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I would like to build a character for D&D 3 ed (3.5 acceptable too). My intention is to build a heavy-armored melee combatant who would be able to withstand some punishment, deal some damage and support other characters by inspiring them. That sounds like a perfect job for a Paladin, but I don't really enjoy playing a (limited, but still) spellcaster and their specialisation with fighting (turning, smiting etc.) undead and other evil creatures is not necessarily what I'm looking for.

I was considering going for a cleric or a bard, but spellcasting is not to my liking. I thought of simple fighter, but there is little I can do in the whole "inspiring" business. Cavalier seems great, but his reliance on mounted combat is a no-no in dungeon environment. Paladin would be OK (I could ditch the class when I move on to a prestige one), but it's alignment restricts me. I would prefer the character to be Lawful Neutral, but it seems nigh impossible to find a good combination of classes for this alignment - most knights require you to be Good, while bards and the like require non-lawfulness.

I found Purple Dragon Knight and Warchanter prestige classes, but I would be open to similar ones as well. I don't know how to start - what base class to begin with?

My requirements, in descending order of importance:

  • heavy-armored melee combatant
  • capable of inspiring the whole party (with a bardic song, blessing, commanding shouts etc.)
  • capable without a mount
  • non-spellcaster
  • Lawful Neutral
  • relying of Strength, Constitution, Charisma
  • bonus points if a character can be built as a half-orc and have a Leadership feat
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  • \$\begingroup\$ I was going to suggest Purple Dragon Knight from the Dragonlance campaign setting. However, you already found that one it seems ^_^ \$\endgroup\$ – Bas Jansen Jul 27 '15 at 9:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just looked at Tome of Battle Crusader base class. Now I need to ask if it's allowed too. \$\endgroup\$ – eimyr Jul 27 '15 at 11:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Doesn't White Raven have some stances/maneuvers that affect allies? \$\endgroup\$ – Ruut Jul 27 '15 at 11:12
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Crusader is the best option in the game for this. Warblade is also solid, since it also gets access to White Raven maneuvers, but it doesn’t get heavy armor proficiency by default and likes Intelligence more than Charisma. Both classes, along with White Raven, are from Tome of Battle.

The crusader itself is extremely tough, with d10 HD, heavy armor, and the ability to “soak” a certain amount of damage, delaying it for a turn. It also adds Charisma to Will saves (on top of Wisdom) and gets a Smite Opposition feature.

Because Smite Opposition works against anyone with an opposite alignment on either axis, crusaders aligned on both axes would have more valid targets for Smite Opposition than would a crusader who is neutral in one, but that’s minor. Certain Devoted Spirit maneuvers require an alignment, which means having two gives you more options there, but none of them are must-have anyway. So Lawful Neutral is somewhat “worse,” strictly speaking, than Lawful Good or Lawful Evil, for example, would be, but it’s really minor.

Anyway, the reason the crusader here shines is because it has access to the White Raven discipline. White Raven features many, many options for improving your allies, from inspiring charges that allow your allies to charge with you, to battle roars that rally your compatriots, to shrewd tactical stratagems you can use in the middle of combat. It is the best source of such abilities in the game. White Raven tactics is one of the few things in Tome of Battle that is arguably overpowered – make sure you never use it on yourself, which you arguably can by RAW but that’s definitely overpowered.

You also get access to Devoted Spirit and Stone Dragon. The former is notable because it also gives you access to healing – healing that is also described as inspirational in nature, not magical. All of the healing maneuvers are Extraordinary, not Supernatural. Stone Dragon is nice for playing up your own sturdiness, and the 2nd-level mountain hammer maneuver is a wonderful utility option since it ignores all DR and hardness (great for smashing into or out of places).

Having a single Stone Dragon maneuver also enables you to take the Stone Power feat, which lets you take a penalty to attack, à la Combat Expertise, to get twice as many temporary HP. This basically amounts to having the first 10 HP worth of damage you take each round not count, on top of the crusader’s native ability to soak damage. That’s pretty impressive at low levels.

Bard-sader, or the Harmonious Crusader

Tome of Battle also has a feat called Song of the White Raven which allows your crusader (or warblade) levels to count towards how large a bonus Inspire Courage offers, and allows you to start Inspire Courage as a swift action.

Qualifying for and using this feat, of course, means we need Inspire Courage. The really nice thing here is that Tome of Battle characters multiclass very well, so we have more freedom to multiclass in order to get Inspire Courage.

Specifically, half of your non-initiating levels count towards your Initiator Level, and that means they count (half) towards what level maneuvers and stances you can take. So if we want to multiclass, taking 4 levels of other classes before crusader works very nicely for us, as our first level of crusader will come at Initiator Level 3rd, allowing us to choose 2nd-level maneuvers for our initial 5.

So we’re looking for a good way to spend our first four levels, so we can get Inspire Courage and benefit from the way Initiator Level works.

  • Bard is, obviously enough, not a bad choice here by any means, but there are some better ones.

  • The battle howler of Gruumsh prestige class in Dragon vol. 311 is literally made for orcs and half-orcs, and provides full BAB and Rage in addition to Inspire Courage. It is, however, a prestige class, so you cannot take it until 6th level, and we would much rather do our non-initiating things first.

