Author Topic: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character  (Read 849 times)

Offline fraction

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Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« on: September 22, 2020, 01:53:07 PM »
Hello all,

I'm new here-- I found the forum recently and I have been lurking and reading some of the old posts on here. You guys have a ton of resources that have been really awesome to read, so thank you very much for all of the handbooks and cool topics!

I actually just decided to make an account so that I could discuss a bit of a concern I have for my current 3.5e D&D character. I've been trying to get some advice from older threads but I think I need to make a new post as I couldn't really find what I was looking for. Right now, I am playing a monk/sorcerer and I don't always feel like I can contribute in combat situations. I started out just playing a straight up monk for the flavor (I did not know at the time that the monk class is considered one of the weakest classes in 3.5). Then my PC ended up having a hatchling dragon imprint on her and as part of the roleplay I thought that it would be a lot of fun for this to start causing changes in my PC. So I started taking sorcerer classes (with the idea of eventually moving into dragon disciple). This seemed like a weak but feasible build if we were going to play an epic campaign, but I recently found out my DM doesn't want to play past level twenty. Now I think I've kind of screwed myself over. And by kind of, I mean big time. Here is a brief overview of my current stats:

  • Effective Character Level: 8
  • Monk Level: 4
  • Sorcerer Level: 4
  • Ability Scores: 14 (for each individually)
  • BAB: +5 (+6 with gloves)
  • Saves:
      - Fort: 7
      - Reflex: 7
      - Will: 10
  • Armor Class (this includes a +1 deflection bonus from robes and +1 natural armor from an amulet):
      - Basic: 16
      - Flat-Footed: 14
      - Touch: 15

Zeroth Level:Acid SplashLightDetect MagicRead MagicPrestidigitation
First Level:Mage ArmorMagic MissleIdentify
Second Level:Flaming Sphere

Now, I've come to the realization that taking the dragon disciple prestige class is probably a mistake that will leave me even further behind my party. I am already two levels of spells behind where a sorcerer should be and I do not believe that any of my monk abilities stack very well with sorcerer or dragon disciple. As you can probably tell my PC is very MAD. I guess what I was hoping was that you guys would have some suggestions on how I should continue to level my character in order to minimize the damage I have already done to my character's effectivity in combat. What makes this more difficult than my bad leveling decisions have already made it is that we are only allowed to use core books. And there isn't a lot of dragon-flavoring outside of Draconomicon, Dragon Magic, and Races of Dragons (as far as I know). My DM is an old-school player and doesn't like using supplemental books because they get less playtesting and he believes they are prone to min/maxing, which I can understand.

It may also help to know that the rest of my party consists of a ranger, a fighter, a barbarian, a paladin, and a cleric. Both our barbarian and paladin can deal 40-50 points of damage within their two full-round actions, our cleric is now healing 3d8 I believe (?), and I'm not entirely sure how much damage our ranger and fighter are dealing. I think that the last time our ranger used his bow he dealt about 12 points of damage (I don't remember if both shots hit or not). Obviously, it would be good to continue spell-casting as we have a heavily meele-based party but if I just continued in sorcerer I would have one level 8th spell at an effective character level of 20. Can what amounts to a 16th level sorcerer keep up with 20th level characters? I think that might not work well, but my only other idea is just to go ahead and continue with the dragon disiciple class. I am worried about this second option though as I currently only have 45 hit points and I can't wear armor. Please let me know what you guys think! Do you guys have any ideas for how to level my character? Or do you think I will be fine with whatever levels I take?

Thanks in advance for all of your help!

Offline Skyrock

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2020, 02:13:36 PM »
From the look of it, are you restricted to Core (PHB + DMG + MM1 + UA)? That would  severely limit what can be done. You are already doing an uphill battle combining a class that is MAD for everything but Charisma with a class that puts Charisma über alles. The Ascetic Mage feat from Complete Adventurer would be the bare minimum to make such a combination feasible.

