The name's more for legacy, at this point, I'm afraid, as this is more likely to be a sporadic thing than a regular feature. In this case, I just happened to have a mostly-finished writeup ready and happened to be discussing this very problem with another player, so I figured, why not put something new(ish) up?
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’re getting one of mine.
EDIT: The first stab at this had two pretty serious errors, which I'm fixing now. Thanks to Scraggled for catching them. In all honesty, I like this version better.
Just getting warmed up!
Required Books: Eberron Campaign Setting, Five Nations, PHB2, Complete Divine, Complete Champion, Spell Compendium, Races of the Dragon, and Complete Mage. Most of these only hold one or two spells, or one feat, required to pull this off.
Unearthed Arcana used: None!
Background: This started out as a simple challenge: Could I take the classic “fire mage” archetype and make it not suck? It turned out to be more interesting than I thought.
We’re all familiar (or should be familiar!) with the Mailman, the archetype for a direct-damage sorcerer. (If you haven’t read it, read it now; consider this showcase a tutorial on how to build a mailman using different design priorities. I'm just giving credit where credit is due!) The higher levels here are similar in terms of spell strategy. However, the Mailman had a weakness in that Force damage, while hard to resist, is actually pretty easy to outright block (Forceward from the Spell Compendium). Granted, a good Mailman can properly knock that defense down (one of many reasons you pack Dispels), but doing so takes time, and even then there’s rare creatures that are completely immune to force to begin with (thankfully, these are very rare, but it does mean there's still a few places that the mailman cannot Deliver The Mail).
This build, on the other hand, made one key observation: Once you get past the resistance / immunity issue, several fire spells are actually quite good at what they do (example: even the Mailman uses Combust, and of the Orb of X spells, fire has the best rider effect), and there’s a few ways to boost fire spells specifically (probably because they are so commonly resisted). The trick then is to find an inexpensive way to make the energy damage even more irresistible than Force damage. One way of doing this is to simply change the spells’ damage type to something that basically nothing resists - and the only damage type I know of that has this property is divine damage (think Flame Strike). In fact, I only know of a single ability open to non-deities that can block it (and it belongs to an obscure, semi-setting-specific, and not-all-that-amazing prestige class from the Planar Handbook), without delving into “total immunity to all damage” realms. There’s at least three ways I know of to convert half of your fire damage into divine damage already (and some allow 100% divine damage), so it’s not like this is an impossible goal.
Of course, you still need some method of dealing with incorporeality (a key benefit to Force spells), but this also has a statistical observation: The overwhelming majority of incorporeal foes are also undead. (In the SRD, all of the incorporeals are undead.) Thus, if you’re packing an anti-undead ability that bypasses their incorporeal miss chance, you’re set against incorporeality in all but the most rare of cases (and when we see a gap that rare cases can squeeze through in D&D, we usually plug that gap with equipment). We’ll still pack a small number of Force effects as they remain good choices in general, but you don’t need to go for broke on them if your main worry is relatively rare non-undead incorporeal miss chances.
Finally, we have a personal observation: I think the Incantrix is stupidly powerful, and consider its use unsporting. I’ve also seen it flat-out banned in a few places, probably also for its immense power boosts. For this reason, it’s worth trying to assemble a blaster without Incantrix. (We’re also using Eberron material, and I’d rather not mix settings if a single-setting solution exists.)
Put these three observations together, and a new build idea practically writes itself. It’s just a matter of tuning from that idea, and then presenting the results.
The basics of the build involve classic Mailman action-economy / defense-breaching tactics, but with all of the damage being all but completely irresistible divine damage, with the option of switching (either completely or halfway) back to fire on the fly if your foe isn’t immune and you want a few extra fire-specific synergies to kick in. It also attacks foes’ actions while it does this, but that’s not its main goal.
• Race: Silverbrow Human. You need the Dragonblood subtype and a bonus feat. On a fluff note, this at least keeps the slight affinity between dragons and sorcerers that the game seems to love, although you might need to get creative given how dragons work in Eberron.
