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Natural Twenties #5: How to play a Cleric and not hate it

Clerics. Generally they are not everyone’s favorite choice as far as classes go. Mainly because, in most games, they invariably turn into the heal-bot, and let’s face it, healing your allies every turn gets boring and monotonous. I’ve had many a player become disinterested in the game after they got “stuck” playing the cleric for the party. And that’s sad, because the cleric is one of the most versatile and powerful characters in the game. That is, if played correctly. In this installment of Natural Twenties, I’ll explain how to take your cleric from heal-bot to party star.

First of all, it’s important to realize that some players actually DO enjoy playing the healer and keeping the party alive. If you’re a healer-style player, there are ways to make your cleric INCREDIBLY good at healing, to the point where you can keep the party alive through just about anything. To those players: good on you for wanting to be a healbot. However, this guide isn’t for you.

Something to consider when making a cleric, which will GUARANTEE that you’re never used as a healbot, is to channel negative energy. A neutral cleric with either a neutral or evil deity has the option to channel negative energy and cast harmful spells instead of healing spells. Combined with the Channel Smite feat, your character can end up doing some incredible damage against living creatures. However, if you come up against any undead, your channeling will heal instead of harm them. I’m going to write this article under the assumption that your cleric will channel positive energy, since your party will probably need to be healed at SOME point.

So you’ve decided (or been convinced) to play a cleric in a new game with some friends. You’re looking at the class and thinking “How can I make sure that I don’t get bored?” The first thing to do is to give your character a good back story. Any character that has, well, CHARACTER will be more fun to play, period. What kind of climate did he or she come from? This will determine the type of clothing your character is wearing and also give you the chance to complain when you’re in an opposite climate. While this may get annoying if you overdo it, you can keep your character fresh by making little quips about it every so often. Is your cleric particularly devout, or does he/she worship in a more vague sense, maybe worshiping an ideal instead of a specific deity? Thinking about things like these makes it less likely you will get bored playing your cleric.

Your choice of race can also be an important factor in the overall power level of your cleric. Dwarves are a great choice thanks to both the +2 Wisdom boost they get as well as their ability to ignore penalties to their movement speed when wearing medium or heavy armor. Elves are generally a poor choice since neither Dex nor Int modifier are particularly useful for a cleric. Any of the other core races will make fine clerics, but you may also want to consider a few race choices from the Bestiary. Aasimar are a great choice because they get a bonus to both Wisdom and CharismaDuergar are excellent front-line clerics thanks to their spell-like abilities and Con and Wis bonuses. But their light blindness can definitely be a problem for an adventuring party.

For my example character, we’ll go with a chaotic good dwarven cleric named Gorm. He worships the ideal of freedom, hails from a village on the top of a snowy peak, and has a strong distaste for storm giants and undead because a storm giant zombie killed his father.

After you’ve got a concept that you’re happy with, you should start thinking about what you want your cleric to focus on in battle. Is he a front-line tank type who soaks up damage for the party while healing himself? Does he stand back casting support spells and using ranged spells for damage? Gorm is going to be of the former, charging into battle and soaking up damage from the more threatening enemies. His domain and spell choices will reflect this concept, focusing on domain powers and spells which will boost his attack power and let him take damage more readily.

As far as ability scores go, it’s important to remember that clerics are very Wisdom and Charisma based when it comes to spells and channeling. We’re also trying to make a front-line character, so we need good Str and Con scores as well. Gorm’s racial modifiers from being a dwarf are +2 Con, +2 Wis, and -2 Cha, so we’ll have to beef up the Charisma score a bit to offset that penalty. I’m going to suggest choosing the following scores, with the final score after racial modifiers shown in brackets: Str 14, Dex 13, Con 12 [14], Int 8, Wis 14 [16], Cha 15 [13]. If your cleric is built to stand back from battle and cast support spells and ranged attacks, you would definitely want to dump Str for Dex. But the other scores would still be adequate.

The next big choice for a cleric is his/her domains. These should be partially based on your character’s concept, especially if you decided to go with a single deity. Since Gorm is worshiping the ideal of freedom, his domains will be the Liberation domain and the Water domain with the Ice subdomain (Advanced Players’ Guide) because of his snowy upbringing. It’s important to pay attention to the bonus spells that your domain choices give access to, because most of these are not on the cleric spell list. These bonus spells give your character a good bit of flexibility in battle. Gorm’s choices of Liberation and Ice will give him some interesting domain powers, including: the ability to turn into a creature made of ice, gaining damage reduction for a short time, the effect of a freedom of movement spell once per day, and exuding an aura of freedom which can release his allies from detrimental conditions in battle.

