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I need to build a tank for a party limited to the classic four: cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard. He should have following abilities:

  1. Prevent other party members from harm in direct martial confrontation
  2. Thriftily spend HP while drawing the focus of foes, to ease the party healer's job
  3. Kill or lock down at least one enemy per encounter

All three goals are contradictory to each other. I put them in order of priority. I would be pleased to trade off points in a lower priority in favor of improving a higher one.

The second and the third tasks have pretty obvious ways to be achieved. But I could not find useful traits or skills that would help to hold off foes from weak party members. Enemies can always ignore moderate damage from me (I'm not a damage dealer) and pass by me to attack other party members.

The Fighter has a great access to feats, I can take several chains of them. They would be of use to my personal offensive and defensive abilities but not for protecting others.

Most source books are allowed.

Party is moderate about power playing. In fact I'm the only one who concerned

Yes, it has to be a fighter. The classes are set by game master. He have a nice background story for them and create module for them specially. 9-12 levels. Just normal party, rogue, wizard, cleric and fighter.

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Answer the question in answers. –  mxyzplk Aug 6 at 2:25
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What level cap? Are prestige classes allowed? –  briddums Aug 6 at 2:47
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Is multiclassing allowed? If so, to what extent? (Consider that you may get answers that say to go fighter 1, then spend all your other levels in another unrelated class.) –  doppelgreener Aug 6 at 4:42
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Your desires are fundamentally incompatible with D&D 3.5. The fighter class is terrible, and moreover no martial class in the game, even the good ones, are capable of protecting other party members particularly well. There are (almost) no aggro mechanics in the game, and it is all too easy for enemies to just ignore mundane characters and go straight for the real threats. –  KRyan Aug 6 at 13:54
    
I am still puzzled by the fact that fighter levels are required for backstory reasons. The fighter is the most generic martial class in the game—it has nothing that separates it from any other martial class. Do people know what class they are in this world, or something? –  Arkhaic Aug 7 at 16:37

6 Answers 6

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Taking a level or two of fighter is a mark of desperation for feats.

Taking more just doesn’t make sense; a feat per level is weak, but if you desperately need feats it can be the right choice. A feat every other level is worthless.

I’m going to answer based on pure fighter, but only after the caveat that I’m taking this as an arbitrary restriction that I would never recommend holding to.

The Defender Role

This is a concept from 4e, where fighters and other Defender classes could meaningfully protect allies and punish enemies for ignoring them.

3.5 does not have any such concept. If you are big, hardy, impossible to hit, with tons of HP, enemies will ignore you and go straight for the real threats. You have almost no way of stopping them from doing it; only magic does that at all well. Tripping is the best bet you have, but it’s not great.

Alternate Class Features, Variant Classes, Substitution Levels

Alternate class features are the only hope here; otherwise, there really is nothing that the fighter has to offer. I suppose you’d get Weapon Supremacy just to say you had.

Dungeoncrasher

This ACF from Dungeonscape replaces your 2nd-level and 6th-level bonus feats with the ability to deal massive damage by slamming people into walls with Bull Rush.

Zhentarim Soldier

These substitution levels from the Champions of Valor web supplement gives you Skill Focus (intimidate) at Fighter 3, extends the duration of the demoralize effect of Intimidate at Fighter 5, and allows you to demoralize as a swift action at Fighter 9. This costs nothing (excepting that you have to keep taking fighter levels, which as discussed is actually a very high cost), and the 9th-level one is actually good.

Between these two, you can almost justify 9 levels of fighter, since the swift-action demoralize is a fairly solid ability. Or, would be if everything and its brother didn’t ignore Fear effects...

Tactics

Fighters have access to three good tricks, more or less. As a pure fighter, you might as well attempt to do all of them, and maybe toss in some other ideas.

Charging

Barbarians do it better, but it is what it is. Wants Power Attack, Shocktrooper (Complete Warrior), Leap Attack (Complete Adventurer), and Battle Jump (Unapproachable East). Really, really wants at least one level of barbarian and warblade, but whatever. Lance is the weapon of choice if you go mounted, otherwise any two-handed weapon is best. Using a lance kind of pigeonholes you into not tripping, so just going with the trip weapons is probably better.

Dungeoncrashing

Only available with the ACF, this mostly relies on Bull Rush, so Power Attack and Improved Bull Rush are necessary. Shocktrooper (Complete Warrior) is crucial for the directional Bull Rushes (you can angle people as you push them), while Knockback (Races of Stone) allows you to Bull Rush on every attack rather than as a standard action. Weapon doesn’t matter for Bull Rush.

Intimidating

Only viable with the Zhentarim Soldier levels, and even then, a disturbingly large selection of foes will outright ignore it. Wants Imperious Command (Drow of the Underdark), as well as the Never Outnumbered skill trick (Complete Scoundrel). Max ranks in Intimidate, don’t completely dump Charisma.

With the Fighter 9 replacement from Zhentarim Soldier, lets you spend a swift action on the first round to attempt to demoralize everyone you threaten, and if successful leaves them cowering for 1 round. Cowering opponents are extremely vulnerable, so this is a really good trick when it works. After the first round, you can continue to use swift actions to demoralize, but only against single targets.

Unfortunately, Imperious Command requires Cha 15. Unless you roll for stats, and roll absurdly well, that’s just not going to happen until very late in the game, because Cha is your least, or at best second-least, important ability score. The only thing it improves is your Intimidate check, which is mostly about your ranks and bonuses from other sources, not your Cha.