• Ability Scores: 8/8/14/14/14/16 with 28PB is our starting point. Sadly I couldn’t make this work with less than 13 Intelligence, due to skill requirements (and the lack of bonus skill points), and with that requirement we may as well go to 14. The requirements aren't too demanding and at least you have a use for that Intelligence otherwise: you need a 13 for your organization, and Metamagic Specialist is fueled by Int. The low Dex will hurt your ray casting early on, but at least you're aiming at touch AC.
• Alignment: Lawful Good. You also need to belong to the Paragnostic Assembly (Int 13, 3 ranks in two Knowledge skills – plus you need to set a place for it in Eberron. I’d suggest the Twelve or the Library of Korranberg), worship the Silver Flame, and have the sanction from your church. Pretty much all of this is pretty consistent with a smart Silver Pyromancer’s stock flavor. The Silver Pyromancer itself also has a mild code of conduct that bars deliberate Evil actions.
Skill Notes: Your first skill points go to Spellcraft (max it, until at least 12 ranks) and to Knowledge skills: 5 in Arcana, 5 in The Planes, and 8 in Religion. Once you become a paragnostic apostle, put 5 more ranks in The Planes (and eventually squeeze 2 more into Arcana). Once you hit the Knowledge requirements, the rest of the skill points go to Concentration; Spellcraft and Knowledge can be boosted to taste. After this, your skills are more or less open, although you might want to consider pumping Tumble cross-class, especially if you adventure in close quarters (again, the classic dungeon crawl).
Basic Equipment: It's hard to get less equipment-dependent than the Sorcerer. It doesn’t matter whether you’re decked to the nines or wearing a fig leaf so long as you’ve got at least one component pouch. That said, once you can turn undead, definitely invest in a Flametouched Iron holy symbol; it’s dirt cheap and the extra turning level helps.
Magical Gear Goals: Typical for a blaster: Initiative gear, vision effects (especially at lower levels), CL boosts, metamagic rods, Runestaves, Rings of Wizardry, etc. are all good. Typical for Mailman-styled builds include a tumble booster and spell knowledge expanders, such as a Drake Helm (or, if Dragon material is available, Knowstones). Unique to this build: The Phylactery of Undead Turning actually packs a surprising wallop for its cost (along with several other +Turning Level items, although you don’t want to invest too much in this).
EDIT: My first stab at this build had one extra 1st level spell, which originally held Nerveskitter (an excellent initiative booster). However, since it generally won't be cast more than once per encounter anyway, and has no CL-dependent abilities, it's a prime candidate for the magic item treatment, along with other initiative gear. You can plug it all together on a single hand, actually: the Gauntlet of I Go First (a +1 Eager Warning gauntlet, with a wand chamber slotted with Nerveskitter - remember that activating a wand of an immediate spell is an immediate action, and the gauntlet is always 'wielded' so the wand is always 'in-hand'), perhaps combined with Drow of the Underdark's Ring of Anticipation, gives you +12 Initiative and the better of two d20 rolls for it, for the bargain price of about 25k (purchaseable in components if you'd like).
You have access to the entire paladin spell list as well as the (surprisingly good, but not standout) Exorcism domain through magic items, so you may want to invest in a staff or a few wands. There are three paladin spells in particular you'll want to buy: Lesser Restoration (it's a damn useful spell and a mere 1st level paladin spell), Favored of the Martyr (you need this if you want to unleash your full power late game; thankfully, the need to set this up acts as a natural leash, preventing you from breaking the action economy all willy-nilly), and, surprisingly, Turn Anathema (if you invest in +Turning gear anyway, that wand allows you to turn [Evil] creatures as if they were undead. This is noteworthy in that undead tend to have higher HD than their CR, while most [Evil] creatures, such as outsiders, tend to have HD comparable to their CR (and they lack turn resistance), in effect being much easier to turn.). None of the wands are terribly critical to the core strategies, but can add some cost savings or unique options to the build’s actual gameplay.
