The Dervish is a melee prestige class that can be found in complete warrior. Don’t allow any Drizzt backlash to spoil your fun with this class. Although it was designed to duel wield scimitars, the Dervish is flexible class and can be very powerful and quite flavorful without ever laying a hand on a scimitar. The ability to move, get a full attack, and move out of harms way makes it neigh unique in the D & D world so it is easy to see why the CO board gets many requests for Dervish builds. I figure I’d put most of the ideas in one spot for easy reference. Please feel free to contribute!
Tons. Full BAB. 2 good saves, including will - the warrior’s Achilles heel. Bonus AC. Free bonuses on speed and initiative. Spring attack and cleave for free. Ability to dual-wield scimitars with no penalty. A scaling character ability (Hello WOTC, please do this more!) that is awesome – the dervish dance which lets you move and full attack. No dead levels! A reason to take this PrC all the way – how many PrCs can honestly claim this? Decent skills.
Bad fort save – something frontliners need to watch for but easily compensated for by base entry classes. Feat requirements are somewhat hefty. That’s it.
The Whirling Dervish archetype:
This is one of the few classes that make TWF viable because it provides alternative bonuses to damage which TWFs need. It also lets TWFs get in all their attacks whenever they want; often times TWFs can only attack once which defeats the purpose of having two weapons. Scimitars, with their high threat range, make the whirling dervish with their seven attacks per round and +5 bonuses to hit and damage a frightening opponent. The ideal is to slice up the bad guy and then move away thumbing your nose up at him as he can usually only respond with one attack. Yes, sign me up! Potential downside: DR and creatures not vulnerable to precision damage if your DM is hardcore on insightful strike.
The Power Dancer:
Dervishes normally aren’t known as brutes but they make damn good power attackers. Their BAB will be high and they’re going to have +5 bonus to every attack that is begging to be converted into damage. They’re not leap attackers, but the ability to move up to a bad guy, take 4 power whacks and then safely move away is rather appealing :D. Your charging raging barbarian buddy just gets 1 attack and has to sit there with a -4 AC and receive the brunt of a full attack.
The charismatic Dervish. Attractive at first sight with bard and snowflake wardance but probably not worth the trouble. The problem is the Dervish suffers from MAD (Multiple attribute disorder - see below) and Dervishes do not need bonus to hit, they need bonuses to damage. If you can convince your DM to wardance with a two-handed weapon so you can power attack, then maybe – but how is your strength going to be high enough in the first place?
Dervish Dance: Duration is based on ranks, all the more reason to dump cha. The Dervish’s ability to take 10 on tumble checks can help nail the accelerated tumbling DCs. The faster your dervish is, the better suited she is to position herself in a square to get flanking bonuses and such (which is another reason I like barbarian). The power to be able to move, get a full attack, and move away not to receive a full attack in return is *awesome*.
Slashing blades: You can use scimitars as light weapons for all purposes. I, and many DMs I’d imagine, would interpret this as nixing any idea of power attacking with the scimitars. It’s not that big of a loss since hopefully you have another source of damage with int (Swashbuckler). If you want to power attack with 2 weapons, go oversized TWF or Revenant Blade.
Fast movement: Unfortunately this is an enhancement bonus. This makes little sense to me as it is through the Dervish’s skill rather than magic (note: it is an Ex ability) that enables this. It is worth a try to convince your DM to make it a competence or unnamed bonus because there will be times you need that extra 10 feet of movement.
Elaborate Parry: This ability is independent of combat expertise; that is it doesn’t activate when you use the feat. It does activate when fighting defensively (something different, see PHB) or take the total defense action. Normally I don’t think playing passively is optimal, but the Dervish does it better than anyone else. Fighting defensively will net you +7 AC (+2 normal +1 tumble +4 elaborate parry) for a -4 penalty to hit – and this stacks with combat expertise - which makes it an effective tactic against say nasty undead with level draining powers.
A Thousand Cuts: Your DM will hate you when you use this ability, but it is only 1/day.
Requirements are somewhat steep.