Also, Tome of Battle has a new mechanic for Intimidate, called Duel of Wills. It’s a thing you can just choose to do, for free, at the start of combat. Since you’re pumping Intimidate and most don’t, you get some free bonuses, though they are small and fleeting. Still, free.

Initiating

Martial Study and Martial Stance from Tome of Battle are fighter bonus feats. You’re limited to only three of the former, which sucks, but there are some great options.

Obviously, you would be massively better off just taking levels of crusader or warblade.

For maneuvers, shadow walk would be awesome, iron heart surge and white raven tactics are excellent, charging minotaur strike fits in well with dungeoncrashing, etc. Defensive rebuke is one of the very-few true aggro-drawing abilities in the game. There are more. For stances, thicket of blades makes it much harder to get around your attacks of opportunity, and that is really important, because your true purpose here is...

Tripping

The bread and butter of any lockdown build. Combat Expertise, Combat Reflexes, and Improved Trip are necessary; Knock-down and Stand Still are solid choices. You need a weapon with both reach and tripping ability: the guisarme or spiked chain are your best options.

This is how you really lock down a fight. Intimidate’s a nice trick when it works, but it often won’t, and charging and/or dungeoncrashing are usually much more about damage than they are controlling the battlefield.

Tripping means anyone who wants to get past you, has to do it very carefully. You can trip on your attacks of opportunity, which tends to prompt another attack of opportunity when they get up – the AoO happens before they actually get up, though, so trippping at that point has no effect and they still can get up afterwards.

Races

You want to be big and strong, but you don’t want to be stupid because you need that Int 13 for Combat Expertise. Two levels of barbarian would get you around that, and massively improve your life, but oh well. At least it ensures you’ll have skill points for Intimidate and Jump.

Also, when you’re taking levels in a class as weak as fighter, level adjustment may be worthwhile. It’s usually awful, but maybe LA +1 can get us something good...

Goliath

Oh yeah, it can. Goliaths are from Races of Stone, and have both LA +1 and the Powerful Build ability, treating them as a size category larger for a lot of purposes (mostly everything except space and reach, which is a shame but oh well). That means +4 on Bull Rush and Trip checks, and slightly higher damage. The +4 is the important bit.

They also get +4 Strength, −2 Dexterity, and +2 Constitution. The −2 Dexterity definitely does hurt, but it’s rare to make more than 2-3 attacks of opportunity in a round, so you can survive it. The +4 Strength and +2 Constitution are big helps, though the Constitution is misleading because you also have one fewer level to get HP from.

Mountain Movement, the ability to always count as running for jumps, is also useful to you. It will allow you to trigger Leap Attack much more easily. If you can get it, though you probably can’t without a warblade dip, sudden leap would also benefit.

Half-minotaur

From Dragon vol. 313, this LA +1 template makes you actually Large, which means you get space and reach, which are very, very good for improving your threatened area.

Ability scores are Strength +4, Constitution +2, and Intelligence −2. Again, the hit to Intelligence hurts, but probably even less than Dexterity: you just need to make 13. Even if you start with Int 14 and put your +1 there, you can probably work with it.

Since this is a template, it can be applied to any of your other good choices. Going LA +2 as a half-minotaur goliath is interesting, but probably a bad idea.

Dragonborn warforged

Dragonborn is an LA +0 template from Races of the Dragon, which is cool because, hey, no LA. It also replaces the majority of your racial features, with the exceptions of ability score changes, subtypes, and movement modes. The subtype thing is important.

The dragonborn applies +2 Constitution, −2 Dexterity. Again, the Dexterity hurts.

What do we get for it? A few random things, nothing too special, but we get to choose a Draconic Aspect. Heart and Mind are worthless (a weak breath weapon or minor bonuses to select Will saves), but the third option is Wings. This is the correct choice; a fighter tends to have really, really big problems getting into the air, and this straight-up solves that problem.

Meanwhile, the race you choose usually doesn’t matter that much, since you don’t get to keep much of it. The warforged race is an exception, because most of their racial features aren’t features of the race, but rather of their Living Construct subtype, which Dragonborn lets them keep. It’s cheesy as hell, but you’re a freaking single-classed fighter, it’s OK.

Warforged offer a smorgasbord of immunities (poison, sleep, paralysis, disease, nausea, sickened, fatigue, and exhaustion) that will make your life better. It also means you don’t have to eat, drink, or sleep, which is nice. And you get +2 Constitution, while losing on −2 Wisdom, −2 Charisma – two ability scores, but your two least important.

Combined, you’re looking at all those immunities, flight, −2 Dexterity, +4 Constitution, −2 Wisdom, −2 Charisma.

And you could throw half-minotaur on there for +4 Strength, −2 Dexterity, +6 Constitution, −2 Intelligence, −2 Wisdom, −2 Charisma, as well as Large size and some other minor benefits. This is probably your best choice.

Human

Just saying, it’s viable. Think you have more than enough feats? Guess again; you’re going to need everything you can get. True, though, things you can’t get from feats – like size and flight – are more useful.

Conclusion

Half-minotaur dragonborn warforged fighter 20, with the Dungeoncrasher ACF and Zhentarim Soldier substitution levels. The penalties to Dex and Int mean some awkward choices on ability scores; you may hold off on Combat Reflexes until later, when you can get some gloves of dexterity to make better use of it. Late game, even the 36,000 gp for the +6 version is quite affordable.

