I really like KRyan's solution to this character concept: How to optimize a TWF Barbarian Elf

I'm looking to build something similar, but I don't have all the restrictions that the OP had. For instance, I am planning on using the Arctic Template from Dragon #306 applied to a Wood Elf, giving me +2 Str, +2 Dex, -2 Int, -2 Cha.

With those bonuses, does TWF even make sense anymore? If so, are there changes that would make sense to utilize the STR/DEX synergy?

Getting back into 3.5e after a long time, and I'd forgotten that the limitless options are such a double-edged sword...


2 Answers 2


Not really

There is no particularly good way to use high Strength and Dexterity simultaneously. If they are equal, you could save quite a few feats on Weapon Finesse and Shadow Blade, and otherwise be exactly the same, but they aren’t going to be equal. Your race has the same bonus to both, and ferocity can allow a barbarian—which I presume you still are—an equal bonus to each of Strength and Dexterity (in exchange for being unable to improve Constitution), but even assuming you rolled the same (high) ability score in each, after that you’re out of luck trying to improve both.

In a point-buy situation, though, you can’t afford to improve both the same. Even when rolling, chances are slim that you have two high-and-also-equal ability scores to give out. And once you start leveling, you are going to have to make choices. The improvements every 4 levels can only be given to one score. Enhancement bonuses to ability scores are (rightfully) expensive—getting a second one is difficult and pricey. And for the sake of the particular build I suggested, primal scream only improves Dexterity, and there isn’t any good Strength-based alternative (or, rather, the Strength-based version is rage, which you already have).

The long and short of it is that at higher levels, you are very strongly incentivized to just pick one—and the more you pick one, the more it makes sense to dump the other, and the more it becomes worthwhile to pick up feats that enable you to focus that much harder. Which means, if you pick Dexterity, Weapon Finesse and Shadow Blade come back into the build, and if you pick Strength, Two-Weapon Fighting comes out.


So all that said, there are effectively four approaches I see: trying to force hybrid to work, going all-in on Strength and just making a typical übercharger, going all-in on Strength but force dual-wielding into it anyway, or going with the Dexterity-based build of the previous answer.

Best hybrid option—tripper?

Trip-lockdown is a pretty effective strategy, and since trip attempts involve Strength checks, and lockdown involves attacks of opportunity which involve Combat Reflexes and thus Dexterity, you actually utilize both scores. Dexterity is also useful for initiative and, to a lesser extent, AC and Reflex, which are values that Strength doesn’t have.

That means it can be worthwhile to have decent Dexterity on a tripper. But “decent” here probably isn’t more than maybe 16—it’s a rare encounter where you are going to see 5+ provocations in a round. That makes wildrunner somewhat dubious, and champion of Corellon Larethian and Shadow Blade are completely pointless. Maybe ferocity is still worth it.

Instead, your primary interests are in getting more reach—if not getting outright larger—and in achieving more ways to prevent foes from slipping past you without provoking. See HeyICanChan’s suggestions along those lines for a fighter—it needs a ton of feats, so levels in fighter are likely. Psychic warrior, for expansion and its own pair of fighter (or psionic) bonus feats, is also an excellent idea.

Eternal blade is still pretty good, but only “pretty good” since you aren’t going for devastating full-attacks. It mostly allows you to reposition and reset your attacks of opportunity for the round. And since you really want psychic warrior for the feats and expansion, you won’t have the BAB to qualify on time anyway—which means you don’t get island in time, and the prestige class is close to pointless, though Iron Heart maneuvers can do you well. I suppose you could try to use war mind for expansion if you really wanted, and then still get island in time, but that would be quite painful in terms of the feats you would need. If you give up on island in time, just taking swordsage becomes an alternative option for qualifying for Shadow Blade, possibly making it worthwhile since a spiked chain is a Shadow Hand weapon.

Note that a lot of DMs allow you to “finesse” trips made with finessed weapons, like a spiked chain. The rules don’t support this (in 3.5e; they do in Pathfinder), but it’s pretty common. If that’s the case, there really isn’t any advantage for Strength anymore.


