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 RadicalTaoist’s concept builds is up.
Cut throats, not corners.
Required Books: Complete Adventurer, Tome of Battle, Player’s Handbook 2, Complete Scoundrel, Races of the Wild (one feat)
Unearthed Arcana used: Wilderness rogue.
Background: Just a collection of a LOT of the best stealth/mobility/spike options all in one package, and made to work together. Really, we don’t need to say too much more than this. It’s quite simple, carries a few abilities to make it useful in a stand-up fight as well as a sneaky skirmish, and has a devastating effect on important enemies’ action economy. You’ve seen part of that basic idea on the showcase before (via Always on Edge), but for the stunt to truly shine, you need it on a stealther: you’ll need Quiet Murder.
- Race: Human. The humanlike bonus-feat races (including Strongheart Halfling, but the speed drop hurts) make a strong secondary choice. If flaws are open, Shifter makes a surprisingly good starting race as well.
- Ability Scores: 10/16/14/10/14/10. Dexterity is your key ability score; everything else is less essential, but in 28pb it’s unwise to sacrifice too much of your other abilities anyway, particularly Constitution. You also get enough Wisdom synergy to justify at least a 14, and since none of your other abilities are critical anyway...
Skill Notes: You’re a lurker. You need stealth, perception, mobility, and misdirection, roughly in that order, but you get enough points to cover a few other roles. Max out Disable Device, Hide, Listen, Move Silently, Search, Spot, Survival, and Tumble. You need Jump as well – at the very least, enough to reliably beat DC 20, but more is always better. Bluff is another great skill, but you can shave points out of it to pick up mobility or social skill tricks once you have ‘enough’ ranks in it.
Basic Equipment: Your weapon is probably a single short sword or dagger. It has to be a finessable Shadow Hand discipline weapon that doesn’t cost a feat to use properly, and that limits you pretty much to these two. Short sword is statistically better, but daggers are concealable. For armor, minimize your check penalty and keep it light. Eventually your Dexterity will exceed what any armor I know of will allow, so don’t grow too attached to any one suit.
Magical Gear Goals: You’re making single attacks, so you don’t need to emphasize multiple attacks all that much. You do need movement options from an early level (the cheapest are Acrobat Boots, the best is probably the Swift Warrior’s Array), and I’d suggest accuracy on your weapon over anything else (Shadow Hand discipline is a good investment, as is the Sword of Subtlety). Grab augment gems that let you sneak attack fortified creature types, and definitely look through a wand guide for UMD options. You’ve got a hand free if you’d like to use that for something, so who knows? If you’re looking for something that works well with high Dexterity and swordsage AC, look around for monk robes (a basic idea is the Ghost Shroud, particularly if you enhance it further). Finally, the usual martial adept selections of the Eternal Wand of Heroics and the maneuver-granting items are well worth considering, simply to expand your options.
Build Stub: Scout 4 / Wilderness Rogue 13 / Fighter 1 / Swordsage 2.
1 – Scout – (Trapfinding, Skirmish 1d6) (Expeditious Dodge, Mobility)
2 – Scout – (Battle Fortitude +1, Uncanny Dodge)
3 – Scout – (Fast Movement, Trackless Step, Skirmish 1d6/+1) (Weapon Finesse)
5 – Wilderness Rogue – (Evasion)
6 – Wilderness Rogue – (Sneak Attack 2d6, Trap Sense +1, Skirmish 2d6/+1) (Swift Ambusher)
7 – Scout – (Skirmish 2d6/+2) (Bonus feat: Improved Skirmish)
8 – Fighter – (Spring Attack)
9 – Wilderness Rogue – (Disrupting Attack) (Staggering Strike)
That attack I mentioned last level? Even with a mere +1 dagger, that averages 24 damage, or 31 with Improved Skirmish. (You should probably have better than a mere +1 at this level.) Staggering Strike forces a Fortitude save against that damage or it staggers the target, meaning they fight like a zombie (i.e. no full-round actions and only one move or standard per turn). The action advantage makes it pretty easy to tear a single target to shreds. Add in Spring Attack and you can do this while staying outside of enemy reach (in a position where they'd need to move to strike back, but if they're staggered, they can't). And the DC goes up by +3.5 for every extra die of precision damage we get (Thanks, Swift Ambusher).
Disrupting Attack is there for versatility against completely-crit-immune targets. You can move in, spike their armor class by a fat -5, and then get out before your team unloads a hail of arrows or Power Attacks or even ray spells at it. (You even have the flexibility to switch off Sneak Attack for Disrupting Attack while still benefitting from Skirmish damage, if you want to cut their AC and HP simultaneously, though this denies you Staggering Strike - if they're vulnerable to the skirmish, they're vulnerable to the sneak attack.)
