Optimized player characters (PCs) got you down, DM? Are you ready to tear your hair out after the fifth time the dragonborn lesser aasimar (+2 Constitution, +2 Wisdom, +2 Charisma, -2 Dexterity, +0 level adjustment) cleric uses a Divine Metamagic Extended Hold Person (or Hold Monster) on your big bad while the strongheart halfling (+2 Dexterity, -2 Strength, +1 to attack rolls, most halfling traits plus a bonus feat) wizard fires off an Arcane Thesis, Repeated, Enervated, Sudden Maximized, Sudden Empowered Disintegrate for 540 damage and another 540 damage next turn?
Sounds like your big bad needs better saves, my friend. Well I’m here to help. If you’re willing to work with a Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG, for those “in the know,”) with excellent Charisma, a bent for evil and PC class levels, making save DCs should no longer be a problem — assuming you’re not fudging the rolls already. (Don’t worry; we’ve all done it!)
Step one: Think up a real Magnificent Bastard. He should really earn the 18 (or, if you’re feeling bold and/or you’re dealing with higher levels, higher) Charisma you’re going to give him.
Step two: Make him bad. Paladins are exemplars of good, fighting the forces of evil wherever s/he can find them and essentially just being good. You know what’s bad, then? An Anti-Paladin. He’s the chaotic evil answer to the paladin’s lawful good. Now, I’m not saying Wizards got lazy on this one, but in case you don’t have access to the source material (Dragon Magazine #312), you just take all of the paladin’s abilities and flip them on their head. Smite Evil becomes Smite Good. Remove Disease becomes Contagion. Aura of Courage, Aura of Fear. You get the idea. But one thing that doesn’t change is Divine Grace, the supernatural ability granting paladins a bonus to all of their saves equal to their Charisma modifier.
If you don’t want to go full chaotic evil, or, say, you just think the name “Anti-Paladin” is pretty stupid, there’s a flavor out there for everyone.
There’s the neutral evil Corrupter (also from Dragon #312), lawful evil Despot (guess where?), neutral evil Enforcer (Dragon #310, an evil Paladin before it was cool), chaotic evil Paladin of Slaughter (Unearthed Arcana) and the lawful evil Paladin of Tyranny (Unearthed Arcana). Not quite 31, but, hey, there’s only so much you can do with a 3-by-3 alignment chart.
Of these, I’d recommend going with either Corrupter or Anti-Paladin, because Hide is a class skill for those, and you’re going to need ranks in that for the prestige we’ll be looking into. The Anti-Paladin is a bit heavy-handed for my taste, existing pretty much as-is, looking to smash good in the face. The Corrupter, meanwhile, gets bonuses to Bluff, Disguise and Forgery, making him an excellent choice for a BBEG that walks unknown amongst others. The Anti-Paladin is the devil you know; the Corrupter is Ted Bundy next door. He’s just creepier.
But moving on from flavor, you’re probably going to want your BBEG to be human. Paladins of all types are starved for skill points, and the Blackguard prestige class (Dungeon Master’s Guide) requires five ranks in Hide and two in Knowledge (religion), not usually top priority skills for melee combatants. But, hey, those Hide ranks will come in handy once you get a sneak attack.
If you really like the idea of your BBEG using his smite, don’t forget the Corrupter can only smite divine casters while the Anti-Paladin can only smite Good creatures. To get the most of your baddie’s smite, consider whom needs the most neutralization or which group makes up the majority of the party. Or just go with the flavor. Whatever floats your boat.
So your BBEG’s taken some levels (at least six) in Anti-Paladin or Corrupter, and now he’s ready to move on to bigger and badder things. Well, if he has those Hide and Knowledge (religion) ranks we talked about, he can take his next level in Blackguard (DMG). Of course, he has to make peaceful contact with an evil outsider, but that can easily be arranged off-screen.
By the time he takes his second level in Blackguard, he’ll be adding his Charisma bonus twice to all of his saves (should be a minimum of +8), able to smite things three times a day and using poisons. Soon he’ll be commanding armies of undead, taking control of divine spellcasters, emitting fear, and sneak attacking. If someone’s using a particularly pesky Good divine caster and your BBEG took his base class levels in Corrupter, he can sneak attack, Smite Heathen and Smite Good all at once. You may want to have True Strike on you if you’re going to blow two smites on the same attack, though. It’d be embarrassing to lose two smites and reveal your position if your great sword swings wide.
From there you can level him as you see fit. If you progress into Blackguard as early as possible and take the full progression, you’ll have four more levels to spare to get you to 20.
If for some reason you wanted to take Improved Initiative along the way, feel free to take levels in Ghost-Faced Killer (Complete Adventurer). It’ll have nice flavor synergies with your auras of fear and despair and mechanics-wise with your multiple smites and sneak attack. While Improved Initiative is rarely a good choice, your Aura of Despair, Aura of Fear and high Charisma work together to make the Ghost-Faced Killer’s save-or-die Frightful Attack a powerful option. If you’re a little iffy about putting your PCs in save-or-die situations, have him use it to kill off some powerful friendly NPC in front of them.
The Avenging Executioner class (Complete Scoundrel) also works well with your fearsome auras. If you can find a consistent way of instilling fear in your opponents — shouldn’t be hard, because you’re dropping their saves against fear by six just by standing there — you’ll deal Sneak Attack and Sudden Strike damage every time. Also, because your opponents will be flat-footed, their AC will most likely be lower than normal, giving you a good excuse to blow whatever smites you have available.
If you’re really into the idea of an undead army at your BBEG’s command, you may want to look into the Master of Shrouds class (Libris Mortis). It gives you more rebuke attempts and lets you call incorporeal undead to you. I personally find it the weakest of the three options, but, hey, whatever works for you.
But if you’re all about the undead and are willing to put six of your scarce skill points into Craft (armorsmithing), Bone Knight (Five Nations) is the way to go. Yeah, you lose one level of spellcasting, but you get awesome bone armor and greater powers over undead. Your necromancer friend can pass you control of more undead than you can normally rebuke, and the undead you control gain bonus turn resistance based on — ding ding ding! — your Charisma.
If you wanted to shave a level off Blackguard (and miss out on an extra d6 of Sneak Attack damage, a third-level spell, and an extra use of Smite Good), you can take five levels in Bone Knight and gain access to Fill the Ranks, which helps your BBEG create his own undead armies. This will make him more self-relient and also allow for a good way to turn the tides in a battle by bringing in unexpected reinforcements. Of course, at this level skeletons and zombies won’t be much of a challenge, but I’m sure you can get creative with it.
However, if you’re going to exit Blackguard early, you may want to just do it after Blackguard 7. Then he can take seven levels of Bone Knight, getting the undead-control bonuses, a sweet bonecraft weapon and improving his bone armor to have a 50 percent chance to negate extra damage from critical hits and sneak attacks.
Well, that’s all for this week. Until next time, stay smart, stay safe, and don’t play underpowered bad guys.