There are two ways
you can develop a character: by what makes sense in the campaign,
or by planning. This article takes the planning approach to character
development, and assumes that a player wants the best character
he/she can get. Trying to explain your progression in the framework
of your DM’s campaign is your problem…
That said, I will discuss several options for making your character
Specialize: Sometimes, it’s great to have
a character that excels at just a few things. Why? Because you can
be better faster if you don’t spread yourself too thin, obviously!
You become really, really good at one thing, and with a balanced
party to cover your weak areas, your single talent becomes a huge
Despite all the racial bonuses available for
non-humans, I still think that a human character is the best choice
for an ultra-specialist because of the extra feat and skill bonuses.
Most important, these bonuses come at first level (+1 feat and +4
skill points). Why do I care about first level? Because many campaigns
simply don’t run for very long, and the earlier you can get
the best combination of feats, the longer you’ll enjoy those
Example: Spell-casters are highly improved by
an extra feat, when you can take both Improved Initiative (to enable
you to cast area-spells before the enemy closes with your party),
and Spell Focus: Enchantment, which makes early Sleep spells SO
much more effective. A human fighter can take Ambidexterity/2 Weapon
Fighting and an Exotic Double weapon at first level, or perhaps
Expertise/Spiked Chain/Improved Disarm. You can also get a fighter-archer
with Point-Blank, Precise and Rapid Shot feats at first level. Okay,
so it could be argued that an elf’s superior eyesight and
Dex bonus are fantastic traits for an archer – I won’t
argue. However, if you change your mind and wish to multi-class,
a non-human severely restricts you. Which brings me to…
Multiclass: Though the practice of heavy multi-classing
has been taken down a peg in D&D 3.5, you can still get a lot
more benefit from many classes than with one or even two. Class-feats
are handed out aplenty at low levels, and non-spell-casters will
still get the benefit of increasing Hp and base attack increases
despite class-hopping. If your DM doesn’t mind min-maxing
this way, and you don’t have a specific attachment to the
feel of a specific class, then I have no idea why you wouldn’t
class-hop with non-spellcasters.
Example: I’m going to use a Rogue/Barbarian/Ranger.
While this may seem a strange combination, it is ability-heavy,
and can even be explained as a bandit-turned-wilderness-survivor.
For this combination, you get: high skill points, sneak attack +1d6,
rage, +10 move, dual wield, tracking and a favored enemy, plus your
usual two feats for levels 1 and 3. You also get 4/2/0 saving throws
by third level and an average of 17 Hp by 3rd level. Further progression
with this same character: Rogue/Rogue/Fighter/Fighter. You get Evade,
Uncanny Dodge I, 2d6 Sneak Attack, two more levels of high skill
points (Rogue) and Hp (Fighter), and two fighter feats.
Spellcasters have a different reason to do some
multi-classing: hit points and weapon proficiencies. They also benefit
from skills and feats, but taking fighter before sorcerer suddenly
gives you double the average sorcerer hp at 2nd level, at the cost
of one spell/day! You will be delayed one level getting your next
spell level, but you will be much more likely to survive until then.
Does anyone else hate 4 hp, 1st level mage-types? Or hate avoiding
the valuable “Improved Initiative” feat because you
feel you have to take Toughness instead, just to survive?
Planning for Common cases or Worse Cases: While
it’s nice to be able to clobber monsters on a regular basis
with your Bastard Sword/Cleave/18 Str human fighter, it’s
extremely annoying to have this character be captured, stripped
of weapons and armor, and put in a dark, heavily-barred cell and
somehow have to escape. A half-orc fighter isn’t much better,
since they will have less good skills with which to get out of difficult,
non-combat situations (including swimming, climbing, intimidation
and the like), and they have less feats (but at least they aren’t
afraid of the dark)! Rounded characters are especially important
in campaigns with few players where a cleric has to be both a front-line
warrior and healer, a rogue has to be the talker, trapper, rear-defender
and scout, the fighter has to be good with a bow and sword and be
a damage-absorber, and the mage somehow has to survive low levels
that include melee combat for all party members.
A devious DM might introduce many situations
where specialized talents become useless: you lack weapons, your
targets are immune to your specialized spells, you are put in an
unfriendly environment (such as water or darkness), or your opponent
has ways to take away your advantages (disarm feat, touch attacks
vs. armored fighters, flying vs. melee specialists, etc). With a
devious DM or few players, a well-rounded fighter might want to
forgo the weapon focus, or even the Power attack/Cleave combination
that is so deadly, and opt for Improved Unarmed Strike and either
Blind Fight, Improved Initiative, Combat Reflexes, or Expertise.
A second but important tip for fighters and clerics:
instead of concentrating your best stats in the physical areas,
consider putting a 14 in Intelligence. Doing so doubles your skill
points gained for each new level! Skills can really get you out
of trouble, especially when it’s something each character
has to succeed at, or else bad things happen (consider Spot or Listen
to avoid surprises, Swim to avoid drowning, Diplomacy so you too
can talk once in awhile, Knowledge skills to get hints from the
DM, and Move Silently so as not to screw it up for others).
Example: A cleric might take Lightning Reflexes.
A sorcerer might forgo a super-high charisma and opt for Con instead,
or a rogue could take a level of cleric (healing, hp). A fighter
could take a level of ranger (skills, track, dual-wield), or a level
of barbarian (rage, movement, skills).
Exceptions: Druids and Bards. These are extremely
well-balanced classes, except perhaps for the Druid’s limited
usefulness in cities, and the bard’s armor-vs-spellcasting
dilemma. Druids get additional abilities almost every level, good
hp, and spells. The only thing I might suggest is a level of rogue
(if half-elf or human) before starting on the druid path because
of city-adventures, but the druid gets a good number of skill points
already, and sneak attack of +d6 and a few more skill points doesn’t
balance the delay of higher-level spells in this case. You may be
shouting: “But clerics are the same thing!” They are
not. They get half the skill pts/level, are not restricted to certain
weapons after multi-classing, and they do not get many new abilities
per additional level. Bards are already multi-talented, and don’t
need extra classes to help their development, unless you’re
looking to swing your bard towards thiefdom (recommend up to three
Rogue levels), or towards combat (add one or two Fighter levels).