Incarnate? Totemist? INCARNATOTEM!
Totemist is 2 levels long (the most important abilities are gained in the first two levels), and in that context, Incarnate is 4. They have considerable synergy, and there is little reason not to add a bit of Totemist to your Balanced Incarnum Breakfast.
Totemist 2 gives you access to the Totem chakra bind, which is the meat and bread of the Totemist class. It lets you choose between a variety of different natural attacks, my favourite of which is Landshark Boots, which turns your feet and hands into claws and gives you a jumping pouncing attack. The CO community's favourite is Girallon Arms, which causes you to grow a second pair of arms and all your (now 4) hands turn into claws, on top of a typeless grapple bonus. All kinds of things can be picked, from Kraken Mantle for serious grappling to Frost Helm to give you a gaze attack or Manticore Belt to launch terrifying volleys of MASSIVE DAMAGE at your foes.
Incarnate 4 gives you access to the Hands chakra bind (and the feet, but that's less exciting). Incarnate has a much steadier power curve than Totemist, but this is still a Big Deal. Largely due to Astral Vambraces being amazing. With the feat to invest extra essentia into a single bind (Expanded Soulmeld Capacity) (which you WILL take), it's something like DR 8/magic at level 5. How many monsters have magic damage at level 5? And then you bind it to your hands and get two free slam natural attacks. With Landshark Boots or similar, that's 6 natural attacks.
The big thing you are getting out of Incarnate though, is damage. Because you are Evil. Why are you evil? Optimizing! Evil incarnates using the Incarnate Avatar get a HUGE bonus on damage applied to every attack! Don't want to be Evil? Well.. you could be Good. Then you get a bonus on your AC. Which you could add a deflection bonus to through Crystal Helm, and a natural bonus to through Wormtail Belt, and make every combat HammerTime. But who wants that? When you can CUT THROUGH YOUR ENEMIES WHILE DRINKING THEIR BLOOD AND PRAISING YOUR DARK GODS?
Incarnate Weapon helps add to damage if you are evil, and Blue Steel Bracers and Bloodwar Gauntlets and Lightning Gauntlets can all help contribute to damage in their own, limited way.
At a certain level, you can take the feat Split Chakra, and you will, and you will split the Totem chakra and you will have two totem binds and you will be so happy, so very, very happy.
Airstep Boots, Spellward Shirt and Blink Shirt all deserve a mention. One grants flight when bound to feet (see: Incarnate 4), one gives decent SR (suck it, spellcasters!) and the other gives teleportation (!!!?!!>!). These are important mobility and survival options for the incarnatotemist on the go, and should not be neglected (no matter how much the siren song of MOAR DAMAGE calls you).
Remember - Essentia can be safely switched between soulmelds at any time, and essentia is pooled between classes and your essentia cap is based on level (and the feat, and the incarnate class ability) - so incarnum classes work really well with dipping. You delay access to chakra binds, but really, when was the last time a soul bind mattered at freakin' level 19 anyway.
Source(s): The Incarnum Handbook, The Incarnate Handbook, The Totemist Handbook (all praise be to the holy sinfire titan, may he keep us safe in this time of need)
Binding and You
Hi, everyone, i'm Bob. And I... I have a problem with binding extradimensional entities and forcing them to my will.
Hi Bob. [Chorus]
With one level in Binder and exactly one feat (Improved Binding), you can bind Dahlver-Nar. In addition to an AoE confusion (Maddening Moan) and the ability to make enemies take half of any damage you take (Shield Self), you also grow teeth all over your body that add your half your con modifier to your natural armour. Which stacks with an amulet of natural armour.
You can also bind Malphas if you feel like sneaking up to someone and RENDING THEM APART WITH YOUR GIRALLON ARMS, because he has at-will invisibility, and sudden strike (it's sneak attack, and when you sneak up on someone it's like delicious supercandy from heaven because each attack does it), and he has an uber little bird thing that scouts for you!
With 3 levels total in Binder and that feat, you can pick up Paimon, who is just dead sexy with his +4 to dex and his ability to pick a direction and murder everyone in it (Dance of Death). If you decide to avoid going incarnatotemist, he helps deal with crowds (incarnatotemists just rend everything).
There's surprising amounts of synergy between the combat focused Vestiges and chakra binds, in that the vestiges grant special attack options and the binds give the raw numbers.
Some people might suggest a quick stop into Barbarian along with the Extra Rage feat will go a long way towards shoring up your sub-par strength, or even dex with the Whirling Frenzy variant (UA). I wouldn't do it. Firstly, it's boring. Really really boring. Secondly, it's better to put together something amazing, like a pouncing, beclawed, incarnate avatar'd screaming madness into the night incarnatotembindist as fast as possible than it is to be mediocre instead of terrible for longer. Basically, Go Big or Go Home.
The only reason to take a level of Barbarian with this class-level-starved build is to pick up Pounce from the Spirit Lion Totem Barbarian ACF in Complete Champion. And that's.. boring. Don't do that. Be leaping around the battlefield Landshark pseudopouncing or Sudden Leaping or using Leaping Flame or something. It's cooler and more interesting. And doesn't cost a level.
