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As @KRyan told me, it seems like the duelist PrC is a little bit broken. But my party is currently lost in the middle of savages countries far from any civilization and it is very unlikely that I meet any PrC coach before a long time.

I am currently swashbuckler 5/Dragonmark heir 2/duelist 2/blade of orien 1, and I was planning to keep leveling as a duelist for some time. I think this build is not completely unbalanced compared to the builds of my teammates as they don't put out as much optimization effort as I do. I chose to train the class knowing its flaws, but I considered it was a realistic evolution for a swashbuckler.

Nevertheless, some duelist levels like the 4th: "+2 on reflex saving throws" are really boring, so I am beginning to research additional content about this PrC like official alternative levels or widely acknowledged homebrews.

EDIT: I am specifically looking for optimizations of the duelist class, which from my point of view essentially sums up to "a character with style (like the swashbuckler) using a rapier and no armor and adding INT to AC". What I am expecting is mostly alternative class levels, either as a few errata or a total redesign. I would rather it being some already well known content so that it would be easier to negotiate it with my DM.

(In case you were wondering, I did try negotiating taking only 3 levels of swashbuckler, but our DM insisted on us taking 5 level on our baseclass before multiclassing. Plus I liked the flamboyance of this type of character and did not want to change it to much. KRyan suggested me rebuilding as Factotum or Warblade but they are from books that are not allowed in my campaign.)

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Prestige class coaches are not a part of most prestige classes in 3.5, by the way. A few prestige classes require training from someone specific, but most don’t. Just saying. Then again, your DM clearly has a number of extremely ill-advised houserules going on here anyway, so that one is just one more, I suppose. –  KRyan Sep 3 at 13:48
    
As a swashbuckler/duelist, you should have an Int score that means you're gaining AC for at least the first 5 levels of Duelist. Also at 5th level, the Duelist gets their last decent feature. –  Miniman Sep 3 at 13:52
    
Don't you think that 7th level is cool? @KRyan: Can't do a thing about this, this is our DM's choice. I already had to give up on the dervishes since they don't exist in the campaign setting (or if they do, there was none of them in our part of the world). –  Epeedefeu Sep 3 at 13:57
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I edited the question to make it more specific ;) –  Epeedefeu Sep 3 at 14:13

4 Answers 4

I wrote a dualist, a dual-wielding duelist (pun very much intended!). It works fairly well from a swashbuckler base (uses your free Weapon Finesse for entry, skills are easy and recommended anyway).

The dualist is different from the duelist, obviously, in that the dualist uses two weapons, rather than keeping one hand free. It also is not specifically Intelligence-based, but on the flip side you can (and should) use armor. All that said, it puts your Insightful Strike feature to good use (as a static damage bonus, that damage is multiplied on a critical hit, and the dualist is quite good at critical hits), and as I said, your Weapon Finesse bonus feat eases entry quite nicely.

The dualist is all about attacks of opportunity, using them as a kind of round-by-round resource for its special abilities. The dualist parries, and at higher levels, counter-attacks, using (typically) a pair of rapiers. The dualist is also fairly “sticky,” making it excellent at defending its allies.

I’ve personally played the dualist a few times, and it was quite fun. Furthermore, I know several other people who have played it, and I’ve received great feedback. It’s one of my best-received classes, and I think it’s likely an excellent fit for you.

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For a less significant change to the duelist than my dualist answer, here are some thoughts:

Prerequisite Feats: Weapon Finesse

Dodge and Mobility are terrible feats; there’s no good reason to take them, uhm. ever. Aside from as prerequisites, and duelist never offers anything nearly good enough to justify so many burned feats.

Canny Defense: If a duelist has at least one hand free (e.g. no shield, even a buckler, or other held tool or weapon), and is wearing armor no heavier than light, she adds her Intelligence bonus, if any, to her AC. She loses this bonus any time she would be denied her Dexterity bonus to AC, even if she does not have one.

Canny Defense can be used in place of Dodge to qualify for a feat, prestige class, or other special ability. When a duelist does so, she may designate a creature as “the target of her Dodge feat” for the purpose of features that care, but gains no special AC bonus against that creature. A duelist can still take Dodge along with this feature (and then would get the bonus).