Skills: 3 ranks in perform (dance) and tumble
Feats: combat expertise, dodge, mobility, weapon focus (any slashing weapon). Note: Get expeditious dodge from ROW. It counts as dodge, is a superior feat, and you’ll use it every time you dance.
This means you need an int and dex of 13, so the Dervish has some MAD and little room for stuff like charisma. The most practical and simplest way around this is by synergizing these stats with the Swashbuckler class from CW which gives int to damage with insightful strike and free weapon finesse (dex to hit).
TWF Whirling Dervish: I’d put my stats in this order:
dex > int > con > str > wis > cha.
Dex keeps you alive (you can’t use a shield) and fuels your to hit bonus, and maybe damage (if elf), that’s got to be the highest. Int for damage and also skills so you’re useful out of combat. I can see an argument for con second, but you have a high hit die and you won’t be on the receiving end of too many full attacks. Cha is the dump stat.
Power Dancer: I’d put my stats in this order:
str > dex > con > int > wis > cha.
Note int has to be 13 so you need decent scores to pull this off. You also want dex to be decent since you are in light armor and want combat reflexes (see below). I think it can be done with 28 point buy like so: 16, 14, 13, 13, 10, 8 or 15, 14, 14, 14, 10, 8 if you want some extra skills and HPs.
Human: as usual, probably the best choice since Dervishes are voracious when it comes to feats. Bonus skill point is gravy.
Elf: +2 dex is good. -2 con is not crippling since you wont take too many full attacks. Best thing about elf is it opens up Champion of Corellon Larethian which grants dex to damage (but it is precision).
Azurin: Extra feat and extra essentia if you go the incarnum route. Doesn’t get the human’s bonus skill though.
Whisper gnome: +2 dex, +2 con, 30 foot movement. You don’t care about -2 cha and most likely you can live with -2 str. This is a very good race period, especially so if you are a stealthy dervish.
Thri-Kreen: 4 arms! Grab the MM2 version as it’s only +1 LA. You’ve got to eat 2 useless racial levels and be sure to take entry classes with high fort saves or else it will really suck.
Lesser Tiefling: get +2 int and +2 dex with no LA (but I think that's pretty much all you get along with -2 cha)
Avoid: Dwarf (slow), 1/2 orc (bad race with int penalty to boot).
Swashbuckler 3: Get this if you are going TWF, you want free weapon finesse and int to damage. Decent skill set (you get tumble) and decent number make this an attractive first level. Convince your DM to let you use finesse for scimitars once you take weapon focus (role-play it as practicing for Dervish or something...pointing out the already finessable rapier is virtually the same weapon may help) Note: the int to damage is technically precision damage, something not talked about enough. If your DM ignores this great. If she doesn’t, be prepared to be annoyed by non-crittable bad guys.
Monk 2: I’d like this a lot more if I like the monk’s flavor. Still, the cobra strike variant in UE gives dodge and mobility for free aside from monk’s saves, unarmed strike, decent skills (both perform and tumble!) and evasion. Only bad side is loss of BAB and stuck being lawful if that matters to you.
Barbarian 2: Yes. Seems contradictory but no no no its not. +10 unnamed speed; you need this since the Dervish’s bonuses are unfortunately enhancement. Uncanny dodge is a highly underrated ability, especially since you’re relying on dex for AC. Rage is always a nice backup for dancing – especially since you wont be dancing until level 6 at the earliest and even then only 1/day. Note: Whirling rage from UE fits both flavorwise and mechanically. Ask your DM nicely. Skill number is good, even if list is somewhat ehh.
Fighter 2: Face it, you need feats. The PrC is a feat hog to begin with, TWF exacerbates this problem.
Ranger 2: Gives you TWF for free and good skills (though the list isn’t Dervish friendly). You also get a bunch of things you’ll never use like track, wild empathy, etc. One potentially nice thing about the ranger, if you thinking long-term, is that 1 level opens the door for the Highland Stalker PrC and more skirmish without losing BAB. On the whole, I think other entry classes are superior to ranger, save for convincing your DM to let you trade in all the useless ranger crap for say the barbarian’s fast movement ability (certainly makes more sense from a role-playing perspective: you are moving on the battlefield, not tracking).