    Its requirements are also problematic: it expects you to be “any Chaotic,” and to have the Cleave feat and 8 ranks in Perform. These are things you don’t really want. Not to mention that worshiping Gruumsh would, itself, be an odd choice for an LN character, even an LN half-orc. (The class also requires the Power Attack feat and 2 ranks in Knowledge (religion), but Stone Power can replace Power Attack and crusader gets Knowledge (religion) in-class, so those are much less painful to get.)

  • The harmonious knight variant paladin in Champions of Valor allows you to swap your 1st-level at-will detect evil for Inspire Courage +1, 1/day. This means you get the d10 and full BAB of paladin, rather than the d6 and ¾ BAB of the bard (though you do miss out on the 6+Int skill points).

    It also means that you can take a second level of paladin to get Divine Grace – adding your Charisma to every single saving throw. It doesn’t stack with the crusader’s Indomitable Soul, so you don’t get Charisma to Will twice, but this is still a big upgrade. A third level of paladin gets you the Aura of Courage.

    Note that a LN paladin variant was printed in Dragon vol. 310. For the levels we’re interested in, evil is replaced with chaos and good replaced with law, Will saves are good instead of Fort, and Lay on Hands is replaced with Subdue, which allows you to deal non-lethal damage with otherwise-lethal weapons at no penalty. All other class features in the first three levels remain the same. It actually gets Leadership as a 5th-level bonus feat, but I really recommend against that; the feat is good enough to justify taking on its own, and 5 is simply too many paladin levels.

Since we want to do our non-initiating things before taking that first level in crusader, that makes battle howler less than ideal even if the prerequisites weren’t so problematic. Thus, I recommend you include Paladin 3 in your first four character levels; if your DM enforces the (awful and rarely-used) multiclass restrictions on paladin, in fact, you will be required to take paladin first if you want to take it all.

So if we have Paladin 3, and want Crusader 1 to come at ECL 5, we want to stick one more class level in between. Here are some thoughts:

  • Cleric 1 is the best dip in the game; there’s an entire handbook devoted to it. Cloistered cleric is basically all-win for you, and its 6+Int skill points mean that it should probably come first, before paladin levels (unless your DM actually enforces the awful paladin multiclass rule)

    • Knowledge devotion, which you’d get as a cloistered cleric using Complete Champion, gives a guaranteed +1 to attack, +1 to damage, and you can attempt to roll Knowledge checks for more.

    • Travel Devotion is an amazing option from Complete Champion, replacing one of your domains. It gives you absolutely incredible mobility.

      • Travel domain gives 1 round of freedom of movement each day. That’s pretty sweet.
    • Pride and Luck domains both allow you reroll once per day. Pride only affects saves, while Luck is any d20 roll, but saves are usually the best thing to use this on.

      • Destiny allows you reroll someone else’s save 1/day. That could be even more fitting.
    • Animal devotion, Complete Champion again, can give Strength bonuses or flight.

    • Magic domain means that your cleric dip allows you to use any and all wands that contain spells found on the cleric, sorcerer, or wizard spell lists, with no UMD check. That’s pretty nice.

    • Time gives Improved Initiative, which is always nice.

  • You can still take a level of bard, getting a second use of Inspire Courage per day, not to mention a bunch of other neat and useful things. The 6+Int skill points again means the bard level should probably come first if possible.

  • A level of marshal from Miniatures Handbook for a minor aura isn’t awful, I suppose,

    • But a level of dragon shaman from Player’s Handbook II would be better.

      • Dragonfire adept from Dragon Magic doesn’t get draconic auras, but while we’re on the subject of dragons, it may be interesting. Dragons are interesting for you anyway because of Dragonfire Inspiration. Dragonfire adepts can take Entangling Exhalation from Races of the Dragon to turn their breath weapon into some decent crowd-control, which is very useful.
    • If your DM approves the variant marshal that Li-aung Yip suggested, that’s not a bad idea for a dip, either.

  • Knight, also from Player’s Handbook II, is certainly fitting, and the 1st-level knight’s challenge isn’t awful. You won’t have room for enough levels in knight to get its best features (Test of Mettle and Bulwark of Defense), and the Knight’s Code is possibly even stricter than the Paladin’s (though the consequences for breaking it are less dire), but it’s an option.

  • Paladin 4 gives you Turn Undead (or Rebuke Undead if we’re using Dragon vol. 310’s LN variant) and some minor spellcasting. Divine feats are powered by Turn/Rebuke Undead uses, and can be very good.

    • The devotion feats from Complete Champion, listed above under cleric, are also better options now that you have Turn/Rebuke Undead.

    • On the subject of knights, paladins, and homebrew, I love this homebrew knight-paladin; Knight-paladin 4/Crusader 16 would be a fantastic build for this purpose. Knight-paladin does get a little spellcasting, but it’s minor, and the test of mettle, divine grace, bulwark of defense, and aura of courage features are all amazing for you. If allowed and allowed to apply the harmonious knight changes to it, this is probably my favorite suggestion.