Having already lost 4 levels you will never become a great sorcerer without retraining, for you have already locked yourself out of ever gaining access to level 9 spells. D&D 3.5 isn't forgiving to falling behind the curve, especially if you DM uses the level-scaling CR system for his encounters.

As for spell selection, you have a good number of spells only used once per day (Mage Armor) or rarely during downtime (Identify). Spells known are the bottleneck of spontaneous casters, you should rather focus on spells you want to use often. Utility downtime spells are better left to the cleric; in the case of arcane spells you can always throw money at at the problem and use scrolls and wands instead.

Offline fraction

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2020, 03:00:43 PM »
From the look of it, are you restricted to Core (PHB + DMG + MM1 + UA)? That would  severely limit what can be done. You are already doing an uphill battle combining a class that is MAD for everything but Charisma with a class that puts Charisma über alles. The Ascetic Mage feat from Complete Adventurer would be the bare minimum to make such a combination feasible.

Having already lost 4 levels you will never become a great sorcerer without retraining, for you have already locked yourself out of ever gaining access to level 9 spells. D&D 3.5 isn't forgiving to falling behind the curve, especially if you DM uses the level-scaling CR system for his encounters.

As for spell selection, you have a good number of spells only used once per day (Mage Armor) or rarely during downtime (Identify). Spells known are the bottleneck of spontaneous casters, you should rather focus on spells you want to use often. Utility downtime spells are better left to the cleric; in the case of arcane spells you can always throw money at at the problem and use scrolls and wands instead.

Yeah, my DM considers core to be just PHB, DMG, and MM1 but he said that there was a bunch of good stuff in UA that he wouldn't have an issue with me taking. I haven't read UA so I will look into it today. Is there anything in particular you like from that book?

I didn't know that one could retrain. Is there a mechanic for that? I know you can retrain in Pathfinder and I would be totally okay with retraining my monk levels. I am not entirely sure how my DM scales his encounters, but he did just ask for all of our updated character sheets so that he could tailor encounters to our power levels. I think my major problem is the high disparity in combat abilities in our party.

I didn't think about my spells being an issue. The reason I didn't take more combat-focused spells early on was because they were always weaker than my meele attack, but I think you make a valid point. I could talk to our cleric about picking up some of the utility spells. We also fight a lot of undead, constructs, and such so mind-altering spells aren't super great for our campaign.

If there was a book I could talk my DM into allowing, what book would you suggest? It would probably be a long shot but you never know.

Offline Skyrock

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2020, 03:11:28 PM »
UA has some neat stuff, such as variant races and alternate class features. Traits can be useful for a small boost to relevant skills. Flaws are outright ridiculous if allowed, so if they aren't in the game yet expect them to not be permitted.

Retraining rules are in PHB2.

As for things from splatbooks, the one I strongly recommend is the Asketic Mage feat in Complete Adventurer, which has been specifically built to make Sorcerer/Monk mash-ups somewhat viable. The Enlightened Fist PrC from Complete Arcane could also be very interesting for you.

In addition to monk and sorcerer handbooks you should also look into gish handbooks. Many of the recommended feats and classes are outside core, but it should give you some pointers.

Offline nijineko

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #4 on: September 22, 2020, 04:54:06 PM »
You might want to ask if the SRD (System Reference Document) is considered core or not. That will give you slightly more to work with. There are those who prefer the SRD over the "core books". Considering that it is the first 8 books of D&D for free (one of which is the UA, two of which will be useless to you given your described limits above), it is available to everyone, and is a better intro to D&D than just the DMG/PHB/MM1.

***

Or you could ask about allowing certain parts of the PHB II, since that book has Retraining and other character reforming rules which allow you to quest for changes to your character such as different class features and even changing your class levels or changing your race! All nicely under the DMs control, to boot. Most capable DMs will allow for this sort of tweaking, especially if it is toward a more ideal balance with the group. Story-wise, this might be your best option, if the DM will allow it, as you could RP it as "getting closer to your draconic heritage" or something similar and appropriate for your character. It might even give the DM some free filler or side-quest type adventures as the party aides you on your quest.

