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Weekly Optimization Showcase I - Inevitable Nightmare



Comincio questa presentazione con quella che è forse la costruzione che ho amato di più, un incredibile espressione di quanto sia versatile e divertente il ToB:

The Weapon You Only Have To Fire Once


Required Books: Tome of Battle, Expanded Psionics Handbook, Eberron Campaign Setting, Player’s Handbook 2, Races of Stone. Magic Item Compendium used for gear.
Unearthed Arcana used: Flaws, although there are easy ways to avoid them. Traits, but again these are optional.


A while back, I was thinking... how can I make the most *reliable* damage dealer, without charging? Charges can be foiled tactically and rely on line of sight, terrain, and placement; too often we just assume that an ubercharger always means something dies every round when realistically this won’t happen. Likewise, lots of bonus damage can still be foiled by a bad attack roll, many sources of bonus damage can be cancelled with specialized defenses (Fortification vs a crit-fisher, Uncanny Dodge vs a sneak-attacker, Elusive Target vs Power Attackers, etc.) and we all dread the natural 1. This build, which was repeatedly tested at just about every level using data fromOptimization by the Numbers, was the result of trying to bypass these problems. An alternate name for this would be the “Melee Mailman”, after the well-known direct-damage sorcerer build: it's not his job to be God (or even Lockdown) on the battlefield, it's his job to Deliver The Mail, reliably and punctually.

The basic approach involves using high speed combined with standard-action strikes, engineered to hit as often as possible even at a low attack bonus through Deep Impact. The leftover attack bonus is funneled into Power Attack, which is then used to fuel multipliers (the same basic trick as an ubercharger, but with a different choice of multipliers) to make the damage roll the stuff of nightmares. Along the way every single step is made to remove the chance of failure – rather than maximizing damage output, it minimizes damage loss and minimizes damage variance.

Since offense means nothing if the attack can’t be delivered (a lesson learned by the prevalence and successes of lockdown builds, who specialize in preventing opponents from delivering their attacks), I filled out the rest with a heavy focus on being “unstoppable”. Simple lockdown or hose tactics won’t be enough to prevent that one inevitable strike from coming. The build features high Constitution, automatic no-action HP-recovery, DR (from level 1), a pile of immunities, and good saving throws as a result, plus a few binary effects that don't allow saves as secondary attacks. This amounts to him being a passable secondary tank, but using primitive tactics (i.e. without relying on AoOs or reach).

A quick note: This build has a natural roleplay component to it despite being, largely, applied theoretical optimization. Specifically, view yourself as a warforged soldier who has been subjected to a horrific weaponization process (either by the Lord of Blades or Merrix d’Cannith; both work), turned into a prototype death machine. As a result, you don’t have much of an ego left – you view yourself as a weapon, nothing more.

The Basics

Race: Warforged. The +Con and immunities are just too good to pass up here, as is Adamantine Body. Passable alternatives include any of the bonus-feat races (reduces emphasis on flaws), Mongrelfolk (the biggest Constitution bonus (+4!) you can get at LA+0, and you don’t need a lot of Intelligence) or Elan (really helps with low-level play by enabling psi-focus at level 2, and the Aberration type is immune to a lot of effects on its own right). I don’t consider the Dragonborn template here, but it remains an option.

Ability Scores: 14/8/20/10/13/6 after racial adjustments.  This uses 32 point-buy – this is the first build I’ve posted to use the high-power array, done because we wanted to see what the real limits of damage reliability could be. Pump Constitution at every opportunity. The 13 Wisdom is non-negotiable if you’re rebuilding this using a lower point-buy (which is one area where a variant race might make this easier, since warforged have a wisdom penalty and 15s are expensive.).

Traits: Quick, Aggressive. The Quick trait covers for your heavy armor usage in exchange for a slight reduction in HP, but you have ridiculous Constitution and most of your levels have a d12 HD. Aggressive is a cheap way to boost your Initiative, which is especially important given your low Dexterity. Both perfectly fit the “living weapon” concept.

Flaws: Shaky, any other. You’re not making ranged attacks at all, so Shaky is a natural choice. If you want to really play up the “no real personality beyond that of a weapon” roleplay line, taking the Pathetic (Charisma) flaw has no real impact on your mechanics and reflects the psychological damage of the weaponization

Skill Notes: 

Max out Concentration; since this build doesn’t use prestige classes or feats that require skills beyond Concentration, your skill selection is actually rather open. I’d suggest putting enough points into Tumble and Jump to get respectable results despite your check penalties. Leftover points can go to Balance (5 ranks removes the dex-bonus denial when balancing), Autohypnosis (cross-class for most levels, but can help remove fear conditions and a few other difficult-to-ignore abilities), and Craft (any of the skills that allow for warforged repair; you may as well be able to fix yourself). Since most of your levels have 4 skill points, it shouldn’t be hard to do this, but it’ll be hard to do much beyond this.