Most Pathfinder games nowadays include the ability to choose one or two traits (Advanced Players’ Guide) to give your character a little more depth. A great trait for any cleric is the Birthmark trait. This gives your character a birthmark somewhere on his/her body that can be used as a divine focus. Now your character doesn’t need to hold a talisman or something like that to cast spells. Gorm’s birthmark will be a huge blue patch of skin on his left cheek, vaguely in the shape of a wolf. This is simply because I think it would look awesome. A very interesting trait which is found in the Pathfinder Companion: Dwarves of Golarion sourcebook is Toilcrafter. This trait allows your character to create +1 weapons, armor or shields (but only +1, and with no other special abilities). This could be invaluable at early levels to save the party some money, though it takes twice as long to make the items. Traits can be based on your character’s background also, which is why Gorm’s second trait will be Hill Fighter. With this, he will be able to move up to his full movement speed when maneuvering down a steep incline without the risk of tripping and falling. You may be thinking to yourself “But,that’s almost useless!”. And you’re probably right, but in the right situation it might come in very handy.

Feats are also a very important part of a useful cleric. Gorm’s first-level feat will reflect his focus on front-line battle. If you are already aware that your party will be fighting hordes of undead (for example, if your DM says “we’ll be playing a campaign called Zombies in the Attic”), then Channel Smite might seem like a good choice. This would let you add your channel energy damage to your weapon attacks against undead (though you’re still limited by uses per day as normal). However, if you miss with the attack, that use of channel energy is wasted. In general you’re probably going to be better off choosing Selective Channel so that you can channel energy in an area and exclude those enemies that would otherwise be healed by you. Power Attack is a great choice for ANY melee character, as is Weapon Focus, since these two feats will give you either more damage or a better chance to hit with your attacks, respectively. If your character focuses more on soaking up attacks than actually doing damage, then you could choose Shield Focus to give yourself an extra +1 to armor class. However, Gorm is preparing for some interesting prestige classes later on, so he will choose Elemental Channel at 1st level, allowing him to choose to heal creatures of a chosen elemental subtype (water in this case) instead of channeling positive energy.

Equipment choices for a cleric are relatively limited, since they are proficient only with simple weapons and their deity’s favored weapon. You will want to decide if your cleric will be using a shield, like Gorm is, or if you’d rather have that second hand free to deliver touch spells mid-battle. Finally, you’ll want to get the best medium armor you can afford. At first level, this is probably Scale Mail at 50 gp, given that a cleric’s average starting wealth is 140gp. He’ll also buy a heavy steel shield for 20gp and a morningstar for 8gp. Normally, I would also suggest getting a light crossbow for those situations where a ranged attack is absolutely necessary, ( like going up against a flying enemy), but Gorm has a domain ability from his Water (Ice) domain which lets him create an icicle that can be chucked as a ranged touch attack, dealing 1d6 + 1/two levels cold damage. He’ll be able to use this up to 6 times per day (3 + Wis mod) and it will suffice for a last-ditch ranged attack.

Skill points are almost a non-issue since intelligence is a dump stat for a cleric. But put those few points that you do get into Knowledge (religion) and Heal, as you’re one of only a few classes that have those as class skills.

1st-level spell choices for your cleric are totally dependent on what you want him to be able to do. Good standard choices for a melee cleric like Gorm would be bane andbless, which either give your enemies a -1 or your allies a +1 to most of their rolls. Other spells to get would be: detect evildivine favorentropic shieldmagic weapon,and shield of faith. One incredibly useful spell for a melee cleric is compel hostility, found in the Ultimate Combat source book. This spell forces an enemy that threatens your square to attack you instead of your ally as long as they fail a Will save. One more spell liberating command (Ultimate Combat) lets Gorm grant an extra Escape Artist check to an ally with a bonus of twice his caster level to the check. This ability fits perfectly with his focus on freedom, so he’ll prepare that one often.

