I have played D&D for 8 years now but I'm not that good with character building, so I thought this would be the place to be!

I know that our next adventure will involve a citadel as the main stage of the story. What I would like to make is a character who can climb on walls/ledges, etc. in small alleys or just on the main street walls. My vision is to sneak attack from up high with a bow, or leap down onto the enemy with daggers.

I think it should be some kind of assassin with a bow and good climbing skills. I don't even know if this is possible or even worth playing.

My group use the all 3.5 books, and the campaign should play from level 1 to about 16–18.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour! The site can totally address optimization questions—and this is an interesting one—, but to do so requires a lot more information so that your specific character can be addressed. At the very least, the site needs to know what level the PC should be optimized for (that is, are you starting at 1 and going to 20 or are you starting at 6 and staying at 6?) and what sources you're allowed to draw from for building your character. A brief description of the campaign itself—a sentence or two is fine—is also helpful. Thank you for participating and have fun! \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 30 '18 at 17:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ HeyICanChan already asked, but I want to emphasize that level is also going to be crucially important—if you are going to be 5th or higher when you assault this citadel, flight would be vastly superior to any form of climbing. So include the level, and also mention if there is any reason why it must be climbing versus flight or other options. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 30 '18 at 17:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Im sorry for the missing info, we usually end between level 16-18 and start at level 1. We use the 3.5 forgotten realms books. \$\endgroup\$ – Bram2488 Mar 30 '18 at 18:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bram2488: Hi :) When providing new information it is preferred to edit it in the question directly, so that everything is available at a glance. I've edited your post to do so (and removed the chatty comments), please check the edit to ensure it's faithful, and don't hesitate to correct it :) \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Mar 30 '18 at 18:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to be clear: Only the core rules and the Forgotten Realms books published after the 3.5 revision are available. Is that accurate? (If so, that's a pretty serious book limit—how can the DM run the Realms without the Campaign Setting?—, but to each his own, I guess.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 30 '18 at 18:21

At very, very low levels, there are some options for climbing. The best of them are three related abilities:

  • Spiderwalk, a least invocation for warlocks (Complete Arcane),

  • Spider climb, a 2nd-level spell for druids, sorcerers, and wizards,

  • Dance of the spider, a 3rd-level Shadow Hand stance (Tome of Battle, natively available to swordsages from the same).

Spiderwalk and dance of the spider are continuous effects, while spider climb lasts 10 minutes per level. Since spiderwalk is both permanent and available from 1st, it is easily the best option. By the time swordsages get dance of the spider (5th level minimum), climbing as a whole has been largely obviated by flight.

You could also consider getting spider climb as a racial ability, though the options there are very limited, and extremely expensive. Jungle goblins from Unearthed Arcana and grippli from Dragon Compendium can instead get a Climb speed, which isn’t as good as spider climb, but still far better than nothing, and those are LA +0 races so they aren’t crippling like the spider climb races are. A single level of ape totem barbarian can also get it, but that comes at a high cost—not just the level itself, but the ape totem is incompatible with the excellent lion spiritual totem from Complete Champion—which is extremely important to many melee characters because it offers pounce, i.e. the ability to move and full-attack in the same turn.

Anyway, all of the above requires at least one hand dedicated to climbing. Barring something like the insectile template (Dragon Compendium), that means you only have one hand left for attacking. Meanwhile, almost every mundane option for substantial damage output requires both hands. Even a hand crossbow—which can be fired with one hand—requires another hand for reloading. And benefits immensely from dual-wielding. You could try some other “hands-free” weapons, like unarmed strikes, spiked armor, or the hidden weapons from Complete Scoundrel, but those are all awkward weapons to use. So no matter what you do, climbing is a huge drawback.

Notably, warlocks get the eldritch blast invocation at 1st, a basic ray attack that’s pretty similar to archery, which combined with spiderwalk gets you pretty close to the character you want in one turn, and unlike true archery, eldritch blast does not care how many hands you have free. Combining eldritch blast with sneak attack is awkward, though unseen seer from Complete Mage and/or arcane trickster could at least allow you to progress both. If other people have to climb and don’t have a Climb speed, that could even work since they’ll lose their Dexterity bonus to AC (thus allowing you to trigger sneak attack). The eldritch glaive invocation could potentially also allow it to be used in a more melee-oriented situation (and also allows for iteratives, so you get more of your sneak attack).

