After linking one of my players to this site, he was interested enough to have a poke around, and decided he wanted to try some D&D 3.5e. However, to keep the heroic fantasy style, he wants to play E6, and has convinced the rest of us to try it out. Since we are all new to WotC-era D&D, and are only going to have characters up to level 6 + some extra feats, what sourcebooks are most useful (in terms of how much content we could use), apart from obviously the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide and Monstrous Manual?
[RPG] What rulebooks should I get for an E6 campaign
It's a shame it's too late to make class suggestions as this character's ripe for factotum (Du 14-20). More levels of wizard would really be a boon, too. She's already a wizard, so she's a conjuration specialist who took the alternative class feature abrupt jaunt (PH2 70), right? And since you don't care about her being especially effective, taking Mnk1 and beating up a sparring dummy of the master (AE 137) (30,000 gp; 40 lbs.) to get that 10 ft. of movement required for to use skirmish is kind of a thing. Anyway.
- The uncategorized feat Hardened Criminal (City of Stormreach 95) grants the creature immunity to attempts to Intimidate it and the ability to take 10 on 1 skill picked when the feat's picked. Note: This feat sprang to mind immediately when you mentioned your character's focus on the Escape Artist skill.
- The fighter, general, and Chult and wild dwarf regional feat Disentangler (Rac 162) grants the creature a +2 bonus to Escape Artist skill checks and a +2 bonus to opposed grapple checks.
- The general feat Daredevil Athlete (CS 76) as an immediate action 3/day grants the creature a +5 competence bonus to a single Balance, Climb, Escape Artist, Jump, Ride, Swim, or Tumble check. I assume the intent is the next one, though. As a competence bonus, it'll stack with the circumstance bonus from masterwork tools but not the competence bonus that often comes from magic items, which is sad.
The aberrant feat Mourning Mutate (Dragon #359 110) as one of its benefits grants the creature a +3 racial bonus to Escape Artist skill checks from being "unusually flexible." It's 1st-level only and can make the creature look scary, awesome, or scary awesome at the DM's discretion. As it counts as the feat Aberration Blood (LoM 178) (which could instead grant the creature +4 racial bonus to Escape Artist skill checks, but the creature then has "slimy skin"--ew), it grants access to...
- The aberrant feat Inhuman Vision (LoM 180) grants the creature darkvision 5 ft. per aberrant feat and a +1 bonus to Spot skill checks per aberrant feat.
- The aberrant feat Scavenging Gullet (LoM 181) grants the creature a +4 racial bonus versus ingested poisons and diseases. More importantly, it grants the creature the ability to "gain nourishment from eating any organic material, despite its freshness or source." For a sensate, this is gold.
- The fighter and general feat Master of Mockery (Dragon #333 88) grants the creature the ability to make a Perform (comedy) skill check as a standard action. The check's target makes a Will saving throw (DC = the Perform (comedy) skill check's result). If the target fails, it's enraged, gaining a +2 bonus to attack rolls versus the creature, taking a -2 penalty to Armor Class, and attaking the creature "whenever able." Talk to the DM about the effect's duration.
- The tactical feat Combat Panache (PH2 93-4) grants the creature use of 3 tactical maneuvers that are wildly subpar or difficult to use but a a lot of fun. Two maneuvers actually require the creature to be hit and take damage before they can be used, and the other requires the creature to hit and inflict damage before it can be used. Nonetheless, they're flashy and fun.
OK, so the artificer is the most complicated class in the game and you probably don’t want to play it. The wizard is definitely complicated, and with the right tack can do the things you’re interested in, but it’s possibly overpowered plus doesn’t really seem to have the imagery you want out of the box.
Enter the Beguiler
The beguiler from Player’s Handbook II is not as complicated as the wizard. Rather than maintaining an ever-expanding spellbook and preparing spells every morning, the beguiler just knows every spell on his spell list, and can use them in any combination he likes provided he’s still got spell slots left for the day. And ultimately, the beguiler’s not nearly as powerful.
