Okay, let's commit. I'll judge this round. This is going to be a hard round, but I do my best to be a fair judge across the board.
I've written a lot of words for my judging guidelines. I hope that everyone will read as much of them as possible.
- I'm going to put this first in the hopes that people will read it. To be blunt, make it as easy for me as possible. This includes making your skills readable (there's going to be an awful lot of skill points in these builds between qualification and the class itself granting 6 + INT, so I beg you, don't make me work harder than I have to in order to make sure that you're legal), clearly laying out what exactly the build is intending to do and how you intend to do it, making it clear what sources you're using, and so on. The more work you make me do, the crankier I will likely be when I'm doling out points, such as it is. (This is a labor of love for everyone involved, of course, but still, you get me.)
- I would much, much rather have you hold my hand and walk me through everything you think makes you awesome rather than making me figure it all out on my own. I'm pretty good at this, but there's going to be a lot of builds here. Don't assume that I'm going to read much into your tactics beyond what you actually tell me you're doing. I'm not going to assume that you're an idiot who's actively making bad choices in the absence of evidence to the contrary, but I'm also not going to assume that you're doing much that isn't there. Letting the work stand on its own is fine for museum pieces, but you're one of many dishes here, and I want to know that you know what you're doing.
- I will generally not take significant magic items into account when determining what you're capable of unless you have a build-level way (e.g., item creation feats) of ensuring that you have what you say you're relying on. I will assume that you have generic magic items, but I don't like seeing magic items used to meet prereqs. If you involve specific magic items in your build, you need to really sell me on why they make you so cool that you needed to add them to the conversation.
- Regarding skill presentation, I'm not going to say that there's one right way to present skill points, because there isn't. However, there are definitely lots of wrong ways to present skill points. If it's not immediately obvious at a glance what changed between level X and level X+1, that's going to make me unhappy. I humbly request that if you want to list your total ranks at each level (including skills you don't invest in at a given level), please highlight in some obvious and meaningful way which skills did and didn't change. Make them a different color, put them in boldface, add a parenthetical comment indicating how many ranks you increased the relevant skills by, or whatever. Skill tables are awful. Do your best to make them minimally awful for me. Also, please do not list your total skill bonuses (ranks and stat and synergy and whatever) in your main build table. You can put that somewhere in your write-up, but please just put your actual skill rank totals in the actual table. Please indicate, if necessary, when you're spending points cross-class. How you do this is up to you, but indicate it somewhere if you do it at all.
- I will generally not penalize for fluff. Ideally I'd just like to see enough fluff or backstory to introduce me to what's going on and why I care about this Hoardstealer over that one. Exceptionally wonderful fluff may be rewarded, but this is going to be very rare. No matter what, though, make sure that your fluff matches your build. Don't tell that you're an Asmodeus-class charmer if you aren't rocking amazing bonuses to the face skills, for example. This is perhaps especially relevant for Originality; your fluff only makes you original and different if you've got something to back it up.
For the actual scores, I tend to start at 3 and then add points when I see things I like and subtract points when I see things I don't like. The criteria that follow are not an exhaustive formula or a self-contained checklist, but they're examples of what's going through my head as I'm judging your build. Many of my guidelines are indeed just guidelines rather than unbreakable rules, but if you plan on talking your way out of a situation I've said I'd rather not see you in, it's incumbent upon you to do that talking up front in your build. I'm much, much more open to explanations of how things work and/or why your build should be treated a little differently when those arguments are made early on than I will be in a dispute after the fact. This really is just a form of the first rule I put up there: make my job as easy as possible and tell me what it is you're doing and why you're doing it.
- Did I see your build coming? How closely does it hew to what I initially thought of the class at first read-through?
- Coming up with a truly new strategy or trick is difficult when talking about a game that's this old. As such, I'm not going to demand that you have to give me something I've truly never seen before or prohibit anything that's already known to the community. That's unrealistic. But if you're using time-honored tricks, put your own spin on them to the extent possible. It's fine to use a beloved combo if it works, but make sure that there's more to your build than that. Make yourself different from the guy next to you who's using something similar. Convince me why your build is interesting and different. Why is your changeling Rogue more interesting than all the others? What's different about your chargebarian? Why is your Unseen Seer more interesting than the last Unseen Seer build I saw or made or judged? Why should I remember your Totemist grappler more than the Totemist grappler next to you?
