This column aims to provide players with tips on creating effective and interesting characters of various types. Whether you're a beginning player creating your very first character or an experienced gamer looking to put some punch into an old standby, this column is for you.
Kaavel stood quietly as the hunting party of orcs stormed past the tree he stood behind. They almost caught the swiftblade by surprise before he was able to call upon the one spell that bore him through every challenge. In an instant, the entire world slowed as if mired in a thick morass. The orcs in front of him moved at a fraction of their normal speed. The swiftblade unsheathed his elegant rapier and steeled himself for the grisly task that followed. In truth, Kaavel enjoyed this part more than he ever admitted. They were orcs, after all, and deserved to be treated like vermin.
While sorcerers and wizards consider haste one of many spells in their repertoire, swiftblades covet haste above all others. As a swiftblade, your arcane-assisted speed combined with melee skill can turn your first strike into a deadly assault. Swiftblades discover unconventional ways to utilize the haste spell, permanently augmenting their speed and fusing complimentary spell effects into each casting. In a very real sense, swiftblades bond to their chosen spell until the two become immutable.
Becoming a Swiftblade
Bards, sorcerers, and wizards are the three most obvious candidates for swiftblades. Bards can easily fulfill the martial weapon proficiency requirement, but sorcerers and wizards do not share their expertise. Elf candidates are naturally proficient with racial martial weapons and human candidates can take Martial Weapon Proficiency with their extra feat to avoid losing a level of spellcasting. A sorcerer or wizard might otherwise multiclass into a warrior class for one level.
Besides their spellcasting ability score, Dexterity is the second most important attribute for swiftblades. It allows them to avoid blows and potentially strike first in combat. Strength and Constitution are also important to swiftblades, who are largely melee characters. Not having the resilience of pure warriors, Tumble is an ideal skill choice for swiftblades to avoid attacks of opportunity.
Base Attack Bonus: +3.
Hit Die: D6
Class Skills (4 + Int modifier per level) -- Balance, Craft, Concentration, Gather Information, Jump, Knowledge (arcana), Listen, Profession, Spot, Spellcraft, Swim, Tumble.
As they advance in level, swiftblades gain increased spellcasting abilities, heightened speed, and unparalleled understanding of the haste spell. They eventually learn how to subsume the haste spell in higher level spell slots to powerful effect.
Spellcasting: At each level indicated on the swiftblade table, you gain new spells per day and an increase in caster level (and spells known, if applicable) as if you had also gained a level in an arcane spellcasting class to which you belonged before adding the prestige class level. You do not, however, gain any other benefit a character of that class would have gained. If you had more than one arcane spellcasting class before becoming a swiftblade, they must decide which class gains each level for the purpose of determining spells per day, caster level, and spells known.
Spring Attack: Beginning at 1st level, you gain Spring Attack (see page 100 of the Player's Handbook) as a bonus feat. If you already have Spring Attack, choose a different feat for which you do meet the prerequisites.
Swift Surge (Ex): Your body is augmented with the residual energy of previous haste castings. You gain a +1 bonus on attack rolls and a +1 dodge bonus to AC and Reflex saves. At 7th level, these bonuses increase to +2. At 4th level, you gain a +10 foot enhancement bonus to all of your modes of movement and deal an extra 1d6 points of damage during any round in which you move at least 10 feet. At 10th level, this bonus increases to +20 feet and an extra 2d6 points of damage during any round in which you move at least 20 feet. These bonuses stack with the bonuses gained from the haste spell and skirmish ability.
Blurred Alacrity (Ex): At 2nd level, your understanding of the haste spell makes you difficult to target with melee and ranged attacks. While under the effect of a haste spell that you cast yourself, you gain concealment (20% miss chance). This miss chance increases by +10% at 3rd, 4th, and 5th level. The effect of this ability does not stack with blur, displacement, or similar spell effects.
Sudden Casting (Ex): At 3rd level, you learn how to seamlessly cast the haste spell. You can cast haste as a free action once per round, as if augmented by the Quicken Spell metamagic feat, but without using up higher-level spell slots.
Arcane Reflexes (Ex): At 4th level, you infuse the energy of previous haste castings into your natural reaction time. You receive a competence bonus on initiative rolls equal to your arcane spellcasting ability modifier.
Evasive Celerity (Ex): At 5th level, your knowledge of the haste spell makes you difficult to target with spells. While under the effect of a haste spell that you cast yourself, individually targeted spells have a 20% chance of failing against you. This spell failure chance increases by +10% at 6th, 7th, and 8th level. The effect of this ability does not stack with blink or similar spell effects.
Fortified Hustle (Ex): At 6th level, you learn how to intuitively absorb the haste spell into your body. While under the effect of a haste spell that you cast yourself, the effect becomes extraordinary rather than a continuous spell effect, and therefore cannot be dispelled by any means. The haste spell otherwise functions as it normally would, is expended normally, and can be countered as a spell at the moment of casting.