The limitation of not using a two-handed weapon or a shield is already more than enough of a drawback on this; limiting it to your level or eliminating any armor goes too far. Compare the monk’s Wisdom to AC, which works even if you lose Dex to AC and regardless of what your hands are doing, and without requiring you to wait until 6th level or to have to qualify.

If you compare it to the swordsage’s Wis-to-AC (which works in light armor), even this version becomes quite sad.

The original Canny Defense wasn’t worth using; you could get cheap armor with no drawbacks that provided a larger bonus.

Also, remember how I said Dodge was worthless? It is. Now you don’t have to take if something else wants you to. This is similar to how Desert Wind Dodge from Tome of Battle, Midnight Dodge from Magic of Incarnum, or Rapid Dodge from Races of the Wild work.

Grace: Your duelist levels stack with your swashbuckler levels for the purpose of your Grace class feature.

This is all-but-pointless, but at least it kind of synergizes. Note that this means Grace is now a 1st-level feature.

Precise Strike: A duelist has the ability to strike precisely with a light or one-handed piercing weapon, gaining an extra 1d6 to her normal damage roll. At each of 4th, 7th, and 10th level, this damage bonuse increases by 1d6, to a maximum of 4d6 at 10th level.

When making a precise strike, a duelist cannot attack with a weapon in her other hand or use a shield. A duelist’s precise strike only works against living creatures with discernible anatomies. Any creature that is immune to critical hits is not vulnerable to a precise strike, and any item or ability that protects a creature from critical hits also protects a creature from a precise strike.

This is massively weaker than Sneak Attack, since you can’t dual wield to apply it more often, and you get less of it than a rogue would, but at least now it is something.

Improved Reaction: At 2nd level, a duelist gains a bonus on Initiative checks equal to her Intelligence bonus, if any. At 5th level, this bonus doubles. This stacks with Improved Initiative.

Factota get Int-to-Initiative at level 3. As a base class. That is also adding it to a ton of other things. At least eventually this gets to be better than that. You’ll probably win all the initiative. Bully for you.

Unless the wizard wants to win. Then he will, because he’s a wizard.

Note that I moved the doubled version to 5th instead of 4th. That’s because 4th is already granting +1d6 Precise Strike damage, and 5th is now empty.

Enhanced Mobility: Starting at 3rd level, a duelist may always take-10 on balance, climb, jump, and tumble checks, even if stress would otherwise prevent her. A duelist must have at least one hand free and must not be wearing armor heavier than light to use this feature.

Enhanced Mobility can be used in place of Mobility to qualify for a feat, prestige class, or other special ability. You can still take Mobility along with this feature.

Mobility is garbage because you shouldn’t be provoking attacks of opportunity at all, you should be using Tumble to avoid them. This, at least, lets you get better at the thing you actually want to do, plus it covers the Mobility requirement of other things.

Evasive Reflexes: Whenever someone provokes an attack of opportunity from a 4th-level duelist, she may instead take a 5-ft. step, even if she has already moved or even already taken a 5-ft. step this round. This does not count as using an attack of opportunity for the round, but the duelist also misses the opportunity to attack, even if she steps into a square that still threatens the provoking creature.

Evasive Reflexes can be used in place of Combat Reflexes to qualify for a feat, prestige class, or other special ability. You can still take Combat Reflexes along with this feature.

This is a feat from Tome of Battle, but since you don’t have that book it seemed like a fitting class feature. Combat Reflexes is a good feat, but the Tome of Battle feat had that clause and it didn’t seem worth removing; maybe you want something that requires Combat Reflexes but don’t want that feat per se.

Acrobatic Charge: When a 6th-level duelist charges, she may make one 90° turn during her charge. In addition, she may charge over difficult terrain that normally slows movement. Depending on the circumstance, she may still need to make appropriate checks to successfully move over the terrain.

Avoiding difficult terrain is pretty nice, but you are in no way a charger. Also, you can arguably use skill checks to avoid difficult terrain anyway, and if you can, you should already be very good at those skills.

Elaborate Parry: A creature that attacks an ally inside the threatened area of a 7th-level duelist provokes an attack of opportunity from the duelist. If the attack of opportunity hits, the creature’s attack automatically misses. The duelist must choose to use take this attack before the attacking creature rolls its attack roll.