Basic Equipment: 

I favor a scythe as your weapon. Most people look at the scythe, see the x4 critical hit, and aim for optimizing for that. I look at the scythe and see a two-handed weapon with a Gaussian distribution on its damage. (For those without a statistics background, weapons that have one die of damage have equal odds of dealing each number on the die. Weapons that have two dice have greater odds of getting results in the middle of the range – for instance, there are more possible ways to roll a 7 on 2d6 than any other number.) Furthermore, it used 2d4 instead of 2d6, which actually meant fewer possible non-average damage results (lower variance, in statistical terms) when compared to the greatsword. This was appealing because I was aiming for reliability (low-variance) rather than pure damage maximization. Although greatswords, falchions, and guisarmes/spiked chains also have these properties, those are the respective weapons of choice of uberchargers, power crit-fishers, and lockdowns, and I wanted to try somethingdifferent. (Seriously, do you know any “landmark” build that actually uses a scythe?)

Your innate slam attack is another alternative to the scythe entirely because it can’t be sundered or disarmed (meaning it can’t be stopped) – but for this to be optimal depends on counting a lone slam (which deals Str*1.5 damage, as if it were two-handed) as a two-handed attack for Power Attack. Strictly speaking this isn’t possible, as natural weapons only gain 1:1 Power Attack bonuses. I’ll include a quick digression on this in the variants section below.

Being a warforged, your other non-magical gear needs are pretty much nonexistent. Just get a kit to fix yourself up and you’ll be good.

Magical Gear Goals: 

You really need weapon accuracy and multiplying damage on your weapon (even a basic Greater Magic Weapon from your team’s wizard or cleric does the trick). You do not need anything to enhance critical hits – in fact, a crit is just one more source of variance, and this build, at 20, literally cannot score a critical hit, so ignore it. You need +Speed items as well; you will want +Concentration items to boot. Other than these basics (which aren’t really all that much to ask for), look into defensive gear and perception gear – you don’t want to be stopped by strength or guile.

You want dorjes of Hustle as well – a wand chamber in your weapon should let you hold one while still fighting two-handed. If it doesn’t (since a dorje isn’t technically a wand) they should also fit in the wand bracer warforged component, but these are harder to swap out. Dorjes of Dimension Slide certainly help your mobility at the higher levels and work the same way.

The gear that I found useful when benchmarking this build includes the following at level 20:

Weapon: +3 Diamond Mind Scythe of Collision, use a lesser truedeath (ghost touch) or greater revelation (anti-concealment) weapon crystal. Modified with a Wand Chamber.
Secondary Weapon: +1 Eager/Warning gauntlet (great Initiative boost – stacks with Aggressive trait). Modified with Wand Chamber (yes, as light weapons, gauntlets can do this.)
Armor: +5 Ghostward armor plating with a Crystal of Alacrity (it’s from the Five Virtues set; no one ever notices this but it’s perfect here. Note that Adamantine Body gives you “heavy armor” so the crystal will function with it.). (Actually, I’m pretty stumped on what the ideal armor setup would be for this guy, so I went with the basics. I’m open to suggestions.)
Feet, Torso, Arms: Fleet Warrior’s Array set (all three components are amazing for you, especially the sandals and vest. Which is odd, since normally everyone goes ga-ga over the bracers, which are the least desirable part of the set for you and mostly serve to unlock abilities in the others.). You have just enough money left over with this setup to add the properties of an anklet of translocation if you want; this can help against dedicated lockdowns.
Face: Third Eye: Concentrate
Throat, Shoulders: The usual set of defensive gear (natural armor amulet, cloak of resistance, etc; see below on your ring of protection)
Head: Scout Band
Waist: Belt of Battle
Ring 1: Ring of Entropic Deflection (remember you can add the ring of protection bonus to other rings at no extra charge, so the slot concern isn’t serious. The Entropic Deflection ring synergizes greatly with a speedy warrior like this, and helps force others into melee with you.)
Ring 2: Ring of the Diamond Mind (Action Before Thought is your usual choice, but it can also hold Emerald Razor as a backup)
Misc: Eternal Wand of Heroics (mostly used for Martial Study feats!), Dorjes of Hustle and Dimension Slide both mounted in your Wand Chambers
Plus the usual +6 boosts to Strength and Constitution, with a +4 Strength tome and a +5 Constitution tome. If you can afford to boost your Intelligence you might want to; you get nearly all the good Warblade synergy for it, although strictly speaking most of it won’t be necessary.
Leftover spare change was spent on things like Fly potions, which are cheap and effective ways of getting your speed up there that also solve the melee range problem nicely. Flight is always appreciated.

