In terms of sheer offense, the Totemist is rivaled only by Martial Adepts and Spellcasters. This class is the "Design your own Monster" class, and is unique to that respect by being one of the most balanced classes that grants natural weapons (the others being all spellcasters with access to Polymorph). But don't let that deter you from this class. Totemists are a nightmare in combat due to the sheer number of natural attacks they can make due to their Soulmelds, and their unique Totem Chakra is a very potent weapon to use. Sadly, they have few class features that don't involve Soulmelds, and as such they are vulnerable when caught with their pants down (do they even need to wear them?).
In spite of this weakness, their Soulmelds are the most versatile in terms of Binding locations, as all of them can be bound to at least 2 Chakras. This gives them a distinct customization to them rivaled by prepared casters; if one day goes by and you are bored of their current melds and abilities, rebind and reshape them into a new beast of destruction.
I'm not kidding around about this class. They are beasts in combat. It takes high-level optimization to out-tempo them at their own game. At the lower levels, they are unequaled in melee combat.
Key Ability Scores for a Totemist
Strength: This is one of your many stats you will be wanting in the higher numbers. Second to Con, and above Dex, this is a key score to have as a Totemist. You will be getting into melee quite a bit, so the higher this is, the better.
Dexterity: Thanks to Shadow Blade and Weapon Finesse, this can replace your Strength score for virtually everything. This is a tertiary score though. Keep it above 11, and you will be set for the long-haul. Ask your DM if Natural Weapons count as unarmed strikes. Oh, and Ranged Attacks kick ass. Too bad there's only one Ranged Totemist meld (Manticore Belt).
Constitution: The key Meldshaper stat rears its head. With a d8 for HD, you will be wanting the HP a high Con score grants. Because you are more resilient than the Incarnate, you don't have to worry about Reflex saves as much, as you can take a Twinned Fireball and shrug off most of the damage.
Intelligence: Totemists have a lot of skill points to work with, but this is only important if you are going to cover the Skill Monkey roll (which you can look the part if you want to). Neglecting this may not be a bad decision, but I like playing characters who are a least able to string a sentence together, so don't just dump it outright.
Wisdom: If it weren't for your poor Will saves, this would be a priority dump stat. Seeing as you have need of a higher than average Wisdom score, you may want to put a good number here. If you are rolling stats, and have a little luck, you can easily manage a 13 or 14 in it. If you are using 32 PB, then put it at 12. Some of your Soulmelds will shore up your weakness too.
Charisma: Curb-stop this stat. The only use is if you plan on making Magical Beasts your pets via Diplomancy, and even then this is negligible.
: d8. You can take a little punishment. But not nearly as much as you would like to. Still, this at least means you won't be on ice from a Shocking Grasp at 1st level, so it has a few perks.BAB
: Medium. Thankfully, you are more adept at hitting things that are pestering you. I get the feeling WotC didn't want to supercharge this class by making the entire thing into the same stats as a Magical Beast (d10, full BAB, two Good saves). If this instinct is correct, then try and talk your DM into fixing this and the Soulborn. Two of the Substitution Levels for the Incarnate upgrade Skill Points and HD, while none of the Totemist ones even touch either. I can see a fix of this class doing just that though.Saves
: Alas, where the Incarnate had to worry about Reflex, you have to worry about being Dominated. Literally. And no one wants the party's
Totemist being turned against them. Several feats and Soulmelds will help shore this weakness up. Good news, you have two good saves. This makes Gestalting very nice, as you can just choose Knight to upgrade everything you have but Skill Points. Not a bad deal there. I would personally use Crusader or Warblade for it though, or maybe the Duskblade (and go to town with Shocking Grasp).
Essentia: Second only to the Incarnate, Totemists have a final total of 20 Essentia at 20th level. Unlike the Incarnate, a Totemist can afford to leave most of his melds empty. The most important ones are the ones bound to your Totem or that grant save bonuses.
Soulmelds: You get the same number of Soulmelds to shape as the Incarnate, which may be overdoing it a bit. 20-27 Essentia really has a hard time taking care of 9 Soulmelds with a cap of 4-6. With access to one of the most dangerous list of Soulmelds, the Totemist really has its hands full just picking them out. Sometimes, you just want to have them look cool. Other times, you mean real business.