Build Stub: Sorcerer 6 / Paragnostic Apostle 3 / Sacred Exorcist 6 / Silver Pyromancer 5.
1 – Sorcerer – (Metamagic Specialist) (Education, Arcane Disciple: Exorcism) (Magic Missile, Sleep)
Originally I opened with Lesser Orb of Fire, which brings the fire mage theme online sooner, but the change to a lower Dexterity score makes that less reliable at this point. Plus, it's kind of poetic opening up with the standard PHB sorcerer starting package spells, don't you think?
2 – Sorcerer
3 – Sorcerer – (Empower Spell) (Lesser Orb of Fire)
4 – Sorcerer – (Scorching Ray)
5 – Sorcerer – (Combust, Raging Flame)
Combust was picked as a very powerful metamagic seed in the original Mailman for a reason (a 2nd level spell that deals a lot of dice of damage with no save or SR is just begging for metamagic); here it just gets more support from fire effects, such as Raging Flame (A single touch isn’t all that impressive with Raging Flame, but its effect compounds as your spell-slinging efficiency improves.) Remember that you can deliver the touch attack for a melee touch spell at any point during the round you cast it, rather than simply as part of the casting itself.
6 – Sorcerer – (Practical Metamagic: Empower Spell) (Body Blaze OR Fireball, True Strike (replaces Sleep))
Body Blaze was picked over typical long-range damage choices because, in my experience, tight spaces and shorter ranges (i.e. dungeon rooms) are more likely to see combat than wide-open spaces, and if you’re in a place where you can’t fly, you’ll need as much help as you can get. Sadly, it’s mostly flat-damage instead of dice-damage, and it’s technically a buff, so none of your spell support effects really synergize with it directly, which prevents it from being an obvious choice.
That said, it has its advantages and indirect synergy: curiously for an AoE effect, the damage it deals is no-save and SR: No, and it expands freely as you move (allowing you to “kite” monsters through tight spaces as you move and sling other spells, or deal damage with your move action (i.e. tumbling through enemy spaces). Tactically, your other spells support this, as you’re tumbling between targets (close-range rays and Combust) and this blankets the area between them with DoT effects.
If you're in a large, open campaign instead of a common traditional dungeon crawl, though, you'll want a long-range spell, which is the only real reason Fireball's considered at all. It's also a spread, so if you are in a dungeon, it can technically reach around corners, even pulling 180-degree turns if need be. However, since it allows SR and an Evasion-compatible save, it's a backup choice most of the time.
7 – Paragnostic Apostle – (Holy Texts, Lore, Manifest Ethos: Good) (Dispel Magic, Glitterdust, True Casting)
The ability to start ignoring all resistances at this early point in the build is a huge benefit, even if it is somewhat limited at the moment (only to evil targets). On the positive side, the most deadly foe type that's completely immune to fire would be demons and devils - beings which always fall victim to Manifest Ethos.
Later on, you'll get the Sacred Flame ability, which does everything this does except against all targets. Manifest Ethos will remain useful only if you're planning on using non-Fire energy spells, which is a corner case. If you can retrain or rebuild at all after that point, replace this with Energy Supremacy (Fire).
Oh, and Glitterdust? You can switch it for See Invisibility depending on your opponents or personal preferences. I like Glitter since it works on guys who are merely hiding, but against truly invisibile targets, See Invis is better.
8 – Paragnostic Apostle – (See Through The Veil) (Dismissal) You're getting Dismissal through the Exorcism domain, which is why the build has 14 Wisdom - you can't cast Dismissal without it. You won't actually be casting Dismissal for its intended purpose - it's a dead weight prerequisite used to get the real prestige classes online early enough. Curiously, it appears that if you picked up a staff containing Dismissal, you'd be able to cast it using your Charisma (as it is a sorcerer spell, just a higher level one). Such a staff may also contain other spells from the Exorcism domain which you might consider useful as well - they're usually not top-shelf picks, but most of them are pretty darn good on their own (and in some cases, such as getting Magic Circle as a 2nd level spell, you're getting a bargain.) Also, See Through the Veil might be a weird choice now, but check back in two levels.