So, Gorm, our first-level Cleric worships the ideal of freedom. He can prepare and cast 3 orisons and 3 level 1 spells per day, one of which must be selected from one of his two domain spells, remove fear or obscuring mist. The save DC for his first-level spells is 14 (10 + 1 spell level + 3 Wis). He can channel positive energy in a 30-foot burst to heal his allies or harm undead for 1d6 damage, up to 5 (3 + 2 Cha) times per day. His total armor class is 18 (10 +1 Dex +5 armor +2 shield), which is decent for a 1st level character. And he can cast shield of faith at the beginning of the battle to give himself a +2 deflection bonus on top of that for one minute per level. Given that he’s going to be a front-liner, he’ll choose the +1 hit point per level for his favored class bonus, giving him an average of 7 (1d8 + 2 Con + 1 favored class) hit points. This may not seem like much, but keep in mind this IS first level. Hopefully his relatively high AC will make up for it. His attack bonus with his morningstar will average 12 (1d20 + 0 BAB + 2 Str) which is not super great. But when he does hit, he’ll deal an average of 6 (1d8 + 2 Str) damage which is considered both bludgeoning and piercing.He can cast compel hostility to save an ally from a devastating attack. He can also fire an icicle at an enemy as a ranged touch attack, average 11 (1d20 + 0 BAB + 1 Dex) once per round. Finally, he can gain the benefit of freedom of movement for one round, which is a HUGE situational benefit.

At second level, not much happens. One thing about clerics that is a little painful is that they only get class abilities at odd levels, the same levels they get a new feat. This can make the even levels seem uninteresting. At this level, Gorm does get +1 to his BAB, so that’s something, right? Right???

Anyway, third level brings an additional channel energy die (now 2d6), an additional level of spells (he can now cast 2nd level ones) and a feat. His second-level domain spells are remove paralysis and fog cloud, both of which can be useful. Other good second-level cleric spells to possibly prepare are bear’s endurance, bull’s strength, hold personlesser restoration, and one of the most important ones for Gorm, shield other.Shield other will let Gorm take damage for a teammate if he can’t seem to get the enemy to focus on him, while also giving a bonus to that ally’s AC. Another interesting second-level spell is weapon of awe (Advanced Player’s Guide) which gives a weapon +2 damage forone minute per level, and also causes the target to be shaken on a critical hit.

The third-level feat could go several ways. Should Gorm choose Armor Proficiency (heavy) so that he can get a better AC? Should he choose Selective Channeling so that he can heal his allies without also healing his enemies? Gorm will go with the former, gaining heavy armor proficiency and then buying full plate armor as soon as he possibly can to raise his armor bonus to +9. If Gorm has been getting lucky as far as treasure, he may also have enough money to have his armor and shield enchanted to +1 each.

Fourth level lets you raise an ability score by +1, and obviously we’re going to choose Dex for Gorm to give him another +1 to his AC. Fifth level brings another die of channel energy (now 3d6), third level spells, and a feat. Third-level domain spells are water breathing and remove curseGood third-level spells to prepare include bestow curse (this one is great for Gorm because he can use it to severely weaken an enemy right in the middle of a battle), invisibility purgemagic vestment (only if you don’t already have a +1 bonus on both your armor and shield), prayer, and searing light (one of the cleric’s few great ranged offensive spells). Also from the Advanced Player’s Guide, you should definitely consider choosing sacred bond. The spell lets you choose an ally and cast your touch healing spells as a ranged spell. If you find that your cleric mows through opponents on a regular basis, you might consider the spell deadly juggernaut (Ultimate Combat) which gives you a cumulative bonus to attack and damage and DR 2/- for every enemy you reduce to 0 or fewer hit points. Very useful for a large group of relatively weak opponents. Finally, archon’s aura (Ultimate Magic) is a great debuffing spell.

The fifth level feat is a really tough decision, because you’re getting to the point where there are a LOT of good options. If your cleric has Power Attack, then Furious Focus (Advanced Player’s Guide) could be a great choice, since it lets you ignore the penalties associated with Power Attack on your first attack in a round while still gaining the benefits. Channeled Shield Wall (Ultimate Magic) would be a +2 boost to AC that always stacks, and all you have to do is expend one use of your channeled energy. Gorm is going to choose that one. If you find that your cleric casts one spell much more often than others, consider Spell Focus and Spell Specialization to give that spell a boost. Warrior Priest is another one that could be very useful, since it gives your cleric a +1 to initiative and a +2 to concentration checks to cast defensively.