Chakra Binds: Ouch. The fact that your two special Chakra Binds take up this number means you will be hurting to have the ones you need. But those two Chakra Binds will be your key to dominating combat.
Wild Empathy: Meh. It is somewhat better than the Druid's ability, but not useful enough to warrant a build around the feature. Next. Note: When fighting Magical Beasts who share a name with your Totem Bind's Soulmeld, do not neglect this ability! Points for being able to tame Big T without cheesing it up.
Illiteracy: Worthless waste of text. This really is only thematic, there was no reason for it to be here otherwise.
Totem Chakra Bind: The namesake of the class, this is the single, most power feature they get outside of Meldshaping. They are also the only Meldshaper class with it. Why? I don't know. But it is nothing to sneeze at. A lot of the Totemist's Soulmelds are tied to being bound to this Chakra, so it will be in high demand for you.
Totem's Protection: Meh. It is a nice boost. But there needs to be a way to switch it to other types. There are only a handful of Magical Beasts at the higher levels, so this won't see play while you are kicking ass and taking names.
Chakra Binds: The only thing you don't get is the Soul bind, but you had to make the compromise somewhere. The bad news is that your Totem still counts as a Chakra Bind, so you lose out on a total of two binds over 20 levels for some of the best tricks in the book. Oh well! By RAW, you can take the Open Chakra feats to get extra Chakra Binds (not just the slots!), so look into this if you are feeling high and dry.
Rebind Totem Soulmeld: This is nice to have. But it still doesn't alleviate their dependency on what melds are shaped. Only 4 uses also hurts.
Totem Embodiment: Wow. I see this and wish for it to come earlier. This is a really good ability.
The primary way to play a Totemist is to scout for the 1st level, then face-rape for the next 19. Seriously, this class can be mean! You can get about 8 Claw attacks from your Totem Chakra alone, and you can make those claws nasty with the right feats. Or you can get the 18 Ranged Attacks, and kill everything with a built-in Flyby Attack.
Sample Totemist Build
Warforged Totemist 8/Barbarian 2/Totem Rager 10
1st: Jaws of Death
Flaw 1: Expanded Soulmeld Capacity
Flaw 2: Cerulean Will
6th: Cobalt Rage
9th: Extra Rage
12th: Double Chakra (Totem)
15th: Second Slam
18th: Split Chakra (Arms)
This build is a monster in combat. Even from level 1, it shows what true ferocity can be with a pair of attacks (Bite+Slam). As soon as you hit 2nd, your damage output triples with the Girallon Arms meld. At 3rd, your chances of hitting increase. At 6th, you gain the house of all houses: Cobalt Rage. From this point until 17th, you are taking levels in Totem Rager.
An alternate route to conserve on Soulmelds is to drop Cerulean Will for Dragon Tail (Races of the Dragon) by being a Dragonborn or taking Dragontouched. This is less house-rules dependent, but more feat and item-intense.
Swap out the Fast Movement for Pounce via CC's Lion Totem variant. This easily breaks the combat wide open, as it allows you to dish out the damage on a Charge with ease.
Invest as much Essentia into the Girallon Arms and into one other Soulmeld (like Landshark Boots or Sphinx Claws) as you can afford. Then make sure the rest is in Cobalt Rage. While not needed, Rage Claws do have a nice touch to them.
If you can afford the PB, Dragonborn is a nice way to get extra HP. And it opens up another trick: The Dragon Tail feat from races of the Dragon. At the cost of your Composite Plating (and possibly your two slams) you get a Tail attack at 1st level. Vicious doesn't even start to describe it.
A good item to have is the Shadow Hand Gloves from the Bo9S (and have the Assassin's Stance as the 3rd level maneuver it grants). Heavily debatable, but man does it hurt if it is allowed.
I leave out Rapidstrike and its older brother for a few reasons: 1) BAB requirements puts it at the later-levels when it won't make much of a difference, and 2) Wrong race.