You're getting Dismissal through the Exorcism domain, which is why the build has 14 Wisdom - you can't cast Dismissal without it. You won't actually be casting Dismissal for its intended purpose - it's a dead weight prerequisite used to get the real prestige classes online early enough. Curiously, it appears that if you picked up a staff containing Dismissal, you'd be able to cast it using your Charisma (as it is a sorcerer spell, just a higher level one). Such a staff may also contain other spells from the Exorcism domain which you might consider useful as well - they're usually not top-shelf picks, but most of them are pretty darn good on their own (and in some cases, such as getting Magic Circle as a 2nd level spell, you're getting a bargain.)
Also, See Through the Veil might be a weird choice now, but check back in two levels.
9 – Sacred Exorcist – (Turn Undead, Exorcism) (Rapid Metamagic) (Orb of Fire, Energy Vulnerability, Dimension Hop)
Energy Vulnerability is another of those unusual fire-damage-synergy effects (although, sadly, it has a lot of targeting/save issues, so while it gives you a lot of damage when it works, it also becomes harder to employ as levels go up). Vulnerabilities are interesting in that they multiply damage, but they do so in a way that causes everything, including bonus dice and per-die bonuses like Raging Flame, to multiply normally, unlike standard D&D damage multiplication (i.e. against a vulnerable target, normal spells deal 150%, Empowered spells deal 225%, and Empowered Smiting spells (see below) deal 300% damage, and that's after all other modifications to damage dealt are applied). Vulnerabilities also cancel out immunities, which can be quite useful (particularly against non-Evil targets at the moment, but also later on, if you plan on using Smiting Spell against fire-immunes).
EDIT: If your DM disagrees with me on Rapid Metamagic (and thus you can't use it to squeeze metamagic spells into Arcane Fusion or monkey with spell timing during Arcane Spellsurge), you have a much better option for making your enemies vulnerable to fire available to you here. Use the feat on Extra Spell: Creaking Cacophony (it's a bard 3 / druid 3 spell in the Spell Compendium). Medium range, 40' radius, everyone inside has to make Concentration checks to cast spells (keep your Concentration score up if you need to cast Cacophony in close quarters)... and, most importantly, everyone in the area becomes vulnerable to Sonic damage, no-save (it allows SR, but can easily be boosted via True Cast). If you cast it with a super-cheap Lesser Rod of Substitution (MIC), you can switch that over to a Fire vulnerability. If you take this route, you can replace Energy Vulnerability with Alter Fortune, Fly, or another useful 3rd to taste. I think Rapid Metamagic is more flexible, but this route is just too good to not mention.
The traditional Mailman build could not exploit energy vulnerabilities, but we can. If you can take the time during a big encounter to set up a vulnerability, do it - not only does it dramatically increase your damage output, it also saves you spells. You need fewer spells to dish out the same damage, which also means that the battle ends a few spells early. Don't do this all the time, but if you need a really big gun and you think you can get your vulnerability set up, do it.
Dimension Hop is not entirely necessary here; you can pick a different 2nd if you wish. It's just my favorite standby among the second-level sorcerer spells.
10 – Silver Pyromancer – (Pyromancer, Purge Undead)
Experienced optimizers might wonder why I’m taking Silver Pyromancer instead of Sanctified One of Kord if the goal is to deal divine damage with fire spells, as Sanctified One of Kord can pull that off with a one-level dip and is much easier to qualify for. It’s because of other synergies in the Silver Pyromancer, including Purge Undead, the free boosts from Smiting Spell, and the ability to use paladin wands without UMD.
