Defense Monster [6 Feb. 08] Putting it all together.
I've been talking about the different components of survivability in Dungeons and Dragons -- armor class, hit points, and saving throws -- but how can you put them all together to make a real Defense Monster? Here are five tips that will get you there.
First of all, choose the right classes. More classes mean better saves, and combining classes cleverly gets you a few excellent synergies. A couple low level class features are especially useful. Here's my advice for putting together the optimal combination.
Look at prestige classes. There are three that directly boost AC ... duelist, dragon disciple, and dwarven defender. Of these, two have two good saves AND twelve-sided hit dice. So strongly consider the dragon disciple / dwarven defender.
Before you get there, you need a level of cleric for the luck domain reroll (to use on poor hit point rolls). You need two levels of paladin for Divine Grace. You need two levels of monk for great saves and evasion, especially. And a level of sorcerer in order to qualify for dragon disciple. (You might want a level of fighter for the free feat and tower shield, as in my example below.)
Then pick stats and race wisely. Let's take a very conservative 25-point PC build -- not very high stats, but still enough to get the job done. Str 10, Int 8, Wis 11, Dex 12, Con 14, Chr 16 -- these get us where we want to go. Note that Int 8 is too low to meet the reqs for Combat Expertise, but oh well. If you have more points or better rolls, Int 13 gets you where you want to be. And of course, you are a dwarf (required for the Dwarven Defender prestige class), so -2 Chr and +2 Con are a given.
If you are trying something besides a dwarf, halfling is a very sweet option. Especially since you can hope to one day have a Dwarven Belt and reap the survivability bennies of both races!
Keep in mind that you want to pick the right feats. Toughness, Dodge, and Endurance are required to be a Dwarven Defender. Tower Shield gives a +4 AC, so that's a keeper (or multiclass to fighter for Tower Shield and another free feat). Lightning Reflexes boosts your relatively weak reflex saves. And then take as much Improved Natural Armor as you can, after you have natural armor (thanks to the Dragon Disciple PrC) to improve.
Then the gear -- use your wealth efficiently. There are a few paths that grant you bonuses. For example, the magic armor path costs 1,000 gp for the first plus, +3,000 for the next, +5,000 for the next, etc. There are also the shield path, the ring of protection path, the cloak of resistance path, the stat boosters path, and so on. Keep in mind the "cost per plus" and do not overspend inappropriately. For example, boost your armor to +1 (cost: 1,000) before you buy a +1 ring of protection (cost: 2000 gp). And bring your shield to +1 (cost: 1,000 gp) and buy that ring (cost: 2,000 gp) before you upgrade your armor to +2 (cost: +3,000 gp).
Also be ready to buy non-path items. Buy a +1 AC Ioun Stone (cost: 5,000 gp) before you upgrade that +1 ring of protection to +2 (cost: +6,000 gp), for example.
Finally, keep a survivor's mindset. Go beyond the crunchy numbers. Look for conflict resolutions that use diplomacy or negotiation. Always keep a clear path of retreat. Don't make heroic last stands. Used ranged attacks before melee. Stash potions of fly, invisibility, and gaseous form in your pocket -- and save them for emergencies. Don't let your hit points get too low. It is better to survive than to die, even if survival requires surrender or playing dead or running away. Be proud to be a survivor, and don't let pride keep you from surviving.
Okay, let's put it all together. Start with a dwarf using the 25 point build. I'll go for Str 10, Int 8, Wis 11, Dex 12, Con 14, Chr 16. Starting from there, here is my Defense Monster at levels 5, 10, and 15.
- Level Five
- Levels: Cleric 1 / Fighter 1 / Paladin 2 / Monk 1
- Stats boosts: +1 Wis at lvl 4 = 12 Wis.
- Feats: Toughness, Dodge (Fighter Bonus Feat), Lightning Reflexes
- Specials: Luck Domain gives hit dice rerolls as needed; Fighter gives Tower Shield Proficiency; Paladin 2 gives Divine Grace.
- Gear: +1 chain mail, +1 tower shield, +1 cloak of resistance, +1 ring of protection, +1 amulet of natural armor, masterwork missile weapon, masterwork melee weapon, wand of cure light wounds.
- Payoff ...
- AC: Chainmail base +5, +1 enhancement bonus, +4 tower shield, +1 enhancement bonus, +1 ring, +1 amulet, +1 dex = 24 (25 dodging)
- HP: 33.75 rolled +15 con +3 toughness = 52
- Fort: +9 base +3 Con +2 Grace +1 cloak = +15 + dwarf save bonuses
- Reflex: +2 base +1 Dex +2 feat +2 Grace +1 cloak = +8 + dwarf save bonuses
- Will: +4 base +1 Wis +2 Grace +1 cloak = +8 + dwarf save bonuses
- Level Ten
- Levels: Cleric 1 / Fighter 1 / Paladin 2 / Monk 2 / Sorcerer 1 / Dragon Disciple 3
- Stats boosts: +1 Wis at lvl 4 = 12 Wis. +1 Con at level 8 = 17. +2 Dex gloves = 14. +2 Str Dragon Disciple = 12.