For feats, Extra Music, Dragonfire Inspiration, and Song of the White Raven are your go-tos. Dragonfire Inspiration requires that you have the dragonblood subtype; that could mean frostblood half-orc from Dragon Magic, or it could mean dipping dragon shaman or dragonfire adept.

Race

  • Half-orc is, unfortunately, pretty awful. The +2 Strength comes at the price of −2 Intelligence and −2 Charisma. The only other half-orc racial feature is Darkvision, which is hardly unique or impressive. You can use it, but it is painfully bad.

    • The frostblood half-orc from Dragon Magic at least offers the useful Dragonblood subtype, which you do want. However, it’s still quite poor, and the 10 Cold Resistance it offers is not remotely worth the 50% extra damage you take from fire due to its Fire Vulnerability.
  • Full-blooded orc is actually better: Wisdom isn’t all that important to you, so the addition of the −2 Wisdom is no big deal, and you get +4 Strength instead of +2 out of the deal. Still a bad choice, though. Note that Sandstorm has 10-gp sunglasses that handle the Light Sensitivity.

    • Water orc is significant improvement, since the +2 Constitution means you actually have net-0 ability score modifiers like a normal race. The traits of water races, which water orcs share, are minor in the extreme, and the race still lacks much in the way of useful, interesting, or unique traits.

    • Frostblood orc is also an option in Dragon Magic. Again, better than the half-orc version, but still problematic.

  • Silverbrow human from Dragon Magic is also Dragonblood, like frostblood half-orc, and would additionally give you a bonus feat, which is awesome. This is almost-certainly the best choice for you.

I really recommend the silverbrow human here; mechanically, it offers everything you could ever want. It eases up your feat requirements a lot, allowing you to start with both Extra Music and Dragonfire Inspiration if your first level is harmonious knight paladin. But the various orc and half-orc options are workable, albeit painful.

Alternatively, you might check with your DM to see if you could take battle howler of Gruumsh as a base class as an orc or half-orc. If you could take it first, and avoid its prerequisites, it becomes a much better option, and its power might be sufficient to justify the weak race. On the other hand, you miss out on paladin and thus Divine Grace, which is a great shame.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Gotta run, have some more thoughts that will be added soon. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 27 '15 at 13:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ How the heck do you remember all this stuff?! \$\endgroup\$ – Li-aung Yip Jul 27 '15 at 13:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow. Just wow. When you have more time, could you please explain why after all this I would need to take Paladin levels first? Is there anything wrong with starting as a Crusader from lvl 1? \$\endgroup\$ – eimyr Jul 27 '15 at 13:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @eimyr You can take crusader levels first, but I recommend just going straight crusader if you do that. Paladin levels first takes advantage of the way initiator levels work for multiclass characters: because you get way more maneuvers at 1st than you do at later levels, it’s best to take other class levels first so your first level happens at higher Initiator Level and those can choose from higher level maneuvers. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 27 '15 at 13:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Li-aungYip I had to look up which Dragon volume had the LN paladin variant... \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 27 '15 at 13:41
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The Marshal from the Miniatures Handbook is a good fit for your requirements:

  • Inspires / buffs their allies with a wide selection of "command auras". There are auras for all purposes, including offensive auras, defensive auras, auras that benefit melee fighters, ranged fighters, or spellcasters; and so on.
  • Decent melee combatant (3/4 BAB progression)
  • Access to all armour, shields, and martial weapons
  • Doesn't need a mount
  • No race, alignment restrictions.
  • Favours high CHA. (You can build the character to be high STR and high CON as well, though it's not actually required.)

The only problem is that the Miniatures Handbook Marshal is very weak and sucks to actually play.

There is a "Sublime Way Variant Marshal", a.k.a. the "Rebalanced Marshal", originally by Tempest Stormwind on the WOTC forums, which is much better.

It powers up the original Miniatures Handbook marshal by beefing up the auras and allowing access to stances and maneuvers from the Tome of Battle. You get access to the White Raven school, a.k.a. the "Teamwork" school, by default. Depending on specialisation, you can also get access to other schools of maneuvers that improve your individual combat effectiveness. (Stone Dragon is my personal favourite.)

In case the original post is down or 404, I also host a re-formatted copy.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Marshals should also have draconic auras and the legendary leader prestige class in order to have more stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruut Jul 27 '15 at 11:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Was all set to downvote marshal cuz it sucks, but then I saw you cover that. Nice. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 27 '15 at 11:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Further, pretty much the entire class was rewritten in Dragon #348 92-3 (And, for some reason, the marshal depicted in the article has, like, a weird sort of pterodactyl head. That reason, by the way, is awesome.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 27 '15 at 12:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is that class homebrew? Because if it is I might have a slight problem with my GM disallowing it. \$\endgroup\$ – eimyr Jul 27 '15 at 12:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, the re-balanced marshal is homebrew. It's fairly tame home-brew, though; it's flavourful but not particularly powerful. Straight PHB Bard is more combat effective. \$\endgroup\$ – Li-aung Yip Jul 27 '15 at 12:50

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