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On one hand, we have the Soulknife, who is able to conjure blade weaponry at will and throw them for ranged attacks. On the other, we have the Soulbow, which specializes in throwing attacks, but uses a separate projectile that has its own damage values separate from the blade. Is Soulbow really worth it? Is there really a particular advantage of taking levels in Soulbow beyond being able to apply archery feats to your attacks (e.g. Point Blank Shot and Manyshot), or would it just be better going full Soulknife and taking feats to enhance throwing ability?

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Honestly, they're both pretty awful from an optimization standpoint. –  Oblivious Sage Jan 31 '13 at 19:10
There are some questions to make my answer more precise: are you considering full soulknife/soulbow, or other variants are acceptable? What ECL are we looking at? What books are allowed? –  Jeor Mattan Jan 31 '13 at 19:57
Other variants may be accepted, ECL may vary, and pretty much any 3.5 book could be considered; I have so many of them I would probably be better off listing which ones I didn't have, if I knew what all of them were. –  Cobalt Jan 31 '13 at 23:13
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3 Answers

The main problem with Soulbow is that the projectile is always fired from mundane longbow (Complete Psionic, p36):

The bolt is identical in all ways (except visually) to an arrow shot from a composite longbow. For instance, a Medium soulbow materializes an arrow that speeds toward the specified target, and if it hits, deals 1d8 points of damage (crit ×3) plus extra damage equal to the soulbow's Wisdom modifer.

While Wis to damage is nice, inability to enchant the bow (be it weapon enchantment, oil, spell or artificer infusion) nor to fire your mind arrow from a physical bow is somehow crippling. Even bonus feats don't really offset this circumstance, which makes Soulbow to perform even worse than plain Soulknife, unless you want to focus on the archery (in which case Soulbow is better).

You also may want to consider Soulbound weapon ACF for the psychic warrior featured in this article. It allows to retain the flavor and to increase performance significantly. At the very least, consider Hidden Talent and Bonus Feats ACF featured in the same article.

If you absolutely must create an archer based on a Soulbow, make him SAD.

  • Wisdom already adds to damage
  • Wisdom to attack via Zen Archery
  • Wisdom to AC via monk, unarmed swordsage, Tashalatora feat and/or Moon-warded ranger substitution level (Dragon Magazine #340, p55, indexed)
  • Wisdom again to attacks/damage via Shiba Protector (Oriental adventures p222) if you manage not to get hit with DMG to the head
  • Wisdom to saves via Serenity feat (replaces stat for paladin's smite and divine grace) (Dragon Compendium p106)
  • Wisdom to attack via ranged smite paladin ACF and aforementioned Serenity feat
  • Use your Lucky arrows. Free attack rerolls rock!
  • whatever else strikes your fancy
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You should mention that Serenity only works if you have Paladin levels. Also, really, you should mention how the Soulknife is on its own (read: totally awful). –  KRyan Jan 31 '13 at 20:36
I suppose that "even worse than plain Soulknife part implies that Soulknife is bad quite clearly. –  Jeor Mattan Jan 31 '13 at 20:47
I did miss that line, but then I'd also argue that you're incorrect about it being worse than the Soulknife. The Soulknife is atrocious. Soulbow is at least good at something. –  KRyan Jan 31 '13 at 20:51
You'd probably want to read that line to the end. Soulbow is worse, unless the build in question is archery-focused. –  Jeor Mattan Jan 31 '13 at 20:53
I know, I guess it's the designer in me who feels that the Soulknife is worse at anything, simply because even the things it can do better than the Soulbow, it still can't do well, while the thing the Soulbow does, it actually does decently-ish. And is far better designed anyway. Anyway, you're missing an asterisk after Dragon Compendium. –  KRyan Jan 31 '13 at 21:02
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Both existing answers cover Soulbow pretty well. It’s fairly mediocre, but it has its schtick. It makes one of the better archers in the game (archery is bizarrely under-supported), and you can achieve a fairly impressive degree of Single Ability Dependency as mentioned by Jeor.

The Soulknife, on the other hand, is awful. The Soulknife’s primary schtick is “I have a magic sword.” That’s what the overwhelming majority of its class features boil down to. The problem with this is everyone else who cares to also has a magic sword. And gets far more options and powerful effects on it, to boot. In addition to their real class features.