***

 Finally, the DM might want to check their logic at the door, because if they think the DMG and PHB and MM1 is "less broken" then the other books, they are sadly mistaken. Some of the worst abuses in the game are accomplished with nothing more than those three books. And those abuses still exist AFTER all the "extensive playtesting". Just sayin'.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2020, 05:02:11 PM by nijineko »

Offline Nunkuruji

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2020, 09:20:42 PM »
Assuming this is a module,

There isn't much point to taking any direct damage spells, or other caster level dependent spells unless you can catch up your caster level with Practiced Spellcaster feat. Just bank on collecting wands and scrolls and burn through them, arcane items are solely your domain within your party composition. For offense, consider spells like Sleet Storm, which forces checks other than your subpar DC saving throw.
You need to bank on a Charisma magic item if you expect to continue much further as Sorcerer and cast much higher level spells. You may be competing with the Paladin and Cleric over that.
The party will suffer on the expectation of certain spells being available at a typical point in time, fly, teleport, etc. unless they show up as items.
Spells like Haste will go a long way, with as much beef is in your party, as well as other sorts of buff spells that aren't heavily dependent on your spellcasting parameters.

Offline fraction

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2020, 11:41:08 PM »
UA has some neat stuff, such as variant races and alternate class features. Traits can be useful for a small boost to relevant skills. Flaws are outright ridiculous if allowed, so if they aren't in the game yet expect them to not be permitted.

Retraining rules are in PHB2.

As for things from splatbooks, the one I strongly recommend is the Asketic Mage feat in Complete Adventurer, which has been specifically built to make Sorcerer/Monk mash-ups somewhat viable. The Enlightened Fist PrC from Complete Arcane could also be very interesting for you.

In addition to monk and sorcerer handbooks you should also look into gish handbooks. Many of the recommended feats and classes are outside core, but it should give you some pointers.

So I read a bunch of UA and it is pretty interesting. Traits like Distinctive, Honest, Relentless, and Suspicious would be very much in character for my PC. However, I am a little confused as to how flaws are OP. They seem like they could be pretty bad (Pathetic lowers an ability score by two although, I could see Frail not being an issue for some characters). I assume that they are probably better for characters that are more specialized and therefore already have some saving throws/abilities that they dump. Do I have the right idea here? Also, I laughed at myself so much when I was reading the bit on gestalt characters because the book says "Monk/Sorcerer and Monk/Wizard: . . . the important ability scores for sorcerers and wizards-- Charisma and Intelligence-- are the two abilitiy scores that the monk cares least about. This can be a tough combination to pull off, especially if you're using point-based ability score generation."

Okay. I asked my DM whether I would be able to retrain and I haven't heard back yet, which probably means that he is thinking. I know that the next couple of episodes are planned out so he is probably thinking about the storyline and whether it would be mechanically sound (given that he probably doesn't usually have players that want to retrain). It's funny, we are kind of in the middle of a quest that he altered for my PC so I don't think that creating the circumstances for retraining would be too difficult.

The Asketic Mage feat looks really good for reducing my abilitiy score dependencies. That would actually be a big relief. And stacking sorcerer/monk levels for the AC bonus would be awesome. I could definitely use the +1 right now. Also, the Enlightened Fist's Fist of Energy would really go well with the dragon flavor (my PC has a bronze dragon, which means an affinity for electric damage). Maybe my DM would allow me to retrain into this because it really fits my character well. In your experience does this class have any balance issues? I really like it, the only feat that looks kinda bleh is Arcane Rejuvenation-- I am a bit suprised a 9th level spell would only heal 9 points of damage. I mean, if you have a wish spell you would be much better off using that I think. A regular monk at fifth level heals 10 points of damage.