11 – Silver Pyromancer – (Sacred Flame (half)) (Arcane Fusion)
While I’m almost certain vulnerabilities fall in the second category, a bit of legal jujitsu might argue the reverse (as the description for vulnerability mentions energy effects, not specifically energy damage). If your DM rules this way, keep the Vulnerability spell in mind, otherwise, now is about the right time to shelve it unless you have nothing better to do.
At this point, Manifest Ethos is worthless to you unless you decide to use an energy spell that isn't fire-related. A few of them are listed below (in the variants section). If that's not up your alley, do what you can to switch around the paragnostic apostle's choices. Energy Supremacy (Fire) is a great fallback, and you did meet the requirements back when you entered the class.
12 – Silver Pyromancer – (Smiting Spell) (Twin Spell) (Firebrand, Celerity, Chain Missile, Spectral Hand)
Smiting Spell is a free, stackable Empower (limited to your fire spells, but it’s not like you’d want to empower anything else), along with a few other sundry benefits. You can double up on its effect by using it to alter a Twinned fire spell, or by adding it on to another Empowered effect.
Firebrand was picked to give some useful longer-range AoE damage, as it scales rather efficiently and has some truly spectacular targeting for a nuke spell. It does allow a save (and it’s an Evasion-enabled save too) and SR, though, so you’ll probably want to combine it with a Truecast (carried over from a Fusion Orb / Truecast on the previous round) and generally only use it against weaker targets. (It deals damage – with a separate save – on the following round as well, which lets it double as a minor area deterrent. Interestingly, a handful of your effects, such as Smiting Spell, add a rider effect to a failed save (note: any failed save, even if an Evasion effect kicks in), and since Firebrand forces two saves, it gives two chances for such effects to take hold.)
Celerity is of obvious use here. Use your standard to cast Arcane Fusion, link Celerity to some other spell, and then within the Celerity toss out another standard action (possibly even another Arcane Fusion, which can itself contain another Celerity, and so on). While technically you can do chain Fusion/Celerity effects like this until your slots run dry and only get dazed once (at the end of the chain), in my experience it’s much more useful to be able to throttle down and toss these spells out as needed without having to press the “nova” button. That's where the Pyromancer's other well-known ability kicks in: pull out a paladin wand of Favored of the Martyr. Among other benefits, that spell renders you immune to Daze.
Chain Missile is a natural evolution from your Magic Missile, and will be used in largely the same manner (since it's also long-range, no-save, and Force-typed, capable of hitting those rare non-undead incorporeals). You're kind of lacking for good long-range damage, and this spell fits in like a charm. With Rapid Metamagic it can also be Empowered and chucked out of an Arcane Fusion, so if you detect a target at long range with less than 70 HP or so, you can down it with a barrage of force missiles as a single standard action without caring about aiming your rays. Once you get closer, though, your fire abilities will outstrip it.
(The build's first stab used Vortex of Teeth, as per the original Mailman; Chain Missile was a very, very good substitution from none other than that build's author, DeAnno.)
As you might have gathered, I didn’t have a lot of amazing options for 2nds. Spectral Hand is perhaps your best choice, even though you don't have a lot of touch effects. It lets you deliver Combust (your strongest single-target blast) and Dimension Hop (on your allies) at up to Medium range (so Combust now out-ranges Orb of Fire), and it lasts for quite a long time. It also appears to operate off of actual spell level instead of metamagic slot level, so you can use your metamagic freely on that Combust. (If your DM says that it works like Arcane Fusion, and looks at final slot level instead, you're fine: you can still deliver Empowered Combusts via a spectral hand.) Notably, this does NOT drain your actions, once you have the hand up: you simply touch with it as if it were you. If you're enjoying this, you should also look into magic items with other touch spells - the dragon-slaying Shivering Touch is the usual preference here.
Basically, Spectral Hand lets you pull off a different flavor of Ocular Spell hijinks on the cheap. I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner.
My original choice (and a passable fallback in some games) was Ray of Stupidity. Use it against targets that have immense hit points but relatively low intelligence and no immunity to Int damage; it will either roflstomp targets or be all but useless. (It can be barrels of fun if your enemy is mounted but didn’t properly defend their mount.)