For Strength-based, you’re looking at a rather typical übercharger—you probably want a mount, and a lance (though you’ll still use two hands), and Power Attack, Leap Attack, Shocktrooper, and Spirited Charge. Maybe frenzied berserker if you want to dial it up. This is, almost-certainly, the most effective approach, since an übercharger will one-shot anything it can get its lance on.

Champion of Corellon Larethian and wildrunner both become worthless. Eternal blade is still good, of course, but you would probably want to look into levels of things that improve your mount as it is otherwise a vulnerability for you. Harmonium peacekeeper and ranger-knight of Furyondy each provide the equivalent of several levels’ worth of paladin for the sake of mounts in a single level, and they stack with one another, so that’s a pretty traditional approach.

Strength-based—revenant blade

If you really wanted to do something more similar to the previous answer, but Strength-based, you would probably want ranger levels more, to skip the Dexterity prerequisite on Two-Weapon Fighting—though I already recommended them in any case—and then you might want to look into the revenant blade from Player’s Guide to Eberron—conveniently still an elven prestige class. At 5th level, a revenant blade can treat both ends of a Valenar double scimitar as a two-handed weapon, which is pretty substantial for dual-wielded Power Attack.

Complete Mage allows rangers to choose “favored enemy—arcanists,” which also includes anything with spell-like abilities (!), and then stalker of Kharash from Book of Exalted Deeds can get you “favored enemy—evil,” which covers every evil creature ever. Together with Favored Power Attack, those can also make your Power Attack about as good as a frenzied berserker’s but while dual-wielding. (These favored enemy options also enable the fantastic Nemesis feat.)

Unfortunately, two levels of stalker of Kharash, five levels of revenant blade, and ten levels of eternal blade (which you still want) don’t fit into a pre-epic build without substantial early-entry cheese.¹ You could drop stalker of Kharash, and just rely on enemy spirit pouches from Ghostwalk to ensure your favored enemy applies, but that gets expensive unless you have a thematic campaign where you can anticipate what sorts of enemies you’re likely to have, and fantastic divination or scouting so you know which enemy spirit pouch you need to be wearing before you get into the fight. The other option is to drop island in time, which means eternal blade isn’t worth it and you probably just take more warblade levels or something. Maybe frenzied berserker, even (ask if Righteous Wrath applies to frenzy), or if you can finagle or waive the conflicting requirements, champion of Gwynharwyf (but then you’ll want to reconsider taking that −2 to Charisma).

And either way, the übercharger is probably just better. It’s certainly easier. And since this build utilizes Power Attack heavily, it benefits strongly from Shock Trooper, too, and then if you’re looking to charge anyway you want Leap Attack, and you know, the Valenar are famed horse-elves and Spirited Charge really is good, and at that point you’re just building a weirder and more complicated übercharger, who spent a ton of feats and class levels just getting a dual-wield situation up to par with a simple lance.

  1. You need flaws just to get all the feats you need, and then you somehow need to have BAB +5 at ECL 3rd. Divine power and inspire greatness get you there, but divine power is a personal-only 4th-level spell, and inspire greatness is a 9th-level bard feature. A 5th-level artificer with Persist Spell could produce a wand of divine power, and then imbue it with the metamagic item infusion, to allow you to cast persistent divine power—if you can somehow manage the DC 20 Use Magic Device check (assistance from yet another character—a 3rd-level cleric casting guidance of the avatar—would enable that, I suppose). And then a 9th-level undead or warforged bard could provide indefinite inspire greatness. Between the two, you can guarantee that your level-up occurs with these effects in place, but arranging for the on-going services of adventurers of that caliber as a 3rd-level character is, to put it mildly, implausible. At that point you’re basically asking the DM to just let you take a prestige class you really don’t qualify for.