Bounding Assault: At 7th level, you gain Bounding Assault (see page 75 of Player's Handbook II) as a bonus feat. You need not have the prerequisites normally required for Bounding Assault to gain this feat. If you already have Bounding Assault, choose a different feat for which you do meet the prerequisites.
Diligent Rapidity (Ex): At 8th level, you automatically overcome magic and mundane obstacles with the haste spell. While under the effect of a haste spell that you cast yourself, you can move and attack normally, even under the influence of magic that usually impedes movement, as the freedom of movement spell. See the spell description on page 233 of the Player's Handbook. As an additional effect, you can also move across the surface of placid or flowing water, but not whitewater rapids or stormy water, by making two move actions in a round. You immediately sink any time you make a single move action in a round or come to a complete stop while traversing water.
Perpetual Options (Ex): At 9th level, you can perform even more actions with the haste spell. Instead of making one extra attack at your highest base attack bonus while under the effect of a haste spell that you cast yourself, you now have the choice of making one extra move action or one extra standard action. For example, you could make three consecutive move actions with this ability, two move actions and one standard action, one move action and two standard actions, a full attack action and a move action, a full attack action and a standard action, a full round action and a move action, or a full round action and a standard action.
Innervated Speed (Ex): At 10th level, your mastery of the haste spell can bring the world around you to a standstill. Any time you prepare or spontaneously cast haste in a 6th level spell slot, you can subsume the spell at the moment of casting instead, increasing your speed so greatly that other creatures seem frozen in time, as the time stop spell, but for one round. See the spell description on page 294 of the Player's Handbook. For each spell slot level higher than 6th level, you can extend innervated speed by 1 additional round. For example, a sorcerer could subsume haste in an 8th level spell slot to create three rounds of innervated speed. You cannot subsume a new haste spell until the original innervated speed duration expires and your turn ends. Moreover, you cannot subsume a metamagic version of haste.
Playing a Swiftblade
As a swiftblade, you have embraced a highly specialized branch of arcane study. Traditional arcane spellcasters will scoff at your techniques, considering your spellcasting methods to be cutthroat and stunted. They could not be both more right and wrong at the same time. Being a swiftblade requires more discrimination than being a generic spellcaster, as your single-minded devotion unlocks a host of new applications for the haste spell. Moreover, your ability to caste haste as a free action allows you to activate your abilities quickly in combat. As your familiarity with the haste spell grows, the physical world around you appears to slow down. Taking advantage of this perception, you are virtually assured to react first in every encounter.
Few creatures are faster than you. When reaction time plays an important role in combat, you are at a definite advantage. As a natural skirmisher, you are acutely aware of how quickly sustained combat can end your life. Your speed lets you to close or widen melee distance to suit your needs on a round-by-round basis. This versatility is further augmented with Spring Attack and Bounding Assault as bonus feats.
Because you can fight well in melee, members of this prestige class have more options than most arcane spellcasters. This allows you to benefit from buffing spells such as bull's strength and shield. With such spells active, you become an even more formidable and untouchable foe. As another option, you can hold yourself back and punish enemies with area effect spells before closing in for the kill.
Most importantly, your incredible speed causes attacks and targeted spells to outright miss. This ability progresses until spells that are specifically designed to hamper your movement automatically fail while under the effects of your own haste spell.
Speed and mobility are your best assets at lower levels. Constantly moving around will serve you more than making continuous attacks, especially in conjunction with the combat benefits and extra damage offered by swift surge.
Another aspect of advancement to keep in mind is multiclassing. Your survivability is greatly improved by taking a level or two of a martial class. This grants you a wide range of weapon proficiencies as well as combat-oriented feats from which to choose, both of which improve your overall effectiveness.
Attaining higher levels of swiftblade expertise eventually grants you the ability to make one extra move or standard action while under the effects of your own haste spell. There is, of course, no advantage greater than completing the swiftblade prestige class, at which point you can caste haste in higher level spell slots to make time seemingly stand still.
Following this prestige class quickly leads one to realize that there are few resources available to help you, as your dedicated focus to one spell is highly irregular among spellcasters. Short of making contact with another swiftblade, you must forge ahead largely alone. Not surprisingly, this revelation has inspired many swiftblades to embrace a nomadic lifestyle in search of obscure, arcane lore. This is one of the main reasons why swiftblades are wanderers at heart, constantly seeking new adventurous challenges against which to measure their emerging abilities. The monetary reward of treasure hunting is often what fuels swiftblades most.
Swiftblades in the World
The swiftblade is an excellent choice for martially-orientated arcane spellcasters. Although the swiftblade requires spellcasting compromises, it does empower the character with the ability to switch between melee and spell combat. When compared to more studious arcane practitioners, swiftblades are better able to survive encounters after all their spells have been used for the day. This allows the members of this prestige class to fill multiple rolls within an adventuring party.
While most swiftblades are resolved to lives of danger and excitement, some darker members of this prestige class resort to working as assassins. It's also not uncommon to find swiftblades among rangers and scouts, as they are well suited to skirmish warfare.
