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Some background:

I'm playing a tiefling Duskblade, currently at lvl4 and just about to hit 5th. I'm not overly concerned about perfectly optimising the character, so there's a few things I've take for flavour only. Having said that, I do want to avoid handicapping the character too much.

The issue:

My plan so far has been to stick solely with Duskblade progression, at least as far as 13th level when I get full attack channeling (which is basically the defining ability of the class). However, lately I've been considering a single-level dip into Crusader. There's a few main reasons why:

  1. Party dynamic. Our party lacks a dedicated healer, instead making use of a bardic aura (which gives auto-stabilise and 1hp heal per round) and a scattering of items (most of us own either a wand of Cure Light Wounds or a healing belt). Crusader would give me Martial Spirit and Crusader's Strike, both of which heal me or my allies when I make melee hits - which I do a lot. There's also Stone Bones which would me DR. Steely Resolve would let me defer a little damage for a round, giving me a better chance to retreat and/or heal before the damage kicks in.

    We're also starting to come up against bigger enemies and some of the party are having trouble getting through their AC, so the ability to give everyone +4 to hit a certain target with either Vanguard Strike or Leading the Attack would be helpful.

  2. Plot and flavour. My character has something of a vendetta against the undead, for various reasons including a strong religious devotion. Crusader ties in neatly with that, with powers stemming from a divine connection. I already RP pausing for prayer and funerary rites after major combat, so the 5 minute prayer to ready maneuvers would fit right in.

  3. Prestige options. This is a lesser consideration, but having a level of Crusader would open up the option of Jade Phoenix Mage once I get past Duskblade 13, at which point I could take up to 6 levels in it. This would give me 4 levels of Duskblade spell progression, which is just enough to get me to the highest level of Duskblade spells (5th). It also nets me some pretty cool stances, and a strike that can give me a free Empower per encounter. Most interestingly, it has things that boost caster level of my spells, which is nice.

Problems:

My only concern in taking a level of Crusader is that it would delay the Duskblade progression. The first level of Crusader gives a +1 to BAB, so that would continue as normal. Jade Phoenix Mage likewise progresses BAB at +1 per level, although I'd miss out on my 4th attack if I took more than four levels of it.

So, the main question:

My main concern is survivability, so I don't mind a reduction in damage output if it means I can keep myself and my party alive longer. I'd also like to boost my casting a little - Duskblades are very much "fighter with some spells", and I'd kinda like to move this slightly toward the middle ground. I don't want to cross over into "caster who can melee a bit" though.

Given the above, if I took Duskblade 13/Crusader 1/Jade Phoenix Mage 6, would I be seriously handicapping my character compared to a pure Duskblade?

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Is your first reason the main one? The main advantage of cleric is not rapid healing but adverse effect removal, and crusader dip won't cut it, even with IL 7 and access to 4th level maneuvers and stances. At best you will be able to remove any negative effect from yourself with Iron Heart Surge, and that's either being a warblade instead of crusader or spending two Martial Study feats. That said, just about anything with a spellcasting progression is better than pure Duskblade after 13th level, so your idea is an improvement over Duskblade20, just not a lot. \$\endgroup\$ – Jeor Mattan Nov 10 '14 at 17:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not particularly - we're getting by pretty well with our improvised healing tactics, and at some point I'll get Vampiric Touch, which I can channel and will act as my main damage and healing combined. We're starting to gain a few ways (or characters) to counter adverse effects, and those will get better as various characters level up. My main reason is that I'd like to get a little more magic, and some mechanical representation of the character's religious devotion/vendetta, which is a very large part of his character, but currently solely RP. \$\endgroup\$ – anaximander Nov 10 '14 at 19:32
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Duskblade 13/Crusader 1/Jade Phoenix Mage 6 seems to me to be much superior to Duskblade 20. You hit the really big duskblade class feature and retain your highest-level spells.

The issue is timing. The best levels to take Crusader are 5th, 9th, or 13th. Coincidentally, however, 5th, 9th, and 13th are also the levels where it is most painful to have a single level of crusader rather than being a single-classed duskblade, as those are the levels at which you get new levels of spells (and full-attack arcane channeling, in the case of 13th). You have two competing goals: get the next spell level (and full-attack arcane channeling) as soon as possible, while having maneuvers for as long as possible, since they are useful.