At lower levels, scaled-down versions of these items should be easy to find (just avoid the expensive stuff like the belt of battle until you can afford it and you should be good). The only alternatives that aren’t common knowledge are good low-level speed-boosting options, particularly before the Boots of Striding and Springing (what you’ll probably find before the Fleet Warrior sandals) are available. The Quickness armor enhancement is available sooner than that, as are the Acrobat Boots, but all of these provide enhancement bonuses, so sell them off as better ones are available.

The Build

Build Stub: Warblade 16 / Psychic Warrior 2 / Crusader 2.

1 – Warblade – (Battle Clarity, Weapon Aptitude) (Power Attack, Adamantine Body, Vital Recovery) (Moment of Perfect Mind, Steely Strike, Stone Bones) (Punishing Stance)*

Adamantine Body gives you VERY impressive AC and always-on DR for this level, but slows you down; the Quick trait speeds you back up. Vital Recovery with warblade recovery is a cheap way of regenerating HP, something warforged tend to be poor at in general (and I maintain the feat is underrated in its own right – even here, it’s a third of your HP recovered every encounter. Suddenly level 1 isn’t so deadly, and this feat is something you’ll use in every encounter from here on out.).  If you don’t want to showcase that aspect and are willing to trade survivability for flexibility, Adaptive Style is a decent possibility and it’s easiest to fit it in here, despite it being useless to you for a few levels.

Moment of Perfect Mind covers for the typical warrior weak spot, Stone Bones gives you a cheap way to augment your DR (and an important Stone Dragon prereq that doesn’t involve a charge). Steely Strike’s penalty to AC is offset by your heavy plating, while its +4 to attack proved to be the most mathematically optimal attack maneuver for quite a few of the early levels. The same logic went into choosing Punishing Stance.

By the way, a later level involves swapping out a maneuver for its prerequisite; if you disagree with this choice, replace Punishing Stance with Stonefoot Stance. It’s not a good choice in general due to your emphasis on mobility conflicting with its typical Stone Dragon immobility, but you may need the prereq. If you're using the build at higher levels, the difference is minimal; Punishing Stance is only a key component at the lower levels.

2 – Psychic Warrior – (Psionic Weapon) (Float)* Hide

This level looks better than it actually is. While Psionic Weapon could be used to gain a pretty powerful kill move (particularly with Steely Strike), you need to have power points to use your psionic focus, and at this level you have 0 if your Wisdom is below 14. Keep that in mind if you’re playing this guy from a low level.

The power choice, as you’ve guessed, is mostly open and useless at this level anyway; even later on you aren't likely to manifest anything. I maintain that Float should have a much longer duration (compare to Longstrider, which is a much more useful buff even before you look at the duration), but that’s just me complaining.

3 – Warblade – (Uncanny Dodge) (Adaptive Style) (Sapphire Nightmare Blade)* Hide

You won't be using it a lot, but it's still a good feat. It's otherwise the most flexible component of the build.

Sapphire Nightmare Blade is a very good maneuver, but we delayed it to 3 here because it took until this level to have a respectable chance of hitting both the Concentration-vs-AC check and the attack-vs-flat-footed attack roll. Steely Strike still remains your best offensive move against foes in this CR band, but once Deep Impact comes online that quickly changes.

4 – Psychic Warrior – (Psionic Meditation) (Synesthete) * Hide

Power points at last; you can start using Psionic Weapon to boost up your damage.

Incidentally, this level was timed the way it was to overlap a psychic warrior bonus feat with getting 7 ranks in Concentration. Psionic Meditation, a vital feat in this build, for some reason has a Concentration requirement that doesn’t overlap with a feat slot in most builds.

5 – Warblade – (Battle Ardor) (Mountain Hammer)* Hide

Mountain Hammer bypasses hardness as well as DR, meaning you can break through doors or walls to get to your targets. Incidentally, if you’re targeting an object (where AC doesn't matter), make use of that Psionic Weapon feat to slice through it that much faster. (After level 6, this is the only time you'll want to use Psionic Weapon.)

The usual choice here would have been Wall of Blades; it remains a possible alternative if you don’t like Mountain Hammer. I left it out because honestly, it’s overused, and frankly, your high HP, DR and Vital Recovery should be enough protection for now. In D&D, the best defense is often an overwhelming offense, especially after the fundamentals are covered. Besides, the Stone Dragon prereqs help if you want interesting followup maneuvers.

6 – Warblade – (Deep Impact) (Iron Heart Surge > Steely Strike) (Absolute Steel)* Hide

With this, your main trick is online. Deep Impact ensures that your maneuvers will hit (touch ACs + respectable Strength + virtually full attack bonus), which in turn means you can start using Power Attack all willy-nilly against most foes, particularly armored ones. Even as early as this level, touch ACs are usually more than 4 points lower than main ACs, so Steely Strike provides little to no benefit compared to other strikes with Deep Impact (especially Mountain Hammer, at this level).