Dexterity-based—see previous answer

For Dexterity-based, you’re looking at pretty much exactly the same build I described in the previous answer. The extra Strength you have does little for you, because Strength is, frankly, a pretty garbage ability score—its only advantage is that it saves you feats on Weapon Finesse and Shadow Blade, and the 1½ bonus on two-handed attacks, which isn’t as good as dual-wielding once you have Shadow Blade.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @JoeNapalm Dex ≫ Con ≫ everything else. Considering how warblade and eternal blade use Int, it could easily beat out Str, and so could Wis for that matter just because of Listen, Spot, and Will. Just about the only thing Strength does for that build is small increases in your damage output, and allow you to carry more gear (which is easily augmented through cheap magic items anyway). Str is pretty soundly superior to Cha for that build, but for everything else it is either clearly or arguably inferior. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Mar 5, 2021 at 22:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @JoeNapalm Snow Tiger Berserker is pretty close to just wasting a feat, since you can get a better benefit by trading in fast movement (which is nearly useless), but if it’s locked in, it is what it is. You still want barbarian for ferocity or whirling frenzy—and still probably have no use for fast movement, so ape or boar totem is probably your best trade (climb speeds are worthless once you can fly, but until then it’s nice, or you could take Diehard as a lead-in to Steadfast Determination, which is a very good feat). If you need Dodge for something, Expeditious Dodge could be better. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Mar 7, 2021 at 14:16
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @JoeNapalm Pugilist is a strong choice; picking up Two-Weapon Fighting and Endurance for free helps a lot. Elven lightblades are no big loss without champion of Corellon Larethian (and if you can get sun swords, there’s no loss at all). But if you do that, ranger becomes a lot less valuable—sure, the skills are nice, but you already have the two feats you were trying to get out of the class. If you’re taking the ranger levels, better to take something else with the pugilist bonus feats—ask the DM if, say, Martial Study would be available; unarmed strikes are Shadow Hand weapons, after all. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Mar 7, 2021 at 14:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoeNapalm If you take Snow Tiger Berserker, there’s no point in taking the lion spiritual totem (i.e. the Complete Champion one, as opposed to the Unearthed Arcana “lion totem” which is garbage). If you take the lion spiritual totem, then you’d want to skip Snow Tiger Berserker; if you take Snow Tiger Berserker, then skip lion spiritual totem and either keep fast movement for Expeditious Dodge (only if you need Dodge for something), go with ape totem for the climb speed, or go with boar for Diehard leading into Steadfast Determination later. Also, you need Martial Stance. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Mar 7, 2021 at 15:44
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @JoeNapalm I don’t think you were going with it, but just in the interest of accuracy: Steadfast Determination requires Endurance, not Diehard. Therefore, boar totem is worthless (to you, or anyone else). \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Mar 9, 2021 at 15:52

I finally went with, not fully fleshed out but enough to get me started.

(Any credit to @KRyan, and criticisms to @JoeNapalm)

Wild Elf w/ Arctic Template from Dragon 306: +2 Dex/Con, -2 Int/Cha

Barbarian 1: ACF - Whirling Frenzy (UA) ACF - Lion Totem (CC, not to be confused with UA)

2 Flaws (Implacable and Cold Blooded, Dragon 310)

Feats: Martial Study (Shadow Blade Technique), Martial Stance (Island of Blades), Shadow Blade

Pugilist 1: Imp. UA Combat, Endurance, Weapon Finesse

Fighter 1: TWF, Weapon Focus (Short Sword)

Barbarian 2

Crusader 1 -- Stance and Maneuvers TBD (definitely Mountain Hammer as one) --

Wildrunner 1-5: Extra Rage -- Feat TBD --

Eternal Blade 1-10: -- Feats, Maneuvers, and Stances TBD --

  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan - Looking at the above, it looks as if taking Fighter 1 at 3rd Level just accelerates grabbing Weapon Focus (needed for Eternal Blade but overall not an urgent priority). Is there another class Dip that would make more sense here? \$\endgroup\$
    – JoeNapalm
    Mar 18, 2021 at 20:38

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