Let’s do a character recap. Gorm can now prepare and cast up to third-level spells. The save DC for his highest-level spells is now 16 (10 + 3 spell level + 3 Wis). His armor class is now 25 (10 + 1 Dex + 10 armor + 3 shield) since we’ve spent some cash to add a +1 bonus to both his full plate armor and his heavy steel shield. In addition to that, he can expend a use of his channel energy to gain another +2 bonus to his AC (and any adjacent allies if they’re using a shield) thanks to Channeled Shield Wall. Average hit points will be 35 (5d8 + 10 Con + 5 favored class) which is reasonable for a tank at this level. His average attack bonus with his morningstar will be 15 (1d20 + 3 BAB + 2 Str) but when he hits he’ll still deal only an average of 6 (1d8 + 2 Str) damage. It’s important to remember, though, that Gorm’s job is to take attacks, not deal damage. In addition, his freedom of movement domain power now lasts five rounds once per day, which is like having a free 4th level spell available every day.

Sixth level is another boring one. So just grit your teeth and pray that the experience comes quickly so that you can get to seventh level. Seventh level brings another d6 to channel energy, fourth level spells, and a feat. Fourth-level domain spells are freedom of movement (even though Gorm already has a power that does this) and control waterGood fourth-level spells for Gorm include: divine power, which gives him a bonus to attack and some extra hit pointsimbue with spell ability, which basically lets him transfer some of his healing spells to another character, which can be SUPER USEFUL, and restoration, which every cleric should prepare. Always. No matter what. Useful spells from other books are actually few and far between, but Ultimate Magic’s aura of doom, which makes enemies within 20 feet shaken if they fail their Will save, could be very useful.

The seventh level feat is going to start Gorm on a path toward a specific prestige class, the Stalwart Defender, detailed in the Advanced Players Guide. Once he meets the prerequisites, this class will boost his AC by seemingly insane amounts, allow him to jump in and take attacks that are meant for his allies, making him the perfect tank. The prerequisites, however, are relatively steep. Three feats: DodgeEndurance, and Toughness, and a base attack bonus of +7. Therefore, Gorm’s 7th level feat will be Dodge, giving him a +1 dodge bonus to his AC. This brings his AC, without using spells or other abilities, to a whopping 25 (10 + 1 Dex + 10 armor + 3 shield + 1 dodge), and that’s assuming you haven’t upgraded his armor or shield past a +1 bonus. Given how much gold your party should have gotten at this point, +2 armor and +2 shield are totally doable, making Gorm’s AC a 28. You’ll also want to invest in an amulet of natural armor as soon as possible, and if you can afford to make that full-plate armor mithral (+9,000gp) it’ll let Gorm make use of his +2 Dex bonus.

Level eight is another one of those almost-empty levels, except you get to add +1 to another ability score. This time, Gorm will go with +1 Cha, getting him up to 14 and getting that extra use of channel energy each day. Thanks to Gorm’s choices of domains, he also gets not one but TWO new domain powers at this level. Freedom’s Call from the Liberty domain lets Gorm emit an aura of freedom which will end many detrimental conditions on his allies, including confusedgrappledfrightenedpanickedparalyzedpinned, or shaken. His other domain power, Body of Ice, lets him turn himself and all his equipment to ice for up to eight rounds per day, giving him DR 5/- and immunity to cold.

Level nine is where we’re really going to start deviating from the standard Cleric. Gorm is going to take a level in the prestige class Holy Vindicator (Advanced Players Guide.) This class trades a bit of spellcasting for d10 hit dice, full base attack progression, and some interesting abilities. Since we’ve already gotten all of the cleric domain powers we can get, changing it up a bit will give Gorm some more flavor. And, of course, some more AC. The first level of Holy Vindicator gives Gorm an ability called Vindicator’s Shield, which allows him to channel energy into his shield to gain a sacred bonus to his AC equal to his number of channel energy dice. The catch here is that it only lasts until he gets hit, but with a base AC of 29 and adding a +5 means if he gets hit it’ll be a miracle. To reactivate it, he just has to channel energy into his shield again.

