Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pity me, for I am weak

I have never read any of The Song of Ice and Fire series, nor do I watch A Game of Thrones. I have great respect for what George R.R. Martin is doing and I have no doubt the books are the modern classics his fans believe them to be. However, I have always been a little intimidated by the series with its bewildering number of characters and off-balancing attrition of protagonists. Still, I always thought I would eventually get around to reading them, perhaps when my kids were a little older. I'm not so sure about that anymore. I've never been much for excessive violence. The cartoonish violence of Friday the 13th or Conan the Barbarian is fine. The sanitized violence of the old war movies is fine. But the visceral, hateful violence we often call torture porn these days, I just have no stomach for it. The response I have seen on the internet lately over the so-called "red wedding" scene in A Game of Thrones leads me to believe that I probably wouldn't enjoy it. It all sounds a bit too nihilistic for my tastes. From what I can determine, the most honourable characters in the series are all destined to suffer a horrific fate, while the schemers and betrayers are rewarded for their treachery. This may be reflective of reality, but it doesn't make for a particularly satisfying reading experience. Am I missing something or am I just out-of-touch with today's fashion?


Monday, June 10, 2013

Anatomy of a PC: The Battle Bard

I am a power gamer. I do not like my characters to die so I do not like to have any critical weaknesses in my character builds. I like them to excel in at least one area and be competent in a few others. He struggled a bit in the early levels but has matured nicely and it now a corner stone of the party. So here is my current PC:

Male Human (Keleshite) Bard (Dawnflower Dervish) 12 Paladin 2
LG Medium Humanoid (human)
Init +11; Senses Perception +16
AC 28, touch 19, flat-footed 20 (+9 armor, +7 Dex, +1 deflection, +1 dodge)
hp 148 (2d10+12d8+73)
Fort +18, Ref +22, Will +17; +4 vs. bardic performance, sonic, and language-dependant effects
Speed 30 ft.
Melee +3 Scimitar +21/+16/+11 (1d6+10/15-20/x2)
Ranged Shortbow, Comp. (Str +1) +18/+13/+8 (1d6+1/x3)
Special Attacks bardic performance (move action) (31 rounds/day), bardic performance: countersong, bardic performance: distraction, bardic performance: fascinate (4 targets) (dc 21), bardic performance: inspire competence +4, bardic performance: inspire courage +3, bardic performance: inspire greatness (2 allies), bardic performance: soothing performance, bardic performance: suggestion (dc 21), battle dance: inspire courage +6, battle dance: inspire greatness, smite evil (1/day)
Spell-Like Abilities Detect Evil (At will)
Bard (Dawnflower Dervish) Spells Known (CL 14):
4 (4/day) Invisibility, Greater, Dimension Door, Freedom of Movement, Echolocation
3 (5/day) Haste, Glibness, Slow (DC 18), Displacement, Dispel Magic, Good Hope, Terrible Remorse (DC 19)
2 (6/day) Delay Poison, Glitterdust, Tongues, Heroism, Mirror Image, Silence (DC 17), Bladed Dash, Versatile Weapon (DC 17)
1 (7/day) Silent Image (DC 16), Grease (DC 16), Disguise Self, Cure Light Wounds, Feather Fall (DC 16), Saving Finale (DC 16), Vanish, Vocal Alteration (DC 16), Windy Escape
0 (at will) Mage Hand, Know Direction, Read Magic, Prestidigitation (DC 15), Detect Magic, Light
Paladin Spells Prepared (CL 0):
Str 13, Dex 25, Con 18, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 20
Base Atk +11; CMB +12; CMD 31
Feats Arcane Strike, Dervish Dance, Dodge, Improved Critical (Scimitar), Improved Initiative, Power Attack -3/+6, Skill Focus (Perform [oratory]), Toughness +14, Weapon Finesse
Traits Eager Performer (Perform [oratory], Terrible Remorse), Magical Knack (Bard [Dawnflower Dervish])
Skills Acrobatics +25, Bluff +25, Climb -1, Diplomacy +32, Disable Device +3, Disguise +25, Escape Artist +5, Fly +25, Handle Animal +8, Intimidate +8, Knowledge (local) +7, Linguistics +6, Perception +16, Perform (act) +25, Perform (dance) +25, Perform (oratory) +32, Ride +5, Sense Motive +32, Sleight of Hand +5, Stealth +5, Swim -1, Use Magic Device +24
Languages Common, Giant, Kelish, Orc, Thassilonian
SQ aura of good, battle dance (swift action), jack of all trades: trained skills, lay on hands (1d6) (6/day), mediative whirl (3/day), spinning spellcaster, versatile performance abilities (acting, dance, oratory), well versed
Combat Gear Potion of cure light wounds, Potion of gaseous form, Potion of protection from evil, Potion of remove blindness/deafness, Potion of remove paralysis, Potion of restoration, lesser, Wand of Barkskin (CL 12), Wand of Cure Light Wounds; Other Gear Celestial armor, +3 Scimitar, Shortbow, Comp. (Str +1), Bag of holding II (empty), Belt of physical might (Dex & Con +4), Circlet of persuasion, Cloak of resistance +2, Golembane scarab, Headband of alluring charisma +4, Ring of protection +1, Backpack (empty), Belt pouch (empty), Mirror, Sack (empty), 379 GP, 3 SP, 9 CP
Special Abilities
Arcane Strike As a swift action, add +1 damage, +1 per 5 caster levels and your weapons are treated as magic for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.
Aura of Good (Ex) The paladin has an Aura of Good with power equal to her class level.
Bardic Performance (move action) (31 rounds/day) Your performances can create magical effects.
Bardic Performance: Countersong (Su) Counter magical effects that depend on sound.
Bardic Performance: Distraction (Su) Counter magical effects that depend on sight.
Bardic Performance: Fascinate (4 targets) (DC 21) (Su) One or more creatures becomes fascinated with you.
Bardic Performance: Inspire Competence +4 (Su) +2 competence bonus for one ally on a skill check.
Bardic Performance: Inspire Courage +3 (Su) Morale bonus on some saving throws, attack and damage rolls.
Bardic Performance: Inspire Greatness (2 allies) (Su) Grants allies 2 bonus hit dice, +2 to attacks and +1 to fort saves.
Bardic Performance: Soothing Performance (Su) Allies are healed and some conditions are removed.
Bardic Performance: Suggestion (DC 21) (Sp) Make a Suggestion to one Fascinated creature.
Battle Dance (swift action) A Dawnflower dervish is trained in the use of the Perform skill, especially dance, to create magical effects on himself. This works like bardic performance, except that the Dawnflower dervish’s performances grant double their normal bonuses, but thes
Battle Dance: Inspire Courage +6 (Su) Morale bonus on some saving throws, attack and damage rolls.
Battle Dance: Inspire Greatness (Su) Grants self 4 bonus hit dice, +4 to attacks and +2 to Fort saves.
Circlet of persuasion +3 competence bonus to CHA-based checks (skills already included).
Dervish Dance Use Dex modifier instead of Str modifier with scimitar
Detect Evil (At will) (Sp) You can use detect evil at will (as the spell).
Golembane scarab Can combat golems with weapons, unarmed attacks, or natural weapons as if those golems had no damage reduction.
Jack of All Trades: Trained skills (Ex) You may use all skills untrained.
Lay on Hands (1d6) (6/day) (Su) You can heal 1d6 damage, 6/day
Magical Knack (Bard [Dawnflower Dervish]) +2 CL for a specific class, to a max of your HD.
Mediative Whirl (3/day) (Ex) Quicken a cure spell as a move action.
Power Attack -3/+6 You can subtract from your attack roll to add to your damage.
Smite Evil (1/day) (Su) +5 to hit, +2 to damage, +5 deflection bonus to AC when used.
Spinning Spellcaster (Ex) +4 bonus on concentration checks to cast spells defensively.
Versatile Performance (Acting) +25 (Ex) You may substitute the final value of your Perform: Act skill for Bluff or Disguise checks
Versatile Performance (Dance) +25 (Ex) You may substitute the final value of your Perform: Dance skill for Acrobatics or Fly checks
Versatile Performance (Oratory) +32 (Ex) You may substitute the final value of your Perform: Oratory skill for Diplomacy or Sense Motive checks
Wand of Barkskin (CL 12) Add this item to create a wand of a chosen spell.
Well Versed (Ex) +4 save vs. bardic performance, sonic, and language-dependent effects.