- Feats: Toughness, Dodge (Fighter Bonus Feat), Lightning Reflexes, Endurance, Improved Natural Armor.
- Specials: Luck Domain gives hit dice rerolls as needed; Fighter gives Tower Shield Proficiency; Paladin 2 gives Divine Grace; Monk 2 gives evasion; weasel familiar gives +2 Reflex saves; Dragon Disciple gives +1 natural armor.
- Gear: +3 mithril full plate, +3 tower shield, +3 cloak of resistance, +1 ring of protection, +1 amulet of natural armor, gloves of dex +2, masterwork missile weapon, masterwork melee weapon, wand of cure light wounds.
- Payoff ...
- AC: full plate base +8, +3 enhancement bonus, +4 tower shield, +3 enhancement bonus, +1 ring, +1 amulet, +2 dex, +1 natural armor, +1 nat armor feat = 34 (35 dodging)
- HP: 66.25 rolled +30 Con +3 toughness = 99
- Fort: +13 base +3 Con +2 Grace +3 cloak = +21 + dwarf save bonuses
- Reflex: +4 base +2 Dex +2 feat +2 Grace +2 familiar +3 cloak = +15 + dwarf save bonuses + evasion
- Will: +10 base +1 Wis +2 Grace +3 cloak = +16 + dwarf save bonuses
- Level Fifteen
- Levels: Cleric 1 / Fighter 1 / Paladin 2 / Monk 2 / Sorcerer 1 / Dragon Disciple 6 / Dwarven Defender 2
- Stats boosts: +1 Wis at lvl 4 = 12 Wis. +2 Con at levels 8 & 12 +2 Con Dragon Disciple = 20. +2 Dex gloves = 14. +2 Str Dragon Disciple = 14. +2 Chr Ioun Stone = 16.
- Feats: Toughness, Dodge (Fighter Bonus Feat), Lightning Reflexes, Endurance, Improved Natural Armor x3.
- Specials: Luck Domain gives hit dice rerolls as needed; Fighter gives Tower Shield Proficiency; Paladin 2 gives Divine Grace; Monk 2 gives evasion; weasel familiar gives +2 Reflex saves; Dragon Disciple gives +2 natural armor; Defensive Stance 1/day.
- Gear: +5 mithril full plate, +5 tower shield, +5 cloak of resistance, +4 ring of protection, +4 amulet of natural armor. gloves of dex +2, ioun stone +1 AC, Ioun stone +2 Chr, +3 defender, mw ranged weapon, wand CLW.
- Payoff ...
- AC: full plate base +8, +5 enhancement bonus, +4 tower shield, +5 enhancement bonus, +4 ring, +4 amulet, +2 dex, +2 natural armor, +3 nat armor feat +3 defender weapon +1 ioun stone = 51 (56 dodging in defensive stance)
- HP: 106.25 rolled + 75 Con +3 toughness = 184 (214 in defensive stance)
- Fort: +18 base +5 Con +3 Grace +5 cloak = +31 (+33 in defensive stance) + dwarf save bonuses
- Reflex: +5 base +2 Dex +2 feat +3 Grace +2 familiar +5 cloak = +19 + dwarf save bonuses + evasion
- Will: +15 base +1 Wis +3 Grace +5 cloak = +24 + dwarf save bonuses
Note: Defensive Stance gives +2 Str, +4 Con, a +2 resistance bonus on all saves (does not stack with cloak), and a +4 dodge bonus to AC.
In past screeds (see below for links), I optimized individually for AC, hit points, and saves. Compare the best of those three to my defense monster above, who necessarily makes some compromises in order to boost all three defensive areas rather than just one. The numbers, for a 15th level PC:
Sure, the Defense Monster is a compromise, but he'll be alive to argue his weaknesses and strengths long after the rest of the party has been killed off in the last battle.
- Pure AC Monster: 53-61 ... Defense Monster AC: 56. Not too shabby.
- Pure HP Monster: 290-320 ... Defense Monster HP: 214. Meh. But the Hit Point Monster has a reflex save in the low single digits and no evasion.
- Pure Saves Monster: Fort +32, Reflex +26, Will +36 ... Defense Monster Saves: Fort +33, Reflex +19, Will 24. Eh. But more than half of the Saves Monster's hit dice are d4s.
This is part of an extended series on Survivability in Dungeons and Dragons.