13 – Silver Pyromancer – (Persistent Fire) (Greater Dispel Magic)
14 – Silver Pyromancer – (Smiting Spell (Blind) 3/day, Sacred Flame (full)) (True Seeing, Teleport, Dimensional Anchor)
If you're not getting Dimensional Anchor, my preferred fallback would be Enervation.
Also, curiously, this is one of those levels where having a spell that allows a save is better than having spells that don’t. The blinding effect from Smiting Spell ONLY applies if the target fails a save against the base spell; if you throw out a Smiting Combust, for instance, the target won’t be blinded. Orb of Fire has a save (to avoid the daze effect, not to avoid the damage), as does Firebrand (against multiple targets, and it actually forces a save twice, giving you two opportunities to blind, potentially against different targets as people move around.)
15 – Paragnostic Apostle – (Penetrating Insight) (Practical Metamagic: Twin Spell) (Arcane Spellsurge)
Paragnostic also double-stacks for Purge Undead, which should be dealing damage on par with Disintegrate at this point without any real equipment.
Finally, Penetrating Insight helps punch through SR just a little more (even on non-Fire spells), and as a nice bonus augments all your dispels. Check with your DM - as I'm reading this, it modifies the dispel check even if you're hitting the CL cap (i.e. Dispel Magic could dispel at 1d20+6).
16 – Sacred Exorcist – (Detect Evil, Resist Possession) (Limited Wish, Contingency, Wall of Force)
Interestingly, Contingency: Arcane Fusion does not require you to specify in advance the spells you’ll cast through the Fusion, making it a very compelling choice. Pick the right trigger and you can trigger any two Fusion-compatible spells you wish on the fly without costing you an action, even if the spells you put in the Fusion aren’t normally compatible with Contingency.
17 – Sacred Exorcist – (Chosen Foe +1) (Greater Arcane Fusion)
18 – Sacred Exorcist – (Dispel Evil 1/wk) (Ocular Spell) (Moment of Prescience, Forcecage)
Ocular Spell can be kind of bizarre, though it certainly helps with a blaster for obvious reasons, in particular its free-action trigger (which can be “cheated” on to metamagic spells if you load your eyes up while under the effect of Arcane Spellsurge; Rapid Metamagic probably works here too, but Spellsurge has fewer arguments) and ability to deploy just about any spell at a distance (notably Combust on the straightforward front, or nearly any spell via Limited Wish.). At this level the demand on your actions is intense, so Ocular’s ability to unload a double-barreled doom gaze as a free action make it an outstanding choice.
A possible alternative is Transdimensional Spell, but the foes you’d want to use it against (enemy mages that employ ethereal jaunts for tactical reasons) would need to be common enough to justify the feat choice over an equipment choice (i.e. a runestaff with Ethereal Jaunt, in this case). Ocular’s more of a generalist pick.
19 – Sacred Exorcist – (Consecrated Presence) (Foresight)
20 – Sacred Exorcist – (Chosen Foe +2) (Mage's Disjunction, Greater Celerity)
1. Magic Missile, Lesser Orb of Fire, True Strike, Raging Flame, True Casting
2. Scorching Ray, Combust, Glitterdust, Dimension Hop, Spectral Hand
3. Body Blaze OR Fireball, Dispel Magic, Energy Vulnerability, Chain Missile
4. Dismissal, Orb of Fire, Celerity, Dimensional Anchor
5. Arcane Fusion, Firebrand, Teleport, Wall of Force
6. Greater Dispel Magic, True Seeing, Contingency
7. Arcane Spellsurge, Limited Wish, Forcecage
8. Greater Arcane Fusion, Moment of Prescience, Greater Celerity
9. Foresight, Mage's Disjunction
Plus, as mentioned above, anything you can find on a Drake Helm, Knowstone, Runestaff, or wand (including paladin wands and anything on the Exorcism domain).
