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I have an idea of build centered around the Crusader class, with some possible dips in Warblade/Swordsage to take advantage of the goodies in other disciplines (such as Ironheart Surge or Time Stands Still).

The dip in the Warblade class brings me the opportunity to take the Stormguard Warrior tactical feat, and I have seen it recommended a number of times specifically for its Channel the Storm option (ToB, p.36):

Channel the Storm: To use this option, you must choose to refrain from making one or more available attacks of opportunity against a single opponent. On your next turn, you gain a +4 bonus on attack rolls and damage rolls for each attack that you refrained from making against the same opponent. You gain this bonus only against an opponent that you refrained from making an attack of opportunity against in the previous round.

I am wondering if this feat is really that good. It seems that it requires a huge investment (in terms of feats) and it is unclear to me whether it really pays off.

The bonuses +4 AR/dmg per refrained AoO (which you have an infinite supply of (*)) do seem interesting, at first, however:

  • A prerequisite of Stormguard Warrior is Ironheart Aura, which in itself does not seem that interesting, especially for a Crusader (Thicket of Blade is not an Ironheart stance)
  • The bonuses gained can only be used against the opponent that generated them, and no other (it's a minor restriction, but worth keeping in mind)
  • An AoO is likely to do much more damage than 4, especially if using a two-handed weapon (even at level 1, we are looking at 1d10 + 6 ~= 11.5)

Thus, the two feats investment seems only worth it if one can generate more AoOs than one has available. In the recommendations I have seen, it is combined with Robilar's Gambit (-4 AR, 1 AoO per foe attack in melee) which itself requires Combat Reflexes. Dexterity is unlikely to be ignored (since it benefits Touch AC), and therefore we are looking at a minimum of 3 or 4 available AoOs per round...

Letting Combat Reflexes and Robilar's Gambit aside, is it really worth it investing in Ironheart Aura and Stormguard Warrior? Am I missing something?

(*) I have seen some debates where it is argued that refraining to take an AoO to fuel up Channel the Storm should use it up, which I ignore here. The feat is much worse in this case.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you link to a debate wherein one side says that not taking an attack of opportunity expends that attack of opportunity? That sounds hilarious. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 22 '15 at 14:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan: An example community.wizards.com/comment/20796951#comment-20796951 (Post #10 if the link does not bring you there directly) \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Mar 22 '15 at 14:37
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Stormguard Warrior is an excellent feat – for building a character around

Stormguard Warrior can add huge amounts of attack and damage bonuses, but it requires that you be pretty dedicated towards generating attacks of opportunity to not take. Specifically, the feats Karmic StrikeCWar and Robilar’s GambitPHB2 are often used, because these feats allow you to take many more attacks of opportunity than you could otherwise (Karmic Strike allows you an AoO every time you’re hit, while Robilar’s Gambit allows you an AoO every time you’re attacked, whether they hit or not). Other ways of getting attacks of opportunity (defensive rebuke Devoted Spirit boostToB) or prevents others from avoiding them (thicket of blades stanceToB as mentioned, Mage Slayer featCArc) are also useful, but don’t add nearly as much as Karmic and/or Robilar’s.

But Ironheart Aura is pretty much a dead feat, yes, and without Karmic or Robilar’s, you’ll rarely see more than +4/+4 from Stormguard Warrior. +4/+4 for two feats isn’t entirely awful, of course; the Weapon Focus/Specialization line (which are awful) is four feats for +2/+4. If you have reach and thicket of blades, the +4/+4 seems pretty likely; using defensive rebuke can improve that dramatically. And it is pretty much expected that you’re using Power Attack with a big two-hander, so it’s really +0/+12. Basically, you’re trading extra attacks (attacks of opportunity) for more potent attacks in general (skip one AoO, get a full attack with +12 on each attack). So it’s not a terrible use of feats. Just not the highly-recommended one that it would be with Karmic and/or Robilar’s.

Also, note the Combat Rhythm option on Stormguard Warrior; it’s not nearly as explosive as Channel the Storm, but it is cool. Personally, I have always wanted to have that opportunity to combine it with avalanche of blades for hilarity. That’s not really an option for a crusader with a warblade dip, though.

