All I can say is this: You cheeky bastard, that's brilliant.
Originality: 5.0 I feel like you're angling to get most of your points in Originality, huh? Well, you've definitely earned something good here. I did not see this coming. At all. You know what, just go ahead and have a perfect score for leaving me totally gobsmacked with your premise. You earned it. (+2.0)
Power: 3.5 This is not an easy category for this character. You're very clever in that you've clearly changed the expectations of how this character is going to perform—you are, quite simply, not intended to be a combat character, and I understand that. With 8 STR/CON, if you can't talk your way out of a problem, your best bet is probably to bravely run away—a combat that actually starts pretty much counts as a loss for you, as your whole character is designed around out-of-combat problem solving. To that end, you did a good job making it clear what your intentions are—you didn't split the difference and show up with some half-assed combat tricks that don't really do much but take up build resources; you showed up with no combat tricks at all, and that tells me that you're fully aware that you're not capable of contributing once initiative is rolled. And that takes guts in Iron Chef, because 3.5 is a game that centers a whole lot around combat, like it or not. So I'm in kind of a tough spot with you. I need to recognize that this simply isn't intended to be a combat king (and I need to judge you based on what you're trying to do, not on what you're not trying to do), but I also need to recognize that combat is a part of the game, and it's a part that you just can't do. Hmm.
Let's just take it one step at a time. Out of combat, you're a brilliant party face. You've got killer totals in most of the key face skills, you've got the ability to take 10 on a lot of them, and you've even got enough languages to serve as the party face pretty much wherever you want to go. Spymaster fits the concept like a glove—your cover identities are exactly what you need to reify the concept of the Thunder Guide, and your ability to pretend to be these fake “Thunder Guides” is unimpeachable. Even Deceitful and Negotiator somehow make sense for this character—+2 to a couple of skills isn't very handy when that's taking up a feat slot that could make you better at combat, but when those skills are the only thing actually keeping you away from combat (which you just don't do), it makes a lot more sense to spend that feat in that way. I do wish you prioritized Sense Motive just a little bit higher, because I view Sense Motive as being one of the really key face skills, but it's not like you ignored it entirely, and you do have some decent bonuses to it, along with Skill Mastery. I feel like that's worth a lot. If you're in your element, you're about as good as it's going to get, and I recognize that. (+1.0)
I also have to recognize that, like I said above, a combat that starts is a combat that you've basically lost. Having you in the party (though it looks like you're more intended as a loner, sort of) in an actual game would be a little bit frustrating, because you either get us out of trouble with no combat (which might make the more combat-focused characters—you know there's some in every group—restless), or you sit around in combat being useless (which would probably be less than fun for you, and which might make some other party members feel resentful of your “dead weight” once initiative is rolled). In that regard, you're not a team player. You're not quite an Apostle of Peace, but you have sort of the same problem in that your character comes to the table with a fundamental shift in how you expect the game to be played, and that shift can't just be ignored by the rest of the table (on either side of the GM screen) without completely ruining your character concept. I do understand that Kole is more intended to be an NPC than an adventuring party-bound PC, but the fact remains, there's a major component of the game that you just can't contribute to. I feel like the fact that you're obviously not trying to contribute in combat is a mitigating factor (like I said, this would be much worse if you pretended that you could actually do anything worthwhile in a fight, when you really would just come up short), but I'm not comfortable just throwing away such a major aspect of the game. (–0.5) Kole kind of feels more like a Shadowrun character than a D&D 3.5 character—I've only ever played in one Shadowrun game, but it seems to me like that's a system where it's more natural to have characters who just can't fight at all, in contrast to D&D's expectation that everyone is going to do SOMETHING once initiative is rolled.