Level nine also means another feat. And this time it’ll have to be either Endurance or Toughness. Neither is particularly useful at such a high level, but we’ll choose Toughness, giving Gorm an average of 77 (8d8 + 1d10 + 18 Con + 9 favored class + 9 toughness) hit points. Now that is a tank!

You’ll notice that we didn’t get to pick level five spells at level nine. That’s because the first level of Holy Vindicator does NOT raise your caster level or give you more spells. However, the second level of Holy Vindicator does. So at level ten Gorm will begin to cast fifth level spells. Since domain spell slots are dependent only on the level of cleric spell which your character can cast, Gorm will continue to get his bonus domain spells, which at this level are break enchantment and ice storm. Some good fifth-level spells to prepare include breath of life (this one lets you bring a very recently slain ally back from the dead, which is EXTREMELY useful), flame strikeplane shiftraise dead, and true seeing. Great spells from other books include cleanse and pillar of life (Advanced Players Guide) and holy ice (Ultimate Magic.)

Gorm’s tenth-level ability is Stigmata, a pretty strange ability that allows him to begin bleeding from tiny wounds, taking bleed damage every round. However, he also gains a sacred bonus to his attack, damage, AC, caster level checks or saving throws equal to ½ his HV level. Most of the time, Gorm will already have a much higher sacred bonus to his AC thanks to Vindicator’s Shield, so he’ll probably add the Stigmata bonus to saving throws, or just not use it at all.

At tenth level, average character wealth is supposed to be 62,000gp. Given that staggering amount of wealth, Gorm should easily be able to afford +3 mithral armor and a +3 shield at this point (18,000gp and 9000gp, respectively). In addition, an amulet of natural armor +2 for 8,000gp would be a great buy. He should also at least have a +2 weapon, and I’m going with a +1 icy burst morningstar for the sake of Gorm’s theme (18,000gp).

Eleventh level will be the last level of Holy Vindicator that Gorm takes, since the feat he chooses at this level, Endurance, will qualify him for the Stalwart Defender class next level. This level’s class abilities include one more die of channel energy (6d6 now) and the Faith Healing ability. This makes all cure spells that Gorm casts on himself automatically empowered, adding +50% more healing to each one. Combining this with the second-level spell shield other that I mentioned way back at third level, Gorm can take damage from another character and then get instant empowered healing to heal that damage away.

So, let’s do another recap of Gorm’s considerable abilities at level eleven. At the beginning of a battle, Gorm can spend one use of channel energy to gain an insane +6 sacred bonus to his AC using his Vindicator’s shield ability. On the next turn, he can expend another use of channel energy to get an additional +2 deflection bonus to AC using Channeled Shield Wall. Adding all of these bonuses, Gorm’s AC is 36 (10 + 2 Dex + 10 armor + 3 shield + 1 dodge +2 natural armor + 6 sacred + 2 deflection). His average hit point total is now 91 (8d8 + 3d10 + 22 Con + 11 favored class + 11 Toughness). He will move up to the front line of battle, and just stand there, maybe taking a swing at the enemy once in a while. When he chooses to, his average attack roll will be 22 (1d20 + 9 BAB + 2 Str + 1 weapon bonus) on the first attack and 17 on the second, and he’ll deal on average 9 (1d8 + 2 Str + 1d6 cold) damage, though he’ll get an extra 1d10 cold damage for an average of 20 ((1d8 + 2 Str) x 2 + 1d6 cold + 1d10 cold) damage on a critical hit. Still not that impressive damage-wise, but it’s decent for a damage sponge. His fifth-level spells will have a DC of 18 (10 + 5 spell level + 3 Wis) and he can turn into a big hunk of ice for up to 8 rounds a day, gaining DR 5/-.

Now, a note about the Stalwart Defender class before we start describing its abilities. It does not continue to boost a cleric’s spellcasting ability the way the Holy Vindicator class does. If you want your character to keep getting higher level spells, stick with Holy Vindicator, or even go back to taking Cleric levels, from this point on. Gorm’s character focus is to stand in front and take attacks as the tank of the party, only healing when absolutely necessary. So Stalwart Defender is the way to go for him. It’s also important to note that this is one of the few classes that grants tower shield proficiency, and Gorm will be taking advantage of that fact.