I've listed all of the melds from the MoI below. Any of them labeled with a (Totem Bonus) offer extra Natural Attacks, all of which stack. The color of the Meld determines the effectivness of it's base abilities, while the color of the (Totem Bonus) tells you if the natural attacks are worth binding to your Totem.
Beast Tamer Circlet
Threefold Mask of the Chimera (Totem Bonus)
Landshark Boots (Totem Bonus)
Worg Pelt (Totem Bonus)
Bloodtalons (Totem Bonus)
Kruthik Claws (Totem Bonus)
Rageclaws (Totem Bonus)
Sphinx Claws (Totem Bonus)
Girallon Arms (Totem Bonus)
Kraken Mantle (Totem Bonus)
Basilisk Mask (Totem Bonus)
Great Raptor Mask
Unicorn Horn (Totem Bonus)
Displacer Mantle (Totem Bonus)
Phase Cloak (Totem Bonus)
Ankheg Breastplate (Totem Bonus)
Behir Gorget (Totem Bonus)
Brass Mane (Totem Bonus)
Winter Mask (Totem Bonus)
Heart of Fire (Totem Bonus)
Lamia Belt (Totem Bonus)
Manticore Belt (Totem Bonus)
Wormtail Belt (Totem Bonus)
Wow. Now that is some list. Almost all of the Totemist's Soulmelds are unique unto the class. This makes them very predictable, but it is nice to have so many neat tricks for you to use. All of them can be bound to the Totem Chakra, but doing so counts as a Chakra Bind for the day. This is both a blessing and a curse, as the best abilities they get are from their Totem binds, and they only get 2 of them.
Which melds are the best? See the below portion of the handbook for an explanation of why each meld and bind got the rating it did.
Prestige Classes and Multiclassing
Unlike the Incarnate, the Totemist is very multiclass-friendly (well, sort of). These are a few of the better options.Soulcaster/manifester
Entry Requirements: Knowledge (Arcana) 8 ranks, Incarnum Spellshaping, ability to shape 3 soulmelds and bind a soulmeld to a chakra, ability to cast 2nd level spells. You can easily meet these requirements by 5th level.
Totemist entry into this PrC gives you access to some of the best options, provided your caster side has some good buffs (they likely will). A good way to do this is to take 4 levels of Legacy Champion at Soulcaster 5, advancing Soulcaster as much as possible. This gets you better BAB while still advancing your casting. Unfortunately, this costs you quite a bit on the caster side. The good news is that your customized Legacy Item can boost the power of your caster side considerably. One possible entry is Old Dragonwrought Desert Kobold Totemist 2/Sorcerer 4 with Greater Rite of Passage (and/or Loredrake, if possible). This allows you to focus on the caster side of the build a little more, and provides you with more powerful spells to work with. Note: The capstone isn't worth using.
Entry Requirements: Knowledge (Arcana) 4 ranks, Knowledge (Religion) 4 ranks, Able to shape 3 soulmelds, Essentia Pool of 3 or better, Lawful Alignment, able to cast 2nd level Divine spells, access to the Law domain. Harder entry, but still possible. Note the lack of a feat requirement. Law Devotion may count as having the Domain, ask your DM (RAW says you lose the Domain, but the DM may be willing to handwave that because it's thematic).
Again, Totemist entry is really good (but Incarnate does just fine here). Cleric is the standard opposite, enabling Divine Power and DMM abuse (which is majorly OP'ed when Incarnum is allowed, as the Cleric handbook will tell you). Ur-Priest entry requires house rules, and is actually better left to the Teifling Incarnate entry. Again, Legacy Champion is a decent idea, but not as good since Cleric doesn't get shenanigans like Sorcerer does.
Thayan GladiatorChampions of Ruin
Entry Requirements: Intimidate 5 ranks, Survival 9 ranks, Cobalt Rage, Rage class feature and Totem Chakra Bind. Entry is possible at 6th level, with any combo of 2+ Totemist Levels and 1+ Barbarian levels. A Warblade dip is optional, but very helpful for IHS/Punishing Stance/Tiger Claw strikes.