Elegance: 2.5 Thank you for having the Chair update your entry with an explanation of how your skill points were spent. That was a pain to read without the explanation, and that explanation prevented you from taking a penalty here for lack of ease of reading. But yeah, in the future, please visually distinguish new skill points from old ones. (0)
Overall, everything seems to line up. Changeling Rogue is just about the best level 1 class to take for any talky-type character, and that's doubly true for someone like you who needs to talk their way out of whatever trouble they come across. Bard gets you some magic tricks to augment your exploits (Disguise Spell was a really good choice there), and Spymaster sets up the whole gamble. Everything has a reason to be there, and there's nothing messy or out of place. Hell, even Skill Focus (Bluff), which I'd normally deride as being kind of a weak feat, makes sense for you, both as a prereq and as a feat on its own. (+0.25)
There is some bad news, though. You don't qualify for two of your feats. Obtain Familiar requires 4 ranks in Knowledge (Arcana), and Practiced Spellcaster requires 4 ranks in Spellcraft, neither of which you have. I'm going to have to assess you a half-point penalty for each of those—you probably could shuffle your skill points in some manner to qualify for those, but it's more than just a simple obvious swap, so I've gotta mark off. (–1.0)
I appreciate that you don't have any prereqs just lying around. The only thing you take that's a prereq is Skill Focus (Bluff), and even that makes sense for you at the level you take it. You never have to say “it'll make sense in four levels, trust me,” and I like to see that. (+0.25)
Even Deceitful and Negotiator are elegant for you, in their own way. I was thinking that it might be better to have something like Shape Soulmeld (Silvertongue Mask) or Bind Vestige (Naberius), but then it occurred to me that those would inevitably give you some kind of distinguishing feature, which is something you just couldn't afford when you're pretending to be someone else. The only feats that might have been more appropriate are those two social feats from PHB2 (Master Manipulator and Wanderer's Diplomacy), but not to the extent that I'd say you're strictly worse for having taken Deceitful and Negotiator. And let me tell you, it takes a pretty special character to make me think that Deceitful and Negotiator are anything other than wasted slots.
Use of Secret Ingredient: 4.0 This is another tricky category to judge you in. Your reification of the very concept of the Thunder Guide is brilliant—you're a Thunder Guide because you have to be a Thunder Guide, because only by being a Thunder Guide can you convince people that the Thunder Guide exists, even though it doesn't exist in the way you say it does. Except it does, because you are one. Kind of. It's brilliant and I love it.
You did even kind of use some of the abilities that Thunder Guide gives you, which is neat. Some of them are a pretty big stretch (yeah, Breath of Shargon is nice, but how can you actually give a presentation while holding your breath?), but it pretty much makes sense for you to be a Thunder Guide.
The tricky part is that I recognize that this is total shenanigans on your part, and while I'm very impressed with your chutzpah and your mind tricks, I'm not totally hoodwinked. You've established that you want to be a Thunder Guide because Thunder Guide's abilities help you pretend to be a Thunder Guide, which you can do better than any non-Thunder Guide because you're a Thunder Guide. Your goal is to pretend to be a Thunder Guide, so of course Thunder Guide's abilities help you pretend to be one. As brilliant as that is, it's still kind of circular logic, and it doesn't really prove to me that you're better off being a Thunder Guide than you are being more Spymaster and/or Bard. Sure, being able to chuck around a Xen'drik boomerang in front of a crowd might add some credibility to your performance as a Thunder Guide, but is it actually better than having more cover identities, or being able to fool divination spells with those cover identities, or getting enough Bard magic to learn Glibness? Is the bonus to Gather Information you get from the Stormreach Irregulars better than having enough Bard to learn and cast Improvisation at a high CL? I'm not convinced that that's the case. On the one hand, Thunder Guide mechanically forces the GM to give you specific fluff benefits, so you could argue that more Bard wouldn't guarantee that you'd end up able to use the title “Lord,” and it wouldn't guarantee that you could give presentations to packed university halls, and it wouldn't guarantee that you'd get free lodging in Pylas Talaear, but if anyone could earn those benefits through RP and other tricks, it would be Kole here. Thunder Guide gives you the ability to fake being a Thunder Guide as written in the book, but I don't think it's the best way of faking being a lowercase thunder guide, defined as “a well-known and well-traveled adventurer in the Thunder Sea region who gets along with the natives in that area better than most.”
So I'm kind of stuck. I want to reward you for being a Thunder Guide because you have to be a Thunder Guide, but I can't just let myself be totally won over by your shenanigans. In the end, I think I'll just chuck a point at you and be done with it. (+1.0)
Final Thoughts: I do believe that this is the cheekiest Iron Chef entry I have ever seen. You basically reified the Secret Ingredient. You successfully shifted the lens through which you want the character to be viewed, and you did it with panache. I like this entry. You went far enough to pull it off (this would have absolutely bombed if you half-assed it), and I have to respect that. (Also, using the names of example Thunder Guides as your cover identities was an excellent touch—good show, sir or madam.)
Total Score: 15.0
At least you don't have quite the same hatred for capital letters that Hexler does, but still, did I or did I not ask you to make it easy to read? Please try a little harder on that front next time, okay?