You keep Sapphire Nightmare Blade ready (or available via Adaptive Style) to use against rogue-type monsters with high Touch ACs – SNB catches targets flat-footed and comes with a small damage bonus on its own (so you aren’t that far behind even if you don’t Power Attack). Since you aren’t expending focus on Deep Impact against these foes, you can instead expend it to “take 15” on SNB’s Concentration check, which (thanks to max ranks and your Constitution) more or less guarantees its success. On subsequent rounds you refocus and either retreat for another skirmish, or move closer to your next target.

Absolute Steel is an amazing stance in this build, and will be your resting stance for most of the game. It synergizes with every aspect of your character. Add to this a fourth readied maneuver and the I Win button on Iron Heart Surge, and you’ll be very hard to stop.

7 – Warblade – (Ironheart Aura) (Insightful Strike)* Hide

I'm a big fan of Ironheart Aura + Absolute Steel - it's simple, straightforward, and boosts just about everything you care about. You also gain your successor to Sapphire – Insightful Strike is deceptively powerful and reliable at this level, as it's expected to deal about 1/3 of appropriate foes' HP in a single slice. Furthermore, it doesn’t rely on (or benefit from) Power Attack, so you’re making it at a full attack bonus (and it bypasses the Elusive Target feat, which normally shuts down every Power Attacker hard). Basically, in any situation where you’d have been using Sapphire, you’re now using Insightful Strike. 

This is also around the level you should be able to afford dorjes of Hustle, which you can use thanks to being a psychic warrior – this lets you move, deliver a Deep Impact / Power Attack strike, and refocus all in the same round.

8 – Warblade – (Improved Uncanny Dodge) (Ruby Nightmare Blade > Sapphire Nightmare Blade)* Hide

And now Power Attack becomes king: You're adding nearly quadruple your level to your damage rolls here. On an average roll, you only need an additional +3 Concentration boost to trigger the multiplication against the maximum AC at this CR (and a +2 bonus from a masterwork tool is literally pocket change to you at this level). As a side effect, you no longer need to worry about rogue flankers – warforged immunities helped with this a bit anyway, but now nothing else that’s keyed off of flanking will slow you down. 

This is also the level you'll forever ignore Punishing Stance in favor of Absolute Steel - Punishing Stance doesn't multiply, and the enhanced speed and defenses make that Ruby Nightmare Blade more reliable.

9 – Warblade – (Battle Cunning) (Stormguard Warrior) (Lightning Recovery) * Hide

At this level you basically stop caring about damage output - if you can charge up Combat Rhythm, whatever you charge up against dies. (Since you’re certainly using Hustle + a full attack to charge up, be certain to use your slam attack for an extra touch attack while charging!). I’m not joking when I say that; using the expected number of hits from your full attack against average monster AC at this level, a Deep Impact Power Ruby Nightmare Blade Attack will dish out about 78% of the average monster’s HP in a single hit (and that’s with a conservative estimate on your weapon!), and is unlikely to miss even on its own merits. In the rare occasion where this super strike (or one of your regular Deep Impact Power Ruby Nightmare Blades, or Steady Insightful Strikes) happens to miss, such as on the occasional natural 1, you have Lightning Recovery.

If you’ve boosted your Intelligence at all, you also get a minor damage bonus while flanking, which also multiplies on Ruby Nightmare Blade; between this and Ironheart Aura, you will probably want to fight in close quarters with your team's rogue.

Speaking of your team's rogue, you can take a page from his book and consider picking up a set of Shadow Hands for Cloak of Deception at any point past here, including if your rogue happens to replace his set. These are used to make certain your attacks hit – if you’re within full-attack distance, trigger Cloak of Deception and you'll be charging up against hosed AC. This is an optional upgrade though, and I don’t assume it.

10 – Warblade – (Elder Mountain Hammer > Stone Bones) * Hide

This is the level where the swap is controversial – Elder Mountain Hammer requires two Stone Dragon maneuvers, so using it to replace one of your two Stone Dragon maneuvers is questionable. (You can bypass this by exchanging Punishing Stance for Stonefoot Stance; if you’re starting at any point past level 6 or so this won’t hurt you much.)

Elder Mountain Hammer becomes an alternative or followup to Ruby Nightmare Blade – swift to Hustle for refocus, move to close in, then Deep Impact Power Elder Mountain Hammer Attack after you’ve already expended your Ruby Nightmare Blade is a powerful combination. In fact, mathematically, Elder Mountain Hammer works out to only slightly less expected damage than an optimal RNB against most opponents in this CR band.