Stolen from the dualist, really, but basically, this allows you to protect others a bit, rather than just pumping your own AC at the expense of being pointless. Someone with a ton of AC but no offensive ability just gets ignored, and does not help his allies win the fight. With this, you make it hard to ignore you.

Deflect Arrows: As the duelist class feature.

This is pointless, but whatever. I can’t think of anything better to give you.

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About dodge, Swashbucklers gain a very similar feat at level 5 and my DM agreed that it could be counted as a "virtual feat" (as described in PHBII). So I did not have to take it to qualify for the duelist –  Epeedefeu Sep 3 at 16:02
    
@Epeedefeu Wow, why didn’t they just give Dodge there? Mobility is still awful, though you can technically qualify with the mobility special armor property. Getting a 4,000+ gp armor at 5th level’s a bit dicey though. –  KRyan Sep 3 at 16:14
    
About Acrobatic Charge it is strictly equivalent to a combination of the skill tricks Nimble Charge and Twisted Charge from Complete Scoundrel (that I have taken). So it just saves 4 skill points. Still better than the original though :) –  Epeedefeu Sep 3 at 16:38
    
@KRyan The class feature elaborate parry is just about the only upshot to the core duelist. A dude with 7 levels of duelist fighting defensively takes a -2 penalty to attack rolls for a might-even-impress-the-wizard +10 bonus to Armor Class. As a big pile of numbers, that's really not bad, but it's a long slog. Further, the canny defense class feature of the 3.0 Duelist (Dragon #275 96-7) just added the creature's Int bonus to AC, but Mundanes Can't Have Nice Things. –  Hey I Can Chan Sep 3 at 17:37
    
@Epeedefeu This would stack with that so you can make more turns and have a windy-er charge. Plus skill tricks are once per encounter, so this lets you do it every time you charge. As you say, though, that’s still hardly amazing. –  KRyan Sep 4 at 4:44

A third answer, which leads me to believe that we needed more details in the initial question, but anyway, here’s yet another idea. With thanks to Miniman for suggesting the NWN2 duelist and its haste effect, which made me think of this, and to Kolja Liquette and Brian Moran, who wrote the swiftblade, and to Tom Welch for making it not-suck, I present yet-another duelist variant, this one really playing up the speed angle.

Duelist

“How did I avoid that?”

“By being fast like a freak.”

As a duelist, you move with almost super-human speed, slashing and stabbing, parrying and dodging, to ensure your presence is felt by everyone.

Prerequisites

To become a duelist, you must be fast and precise already.

  • Feats
    • Combat Reflexes
    • Weapon Finesse
  • Special
    • One of the following:
      • +5 BAB
      • +4 BAB, 1d6 precision damage, and 8 ranks in Tumble
      • +3 BAB, 3d6 precision damage, and 8 ranks in Balance, Jump, and Tumble
    • Dodge feat, or Grace class feature

Class Features

HD

d8

Skills

(4+Int): Balance, Climb, Concentration, Craft, Diplomacy, Escape Artist, Gather Information, Intimidate, Jump, Knowledge (history), Knowledge (local), Knowledge (nobility & royalty), Perform, Profession, Sense Motive, Sleight of Hand, and Tumble.

┌───────┬─────┬──────┬─────┬──────┬───────────────────────────────────────────────────────┐
│ Level │ BAB │ Fort │ Ref │ Will │ Special                                               │
├───────┼─────┼──────┼─────┼──────┼───────────────────────────────────────────────────────┤
│   1st │  +1 │   +0 │  +2 │   +0 │ Canny Dodge, Innate Haste, Grace, Precise Strike +1d6 │
│   2nd │  +2 │   +0 │  +3 │   +0 │ Improved Reaction, Uncanny Dodge                      │
│   3rd │  +3 │   +1 │  +3 │   +1 │ Blurred Alacrity, Flurry of Strikes                   │
│   4th │  +4 │   +1 │  +4 │   +1 │ Sudden Speed, Precise Strike +2d6                     │
│   5th │  +5 │   +1 │  +4 │   +1 │ Perpetual Options                                     │
│   6th │  +6 │   +2 │  +5 │   +2 │ Evasive Maneuvers                                     │
│   7th │  +7 │   +2 │  +5 │   +2 │ Constant Quickness, Precise Strike +3d6               │
│   8th │  +8 │   +2 │  +6 │   +2 │ Double Time                                           │
│   9th │  +9 │   +3 │  +6 │   +3 │ Can’t Stop Me Now                                     │
│  10th │ +10 │   +3 │  +7 │   +3 │ Certain Celerity, Precise Strike +4d6                 │
└───────┴─────┴──────┴─────┴──────┴───────────────────────────────────────────────────────┘

Weapon and Armor Proficiency

You do not gain proficiency in any new weapons or armor.

