Well, you were clearly going for ďrefuge in audacity,Ē but even recognizing that, I think you pulled that off. I did not expect using Scaled Horror to qualify, nor did I expect Blighter in any respect. Nor being amphibious, for that matter. Scaled Horror does feel like a shameless Originality grab, but since itís kind of piggybacking off of Blighter (which is pretty much the last thing I expected), Iíll let that by. (+1.5)
Hmm. You start strong (DRUID!), you experience a noticeable drop in power midway through, but then you finish with higher-level spells than all but one of your competitors. I like the early game (we usually have to gloss over a certain degree of uselessness at the very beginning, but it doesnít get much better than a Druid at level 1-5), but I am a bit concerned about the mid-game. Still, the early game is off to a great start. Itís easy points to just be a Druid, but here you are. (+0.25)
Things get kind of hairy for while after you stop being a Druid, though. The difference between having level 3 spells at ECL 5 and having level 1 spells (and not many of them) at ECL 7 is kind of a kick in the teeth, and youíre pretty far below having at-level spells for at least the next, well, ever. At ECL 9, youíre barely pulling one 3rd level spell per day; a pure Druid has at least one 5th level spell per day, and a Druid 5 / AG 4 has at least one 4th level spell. At ECL 12, youíve got single 4th level spell with high WIS; a real Druid has multiple 6th level slots without help from high WIS, and a Druid 5 / AG 7 has multiple 4th level slots without high WIS. Jumping ahead to ECL 16, youíve got a single level 6th spell from your WIS, but a real Druid has multiple 8ths, and a Druid 5 / AG 10 / Druid +1 has a 6th without help from WIS. And so on. Any AG is going to be behind a full Druid (which isnít your fault and isnít especially surprising), but youíve put yourself through a lot of hardship (including some really painful levels in the ECL 7-10 range, not to mention the ridiculous deforestation requirement every day) to qualify for Blighter despite not really ever having more casting than a vanilla Druid 5 / AG X. Yes, Blighter has some style points, but weíre judging Power right now, and starting as a Druid invites obvious questions about what things would have looked like if youíd stayed as a Druid. (Also, while your writeup is technically accurate in that Blighter can technically ďprovid[e] a path to 9th level spells,Ē that path doesnít seem to be the one that your build is on, since you barely scrape 8ths, and those only with a WIS-boosting item or spell. So your writeup is a wee bit disingenuous there.)
Now, for all that hemming and hawing, you do still have a few spells, and even if youíre a few spell levels behind an uninterrupted pure caster, youíre rocking more magic than, like, a Ranger or another half-casting class. The Blighter list is not exactly a showstopper the way the Big Three are, though. Relatively few Blighter spellsóespecially at the lower spell levelsóprovide all-purpose utility the way more robust spell lists do. Iíd honestly have a difficult time, at most levels of play, choosing which spells are likely to help with a given dayís challenges, but that isnít because youíre looking at an embarrassment of riches. Cyst spells are okay, but I do hate needing to succeed with implanting the cyst before anything fun happens.
Letís look at your other abilities. Mastery of Chaos and Order is a reasonably interesting feat, but Iím not sure what makes it more interesting on this build than on any other general-purpose caster build. Still, itís far from useless. Sickening Grasp seems a bit late: I kind of feel like, at ECL 15+, you should expect more from a standard action spent within melee range of an enemy than inflicting a Ė2 penalty (with a save to mitigate). The CL boost isnít awful, but the feat still kind of feels like filler.
Then weíve got your melee abilities. Warblade is a reasonable choice for bumping BAB at an appropriate moment, though Sudden Leap is nearly worthless without Jump, and Iím not certain how well Wolf Fang Strike works with natural attacks (but Iím not going to harp too much on WFS). If Iím reading your write-up correctly, youíre banking a lot on Undead Wild Shape to boost your melee capabilities. You mention using a pouncing form (thereby making you one of the few entrants to actually be able to charge through trees, since most of your competitors donít have enough melee oomph to charge), you mention using Improved Grab while in UWS, and you seem to have taken Dancing Mongoose specifically for use while in UWS. Oh, and Necrotic Cyst would make your attacks against a cysted target do more damage, though once youíve gotten someone to fail their save against a Cyst, you probably have better things to do with them than spending a turn Wild Shaping (no Natural Spell = no Cysting in UWS form) and then doing a little extra damage against them, right? Anyway, the problem is that Iím not sure how much benefit youíre really going to get out of UWS. Youíve only got it 1/day, it only lasts for 3 hours, and worst of all, you can only turn into animals with 3 HD or less. That, um, isnít much. Like, at all. Three hours is a decent enough time if you donít spend a long time traveling between encounters, but still, 1/day isnít much, and 3 HD is kind of pathetic at the level it comes online (and then never scales).
