# What are good options for a frontline melee with very limited source material?

I recently entered a Planescape campaign with a very rules heavy DM. I rolled stats in order, and now I have to make a character. As long as it stays within these sourcebooks and is neither a druid nor a full cleric (which my party already has) I'm open to options. Here's the situation:

• We are currently level 13, no LA buyoff possible.

• I have 17 str, 15 Dex, 13 Con, 15 Int 15 Wis and 13 Cha.

• I want to fill the role of a tank/melee combat controller. (I was considering maybe a trip oriented build?)

I have these options available:

• PHB I
• DMG I
• MM I
• Book of Exalted Deeds
• Planar Guidebook
• Tome of Magic
• Guidebook to the Planetouched
• Hi and welcome to RPG.SE! These sorts of questions require a lot of input from the asker here, but you're definitely off to a good start. I'd suggest making it clear whether the character actually must be of the Fighter and/or Paladin classes (and, if so, must they be so exclusively or just not take any other base classes or what). Also, when you have time, check out our help center and tour to learn a bit more about how our Q&A site is different from your typical forum. Hope you stick around! – the dark wanderer Nov 13 '17 at 22:41
• It's possible you may not yet know, but what's the degree of optimization of the cleric and the druid? That is, at level 13, they could be forging pacts with extradimensional entities (in Planescape, though, I guess they're just entities) and literally saving the universe… or they could be still fighting dretches to a standstill or somewhere in between. (My fear is that you'll feel (ahem) outclassed with traditional spiked-chain-wielding trip specialist fighter.) Also, including yours, will there be only 3 PCs? Finally, will your PC receive a level 13 PC's starting wealth? – Hey I Can Chan Nov 13 '17 at 23:23
• Yes, I will receive a regular PCs starting wealth. At least one is to some degree optimized, I think the druid and an Anima mage. If you guys see me being heavily outclassed, I do have the stats to go full caster. – Aja Saldana Nov 14 '17 at 2:34

So I was going to recommend horizon tripper, as DanB has in his answer, since that is about as good as a core-only martial character can do, and that remains a relatively good choice—but since he’s already offered it, I’ve been thinking about alternatives. You have stiff competition in the form of the cleric and druid, and a horizon tripper is probably not going to keep up. Your source list also does you almost no favors—beyond core, you have a magic-focused book (Tome of Magic), a mostly-fluff book (Planar Handbook), one of the worst books WotC published for 3.5 (Book of Exalted Deeds), and a third-party supplement that is also pretty poor (Guidebook to the Planetouched). You would be far better off with more typical supplements like Complete Champion, Expanded Psionics Handbook, and Unearthed Arcana, for examples.

But those books do, just barely, allow someone who is big and tough to stand in front of spellcasters, and just ruin the day of anyone that they have a problem with. The name of the game is killing things’ saving throws with auras, so they are easy pickings for your spellcaster allies, and then holding them there. If it works, you could very easily be a spellcaster’s best friend.

It just so happens that Tome of Magic is one of the best sources in the game for these kinds of auras—two binder vestiges, Focalor and Chupoclops, allow you to reduce enemy saving throws by −2 each. And one of the other best sources is the core blackguard prestige class, though this may or may not stack with Chupoclops (both auras are called aura of despair, unclear if that means they are the same source for modifier stacking).

But binders and blackguards are Charisma-based. Dark blessing, in particular, rewards you heavily for Charisma. And your Charisma is one of your worst scores. You do have a solution to this, though: Guidebook to the Planetouched does have the extremely ill-advised Thin Blood feat. This feat reduces LA by 1—an incredibly bad idea, and ridiculously overpowered. It actually would do a lot to help a horizon tripper if you had more sources available, since you could get powerful build or Large size without LA by using it. But none of the decent options for those things is available to you (for reference, the best options for horizon tripper that are available to you are almost-certainly wildren or air mephling). So we are looking for a LA +1 race that gives a Charisma bonus.

You also have 13 Constitution. This is a death sentence. You are looking to stand up in front of enemies, cripple their defenses, and make it difficult for them to get away or around you. If you aren’t drawing a ton of hostile attention, something is very wrong. But even a regular character would have a hard time surviving on just 13 Constitution. A character like you will simply die, probably quickly, because it just isn’t enough. So a bonus to Constitution would also be very important.