Canny Dodge (Ex)

You add your Intelligence bonus, if any, to your AC, so long as you do not wear medium or heavy armor or carry a medium or heavy load. You lose this bonus any time you would be denied your Dexterity bonus to AC, even if you do not have one.

Canny Dodge can be used in place of Dodge to qualify for a feat, prestige class, or other special ability. When you do so, you may designate a creature as “the target of your Dodge feat” for the purpose of features that care, but you gain no special AC bonus against that creature. You can still take Dodge along with this feature (and then would get the bonus).

Innate Haste (Ex)

You can enter into a state of near-perfect focus, moving with almost supernatural speed and precision. A number of times per day equal to 3 plus your Intelligence bonus (if any), you may activate your inner haste as a swift action, gaining the benefits of the haste spell for a number of rounds equal to your class level plus your Intelligence modifier.

Despite mimicking the haste spell, this is an extraordinary feat of speed and talent, not a magical effect. As such, it functions perfectly fine in a dead magic zone or antimagic field, and cannot be countered, disrupted, or dispelled. However, it does not stack with the haste spell, nor with other effects that do not stack with haste, such as a speed weapon. Effects that suppress haste suppress this feature; effects that are suppressed by haste are suppressed by this feature.

This ability cannot be used if you medium or heavy armor, or carry a medium or heavy load. You also require a free hand to maintain this state, using it for balance and to counter-act the torque on your body. This hand must be empty, and the arm cannot have a shield strapped to it. If you fail to meet any of these conditions, this effect immediately ends.

Grace (Ex)

Your duelist class level stacks with your swashbuckler class level, if any, for the purposes of the Dodge bonus granted by the Grace class feature.

Precise Strike (Ex)

You have the ability to strike precisely with a light or one-handed piercing weapon, gaining an extra 1d6 to your normal damage roll. At each of 4th, 7th, and 10th level, this damage bonuse increases by 1d6, to a maximum of 4d6 at 10th level.

When making a precise strike, you cannot attack with a weapon in your other hand or use a shield. Your precise strike only works against living creatures with discernible anatomies. Any creature that is immune to critical hits is not vulnerable to a precise strike, and any item or ability that protects a creature from critical hits also protects a creature from a precise strike.

Precise Strike stacks with any Sneak Attack, Sudden Strike, Skirmish, or other forms of precision damage you may have. Precise Strike counts as Sneak Attack with the same number of damage dice for the purpose of requirements.

Improved Reaction (Ex)

Starting at second level, you add your Intelligence bonus, if any, to your Initiative checks, and furthermore may take attacks of opportunity and immediate actions even while flat-footed.

Uncanny Dodge (Ex)

You gain Uncanny Dodge at 2nd level, so that you retain your Dexterity bonus to AC (if any) even if you are caught flat-footed or struck by an invisible attacker. However, you still lose your Dexterity bonus to AC if immobilized. If you already have Uncanny Dodge, you gain Improved Uncanny Dodge, instead.

Blurred Alacrity (Ex)

Starting at 3rd level, you gain a miss chance equal to 10% plus 5% times your Intelligence bonus (if any) while under any haste effect, whether from your Innate Haste or from a haste spell cast upon you.

Flurry of Strikes (Ex)

The number of bonus attacks you may make in a full-attack due to a haste effect or speed weapon doubles at 3rd level.

Sudden Speed (Ex)

You may activate Innate Haste as an immediate action once you reach 4th level.

Perpetual Options (Ex)

As a 5th level duelist, you may choose to improve the effects of any haste effect on you in of the following ways:

  1. You may gain a second move action; if you do so, you lose the movement speed bonuses provided by the haste effect.

  2. You may gain a second standard action; if you do so, you lose the extra attacks that haste would otherwise allow you to make during a full-attack.