I have read the gish handbook (https://forums.giantitp.com/showthread.php?321715-The-Gish-Handbook for anyone reading this later), it is fantastic! I will go over it again in more detail. It was actually the standards that this book sets for gishes that kind of confirmed my suspision that I had made a mistake in my character building process  :D

Offline Nanshork

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #7 on: September 23, 2020, 11:53:27 PM »
Flaws can be OP because you pick what flaws you get. You don't take Pathetic or Frail. You're a monk so you pick Shaky because you wouldn't make ranged attacks under normal circumstances anyway or you pick Inattentive because you aren't the party scout.

It's very easy to abuse flaws.

Offline fraction

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2020, 12:22:10 AM »
You might want to ask if the SRD (System Reference Document) is considered core or not. That will give you slightly more to work with. There are those who prefer the SRD over the "core books". Considering that it is the first 8 books of D&D for free (one of which is the UA, two of which will be useless to you given your described limits above), it is available to everyone, and is a better intro to D&D than just the DMG/PHB/MM1.

***

Or you could ask about allowing certain parts of the PHB II, since that book has Retraining and other character reforming rules which allow you to quest for changes to your character such as different class features and even changing your class levels or changing your race! All nicely under the DMs control, to boot. Most capable DMs will allow for this sort of tweaking, especially if it is toward a more ideal balance with the group. Story-wise, this might be your best option, if the DM will allow it, as you could RP it as "getting closer to your draconic heritage" or something similar and appropriate for your character. It might even give the DM some free filler or side-quest type adventures as the party aides you on your quest.

***

 Finally, the DM might want to check their logic at the door, because if they think the DMG and PHB and MM1 is "less broken" then the other books, they are sadly mistaken. Some of the worst abuses in the game are accomplished with nothing more than those three books. And those abuses still exist AFTER all the "extensive playtesting". Just sayin'.

I can ask about SRD, he has mentioned it as a resource in general before.

Yes, I am keeping my fingers crossed that he will let me retrain-- in addition to letting me switch up my class levels, it might also let me pick up a draconic bloodline or become a half-dragon/draconic creature of some sort.

Oh, don't worry. He totally knows that wizards/clerics/druids are way OP late game and meele classes take the cake early on. And he knows we could min/max using only those three books. I think he just knows those books inside-out and therefore can deal with their imbalances quite easily (or catch us if we were optimizing too much and not RPing). I think his concern is that the more sources you introduce, the more room there is for exploitation, mistakes on the parts of the authors, combinations that are accidentally OP, etc. He played (DMed?) both ADD and first edition, so I am sure this base system comes off more balance in comparison. I am kind of disappointed we can't use the supplemental books because I love the lore and variety of options. And I think that saying that the Core books are also broken is totally fair. But I don't want to fight him on this issue because he knows way more about D&D than I do and because I wouldn't like arguing with him as he is a generally awesome person. I totally get where you are coming from though. :)

Offline fraction

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #9 on: September 25, 2020, 10:12:13 AM »
Assuming this is a module,

There isn't much point to taking any direct damage spells, or other caster level dependent spells unless you can catch up your caster level with Practiced Spellcaster feat. Just bank on collecting wands and scrolls and burn through them, arcane items are solely your domain within your party composition. For offense, consider spells like Sleet Storm, which forces checks other than your subpar DC saving throw.
You need to bank on a Charisma magic item if you expect to continue much further as Sorcerer and cast much higher level spells. You may be competing with the Paladin and Cleric over that.
The party will suffer on the expectation of certain spells being available at a typical point in time, fly, teleport, etc. unless they show up as items.
Spells like Haste will go a long way, with as much beef is in your party, as well as other sorts of buff spells that aren't heavily dependent on your spellcasting parameters.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense now that you say that. So basically, I should become a buff spellcaster? Just so I have a good idea for the future, is there a good benchmark for how much damage your offensive spells should deal? I know arcane casters at level twenty can deal 20d6 damage with third level spells (~60 points of damage) and that they can use instant kill spells on creatures (with fortitude negating). I'm not really sure what kind of damage martial classes deals though.