Originality: 3.0 Your fluff wasn't bad, at least. Changeling Rogue is nothing new, though I didn't expect anyone to try to bring in a Cabinet Trickster, so I can at least give you some credit for that. (+0.25) Boomerang Daze is the obvious thing to do with the SI's boomerang trick, though as we'll discuss in Power, I don't think you really do anything effective with it. Still, it's pretty obvious, so it's not exactly original. (–0.25)
Power: 2.25 Well, Warblade tricks are always nice, but I can't tell what range you want to be fighting at. Stormguard Warrior and the majority of your offensive maneuvers are melee-only, but Boomerang Daze implies, well, fighting with a boomerang at range. I don't see you having too many tricks to get your damage up for Boomerang Daze's save DC, you don't have Precise Shot to mitigate the penalties associated with ranged combat, and you don't have Quick Draw to actually use more than one boomerang per turn (this isn't Zelda—a boomerang only comes back to your hand if you miss, not if you hit, so you've gotta spend the actions to draw a new one each time you want to throw one), so Boomerang Daze doesn't actually seem like it's doing much for you. Wait . . . are you using Aptitude shenanigans to try to apply Boomerang Daze to your melee attacks? Are you using Aptitude to get EWP with a different weapon than the boomerang? It's not at all clear from your strategy. I'm not even sure if it's RAW-legal to use Aptitude to make Boomerang Daze apply to melee attacks. Overall, I'm confused, and it's not a good idea to confuse the judges. Even if you are using Boomerang Daze at melee range, you don't seem to be very effective with it—with 10 STR, you aren't going to be terribly accurate, and you aren't going to do a lot of damage when you do hit (a lone die of Sneak Attack does not impress me), unless you spend a round charging up with Stormguard Warrior, which comes online pretty darn late (and which still requires you to hit). Overall, I'm not impressed. I can't tell what range you're fighting at, and really, with 10 STR and 12 DEX (and no real tricks to shore up those weaknesses), you're not in a position to fight at any range. (–0.75) I do understand that you're using Emerald Razor to make the occasional touch attack, but again, that attack has basically no power behind it (and it's just a single swing), so I'm not impressed.
You seem to be relying on Stormguard Warrior's ability to sacrifice AoOs for hit/damage bonuses, but I'm not at all clear where you're getting these AoOs to sacrifice. You make no mention of using a reach weapon, tripping your foes, making difficult terrain to impede Tumbling, snagging Thicket of Blades, using Mage Slayer, hiding next to enemies, inciting foes to flee from you, generating AoOs through Karmic Strike/Robilar's Gambit, or otherwise actually getting AoOs through any method other than trusting in the GM being boneheaded with the enemies. You also don't have Combat Reflexes, not that you have the DEX to really take advantage of it. I understand using Rapid Counter (not Sudden Counter—that took me a few minutes to puzzle together) in place of Combat Reflexes, but that comes online awfully late, and again, I don't see how you're actually going to trigger it except against very stupid foes. Since Stormguard Warrior seems to be your only “reliable” source of damage bonuses, I think your core offense really falls flat. (–0.25)
Your skills are passable. Changeling Rogue is one of the best things to take at level 1 for a reason, after all—skill points are juicy, and Skill Mastery at level 1 is bonkers. You keep your Bluff, Sense Motive, and Diplomacy at acceptable levels, and Skill Mastery makes your lack of CHA less painful. Some of your skill choices are odd (why put 3 ranks in Swim at level 14, then never touch it again? That's not enough to succeed reliably, after all), but overall, you've got enough skills in the right places that you're at least not embarrassing out of combat. (+0.25)
You didn't tell me what stance you took. Since you have Ironheart Aura, I assume that it's Punishing Stance, but I don't know that for certain. I guess Punishing Stance adds a pinprick of extra damage to your attacks, but since you didn't actually tell me about that, I can't really count it in your favor. Plus, with that DEX and CON, you might not want to be eating a penalty to AC in the early levels.
Elegance: 2.5 Having a minimally useful prereq feat (Ironheart Aura) sitting around for nine levels isn't exactly elegant. Like I said, prereqs are all but unavoidable, but a nine-level gap between investment and payoff is way too big to just let that go. (–0.25) (I'm also a little less than thrilled with the 15 levels between Persona Immersion and Cabinet Trickster, though at least Persona Immersion's base effect is reasonably okay, so it's not just taking up space for all those levels. I wish you'd mentioned why you care about it aside from it qualifying you for CT, though.)
You spent too many skill points at level 2. Changeling Rogue only gets 10 + INT at levels that offer a substitution, so you should only have 12 points to spend, not 14. (–0.25) You did underspend your skill points at level 16+ (since your INT went up to the next notch then), but the fact remains that you overspent, and I have to penalize for that. Also, next time you use Skilled City Dweller to take Tumble or something similar, mention it somewhere. I won't penalize, because your sources did indicate to me where you got Tumble as a Thunder Guide class skill from, but it should not have been my job to figure that out on my own.