You must choose which, if either, option you will use at the beginning of each turn. You may not choose to take both at the same time.

Evasive Maneuvers (Ex)

At 6th level, your speed makes you difficult to target with spells. Individually-targeted magical effects have a chance to fail to hit you equal to your miss chance from Blurred Alacrity. This effect does not stack with that of blink or similar.

Constant Quickness (Ex)

Starting at 7th level, your Innate Haste becomes a permanent extraordinary effect. You no longer need to activate it, nor is it limited in usage.

Double Time (Ex)

The speed at which you move becomes so high at 8th level that you literally can do twice as much as someone else. You no longer receive movement speed bonuses or extra attacks from haste. Instead, each combat you roll initiative twice, and take two turns each round. These two turns are completely independent of one another.

You lose this benefit if your haste effect is suppressed.

Can’t Stop Me Now (Ex)

At 9th level, you may take your own turn in between every round of apparent time during someone else’s time stop effect.

You lose this benefit if your haste effect is suppressed.

Certain Celerity (Ex)

As you are among the quickest beings out there, getting the drop on you is all but impossible; even if you are surprised, you get over that surprise and begin to react even before many of your ambushers do. And when you aren’t surprised, you move so fast that others are. Beginning at 10th level, you always act in the surprise round, even if there otherwise would not be a surprise round.

You lose this benefit if your haste effect is suppressed.

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Double Time works out, at best, to having twice as many attacks (similar to using two-weapon fighting), but it allows unparalleled reaction times, getting to choose your actions twice every round. Certain Celerity mimics the Quickness feature of dire tortoises (Sandstorm). –  KRyan Sep 8 at 21:41
    
I am quite impressed by the great effort you are putting into answering this question, thanks you very much for your time and precious advices. About Double Time I would forbid using two weapon fighting in conjonction with it –  Epeedefeu Sep 15 at 10:10
    
@Epeedefeu I did, since Innate Haste does not work unless you have a hand free. You could use TWF if someone cast haste on you, to get a haste effect without Innate Haste, but then you are putting a lot of resources (TWF feats, spell slots, actions in combat) so I think that’s fine (and in fact wouldn’t recommend doing so. –  KRyan Sep 15 at 12:11

For further reference, here are some revised duelists I came across while searching on the topic. I am listing everything I have found but did not take a deep look, so there may be content of unequal quality and duplicates.

Will keep updating as I find more (until I get blocked for posting too many external links that is ;)

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Seerow’s is a mediocre class. The challenge needs errata to indicate what the penalty is to, so that’s useless. You deal precision damage that you cannot multiply through dual-wielding. Until 10th level, tons of things are immune to it. You absolutely set two feats on fire. Feinting as a swift is cute, except one of your few advantages is that you don’t care too much about the enemy being flat-footed – and that’s only for one attack anyway. Melee Weapon Mastery is nice, I guess, except it doesn’t cover the Greater requirements, and duelist levels don’t count as fighter levels. –  KRyan Sep 4 at 12:33
    
Bauglir’s is worse. The fake Power Attack has poor returns, even with the class feature, Tactical Strikes is bizarrely limited, and most of the rest are fighter bonus feats, except you don’t get to pick. It does get an unreasonable amount of AC, but that’s only going to trigger opponents ignoring the duelist as an annoying-to-kill non-threat. –  KRyan Sep 4 at 12:38
    
Siosilvar’s is quite amusing, with all of the quotes. I see some things I like, but ultimately it seems to be some mobility and some damage, but neither in truly impressive amounts. Also, Riposte is just dumb; if it’s a standard action, it’s not an AoO. Burst Evasion is pointless if you (the player) aren’t prescient. Lots of stuff on AoOs... which is a real shame, since you can’t get reach to actually gain some real presence. The extra/immediate 5-ft. steps are really nice though. –  KRyan Sep 4 at 12:45
    
Person_Man’s is disappointing; he usually has better stuff. This one’s version of Grace is interesting but I tend to doubt there’s much in the way of truly impressive effects you can stack on that. Advance and Crippling Strike are good features, but come very late. –  KRyan Sep 4 at 12:48
    
I made the answer "community wiki". Feel free to put your comments directly into it, since it seems that otherwise they might end up beign deleted, which would be a waste ;) –  Epeedefeu Sep 4 at 12:51

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