10 – Wilderness Rogue – (Sneak Attack 3d6, Skirmish 3d6/+2)
At this point, we need reliability more than anything else. We’ve got an even number of character levels, so why not look into what Shadow Hand can provide.
11 – Swordsage – (Discipline Focus (Weapon Focus:Shadow Hand weapons), Quick to Act +1) (Claw at the Moon, Cloak of Deception, Distracting Ember, Sudden Leap, Shadow Garrote, Shadow Jaunt) (Child of Shadow)
Your maneuvers give you nearly everything you can ask for: instant invisibility to use as a cover to hide, a teleport you can use to reach (or leap between) hiding spots, a swift-action ability to flank a target (amidst other benefits), and a distance touch-attack which can deliver Sneak Attack and Skirmish damage (as well as deny enemies their Dex bonus against your team, if you’ve got other roguetypes with you. Sadly you can’t Stagger with it – the feat is melee-only – but it does come with pretty decent base damage). Claw at the Moon is a mere prerequisite and sadly doesn’t work well for you; Tiger Claw has so few entry points it hurts at times – however, it does buy you Sudden Leap, which is very useful mobility (and you’ll be pumping Jump anyway).
Note: Shadow Garrote cannot hit nonliving targets. If you fight a lot of such critters, or have a team that works well with energy damage (for instance, a wizard with Energy Vulnerability, or a bard Energy Substituting Creaking Cacophony), you can switch Shadow Garrote for Fan the Flames and have better results (it’s slightly more damaging, and if you’re ready to work with that Fire descriptor it can actually be pretty devastating for a weaponless maneuver – remember that extra damage from precision on energy effects is energy damage. We used a similar trick on the Wizsassin.). The longer range on Garrote isn’t an advantage if you’ll be using it within 30 feet for precision damage anyway. Garrote is the “default” because it messes with enemy actions, works on your (secondary, but passable) Wisdom, and isn’t subject to energy resistance, but its targeting limit sucks.
12 – Swordsage – (AC Bonus) (Shadow Blade) (Death From Above) (Assassin’s Stance)
And why Death from Above? You might not have noticed this since it’s in Tiger Claw instead of Shadow Hand, but it adds bonus damage of its own and catches that target flat-footed while you move over the target. Meaning it triggers your sneak attack, and thus your Staggering Strike. Sadly, you can’t use maneuvers with Spring Attack, but you can still move in while this happens to add Skirmish onto the pile.
13 – Wilderness Rogue – (Trap Sense +2)
14 – Wilderness Rogue – (Sneak Attack 4d6, Skirmish 3d6/+3)
15 – Wilderness Rogue – (Improved Uncanny Dodge) (Gloom Razor)
Gloom Razor is the lynchpin for all the high-level techniques here - specifically, the Moving Shadows tactical option. Congratulations, merely by using your skirmish spring attack repeatedly, you can consistently catch a single foe flat-footed even in the middle of broad daylight while wearing a neon vest – an effective Highly Visible Ninja. Not that it matters – this also means you can pretty consistently Stagger him.
In addition, the Shadow Slip technique can let you trigger Skirmish as a free action, if you are in a pinch (though realistically you might use it more as a way of escaping dogpiles – or mix it up with Distracting Ember (move in, Ember, smack; next round, Shadow Slip, skirmish strike, escape).). Since Staggering Strike prevents targets from both moving and attacking, you might very well see targets stand still long enough for you to consider Shadow Slip.
The third option is less useful (particularly at this level), but if you’re using Child of Shadows (i.e. before combat begins, as it’s probably your resting stance) it shouldn’t be forgotten.
16 – Wilderness Rogue – (Sneak Attack 5d6, Skirmish 4d6/+3, Trap Sense +3)
17 – Wilderness Rogue – (Special Ability: Camouflage)
18 – Wilderness Rogue – (Sneak Attack 6d6, Skirmish 4d6/+4) (Darkstalker)
19 – Wilderness Rogue – (Trap Sense +4)
20 – Wilderness Rogue – (Sneak Attack 7d6, Skirmish 5d6/+4, Special Ability: Hide in Plain Sight)
Swordsage maneuvers (IL 11)
Strikes: Death from Above, Claw at the Moon, [Shadow Garrote OR Fan the Flames]
Boosts: Distracting Ember, Sudden Leap
Other: Shadow Jaunt
Stances: Child of Shadow, Assassin’s Stance
Reminder: You cannot use a maneuver while Spring Attacking.
