I want to know if there are melee builds, i.e. characters designed to use either melee or ranged weapons in combat, that can keep up with/compete with/or be useful to competent tier 1 casters (Wizard, Druid, Erudite, Cleric, Archivist).
Also, obviously, this does not include characters from those classes choosing to buff and fight in melee or use ranged weapons ('gish' characters) - this question is solely aimed at tier 3 and below classes that fight in melee or use ranged weapons, and are as effective as well-played tier 1 casters.
This question isn't just about Combat, although this is for DnD 3.5e, so clearly Combat is a big part of it. Usefulness outside of Combat is important as well.
I want to know
- Which specific character builds can be effective in comparison to tier 1 caster classes.
- Do you have any specific experience in playing or witnessing one of these builds in an actual game, and how did it go?
I am defining 'competent caster' as 'picks and uses the best spells, employs them in an intelligent manner, may have a beneficial prestige class, doesn't lose lots of caster levels for no reason'.
To be clear, I am not asking for melee or ranged tier 3 or below characters that can challenge a Truly Optimized Wizard. The Tippy Wizard or Omnicaster, Omniscificer or Pun Pun, none of those can be challenged by anything with full BAB. That's fine.
I'm more thinking of the 'competent, intelligent, but not ridiculously optimized' tier 1 caster, who uses spells intelligently but doesn't chain metamagic and prestige class abilities to be ridiculously powerful.