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The silly swordlord, or how a squishy duelist got more AC than Seregon


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First, I'd like to thank ravingdork for his wonderful emporium; there are a bunch of really cool builds there, and I've inspired myself with a few of them in the past. I also thank him for his template, which I dont use EXACTLY like he does but which has still helped me a lot. Now, his "ultra-high AC" juggernaut, Seregon, is a beast. My build is another ultra-high AC exemplar. Hopefully it wont convince any GMs to ban finesse, most finesse builds are average, this is really an exceptional case.

So, yesterday I becided to build a character with the swordlord PrC. The general consensus that I got was that it was a poor class, quite sub-optimal, but I'm not much of a min-maxer (normally) so I decided to try for fun. I originally decided to make a fighter (swordlord) 7/ monk 1/ Swordlord (everything else), and I built up to level 13 to see what it could get. I was very shocked. While the attack and damage was about what I expected, the AC was surprisingly high at about 40, when taking into acount the special powers of those classes, wearing armor, etc. I was very surprised, and I decided to see how far I could take this, with the goal of (maybe) having higher AC then Seregon.

This is the final build I settled on. Like Seregon, it's an exceedingly defensive build, and while it will hit most anything normal (up to the tarrasque), it will have a hard time with more powerful mythic foes (like cthulu). I also slipped in a few levels of shadowdancer (which was easy to qualify for) to get evasion, uncanny dodge (with about +20 in dodge & dex bonuses, you dont want to be caught flat footed) and darkvision (hide in plain sight is just gravy).

Race: Human
Class: fighter (swordlord) 7/ monk (hungry ghost monk, sensei) 1 / shadowdancer 2/Swordlord (PrC) 10

Ability scores: (20 pts)
Str: 11
Dex: 15 +2(human)+5(advancement)+4(wish)+6(belt)=32
Con: 14+6 (belt)
Int: 12 +1 (wish)
Wis: 14+4 (wish) +6 (headband)=24
Cha: 10
Traits: sword scion, threatening defender
1 Weapon Finesse, Exotic Weapon Proficiency (dueling sword), Weapon focus (dueling sword)
2 Dodge, Improved Unarmed Strike
3 Crane style, Dazzling display
5 Crane Wing, Iron Will
Swordlord PrC
6 Dueling mastery (dex to damage)
7 Combat reflexes
8 agile maneuvers (might be unnecessary)
9 Crane riposte
11 Mobility
13 Piranha strike
Swordlord PrC
15 Weapon specialization (dueling sword)
17 Combat Expertise
19 Improved Critical (dueling sword)

This really doesnt look like much. I've seen min-maxed builds with much higher dex, and I will admit the feats could synergise better together (mobility is almost useless). But a bunch of powers help you out specifically in battle, more specifically when you're full attacking:

Defensive parry: by level 20, you've got a +4 untyped bonus to AC

Other contributors (while not in full attack)

Fighting defensively: +3 with 3 in acrobatics, +4 with crane style, +6 with the "steel net" ability. Another +6 AC.

Combat expertise: at level 20, you have +4 AC for -1 on attack (by combining threatening defender (+1) & adaptive tactics (+2))

Dueling mastery: +2 shield bonus when we have one hand free. Goes perfectly with crane style.

Uncanny dodge: to make sure you NEVER get caught flat-footed. You're just too dependant on dex & dodge bonuses.

Items: there are a few interesting & useful items. The mundane: bracers of armor +8, ring of protection +5, amulet of natural armor +5. The cape of the swashbuckler ads a +1 dodge, and the monks robes add another +1.

Monk wisdom to AC: HALLELUIAH! Add wisdom to AC while armorless. +7 to AC. This is where the monk dip really shines.

So what does this give? Well, at level 20, you've got 66 AC while fighting defensively with a full attack. Without the full attack, you go down to 62. Not too shabby for a non-mythic character.

But dont think this is a one-note build that cant do anything else than defend! Here are some highlights:

1) Attack and damage: The attack is decent (+35 with a +5 weapon at level 20), though damage is lackluster (+18 normally, +26 with piranha strike). Though the "adaptive tactics" ability can allow a +2 to hit for a swift action.

2) Initiative: Also silly-high, at +17 at level 20. This is a combo of weapon properties (dueling), feats (dueling mastery) and high dex.

3) Skills: Now this is where you see why I gave it 12 int. You need a LOT of skills to qualify for 2 PrCs. But that isnt a bad thing! I've maximized stealth, sense motive & intimidate, while giving it a smattering of other interesting skills.

4) Saves: The odd multiclassing gives it almost full saves across the board. This gives excellent reflex saves, good will saves, and decent fortitude (with items). I did consciously choose to boost some things (like will).

5) Cost: While this isnt a CHEAP build, the cost of items (including wishes) clocks in at about 80% WBL.