Also worth mentioning is the Up the Walls psionic feat, which allows you to, well, go up walls, as long as you end your movement on some flat surface. Arguably, that gives you an opportunity to use both hands on your weapon while you move—maybe. You could at least combine it with Spring Attack, which you could try to optimize using the Bounding Assault and Rapid Blitz feats from Player’s Handbook II. That is a very weak, very expensive strategy, and utterly reliant on there being regular ledges for you to use. But maybe your DM will allow a combination of Up the Walls and spider climb to be used to allow you to briefly remove your hand from the wall to attack normally, obviating the need for ledges or wasting feats on Spring Attack et al. Then adding a level of warlock and the Up the Walls feat to basically any other build could work. This is dependent on your DM, though, since the rules offer nothing specific about that combination.

My suggestion ends up being something like this:\$\newcommand{\d}{\mathrm{d}}\$

\begin{array}{l|l|l|c|c|l} & & & \textbf{Sneak} & \textit{Eldritch} \\ \textbf{Level} & \textbf{Class} & \textbf{Special} & \textbf{Attack} & \textit{Blast} & \textbf{Feat} \\ \hline 1^\text{st} & \text{Rogue} & & +1\d6+1 & - & \text{Craven}^1 \\ \hline 2^\text{nd} & \text{Warlock} & \textit{Spiderwalk} & +1\d6+2 & 1\d6 \\ \hline 3^\text{rd} & \text{Trickster}^2 & \text{Steal spell (0 or 1st)} & +2\d6+3 & & \text{Weapon} \\ & \quad\text{Spellthief} & & & & \quad\text{Finesse}^3 \\ 4^\text{th} & & \textit{Detect magic,} & +2\d6+4 \\ & & \quad\text{steal spell effect,} \\ & & \quad\text{1st-level spells} \\ \hline 5^\text{th} & \text{Rogue} & \text{Penetrating strike}^4 & +2\d6+5 \\ \hline 6^\text{th} & \text{Unseen Seer}^5 & \textit{Eldritch glaive}^6 & +3\d6+6 & & \text{Travel Devotion}^7 \\ 7^\text{th} & & \text{Advanced learning}^8 & +3\d6+7 & 2\d6 \\ 8^\text{th} & & \text{Least invocation,} & +3\d6+8 \\ & & \quad\text{div. spell power +1}^9 \\ 9^\text{th} & & & +4\d6+9 & 3\d6 & \text{Martial Study}^{10} \\ 10^\text{th} & & \text{Advanced learning,}^8 & +4\d6+10 \\ & & \quad\text{guarded mind,} \\ & & \quad\text{lesser invocation} \\ 11^\text{th} & & \text{Div. spell power +2}^9 & +4\d6+11 & 4\d6 \\ 12^\text{th} & & \text{Lesser invocation} & +7\d6+12 & & \text{Martial Stance}^{11} \\ 13^\text{th} & & \text{Advanced learning}^8 & +7\d6+13 & 5\d6 \\ 14^\text{th} & & \text{Div. spell power +3,}^9 & +7\d6+14 \\ & & \quad\text{Lesser invocation} \\ 15^\text{th} & & \text{Greater invocation} & +8\d6+15 & 6\d6 & \text{Master Spellthief}^{12} \\ \hline 16^\text{th} & ???^{13} & & +8\d6+16 \\ \end{array}

Race doesn’t really matter, though whisper gnomes from Races of Stone are ideal for stealth and work well here. A kobold playing to their strengths is also a very good race here.

  1. Craven is a feat from Champions of Ruin that adds your character level to your damage on any sneak attack. Very useful. Cannot be used if you have or gain immunity to fear, however, which becomes painful at higher levels—consider retraining. Also make sure you ask your DM if you can ignore aura of courage if there’s a paladin in the party.

  2. Trickster is a spellthief substitution from Dragon vol. 353, pg. 85-86, that trades 2 skill points per level, trapfinding, and all sneak attack improvements after 1st level for a spellcasting progression like a bard as well as the addition of all bard spells to the spell list. Mostly, it’s 1d6 sneak attack plus 1st-level spells to qualify for unseen seer, and Master Spellthief is kind of useful later. Could be replaced with just another level of rogue plus a level of anything that gets 1st-level arcane spells at 1st level, like sorcerer, wizard, or duskblade (Player’s Handbook II).

  3. You have no particular use for Weapon Finesse at this level, but you’ll want it later for eldritch glaive and/or Eldritch Claws.

  4. Penetrating strike is an ACF from Dungeonscape that allows you to deal half your sneak attack damage to things normally immune to sneak attack, replacing trap sense. Trap sense is garbage, while this allows you to maintain damage output by things that usually screw you over. Clearly worth it.

  5. Unseen seer from Complete Mage requires 1st-level arcane spells, hence the dip in trickster spellthief. We don’t have to pick spellthief for the spellcasting advancement, however—Complete Arcane allows warlocks to benefit from prestige classes that advance arcane spellcasting classes. So unseen seer here is advancing warlock. It also gives ¾ BAB, which is nice for us since we want interatives.