Luckily for you, there is one race in your sources that does fit the bill: the water mephling from Planar Handbook. This race is otherwise pretty useless for you—humanoid, so no useful type; small, which hurts your damage and makes it harder to get reach from size increases; a breath weapon, which you should never use; a swim speed, when your air and earth cousins have the fantastically-superior flying or burrow speeds. But you absolutely need those ability scores. Actually, you need more than even this—15 of each in what are probably your most important scores is not ideal.

You’re high enough level to bump those to 16 (the third point should go to Strength), and get a cloak of charisma and periapt of vitality to boost them, too. These are good, and should be your top priorities for wealth (even before a belt of giant strength).

That means we have a couple of questions for the DM:

• Do the auras of despair from Chupoclops and blackguard stack? They come from very different places, but both features have the same name—it’s unclear if that is enough, under the rules, to make them count as the same source or not.
• Are we playing by RAW with respect to prestige class requirements? If so, you could qualify for blackguard using the Improved Sunder feat from Aym, Queen Avarice, and then retain both the class features and right to progress blackguard even when not bound to her.
• Can you please swap your Int and Con scores? 13 Con is basically a death sentence, and 15 Con after racials still isn’t great; you need more hp than that. This is part of the reason why rolling in order is not how ability scores are determined in 3.5e. By mandating that, your DM was, basically, wrong. It is a terrible idea, and it’s going to get this character killed. (While you’re at it, swapping Wis and Cha would be worthwhile, but at least Wisdom does do useful things for you and lack of Cha isn’t a death sentence the same way that lack of Con is.)

If the answer to the first is “they stack,” then trying to get both blackguard and 10th-level binding is probably worthwhile, for that huge −6 penalty to saving throws. If not, then we can and should ditch either blackguard or most of the binding (just getting Focalor only takes 3rd-level binding). Blackguard uses far fewer levels, but by not being a blackguard we can kind of go the other way on things and use champion of Gwynharwyf from Book of Exalted Deeds, which gets a delicious rage and divine grace combo. So I have three builds to suggest here, but first I want to point out an excellent feat for all three of them:

## Planar Touchstone

I want to draw your attention to Planar Touchstone in Planar Handbook. This feat can do many, many things, depending on what site you attune to. A particularly good option is the Catalogues of Enlightenment, which can give you a cleric domain—lots of good options there. This is, quite frankly, one of the best feats in the game. It doesn’t directly enable any builds, but you can fit it into any of the builds below. And you’re playing in Planescape: what a natural choice for such a game.

So I strongly recommend Planar Touchstone. Here’s a thread collecting the best uses of it.

## The Builds

These are the three builds that I imagine will work. They’re pretty similar to one another, variations on a theme, really.

### Blackguard of Eternal Tears

We need 10th-level binding, and we need a 3rd-level blackguard feature. You start at 13th level. This almost writes itself.

Any$^1$ evil water mephling with the following:

\begin{array}{c|l} \text{Level} & \text{Class} & \text{Special} & \text{Feat} \\ \hline 1^\text{st} & \text{Binder} & \text{Soul binding, }\textit{Aym, Queen Avarice} & \text{Thin Blood} \\ 2^\text{nd} & \text{Binder} & \text{Pact augmentation, suppress sign} \\ 3^\text{rd} & \text{Binder} & - & \text{Combat Reflexes} \\ 4^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & \textit{Focalor, Prince of Tears} & \text{Improved Binding}^B \\ 5^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & \text{Pact augmentation} \\ 6^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & \text{Immunity to fear} & \text{Power Attack} \\ 7^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & - \\ 8^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & \text{2 vestiges} \\ 9^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & \text{Slippery mind} & \text{Cleave} \\ 10^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & \textit{Chupoclops, Harbinger of Forever} \\ 11^\text{th} & \text{Blackguard} & \text{Spells} \\ 12^\text{th} & \text{Blackguard} & \text{Dark blessing} & \textit{options}^2 \\ 13^\text{th} & \text{Blackguard} & \textit{Aura of despair} \\ \end{array}

1. If you go with knight of the sacred seal after 13th, then you cannot be chaotic and will probably want to be lawful for aligned strike.
2. Your options for your feat at 12th level are basically Weapon Focus (guisarme), so you can take knight of the sacred seal, or Planar Touchstone, because it’s fantastic. You could go with Combat Expertise, hoping for Improved Trip at 15th, but my feeling is that it’s too late for that.

