So... I forgot today was Friday. Add to that a swamp of work and I'm actually quite delayed at getting out Edge of the Light. Gah, I'm sorry about that. He'll be up soon.
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 get to see Andarious in action again.
SLASH AND BURN
Mind, Body, Blade, Flame / Aspects of a greater whole / which delivers death.
Required Books: Tome of Battle, Expanded Psionics Handbook, Eberron Campaign Setting / Races of Eberron, The Mind’s Eye articles. Races of the Wild used for one feat (optional but highly recommended). Complete Warrior and Complete Psionic have small presences here too, and the MIC is used in places.
Unearthed Arcana used: None. There’s a lot of leeway in how you build your sword though, which might open up some of this (or Weapons of Legacy if you so choose).
Background: The original thought here was to find a build that can seamlessly transition between a few different playstyles, or evolve over time between yin and yang as needed. Turns out psionics works quite well at this. The most obvious one is critical-hit specializing, but a few others were surprises.
At the low levels, Slash and Burn operates almost entirely like a fragile heavy-hitter. His defenses and distance attacks grow over time, including an affinity for fire attacks, until eventually he’s able to flip between a blade dancer and a hulking juggernaut, both forms of which are probably on fire.
The build makes use of the excellent, but high-price, Psychic Weapon Master for some surprisingly good synergistic effects. The most dramatic of these is well known (+Wis to AoOs), but it also gives you free Whirlwind Attack without any of the prereqs. Whirlwind is a full attack action, not a full round action, meaning at high levels you can actually trigger Burning Brand and charge, and pounce into a whirlwind of fire after charging up for a while as a front-line critical hit specialist.
As a side effect, you get an amazing weapon “for free” on top of this. What you do with that weapon is up to you; we’re assuming bare-bones for this presentation.
- Race: Kalashtar. Bonus power points make them the psychic warrior’s best friend. If you’re starting at a high level, switching to Human saves you feats, which are more precious than PP after your main tricks come online.
- Ability Scores: 14/14/14/10/15/8. This is 28 point buy. You put the ability pumps into Strength and eventually want to tome it +1. Enhancing Wisdom by an odd number (within reach of a tome) is expensive and not as critical until the very end of the build, but it probably a good idea. 15 is high enough to manifest your best powers, and the marginal PP gain you get is small compared to the kalashtar’s reserves.
Skill Notes: You don’t have a lot of choice here – most classes have 2+Int skill points and you’ll be dedicating some ranks to Jump for prerequisites. Between Concentration, Autohypnosis, and Tumble, you’ll be short of points elsewhere, particularly for skill tricks.
Basic Equipment: You need a crystal weapon of some sort, ideally a falchion. Deep crystal is preferred but not strictly speaking required. Good lightweight armor –a mithral breastplate, say – is another good investment.
Magical Gear Goals: You’ll want a speed booster of some sort. At low levels, the Acrobat Boots (MIC) are a steal. Oddly, your main weapon is “free” as far as gold goes. (You can keep its damage up with your Psionic Weapon and Deep Crystal augments along with your maneuvers if you insist on using the same weapon, or you use a secondary weapon until Psychic Weapon Master comes online). An example of such a secondary weapon is a gauntlet – a +1 Warning gauntlet is a fat boost on Initiative, and if you want you can even enhance it with Defending as well. And, as usual for a psychic warrior, a torc of power preservation is a good call. Unusually, so are cognizance crystals - they don't need to be too big, so a lot of cheap ones will work.
As always, Eternal Wands of Heroics are a great investment. Besides helping you grab fun Martial Studies as needed (Searing Charge is a fun one), here you can bring online other aspects of the game which sit just outside your comfort zone – but are still well within your grasp. Three that immediately come to mind are Robilar’s, Leap Attack, and Deep Impact, depending on your target.
Build Stub: Psychic Warrior 8 / Swordsage 2 / Psychic Weapon Master 10
Note: The build kicks into higher gears around level 10 (before that it has stamina issues but is still solid). Be sure to read level 10's note. Level 18 also has a really neat trick to it.
1 – Psychic Warrior – (Expeditious Dodge, Psionic Dodge) (Vigor)
2 – Psychic Warrior – (Psionic Weapon) (Biofeedback)
3 – Psychic Warrior – (Combat Reflexes) (Expansion)
4 – Psychic Warrior – (Strength of My Enemy)
5 – Psychic Warrior – (Power Attack) (Psionic Lion’s Charge)
6 – Psychic Warrior – (Improved Bull Rush) (Dimension Swap)
7 – Psychic Warrior – (Reach)
8 – Psychic Warrior – (Shock Trooper) (Greater Concealing Amorpha)
9 – Swordsage – (Quick to Act +1, Discipline Focus: Desert Wind) (Mobility, Weapon Focus: Desert Wind weapons) (Burning Brand, Rabid Wolf Strike, Cloak of Deception, Counter Charge, Feigned Opening, Distracting Ember) (Blood in the Water)
Oh, and it’s worth mentioning: you might want to combine Distracting Ember and Dimension Swap. It makes you look like you disappear in a burst of flame.