6) Temporary boostage: A simple 50 gp potion of reduce person will give these advantages: +2 to AC (size & dex), +2 to hit (size & dex), +1 to damage (dex) and -1 to CMB &CMD. FOr a 50 gp potion, it's good.

Weaknesses: obviously, it ain't perfect. Here are it's weaknesses:

1) HP: yeah, the multiclassing really hurts HP progression. Its OK (200 on average at level 20), but compared to seregon, this swordlord is squishy.

2) Carry capacity: this character will always be dependent on handy haversacks & bags of holding.

So, this is my build. It's my first attempt at serious min-maxing, but the build still has enough other stuff going on so as to be a complete character (I believe so anyway). I've got examples of the build at level 13 & 20 here:

Edit: I've put new links, with a new name, the "paragon duelist".

Paragon Duelist level 13

Paragon Duelist level 20

So what do you guys think? Am I stacking things I shouldnt? Am I overestimating other things? Are there any significant miscalculations? I await your comments.

Piranha strike doesn't work with an Aldori Dueling sword (or a rapier, or an Elven curved blade, or a Dervish Dancer's scimitar). It specifically only works with light weapons.

It's kind of the bane of Dex-based fighters: the best finesse weapons do not qualify for piranha strike. :-(

Darn. Any alternatives? It's not a huge loss (only 6 damage) but I dont know any easy way to boost damage otherwise. Maybe find a way to qualify for power attack? Lower cha? I'd rather not, but eh... it might be the only way.

Shadow Lodge

Added to the Guide to the Builds!

Liberty's Edge

You can't get Crane Wing at level 5 as your BAB is only 4 (Fighter 4/Monk 1). You qualify for it at level 6+.

Daminit, another crapper. Well, I can switch it with combat reflexes, it isnt too nasty. Well, this is why I wanted people's advice.

I'm wondering what I could replace agile maneuvers with. It isnt absolutely necessary, since the maneuvers I would focus on are disarm & sunder, which technically depend on weapons (and thus weapon finesse).

So I've got to fit in power attack, and I've got a free feat.

Liberty's Edge

Minor Notes:

At level 6 you have:

"Swordlord PrC
6 Dueling mastery (dex to damage) "

Dueling Mastery gives you +Initiative and +AC
Deft Strike gives you +Dex to Dmg

You get both at first level of the PrC.

I know about the level 6 thing, the "dex to damage" is just a note , siould have made that clear.

Ok, I've switched around combat reflexes and crane wing in my originals, and replaced piranha strike with power attack (reduced cha by 2 to qualify, increased str to 13). I'll wait for more comments before putting the new files.

Still looking for an alternative to agile maneuvers.

I've been thinking, you could make it more open to different races by removing agile maneuvers:
1 Weapon Finesse, EWP (dueling sword)
2 Dodge, Imp unarmed strike
3 Crane style, WF (dueling sword)
5 dazzling display, Iron Will
7 Crane wing
8 Combat reflexes
9 Crane riposte

This should open the combo up to many other different races. Doing that whill however make you STARVE for skill points, since this guy needs a lot of them to use it's abilties.

If you dip MoMS Monk at 3rd lvl you can have Snake Style and Snake Fang, ignoring Snake Sidewing that is not as useful. Then you can use the fighter bonus feats to take quickly Crane Style and Crane Wing. Eventually you will take Crane Riposte too. This is an interesting combination for every semi-unarmed Dex fighter.

I dont think sake fang +style would be worth it. The sense motive bonus would be interesting, but this character's AC will be higher than any sense motive check will go (so no snake style AC). Plus, I have better ways to use my immediate/swift actions (I think). I must think about this. It might be worth taking MoMs for snake fang, but only for snake fang. And I would loose a feat (probably iron will, which I would rather keep).

Liberty's Edge

Something to consider:

If you go the first two levels as a Monk (Master of Many Styles/Monk of the Sacred Mtn) you can have all three Crane Style feats, Toughness, Dodge, and +1 Nat Armor at level 2.

1 Dodge, Crane Style, Crane Wing
2 Toughness (bonus from MotSM), Crane Riposte, +1 Natural Armor (MotSM)

Then proceed with your Fighter and PrC levels. Drop the last level of Swordlord to account for the added level of Monk.

What you're saying is pretty tempting midnighter. Mainly since I think it would drive a GM insane to distinguish insight/competence bonuses well enough to use the swordlord capstone. Plus it would help the HP issue, no lost bab, and better saves.I'll test it out, see what it does.

Liberty's Edge

You should also look at ways to better utilize your Disarming Strike (Swordlord) ability. If the only combat maneuver you are going to do is disarm you don't need Agile Maneuvers at all. Work on getting Improved Disarm, Disarming Strike (gotta love duplicate names on feats/abilities) and anything that will boost your crit confirm roll. I assume a Keen Dueling Sword is factored into the build so no need for Improved Critical. You should also look at getting Improved Initiative.

