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I'm playing a gish - a character who combines spellcasting and martial combat - and due to the heavy multiclassing I've done to fit in all the class features I want, the calculation of my caster level has become a confusing mess.

My class level split is:

Duskblade 5/Abjurant Champion 4/Warrior Skald 1/Sublime Chord 1/Abjurant Champion +1/Initiate of the Sevenfold Veil 2/Legacy Champion 6

The first four levels of Abjurant Champion advance my Duskblade casting (giving me a total of 9 effective levels of Duskblade casting), while the final level advances my Sublime Chord casting. All of my Initiate of the Sevenfold Veil levels advance my Sublime Chord casting, and all of my Legacy Champion levels advance my Initiate of the Sevenfold Veil class features (which advance my Sublime Chord casting), giving me a total of 9 effective levels of Sublime Chord casting.

I have Practiced Spellcaster (Sublime Chord) as a feat.


Both Sublime Chord and Abjurant Champion have class features that might affect my caster level.

Abjurant Champion's Martial Arcanist feature reads:

From this point on, your caster level in a chosen arcane spellcasting class is equal to your base attack bonus (unless it would otherwise be higher). For example, a 7th-level fighter/1st-level wizard/5th-level abjurant champion has a base attack bonus of +12 (and thus a caster level of 12th). You can apply this benefit to only one arcane class to which you have added spellcasting levels by your advancement as an abjurant champion.

My BAB is 16.

Sublime Chord's Spells per Day feature says:

A sublime chord's caster level for both her sublime chord spells and the spells she gains from other arcane spellcasting classes is determined by adding her sublime chord level to her level in another arcane spellcasting class. If she had more than one arcane spellcasting class before becoming a sublime chord, she must choose to which class to add her sublime chord levels for the purpose of determining her sublime chord spellcaster level.

Note that this refers to her "level in another arcane spellcasting class," which leads me to be uncertain whether this includes levels in prestige classes that advance spellcasting (e.g., Abjurant Champion levels for my Duskblade casting).


My question: How do I calculate my caster level, for both Duskblade and Sublime Chord spells?

Possibilities I can think of include:

  • My caster level for Sublime Chord spells is 20, and my caster level for Duskblade spells is 18. This is determined by adding my effective Sublime Chord level (9) to my effective Duskblade level (also 9), then applying Practiced Spellcaster to bring my Sublime Chord casting up to the level cap. This is the most generous interpretation, including prestige class advancement in both my Duskblade and Sublime Chord levels when adding them together via Sublime Chord's Spells per Day calculation.
  • My caster level for Sublime Chord spells is 20, and my caster level for Duskblade spells is 14. This is determined by adding my number of Sublime Chord levels (1) to my number of Abjurant Champion levels (5), per Sublime Chord's Spells per Day wording, then adding the number of prestige class levels that advance my Sublime Chord casting (8), but not those that advance Abjurant Champion. Subsequently, I replace this level with my BAB (16) per the Martial Arcanist feature, then add +4 for Practiced Spellcaster.
  • My caster level for Sublime Chord is 20, and my caster level for Duskblade spells is 6. This is determined via the reasoning in the above option, but assuming that Sublime Chord's caster level calculation wording (adding your Sublime Chord class levels to your class levels in another arcane spellcasting class) takes precedence over any caster level advancement by prestige classes.
  • My caster level for Sublime Chord is 16, and my caster level for Duskblade spells is 6. As above, but assuming that features that set your caster level to a given number take precedence over any bonuses (under this interepretation, Practiced Spellcaster doesn't do anything, so I would choose a different feat)

If, as I suspect, the answer to this is partially "RAW doesn't specify, because order of application bonuses was never officially clarified," I would welcome well-supported thoughts on what the most reasonable way to rule on this as a DM would be.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You entered the tag [3.5]; you were looking for [dnd-3.5e], right? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 8 '18 at 21:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the tag fix, I didn't even notice 3.5 didn't autocomplete into the tag I wanted. Did I just create the "3.5" tag by accident? Any reason it shouldn't be deleted? \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Feb 8 '18 at 21:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ It will vanish in a few hours on its own on account of having no questions attached. :) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 8 '18 at 21:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Thanks, sorry for the mistag! \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Feb 8 '18 at 21:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ No problem, all's well. :) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 8 '18 at 21:29
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So the general consensus is that when order matters, and isn’t prescribed (which it rarely is), the owner of the effects controls the order and so orders things as is most beneficial to that person. This consensus comes from the 3.5 FAQ, which isn’t a true rules source but this particular answer has found wide-spread acceptance. See our Q&A on the subject for more details.

Moreover, there is a general consensus that your sublime chord levels basically advance some other caster level, as a more typical progression prestige class does, and then turns around and uses that caster level for its own caster level, as well. By this interpretation, your caster level for duskblade is 18th—missing only the levels in warrior skald and legacy champion 1st. Your caster level for sublime chord would be the same, except that you have Practiced Spellcaster to bring you to 20th.

This is not RAW. This is just how I have typically seen the prestige class run, what many people I have played with have seemed to allege was the intent. After all, the precise wording in sublime chord is very strange.

The only time people really seem to get picky about sublime chord caster level is when someone is trying serious abuse. For example, mixing sublime chord with Master Spellthief from Complete Scoundrel, for some absurd caster level out past 40th. If you try something like that, then people get picky. In my experience, though, having duskblade caster level 18th and sublime chord caster level 20th wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, and would be perfectly acceptable.