And on its own, Elder Mountain Hammer is just a flat upgrade to your Swiss Army Chainsaw, letting you plow through obstacles or opponents with obscene DR that much faster. As with the regular Mountain Hammer, if you’re using it against objects or other places where you don’t need Deep Impact to get a full power attack, you may as well use Psionic Weapon to chew through your target that much faster. At this level, that’s 64 damage that ignores hardness, or enough to cleave straight through a six-inch-thick wooden wall or a standard two-inch thick iron door in one slice. (By level 20, it’s an easy 90 damage, enough to shatter a six-inch-thick stone wall or two full inches of adamantine plating in a single strike.)

11 – Warblade – (Endurance) (Iron Heart Focus)* Hide

This level is a “beat” level mostly – not quite dead, but not a big boost either. Iron Heart Focus is usually better than readying all the Diamond Mind counters at once, but since your real concern is your Will save, Moment is still better on that front. At least for now.

Endurance is a crappy feat (well, with your Constitution, since warforged don’t sleep, you’re basically never tired… ever), but it’s a prerequisite to something truly amazing, which is worth getting as soon as possible. In fact, if you want, you can even move Endurance to level 7 and pick it up earlier if you want, but I find Ironheart Aura to be a better low-level investment.

12 – Warblade – (Steadfast Determination) (Iron Heart Endurance > Mountain Hammer) (Hearing the Air)* Hide

You’ve heard of “god levels”? This is one of them. Offense, defense, support and versatility all get a SERIOUS bump at this level. 
Offensively, you hit Base Attack +11 here, so that’s an extra hit on your charge-up attacks (in addition to the usual benefits, namely more fuel for the Power Nightmare Blade).
Defensively, you get Iron Heart Endurance – another good self-heal – and the ZOMG Steadfast Determination. (You could grab this feat as early as 9 if you are willing to delay Stormguard Warrior.) This feat plus your insane Constitution basically means you can forget about Moment of Perfect Mind, and you’re more or less immune to most things that rely on Fortitude now (particularly after warforged immunities are considered). 

Support-wise, you’ve got a stance which can let you find hidden opponents with ease – and since you don’t sleep, you’ll probably be using this stance while you keep watch. (It also combines very well with your Synesthete power, if you actually choose to manifest it.) 

Finally, for versatility, you get a fifth ready maneuver at this level – you literally couldn’t ask for anything more.

13 – Warblade – (Battle Skill) (Retrain Vital Recovery -> [Any Other Feat]) (Moment of Alacrity)* Hide

Used to act again after Stormguarding, Moment of Alacrity makes your nightmare blades even more reliable. Basically, you delay until the end of the round, charge up, trigger Moment, and raise your initiative to the top of the pile next round, letting you act again with a Ruby Nightmare Blade. You can also use use Moment of Alacrity + Adaptive Style to always have the perfect maneuver setup for whatever encounter you face; Moment effectively removes the action cost for Adaptive Style. (This is most useful if you suddenly realize your foe has Elusive Target or something, and you don't have an Insightful Strike readied.)

Around this point you've probably noticed that out-of-combat healing is trivial in an adventuring party, even for a warforged, and your boosted Constitution has raised your max HP so high that Vital Recovery isn't pushing its weight anymore. It's retrained at this point into ANY OTHER FEAT; I haven't decided which feat will replace it (it has to be one you qualify for at level 1). I'll edit this in once I fix the analysis.

14 – Warblade – (Avalanche of Blades > Insightful Strike) * Hide

You knew it was coming as soon as you saw Combat Rhythm discussed, didn’t you? The maximum touch AC at this CR is 14, so you can afford to lose your ability to make Insightful Strike style attacks for a while in exchange for a powerup of this magnitude.

As a nice side effect, looking at how HP progresses with CR, level 14 is the point where it gets a substantial “bump”, so you need a huge damage boost at that point to keep up. Avalanche Rhythm provides that “bump” – and then some. It’s cumbersome, but not too difficult, to figure out what the “expected” increase due to Avalanche of Blades is against a given AC, and we crunched the numbers in all the subsequent levels. We’re still talking about damage on the order of 60+% of the maximum monster HP at most CRs, as long as you keep emphasizing accuracy and multiplicative damage.

15 – Warblade – (Combat Reflexes, Robilar’s Gambit) (Greater Insightful Strike)* Hide

Greater Insightful Strike covers for where Insightful Strike used to be used – against high-touch-AC targets or against foes with Elusive Target. At this level it’ll do 78-88 damage, gear-depending, on an average check result, at full attack bonus. Without using Combat Rhythm, a Deep Impact Power Ruby Nightmare Blade Attack can be expected to do 89, so at this point GIS becomes your successor to Elder Mountain Hammer as the followup move with no real drop in damage output. (For some perspective, average monster HP at CR 15 is 224, so even without a Combat Rhythm charge-up you’re pushing 40% of the monster’s HP per strike with alarming reliability.)