The wandering nature of swiftblades makes it hard for this prestige class to centralize its teachings. At best, a master and apprentice might be encountered traveling together. On the few occasions when a formal school has been established, devoted arcane spellcasters have gone out of their way to discredit such institutions and discourage students from embracing their teachings. The reason behind such attacks is both edifying and surprising. Powerful spellcasters quickly realize how effective swiftblades could be in combat without ever mastering the higher-level spells. Swiftblades are thus a wildcard that threatens to destroy those standards. Without turning swiftblades into an alluring, forbidden practice, they slander the schools publicly and outlaw their expansion privately.
Adepts have a starting attitude of unfriendly toward swiftblades, being more acquainted with the disrepute heaped onto their kind by higher-level spellcasters. Few adepts ever take the time to understand why swiftblades are so preoccupied with a single spell.
Aristocrats have a starting attitude of indifferent to friendly toward swiftblades. Young aristocrats in particular are fatalistically attracted to the excitement and speed that seems to govern the lives of swiftblades.
Commoners have a starting attitude of indifferent toward swiftblades, having never really heard of them before. They are more likely to judge swiftblades by appearance, which typically resembles an adventure-seeking roustabout (probably up to no good).
Experts have a starting attitude of indifferent to unfriendly toward swiftblades, having heard distant rumblings of trouble caused by their kind. As a result, experts tend to keep their guard up around swiftblades and remain mindful of their business.
Warriors have a starting attitude of indifferent to friendly towards swiftblades, in recognition of their martial talents. Warriors respect swiftblades for being willing to get their hands dirty in combat and lacking the pretensions that are normally associated with arcane spellcasters.
Characters with Knowledge (arcana) or Knowledge (history) can research swiftblades to learn more about them. When a character makes a skill check, read or paraphrase the following, including the information from lower DCs.
DC 10: "Swiftblades are a radical style of spellcasting whereby the practitioner focuses on enhancing their martial speed."
DC 15: "Swiftblades focus on the haste spell to such an extent that their appearance blurs and no spell effect can impede them."
DC 20: "Swiftblades trade spellcasting ability for specialized applications of the haste spell and the ability to make time stand still."
DC 30: Characters who achieve this level of success can learn important details about specific swiftblades, including notable accomplishments and mentors from whom they studied.
Player characters trying to locate swiftblades must make a DC 20 Gather Information check to discover the necessary intermediaries and protocols for contacting one. If the player characters are searching for a swiftblade among soldier garrisons, give them a +2 circumstance bonus on the check.
Swiftblades in the Game
Balance is key to playing an effective swiftblade. You can hold your own in the fray of battle but must be wary of so doing. For this reason, it is crucial to properly prepare for combat with the appropriate spells. Weakening the enemy with area effect spells such as cone of cold or fireball is always a good opening tactic. Spells that hamper your opponents, such as slow, are also effective choices. Then, when you move into close combat with your haste spell active, the enemy is already softened up.
You will face difficulty deciding what equipment to purchase. As a hybrid spellcaster/warrior, deciding which role to pursue more actively depends entirely on the encountered situation. Your most important boon is speed, along with the ability to cast haste as a free action. As well, keep in mind that although your companions cannot benefit from haste as you do, they will nonetheless appreciate the regular bonuses of that spell.
Swiftblades can easily be incorporated into highly developed magical societies. As practitioners of an exceedingly focused type of spellcasting, swiftblades most naturally fit into campaigns where many disciplines and schools of magic already exist. In campaigns where arcane spellcasting is less common, swiftblades become highly irregular. Regardless of the setting, a swiftblade might also be encountered as the personal guard to an important dignitary or among a group of elite warriors who pledged their services to a specific kingdom.
Swiftblades can be encountered anywhere. They could be adventuring for gold or traveling in the hope of broadening their arcane understanding. Swiftblades are proud of their abilities and invite challenges to test their mettle.
EL 12: The player characters enter an inn and are directed to the only available seats by the tavern wench. An elf by the name of Kaavel Blackstone already sits at this table. After introductions are made, he asks if the group is here to enjoy or participate in the local marathon -- a yearly event which tests the resolve and speed of all contestants. Kaavel is a participant in the race with high hopes of winning, and he suggests that the characters place a wager on him (if they hope to increase the weight of their pouches). Little does Kaavel realize that a rival competitor plans to ambush him with hired thugs before the race. The first wave of this ambush is about to be launched in the tavern.
Kaavel Blackstone, CR 12
Male high elf sorcerer 6/swiftblade 6
Had a chance to try out this prestige class? Let us know your thoughts on how it played or what changes you would make to it.
Kolja Raven Liquette is perhaps best known for creating The Waking Lands website, but he has also co-authored Complete Mage, Monster Manual IV, Races of the Dragon, and Weapons of Legacy, in addition to providing material for Five Nations, Complete Warrior, and various articles and enhancements for the Wizards of the Coast website.
Special thanks to Tom Welsh (NineInchNall) and the Character Optimization forum for providing an abundance of useful feedback.
©1995-2008 Wizards of the Coast, Inc., a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All Rights Reserved.