vs_The_Warblade The Lockdown F/20 iconic build http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/19856162/A_little_Lock_build_for_you
Hmm, I like the use of Creaking Cacophony. I read that the other day and it kind of tickled the back of my mind. Interesting to see it used with Energy Substitution (and I'm so poaching that idea... Creaking Desert Wind Master, here we come!)
In an upcoming campaign I'm running I actually had needed a lone wolf, I think I can use many of the elements here(especially since thjey seem tried and true) I really think the use of creaking cocophany and elemental sneak attack is brutal, as for my vote I would like to vote for edge of light, it seems enlightening
Edge of the Light is long, long overdue. Let's see what it's all about!
Mountain Cleave Rule: You can have any sort of fun, including broken, silly fun, so long as I get to have that fun too (e. g., if you can warp reality with your spells, I can cleave mountains with my blade).
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