A 26 PB might be (base) 14 in each of Str, Dex, and Con, and then 15 in Int, while leaving 8 in Wis and Cha. Having −2 to Will saves (and Intimidate checks, but that matters less) is bad here, but you don’t have a lot of option. The solution I’m using will be Steadfast Determination from Player’s Handbook II, to switch Will to using Constitution. At 32 PB, I’d push Cha to 14, for something like this (after racial mods):

  • Str 18
  • Dex 12
  • Con 20
  • Int 13
  • Wis 6
  • Cha 12

Not exactly amazing for LA +1, but we have a lot of requirements. As it is, we’re going to have to stick 1 into Cha from levels, and get a amulet of charisma +2, before we can get Imperious Command.

Other ability score bonuses should go to Strength.

If you are literally stopping at 12th, it may be worthwhile to just dump either Dex or Cha and give up on either Combat Reflexes or Imperious Command. Dumping Cha is the better choice, though it makes less use of your few unique features.

Anyway, we are a Large Monstrous Humanoid, with lots of immunities, and from level 1 can glide. At level 6, that will become flight. The LA does not count towards that, sadly.

We get 3 skill points per level. Intimidate, Jump, and, I don’t know, Handle Animal can be our skills. Cross-class ranks in Balance, Tumble, or Use Magic Device might be better, maybe.

All of your tricks are weak at the beginning of the game; you only get one AoO, your Intimidate ranks are barely beating your penalty to Cha and you can’t get Imperious Command, and dungeoncrash doesn’t really shine until Fighter 6. Still, the Fighter 2 version of dungeoncrash is solid enough, so that’s probably where you start:

  1. LA +1, Power Attack

  2. Improved Bull Rush

  3. Dungeoncrasher I

  4. Skill Focus (Intimidate), Endurance – you are literally immune to everything the Endurance feat helps with. See if you can get the DM to waive it as a requirement for Steadfast Determination, it would help massively.

  5. Combat Expertise

  6. Extended Demoralize, Never Outnumbered (skill trick)

  7. Dungeoncrasher II, Steadfast Determination

  8. Improved Trip

  9. Swift Demoralize, Imperious Command, absolute last level where fighter gets anything meaningful

  10. Knockback

  11. Shock Trooper, Combat Reflexes

  12. Knock-down

  13. Martial Study (foehammer)

  14. Martial Stance (thicket of blades)

  15. Leap Attack

Yes, you get nothing at 20th level. Sorry.

For equipment, I recommend:

  • +1 guisarme, 4,309 gp – it reaches, it trips, it’s everything you want without burning another feat on a spiked chain.

  • masterwork spiked gauntlet, 305 gp – just so you can attack inside your reach, if necessary.

  • +1 full plate, 3,650 gp – you have heavy armor proficiency and your Dex is meh. Get it.

  • tooth of Savnok, 2,000 gp – eliminates the movement penalties from armor. You’re required to never take off any armor you wear, but with the Endurance feat, you never have to. (Tome of Magic)

  • amulet of charisma +2, 4,000 gp – to enable Imperious Command, sadly.

  • belt of battle, giant’s strength +2, 16,000 gp – extra actions. Also, bonuses to initiative and Strength. (Magic Item Compendium, both for belt of battle and the rules that allow it to also have +2 enhancement to Strength)

  • third eye clarity, 3,000 gp – prevent or remove a lot of nasty effects, including daze and stun. (Magic Item Compendium)

  • anklet of translocation, 1,400 gp – quick, cheap mobility. You need it. (Magic Item Compendium)

That’s about 35,000 gp. You have 36,000 gp for 9th-level WBL, so that works out pretty well. Other good options include a belt of healing or scout’s headband. The fearsome armor property from Drow of the Underdark is a bit wasted on you (you already have swift-action intimidate, so the move-action version isn’t that useful), but +5 to intimidate isn’t awful. Getting gloves of dexterity would be nice but you neither have the money nor the feats.

Also, be sure to keep abreast of the usual answers to the typical problems that your Living Construct subtype and/or wings don’t already cover.

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@blackcoat ...this is a fighter? This describes a single-class fighter. And it goes up to 20 because the 9-12 level range was edited and I missed it. –  KRyan Aug 6 at 17:15
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@blackcoat I'm not seeing what part of this isn't fighter related. –  Tridus Aug 6 at 18:45
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I don't see much reason to genericize Zhentarim Soldier any more than, say, an evil cleric. It's obviously DM's call, but for me you might just as well house rule whatever you want your "fighter" to be without pretending to follow some rules. The truth is, I don't get this kind of optimization. –  burlap Aug 7 at 19:21
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@burlap Because there is no reason why "the ability to demoralize as a swift action" should be a secret art available only to the members of a single group; that's absurd. It's not even some secret magic, it's literally just that they're scary. Why was it exclusively associated with the Zhentarim to begin with? In short, the fluff on it was weak to begin with and I can do better, which is saying something, so yeah, there's no good reason not to refluff it. –  KRyan Aug 8 at 1:21
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@burlap Nothing says you have to be visibly a member of the Zhentarim, or that the target(s) have to be aware of your membership or even who they are, so your argument falls flat. Even if that were the case, it’s still no reason why this ability should be exclusively theirs. And finally, we are talking about one of the weakest classes in the game, and the one with by far the fewest unique selling points. Why would you want to take one of those few things away, particularly when doing so leaves three more dead levels? –  KRyan Aug 8 at 12:24

It probably won't be the way you want it done, but

A Fighter Can Do What You Want

Seriously, as per KRyan's answer, having to play a fighter who stays a fighter when other players are playing a cleric (who casts spells), a wizard (who casts spells), and a rogue (who has class features and important skills, including the class skill Use Magic Device) is... unfortunate. That fighter's game is fundamentally different from everyone else's, and it's just not as interesting. (And while I know that a good role-player can role-play a sandwich, this is primarily a mechanical discussion. A good DM will totally make the fighter's life interesting narratively.)

