Core Only Character help needed

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I'm not used to being restrained to core only so I need some advice. What are the best classes, feats, and  prestige classes? What are the top combinations? I could use all the help I can get here.
Either this, Cleric, Druid, or Wizard.

That's pretty much it, because Core sucks. 
Customer Disservice of the House of Trolls Resident Secretly Ron Paul God of Spite and Sloth
I completely agree. Level 6 to start. Which is better? Cleric, Druid, or Wizard?
Wizard is the best, even without all its toys, but the druid at level 6+ is by far the easiest.
Customer Disservice of the House of Trolls Resident Secretly Ron Paul God of Spite and Sloth
Never played a Druid before. What are the things that make Druid so strong?
Three things make the druid so powerful:  full spellcasting, wild shape, and animal companion, all in the same class.

Any class that gives up to 9th level spells is powerful, and that alone would make it a strong class.  And one of the class abilities is to spontaneously swap out spells for summoning.

  Wild shape gives a great deal of versatility to the druid.  He can wildshape into a bird to scout long distance, a horse or dog to infiltrate an enemy camp or city, a tiger of bear to go into melee combat, and even change into an elephant to haul the loot back to town.

But they also have an animal companion, which if you run the numbers gives the druid a class feature that is close to the same power level as the fighter or monk classes .       

Druids are full casters, and even with a weak list, it still makes them absurd. Plus, they can turn into a big-assed animal. Without Clasps or some serious buffs, they can wind up a bit fragile, but they can still turn into a tiger and go lolchargemaimkill. This is compounded with the fact that they still manage to have a large number of the best buffs.

To round of this sheer stupidity, they also get an Animal Companion. This is basically a fighter, except, you know, good. With the proper selection, it's pretty sick. If you run the numbers, even core-only animal companions are able to kick the ass of any fighter with only minimal WBL investment.

So, in other words, they're two melee beasts, pun intended, and a full caster all rolled into one package of concentrated ass-kicking. Do note that they do not get a feat at level six. It's a hidden class feature. They get Natural Spell instead.

Also, just FYI, Druids love splats. They really function best with a bunch of the splat spells and items(I'm looking at you, Wilding Clasps). This, combined with the fact that they're probably weaker than the Sorcerer overall, due to the general weakness of the list mean that, while easy, isn't as effective as a cleric. That said, you're still a full caster. If you don't dominate everything, you aren't trying.
Customer Disservice of the House of Trolls Resident Secretly Ron Paul God of Spite and Sloth
Really? I'd say in core, Druids are significantly stronger than clerics at all but the highest levels.

Anyhow, Druids are simple. Take Natural Spell as early as possible.  Familiarize yourself with the animal, dire animal and dinosaur sections of the MM. Pay especially close attention to animals with abnormally high physical stats for their HD, and animals with fun special abilities like pounce, improved grab, trip, natural flight, etc.

Spend a day or two as a giant bear that buffs himself to all heck and back and eats people. Maybe another as a dire bat that rains down fiery death on enemies.  Heck, turn into a dire ape, cast Shillelagh on the nearest staff-sized branch and pretend to be that annoying monkey shaman from the Lion King.

Animal companion is nice but not crazy in core, so keep that in mind. It's almost always a good idea to update your animal companion every chance you get - the higher lists of ACs almost always give bigger boosts than what four effective Druid levels would get you.

Pick what you like... My own favorites are:

1- Riding Dog (if wartrained riding dogs are available), Wolf (if not), Medium Viper (if I'm planning on milking poisons)

4- Crocodile, Dire Bat

7- Brown Bear, Giant Crocodile, Tiger

10- This is the one awkward level, where an advanced brown bear does better than a polar bear, and an advanced tiger does about the same as a dire lion or megaraptor. Unless you're in an aquatic campaign, that is, in which case this level is awesome.

13- Dire Bear, Elephant (strictly for the cool factor of riding around an elephant - the dire bear is basically better in every way)

16- Dire Tiger, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus

As for wild shape, I always prefer defensive and aerial wild shape forms, rather than trying to mix it up in melee, but you've got a ton of options there, too many to go into right now. Look up a handbook and skim it for the core options, but I usually get most of my mileage out of flying forms with good defenses, burrowing forms, and the treant.

Your real power, of course, comes from spells.  Druids have a fun spell list, although less versatile than the wizard.  Check out for a good summary of core spells, in particular Darrin's post and my post.
Really? I'd say in core, Druids are significantly stronger than clerics at all but the highest levels.

Not really. Especially in core, Clerics have the better buffs. Sure, Wildshape is nifty, but a properly-buffed Cleric can eat them for breakfast. Actually, it's pretty much the other way around. High-level druids will dominate clerics, simply because Shapechange>>>Every other spell in existence. I guess level six or so is another sweet spot for druids because Clerics don't have all the great buffs by then. It doesn't help that the Animal Companion is pretty much obsolete later on, and the cleric really should just roflstomp the druid.

Also, Clerics have better access to WBL abuse. They're generally better until "I have full access to every list and basically any spell I want available at will" comes online. 

re:AC: At level 1, the best is the riding dog. Past that, you really want cats. They get the most benefit from your buffs, and it can pretty much turn into lolpounce chunky salsa against anything even remotely near appropriate CR. Bears are seriously overrated.

What you want is, in order, Riding Dog, Leopard, Tiger, Dire Lion, and Dire Tiger.  I honestly recommend skipping Dire Bear and that entire leve, really. Dire Lion should generally be superior, especially after a buff round or two. Lolpounce is just the most efficient method here. 
Customer Disservice of the House of Trolls Resident Secretly Ron Paul God of Spite and Sloth
Don't bother with dire lion - just take a regular tiger and advance it.  You get the same HD, attack routine and damage, but with slightly better AC, evasion and a bonus trick.

Anyhow, clerics get better buffs - except the best of them have fairly short durations and can't be pre-cast.  At least until the higher levels, when they can be quickened, the core cleric puts up worse numbers than the druid when you take a buffing round into account.

Add DMM into the picture and clerics come out ahead by a mile, of course.  But in core, druids will put up better figures from level 1 (when animal companions are still good) to around level 15, in my experience.

And I agree that Shapechange is basically the best possible spell.  I still give clerics the nod because of consistent access to Gate, Miracle and Astral Projection, plus access to Shapechange via domain.  But it's a wash, I guess, since a druid can just use Shapechange to pick up SLAs of the above.
The advantage that druids have over clerics in core isn't raw power - it's in variability and simplicity. You need nothing beyond Natural Spell and about thirty seconds to judge the right animal companion and you'll have a competitive powerful character as a core Druid 20. Cleric 20 takes a bit more finesse, but will be stronger overall. (Tsuyoshikentsu summed the druid up by saying "Having 300 when you need 100 once is not optimal; having 100 whenever you need 100 is." In core the numbers are a bit less exaggerated, but the same precept holds.)

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


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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.

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Yeah, before I only wanted to put out numbers. So I played Barbarians/Duskblades/Fighters and pretty much anything that I could get to hit. And hard. Once I played a flying Swift Hunter using the old method of Greater Manyshot. Now Wizard has become my bread and butter. They have a spell for every situation, difficult to deal with, and (if built right) can help a party walk through a campaign. My DM has asked me to expand my knowledge and step out of my comfort zone a little. Now the DM has switched systems and this campaign will now be a D&D Next playtest. Do they even have a forum for that yet?
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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?
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