Your low Dexterity and lack of reach make Combat Reflexes seem subpar, so you might be wondering why Robilar’s Gambit is there at all. Three words: Channel The Storm. If you don’t actually take any attacks of opportunity, you’re not using up AoOs against your limit, so basically, every time an opponent swings at you, you get a cumulative +4 bonus on your next attack and damage roll. Note that this is a flat bonus – and you employ Nightmare Blades. If you’re attacked three times over the course of your turn (say), you enjoy an attack increase high enough to make a full Power Attack almost as accurate as a normal attack, and get that Ruby Nightmare Blade up to 103 damage without any Combat Rhythm.

You can also use a cheap trick against stupid opponents if you do get a chance to charge up – make your touch attacks using unarmed strikes. Your high AB means they’re likely to hit even without weapon enhancements, and – most importantly – they provoke AoOs each time you touch them. If opponents are stupid enough to take the opening and swing back at you – and if you haven’t unleashed a Nightmare Blade yet, they just might! – that’s even more raw output on your Nightmare Blade. It’s almost possible to one-shot maximum-HP monsters at this CR using this trick (you tend to run out of Avalanche hits before it gets quite that strong), as if you needed more killing power.

16 – Warblade – (Diamond Nightmare Blade > Moment of Perfect Mind) * Hide

…Oh, look at that, more killing power.

Average monster HP at this level is 239. Average Avalanche Rhythm Deep Impact Power Diamond Nightmare Blade Attack damage at this level: 296. Barring a natural 1, this will trigger on an average roll against the maximum touch AC at this level if you’re using a +5 Concentration item, which is half as strong as the Third Eye you should be rocking now.

Even if you don’t get a chance to charge up, a Deep Impact Power Diamond Nightmare Blade Attack will deal 198 damage, or 83% of the average CR 16 monster HP in a single hit. It does this with zero rounds of prep time andcannot miss against these targets unless you roll two consecutive natural 1s (Lightning Recovery). If anyone decides to attack you, they only make you stronger – each strike against you amounts to +16 damage on that DNB. (Two attacks against you gets a no-prep Deep Impact Power Diamond Nightmare Blade Attack up to 96% of the expected monster HP with the same accuracy – you’re already accurate enough that a +8 to hit makes no real improvement!)

Incidentally, “[Avalanche Rhythm] Deep Impact Power Diamond Nightmare Blade Attack”? In your face, Five-Shadow Creeping Ice Enervation Strike, warblades can use wuxia word salad too!

17 – Warblade – (Battle Mastery) (Diamond Defense)* Hide

Diamond Defense is a wonderful defensive maneuver, but this is actually an offensive level in disguise: you get a sixth ready maneuver slot, and +16 base attack (for charging up Combat Rhythm if you don't want to use Avalanche).

18 – Warblade – (Steady Concentration) (Strike of Perfect Clarity > Iron Heart Focus)* Hide

Why Steady Concentration? It lets you take 10 on all Concentration checks.  Your Concentration modifier is high enough to basically skip the first step on your Nightmare Blades now. Similarly, it allows you to refocus without wasting time at the table rolling. If you're willing to delay Robilar's Gambit or Steadfast Determination until this level, you can move this feat earlier if you'd like, since it removes the variability of a low Concentration roll (although statistically the results are almost identical).

Diamond Defense made Iron Heart Focus more or less redundant, so it’s replaced in favor of Strike of Perfect Clarity, another low-variance maneuver. Furthermore, if you happen to roll a critical hit, Strike of Perfect Clarity is scary indeed. (Unless your DM argues that flat-damage bonuses from maneuvers doesn’t multiply, as one sentence in the tome suggests.)

That said, it pales behind Diamond Nightmare Blade except on a crit: normal/critical damage for DNB is 230/402.5, SoPC is 157.5/630. (SoPC actually comes out ahead on expected damage if you’re attacking touch ACs, but since this build is all about reliability and low variance, I still prefer to avoid relying on critical hits, so SoPC becomes your new followup move.)

You qualify for Time Stands Still as well, but since you’d only ever use that to charge up Combat Rhythm (this isn’t a full-attack build), we can compare it to Avalanche of Blades; while TSS slightly edges out Avalanche for that purpose, the gains are marginal if the monster touch ACs are very low, and most of the high-CR monsters have very low touch ACs indeed (like, 9 on the great wyrm red dragon – TSS gives just +9 expected rhythm damage over Avalanche in this case). Since you don’t get any other maneuver swaps in this build to drop Avalanche, TSS becomes more or less redundant, and the ability to use a very powerful followup move as a standard action more than outweighs the redundancy. Thus, we took Strike of Perfect Clarity.