If he does nothing else the fighter can protect the party, but not by taking hits for hits party members (that's usually a prestige class's job, like, for example, the acceptable-for-3-levels devoted defender (SF 13-14)) and not by forcing foes to fight him (e.g. by employing the the subpar feat Goad (MH 26), which even when used successfully allows the foe too many options).

No, instead the fighter protects the party by keeping his friends reasonably close and making the area he threatens so big and so dangerous that foes suffer horribly for existing nearby. Here's how.

Race & Ability Scores

The character needs the feats so he starts human (but see Size, below), and if using the elite array has ability scores of Str 14, Dex 15, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 10, Cha 8, increasing Dexterity at levels 4, 8, and 12.

Size

The character needs to be at least Large. The character needn't be this way all the time, but he needs to be able to become so in combat without wasting actions.

  • Load into a ready-drink helm (Dragon #294 80-1) (150 gp; 2 lbs.) 3 potions of enlarge person [trans] (PH 226-7) (1st-level spell at caster level 1) (50 gp; 0.1 lbs.) and maybe--if allowed1 and available2--an emergency potion of giant size [trans] (CAr 109) (7th-level spell at caster level 19) (6,650 gp; 0.1 lbs.). The helm holds 6 potions in pairs;3 the character can take a free action to drink 1 or both potions in a pair and take a move action to switch to a different pair of potions.
  • Have a Wiz20 cast on the character the 8th-level Sor/Wiz spell polymorph any object [trans] (PH 263), adventuring thereafter as a firbolg (MM2 101-2), war troll (MM3 181), or whatever's allowed and awesome that permits the character to continue to meet his feats' prerequisites. This costs only 1,600 gp, but, as a merely permanent effect, remains vulnerable to the spell dispel magic [abjur] (PH 223) et al. Purchase an arcane scroll of polymorph any object (DMG 241) (3,000 gp; 0 lbs.) in case the effect is dispelled.

Weapon

The rope dart (Dragon #319 73) (3 gp; 4 lbs.) is an exotic finesse-able two-handed weapon with a 15 ft. reach that can strike adjacent foes. Large creatures with reach weapons threaten vast areas. The character uses it.

The character's rope dart incorporates the weapon modification wand chamber (Du 30, 34) (100 gp; 0 lbs.). No, I don't know how. O, and, from Complete Scoundrel 109-10, the character has 2 boot blades (each 4 gp; 0.5 lbs.), 2 elbow blades (each 4 gp; 1 lb.), 2 knee blades (each 20 gp; 2 lbs.), and 2 sleeve blades (each 4 gp; 1 lb.)--also all with wand chambers. No, the character might not need them all yet, but he will.

Feats

The character takes the following feats at the listed levels:

  1. Combat Reflexes (PH 92), Combat ExpertiseB (PH 92), Improved TripB (PH 96).
  2. Exotic Weapon Proficiency (rope dart (Dragon #319 73))B (PH 94)
  3. Supernatural Instincts (FC2 85)
  4. Close-quarters FightingB (CW 97)
  5. (No feat available.)
  6. Occult OpportunistB (Dragon #340 87), Power Attack (PH 98)
  7. (No feat available.)
  8. Martial Study (Crusader 1 or Crusader 2 Devoted Spirit maneuver)B (ToB 31-2)
  9. Mage Slayer (CAr 81)
  10. Martial Stance (Crusader 3 Devoted Spirit maneuver thicket of blades [stance] (ToB 61))B (ToB 32)
  11. (No feat available.)
  12. Clever OpportunistB (DrU 49), Close-quarters Defense (Dragon #309 110)

With this combination of feats, foes within the character's threatened area can't cast defensively via the feat Mage Slayer and provoke an attack of opportunity for making a dumb decision as normal via the feat Combat Reflexes and also provoke an attack of opportunity when...

  • employing a supernatural ability (e.g. a dragon's breath weapon) via the feat Supernatural Instincts;
  • starting a grapple versus the character--even if the foe possesses a special ability like improved grab--via the feat Close-quarters Fighting;
  • attempting to turn or rebuke undead, casting a spell modified by the feat Quicken Spell (PH 98) or a spell with a casting time of 1 swift action, dismissing a spell, and redirecting an active spell via the feat Occult Opportunist;
  • attempting any movement--possibly even movement taken while making a Tumble skill check, although this is point is hotly debated--via the stance thicket of blades; and
  • attempting to move into the character's space, making an unarmed attack versus the character, starting a grapple with the character, attempting to bull rush the character, attempting to sunder the character's weapon, and attempting to sever the character's silver cord with a silver sword,4 even if the foe has an ability that normally prevents attacks of opportunity due to that action, via the feat Close-quarters Defense, but the character takes such an attack of opportunity at a -10 penalty to the attack rolls.