10 – Psychic Weapon Master – (Bonded Weapon, Psionic Damage)
Also of note: Your bonded weapon does not actually need a +1 enhancement bonus before you start awakening weapon abilities in it. So if your priorities shift a bit, you can use that as your direction. Word to the wise: It’s VERY tempting to put Keen on it right now, but hold off unless your DM allows you to exchange or disenchant bonded weapon abilities. (You need the Improved Critical feat for a reason, and that won’t stack with Keen.)
A reminder: The psychic weapon master’s version of Psionic Damage (i.e. Maximize Strike) is usable any number of times per day. It’s free once per day per class level and costs 3pp for each swing after that. It doesn’t even cost an action to use, so be sure to use it when it counts! (It even appears to maximize effects like Rabid Wolf Strike, Psionic Weapon, and the Deep Crystal charge, although it clearly doesn’t maximize multipliers.)
VERY IMPORTANT: Here’s also where the real stamina trick for the build comes online – but it’s not because of any particular ML cap, class feature choice, or similar.
Rather, it’s the level you can awaken the mindfeeder property (MIC, +1 equivalent) in your bonded weapon.
All of those critical hits you’re scoring? The most damaging one you’ve done now gives you a small amount of temporary PP. You’ll note that most of the best psychic warrior powers we’ve picked – including Dimension Swap, Reach, Strength of My Enemy, and Psionic Lion’s Charge, as well as Psionic Damage itself - only have a tiny base PP cost (around 3, which you can get if your critical hit deals more than 15 damage – and that’s pretty trivial to accomplish). It works out to “If you score a crit, you can pounce, teleport, or buff for free next round”. It’s no Psycarnum Warrior, but you can expect to have a small but steady stream of PP flowing through you simply by getting lost in battle. And that small but steady stream can ensure something as simple as “Yes, I deal max damage again” on a reasonably regular basis if you don’t need to be flashy.
If you’re thinking long-term, you can also carry cognizance crystals (or upgrade your weapon to act as one). The temporary PP from mindfeeder can be made permanent by channeling it into these storage receptacles at the end of battle, before they fade. The one drawback is that unlike temporary power points, stored power points are bottlenecked – you can’t supplement them with your own PP for other reasons.
11 – Psychic Weapon Master – (Increased Multiplier I) (Danger Sense)
12 – Psychic Weapon Master – (Psionic Weapon Focus) (Adaptive Style)
13 – Psychic Weapon Master – (Increased Multiplier II) (Psionic Dimension Door)
14 – Psychic Weapon Master – (Combat Reflexes +)
The real strength here, though, is that your Combat Reflexes feat just got an upgrade. Have fun with adding your Wisdom modifier to your AoOs.
15 – Psychic Weapon Master – (Increased Multiplier III) (Improved Critical) (Psionic Freedom of Movment)
16 – Psychic Weapon Master – (Improved Critical+)
17 – Psychic Weapon Master – (Increased Multiplier IV) (Steadfast Perception)
18 – Psychic Weapon Master – (Whirlwind+) (Practiced Manifester)
The more interesting one is the free Whirlwind Attack. You don’t get the “as a standard action” effect (since you don’t actually have Whirlwind Attack), but you don’t need it – you’ve got Psionic Lion’s Charge. Read it carefully: Whirlwind replaces a full attack action, which you can do at the end of a charge. You can actually Pounce into a whirlwind this way, hitting everyone within reach – reach which you’ve boosted with Burning Brand, Reach, or Expansion no less!
Double-expanding, having Reach active, and using Burning Brand gives you a fire damage attack (at full base attack bonus!) at 13-20 against everyone within 25’ of your 15x15-square body (read: 40’ radius, more or less) wherever you land from a charge, like an impact crater. Aim this right, and if Blood in the Water wasn’t charged up before this, it certainly will be by now. For extra style points, trigger that Eternal Wand of Heroics for Martial Study (Searing Charge – more for the flight, although the fire damage will hit everyone too) and deliver this attack literally as a meteor strike.
Interestingly, Whirlwind also works as a single attack against multiple foes. (You therefore compare a single attack roll to multiple targets, and presumably roll to confirm separately, which gives you a pretty good Blood charge chance). More importantly, though, as a single attack, it’s a single damage roll – meaning you can apply Psionic Damage to this single attack and SPLAT an entire enemy line.