Scout 1-7: How far you take scout is how well it fits into your ultimate Dervish plan (I think Power Dancers should stay away from scout since you lose BAB). Try to convince your DM to let scout’s movement bonus stack with Dervish (why they are enhancement I’ll never know – these classes aren’t magical). Skirmish is dynamite for a dervish; you’ll always use this and is a much needed added damage for TWF and the AC doesn’t hurt either. This + evasion makes Scout 5 and its painful 2 BAB loss arguably worth it. Scout 2 nets you uncanny dodge, Scout 3 grants +1 AC and maybe movement, Scout 4 gets a free feat. 8 skill points a level is nothing to sneeze at either. If you went for Scout 5, might as well grab Scout 6 for the +1 on all saves, BAB, and ability to move through bad terrain which might prove useful.
Totemist 2: You lose a BAB. You get potentially a lot in return. The soulmelds that grant claw attacks are good because they are slashing and girallon arms can make your whirling dervish get even more attacks (especially nice with rend!). Grabbing +2 ac from wormtail belt requires no essentia and blink shirt lets you dimension door at will. Be Azurin and take bonues essentia at either 6 or 12.
Warblade X: D12 HPs, good fort save, decent skills, underrated uncanny dodge, and some INT synergy. Grab counters and boosts.
Ardent 2: You lose a BAB, need to make your wis score 11, and it doesn’t help with fort saves, but Ardent 2 looks to me like a strong dip for any class. The conflict (saves a feat) and freedom (untyped movement) mantles fit with the Dervish nicely.
Incarnate 2: Loss of BAB, low hit die, and the probable lack of essentia make the otherwise appealing Incarnate difficult to synergize with Dervish. That being said, if you’re willing to invest in bonus essentia and lose another BAB taking the class to 4, some of the soulmelds like bluesteel bracers (especially for TWF) and impulse boots add versatility. Totemist is still better though I think.
Swordsage: You lose BAB, do not help your weak fort saves, have no WIS, and get only D8 HPs. Warblade is better. What does Swordsage get? Limited weapon focus, a small bonus on initiative, and one extra readied maneuver. I think it is possible to make a good Dervish with Swordsage with a lot of thought, but 9 times out of 10 I'd reckon Warblade is easier and better.
Rogue: Take scout instead.
Samurai: Worse than fighter. Please use the same weapons for TWF (weapon focus and improved critical feats).
Bard: Now cha can’t be a dump stat; hope your rolls are high. Also your fort save and HPs will suck. Hope that 2nd level spell was worth it.
Psi-warrior 2: Lose a BAB and don’t get much except for the possibility of taking psionic feats. There are better things to do with your rolls than putting 13 in a dump stat for speed of thought. Go for ardent if you want psionics.
Champion of Corellon Larenthian: (ROW) The crown jewel here is the 2nd level ability elegant strike here which adds dex to damage (limits: finessable weapons, precision). Hefty requirements: need to be an elf or half elf, mounted combat and weird weapon focus/proficiency requirements.
Tempest: PrC has god awful feat requirements but you’ll have them all as a dervish and it grants furthers bonuses for TWF.
Thief-Acrobat: If you picked up evasion and some rogue skills, the acrobat's abilities are quite handy to have.
Invisible Blade: You've got to waste feats to pull this off, though dual wielding kukri makes for an effective and flavorful character.
The Revenant Blade PrC from the Player's Guide to Eberron lets you do nasty things (such as power attack) with a double scimitar if you are an elf. Potentially amazing synergy.
Highland Stalker: You need skirmish and track to get into this full BAB class that ups your skirmish damage. One level of scout and ranger gets you both.
Shadowdancer: This PrC isn’t really that good, but is frontloaded enough with lots of useful abilities to cherry pick if you happen to meet the pre-reqs. I wouldn’t go out of the way to grab it though.
Exotic Weapon Master: If you went duel bastard swords, trip attack might be useful. The power dancer with a high strength find uncanny blow appealing if he’s willing to invest a feat in a bastard sword.
