I'm been playing around with more of the classes and wanted to post some of my thoughts and findings. All of my test builds were to level 10 and none have ever been playing so there may be things good and bad that I've missed.
I thought the original 3.5 version totally sucked. The beta version was no better. So what if you can imbue your arrows with spells, you don't get any caster levels so you won't have any spells in the first place. Well, now the AA get 7 caster levels (out of 10) which works well for me. The best comparison is to an archer ranger or fighter which are also the best lead-ins to the class. The fighter once again does the best damage from the many bonus combat feats and weapon specialization. The ranger shines in certain environments and against certain foes as well as gets some great archery feats early (Pin Point Targeting stands out here). A little bit of spell casting and the animal companion add some interesting possibilities.
The Arcane Archer gets pretty good spell casting and tends to have the best saves of the three - at least where it counts most - Will and Fort. The spells add lots of utility out of combat as well as a way to keep the enemy from getting too close.
Now maybe I was biased against the duelist by its resemblance to its 3.5 cousin the swashbuckler. I thought the Duelist sucked and didn't really look at what it could do objectively. In a moment of madness I decided to build a test Duelist and see what it could do. To be honest I was pleasantly surprised. I built the duelist from a barbarian base and a fighter base (with a 6 bab entry requirement no other way sounded appealing). The barbarian sounded odd but they actually blended quite well. The uncanny dodge would help a lot since most of the duelists defenses are dodge based. I could almost see the barbarian duelist repeating over and over "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." The fighter ends up having better AC and ability to hit and do damage.
After looking the duelist over I figured the best build would be a crit build. Precise strike is now a set bonus so it multiplies on a crit. Throw in power attack and at level 10 you can get a combat round of +15/+10 1d6+17 15-20/X2. Almost 1 in three swings would be a crit for pretty decent damage. Assuming a single hit per round damage of 26.65. The fighter does 32.40. The fighter also has 4 extra points to hit making the real damage gap bigger.
The problem is that the Duelist is stuck using a single one handed weapon: the worst fighting style. The lack of shield option hampers the duelist on defense. The duelist is fast and gets some nice dodge and initiative bonuses. He also gets significant bonus to fighting defensively. I actually think a duelist can out tank the barbarian but pales next to the fighter or the paladin. Near 16 a duelist fighting defensively could fairly easily have a higher AC then a two handed weapon fighter.
My overall view of the duelist is that it would be great in a pirate type campaign where heavy armor isn't viable but otherwise not so hot.
I've always had a soft spot for wizard rogues as my fellow contributors might recall (Think 2e drow pirate campaign). The old AT sucked. It was a crappy caster and a crappy rogue. Well all that has changed. Now a 16th level AT is only 3 levels behind a rogue for SA and 3 levels behind in casting level. Pretty good for that much versatility.
My first thought of all that sneak attacking with rays was "drool" but then I realized a few things. At level 10 SA damage is only 4d6 and unlike a rogue get only one attack per round if you are using ray attacks. Sneak attacks are also difficult to set up from range. Getting into melee to flank is an option but 2 potential AoO could hurt. The good news is that you should have a good selection of spells to help you out setting up SA like Invis, Grease, and a variety of illusions to hide behind.
While I haven't seen one in play yet, I think that an Arcane trickster can out rogue a rogue. In a fix they could fill in for a sorc or wiz but would lack the variety/number of spells of a full caster.
The first killer c-c-c-c-combo I've noticed is a bard doing the Dirge of Doom and a rogue with Shatter Defenses. After the first hit, all hits would automatically be sneak attacks assuming the rogue lands at least one blow a round. A rogue could out damage a Barbarian with this.
As there is no D&D this week, I will continue to monkey around in my spare time and post my findings.
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