Thus, while a foe is in the character's threatened area, nearly every significant action a foe takes except standard and full attacks provokes an attack of opportunity from the character. Upon that provocation, the character makes a trip attempt. If successful, the character makes a free attack versus the tripped foe via the feat Improved Trip.

Alternatives

The feat Close-quarters Fighting isn't absolutely necessary--it's an extremely situational feat and one that probably means the character's boned anyway. Throwing oneself in the Otyugh Hole (CS 151-2) (3,000 gp; 0 lbs.) for the feat Iron Will (PH 97) therefore meeting the prerequisites of the feat Hardened Criminal (City of Stormreach 95) may allow the character to take 10 on Use Magic Device skill checks--ask the DM. I'd allow it for such a character.

Further, it's unlikely that any but the most generous DM will permit all of the listed feats, no matter how much the character needs them. Here are alternatives.

The feats Knock-down (DD 51) and Stand Still (XPH 51) aren't especially useful for this build but are options. Consider them if the listed feats are unavailable.

Once the DM sees the character in play he may realize the best foe for the character is a mirror monster who made similar choices. If that happens, upon gaining levels, the character puts 8 additional skill points into the skill Perform (dance) (eventually having 5 ranks) and, instead of the feat Clever Opportunist, takes the feat Elusive Dance (Dragon #333 88). The character's mobility and tactical options will suffer without the feat Clever Opportunist, but he can then reach his mirror foe without incident. In fact, the feat Elusive Dance is so useful against this build it might be worth it for each party member to have 5 ranks in the skill Perform (dance) so each can benefit from the feat via a wand of heroics [trans] (SpC 113) (2nd-level spell at caster level 3) (90 gp/charge; 0 lbs.) should the character should fall under a foe's control.

Finally, the feats Animal Devotion (CC 54) and Travel Devotion (CC 62) are awesome, the former for its versatility (including the, albeit limited, ability to fly) and the latter for movement as a swift action (while the character's swift action is often better spent--see below--it remains a good trick). Also, rearranging skill points allows the character at level 12 to take the feat Planar Touchstone (PlH 41).

Skills

At level 9 the character has 48 skill points, which are spent in the following ways:

  • Knowledge (arcana) [cc], as a prerequisite for the feat Occult Opportunist, gets 10 skill points therefore 5 ranks.
  • Perform (dance) [cc] gets 2 skill points therefore 1 rank; see above. Alternately, either pick a skill trick for which the character qualifies (I like Nimble Stand (CS 88), y'know, for irony) or spend skill points on the skill Balance to eventually get 5 ranks.
  • Spellcraft [cc], as a prerequisite for the feat Occult Opportunist, gets 10 skill points therefore 5 ranks.
  • Tumble, a class skill via the alternative class feature skilled city dweller from "Cityscape, Part 1: Urban Class Features" at the expense of the skill Ride, gets 12 skill points therefore 12 ranks.
  • Use Magic Device [cc] gets 12 skill points therefore 6 ranks.

The feat Hyena Tribe Hunter (ShS 20) permits the character to take the feat Improved Trip without meeting the feat's prerequisites, allowing the character to make Intelligence a dump stat. This is ill-advised. Skills are important for this character.

Equipment

According to Table 5-1: Character Wealth by Level (DMG 135), the character has 36,000 gp at level 9. Beg the cleric and wizard to purchase group items; the character needs every copper piece.

  • +1 spell storing (DMG 225) riverine (Sto 128) rope dart (16,303 gp; 4 lbs.). Note: If necessary add the weapon special sizing (MIC 43) (5,000 gp; 0 lbs.). The special material riverine is an indulgence, but never again worrying about a broken rope dart is important for peace of mind. And it looks like an awesome laser whip.
  • A wand of wraithstrike [trans] (SpC 243) (2nd-level spell at caster level 3) (90 gp/charge; 0 lbs.). Note: This assumes the DM uses the Rules Compendium's change that activating a spell completion or spell trigger item incorporating a spell with a casting time of 1 swift or immediate action takes that action to complete; if not, the character suffers greatly.
  • Used wands (MIC 227), if available. Examples include the...

    • wand of bite of the wererat [trans] (SpC 28) et al. modified by the feat Extend Spell (PH 94) (2nd-level spell modified to 3rd-level at caster level 5) (225 gp/charge; 0 lbs.). Note: While wererat is a fantastic 1st-turn buff spell--granting 3 extra attacks of opportunity via the +6 enhancement bonus to Dexterity, a +3 enhancement bonuses to natural armor, a +2 enhancement bonus to Constitution, and a natural bite attack--the others are pretty good, too.
    • wand of champion of Kord [trans] (Dragon #342 53) (4th-level spell at caster level 10) (600 gp/charge; 0 lbs.). Note: Among other benefits, the target gains a sacred bonus equal to his caster level to trip attempts.
    • wand of heroics [trans] (SpC 113) (2nd-level spell at caster level 3) (90 gp/charge; 0 lbs.). Note: See above.
    • wand of mindless rage [ench] (SpC 142) (2nd-level spell at caster level 3) (90 gp/charge; 0 lbs.). Note: The wizard should cast this spell considering the wand's horrible saving throw (Will DC 13), but the spell's so hilarious versus this build.
    • wand of valiant spirit [div] (MoI 106) (4th-level spell at caster level 7) (420 gp/charge; 0 lbs.). Note: Among other benefits, the caster gains a +2 insight bonus to Strength checks (hence the opposed Strength check needed for trip attempts), and making a Use Magic Device skill check (DC 21+) to emulate the meldshaping class feature of an incarnate (MoI 21), if successful, should allow the character to increase the bonus by investing essentia he doesn't have into the spell, just like Lidda uses turn undead attempts she doesn't have to use the magic chalice (PH 86)--ask the DM.
    • wand of wingbind [evoc] (SpC 240) (4th-level spell at caster level 7) (420 gp/charge; 0 lbs.). Note: The depressing saving throw (Ref DC 16) makes the spell better cast by the wizard, but sometimes one must fight the air elemental (MM 95-8) alone.
  • Means of striking incorporeal foes (e.g. ghostblight (CAd 121) (100 gp; 0 lbs.) and a weapon capsule retainer (CAd 120-1) (100 gp; 0 lbs.) et al., ghostoil (flask) (AE 32, 34) (50 gp; 1 lb.)).