  6. Eldritch glaive is a least invocation from Dragon Magic, that allows you to make melee touch attacks with 10-ft reach that deal your eldritch blast damage. Unlike hideous blow, which is a standard action for a single non-touch attack, eldritch glaive is a full-round action and you get to make iterative attacks and make attacks of opportunity with it. That means more eldritch blast damage, more sneak attack damage, etc. etc. This invocation is basically what makes this build work past approximately 8th level (when you first get iteratives).

    • Note: it may be possible to replace eldritch glaive with the Eldritch Claws feat from Dragon vol. 358, especially if you go with a kobold and take Rapidstrike and Improved Rapidstrike from Draconomicon. Using unarmed swordsage and the Beast Strike feat from Dragon vol. 355 instead could be even better.
  7. Travel Devotion is a feat from Complete Champion that allows you to, once per day, move as a swift action for the next minute. That allows you to move and attack, which is really important (and it’s compatible with eldritch glaive, unlike pounce). If you had turn undead, you could use this more—and clerics can get it as a bonus feat, which makes it strongly worth considering a dip in cleric instead of the 3rd level of rogue.

  8. Advanced learning can be used to learn any divination spell from any spell list, as long as you can cast it. You can only cast 1st-level spells, since we aren’t advancing spellthief, but that’s good enough to learn the excellent sniper’s shot, a 1st-level ranger spell from Spell Compendium that eliminates the 30-ft. restriction on sneak attack. The 2nd-level *hunter’s eye& from Player’s Handbook II would be even better, but requires advancing spellthief some.

  9. Divination spell power increases your caster level for arcane divination spells by the listed number, and also decreases your caster level for non-divination arcane spells by the same amount. But since almost-everything you do is an invocation, not a spell, you don’t care. It does boost your caster level with hunter’s eye, though, so that’s nice.

  10. Martial Study from Tome of Battle allows you to learn one of the martial maneuvers from that book and use it once per encounter (once per minute outside of combat). One of them is cloak of deception, a 2nd-level boost that turns you invisible (per greater invisibility) for your turn. Great way to trigger sneak attack from a distance. Also important because it qualifies you for...

  11. Martial Stance, also from Tome of Battle, which allows you to learn one of the stances in the book as long as we already know a maneuver from that discipline. In particular, we are interested in assassin’s stance, a 3rd-level Shadow Hand stance, which grants +2d6 sneak attack damage. Luckily, cloak of deception is also from Shadow Hand, so that works out nicely.

  12. Master Spellthief from Complete Scoundrel lets all your arcane class levels to stack for the caster level of all those classes. So with this feat at this point, both spellthief and warlock have caster level 13th.

  13. Options for 16th and beyond are basically anything that advances sneak attack or anything that advances spellcasting. Abjurant champion from Complete Mage would be a great choice, for example, boosting your BAB along with invocations. Perhaps even better, progress spellthief another couple of levels to get 2nd-level spells (probably earlier, with a couple of the unseen seer levels, so that you can take hunter’s eye with one of the advanced learning opportunities). Then you can progress both eldritch blast and sneak attack with arcane trickster. Getting 2nd-level spells would also open up eldritch theurge from Complete Mage, to advance warlock alongside spellthief spellcasting, if you wanted to do that—with Master Spellthief, that quickly leads to silly caster levels, which is good for hunter’s eye.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that you can get climbing to work, as long as you’re using a magical attack, but it’s expensive and doesn’t quite seem to match what you were looking for. Which brings us to another important fact: ultimately, none of the above is worth paying much attention to at all, because your campaign is going to go as high as 16th-18th level. A 16th-18th level character should never be climbing. Characters can gain the ability to fly as early as 5th, and flight is all-but-mandatory by around 10th level. Flight never gives you any trouble using your combat options, nor does it require a free hand.

Dragonborn (Races of the Dragon) and raptorans (Races of the Wild) can fly as a racial feature, at 6th and 5th, respectively. Many spellcasters, of course, gain fly and then overland flight. Warlocks (Complete Arcane) generally find the fell flight invocation mandatory at 6th—in fact, the build above has absolutely no reason not to take fell flight at 10th, and many, many reasons to do so (ask the DM to retrain spiderwalk at that point). Characters who get flight from neither race nor class have to buy it, but that is still generally a thing they must do. The feathered wings graft from Fiend Folio is the most cost-effective option, but those drive you mad unless you’re evil, so that’s a concern. A winged mask from Magic Item Compendium is probably the cheapest general-purpose version.