Arboreal Guardian provides you with very little utility that Iím seeing. (Yes, I know that this is still Power and not UoSI, but Iím judging your power, and if levels in the SI are levels where you donít get noticeably more powerful, itís fair game to mention that here.) If we accept the dubious premise that you want to be in stand-and-bang range while under UWS, the ability to charge through plant matter is decent, but thatís about all youíre getting that matters. It honestly sounds like Necrotic Cyst is doing the heavy lifting for you. Which I suppose isnít the worst thing that a character could be doing, but itís also not especially remarkable.
Overall, I think youíve got enough magic to warrant another small bonus here (+0.25), but even your 8ths arenít as impressive as 8ths usually are, and Iím not really buying that turning into a 3 HD skeletal animal is going to make you want to be in melee. Those levels in the midgame are kind of a killer for you.
Okay, so weíve got Blighter. Fast-casting classes are always a good response to a half-casting SI (my unfinished stub build used Apostle of Peace for a very similar reason, after all). That said, you still have to light five levels on fire to get in, which is a bitter pill to swallow no matter how fast the casting progression is.
Also, while Iím not going to be a huge stickler for fluff, I will admit that I donít see any connection between Arboreal Guardian and Blighter at all other than the fast-casting/half-casting harmony. (In particular, Quench just sticks out as being awkward as hell on a Blighteróitís not actively detrimental to you or anything, but you cannot tell me that there isnít some dissonance between needing to destroy however many acres of plants every day and then earning the ability to cast a spell whose primary use seems to be making Smokey the Bear happyóComplete Divine even says that ďBlighters delight in starting wildfires.Ē) Refuge in audacity and all that, sure, but you didnít really give me a particular reason to really understand why the Spirit Trees like you (or, for that matter, why you like the Spirit TreesóI enjoyed your fluff sectionís LE take on ďIím going to burn the competition to the ground and become the only game in town,Ē but that still doesnít explain things). Scaled Horror doesnít help with this particular issue, either.
Iím going to say that you really didnít address the fluff prereq at all. It is indeed a fluff prereq, so Iím not going to go hardcore on this (just a throwaway line somewhere would have satisfied me), but while your story is written from the perspective of someone who is in the position of being able to collect Natureís Water, and you clearly have made a few cronies/oligarchs happy with your monopolistic practices, you never addressed the fact that you havenít done anything for the elves/Spirit Trees to make them like you. (Ė0.25) EDIT: Successfully disputed. The point deduction from Elegance due to the fluff prereq has been effectively moved to UoSI, which is already at minimum and cannot change.
Druids canít be LE. I know that youíre an ex-Druid, so I understand that you might have had an alignment shift somewhere along the way, but you didnít actually tell me that, so Iím forced to conclude that your Druid levels were illegal before you Blighted them. (Ė0.25)
Depending on exactly how much time elapsed between you forsaking Druidism and embracing Blighterism, you might have technically not had the caster level prereq for Mother Cyst at some point, but I donít honestly care enough to assess points either way.
Youíre all over the place with cross-setting material, but I didnít penalize Rory for that, so I wonít penalize you for it either. I do attempt to be even-handed, after all.
You didnít list Scaled Horror in your source list. Since I didnít post criteria ahead of time, it feels a little unfair to penalize for that, but it didnít make me happy. Similarly, I couldnít find Halfling Druid anywhere in Races of Faerun, though I did find one in Races of the Wild that seems to be what you were actually using. If I had posted my criteria before the reveal, Iíd be penalizing here, but I didnít, so I wonít.
Now, with all that said, this is a dense build, which means that youíve got a lot of stuff very carefully tuned to fit together, and I like to see that. Why halfling? Because strongheart halfling gives a much-needed bonus feat but the Halfling Druid racial sub levels provide extra skill access, which is one of the only things that will stay relevant after going Blighter, of course! Why amphibious? Because strongheart halflings donít qualify for Scaled Horror alone, obviously! Why Scaled Horror? Because itís one of the few ways to get Entangle in a single level without Druid (you could have done it with Archivist or with Cleric with the Plant domain, but I guess you wanted to be fancy), as you should know! Why canít we use Druid? Because we need to qualify for Blighter, as if you couldnít have guessed! Why Blighter? Because it provides fast divine casting to deal with the SIís half progression of casting, naturally! Itís the kind of build where you canít change a whole lot without causing something else to start to fall apart, and to be honest, I love to see that in Iron Chef. Just love it. If everything fits together so tightly, that means that all of your build choices are relevant. I fondly recall an early round where I had exactly two skill points that I had the freedom to change in the first ten or so levels without breaking something. This is good stuff. Itís weird as hell, but the reasons for all of your weird choices are clear, and that, to me, is elegant. (+0.75) (Yes, I was kind of complaining about SH just a few paragraphs ago, but I still love the denseness of the build, even if the choices that led to that denseness are a little weird.)