If you’re bummed about not getting Time Stands Still, did you see the Eternal Wand of Heroics that I always suggest for these builds? Martial Study is a fighter feat, and you certainly meet the requirements for that maneuver now. (Eternal Blades aren’t the only ones who can play the “rabbit out of a hat” game with high-level maneuvers.) However, that's more of a desperation trick, since there's plenty of chances to miss on two full attacks that you can't mitigate the way you can on a single strike.

19 – Crusader – (Steely Resolve 5, Furious Counterstrike) (Entangling Blade, Douse the Flames, Lion’s Roar, White Raven Tactics, Mountain Avalanche) (Martial Spirit)* Hide

All of these provide flat bonuses and binary effects where possible (i.e. "-20 penalty to speed, no save", "cannot make AoOs" etc), and your opponents can’t really do anything about them, period. Mountain Avalanche is used to make sure even opponents can’t block your movement between yourself and your final target. All that said, realistically, the only ones you’re actually likely to use are the boosts – and they’re good boosts, too. Even then, you have lots of competition for your swift action from Hustle and Dimension Slide, though. 

Martial Spirit is the best first-level crusader stance if you lack Reach or Charging, and interestingly it allows you to heal yourself or others on Combat Rhythm charge-ups – even outside of an encounter. Call it Epic Level Massage Therapy if you will.

20 – Crusader – (Indomitable Soul) (Aura of Perfect Order)* Hide

You just barely manage to squeeze this in – your crusader IL hits 11 just in time for their second stance, which isn’t bound by the first-level-stances-only clause that plagues level 1 martial adepts. Why is this stance so important? See the snapshot.


With the gear listed above, this is a bit of a beast. We’re talking 349 expected HP (or 369 if you don’t use the Quick trait), base attack +19 (using Greater Magic Weapon, melee +35 to +37 due to the martial discipline enhancements; damage is 2d4+20. You have Lightning Recovery if you miss), saves of +35/+16/+24 (no Fortitude failures on a natural 1; you’ve got Diamond Defense, and Iron Heart Surge if you fail), a Concentration modifier of +47, and a speed of 55 or 65 (stance-dependent) while wearing heavy armor (approximate AC 34 or so; it's easy to get it higher) with some basic damage reduction and self-healing, plus Improved Uncanny Dodge (you need to have 20 rogue levels to flank this guy) and warforged immunities. Your initiative modifier is +10 or so (AFB as I type, I forget the exact size of the eager/warning/aggressive bonus), with no wasted Dexterity (i.e. maxing Dex for Initiative while wearing heavy armor is less than perfectly productive). You also have the highest possible offensive values with the lowest possible variance and the lowest possible chance of failure. 

Let me give you an example – and to simplify things, we’ll assume less than this gear.

The “average” values for a CR 20 opponent are HP 409, AC 37, touch AC 8. Take a standard scythe with Greater Magic Weapon, dorjes of Hustle and Dimension Slide in wand chambers (scythe and gauntlet), the +Strength/+Con items/tomes, and no other items (this gives some leeway for less than perfect gear in the example below). This gives you a final melee attack bonus of +31 (2d4+15 base damage) and +37 Concentration.

Open up with Hustle, move in via either Tumble or Dimension Slide (or, if you’re already in melee range, use Moment of Alacrity to speed this all up). Initiate Avalanche+Combat Rhythm. You'll charge up to the stuff of nightmares (I estimate +43 expected damage, essentially as much as Power Attack). This estimation doesn’t include Aura of Perfect Order, which can make it slightly higher if you trigger it at the right time.

On the next round, use your move action to maintain melee distance; chances are you out-speed him and can easily reach him, and if you can’t, you still have Dimension Slide in a dorje. If you aren’t in Aura of Perfect Order, switch to it now; if you are, you can save your swift for Lion’s Roar or White Raven Tactics later. Initiate Diamond Nightmare Blade: Taking 10 on Concentration hits AC 47 without the need for a roll. Expend focus for Deep Impact to target touch AC, then Power Attack for -19 and make your attack. Use Aura of Perfect Order on the attack roll to auto-hit touch AC 26 (no chance of a miss). You'll deal 404 damage in one hit on an average die roll (which happens more often than not on Gaussian weapons), instantly reducing your opponent to the single digits. The grand total damage range on this strike is 392-416, by the way; there’s virtually no way to escape this without getting both ACs above those thresholds. Note that you haven’t actually rolled any dice beyond the 2d4 on your scythe – if your opponents have lower than regular AC 47, touch AC 26, you will be dealing this much damage, guaranteed. And, let’s be honest, that describes alot of opponents.