Snapshot: Put the usual three +6 items on Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom – the only three that matter for you – and tome Dexterity by 5, as usual. This finishes you off with 180 hit points, a +15 base attack (melee +32 with Greater Magic Weapon on a mundane shortsword; you use your +11 Dex mod for damage), and saving throws of +13/+26(Evasion)/+13. You also have an Initiative check of +13, which isn’t half bad.
In terms of your other abilities, you’ve got 197 skill points on an amazingly broad skill list, allowing you to pick up quite a few of the movement-based skill tricks (the choices are entirely up to you). Without any buffs or specific gear, you’re starting from +34 on the stealth skill front (Shadow/Silent Moves at the very least will help here – toss them on bracers of armor for +49 on the stealth front, which is comparable to the Gnowhere Gnome’s +52/+48). Supplement that with Camouflage, Darkstalker, and Hide in Plain Sight, and you can vanish against nearly any foe in nearly any conditions from nearly any position without spending any resources at all, which can be, you know, kind of important.
You can also put that to work with Gloom Razor, Staggering Strike, and your damn fine precision damage (Skirmish 5d6/+4 (7d6/+6 with Improved Skirmish), Sneak Attack 7d6 (9d6 Assassin Stance)). Gloom Razor’s Moving Shadow technique combines well with Spring Attack and your stealth abilities – you can move from hiding to strike, catch someone flat-footed, and then withdraw and hide again every single round as a result. This can cut people to ribbons in theory, but you’re only making one attack – why would that matter? Simple: Staggering Strike. A nonmagical short sword with Greater Magic Weapon averages 70.5 damage – and Staggering Strike sets that as its DC to avoid becoming Staggered (single actions only, basically). All of a sudden, you’re a shadow who shuts down enemy actions as well as enemy hit points, performing only a wild stab in the dark and then vanishing out of reach again.
How many critters do you know of that can make DC 70+ Fortitude saves?
Overall Strengths: So, you’ve got a pretty good rogue base here – respectable rogue-type HP, great skill points, amazing Dexterity, great stealth and scouting, and potent spike damage. Your AC is actually quite good too – Dex and Wis to AC in light armor and Skirmish +4 or +6 (and possibly Child of Shadow) while moving, plus the Uncanny Dodge to keep that going. Interestingly enough, you don’t really have any weak saves either - +13 before any resistance bonuses on your weaker set is a pretty good starting point. Tactically, you’re a ghost amidst the combat, slipping around unseen, and striking not only for pretty good damage, but also directly knocking off enemy actions? That’s a pretty potent mix of roguelike abilities all in one tiny package. Learn to master Gloom Razor, and you’re even deadlier. (Gloom Razor + Spring Attack + stealth-enabling class features basically let you do the Stalker in the Night maneuver at will, in a sense.)
Overall Weaknesses: You don’t really come online prior to level 9, and the signature tactical feat doesn’t show up until 15; lower-level play might be a little boring. Also, you can’t lock down multiple opponents with ease – so remain good friends with your fighters (who can lock down multiple weaker targets with ease) and your mages (who can now focus on people you aren’t staggering) while you harass single targets. Other than that, you’ve got the usual rogue tactics, and that includes all of their usual weaknesses (though you mitigate them somewhat with Camouflage, Hide in Plain Sight, and Darkstalker). Watch out for warblades and the rare single-class Rogue: while you have 13 rogue levels, that isn’t enough to breach every type of Uncanny Dodge, so pick your targets with care. Similarly, your attack bonus is kind of low, but your tactics support cheap and effective ways of mitigating that weakness (the Sword of Subtlety, flat-footed AC, etc).
Variants: There’s a lot of alternate class feature fodder for you, particularly because of some redundancy between the wilderness rogue and the other Wilderness Rogue (scout). We picked a couple above, but there’s others (Dungeon Specialist, Spell Reflection, etc.) which might be worth a gander depending on your campaign.
A variant on this approach might involve a lower-level Gloom Razor on a higher-base-attack character (perhaps a Daring Outlaw with some measure of stealth support), diving into the higher-tier Spring Attack chain of feats. This would allow you to skirmish between multiple targets and stagger them all. However, without the advanced stealth support found here, you might need to rely on magic to keep the Hide checks coming.
There you have it. Quiet Murder is a slight twist on the usual rogue approach, allowing you to hack away not only at your opponent’s HP, but also their AC and their actions as well, while still providing all the usual rogue support for a dungeoneering expedition. Plus, it’s actually one of the first builds I’ve seen in a long time that makes good use of Spring Attack as something other than a prerequisite.
Next up: Give me a bit here - Andarious has done quite a lot recently and I'd like to showcase some of that, but I haven't spoken to him directly yet about which ones should go up. (We're gaming tonight, and I'll ask then.) I'll bump the thread with the choices when I've done o.
I will say that there's a hint as to what those builds do in last week's showcase, though...