Therefore, I recommend taking the crusader level at 6th, 10th, or 14th; that is, I’d take the next spell level first, rather than the maneuvers. Here’s a breakdown of each option:

Duskblade 5/Crusader 1

You can take 2nd-level maneuvers with your first five maneuvers. This means, primarily, that you will have mountain hammer for the longest possible time, which is awesome. Other than that, though, you’ll probably still take a number of 1st-level maneuvers.

Duskblade 9/Crusader 1

You can take 3rd-level maneuvers and stances with your initial set; you can skip crusader’s strike for revitalizing strike, you can still take mountain hammer, and the amazing white raven tactics is available to you. Thicket of blades opens up as an interesting stance option; martial spirit is pretty small at these levels, and thicket of blades greatly improves your presence on the battlefield.

Duskblade 13/Crusader 1

Clearly if you haven’t taken crusader by this point, you should. Duskblade has little to offer, so you lose almost nothing at this point. The disadvantage of waiting this long is that you haven’t had maneuvers at all until this point. The advantage, on top of duskblade features ASAP, is divine surge, an excellent offensive maneuver.

The Awkward Bit

OK, so now that we’ve covered how to do it, there’s one other thing to consider: you cannot use arcane channeling and a martial strike at the same time. Arcane channeling requires a standard action attack or a full-attack, so the attack(s) you get from a strike don’t count. This makes strikes massively less useful to you than they would be to others. A boost or counter heavy selection of maneuvers solves this issue; you could do pretty well with defensive rebuke, shield block, and white raven tactics. But missing out on fantastic options like mountain hammer, tactical strike, the various healing strikes, and divine surge is a disappointment.

It also means you don’t have especially great mobility. You have invested 13 levels in duskblade to allow you to full-attack with spells, so you really do want to be making full-attacks. Crusader doesn’t help with that. Swordsage or warblade would help a little, since Tiger Claw is pretty good at that (sudden leap, arguably pouncing charge), but cleric for Travel Devotion or barbarian for Lion Spirit Totem (Pounce) might be better. Those options don’t lead into a great prestige class like jade phoenix mage, but they still might be better options.

The Other Thing

Finally, item-based healing is generally sufficient in 3.5. In-combat healing is rarely an optimal strategy, barring emergencies; the crusader is far better at this than other classes, but you shouldn’t usually need it. The aura you describe all-but-eliminates the worst emergencies, too. Wands and healing belts are quite sufficient for out-of-combat healing. As Jeor Mattan mentioned in comments, the real draw of actually having a cleric is the various options he or she would provide for removing status conditions, since items have HP-healing pretty much covered (and until you get heal, clerics’ HP-healing spells are pretty poor), and crusaders don’t cover that at all.

This is another situation where a level of cleric may be more useful to you: it would allow you to use wands of any cleric spells you like, with no Use Magic Device check. That will cover a lot your needs.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ An excellent breakdown of the options, and it answers my follow-on question of when to take the Crusader level. One point to note - you mention mobility issues, which I already have covered with Duskblade. Duskblade gets Dimension Hop and Dimension Door, both of which I plan on taking. There's also Expeditious Retreat, which I don't currently have, but as a 1st-level spell it's easy enough to get later if I feel I need it, especially as Duskblades get to swap out a lower-level spell at each level as well as learning a new spell. \$\endgroup\$ – anaximander Nov 10 '14 at 19:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @anaximander Those are all standard actions, i.e. they do nothing to solve the primary problem of being unable to move (more than 5 ft.) and full-attack in the same round. See What are the best ways to move and full-attack in the same round? for more details. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 10 '14 at 19:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ True, but Dimension Hop can technically be channeled, so you can at least move the enemies around a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – anaximander Nov 10 '14 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @anaximander That is an awesome concept, but it still doesn't help you if you start your turn without being able to reach anyone. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 10 '14 at 21:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Mobility could be covered by quick casting of Dimension Door and/or swift movement magic items (anklet of translocation, something-of-horizon-walker, etc - see MIC). \$\endgroup\$ – Jeor Mattan Nov 10 '14 at 22:00

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