Offline fraction

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2020, 10:17:35 AM »
Flaws can be OP because you pick what flaws you get. You don't take Pathetic or Frail. You're a monk so you pick Shaky because you wouldn't make ranged attacks under normal circumstances anyway or you pick Inattentive because you aren't the party scout.

It's very easy to abuse flaws.

Oh okay. I thought Shaky might count against ranged spells. I actually have the best Spot score in the party (I get a +5 with my familiar on top of my skill points from monk), but perhaps I should not have invested in that. My thought was that spot would always be a relevant skill worth investing in but I didn't think too much about role specialization.

Offline Nanshork

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2020, 11:49:17 AM »
Flaws can be OP because you pick what flaws you get. You don't take Pathetic or Frail. You're a monk so you pick Shaky because you wouldn't make ranged attacks under normal circumstances anyway or you pick Inattentive because you aren't the party scout.

It's very easy to abuse flaws.

Oh okay. I thought Shaky might count against ranged spells. I actually have the best Spot score in the party (I get a +5 with my familiar on top of my skill points from monk), but perhaps I should not have invested in that. My thought was that spot would always be a relevant skill worth investing in but I didn't think too much about role specialization.

If your ranged spells are ranged touch attacks then -2 isn't a big deal.  Regardless, the general advice is to pick flaws that won't cause you any real issues.  I've picked Vulnerable multiple times because one point of AC rarely makes a difference one way or another.  I've picked Unreactive because my character doesn't need to go first in combat to be effective.  If concealment doesn't come up much then Murky-Eyed will rarely matter. 

Offline fraction

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #12 on: September 25, 2020, 11:57:22 AM »
So I figure that if I wanted to keep the character concept I initially had I would probably have to have built a gish kind of like this:

Level ClassBABHPFortRefWillSpecial Spellcasting LevelMonk Abilities Level
1Monk0D8 (8 + CON)222Stunning Fist, Flurry of Blows, Unarmed Strike1
2Sorcerer0D4 (~10 + 2CON)224Summon Familiar1
3Sorcerer1D4 (~12 + 3CON)3252
4Sorcerer1D4 (~14 + 4CON)3353
5Sorcerer2D4 (~16 + + 5CON)4364
6Sorcerer2D4  (~18 + 6CON)4365
7Sorcerer3D4  (~20 + 7CON)5476
8Enlightened Fist3D8 (~24 + 8CON)569Ki Strike (Magic), monk abilities2
9Enlightened Fist4D8 (~28 + 9CON)5710Fist of energy73
10Enlightened Fist5D8 (~32 + 10CON)6710Arcane fist84
11Abjurant Champion6/1D10 (~37 + 11CON)6712Abjurant Armor, Extended Abjuration9
12Abjurant Champion7/2d10 (~42 + 12CON)6713Swift Abjuration10
13Abjurant Champion8/3d10 (~47 + 13CON)781311
14Abjurant Champion9/4d10 (~52 + 14CON)7814Arcane Boost12
15Abjurant Champion10/5D10 (~57 + 15CON)7814Martial Arcanist13
16Ruathar10/5d6  (~60 + 16CON)71016Word of friendship, gift of the elves14
17Ruathar11/6/1d6 (~63 + 17CON)71117Low-light vision, elfwise15
18Ruathar12/7/2d6 (~66 + 18CON)81117Star blessing, Arvandor’s grace16
19Sorcerer12/8/3d4 (~68 + 19CON)8111717
20Sorcerer13/9/4d4 (~70 + 20CON = ~90-110)8111818

That would still mean flurrying still takes the -2 penalty, and unarmed strike is stuck at 1d8 damage. With the minimum loss of two spellcaster levels, I am not sure I can make Enlightened Fist work (one level is lost from taking monk initially to meet feat requirements and one level is lost from the first level of EF). I know that getting 9th level casting is a benchmark for gishes, so I make it so that I do get a ninth level spell at level twenty but it just seems like most of the monk abilities would be ineffective (especially without full BAB). 