If you don't have the chance to charge up Combat Rhythm, you don't need to - Diamond Nightmare Blade will still deal 232 points of damage (57% of the average target HP) with no special preparations, and with the same guarantees on your attack. (i.e. Nightmare Blade multiplication will always trigger on ACs up to 47, and the attacks will always hit touch ACs up to 26 with no chance of missing and no rolls made at all.) Without any charge-up prep time, your other super moves will deal 158.5 (Strike of Perfect Clarity), 117 (Ruby Nightmare Blade), and 94 (Greater Insightful Strike, taking 10; this will realistically deal exactly 114 with a Third Eye), so you’re not hurting on the followup either. 

You can use a swift to regain psionic focus through Hustle, spend your normal move action to keep up with your opponent or close in on another (you have a high tumble score despite heavy armor, and have a Dimension Slide dorje), and still use your standard action to initiate any of those followup strikes. All of them are guaranteed to hit touch AC 26 without even rolling for an attack thanks to Aura of Perfect Order. If your foes have a touch AC higher than this, you’ll immediately know, and can simply throttle off the Power Attack a bit. (Strike of Perfect Clarity is the least reliant on Power Attack for damage since it has no multiplier, which (combined with its faster initiation time) explains why it edged out Time Stands Still.)  If your foe has Elusive Target or a ridiculously high touch AC, Greater Insightful Strike will auto-hit ACs up to 42 without an attack roll as well without losing any damage. During all of this, you remain fully mobile (no reliance on full round actions), have none of the limitations on your movement that you would have if you were charging, and have a good array of defenses (unlike a typical shock trooper) and immunities that prevent opponents from slowing you down or stopping you.

All of the numbers in the preceding paragraphs are made with less than ideal equipment as well. If you have the full loadout listed above, it becomes even deadlier (largely because the weapon is more accurate (better charge-up potential) and has Collision which, unlike many damage enhancements, multiplies on your Nightmare Blades.)

Overall Strengths: 

Very high, reliable damage output at every level of the build, even before the basic trick appears (somewhere between levels 6 and 8, around the same time most uberchargers come online). Very mobile, especially for a warrior. Quite durable, able to survive on the front lines like a boss despite having an offensive focus rather than a defensive one. Not incredibly equipment-reliant (especially for a warrior); what gear you need can (optionally) be made into un-sunderable, un-disarmable, un-pick-pocketable warforged components instead of standard equipment.

Overall Weaknesses: 

Apart from the extreme emphasis on melee tactics?. The build doesn’t have a lot in the way of perception except what its gear can provide, hence the Scout Band. (Other than gear, it relies on Hearing the Air and, possibly, Synesthete to locate hidden foes, but lacks the skills to truly rustle out stealthy targets). It lacks Reach as written, but that can easily be changed (the guisarme has exactly the same properties that made the scythe desirable, but was skipped in favor of the scythe because the build lacks any of the infrastructure to capitalize on the reach the guisarme provides.) Much of its defense is reliant on UA flaws. As with all warriors, it’s reliant on equipment for special mobility, particularly flight and teleportation. Bordering on theoretical optimization, so some DMs may have issues with it. Highly, highly dependent upon psionic focus to work, yet only has two power points by default; any effect that can artificially deplete these can seriously cripple the onslaught (he’ll have to resort to Greater Insightful Strike to keep the reliability up, or else resort to the typical “let’s guess the right number for power attack” game, which goes against the theme.)


If you want to go without flaws, drop Robilar’s Gambit and consider if you want Vital Recovery or not. (You’ll need to delay Power Attack in any case, which is annoying, but workable. If you switch to a bonus-feat race, you can skip Adamantine Body in favor of actual armor and fit both in instead, or exchange Vital Recovery for Adaptive Style earlier.) If you’re dropping Robilar’s, you don’t need Combat Reflexes either; the best remaining feat on the warblade list is Blind-Fight (for greater reliability).

If you rule that a single natural attack (those made with 1.5x Strength on the damage roll) counts as two-handed, you have a better option than a scythe, actually - a warforged battlefist. This can’t be disarmed or sundered the way a normal scythe could, and the enhancements on it apply to both unarmed strikes and your slam attack. If you use the “bait” trick with unarmed strikes when charging up Combat Rhythm, this makes it that much more accurate. It also means that, as a warforged, you pack no particularly visible equipment – you literally are a living weapon. 


Ebbene, eccola qui: 400+ danni senza tirare un solo dado (a parte i 2d4 della falce) che entrano sempre per avversari con CA minore di 47 e a contatto minore di 26, considerando un equipaggiamento minimale. Non mi sembra male... Pareri? Opinioni? Difetti che non ho notato?


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