In short: climbing is very, very bad for you, and there are limited options for making it better. Flight is too accessible, and too otherwise-mandatory, to bother with even those options that do exist—after all, the best one is spiderwalk, which comes from the same class that gets fell flight five levels later. And since every character needs to be able to fly by mid-to-high levels, it’s not really something to optimize around so much as just a box for every build to check. Too many options to seriously suggest any one build that flies.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Yeah, I suppose that’s so—even Player’s Handbook has spiked armor. I’ll address it. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 30 '18 at 19:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ If the DM is willing to work with the OP, they could possibly waive the "1 free hand" requirement from Dance of the Spider and Balance on the Sky. Shadow Hand would be glorious for a sneak/assassin character. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Mar 30 '18 at 19:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for all the great info, I just thought it would be fun, but its just not worth it :) \$\endgroup\$ – Bram2488 Mar 31 '18 at 11:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bram2488 Yeah, unfortunately, flight first dominates the game too much. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 31 '18 at 13:39

Ditch climbing, try jumping or falling...

...otherwise known as a Death From Above or Dragoon build.

I will provide a list of default options to consider when making a DFA build (in no particular order):

  • Roof Jumper feat (Cityscape): gain attack and move bonuses when jumping downward.
  • Death From Above maneuver (ToB, Tiger Claw strike, swordsage/warblade 4): successful jump check renders target flat-footed and you get +4d6 bonus damage.
  • Battle Jump feat (FR UE, Taer regional feat): drop from at least 5', but not more than 30', above your target; counts as charge (getting you double damage) & +1 size category bonus.
  • Leap of the Heavens feat (PHB2) jump check counts as running even when standing, get bonus if actually do run. Or use the Leaping Dragon stance from ToB, which has slightly nicer benefits.
  • Be a Thri-Kreen for the +30 jump check and four arms full of weapon-y goodness. Pick the non-psionic version to save you an LA.
  • Lion totem ACF (CC) + Whirling Frenzy ACF for Barbarian - Get full attack on each and every charge from pounce, and get a bonus attack, iirc.
  • Leap Attack feat (CA) - combine jump of at least 10' with charge; get x2 or x3 power attack damage.
  • Consider Shock Trooper feat (CW) for charge and bullrush related bonuses.
  • Consider Knockback feat (RoS) for free bull-rush on every attack.
  • If you go the bull-rush route, consider the Dungeoncrasher ACF. If you are jumping downward, you could technically bull-rush them into the ground, and then they take bonus damage. You might want a helmet for yourself as a player, though, as you will probably start to get things chucked at you at this point.
  • Sudden Leap maneuver (ToB): jump check as swift action.
  • Battle Leader's Charge (or War Leader's Charge) (ToB): get bonus damage on a charge.

For a detailed overview of various DFA/Dragoon build versions, I refer you to Endairire's Guide to Dragoons

But if you really want to climb, consider the following skill tricks from the CS:

  • Corner Perch - free your hands while climbing in a corner
  • Extreme Leap - bonus jump distance
  • Leaping Climber - add jump distance to start of climb
  • Speedy Ascent - bonus climb distance with climb check
  • Twisted Charge - change direction once during charge
  • Walk the Walls - Run straight up wall for 1 round
  • Wall Jumper - leap from wall as if running jump.
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do like this idea. The only thing is, im not searching for an overpowered build. I do like the roleplaying and combat to be in balance with the other members of the party. I will definitly use this build, but im thinking to "downgrade" it a bit or just not use al of its ability's Thanks for this great suggestion \$\endgroup\$ – Bram2488 Apr 1 '18 at 22:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Non-psionic thri-kreen is LA +1; psionic is LA +3. So it saves 2 LA. And if you have Battle Jump, Shock Trooper is no longer a “consider” option, it’s the most powerful feat in the game. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 1 '18 at 22:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @bram2488 Do what I do then: research the overpowered build to know what not to do (or in the case of you being DM, knowing what to watch out for) and then pick the best mix of feats that match the expected level of character capability for your table. In any case, you are most welcome! \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Apr 1 '18 at 22:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bram2488 Having played a character like this, fair warning: if you can’t get above your opponents, it gets really difficult to accomplish much. Like you, I toned it down by not going all-in on the charger options—and I think I went too far with that. Charging can give you some options for level ground, as well. Class will probably be a mix of barbarian (lion spiritual totem from Complete Champion is a must) and fighter (you want a lot of feats). For even more details than nijineko offered, Little Red Raiding Hood is the go-to source. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 1 '18 at 22:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kryan the link I provided is to the original author who is providing not only the last version of the little red raiding hood, but also about 7-10 alternate versions that the author or some others came up with and preserved from the gleemax crash. \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Apr 1 '18 at 23:08

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