Snapshot: Armed only with +6 items on Cha, Con, and Dex, with +5 Cha, +4 Con, and +4 Dex tomes, we’re looking at 208 HP, +11 base attack (+15 starting point with rays), and saves of +12/+9/+16 for the skeleton, and CL 19 (20 for fire spells (or 21, if you managed to swap in Energy Suprmacy), with Penetrating Insight / Chosen Foe / Smiting Spell / True Cast / etc. to take out SR), and DC 20+level sorcerer casting (6/9/9/8/8/8/8/7/7/5 base spell slots). With a flametouched iron holy symbol (mundane, 750gp), there’s also a 31d6, Will DC 25 AoE Purge Undead effect over a dozen times a day; reasonably inexpensive gear can get that much stronger (anything that boosts your caster level (on your shopping list already) or your turning level (quite cheap for what it does, i.e. 9k for +3) - CL will increase the damage, turning level increases the damage and the DC).
With a +1 cost Empower, a +2 cost Ocular, and a +3 cost Twin to employ with Rapid Metamagic, plus (Greater) Celerity (and the ability to bypass daze immunity if you need to go nova) and several other spells based around action economy ((Greater) Arcane Fusion, Arcane Spellsurge, Contingency, Moment of Prescience) and specific support for fire spells (Raging Flame, Manifest Ethos (early on, too!), Energy Vulnerability, Smiting Spell, Persistent Fire, and of course Sacred Flame), this build has quite a lot of support for its fire blasting. The main workhorses have no save or SR (Combust and Orb of Fire; Body Blaze shares these properties but is largely for show lategame) as well as bypass all immunities and resistances short of universal damage immunity, and occasionally have action-economy effects that usually don’t show up on a classical Mailman ‘for free’ (example: Orb of Fire may also daze the target (or blind a target through Smiting Spell), although that’s not the main reason you’re using that spell).
Finally, to combat your more exotic foes (including several evil outsiders, dark mages, and intelligent undead), you've also got some pretty powerful dispels (standard, greater, and Disjunction, with Penetrating Insight - this appears to actually raise the check even if it's capped out) and a few spells designed to take out foes capable of teleportation or planar travel (Dimensional Anchor, Wall of Force, Forcecage), plus a few longer-range unavoidable Force blasts (Magic Missile and Chain Missile) to help you tag incorporeal or ethereal foes - or to simply add a bit of variety to the game.
Overall Strengths: On top of the typical “actually able to deliver damage regardless of AC, saves, or SR” aspect of a Mailman blaster? The damage output is higher (a large part of this is how Raging Flame and, more rarely, Vulnerability interacts with Empower and Smiting Spell), and the spells often carry special effects at no real cost to you (Dazing, Blinding, Igniting (also augmented, but largely cosmetic), and so on). The major PrC lifting comes from Sacred Exorcist as well, which offers a much better (cleric-based) skeleton than your typical (wizard-based) PrC choices, on top of superfast scaling of Purge Undead and a few sundry class features.
Also, interestingly, virtually all of the fire support here isn’t actually a “buff” in the traditional sense (the only buffs are Favored of the Martyr, which is only needed if you're pulling out all the stops on a sustained massive nova strike, and Arcane Spellsurge, which is in the same broad category). You could be hit with a Disjunction and you’d still blast more or less as powerfully as I’m describing here. Thus, you don’t need to be quite so paranoid about incoming dispels, as realistically they'd only hit your equipment and/or Spellsurge.
Plus, come on. Fire mages capture the imagination, and it’s downright painful to see how hard they usually suck in standard gameplay. This one actually works. And even the secondary effects all fit well together.
Overall Weaknesses: The revised approach (with Manifest Ethos) really helps with the slow start to the early mid-level game discussed earlier. It's not a total solution (as this only helps with resistance or immunity, not raw damage, and even then only against evil targets), but it's a definite leg-up on the traditional blaster approaches.