Generally speaking, class features should not be things you can just buy. That’s a really bad sign for a class. Sure, spells can be bought (scrolls and wands), but those are limited (maximum spell levels, low Caster Level, etc.) and extremely pricey (particularly if you want to improve that Caster Level), which means you cannot really replicate what a Wizard does by buying items.

A Soulknife, though? Sure, a +9-equivalent weapon is expensive, but by the time a Soulknife has one, so does anyone else who needs one (and they probably have a +10, and with better abilities than a straight +5 enhancement bonus). And unlike your class features, which they just bought, you cannot buy their class features.

The rest of the Soulknife suffers from the same problems as the Monk, which it appears to be largely based on: random assortment of abilities, almost all of which are not worth much at all. Psychic Strike is worth particular mention: this is one of the worst sources of bonus damage in the game:

  • It applies to only one attack (unlike Sneak Attack)

  • It requires an action to charge (unlike Sneak Attack)

  • It deals an average of 4.5 per 3 levels, or 1.5 damage/level (less than Sneak Attack’s 1.75 damage/level)

  • It is useless against anything immune to Mind-Affecting attacks (which is an even larger list than the list of creatures immune to Sneak Attack)

Knife to the Soul is OK-ish, but the Rogue can do the same thing and more (without all of Psychic Strike’s problems) with the Ambush feats out of Complete Scoundrel.

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Agreed that it's poor, but is there absolutely nothing that you can buy with all that spare gold that might be useful? Obviously you can't match a full caster for batman utility but can you get more available options than another mundane melee class? –  Simon Gill Jan 31 '13 at 20:56
I must comment that the Soulknife never gets access to a +10-equivalent mind blade. –  Jeor Mattan Jan 31 '13 at 20:57
@JeorMattan Good catch... sigh That really is pathetic. –  KRyan Jan 31 '13 at 20:58
@SimonGill, yes, you can buy things with the gold you're not spending on a weapon. Just not nearly, nearly enough to make up for the lack of class features. –  Ernir Jan 31 '13 at 22:22
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The Soulbow is a significant improvement for a Soulknife intent on performing ranged combat. These are the main strengths it has:

  • The Soulbow can create and shoot multiple Mind Arrows from the very start of the PrC. A plain Soulknife must wait until level 17 to be allowed to throw more than once per round. And with ranged combat, increasing the number of attacks is a vital part of dealing more damage.
  • Mind Arrows use mechanics more similar to archery than throwing, with inherent benefits, such as a higher range increment and greater feat support.
  • The Soulbow may apply his Wisdom modifier to his Mind Arrow damage.
  • Phase arrows (admittedly a high level ability) are amazing.

The last may not be seen as such a big deal (after all, the Soulknife gets Strength), but functionally, it's one of rather few mechanically good reasons to take levels in either class. It enables you to create nearly Wisdom SAD (Single Attribute Dependent) fighting characters when combined with things like Zen Archery (Complete Warrior) and other things that can expand the use of your Wisdom modifier.

Note that neither class is very good through the end - unless you have something specific in mind (such as constantly creating a supply of Lucky arrows), both Soulknife and Soulbow are best off as dips to support a larger build. That is, if you are building a Soulbow - the Soulknife itself is not good enough to be even dipped on its own merits, in my opinion.

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Soulbow is a significant improvement on the Soulknife, full stop, IMO. Soulknives are really weak; the Soulbow is at least pretty good at something. –  KRyan Jan 31 '13 at 20:37
Not really. Soulknife can be built to resemble a passable melee combatant (ToB helps); Soulbow doesn't improve melee in any way. –  Jeor Mattan Jan 31 '13 at 20:50
@JeorMattan Sure, but Swordsages are a lot better at everything the Soulknife hopes to do with Tome of Battle than the Soulknife is. The Soulbow can be a decent archer. The Soulknife... can't really be a decent anything. –  KRyan Jan 31 '13 at 20:52
Ok then, what level would be best to start taking Soulbow then? Just ASAP? –  Cobalt Jan 31 '13 at 23:07
@Cobalt It usually is so with character-defining PrCs. I'd only take two levels of Soulknife, too, filling up the other three you have before 6th level entry with something like Swordsage, Ranger, Warblade, Psychic Warrior or Fighter. –  Ernir Jan 31 '13 at 23:45
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