We go with straight binder here, rather than knight of the sacred seal, because 1. feats are at a premium here, and although we could technically get Weapon Focus, 2. we don’t have martial weapon proficiency until we start blackguard, and that means the Weapon Focus feat would have to be for longspear or something. Better to take Weapon Focus at 12th or 15th where we can pick a better weapon—probably guisarme—and take knight of the sacred seal later.

If you cannot qualify as having Improved Sunder with Aym, you have to take Improved Sunder as well: that will have to replace Combat Reflexes, which you may want to do for your 12th-level feat in that situation.

If you cannot stack two different auras of despair, then Chupoclops is not worth using—but this build could still be valid. Zagan, for example, is good at grappling—that could help you keep people inside the aura. Zceryll is from a web enhancement and is thus presumably not valid here, but if you can get her she is definitely overpowered and spamming summons can do a lot to control where people can go in combat. Haures can spam illusions, potentially keeping people where you want them, and Vanus’s fear aura is both more dangerous thanks to the save penalties, and can keep enemies away from allies. Dantalion offers even better mobility than horizon walker, Balam is solid defensively, and so on. Lots of options. Still, pretty big cost with all those binding levels.

Finally, one last note: blackguards get poison use. Poisons pretty much suck, and you don’t have the supplement support you really need to do well with them... but penalizing saving throws makes people way more vulnerable to poison, just as it does spells. Even if you just carry a few cheap poisons and start combat with a poisoned weapon—without re-applying mid-combat—could be worthwhile.

As for continuing play after 13th, your best bet is probably just continuing binder levels. If you go with Weapon Focus at 12th or 15th, then you can use knight of the sacred seal instead for five of the remaining levels. You get a 3rd vestige at 17th, and at 18th you actually get 8th-level vestiges. That’s better than anything blackguard, or anything else really, has to offer.

However, if you don’t think you will get to 17th level, you are probably best off just going with blackguard (none of its remaining features are thrilling but they aren’t terrible, and binder gives you little-to-nothing until you can bind another vestige).

### Starry Knight-Harbinger

Here we need rage, 10th-level binding, and a couple levels in champion of Gwynharwyf. Once again, this almost writes itself.

Chaotic good water mephling with the following:

\begin{array}{c|l} \text{Level} & \text{Class} & \text{Special} & \text{Feat} \\ \hline 1^\text{st} & \text{Barbarian} & \text{Rage} & \text{Thin Blood} \\ 2^\text{nd} & \text{Binder} & \text{Soul binding,} \\ & & \quad\textit{Aym, Queen Avarice} \\ 3^\text{rd} & \text{Binder} & \text{Pact augmentation, suppress sign} & \text{Righteous Wrath} \\ 4^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & - \\ 5^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & \textit{Focalor, Prince of Tears} & \text{Improved Binding}^B \\ 6^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & \text{Pact augmentation} & \text{Knight of Stars} \\ 7^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & \text{Immunity to fear} \\ 8^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & - \\ 9^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & \text{2 vestiges} & \text{Combat Reflexes} \\ 10^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & \text{Slippery mind} \\ 11^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & \textit{Chupoclops, Harbinger of Forever} \\ 12^\text{th} & \text{Champion of Gwynharwyf} & \text{Rage, spells} & \textit{options}^1 \\ 13^\text{th} & \text{Champion of Gwynharwyf} & \text{Divine grace, furious casting} \\ \end{array}

1. As with the previous build, Planar Touchstone is probably our best bet for the feat at 12th level. It’s probably too late to take Combat Expertise in order to get Improved Trip at 15th. Unlike the previous build, Weapon Focus does nothing special for us, but we don’t have Power Attack—which isn’t a bad choice either.

We are again not taking knight of the sacred seal—simply because this time, we can’t, since it requires nonchaotic and champion of Gwynharwyf requires chaotic good—but really, that doesn’t lose us all that much.

Ultimately, the difference between this build and the previous is that we trade a second aura of despair for rage. Rage is very nice, but the aura is far better. But if you can’t stack the two auras of despair anyway, this is not a bad choice.