And if you took Deep Impact earlier (either through replacing Adaptive Style or using that Eternal Wand of Heroics), it also applies to the single Whirlwind Attack, so you can deliver all of this with a touch attack. This lets you Power Attack at full strength without employing Shock Trooper, so you can keep your AC up there if you wish. (It’s optional here because Blood in the Water is presumably charged up before Expanding, which can have a similar effect.)
19 – Psychic Weapon Master – (Increased Multiplier V) (Perfect Riposte)
20 – Swordsage – (AC Bonus) (Leaping Flame) (Shifting Defense)
Final Powers / Maneuvers Known
- Vigor, Biofeedback, Expansion
- Strength of My Enemy, Psionic Lion’s Charge, Dimension Swap, Reach
- Greater Concealing Amorpha, Danger Sense
- Psionic Dimension Door, Psionic Freedom of Movement
- Steadfast Perception, Perfect Riposte
Swordsage Maneuvers known (IL 11; 4 readied, Adaptive Style)
Strikes: Rabid Wolf Strike
Boosts: Burning Brand, Cloak of Deception, Distracting Ember
Counters: Feigned Opening, Counter Charge, Leaping Flame
Stances: Blood in the Water, Shifting Defense
Snapshot: This is… interesting. Since you don’t actually spend GP to enhance your weapon – the biggest cost by far for most melee types – you can invest more heavily than usual in ability score boosters. Tome Strength by 5 and Wisdom by 1, and put +6 on Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom. Slash and Burn will finish with 193 hit points, a base attack of +17, saves of +14/+17/+14, and 74 skill points. Psionically, he finishes with 122 power points (but this is a deceptively low number due to your weapon properties.)
He has a deep crystal falchion as his weapon of choice; assuming just Greater Magic Weapon, his melee attack bonus is +34 (and he can easily make it much higher with the right weapon enhancements), with a critical hit property of 13-20/x2 (augmented by Increased Multiplier (5/day, this can be x3) and Blood in the Water). With access to Psionic Weapon, the Deep Crystal boost, and Psionic Damage (auto-max-damage 10/day, +1/day per 3pp you choose to spend), on top of a good Power Attack, a host of good psychic warrior powers, and a few interesting martial boosts (Cloak of Deception to help Power Attack, Burning Brand to bypass DR, etc.), you’ll have very good damage output as well. This damage, plus his critical hit properties on a Mindfeeder weapon, can lead to a nearly constant flow of temporary PP, which can in turn fuel more Psionic Damage and Psionic Lion’s Charges. (The MIC version works on a 1:5 payout, so, for instance, if there’s more than 15 points of damage between your average critical damage and critical damage modified by Psionic Damage, using Psionic Damage will pay for itself.)
Apart from Mindfeeder, you’ve got a lot of flexibility with your weapon customization. You can imbue it with whatever you’d like and adjust your character accordingly. Your high threat range and Increased Multiplier abilities lend themselves well to Burst effects, for instance (I’m a fan of Dessicating Burst – two crits with that will Exhaust most targets, which combined with Strength of My Enemy may render foes helpless regardless of how tough they are). I leave it up to you to customize the weapon to your own needs; as long as Mindfeeder’s on there you’ll be happy.
As a side effect, without even trying, you get pretty decent defenses. With a standard defensive suite I’m looking at roughly AC 45, and you can see three pretty decent baseline saves pre-resistance.
You can probably make the +Strength item cheaper than +6 due to Strength of My Enemy, but this is for illustration only.
Overall Strengths: A pretty solid fighter at most levels, particularly in long fights. Exhibits a flexible combat style depending on your opponents or how long you’ve been in combat – from a fluid and graceful critical-hit specialist to a giant hulked-out fireball pouncing machine (without being shoehorned into either tactic – most class features are in full use no matter what you’re doing). Psionic powers provide a solid defense against common warrior pitfalls, while the psychic weapon master’s class features provide critical – and unique! – augments to melee fundamentals (Psionic Damage, extra AoOs, expanded threat range, improved critical multipliers, and cheap weapon augments). You get a +10 weapon for, essentially, free (the XP cost isn’t too substantial, particularly if you’re One Level Gravy Training it), and only +1 of that is “required” for the build. That +1 gives you a constant flow of power points, which can be used to trigger several of your powers “for free” or can be banked after battle with cognizance crystals for similar effects. Your weapon even doubles as a diet psicrystal, most notably with the Sighted quality and no need for sleep – you get a pretty decent sentry to boot. (It isn’t as effective as a normal psicrystal, but it does come with a “free” Psicrystal Containment feat.)