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So the last time someone played a bard in a campaign they were a very stereotypical bard. Great buffer, great party face, but otherwise not very useful in combat situations. I was playing around with the idea of a good gish build and I found the bard to be the best base. The Dervish Dancer archetype is very helpful since it grants the Dervish Dance, and Combat Casting feats and changes Inspire Courage into a self only battle dance that grants double the bonuses. The 2 levels of Paladin are mainly for Cha to Saves, but a once a day Smite Evil is pretty tasty too.

A couple house rules made this character bloom a little easier. Everyone is granted Weapon Finesse and when you get an attribute at levels 4,8,12, etc, you get 4 points to add to your point build or you can take the single attribute point. This allowed my to push Str up to 13 at level 4 enabling Power Attack on a scimitar. Otherwise, focus all of the attribute point increases on Dex when is the primary stat for this character. The secondary stat is Cha and tertiary is Con.

So I am the party "Tank". I get up close and personal and encourage the bad guys to hit me and not the squishy casters, archer, or rogue (although he's not that squishy). To be successful in this role I deploy two lines of defense. Since very early on in my career I've cast a lot of Mirror Images; so many in fact that my party has begun to refer to them as "The Dance Crew" (since I'm always Dervish Dancing). They have taken many hits for me and I'm very grateful for them. As I've been able to fill some problem areas in my gear I'm much less dependent on the dance crew to keep me safe. Against a single opponent who hits once or twice a round very hard, its the my go to spell, but as I like using second levels spells for Heroism, I am more and more using Displacement as my standard magical defense.

I am also now able to sport a decent armor class. It seems like I was forever AC 21 which was great in the first few levels but I was getting clobbered as we passed level 10. Now I have very stylish Celestial armor which not only allows me to use my entire Dex Bonus to AC but also grants me Fly once a day increasing my mobility. I also have a Wand of Barkskin (CL12) which last for 2 hours and pumps my AC up to 33. If we have time to buff before a tough battle I can usually beg a Shield of Faith from the Cleric putting my AC up to 36 or if I use Smite 38. My standard AC33 doesn't quite meet my target of AC=Level+20, but its close enough for now. Most mooks are not going to hit and I can use my spells on the tough opponents.

OK that covers tanking. But can I actually hurt the things I'm fighting or do they just ignore me and chase after the sort targets nearby? Well, unprepared, things look pretty grave. My damage is a mere 1d6+10. 7 from Dex to Damage and 3 from the weapon enchantment. Luckily I have access to some fairly long term buffs so as long as trouble is expected I am usually covered. Heroism grants +2 to hit and lasts 2 hours. Battle Dance is activated as a swift action and adds +6 to attack and damage. Power attack adds another +6 to damage and lastly we have Arcane Strike which consumes a swift action but after the first round of combat that's not usually a problem. Add those up and the first attacks hit bonus is +26, does 1d6+25 and has a crit range of 15-20. On a full attack I usually do 50-75 a round, more with Haste and some lucky rolls.

His big weakness on the combat side of things is no real range option and no decent Area of Effect damage. Luckily other party members are highly effective at these roles.

In terms of Saving Throws I'm in good shape. My general rule here is to keep them all at character level or higher - higher is always better. I will make an exception for Reflex but only if the character has tons of HP, and has some special movement options (Fly, Dimension Door). Reflex saves tend to be AE damage or drop you in a pit or stick you in a cage.The two level of paladin help a great deal here with the high numbers, so much so that until recently I only had a +1 cloak of resistance.

In terms of Spells, I focus on buffs, utility, and defense. There are a couple of offensive spells on the list. I well timed Slow can trivialize certain fights, and Glitterdust and Grease have a multitude of uses. I have Terrible Remorse but I've never been able to bring myself to cast it. Its just too cheesy.

Like most all bards, I make an excellent party Face. My beef here is that its only been the last few levels when that side of things has really come together and since then we've met people that shoot first and ask quesitons later. I've had to spend a few skill points of Linguistics, because your diplomacy of 35 doesn't count for as much when they have no idea what you are saying.

And that is Aasif, my Dervish Dancer. Slayer of Goblins, Giants, and just about anything else that messes with the forces good.