As for the rest of the build, you can could choose to take more binding levels, as in the previous build—but with no hope of adding knight of the sacred seal. Personally, I think I’d just finish out with champion of Gwynharwyf. You have the best of its features already, but its remaining levels are decent enough. You just miss the capstone, but c’est la vie. Even though you can manage a 3rd vestige and 8th-level vestiges, champion really is quite good and damnit, you’ve paid quite a bit to get into it.

### Forlorn and Forsworn

This approach saves us a lot of levels: instead of 10th-level binding, we only need 3rd-level binding, plus a 3rd-level blackguard feature. What to do with the other seven levels? Well, we desperately need feats so a level or two of fighter might be good. Rage remains excellent, so a level of barbarian seems appropriate. Beyond that, the elemental warrior prestige class in Planar Handbook is... largely garbage, but the 4th-level feature can get us flying, which is important, and the class is dead easy to enter. That’s probably better than anything more levels of fighter or blackguard would get us.

Chaotic-or-neutral evil water mephling with the following:

\begin{array}{c|l} \text{Level} & \text{Class} & \text{Special} & \text{Feat} \\ \hline 1^\text{st} & \text{Barbarian} & \text{Rage} & \text{Thin Blood} \\ 2^\text{nd} & \text{Binder} & \text{Soul binding, }\textit{Aym, Queen Avarice} \\ 3^\text{rd} & \text{Binder} & \text{Pact augmentation, suppress sign} & \text{Combat Reflexes} \\ 4^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & - \\ 5^\text{th} & \text{Binder} & \textit{Focalor, Prince of Tears} & \text{Improved Binding}^B \\ 6^\text{th} & \text{Fighter} & - & \text{Cleave, Power Attack}^B \\ 7^\text{th} & \text{Fighter} & - & \text{Combat Expertise}^B \\ 8^\text{th} & \text{Blackguard} & \text{Spells} \\ 9^\text{th} & \text{Blackguard} & \text{Dark blessing} & \text{Improved Trip} \\ 10^\text{th} & \text{Blackguard} & \textit{Aura of despair} \\ 11^\text{th} & \text{Elemental Warrior} & \text{Elemental affinity}^1 \\ 12^\text{th} & \text{Elemental Warrior} & \text{Elemental manifestation} & \textit{options}^2 \\ 13^\text{th} & \text{Elemental Warrior} & \text{Elemental weapon} \\ \end{array}

1. Choose air, it’s by far the best option. Water has the best elemental strike, but air is probably second in that regard, and air absolutely wins in manifestation and most importantly, movement. And yes, that means you are a water mephling with an air affinity—write a nice backstory for it, but don’t give up on it. You need to fly.

2. Planar Touchstone is almost-certainly the best option, but you could take Endurance. It’s awful, but then you could finish out with horizon walker and just reach shifting planar terrain mastery, which is nice, ish. You could also take Planar Touchstone at 15th in such a situation.

If you cannot qualify as having Improved Sunder with Aym, you have to take Improved Sunder as well: that will have to replace Combat Reflexes, which you then have to move until 12th, eliminating your options there.

Anyway, compared to the first build, this build “only” gets −4 to enemy saving throws, but the flight speed and ability to actually get Improved Trip go a long way towards mitigating that—it will be easier to get people inside the aura and keep them there. And if you can’t stack the two auras of despair, this may be a better approach than the things you can do with other vestiges.

And again, as with the first build, note the poison option.

Your 14th level here should definitely be elemental warrior, to get that sweet flight speed. After that, you’re kind of wide open: six levels to fill as you like. Six levels of horizon walker gets shifting planar terrain mastery: nice, ish. Or you could get a second vestige with five more levels of binder (or knight of the sacred seal; Weapon Focus could be your 15th-level feat). The rest of blackguard isn’t stellar, but a couple levels gets you 3rd-level spells, some sneak attack, and 3rd-level spells. Dipping cleric for domains could be nice, though you have somewhat limited options. Another level of barbarian would be uncanny dodge: not bad. Ranger has a lot of skills with full BAB, though pretty much everything else about it is worthless. For that matter, you don’t need full BAB, so you could do rogue or assassin if you wanted.