I don't see any cleverly aligned prereqs, nor do I see any elegant ways of covering weaknesses. Your first five levels are reasonable enough (Changeling Rogue is a classic starter, and Warblade is one of the best full-BAB classes, so they make a reasonable base to build off of), but you still aren't really doing anything especially elegant with them. Warblade with no good physical stats is kind of out there, really. I'm just not seeing anything here that makes me say “yeah, that's pretty elegant.”
Use of Secret Ingredient: 1.5 I have to ask that question that every Iron Chef entrant hates to hear: It's very nice, but what does it DO? The only Thunder Guide thing you really focused on was proficiency with the Xen'drik boomerang, but if I understand your intentions with your wacky Aptitude shenanigans properly, you didn't actually try to take advantage of the unique portions of Xen'drik Boomerang Expert (the increased range increment and the ability to automatically catch a returning boomerang), since you tried to shuffle Boomerang Daze onto a melee weapon! In other words, you just used the proficiency, which you could have gotten from a level of Fighter or from just taking EWP, without using one of the only unique tricks that Thunder Guide gets. Sad. You don't have any ranks in Ride, and you have hardly any ranks in STR-based skills, so you can't really take advantage of Rescue Artist, which is one of the other only unique tricks that the SI has. You eventually used Cabinet Trickster to pick up enough Perform (Oratory) to use Lionized in the Press, which I appreciate, but like everything else you got with Cabinet Trickster, it's really too late to matter.
Aside from your half-hearted semi-use of Xen'drik Boomerang Expert, your other Thunder Lore choices don't make a ton of sense. Why have Breath of Shargon with a mere 3 ranks in Swim? Do you really feel like 5 ranks each in Hide/MS (and no Darkstalker, HiPS, on-demand concealment, or other stealthy tricks) is enough to make Ghost of Xen'drik useful? Do your melee attacks have enough oomph that Vicious Barbarism will ever trigger? I just don't see you putting in any effort to actually use the class's abilities. Sure, they may just be small bonuses, but you're not even doing anything to take advantage of those small bonuses. You're just letting them sit there, and they don't do you any good at all.
Overall, you just didn't sell me on why you wanted to be a Thunder Guide. Sure, what the class gives you isn't really anything spectacular, but you pretty much ignored everything it actually did give you. About the only thing you did with it was keep some skills up at a decent level, and you could have done that better by just taking more levels in Rogue. (–1.5)
Final Thoughts: I'm not sure what you're trying to do with this build. Even if we accept your dubious premise that Weapon Aptitude lets you use Boomerang Daze with melee weapons, you don't have enough melee oomph to make it actually matter. You claim to be a melee character, but you've got terrible physical stats and nothing to really cover the weakness. You're a Cabinet Trickster with 10 CHA, and I don't understand how Cabinet Trickster meshes with Thunder Guide, either in fluff or in crunch. The best part of this build was the little vignette at the beginning (and it didn't exactly rock my socks off), but since I'm not directly grading on fluff, I can't really give you any points for that.
Total Score: 9.25
Nothing terribly special to say about this one, so let's just dive right in.
Originality: 3.0 Marshal actually makes a fair bit of sense for a Thunder Guide, so I'm a little surprised to see that we only had one of them. That works in your favor, though—I didn't actually predict it ahead of time (my reaction is a retroactive “ah, that makes sense” and not “yup, I knew we'd see that one”), and we didn't get any other chefs with the same idea, so I can toss you some love there. (+0.25) Boomerang Daze is about the most obvious strategy to try to do with Thunder Guide's abilities (their increased aptitude with the Xen'drik boomerang is pretty much their only unique ability, after all), so I can't really reward you for that. (–0.25)
Power: 2.5 Ah, Boomerang Daze. It's the obvious thing to do with Thunder Guide's proficiency with boomerangs, right? But there's a hole in your plan, I'm afraid. You aren't Link—boomerangs only come back to you if they miss their target, not if they hit. (ECS pg. 119 is quite clear about this.) This means that you need lots of boomerangs, and you need a way of getting them into your hands (in other words, Quick Draw). You also don't have Precise Shot, which is absolutely critical for anyone making ranged attacks in 3.5—eating a –4 on nearly every attack just plain sucks, though at least that might actually make the boomerang miss, so you can use it again. I'm forced to conclude that your boomerang tricks aren't nearly as effective as you want them to be—it's a real shame, because you spent a fair amount of build resources trying to use them, but you missed a few really, really critical elements. (–0.5) You do, at least, have some bare minimum competence with melee weapons (decent STR and Power Attack, if nothing else), but not enough for me to really reward you for it. I really wanted to give you more credit for your boomerang tricks, but without the ability to throw more than one a turn and without the ability to avoid the penalty for throwing into melee, I can't in good conscience hand out any points. (I might have reconsidered if you told me that you expected to only be throwing one a round, indicating to me that you know how these things work, but from your description, I'm forced to conclude that it's an oversight.)