Offline fraction

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #13 on: September 25, 2020, 12:00:10 PM »
Flaws can be OP because you pick what flaws you get. You don't take Pathetic or Frail. You're a monk so you pick Shaky because you wouldn't make ranged attacks under normal circumstances anyway or you pick Inattentive because you aren't the party scout.

It's very easy to abuse flaws.

Oh okay. I thought Shaky might count against ranged spells. I actually have the best Spot score in the party (I get a +5 with my familiar on top of my skill points from monk), but perhaps I should not have invested in that. My thought was that spot would always be a relevant skill worth investing in but I didn't think too much about role specialization.

If your ranged spells are ranged touch attacks then -2 isn't a big deal.  Regardless, the general advice is to pick flaws that won't cause you any real issues.  I've picked Vulnerable multiple times because one point of AC rarely makes a difference one way or another.  I've picked Unreactive because my character doesn't need to go first in combat to be effective.  If concealment doesn't come up m;uch then Murky-Eyed will rarely matter.

That does make sense, I see what you are saying now. And concealment isn't very big in our campaign so I can definitely see Murky-Eyed being a good flaw to take.

Offline nijineko

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #14 on: October 26, 2020, 09:36:06 AM »

I can ask about SRD, he has mentioned it as a resource in general before.

Yes, I am keeping my fingers crossed that he will let me retrain-- in addition to letting me switch up my class levels, it might also let me pick up a draconic bloodline or become a half-dragon/draconic creature of some sort.

Oh, don't worry. He totally knows that wizards/clerics/druids are way OP late game and meele classes take the cake early on. And he knows we could min/max using only those three books. I think he just knows those books inside-out and therefore can deal with their imbalances quite easily (or catch us if we were optimizing too much and not RPing). I think his concern is that the more sources you introduce, the more room there is for exploitation, mistakes on the parts of the authors, combinations that are accidentally OP, etc. He played (DMed?) both ADD and first edition, so I am sure this base system comes off more balance in comparison. I am kind of disappointed we can't use the supplemental books because I love the lore and variety of options. And I think that saying that the Core books are also broken is totally fair. But I don't want to fight him on this issue because he knows way more about D&D than I do and because I wouldn't like arguing with him as he is a generally awesome person. I totally get where you are coming from though. :)

I get it. Our group handled it by more or less memorizing where everything is in the game. We went for total system mastery, rather than cut down on our options.

Flaws are useful, but are front-loaded. In other words, taking flaws only happens at 1st level, so the feats you can qualify for are normally quite limited... but still useful for getting certain requirements out of the way and thus qualifying for certain things at earlier levels than normal.

The temptation to take "doesn't-bother-me-anyway" flaws is one that I tend to eyeball as a DM. Though I've had one player argue that the existence of the flaw was the reason why the character decided to instead focus on something they were good at, lol. Most of the time I pick flaws and traits that match and enable my characters' personalities and backstories.

Offline awaken_D_M_golem

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #15 on: November 01, 2020, 08:29:40 PM »
Monks Belt
Bracers
Scrolls

Glitter Dust
Web
Alter Self
Fireball for the stereotype
then integrate with handbook suggestions

Hows this game going ??
Your codpiece is a mimic.

Offline Endarire

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #16 on: December 16, 2020, 02:59:50 AM »
Is making a new character a viable option?

Offline nijineko

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #17 on: December 20, 2020, 09:17:31 PM »
See, this is why we need a Greater Psychic Reformation power that lets you re-choose level by level choices including ACFs and substitution levels and so forth, and not just feats or powers and skills.

Offline Stratovarius

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #18 on: December 20, 2020, 10:39:26 PM »
Retraining is what you're looking for, there's options all the way out to a full character rebuild.

Offline nijineko

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Re: Optimizing an Already Existing (and Subpar) Character
« Reply #19 on: January 17, 2021, 08:19:06 PM »
Retraining is what you're looking for, there's options all the way out to a full character rebuild.

True, and those are good options.

Just not all DMs are open to such.