  • A masterwork tool (PH 129, 130-1) (50 gp; 1 lb.) for the skill Use Magic Device and either a circlet or persuasion (DMG 252) (4,500 gp; 0 lbs.) or a custom item granting a +5 circumstance bonus to Use Magic Device skill checks (DMG 285) (2,500 gp; 0 lbs.).

Spend remaining funds on armor and inexpensive Armor Class bonuses, items to improve the character's saving throws, and maybe items providing enhancement bonuses to Strength and Dexterity if the bite spells are unavailable. If funds remain, improve the character's mobility and, perhaps, utility (e.g. hand of the oak father (MIC 109) (5,000 gp; 1 lb.)).

Playing the Character

Turn 1: Take a free action to drink the potion of enlarge person from the fantasy beer-hat. Take a move action to draw the rope dart. Take a swift action to enter the stance thicket of blades. Take another move action to reposition or a standard action to make a trip attempt.

Between Turns: When a foe within somewhere between 15 ft. and 30 ft. does something, the foe'll provoke an attack of opportunity. Trip the foe then hit him while he's down. Do that a bunch of times.

Turn 2+: Take a swift action to make a Use Magic Device skill check (DC 20) to activate the wand of wraithstrike. Success means using the feat Power Attack for maximum and making touch attacks to make trip attacks then making follow-up touch attacks for damage (remember the rope dart is a two-handed weapon), while failure means probably not using the feat Power Attack and making touch attacks to make trip attacks then follow-up attacks for damage.

That's all the character does.

Such a character is a battlefield terror. I don't know how many DMs have actually had a PC at the table who specialized in tripping, but having DMed such a PC for nearly a year, I can say making monsters threatening is hard when they fall all over themselves trying the fight the PCs. It's... undignified. As the PC's gained levels, his reputation's meant many of the campaign's monsters have invested in skill tricks that let them stand up without provoking attacks of opportunity. Boss monsters sometimes take the feat Elusive Dance, too, as that's really, for many creatures, the only defense against a dedicated tripper except being incorporeal, sometimes flying,5 and--amusingly--just sitting down (the seated foe can't be tripped as he's not standing, takes a -2 penalty to Armor Class versus melee attacks and gains a +2 bonus to Armor Class versus ranged attacks according to Table 8-6: Armor Class Modifiers (PH 151), and instead attacking the chair becomes a thing--which is hilarious).

Note: There's a small category of creatures probably most DMs won't let the character trip (e.g. giant centipedes, oozes, snakes). I allow creatures to be tripped unless the creature's description says the creature's immune. I think of I trip the creature as shorthand for I make the creature unable to effectively maneuver until it regains its appropriate combat position (e.g. "I flip the centipede onto its back," "I fold the ooze onto itself," "I tie the snake into a knot"), and I avoid making DM calls based on illustrations (saying a creature can't be tripped because the drawing of it makes that seem impossible is just not something I do), but I'd not badmouth a DM who ruled differently. Talk to the DM.


  1. Normally, personal spells aren't available as potions because a spell brewed into a potion must be one that "targets one or more creatures" (PH 89).
  2. A Wu Jen 7 / Master Alchemist (Mag 34) 7 can brew a potion of giant size if the DM has house ruled potions of personal-range spells can be brewed
  3. Fill the remaining slots with potions the character needs to survive or win (e.g. a potion of beastland ferocity [ench] (SpC 25) (1st-level spell at caster level 1) (50 gp; 0.1 lbs.)).
  4. It was in article about githyanki (MM 127-8); they care about silver cord severing.
  5. Creatures that are flying but who possess lousy maneuverability (e.g. dragons) can be tripped, and they're pretty boned when they are (RC 145). Making the DM learn the flying rules is sort of mean, though.
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I really like the focus on making everything provoke; that's a pretty solid schtick to take. Magical flight is problematic (can't be tripped), and teleportation by-passes it entirely, but there's just not much that can be done about that. That said, cross-class UMD and partially-charged wands, really? That leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. –  KRyan Aug 8 at 14:26
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Just a formatting note - all the italicized via and versus make this answer much harder to read, because you're also using italics for spell names and emphasis. Consider using bold in some places instead? Nice content, just hard to read. –  Bobson Aug 8 at 15:31
    
@KRyan Sigh. I know. Would that there were a more tasteful way. I normally wouldn't recommend either, but because going with better classes is impossible, options needed to be available. I figure DM pity may work in the character's favor. (Blocking teleportation effects is usually everyone or no one for the block to matter; I didn't want to suggest something that'd bone the party when they all need to use anklets of translocation.) –  Hey I Can Chan Aug 8 at 15:40
    