After looking it over, I prefer taking the fighter levels first, to get the dueling sword & the rest. I think'Ill stick with what I've got. Toughness would be nice, but I cant make the MoMs work well. This would also delay a bunch of other stuff which is more important I believe than crane riposte.

Good advice on the disarm, it's thematically & mechanically appropriate. One reason to take imp crit instead of a sword is to increase my intimidate (one of the swordlord abilites ups intimidate if you take weapon-specific feats). Are there better intimidate items that could compensate?

I think improved initiative is largely unnecessary though. Combined with a "dueling" dueling sword (which is pretty cheap for a +4 enhancement), I get +4, another +2 with dueling mastery, and +11 with dex. Imp. initiative seems unnecessary.

Liberty's Edge

I guess it depends on if you are playing the character from level 1 or jumping in at level 20. You don't have Uncanny Dodge until level 13 so for 12 levels you will rely on initiative (with a much lower Dex) to keep you from being flat footed for the first round of combat.

That's true. Is imp init a combat feat? I could retrain it later if necessary.

Liberty's Edge

Yes it is

Well, this was just an experimental build (so I wont necessarily ever get ot play it) but this could be quite useful. Still, most of the dodge & dex bonuses only come into play after level 8-9. Until then, I can easily rely on armor. I'll try a level 5 build soon.

so reading over deft strike, it seems it may have some compatability issues with your monk levels.

"A swordlord cannot use this ability if he is wielding a shield or an off-hand weapon, including armor spikes, unarmed strikes, or natural weapons.""

See, unarmed strikes are a weird thing. THey count as both weapons and NOT weapons. As long as I'm not attacking with the unarmed strikes, I think I'm ok considering that I'm "not weilding" them. Considering that unarmed strikes can be ANYTHING (kicks, punches, body slams), an absurdist argument could say that you are wielding an unarmed strike while you have something in both hands.

Most of the style feats dont actually require the use of unarmed strike. So I dont think it's in opposition.

Edit: even without improved unarmed strikes, you can still use them. So in that way, you would NEVER qualify for deft strike. I'm pretty confident in assuming that as long as I dont use the strikes, I'll be OK.

Ok, little update. I've built it at level 1,6,13,20. At low level, it has less AC, but is pretty dependent on armor. It hits effectively, but has low damage. At level 6, dex to damage kicks in, to decent effect. He has pretty good AC on the side. The other 2 levels you already know, I've modified according to the recommendations.

Lv 1
Lv 6
Lv 13
Lv 20

I never really got around to updating my swordlord guide to include the prestige class. I mean, I have a rough draft written up for it, but considering that it's super-dex focused, and my guide is all about why dex is wrong for swordlords, I never really got into it enough to finish. Frankly I can sum up the prestige class as "Dip one level, then go duelist"

But you may want to check out my guide to swordlords.

Rather specifically, I'd recommend Osyluth's Guile. Now you're adding CHA to your AC when fighting defensively, which you're doing anyway thanks to crane style and steel net. Next, skip the higher levels of the swordlord prestige class for levels in duelist and more in the swordlord fighter archetype. With duelist, monk, and Osyluth's guile, you're adding Dex, Wis, Int, and Cha to your AC. Recall that a +2/+2/+2 headband is cheaper than a single +6 headband.

I checked out your guide before building my own. It wasnt terribly helpful in my case (namely because of your dislike of dex).

Osyluth's guile would be quite useful if I had put more dex (which I've kinda dumped here, so as to qualify for power attack).

The duelist "canny defense" would be helpful if it wasnt for the fact you can only add +1 to AC per level from int. My biggest AC contributions (from non-item sources) are:

1) Dex: this is a given, since I need it for attack and damage

2) Dodge bonuses: these come from fighting defensively & combat expertise. Without at least 4 levels in the PrC the attack reduction would be unpleasant. Less so with 8.

3) Wisdom: good for AC, but also for boosting my weak will saves.

I also like the untyped bonuses from defensive parry. I also prefer the shadowdancer dip than the duelist because of evasion & uncanny dodge. In the long run, it'll be better defensively than a dip in duelist.

In the end, this build is already chaotic and unfocused. I've spent a whole day working on it, and I like it enough not to change it. If you want to try to have a higher AC, be my guest. I think it is a competent, well rounded build that can survive most anything and happens to have unusually high AC. At this point, I'm not even sure what I've got is min-maxing anymore, since it still does pretty well in everything else (attack, saves, skills, less so damage). I do regret having to dump the cha though, in a 25-pt build I would put a bit more.

Another advantage to taking at least 1 level of monk early is that it gets you Improved Unarmed Strike for free, which would free up that fighter bonus feat for something else.

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