All right, Tempest is sick this week, so I’m throwing something together on the fly to keep up the momentum and finally give you a chance to vote on a build. Unlike the usual fare, this is solidly aimed at DMs to use against their PCs. It showcases a trick, rather than a specific build, though I do give an example monster to illustrate the results.
KUNG FU WITCHCRAFT
I’ll hit you, my pretty!
Background: The Tome of Battle is a lovely book for crafting NPCs, especially multiclass NPCs, given how initiator levels work. But there are ways to get better mileage out of this system than you might think. What if I gave you the following monster to fight?
CE Medium monstrous humanoid
Init +3; Senses Darkvision 90 ft.; Listen +14, Spot +14
Languages Giant, Common
AC 33, touch 15, flat-footed 33; uncanny dodge, improved uncanny dodge (+3 Dex, +7 armor, +11 natural, +2 deflection)
hp 169 (20 HD)
Fort +13 Ref +16 Will +11; Evasion
Speed 30 ft. (6 squares); swim 30 ft.
Melee +1 Diamond Mind Iron Heart greatsword +27/+22/+17/+12 (2d6+8/19-20) or
Melee 2 claws +24 each (1d4+5)
Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Base Atk +19; Grp +24
Atk Options Power Attack, Robilar’s Gambit, combat rhythm, maneuvers
Special Actions weakness, spell-like abilities
Maneuvers and Stances Known (warblade IL 16th)
Strikes: Avalanche of Blades, Diamond Nightmare Blade
Boosts: Cloak of Deception, Moment of Alacrity
Counters: Wall of Blades, Lightning Recovery, Manticore Parry, Diamond Defense
Other: Iron Heart Surge
Stances: Stance of Clarity, Dancing Blade Form, Stance of Alacrity
Disciplines: Diamond Mind, Iron Heart, Shadow Hand
Abilities Str 20, Dex 16, Con 16, Int 14, Wis 14, Cha 14
Feats Combat Reflexes, Darkstalker, Evasive Reflexes, Ironheart Aura, Martial Study, Power Attack, Robilar’s Gambit, Stormguard Warrior, Spectral Skirmisher
Skills Balance +10, Concentration +36, Hide +26, Listen +14, Move Silently +26 (Spectral Skirmisher), Spot +14, Swim +13, Tumble +10; Skill tricks Listen to This, Nimble Charge, Nimble Stand, Twisted Charge, See the Unseen, Spot the Weak Point, Up the Hill
Possessions +3 chain shirt, +1 Diamond Mind Iron Heart greatsword, third eye concentrate, +4 amulet of health, +4 gloves of Dexterity, +2 ring of protection
Weakness (Su) Tze-Tze can weaken a foe by making a special touch attack. The opponent must succeed on a DC 22 Fortitude save or take 2d4 points of Strength damage. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Mimicry (Ex) Tze-Tze can imitate the sounds of almost any animal found near her lair.
Martial Maneuvers Tze-Tze knows several martial maneuvers and stances (initiator level 16th). She recovers and readies maneuvers just as a warblade does.
“Wait a second,” you might say. “What’s up with that warblade? What race gives her +11 natural armor and all those SLAs and nifty abilities? Her HP makes sense, but what’s up with here BAB and HD? And those SAVES? And those feats and skills? That’s not a normal level 16 warblade!”
You’d be right. Tze-Tze (“Auntie” in Mandarin IIRC) is a green hag from the Monster Manual, given three levels in Uncanny Trickster and eight levels in Warblade. I gave her 77,600 gp worth of equipment (77,000 gp is the standard for level 16 NPCs according to the PHB2). She can wind up with the Avalanche of Blades + Moment of Alacrity + Diamond Nightmare Blade combo, return fire with Robilar’s Gambit + Channel the Storm, and can play at Gnowhere Gnoming with Spectral Skirmisher and Evasive Reflexes, plus multiple ways to be invisible. She’s a good solid challenge at CR 16, and one your players will remember.
Tze-Tze isn’t even the most optimized example – far from it. She’s more of a proof-of-concept build than anything. The secret to Kung Fu Witchcraft is simple: find a critter with lots of HD for its CR and the ability to take class levels, and enjoy adding half of those CR to the IL of your monstrous Bruce Lee and getting quick access to the higher level maneuvers.
Required Books: Tome of Battle, any book with monsters in it, Complete Scoundrel for the Uncanny Trickster is a plus for monsters with odd numbers of HD.
The Best Monsters
From core, the Locathah, Gnoll, and Satyr are good low-level options for monstrous martial adepts, but don’t discount the Hill Giant and Stone Giant, both of which gain an IL from their HD that is only one lower than their base CR. Andarious pointed out that the Minotaur has 6 HD for a CR 4 creature, and also has a lot of great charge synergy; keep White Raven in mind. He also pointed out that the Monster Manual 3 is absolutely lousy with critters that work well for this. The Witchknife (9 HD) and the Wood Wose (8 HD) are both only CR 4, while the Redcap is CR 2 at 4 HD (if you’re willing to forgo its special advancement rules, which are nice). If you’re willing to give class levels to an intelligent undead that doesn’t state that it advances by class, the 20 HD CR 8 Drowned is absolutely fiendish with an IL 2 higher than its CR. Give it a defensive fighting style, and just watch it wait enemies out with its drowning field.
Of course, if you’re willing to be more liberal with class level advancement for monsters, dragons make very good martial adepts, as they have some of the best hit dice and abilities in the game (try an adult white for starters). The best option for raw numbers is probably the lycanthrope template, using some fat animal for a base. Becoming a Dire Weretiger adds 16 HD for a +5 increase in CR; a Dire Weretiger Minotaur has 22 HD and is CR 9. Six levels of a martial adept, and you’ve got level 9 maneuvers and oodles of HP and charge synergy on a CR 15 monster. I offer my apologies to your PCs in advance.
There you have it. PCs shouldn’t get overconfident in your games just because they know a few moves. Anything that can form a fist can do kung fu, and don’t let ‘em forget it!
Next up: Time for some Andarious buildcraft. Take your pick from [AR] MacGyver, [AR] The 0 Buff Time Gish, or [AR] Truberflank. Yes, that last one was created in response to your feedback on Uberflank, and is meant to spice up flanking tactics as much as possible; the other two are interesting builds in their own right, though.