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Old Screeds

The Arcane Tank [14 Feb 05] (Part two of three)

After reading my screed on the subject last week, you are convinced! You think that casting arcane spells in plate mail is a great idea! But how do you get the most bang for your buck?

Ability scores: Of course, put a high stat into Intelligence (for Wizards) or Charisma (for Sorcerers). If you intend to max out the armor, make sure you do not put anything higher than a 12 into Dex -- wearing heavy armor constrains your movements, and negates the advantages of a higher Dexterity. Think about the encumbrance rules and your Strength -- make sure you're strong enough to carry the heaviest armor you want to wear. Consititution is always a plus: the best tank has a high AC in addition to lots of hit points (well, as many as a mage can scrape together, anyway).

Armor Proficiency: If the key to the strategy is to wear heavy armor, then you might think that, clearly, you need armor proficiency. But that's not necessarily true! You can wear armor even if you do not know how to use it. According to the 3.5 rules for Dungeons and Dragons, using armor with which you are non-proficient incurs an attack and skill penalty equal to the armor check penalty of the armor and shield worn. If you stick to masterwork studded leather and a masterwork light shield, that means that you suffer no penalty at all!

The penalty applies to attack rolls and Dexterity- and Strength-based skills -- so even wearing the heaviest of armors, if you never make attack rolls and you have no ranks in Dex and Str skills, then why worry about the penalty? Your skills are, most likely, Int- and Con-based. And as for attacks, well, you're a mage! You're not supposed to be attacking enemies! You're supposed to be casting spells on them! Wear plate armor and use a tower shield! You'll be -18 on attacks and -16 on some skills, but so what? That +12 AC is suh-weet!

Multiclassing: But if you do want to wear armor and not suffer the penalty for non-proficiency, then it is far better to multiclass to gain proficiency rather than to use feats! A wizard or sorcerer would require four feats -- Armor Proficiency (Light, Medium, Heavy) and Shield Proficiency -- to equal the benefits gained with a single level of cleric, paladin, or fighter. Fighter gets you Tower Shield Proficiency, too.

If you are going the sorcerer route, and you are willing to play a lawful good character, the sorcerer/paladin is a potent combo. Put at least two levels into paladin to gain divine grace save bonuses and laying on hands; depending on how much of a fighter you want to be, you might put as many as five levels into paladin, to gain the paladin's mount.

The cleric/wizard is a great combo because not only do you gain the use of armor, but also two domains, decent weapons, and turning undead. Plus, divine spells can be cast in armor freely. Since you are already putting a level into cleric for the armor, might as well put in two more and take the Mystic Theurge prestige class. The flexibility of the divine spells helps make up for your limited selection of verbal-only arcane spells.

The fighter/wizard offers the flexibility of a feat at first level and another at second, plus all armors, shields, and tower shields. Ranks in Ride may come in handy, too.

Race: Your paladin/sorcerer tank should be human or half-elf to avoid the experience point penalty for uneven progression. If you go for the Mystic Theurge, since your cleric and wizard levels will be equal at 3/3 before taking the prestige class, your choice of race is wide open. The size benefits of being small (another point of AC, you tiny tank!) and the extra Con makes gnome a nice choice, but almost any of the others will work as well. As for the fighter/wizard, to avoid the xp penalty, you should be a human, a half-elf, a dwarf (fighter favored class), or an elf (wizard favored class). I'd pick the dwarf over the elf, since Con is worth more than Dex to a tank, unless you are aiming to add the Arcane Archer prestige class later (which is only open to characters with elf blood).

Magic Items: There are a few magic items that make especially good sense for the arcane tank. A Metamagic Rod of Still Spell tops that list. With a Lesser Rod, for example, that's three magic missiles, or three lightning bolts, that you can cast each day with no chance of failure in your plate mail.

In your magic plate mail, of course. At lower levels, an extra layer of metal will often save your hide, but at higher levels, the enchantments on the armor really pay the rent. Boost those enhancement bonuses, sure, but also keep the extras in mind, like spell and energy resistance.

If you are a wizard, you get the Scribe Spell feat for free, so put it to good use. And if you are also a cleric, that wizardly feat is also great for scribing divine scrolls, especially cures. If your fellow players balk at taking the time to write scrolls, let them know that the only healing they are going to get will be coming from those magical bits of papyrus! Once you get a little more experienced, grab that Craft Wand feat. Unlike scrolls, wands can be activated with no chance of armor-based spell failure, so you'll want to craft a few wands of fireball to use from behind your tower shield.

Somatic spells: Yes, you specialize in the verbal-only spells that you enjoy casting in armor. But don't rule out somatic spells entirely. The ones with long-lasting effects are useful to any mage ... and you can use them by removing your armor, casting them, and then putting your armor back on. And there are the spells that you cast before or after adventuring, like Identify. Moreover, there are a few spells that you just have to have anyway, like Read Magic. Here are a few of the ones that are most useful in these ways.

  • Level 0: Read Magic, Mending
  • Level 1: Alarm, Endure Elements, Mount, Unseen Servant, Magic Aura
  • Level 2: False Life, Misdirection, Obscure Object, Protection from Arrows, Arcane Lock, Continual Flame, Magic Mouth, Phantom Trap
  • Level 3: Greater Magic Weapon, Nondetection, Phantom Steed, Tiny Hut, Water Breathe, Gentle Repose, Illusory Script, Shrink Item, Explosive Runes, Secret Page
  • Level 4: Detect Scrying, Hallucinatory Terrain, Minor Creation, Secure Shelter, Fire Trap, Illusory Wall, Animate Dead, Mnemonic Enhancer, Stone Shape
  • Level 5: False Vision, Mage’s Faithful Hound, Mage’s Private Sanctum, Mirage Arcana, Overland Flight, Prying Eyes, Seeming, Secret Chest, Permanency, Fabricate, Nightmare, Wall of Stone, Sending
  • Level 6: Wall of Iron, Move Earth, Guards and Wards, Shadow Walk, Veil, Contingency, Permanent Illusion, Programmed Illusion, Create Undead
  • Level 7: Sequester, Simulacrum, Mage’s Magnificent Mansion, Statue, Instant Summons, Limited Wish
  • Level 8: Clone, Create Greater Undead, Discern Location, Mind Blank, Moment of Prescience, Greater Prying Eyes, Screen, Sympathy, Antipathy, Dimensional Lock
  • Level 9: Refuge, Soul Bind, Wish

So you now you know the available V-only spells for your tank, as well as useful somatic spells, possible class and race options, and how to use that precious armor and other magic items. Next time I'll put the pieces together and suggest a few tactics to help your tank really roll.

Feedback! I got this letter on April 8:

I feel obliged to point out ... there is no Metamagic Rod of Still Spell, unless you've invented it yourself as a house-ruled custom item with your DM's approval ...

Which makes the Armored Arcanist slightly less appealing.

- Hypersmurf

To which I can only say, "D'Oh! My bad! You are exactly right!" The DMG does not include a Rod of Still Spell. So if you are an Arcane Tank with the Craft Rod feat, the first thing you want to do is research one! Good luck! And thanks to Hypersmurf for pointing that out!

This is the second in a four-part series on Arcane Tanks:

  • Part one - List of spells with no somatic components.
  • Part two - Picking the best race, class, and otehr options for your arcane tank.
  • Part three - Best-practice strategies for your arcane tank.
  • Part four - A few custom magic items for your arcane tank.

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