The other thing to point out about Stormguard Warrior is that the Evasive Reflexes featToB uses the same “don’t take an AoO you could have, get something instead” mechanic, and like Stormguard Warrior, it doesn’t use up the AoO. You can use both Evasive Reflexes and Stormguard Warrior. This is particularly useful when you have thicket of blades – their 5-ft. steps provoke an AoO from you, which lets you 5-ft. step to keep up with them and gives you +4/+4. If that step was to try to get away from you so they could do something that provokes (say, cast a spell while you have Mage Slayer, or attack an ally after you hit them with defensive rebuke), you have either just prevented them from doing that, or are going to get pumped up even more.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your enlightenment, what is still unclear though, is whether this setup can really generate more AoO than I would be able to take. With Combat Reflexes I should be able to do at least 3 or 4 AoOs even at lower levels, and reliably 6 or 7 at mid-levels (+4 Dex is only 16,000 gp after all). Channel the Storm seem to generate less damage than taking the AoO itself, even factoring iterative attacks, so it seems only useful if the foes reliably generate more than 6 AoOs per round. That's a lot, and it's the only thing the character has after all those investments. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Mar 22 '15 at 15:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. If you had an AoO to use, and do not use it, you still have it. Neither Stormguard Warrior nor Evasive Reflexes say that you use up your AoO to get the alternate effect, just that their effects A. trigger when you could take an AoO, and B. prevent you from taking the opportunity that triggered them to make an attack. You do not need Combat Reflexes (and probably don’t want it). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 22 '15 at 18:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Combat Reflexes is a prerequisite for Robilar's Gambit though, unless there is an alternate feat. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Mar 22 '15 at 18:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. Evasive Reflexes is that feat. As for just taking the AoO, that does depend on table a bit: at mine, most enemies avoid them as much as possible, so Karmic out Robilar's just means people don't attack you in melee (more than once, anyway). But they can't tell you're Channeling the Storm. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 22 '15 at 20:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ From the description in the question, since it doesn't seem to have been explicitly said in either the question or the answer, it seems important to note that EACH attack you make in your turn following your AoOs you didn't take seem to benefit from Channel the Storm. If you're using a reach weapon, you're almost surely two-handing, so no TWF, but that can still mean that even if they only provoke two AoOs from you in a turn (likely to be more using the build described here), that's +8 attack and damage to the entire full attack. I mean, wow. Iteratives suddenly really count. \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Mar 23 '15 at 8:50
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In my opinion...

The feat is often overrated.

What this feat can do is make the character extraordinarily good at protracted melee. The bonuses involved can get huge, no doubt about that.

But it's situational. In order to get the most out of the feat, you usually need to spend at least one round locked in a melee with something else.

The problem? A whole round is a really long time.

Let's consider the good options given by the feat. (No one cares about Fight the Horde.)

  • Channel the Storm requires you to refrain from making an AoO against a particular opponent. Not taking an AoO usually means you allowed your opponent to pull off a risky move, like ignoring you in favour of beating on a squishier party member, or charging through your reach. This is bad. Granted, Robilar's Gambit and/or Karmic Strike can help generate AoOs, but remember what has to happen for those to trigger? You need to get attacked. The more attacks you take, the greater the certainty of your retaliation being enough to finish your opponent - but what if your opponent manages to make sure there is no next round?
  • Combat Rythm is an even more extreme example of "betting on the second round". First, you need to effectively do nothing for a round. Then your opponent gets to act. If you are still alive, and still fighting the same opponent, that opponent is in trouble. But you ceded a round spent in melee, and again, that can come with the price tag of getting your character's skull opened.

This doesn't mean the feat is bad, or that you shouldn't build around it. But the feat has some glaring tactical weaknesses that make it inapplicable in many situations. Fortunately, Stormguard Warriors are generally full initiators, and can use other maneuvers when the feat won't work.

Final word: Stormguard Warrior can give great results, but it usually means you're re-enacting V for Vendetta's "My Turn" scene.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ AS KRyan mentioned, though, you only have one AoO (baring Combat Reflexes), and therefore Channeling the Storm gives you "something for nothing" as long as this AoO is not used... which does not mean you cannot use it at some point (though afterward you don't have any left, and therefore stop channeling). Your point about relatively stationary combat is good though, the fact that it only applies to the opponent that generated the attack means that against "hit and run" opponents it does not quite work. My main worry now is that the feat investment seems to make a "one trick poney" out of you.. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Mar 25 '15 at 9:52

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