Assassin's Stance is confusing to me. You're fighting at range, not in melee, which means that you can't rely on flanking to get Sneak Attack. Your initiative is okay (but not great—Motivate Dexterity helps, but with 10 DEX, you're still fundamentally adding only one stat to your initiative, so you're not better off than someone with good DEX), but aside from going first and catching them flat-footed, I don't see how you're planning on denying your target their DEX and getting Sneak Attack. (Remember, a dazed character takes no penalty to defenses—you need stunned for that.) I don't see any Hide ranks, I don't see any way of getting a Grease-style effect to force balancing, and I don't see any other tricks that deny DEX. While there is some value in having Shadow Jaunt in your back pocket, it seems like you're spending two feats to get +2d6 to a mere one attack per encounter, and that doesn't impress me, especially at ECL 18. (–0.25)
You are handy with skills, at least. Marshal auras are always good fun (who doesn't love double-dipping on Charisma?), and Exemplar is a good way of saying “everyone chill out, I've got these skills covered.” The two combine nicely to let you help your party quite a bit as well, so I like what I'm seeing in the skill department. (+0.25)
Elegance: 3.25 I'm always a fan of elegant ways of meeting prereqs, so using the Skill Focus you got for free from Marshal to qualify for Exemplar gets you a thumbs up from me. (+0.25)
Two levels in Paladin is a respectable dip if you can handle the Code—you might have been better off taking two levels of Fighter to get Precise Shot, but I already got you for that in Power, and there's nothing inelegant about two levels of Paladin. Of course, you have to maintain an Exalted alignment anyway, thanks to your Nymph's Kiss, so you should be able to handle the Code. You don't seem to get a ton out of it other than +CHA to your saves (Smite 1/day is lame, and Lay on Hands isn't much with only two levels in Paladin), but hey, you could do worse than having good saves.
I don't see anything that elegantly covers a weakness, really. Exotic Weapon Master is okay so far as it goes (though as we discussed in Power, your boomerangs don't work the way you think they do), but beyond that, I don't see anything amazingly elegant. I don't see much that's awfully inelegant either, though, so you mostly come out okay.
Use of Secret Ingredient: 2.75 Well, at least you tried to use the unique parts of Xen'drik Boomerang Expert, even if some details got in the way. So I appreciate that. Your other Thunder Lore choices weren't amazing—you claim to fight at range, so Vicious Barbarism isn't that useful to you; you have very few ranks in Swim, so Breath of Shargon is of limited use to you; I appreciate you putting on your game face and telling me that Eye of the Chamber is worth something, but you and I both know that a standard action for a +1 bonus is really not worthwhile, pretty much ever (unless you can somehow reliably use it before combat starts, like in an ambush). You don't have enough Ride or enough STR-based skills to really use Rescue Artist, which is a little disappointing. I do think I have to dock you at least a little bit for that. (–0.25)
Overall, at least you're trying. You made a good-faith effort to use at least one of the SI's unique abilities, which is (sadly) more than I can say for some of your fellow chefs. I wish you'd set things up so that you could take advantage of more of them, though. You made the gamble of starting with very frontloaded classes, so it's not like it would have been automatically better to take more levels in Marshal or more levels in Paladin, so at least you partially address the “why aren't you just more of your base classes?” question. I'm still not unshakably convinced that Thunder Guide is the best choice for this character, but I can tell that you at least put some thought into it, and it doesn't feel totally tacked on. (Still a little tacked on, of course—more Exemplar would have been better than the last few levels of Thunder Guide, once you meet the prereqs—but not totally so.) If there was something that you clearly did better than any non-Thunder Guide could do, I'd be a lot more impressed, but with this class, I'm at least happy that you tried.
Final Thoughts: Maybe you should have just used your boomerangs as improvised melee weapons. You'd take the same –4 that you do for lacking Precise Shot, but you'd actually keep them in your hands (so you'd only need one, and you could full attack with it), and you could have saved the feats you spent on Brutal Throw and Power Throw.
Total Score: 11.5
Word count: 10,404. Whee. Enjoy, everyone!