More to the point, there's a dearth of long-range spells here (basically, just Chain Missile and possibly Fireball). It was designed for dungeon crawling, not for long-range army-levelling artillery. The reliance on Favored of the Martyr to bypass Celerity's daze effects is a little annoying as well, particularly in the very late game (although I would be tempted to view this as a gentlemen's agreement of sorts: being able to bust open the action economy like that is something that you don't want to take lightly.)
I’m also deliberately holding back in some ways, as I’m not using Incantrix or some of the more obscure methods of making metamagic cheaper, and there’s no +0 slot universal metamagic available to monkey with casting times during Spellsurge (I assume Rapid Metamagic can be not used if you choose, but a DM is very much within his authority to rule otherwise!). Enervation is also missing, despite being a useful debuff.
There’s also a hidden weakness in the Silver Pyromancer, in that it loses its class features and needs to atone for any deliberate evil acts you may perform. This isn’t usually that much of a drawback (just think of yourself as an arcane paladin with a much more lax code of conduct and no grim trigger), but it did impact some spell choices. Notably, Avasculate is missing. It’s a spectacular spell for dealing with immense walls of hit points as a blaster (often capable of axing away hundreds of hit points without any arguments, and possibly also hitting their actions), but it’s also an [Evil] spell. (Then again, one could argue that if any foe has enough HP to endure more than one, or at most two, rounds from a team with a Mailman-styled blaster even without Avasculate, you should probably be fighting it using something other than HP damage anyway. This is why there’s the Greater Fusion (Dimensional Anchor / Forcecage) stunt – it lets you “seal away” evil for a while.)
Variants: There’s a lot of flex in the 2nd level spell choices, and the 4th level ones are tight to begin with (I opted for Dimensional Anchor rather than Enervation, for instance, as even though Enervation is an awesome spell, Dimensional Anchor prevents them from escaping, meaning it's you, not them, who sets the time of their death), and they can largely be tailored around as you see fit. I also didn’t really exploit the paladin or Exorcism domain spells: you might want to actually learn Favored of the Martyr as a spell known yourself, so you won't rely on wands. You don't really want Daze immunity until level 12 (when Celerity shows up), and that's also the same level you can start casting Favored if you can squeeze it in to a spell known, Drake Helm, or wand.
There's also a feat modification if you're playing at a level where Spellsurge is possible but your DM disagrees with me on Rapid Metamagic. Look at level 9 for the details: You can use Extra Spell to find a way to make a huge area vulnerable to fire damage, with no save.
EDIT: DeAnno (the author of the original Mailman) made a few interesting spell suggestions downthread for those who are interested in Energy Substitution (either as a feat or as a metamagic rod) or if you're wanting to make use of Manifest Ethos outside of your fire specialization. Even if you're sticking to the main build, these should be considered with equipment. The most interesting one to me is Boreal Wind (5th, natively cold - but it deals 15d4 damage per round to everything within long range, forces a save every round (meaning it's a natural fit for Smiting Spell if you're energy subbing it), and includes a few other fun effects lifted rom Gust of Wind). Two others are teleport/damage hybrids (Lightning Leap (which would be subbed) and Firestride Exhalation); either one might be worth replacing either Teleport or Wall of Force depending on equipment availability and campaign combat demands. (I find the main build's spells to be a more strategic choice than these tactical spells, but there's something to be said for options, especially if you disagree with me on Rapid Metamagic.)
If flaws are on the table, you can freely switch around your race into anything else with the Dragonblood subtype that can hit the ability score requirements (i.e. Spellscale). In some cases, this might be liberating fluff-wise: a dragonborn lesser aasimar dedicated to Bahamut and wielding platinum-laced celestial dragonfire against the dark forces of Tiamat would work perfectly here, rather than being a militant arcane templar and exorcist of the Silver Flame.
There you have it. A fire mage archetype brought to life in a way that, I think, doesn't suck and doesn't rely on Incantrix. I'm curious what you all think.
More of these writups to come, as I finish them (read: find time during procrastination / waiting-for-simulations-to-finish to put these together.)