So, level 12 starts Gorm on the Stalwart Defender course, and he also gets to choose an ability to increase, so he’ll go with +1 Con. The Stalwart Defender class gives so many bonuses to Gorm’s AC that he’ll be nearly untouchable after this. There is an inherent dodge bonus to AC that goes up periodically as Gorm’s Defender level rises, and it starts as a +1 Dodge bonus at level 1. The first-level Defender ability, Defensive Stance, lets Gorm enter this stance as a free action and maintain it for up to 6 (4 + 2 Con) rounds per day (this increases by two more rounds per day for each additional level). While in this stance, Gorm gains an additional +2 dodge bonus to AC, a +4 morale bonuse to both Strength and Constitution, and a +2 morale bonus on Will saves. This is, in effect, very similar to a Barbarian’s Rage ability. But instead of flying off the deep end, Gorm calms down and stands still, letting the enemies whack at him to no avail. The only downside to Defensive Stance is that Gorm can’t move while in it, or the effect instantly ends. And he is fatigued for 2 rounds for each round that he was in the stance, but casting a lesser restoration will fix that right up. What this means is that Gorm can enter his Defensive Stance in front of an enemy, raising his AC to a staggering 43 (10 + 2 Dex + 10 armor + 7 shield + 4 dodge +2 natural armor + 6 sacred + 2 deflection) thanks to his new +3 tower shield. If the opponent happens to be of the giant subtype, then add another +4 dodge bonus to that thanks to Gorm’s dwarven racial ability, for a total of 47 AC. WOW!

Level 13 brings both a feat and Gorm’s first Defensive Power, which are abilities that activate when Gorm goes into his Defensive Stance. The first power he is going to choose is Intercept, allowing him to take an attack that would otherwise hit an adjacent ally. The attack automatically hits Gorm. Since we’re finally done filling the prerequisites for becoming a Stalwart Defender, Gorm’s 13th-level feat can be anything. There are way too many good choices, so I’ll just highlight a few that would be good for Gorm’s character concept.

Covering Defense (Advanced Players Guide) will allow Gorm to give his shield bonus to an adjacent ally when he uses the total defense action. This is really helpful because it also gives Gorm ANOTHER +4 dodge bonus to his AC. Saving Shield has a similar effect, but you can use it as an immediate action to add just a +2 shield bonus to your adjacent ally. The Stalwart feat (Ultimate Combat) would be excellent for Gorm since it allows him to change his Dodge bonus to AC from the total defense action into DR that stacks with that from his class ability. But it does require him to take Diehard first, and that is a painful cost when he already had to sacrifice feats to get into his prestige class. The Twin Thunders feat tree (also from Ultimate Combat,) has a similar problem.It would make a lot of sense for Gorm’s character concept, but the requirements are too steep at this point. Divine Interference (Ultimate Magic) would allow Gorm to sacrifice a spell slot to force an enemy to re-roll a successful attack against his ally, but since we’re now taking levels in a non-casting class, it’s probably better to save those spell slots for actual spells. Gorm will choose Covering Defense, meaning that when he’s in defensive stance and uses his standard action for total defense, he has an absolutely mind-blowing 47 AC (or 51 vs. a giant)!

Level 14 is Gorm’s third level of Stalwart Defender, and the only thing he gets at this level is Uncanny Dodge , which will allow him to take no damage from an attack from which he would normally take half damage with a sucessful reflex save. Level 15 brings an increase to Gorm’s Dodge bonus to AC, another Defensive Power, and a feat. The defensive powers sadly seem to focus on attacking, which is NOT what Gorm is made to do. Roused Defense will be extremely helpful, since it allows Gorm to ignore the fatigued condition when re-entering his defensive stance after moving. He becomes exhausted afterward, but restoration can fix that right up, or Gorm can use lesser restoration to return to the fatigued condition and go back into defensive stance again. All of Gorm’s useful feats have been listed out in previous levels at this point, so he’s going to go down the Stalwart feat tree, choosing Diehard at this level. Diehard will let Gorm continue to act after being reduced below 0 HP, which he will hopefully never have to take advantage of.

Level 16 brings another ability score increase, and Gorm will use it to increase his Con by +1 to a total of 16, which will raise his total HP. He also begins to gain inherent damage reduction, starting with DR 1/-. This would also be a good time to consider getting a Ring of Protection +3 for 16,000 gp, so that Gorm will not have to spend a second turn preparing his defenses at the beginning of battle.