Overall Weaknesses: The MAD grows quite a bit over time (although since your weapon is powered by your XP instead of your GP, you can afford the extra ability boosts this demands). Early on your HP and PP are kind of low; learn to make the most of Psionic Weapon to end fights quickly. Even towards the end your HP are lower than I’d like in a frontliner; do not fear investing in Vigor, Concealing Amorpha, and Biofeedback effects to cover for this. Finally, against critical-immune foes, you may have a problem keeping a flux of power points going; don’t be afraid to swap on the appropriate weapon augment gems mid-fight if need be, or invest in cognizance crystals to get a “buffer” built up.
Variants: Most interesting? Replace Combat Reflexes with Evasive Reflexes. Get the effect of Combat Reflexes through Serpent Armor early on. When you become a psychic weapon master, something interesting happens: the Combat Reflexes ability kicks in, and you get two separate effects. The first effect says “She gains the Combat Reflexes feat for free.” The second says “If she already possesses this feat, add her Wisdom modifier to the number of additional attacks of opportunity she may make in a round.” You did already have “Combat Reflexes” (as Evasive Reflexes “can be used in place of Combat Reflexes to qualify for a feat, prestige class, or other special ability”), so you should still gain the +Wis AoOs on top of that, finishing off with 1+Dex+Wis AoOs and both Combat Reflexes and Evasive Reflexes. You don’t have Thicket or Robilar’s, but with Shifting Defense you can still make a damn fine flash-stepper on the side. You could consider replacing Adaptive Style with Robilar’s this way if you wish to play up this effect.
(This is listed as a variant because there are two other interpretations that are less favorable: You gain Combat Reflexes but not the Wis-to-AoO effect, or you only gain the Wis-to-AoO effect while retaining just Evasive. I think the first interpretation (all of the above) is the one that follows from the rules, but I accept that this will be controversial.)
Another dramatic variant that I haven’t quite finished tweaking involves replacing some of the ubercharge abilities with Intuitive Attack, in effect dumping strength and being unafraid to wear slightly heavier armor on an AoO build. This is a high-level variant, though, since it works best after all the Wisdom heavy lifting comes online (and those are all post-Psychic Weapon Master).
If you’re okay with equipment providing a critical prerequisite (Mobility armor), or have access to a bonus feat via flaws or playing a Human, you can fit in Leap Attack as well, so that these charges become full-on ubercharges – rather meteoric ones later on too. Here we opted for a slightly less conventional approach that can easily get that ability if need be. (If you’re playing at a higher level and can afford the loss of 20pp in a power-point-flux build like this, switch from Kalashtar to Human and load it up.) Similar stories can be told for Deep Impact, if you’re focusing on raw damage output. (This build benefits quite a lot from flaws as a result.)
More dramatic variants involve taking your bonded weapon (which is already intelligent, to a point) and using assorted “special weapon” rule systems to take it to the next level. The most obvious of which is founding a Legacy Weapon using it, which can add on other thematically-appropriate measures to the build. (Examples include using the ToB weapons as templates to add maneuvers like Searing Charge, Salamander Charge, or Ring of Fire, or basic fire-style projectiles like Fan the Flames or Dragon’s Flame, not to mention a host of low level but thematically appropriate magic.) By dropping one of the feats (Adaptive Style is arguably the most expendable) or switching to Human, you might even be able to use the Item Familiar variant rules as well. Most dramatically, item familiars give you boosted experience point bonuses, which can be used to pay off the psychic weapon master investments; additionally the item familiars can pick up the ability to cast spells on behalf of the user.
…If you do this, you end up with a highly-energetic, strong, and mobile swordsman with an affinity for fire, armed with an intelligent sword that is bonded to him – a sword which adds magical fire effects in his hands and grows in strength as he does. And while this was NOT the build’s original intention (as Andarious hadn’t even heard of it), I would be amiss to note that, like the Storm Knight before him, Slash and Burn bears a stunning resemblance to a Tales of Destiny protagonist, Stahn Aileron.
There you have it. I’ve loved the psychic weapon master for a while, and seeing it used in this way (with a clever mix of old-school combat and cunning new flow techniques) brought me no end of excitement.
Next up: [RT] Edge of the Light. There's also going to be one winner from the voting for next week, and after that we're back to one-a-week.
As for a voting block, I'm going to try a free for all this week. Over the course of the showcase, there've been quite a few runners up. Look back through the old showcase threads - if you see any build there that looks interesting and which hasn't yet been showcased (use my signature to see a complete showcase list), it's a valid choice. List your top three in the comments here and we'll work from there. (Most of them are listed at the bottom of the first post rather than later in the conversation, so that'll make things easier.)
(I hope you'll forgive me being lazy - I'll be busy enough doing the number-crunching for the TWF competition this weekend.)
Comments on Slash and Burn are welcome, as are suggested weapon configurations, along with your voting triad.