On the other hand, the beguiler is far more obviously stealth-oriented. They have Hide and Move Silently as class skills, they can wear light armor, and they get bonuses for surprising people with their spells. Their spell list is quite good, with lots of different options, including an incredibly flexible array of illusions.1 Their 6+Int skills mean they are quite likely to have solid mundane skills for sneaking about and slipping into places they shouldn’t be.
I recommend considering the Master of Poisons and Poison Spell feats (both from Drow of the Underdark) to excel with poisons. I recommend against actually playing a drow, though, master poisoners though they are, because the LA +2 is very, very bad.
Also, the mindbender prestige class from Complete Arcane, though generally quite poor, is an amazing choice for a beguiler to take for a single level at 6th (i.e. 5th-level beguiler/1st-level mindbender). The entry is easy, and mindbender improves your spellcasting while giving you telepathy out to 100 ft., which qualifies you for the excellent Mindsight feat (Lords of Madness). Now you know exactly where every thinking mind in 100 ft. is, and that’s awesome. Continue taking beguiler levels thereafter (i.e. 5th-level beguiler/1st-level mindbender/beguiler +x)
- Just how flexible and useful illusions are does depend a fair bit on the DM, so you should ask about that before making a character focused on them, but in my experience most DMs are willing to let them go pretty far.
OK, so maybe the beguiler sounds pretty cool and all, but you actually liked the way that wizard was sounding. No problem: the ultimate magus prestige class from Complete Mage is an excellent option, and nothing works so well for it as the beguiler does. Start out as a 1st-level beguiler for the sweet, sweet 4×(6+Int) skill points, and then multiclass into wizard for three levels in order to qualify for ultimate magus. Ultimate magus will improve both beguiler and wizard spellcasting. Make sure to take Practiced Spellcaster (beguiler) before you start; Practiced Spellcaster is also from Complete Mage. Being an illumian and taking the Power Sigil (Krau) feat, both from Races of Destiny, is also highly recommended.
In this approach, being a specialist wizard banning Enchantment and Illusion is a good idea because beguiler is very strong in both of those schools, so you won’t miss those spells as much. Conjuration or Transmutation are probably your best bets for specialty, though really anything can work. Practiced Spellcaster (beguiler) is a must and Power Sigil (Krau) is highly recommended, but aside from that you can still take Master of Poisons and Poison Spell. If you are a human subrace—and illumians are—, also consider Able Learner to allow you to more easily maintain your ranks in Hide and Move Silently.
The best few books for a good first game
There’s definitely something to be said for keeping to core, since it keeps the options limited to only a small set of classes and options.
Unfortunately, core has a lot of design problems, which makes its actual material very poor, in my opinion, for new players. Specifically, there are a large number of “trap” options: things that might, to a new player, sound good on paper, but don’t work well in practice. For a group new to the game, evaluating each option is very difficult, which can lead to very uneven experiences.
For example, the druid class is very powerful; it has powerful spells and can turn into powerful creatures, and gets another powerful creature as a sidekick. Not every new druid player uses those abilities to their full potential, but many do use them quite well (does a wolf sound like a good sidekick? does turning into a bear sound like a good idea? turns out, they are!).
Meanwhile, the fighter class gets a series of bonus feats. Several of these feats are quite good (though not as good as the druid’s spells), but a lot of the feats – most of the feats – are quite poor. A fighter who chooses good feats can keep up with a druid who isn’t maximizing his potential. But a fighter who chooses poor feats can find it very difficult to keep up even with the druid’s sidekick.
This reality has been acknowledged, in hindsight, by Wizards of the Coast. One designer even claimed (though I suspect it was merely an attempt to save face) that it was intentional, since they wanted to reward system mastery as that paradigm worked very well for Magic: The Gathering. As Wizards learned the system better, they designed better, more consistent material.