Let’s do another recap here. Gorm is now at character level 16, with an average of 157 (8d8 + 3d10 + 5d12 + 48 Con + 16 favored class + 16 Toughnesshit points. He also now has a constant DR 1/-. At the beginning of battle, he’ll take his first standard action to channel energy into his shield, gaining that +6 sacred bonus. His current AC is now 43 (10 + 2 Dex + 10 armor + 7 shield + 3 dodge +2 natural armor + 6 sacred + 3 deflection). He moves up to the baddest-looking bad-guy and enters defensive stance, making his AC 45 (49 if the enemy is a giant) and giving him a bonus to Str and Con which gives him 32 more hit points, now up to 189. If any of his allies come up next to him, he can at any point take a free action to accept an attack that would otherwise hit that ally. On the following turn, he’ll use his standard action for a total defense action, boosting his AC to 49 and giving his adjacent allies a +7 shield bonus to their AC. If the opponent moves away (which would probably be a very smart thing to do), Gorm can end his defensive stance, becoming fatigued, as a free action. He can then move up to the enemy again and resume the defensive stance thanks to his Roused Defense power. If the enemy moves again, he’ll have to spend an action to cast either restoration or lesser restoration on himself to remove his exhausted condition, then he can continue as planned. If he needs to heal, he can either channel energy for 6d6 HP or he can cast any number of cure spells on himself, all of which are automatically empowered. If Gorm finds himself grappled, he can still activate his freedom of movement ability for up to 8 rounds per day. And don’t forget, if need be he can turn into a dwarf-shaped icicle and gain DR 5/- and cold immunity for up to 8 rounds per day.

Level 17 brings another feat and another Defensive Power. The power that Gorm will choose is Improved Damage Reduction, because not many of the other powers apply to his character concept. His feat will be Stalwart, letting him choose to gain an additional DR 4/- instead of the +4 dodge bonus he gets while using the total defense action. This means that during total defense, his AC is 45. And now that he has DR 6/- if he does somehow get hit it doesn’t affect him nearly as much.

At level 18, Gorm’s inherent damage reduction goes up by two more, to DR 4/-. He also gains Improved Uncanny Dodge, meaning that he only takes half damage after a failed reflex save, and his dodge bonus to AC increases by +1 once again. Level 19 brings another feat and another defensive power, and his choices are obvious this time. For his defensive power, he’ll again choose Improved Damage Reduction to raise his inherent damage reduction to DR 5/-, and for his feat he’ll choose Improved Stalwart, doubling the DR gained when using total defense to give him a total of DR 13/-.

Finally, at level 20 Gorm can increase an ability score one more time, so it might as well be Con. His Stalwart Defender class ability at this level is Mobile Defense, which lets Gorm make a five-foot step and still stay in his defensive stance. Character wealth for 20th level is supposed to be 880,000gp, so it’s safe to say that Gorm has probably upgraded his armor to +5 mithral (34,000gp) and his shield to +5 (25,000gp) and can probably afford an amulet of natural armor +5 and a ring of protection +5 (50,000gp each). He could also get a Belt of Physical Perfection +6 (77,000gp), raising his physical stats to Str 20, Dex 20, Con 23!.

Let’s do the final recap. Gorm’s average hit points at this level will be 205 (8d8 + 3d10 + 9d12 + 60 Con + 20 favored class + 20 Toughness) and in defensive stance that will rise to 245. He has inherent damage reduction of DR 5/-, and his normal AC is 56 (10 + 3 Dex + 14 armor + 9 shield + 4 dodge +5 natural armor + 6 sacred + 5 deflection). While in defensive stance, his AC goes up to 58, and if he uses total defense he can either raise his AC to 62 or his damage reduction to DR 13/- and his adjacent allies gain a +9 shield bonus. Gorm can still use a free action to take an attack that would normally hit his adjacent ally, and if he starts somehow taking damage, he can heal himself with automatically empowered cure spells. And don’t forget that beneath it all, Gorm is a cleric, so he can buff his allies and debuff his enemies with spells, depending on what he prepares for the day.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this build, because I sure have. As I was writing this up, I never imagined just how high Gorm’s AC would rise. This character is definitely the toughest to kill that I’ve ever made. I have no idea what I’ll write about next time, but for now, go forth and try this build in your games!

Leveling table