# Conclusion

There are a lot of problems with this game, and you are probably much better off just going with a full spellcaster. Being a spellcaster will make it nearly impossible to really take advantage of your ability scores (I guess you could burn a spellcasting level on eldritch knight—being an outsider gets you the proficiencies you need—but it’s not really worth it), which is a shame, but it still probably ends up being better. In fact, the choice to start so high, the selection of sources, and most of all, the extremely poor choice to enforce rolling ability scores in order, are a number of serious red flags to me—they suggest to me that this DM is not very familiar with how 3.5 works, doesn’t realize or understand how much these parameters all-but-force you to play a spellcaster, and that is a concern because keeping a campaign that high-level working takes a lot of work even for a very good DM.

But if we ignore all that, and you want to really use your ability scores, standing in things’ way and tanking their saving throws might do a lot for your party. Any of these builds should be reasonably resilient, since they add Charisma to all saving throws and can use armor and have decent hp. And tacking a −4 or −6 penalty to nearby enemies’ saving throws can make you everyone’s best friend.

• @AjaSaldana If you don’t me asking, which one of the three has caught your eye? – KRyan Nov 15 '17 at 0:25
• Two things: Firstly, I can't qualify for Knight of the Sacred Seal and be barbarian- KoSS requires a lawful alignment and Barbarian requires Chaotic? I think? Secondly, you are probably right about the DM, who is a port over from 2e (he literally stopped playing 2e last year.) He is very traditionalist. He refuses to OK material unless he's read the entire book, uses the roll in order style, and always says "Why don't I just make you the GM so you can play what you want to play" if I forget if a certain feat is Core or not and ask if I can use it... I'll do it for now, thanks. – Aja Saldana Nov 15 '17 at 0:28
• I like the first. – Aja Saldana Nov 15 '17 at 0:29
• @AjaSaldana Knight of the sacred seal requires being nonchaotic; barbarian requires being nonlawful. You can be neutral in the middle. However, that does nix champion of Gwynharwyf and knight of the sacred seal coexisting (champion requires chaotic good), so thank you for pointing that out. I also realized that the third build does not have BAB +6 for blackguard yet at 6th, so another level of something will have to go into that build and elemental movement would have to be delayed until 14th. – KRyan Nov 15 '17 at 1:08
• @AjaSaldana Update, I suddenly remembered the Planar Touchstone feat, which is fantastic. I have left knight of the sacred seal in the build, but really, personally, I’d ditch it for Planar Touchstone in a heartbeat. The other two builds, which have room for another feat anyway, should definitely take it. – KRyan Nov 15 '17 at 2:30

It sounds like you might be looking for the Horizon Tripper build. This build starts Barbarian 1 / Fighter 1 / Ranger 3 and then goes into the Horizon Walker prestige class, which gives (among other bonuses) dimension door at-will every 1d4 rounds. This gives you the trip-oriented melee build you wanted, plus some fun options outside combat.

It may be worth noting: at high levels of D&D, spellcasters tend to be much stronger than non-spellcasters. There's nothing wrong with playing a melee character if that's your thing, but you'd likely have a more powerful character if you went for a wizard or other primary caster.

In particular, if your goal is to serve as a tank, you might do well with a wizard, using summon spells to summon meatshield monsters. This build does best when combined with a Rapid Summoning effect (converting one-round casts into standard actions), and I don't see an easy way to get that with the books you have. But it still should be pretty reasonable. Don't forget you can use contingency to drop your first meatshield onto the battlefield at the start of combat for no action.

• I knew of that build, thank you for reminding me. The reason I am not a primary caster is just because there are already a druid, a cleric, and a wizard. Its alright that I get overshadowed, I'm just trying to protect them haha. – Aja Saldana Nov 14 '17 at 2:32
• Worth noting that the more powerful here applies to tanking hits and fighting in melee. That is, 'Druid' and 'Cleric' are both individually better at fighting stuff in melee, taking hits for others, and all that stuff that the suggested build accomplishes and the question is about. +1 for the right answer, though :) – the dark wanderer Nov 14 '17 at 6:13
• are you suggesting I should just say "bah" and play a caster? – Aja Saldana Nov 14 '17 at 12:19
• @AjaSaldana Your stats aren’t ideal for it, at all—but you’ll be more powerful if you do. High levels massively favor casters. Limited sources also massively favor casters. Here you have both. – KRyan Nov 14 '17 at 15:04
• @AjaSaldana I've edited your comment. Note that we have content guidelines that submitted text should meet. Thanks! – SevenSidedDie Nov 16 '17 at 1:32