Readers of the previous Incarnum Handbook will know how powerful this is. It isn't that optimal for a Ranged Totemist, but the melee Totemist will love it. For the record, Cobalt Rage grants a +6 Insight bonus on melee damage rolls. Per attack. Considering you can easily get 5-7 attacks, and Power Attack, you can dish out the damage fairly quickly. It won't be at a true Charger-level, but it will be impressive.
: Evil-aligned, Toughness, Weapon Focus (any Natural Weapon), BAB +5, must undergo a special ritual (fluff). Ok, the Toughness feat can be replaced by the infinitely more useful Azure Toughness (Hint: abuse Psycarnum Infusion or an Essentia Helm to max the essentia in it when you want the HP), and the Weapon Focus requirements can be met with Swordsage or Fighter dips. The Natural Weapons? Well, you have those, no questions asked.
Why do I mention this PrC? I've never even read it before today, but looking at it, the PrC is fairly solid for a Totemist. Granted, you lose meldshaping advancement, but you can live with that so long as Dispel Magic isn't being flung around left and right. The main reason is simple: It enhances your natural attacks. Only a +3 total in special abilities, so it isn't much, but it gives Full BAB and the enhancements don't override your Essentia investments. What's more, there's a few decent options (namely Speed) and some lovely class features to work with. And a d12 HD for good measure. Finally, your Essentia Capacity increases independent of your Totemist level, so you still end up advancing your meldshaping in some way anyhow.
Possible entry includes Swordsage 4/Totemist 3 (4 is better for the extra Essentia, as you will need it) focusing on Tiger Claw and Shadow Hand (because I said so). Here's the skinny:
- Improved Natural Attack: The jury is out on if this applies to all attacks of that specific kind (the way Weapon Focus does, and I do believe INA does state the same thing), but either way this is a damage boost. Always welcomed.
- Study Opponent: Not that good in combat, but if you haven't engaged them and are stalking prey, this is a decent way to open up. Get a +2 or +3 if possible. Only lasts 1 round, which is the other reason it sucks.
- Improved Critical: Automatically applies to your natural weapon. Effectively, this is the Dread Carapace's Arms bind effect, but for free and constant. Normally not worth it, but this helps you out a lot.
- Natural Armor Bonus: Stacks with everything, and +3 AC is always nice when it's free.
- Stunning Critical: Save DC 15+Str mod, instant Stun on a confirmed crit. Stunning is meh, but this is OK. You have 4 Claw attacks, each with a threat range of 19-20. This should trigger every encounter unless they are immune to Stunning.
- Silver Strike: Hello! Hard to get this without spending GP. This, coupled with a Ring of Adamantine Touch, helps your damage output.
- Natural Weapon Focus: Not the feat. This is effectively Slashing Fury, from PH2. Any time you take a Full Attack action, you get an additional attack at your highest attack bonus -5 with your chosen Natural Weapon. The best part is that the penalty doesn't apply to any other attack, and you have a good BAB.
- Imbue Natural Weapon: Twice, once at 5th and once at 10th, you can add a magical enhancement to the Natural Weapon you have Weapon Focus with. The options range from situational (Flaming, Thundering, Frost, Shock, the respective Bursts, and Disruption) to useful (Unholy, Axiomatic, Anarchic, Ghost-Touch), to HOLY **** (Wounding, Speed [explicitly stated to stack with the Natural Weapon focus class feature]). Some of the options are only available at 10th level (namely Speed and Wounding), but this is worth getting.
So, 5 claw attacks/round from Girallon Arms, each doing 2 points of Con damage/hit+regular damage, or a flat 6 attacks/round each doing a decent amount of damage. This is the reason to take levels in this class, unless you are allowed to apply Legacy Item effects to your natural weapons (which is debatable at best).
- Adamantine Strike: Not done yet, there's class features at every level here. This is as the Monk ability.
- Savage Strike: The critical multiplier of your Natural Weapons is increased by 1. So you have 6 19-20, x3 Claw attacks. Never hurts you to have this.
- Natural Weapon Mastery: Remember that -5 to the extra attack from Natural Weapon Focus? It's gone now. Entirely. Start mauling people.
- Magic Strike: The only other ability here that sucks, because you all ready have it (unless the DM says otherwise, in which case this is Blue). Still, you want 10th level.