Weapon Focus: required.
Dodge: Ditch, get expeditious dodge instead. It gives you +2 AC vs. everything if you move 40 feet.
Combat Expertise: required.
TWF, ITWF, GTWF: doh!
Improved critical: try to get this at 9th level (hopefully you’ve got ITWF by then). Lots of folks scoff at this feat because there is a scabbard of keen edges and the keen enhancement. The scabbard costs 16000 gp – more than ½ your expected wealth at 9th level – and uses a standard action to activate. Oh, you need 2. The keen weapon enhancement runs you 6000K per scimitar, not exactly cheap. Also because you have issues with DR, you will need a golf bag of cold iron, silver, and adamantine scimitars – good luck affording to keen all them by 9th level. You really don’t want to wait until 13th level to afford to take advantage of the great crit range of scimitars; just get the feat and spend your money on something more useful.
Versatile Unarmed Strike (PHB II): This allows you to treat unarmed strikes as slashing weapons. Combine with Monk builds, you get 3 (unfortunetly weak) extra attacks while dancing.
Elusive target (CW): Probably the best tactical feat there is. Oh, it should still work with expeditious dodge (though you still need to select a specific foe..not a problem since they are all affected by dodge).
Flay foe (CoR): If you’ve got 15 str, its adds +1d6 damage to all your hits after the first one.
Two weapon rend (PHB II): not as good as flay foe, but still useful.
Close quarters combat (CW): grappling will ruin your day and your character. All melee characters should have this feat.
Acrobatic Strike (PHB II): +4 to hit on opponents you tumble past (i.e. free +4 to hit everything). Synergize this with elaborate parry to get great AC or power attack!
Combat Acrobat (PHB II): only situationally useful, but being vitually immune to trips and difficult terrain is awfully nice when those situations arise.
Double hit (Mini): use both scimitars for AOO.
Karmic strike (CW): an interesting choice for sadists. I think this works better for the Power Dancer, but you meet the pre-reqs and combined with combat reflexes make make your dances memorable
Robilar's Gambit (PHB II): I think Karmic Strike is a little better as the AC penalty can be mitigated, but this lets you attack even if the bad guy misses
Combat reflexes: I wouldn’t take this unless you plan on karmic striking.
Oversized TWF (CV): Normally this feat isn’t very good, but the Dervish can dual wield bastard swords to make it worthwhile. Else avoid as slashing blades makes this pointless.
Note: that is a ton of feats. Please avoid the pitiful TWF defensive tree.
Power attack: use your dance bonuses and flanking position to removes any ugly DR issues or just flay your foe into oblivion.
Combat reflexes & Deft opportunist (CV) & Karmic strike (CW): Don’t tumble while dancing (your useless mobility feat will cancel Karmic strike AC penalty) and whack the hell out of anything which hits you. Oh, with the +4 bonus for deft opportunist, use that for more powerattack :D. With this combination, a dervish can literally wipe out a swarm of mooks before your wiz buddy reaches for her bat guano. Be sure to have close quarters combat for nasties with improved grab else don’t go karmic striking.
Improved trip: Use a guisarme. I’d get quickdraw too because you’ll be dropping lots of guisarmes over your career while dancing. With this feat, defensive throw (CW) + karmic strike makes for an amusing combo.
Short Haft: medium sized enemies no longer safe from reach fighting Karmic Strikers.
If your DM approves Dragon, Retribution (326) allows you to add +1 to your die roll for every 5 HPs an enemy hits you for. Works nice w/ karmic strike.
Hold the line: will put the smack down on annoyed opponents who charge you if you use a reach weapon (which you should if power dancing).
Again, that’s a ton of feats! Unless you are using a falchion, I wouldn’t go for improved critical (and even then with only one weapon and power attack to handle DR problems, I might eschew it altogether).
I think the Dervish should use a glaive or guisarme when powerdancing. You don’t have the issues associated with reach weapons since you can move and get a full attack and get to enjoy all the advantages. If your DM specializes in medium enemies (NPCs), I’d go falchion or grab Short Haft (PHB II).