@Bobson I'm very careful never to put two things needing to be italicized side by side precisely to enhance readability. I use boldface for key words when appropriate, though. Seriously, I'm sorry if it's difficult, and thank you for the suggestion. –  Hey I Can Chan Aug 8 at 15:46
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Aside, my deep aversion to any part of the optimisation arms race is totally satisfied by the recognition at the beginning that fighters being mechanically boring is orthogonal to being narratively interesting. Well done, +1. :) –  SevenSidedDie Aug 8 at 20:33

I feel like a lockdown build with a spiked chain is probably your best bet. Maybe some anti-caster feats in case you run up against them, and the like. It's hard for enemies to get to your allies when they can't leave their squares, after all.

Coincidentally, there's a build I saw a long time ago where someone took a straight fighter and made such a thing. It works really well at keeping enemies controlled.

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For a fairly weak definition of “really well.” –  KRyan Aug 6 at 14:29
    
Whoops, left out a "for a straight-class fighter." There are much better ways to do it, but I think this is one of the best if you're limited to Fighter 20. –  Forrestfire Aug 6 at 23:35
    
Looking quickly, it appears the author considers the build "mature" at level 18, which isn't really part of the question, though. –  KRyan Aug 7 at 1:26

Playing a "tanking" fighter requires some skill. Some people mistakenly believe that tanking in 3.5 is a question of being so threatening to the opposition that they must choose to attack you in preference to anyone else. That's how it works in some systems, but not 3.5. There, the thing you need to understand is that tanking is less a matter of damage output or even defensive capabilities than it is of proper positioning and the ability to immobilize an opponent before it can position itself to attack your more vulnerable teammates.

With respect to positioning, most sophomore players understand the need for the tank to stand at a chokepoint and/or right next to ranged offensive player, forcing the opposition to come into range of your melee attacks rather than expending your own actions seeking them out.

Fewer know the tactic of readying move actions to intersect with the path of moving opponents during their own turns, and then using the resulting attack of opportunity to immobilize them in the middle of their own move, while they are still far away from their intended target. This is effectively what a linebacker does in a game of American football.

Immobilizing is essentially any action that can end an opponent's action movement before it is complete. The most common of these are trips, grapples, stuns, and entangles, but there are many other less commonly imposable conditions that can do the same thing.

IMMOBILIZING

Trip is the go-to-tactic for most tanks. It is an attack form that can be executed on an attack of opportunity. Size and strength are important for trips, so it is a tactic that plays to the fighter's strengths. Its also one of the few immobilizing tactics that isn't foiled by Freedom of Movement effects, unlike grapples. It is of rapidly diminishing use against larger and stronger opponents, but these opponents are more vulnerable to massive-damage attacks than smaller opponents are, so usually the better choice with them is a "kiting" retreat-and-attack by spells and precision damage than a "stand and tank" tactic. The Combat Expertise-Improved Trip feat chain is preferred for this tactic, as it lets you get in damaging licks as well as immobilize, but its actually not strictly necessary; just being as big and strong as you can be is more important.

Grapple is also a good tactic against those who are vulnerable to it -- which is mostly the same opponents that trip works on, but grapple is effectively useless if they have Freedom of Movement. Strong fighters don't really need to do much or any optimization to be good grapplers. Grappling has the drawback of rendering you as well as your enemy vulnerable, but this is less of a concern because a tank is generally near friendlies, unlike striker-types who have to go behind enemy lines to reach soft rearguard targets. Fighters automatically get proficiency in armor spikes (which clerics do not get), which is a huge, always-ready advantage in grappling. Every tank-type should be wearing spiked armor whether they plan to initiate grappling or not, and in the endgame should enchant those armor spikes.

Entangle is often also a viable choice, most easily through the use of a net, but there are some limited-use magic items a fighter can use that also impose this condition. Nets are exotic weapons, but their use is a matter of touch attacks, so a full-BAB strong fighter can often make good use of them even without investing in proficiency. Their more serious drawback is that each can really only be attempted for use once per encounter. Also, nets and all other entangle attacks are foiled by Freedom of Movement.

Stun is often overlooked, and it shouldn't be. First, you don't actually need monk levels to take the Stunning Fist feat, although its often a good idea for a tank to have a few levels of monk anyway. You can use Stunning Fist as an AoO. If you need those feats elsewhere, having one of your weapons given the Stunning enhancement is a good idea, even if its your heavy shield or a gauntlet. A successfully stunned opponent stops moving. Like most conditions, stun can be prepared for and countered, but most opponents will not have done so.

There are a number of other conditions, like nausea or cowering, that can halt movement, and these can be exploited with certain builds (for instance, the much-maligned Samurai class can be built to be very effective against non-fear-resistant opponents).

SENSES AND INITIATIVE: THE VITAL IMPORTANCE OF NOT BEING FLAT FOOTED

No character ever wants to be flat footed more than it is absolutely unavoidable, but tanks are in a weird position. Tanks, which need less mobility than strikers, are more dependent on heavy armor and so less vulnerable when flat footed. But they also are more dependent on being able to do Attacks of Opportunity, so while a flatfooted tank is less vulnerable than most other characters, he is also generally more useless.