Use of Secret Ingredient: 1.0 (FTQ)
Uh, bro? Got some bad news here . . . Whereís your Survival? Wilderness Lore got turned into Survival, as per the update booklet mentioned on pg. 1 of the thread (http://archive.wizards.com/default.a...d/we/20031225a
). You, um, donít qualify for the SI. Sorry, but weíre just going to drop a minimum score here and move on. (Ė2.0) EDIT: Elegance penalty for missing the fluff prereq has been moved here following a dispute, but UoSI will not go any lower.
This build made me add lots of comments about things I donít really appreciate that didnít quite rise to the level of penalties. Even so, itís a neat villain build (I feel like if this guy were an NPC, youíd absolutely love to hate him), even if it doesnít make a whole lot of sense overall. Thereís a lot that feel gratuitous, like youíre just going out there for the sake of going out there, but Iíve definitely seen worse in my day, and I do genuinely love how dense the build is. That said, the fact that you failed to qualify for the SI is a real bummer, considering just how hard you worked to make everything else fall into place. Oh well. Next time, right?
Amryea Oakleaf: 10.25
I expected Ruathar, since it both helps with the skill prereqs and is a fairly clear way of saying ďthis non-elf is friendly enough with the elves to meet AGís fluff requirement.Ē I didnít expect that youíd be the only one to go in that direction, though. The rest of the build doesnít have anything that knocks me off my feet. Youíre a firmly generic Archivist taking firmly generic non-SI classes, and thatís about it. Cool picture, but Iím not giving out points for that unless you made the picture yourself, which I doubt. (Kudos for citing it, though; thatís unfortunately rarer than it should be.)
Overall, thereís nothing unique about this build. Your build elements arenít necessarily common among your fellow chefs in this particular round (okay, ĺ chefs took Practiced Spellcaster, but Iím not going to quibble over that; no one is getting a bonus or penalty for that), but thereís nothing at all thatís really surprising here. Uurkrau illumian has potential when youíve got a strong reason to be DEX-heavy over WIS-heavy, but you donít have a particularly strong reason for that (donít tell me that you actually care about shooting things with the bow you invested all of one feat [PBS] in; V has something to say about that
), so thereís nothing special there. The Krau bonus to CL is a fairly obvious choice for a caster whoís taking a half-casting class for some reason. You have no surprising feats and no surprising tactics. To be blunt, this build bores me, and that pretty much means weíre looking at an Originality penalty. (Ė1.0)
Well, youíre basically going for a full caster build, at least to the extent that such a thing is possible when the SI loses five caster levels. Archivist is always very annoying in Iron Chef just because their access to non-Cleric spells is so very GM-dependent, but even if we donít assume that you have access to that entire pile of spells you listed, itís no secret that Archivist pretty much just works. Youíve got uninterrupted casting for the first nine levels of your career, and while thatís not quite the powerhouse at level 1 that a Druid is, youíre still as effective as the next full caster for the first half of the game, give or take some useless prereq feats. (+0.25)
Arboreal Guardian only slows you down, really. I donít see the AG levels doing anything of note to increase your power level outside of the ones that increase your casting ability. So from a power perspective, youíve lost five levels of advancement (and burned several feats) for next to no benefit. Thatís a shame. Youíre still a full caster, and you basically hit the high score for this round for how many spells (and what level of spells) you can cast, but you havenít done your power any favors by slowing down your casting right when the strongest spells come online.
Your power is honestly fairly hard to judge. Youíre an Archivist. As Iíll say many times over the course of this judgment, youíre a completely generic Archivist with very little thatís special about you. Archivist is a strong class, but losing three feats and five levels of casting advancement (even with tricks to make up the actual CL loss, youíre still going to be a couple spell levels behind par for much of the late game) isnít a powerful thing. In the end, I think I have to respect the power of 7ths and 8ths (not that you have 8ths for long) and say that your endgame, while nerfed, is still more magical than average. (+0.25)
Your skill points appear to be legal. Itís a little hard to tell at level 13, but I think youíre probably good. Able Learner is a godsend, isnít it? You donít get points for merely being legal, but at least I donít have to take any points away.