A big part of the reason for that is that figuring out how sublime chord caster level works when you’re being picky is hard, and suggests a lot of counter-intuitive things.

You note a big example of that yourself: the possibility that sublime chord resets your caster level, erasing prestige class levels that had advanced it. That’s counter-intuitive in the extreme, and it seems very, very unlikely it was intended. But you can see the argument for it, RAW.

The usual solution to that, at least, is to argue that you can still reorder effects, per the idea discussed in the first paragraph. Duskblade level + sublime chord level replaces your duskblade-level-based caster level, but increases to it from other classes (e.g. abjurant champion) can, by this line of thinking, be considered to take place after that. (The actual chronological order in which the levels were taken, under this interpretation, is irrelevant—the abjurant champion spellcasting class feature is a separate effect from the duskblade spells feature, that happens to improve upon that spells feature. As such, the argument is that as a separate effect we can put it after.) That yields us a conservative estimate of a minimum of duskblade caster level 9th.

Under this interpretation, the four levels of abjurant champion advancing duskblade do nothing for sublime chord. As of taking the first level of sublime chord, its caster level is 6th—5 from duskblade levels, 1 from the actual sublime chord level.

The next bit here is that when a prestige class mentions that

At each level, you gain [...] an increase in caster level [...] as if you had also gained a level in an arcane spellcasting class

(Complete Mage pg. 50, abjurant champion spellcasting)

One could easily argue that the increase to duskblade spellcasting described in the sublime chord spells per day feature is also included in “an increase in caster level.” That would mean that the level of abjurant champion that advances sublime chord also advances duskblade caster level, and it is now at caster level 11th (and sublime chord is at 7th).

The same argument also holds for the initiate of the Sevenfold Veil, or it would so long as we ignore the fact that the rules as written don’t actually mention caster level anywhere in its spells per day/spells known class feature (Complete Arcane pg. 44). I am going to ignore that, because that seems like obviously an oversight (and really stupid, to boot), so that means the seven levels’ worth of initiate of the Sevenfold Veil boosting sublime chord also boost duskblade. That’s now duskblade caster level 18th, sublime chord caster level 14th.

At this point, we have martial arcanist and Practiced Spellcaster to worry about. Abjurant champion has advanced both duskblade and sublime chord, so we could choose either. For obvious reasons, we choose sublime chord, so that it has caster level 16th instead of caster level 14th. Then Practiced Spellcaster comes into play, achieving caster level 20th. Same result, though only because of Practiced Spellcaster’s cap (it would have been caster level 22nd by the initial, casual approach, if it were not for the cap).


Finally, a side-note: this build seems unwise. Duskblade has as a major class feature full BAB, but you only take five levels of it—the others have their own BAB that remains what it is no matter what you advanced it with. If you had gone with bard instead of duskblade, for example, your BAB would be a mere +2 less. Harmonious knight paladin (Champions of Valor) followed by sha’ir (Dragon Compendium) would be the same or better, and you would get freaking divine grace. You could make the BAB up any number of ways, such as a level of dragonslayer (Draconomicon) and simply using sane multiclass BAB rules (read: the fractional ones from Unearthed Arcana). And you could avoid the terrible warrior skald class and its miserable prerequisites. You miss out on the 3rd-level arcane channeling feature, but 1. the addition of weapon damage to your touch spells isn’t very impressive, particularly when you lose so much accuracy for it, and 2. you could replace that by attacking with unarmed strikes or (ideally) a tentacle whip from Eberron Campaign Setting. Legacy champion also seems dubious; you get ¾ BAB while gaining Iot7V features, which is pretty nice, but it means a lot of lost power in the form of the dead level at 1st, and perhaps even more importantly, the self-nerf that is possessing a legacy item. The very emphasis on gaining BAB +16—i.e. the fourth iterative attack—seems like it may be misguided as well: you aren’t going to be full-attacking very often between your spellcasting and your lack of the duskblade 13th form of arcane channeling. The build will work—it will be quite powerful, you’re getting 9th-level spells off the sor/wiz list and most of the Iot7V class features—but this seems like a whole lot of hoops to jump through to get there. You may want to consider my treatise on the subject of gishes for more ideas.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, this makes a lot of sense. I'm aware that dropping Duskblade and a few points of BAB in favor of more focus on spells would result in a stronger character; I included a focus on armed combat and heavy use of arcane channeling as build requirements for style points and intentional self-nerfing purposes (the rest of the table isn't playing T2+ casters). \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Feb 8 '18 at 22:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Harmonious Knight doesn't look like it qualifies for Sublime Chord - are you counting Inspire Courage as satisfying the "Bardic Music ability" requirement? I was assuming it didn't count unless it was called "Bardic Music." \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Feb 8 '18 at 22:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @A_S00 Fair enough, though this isn’t weak by any means: sublime chord + iot7V makes for a very strong character no matter what you do. I mostly just meant that a lot of the rest seems like a lot of extra work for limited pay-off. Anyway, yes, the harmonious knight gets inspire courage “as a bard” and that bard feature is part of their bardic music, so that’s good enough for me. YMMV. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 9 '18 at 0:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @A_S00 something to note (I am not sure of your exact mental image, but it it might be relevant) is that if you take Improved Unarmed Strike (or dip monk or get a monk's belt), you can channel touch spells though unarmed strikes, just like a duskblade does with other melee weapons. If using a specific weapon isn't important to the concept, that may still be a worthwhile thing to look into (and would achieve the same sort of self-nerfing you're talking about). \$\endgroup\$ – Forrestfire Feb 9 '18 at 3:45

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