As a result, as much as it is good to try to reduce the complexity of the game for new players by limiting options, the specific set of options presented in core present very difficult choices. I therefore try to recommend that players start with some better-designed classes, even though they come from supplements.
Tome of Battle
My number one suggestion, in terms of books to buy, is Tome of Battle. The system presented therein is not complicated – it’s simpler than the core rules for spells – but more importantly the options within that system are more consistent than in core. Unlike feats, some of which are good and many of which are bad, with the maneuvers in Tome of Battle, you can just pick what sounds cool – it will be! And that’s excellent.
Between the three classes in Tome of Battle (crusader, swordsage, and warblade), you can easily create characters conceptually similar to those you would make with the barbarian (crusader or warblade), cleric (crusader), fighter (warblade), paladin (crusader), monk (swordsage), and rogue (swordsage) classes from core.
Because three classes easily cover the conceptual space of six core classes, Tome of Battle actually simplifies things. I cannot stress enough how much simpler and more consistent characters are when made from these classes rather than their core counterparts.
Complete Arcane and/or Dragon Magic
For those looking for magic, Complete Arcane presents the warlock: extremely simple to play, and less overpowered than the core spellcasting classes. The dragonfire adept from Dragon Magic is similar. Both come highly recommended for new players.
Gaps in this set
The biggest problem with this set of classes is the healing of status conditions, a major focus of the core divine magic. The crusader gets very good HP-healing abilities, but nothing (until very high level) that correspond to restoration, remove curse, break enchantment, or similar. Unfortunately, there is no real simple class that provides these; for those your best bet is still the cleric. However, 3.5 really does not require a heal-bot type, and a DM can either carefully choose his enemies to avoid permanent versions of these things or else provide quests to get potions, scrolls, wands, or aid from NPC spellcasters.
Nothing from these closely approximates either the bard or druid. The druid does have a very well-designed analogue in the totemist, but Magic of Incarnum is quite possibly the most difficult-to-learn book in 3.5, since its organization is quite poor (the system itself is actually excellent, and not particularly complicated; it’s just the explanation that’s complicated). The bard is largely unique. That said, the bard is also a pretty solid character; his spells are quite useful, without the extreme power of the core “full spellcasters,” and Inspire Courage is a very nice buff. So you could just play the bard if that’s your interest. He’ll be a little more complicated than the above, but not too bad.
Padding out your library
Of course, keeping your options limited to simple, good stuff isn’t the only goal a new group may have for buying books. Eventually, you’ll probably want more material, even if it isn’t particularly newbie-friendly. But there are a lot of books, so you want to make sure you spend your money efficiently.
In terms of getting the most “bang for your buck” for a new group looking to improve their library, nothing beats Magic Item Compendium. Everyone uses magic items, and the book’s got a lot of them. It’s also quite well organized for finding them, so even though there’s a ton of stuff, it’s not too bad finding useful items (unfortunately, nothing will make the careful gp-by-gp accounting of wealth in 3.5 not a headache, but MIC helps). If you do go with traditional spellcasters rather than the warlock, Spell Compendium provides a similar function, and as a bonus, those spells are often better-balanced than the core ones.
Beyond those, it depends a lot on preference. The “outside” books (Cityscape, Dungeonscape, Frostburn, Sandstorm, Stormwrack, also known as “It’s Crowded/Not/Cold/Hot/Wet Outside,” respectively) are very useful for campaigns set in the corresponding environments. If you’re interested in any of the official campaign settings, the “Campaign Setting” book (Eberron Campaign Setting, Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, etc.) are musts, of course. And the various player-option books (various Complete X, Races of Y, assorted others like Tome of Magic or Magic of Incarnum) or DM-option books (extra Monster Manuals, books about various monster types like Lords of Madness or the Fiendish Codices, etc.) are mostly based on what sounds interesting to you (if you must have my recommendation, it’s Complete Champion first).