Druid Grove isnít found in any of the sources you listed. I eventually found it in MotW, but still, if youíre going to call it out by name in your strategy section, youíd probably want to make sure that youíve got the source listed. As far as whether Druid Grove works the way you think it does, Iím going to say that it probably doesnít help for Natureís Water, since the tree canít be the one to cast the spell. Imbue with Spell Ability is more limited, but I will agree that it probably does help with Natureís Water. As I mention in UoSI, though, Natureís Water isnít terribly interesting on a caster who already has Scribe Scroll and an unreasonably broad spell list. (No penalty here, but also no bonus.)
Thereís nothing much in your build thatís especially elegant or inelegant (aside from the fact that you have zero use for the SIís prereq feats and therefore you spend three feat slots on something that doesnít help you do anything, but that was nearly unavoidable this round, and I didnít give your competitors too hard a time for that, so I wonít give you too hard a time for it either). I guess thereís kinda-sorta a tiny bit of overlap between needing to cast Entangle and the prereqs for Holt Warden? Thatís not really a shining example of elegance, though, especially considering that Holt Warden is basically filler at level 20 rather than a critical part of your core build. I think weíll just call this a wash.
Use of Secret Ingredient: 1.75
The only real part of the SI that you use is the casting progression, but thatís terrible. You donít really do anything with any of the class features. Imbue with Spell Ability is technically compatible with Natureís Water as a very slow downtime way to get slightly cheaper potions of spells you can already cast, but since you have Scribe Scroll already as a way to turn downtime spell slots and gold into magic items to use later, Natureís Water isnít really that exciting on you unless you somehow really need to make potions for your comrades who cannot use scrolls.
Beyond that, though? You wait until relatively late to enter, and you donít get anything interesting out of the SIís abilities. The spell-mimicking class features are even more disappointing on you than on most other characters, since an Archivist can pretty much just get those spells as, yíknow, spells. (For example, Hunterís Mercy 1/day, while still only relevant on a single damn attack roll per day, is at least a new feature on a Druid or a Plant domain Cleric, but you technically could have been using it earlier than any other class in the game, even though that isnít a guarantee.) You donít convince me that you have enough other AC bonuses for the natural armor bonus to matter (even martial characters tend to fall off the RNG at high levels unless they do something special, and you didnít do anything special that you bothered to tell me about), you donít have any reason to run or charge through plants, you donít gain anything special for the spell features . . . youíre only an AG because someone told you that you had to be. Youíd have the exact same flavor (ďplant-loving Archivist whoís rather elflike despite being an illumianĒ) by just going into Holt Warden at the level you go into AG instead, and you wouldnít have lost any CL. The only SI ability that you seem at all invested in (based on a combination of your tactical writeup and your actual mechanical abilities) is Natureís Water, but as I said above, Natureís Water is way less impressive on a caster with Scribe Scroll, which Archivist gave you at level 1.
You donít do anything with the prereqs: you donít even take a token archery feat to build off of PBS, and you drop Survival like a hot potato as soon as you get your required 8 ranks; you do use K: Nature a bit, but you donít really do anything to put it markedly above and beyond your other Knowledge skills.
The most charitable explanation for why this build exists (other than ďitís the SI and I had to take it,Ē which we all know is the true reason any Iron Chef dish exists, but work with me here) is something like ďI really wanted to be an Archivist or maybe a Druid, but my GM is perhaps rightfully afraid of unfettered Tier One classes, so they told me that I had to tone myself down by taking a PrC that loses caster levels.Ē But you donít DO anything with that PrC, so it just feels like a nerf from start to finish, and that isnít a good look on an Iron Chef dish. It does, at the very least, offer you half progression in your casting class of choice (which, I am surprised to say, was not a universal truth this round), but thatís as far as I can go here. (Ė1.25)
This has no real effect on your build, but itís weird that youíre the only chef (aside from Horace) who didnít make me try to keep track of spells from multiple independent casting sources. Weird, huh?
Anyway, I know that this is the Iron Chef Optimization Challenge and not the Chopped Optimization Challenge, but you know how the Chopped judges expect their chefs to transform the ingredients somehow? They donít fare well if theyíre given (to use an example thatís likely way too mundane to appear in the real deal) a basket of potatoes and then they serve the judges baked potatoes without doing anything special to them. Thatís kind of what I feel like with this dish youíve given me, even above and beyond the SI. Youíre an Archivist, and an Archivist is inherently powerful, but youíre fundamentally just an Archivist. Thereís nothing to differentiate you from the next Archivist except for the fact that youíve lost a bunch of caster levels (and didnít get anything especially interesting to show for it). Youíre definitely not weak, but youíre also the exact opposite of special.