Obviously, anything that ups a tank's initiative is desirable. But this is an issue that goes beyond initiative, because you are flat footed against any opponent you can't see. This is a serious issue when the character types you are most often protecting your teammates from are built for stealth! Fighters don't get Spot or Listen and often have very bad Wisdom.

There are some ways around this. The Combat Form feat chain is great for tank builds. Once you get Combat Awareness at level 12+ you get a short-range Blindsight that cuts the concealment away from enemy stealth-rogues and invisible magic users. Bye-bye flat foot, bye-bye miss chance, I am not going to miss you when you are gone. Unfortunately a pure fighter build is not going to get the most out of this, since you really need sensory skills to pinpoint enemies that aren't standing right next to you; best to take some levels of monk, ninja, ranger or rogue to bolster you in that department.

If you don't like the Combat Form chain, seriously consider a one-handed-weapon with light/heavy shield build. First, you can really use the extra defense and plethora of shield enhancements that shield will give you over the course of your career. You don't need to be -- and generally should not be -- a heavy damage dealer, so a one handed weapon is okay. But also, you can put the wonderful-when-needed-but-expensive-and-often-useless Blindsighted weapon enhancement on your shield and use it to protect your charges without burning +2 worth of often-not-needed enhancements on the primary weapon you will be using all the time!

There is a lot more to say on this topic, but I'm currently out of time.

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For battlefield control, as others suggest, a vanilla Fighter will be most useful with a spiked chain and Improved Trip. Add to this Combat Reflexes (and decent DEX).

Make sure you have access to Enlarge Person (a potion in a Glove of Storing) or whatever), which doubles your threat range - for a spiked chain you cover 20' radius, which makes it quite difficult to avoid AoO (and being tripped, you get extra +4 against Medium creatures while enlarged).

But damage is good

Also, consider focusing on damage anyway. With proper coordination of effort (buff spells from the Cleric and Wizard) Fighter is actually an effective killing machine (yes, I know about Tiers, feel free to downvote). You will need:

  • a falchion (for its critical threat range), either keen or with Improved Critical, Power Critical (CW, +4 to confirm threats)
  • Power Attack
  • all typical weapon focuses and specializations
  • Boots of Speed (for more movement, +1 to attack rolls and an extra attack at full bonus; enabled as a free action)
  • buff spells increasing your attack bonus (Greater Heroism, Recitation etc.) - coordinate with the rest of the party; so you can transfer that to damage via Power Attack if necessary
  • Belt of Giant Strength (the stronger, the better)
  • some special means of quick movement (like Anklet of Translocation [MIC] - 10', a swift action; Bolt Shirt [MIC], 60', a move action)
  • invest remaining feats in improving saving throws

Example 9th level Fighter:

Average damage for full round attacks

Average damage for charging

Those include base STR of 18, increased to 20 at levels 4 and 8, gauntlets of ogre power (4000), falchion +2 (8375) and boots of speed (12000), leaving 11625 for armor and other items.

In a party I DM, there's been a build like this (from level 10, now it's 19th) and there is no way I could ever let anything with less than DR 10 or some damage immunities to withstand a full round of attacks from the Fighter (it doesn't have to kill - for a CR corresponding to the fighter level it usually means more than 50% of the opponent's hit points, making it easy to finish for others).

Obviously I can avoid it, but with clever tactics my PCs usually use, it means I can use less of the opponents potential or I need to focus on eliminating the Fighter first. Either way, it seems like something you're looking for.

I'd like to emphasize that for the Fighter to work well (the same goes for the spiked chain build, we have one in a party where I play another low-tier class - a Scout), you need to coordinate with other characters. I find it more satisfying to coordinate a party of less than optimal characters to reach a result at least as good as a group of optimized superheroes.

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Some good ideas (increasing size, anklet of translocation), some terrible ideas (Whirlwind Attack, Weapon Focus et al.) –  KRyan Aug 6 at 19:09
    
Whirlwind is more of a fun idea, but what's wrong with Weapon Focus? –  burlap Aug 6 at 19:23
    
Weapon Focus et al. provide extremely small bonuses (+2 attack, +4 damage) at extremely high cost (four feats!). The only reason to take Weapon Focus is because some prestige class requires it, which is not relevant here. In theory, Weapon Supremacy at Fighter 18 is a good feat, but with all the terrible feats you have to take to get it, not worth it. Whirlwind Attack is even worse, allowing a maneuver you don't want to be in position to use well, at the cost of a ton of terribly weak feats. –  KRyan Aug 6 at 19:35
    
Four feats for a fighter is not that bad. With Power Attack it pretty much translates to +8 damage per attack. And simply attacking in the long run will pay off better than bull rush (including Dungeoncrusher). –  burlap Aug 6 at 20:11
    
The numbers you are quoting are not impressive. Feats can and should be much more significant than that. Your statement regarding dungeoncrasher needs to be demonstrated; that is certainly true for an ubercharger, but you haven't posted an ubercharger build. –  KRyan Aug 6 at 20:14

Consider options like tripping, grappling, or sundering specialization. If you leave a new enemy prone each turn, they can't get to your party members. If you cut their weapons in half on turn one, they can't deal damage effectively. Grappling can be a especially effective lock down with the right feat selection. These are some controller-like options.

On the other end, you could take feats to get yourself followers or to improve the defenses of your party members. These are leader-like options.

Good luck!

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Preventing harm to other party members by acting as a tank is literally the definition of the Defender role, which is what 4e considers fighters. –  Gregory Avery-Weir Aug 6 at 10:23

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