To explain further: The only extra capability barbarian gives is the Pounce, which you already have sort-of access to through Sudden Leap and Landshark Boots. Other than that, it's just rage bonuses. Binder I am reccomending due to the extra capability, not the bonuses. Barbarian I am rejecting for the same reason.
Barbarian (1 level + feat): +2 to hit, +2 to damage, +2 to AC for three encounters per day. Pounce.
Binder (1 level + feat): AoE confusion (crowdclear), 50% DR for an action, +2 to AC (that improves with con-boosters), OR at-will invisibility, +2d6 damage (on sneak attack), regenerating bird scout OR other options.
Incarnate (1 level + feat): +6 to damage, +2 AC OR DR 4/magic OR Flight OR Teleportation OR SR OR so forth so on.
Incarnate provides grunt numbers, totemist gives extra attacks and a few number types incarnate doesn't have (natural armour), and Binder and Swordsage provide the sneaky special abilities. Anything that slows you getting the totemist/incarnate combo off the ground is probably bad.
I AM A SWORDSAAAAAAAGEEEEE
Swordsages actually work really as a dip class to enable a blender (multiple attack) style character. The maneuvers Sudden Leap (move as a swift, set up for a full attack), Burning Blade (adds lots of fire damage to ALL your attacks, also learn the higher level versions just to use on the next turn), Flashing Sun (extra attack on the full attack), Leaping Flame (teleport next to enemies attacking at range or with reach as a Counter), Raging Mongoose (extra attacks) all work well with blenders.
Any Strikes you do know should be only the really, really good ones (mostly just Insightful Strike) used only when you can't pull off a full attack or a jumping pseudopounce. Counter Charge and the Diamond Mind counters are all great, know them if possible.
For Stance, you pretty much want to be in Assassin's Stance. Flank someone for +2d6 damage on all your insane number of attacks? Uh, yes. Yes yes yes yes yes. Yes. yes yes. I cannot 'yes' harder.
Long Range Forecast
Once you have your second level of swordsage, you've got Totemist, Incarnate, bubbling along with all your feats heavily invested in stuff like Extra Essentia, Split Chakra, Expanded Essentia Capacity, Improved Binding, Multiattack, etc, what do?
I'll tell you what do. Fist of the Forest, from Complete Champion improves your unarmed strike/gives you unarmed strike, adds Con to AC (you heard me), and lets you enter a trance that gives bonus wis and con or something, for the low low cost of not buying food in towns. Yes. You, a warforge, cannot buy food in towns or sleep in beds in towns. YEAH. WHAT A PRICE, THAT THOU MUST PAYETH.
Deepwarden, from Races of Stone, requires that you be a dwarf. But in that same book there is a feat to COUNT AS A DWARF. I mean heck yeah. Dwarforged. You add Con to AC, and you get some other goodies at the same time, and why not.
Forsaker, from Masters of the Wild, is a terrible class for terrible people. 'But I am a incarnum user I don't need magic items as much' nope. You need magic items as much if not more than everyone else. So despite the fact this adds con to AC and has all kinds of other shiny looking bonuses, you are going to take zero levels in it.
MOAR INCARNATE! - this is a surprisingly good and attractive option, but instead...
You know how you count as a Dwarf now? Welcome to the Ironsoul Forgemaster, Incarnum's answer to the Dwarf. It boasts a faster Chakra Bind progression, progresses your meldshaping for melds known and bound, and some nifty abilities tied to carrying a shield in your hand, which you don't mind doing because you are busy clawing at people with your feet, mouth, tongue, magical appendages, and glowing floating mindweapon and god knows what else. Note that the 'weapon bond' ability can apply to your 'incarnate weapon', so you layer bonuses on bonuses so you can add while you add.
Ironsoul Forgemaster is hands down one of the best classes in the entire damn book, and you will love it, worship it, and use it to smite your foes while cackling.
Your final build is probably going to look a bit like this;
Swordsage 1/Totemist 2/Incarnate 2/Swordsage+1/Incarnate+2/Deepwarden 2/Ironsoul Forgemaster 2/Swordsage+1/Ironsoul Forgemaster X.
You might have a level of Binder splashed in there in the early days. Probably the overall best utility/balance you will get is going in the early levels 'Swordsage 1/Incarnate 1/Binder 1' and taking Improved Binding as your 3rd level feat. The absolute carnage, though, when you hit Totemist 2 and bind Landshark Boots et al is not to be underestimated. Burning Blade + a Totemist 2 full attack can end encounters.
But you won't really be off the ground until you have both Totemist 2 and Incarnate Avatar (Evil) (or to be pedantic and crappy, bloodwar gauntlets and bluesteel bracers at the same time costing double the essentia you non-evil silly billy), so you're getting both extra attacks and extra damage. Your low to-hit will probably always be a problem, a wand of wraith strike and use magic device might be an idea to try to off-set it.
Hopefully, dropping dozens of attacks on things while burning with the righteous rage of the desert wind and relying on a shield that can deflect meteor swarms held in your teeth and skin made of teeth will help overcome that.
Best of luck!
Level by Level, Round by Round