- I'm not fond of shameless Originality grabs. This is subjective and I'm telling you up front that it's subjective, but to be honest, I know it when I see it. What I'm basically trying to get across is that if you're doing something weird or using something weird, make sure that there's a reason for it! If you dig through, say, WotC's website archives and find some crazy race or spell or feat that I've never seen before and it makes everything flow together in ways that you couldn't have done otherwise, that's wonderful, and I'll probably reward you! But if you bring in some crazy race that I've never heard of and then just treat the character as though they were a human or a halfling (especially if you aren't really letting the crazy race's features shine; mechanics are more important than fluff for me), I'm going to wonder why you bothered, and I'm going to feel like that's a shameless Originality grab. ("Crazy race" is just an example. It could be any game element. By all means, bring in exotic stuff! Just make sure that there's a reason for it other than "well, I didn't think anyone else would.")
- It's okay if you've got elements that are used by other chefs in your build, but you need to capture my attention and make it clear why you're interesting and different even if you're mostly constructed from the same Legos.
- Do you succeed at what you set out to do? That's really the core of Power: what's your goal, and how well did you achieve that goal? This doesn't mean that I need you to be the MVP of your party after every session, but I want to know what you're trying to do, why what you're trying to do matters, and how you achieved your goal.
- If your build mostly shines in specific scenarios (as I suspect will be fairly common with Hoardstealer), how well can you engineer those scenarios without a doormat GM, and/or how well can you function if you aren't in your primary element? If you need to get yourself into a specific kind of trouble to shine, can you both get yourself in and get yourself out?
- Is it clear what role you play in the party? You don't have to be pigeonholed (and indeed, I like seeing a broad metaphorical skillset), but do you have a clear job that you can do better than most other folks can?
- Is it clear that you either can survive without a group or that you can mix well with a generic group that you find yourself dropped into? I won't demand that you necessarily do both, but I don't want to see you using a ton of party-unfriendly tactics but obviously be dependent on having someone back you up, for example.
- How limited are your resources? How much "juice" do you need to blow to perform at your desired power level for three, four, five, or even six encounters in a day? (I'm almost more interested in your "standard" performance than in your "big flashy nova" performance, if such a distinction is necessary.) If you can only do something cool a small number of times per day, did you make it clear to me what you're doing when your primary tactic is unavailable?
- If you can't do what you primarily want to do for some reason (e.g., it's not relevant to the adventure's challenges, you're up against foes with obnoxious immunities or other aspects that make your tricks less useful, you're out of juice or other daily resources that you rely on, you don't have as much time as you normally think you do, you're caught without or otherwise stripped of your key buffs, etc.), how completely screwed are you, and how much of a backup plan do you have to still be relevant or to change the situation into one more to your liking?
- How wide a level range does your build really shine over? It's almost inevitable to have a handful of "startup levels" at the beginning where you're not really very special (though I do love seeing a strong early game; it's almost always good to exceed my expectations rather than to buy into them!), and most builds that aren't primary spellcasters will tend to reach a certain point in the mid-game or the late game where they aren't bringing much that's new to the table, but the wider a range you really shine at, the better. Remember that tactics that work at low levels may not work at high levels just because of the kinds of enemies you fight.
- I hate to say it so bluntly, but since the class requires ranks in the stealthy skills to get in, it feels dishonest to not mention this: if you're trying to hide over an extended part of your career and you don't have Darkstalker, I need a darned good reason why. It's a godawful feat tax and I hate that it's necessary, but let me be honest: if you're trying to be stealthy long-term and that stealthiness is critical to your character concept, it's really, really necessary. I'm willing to listen to explanations of why you might have a workaround, and of course I'm not saying that you necessarily have to present a stealth-primary character to me. But if you do present a stealth-primary character and you don't have a way of hiding from the super-common extra senses that WotC loved handing out, you're going to be at a disadvantage here. Like, I honestly hate saying this, but realistically, it's gonna factor into my judgments, so it's only fair to say that.
- I personally am not super fond of level adjustment. I don't like delaying cool class features, and it's really punishing to have fewer HD (meaning lower HP, lower skills, lower BAB, and lower saves, not to mention delaying when you get feats). I will not tell you not to use LA, because there are times when using something with LA is genuinely more interesting than not doing that. But make sure that you have a reason for it and make sure that it's crystal clear to me what that reason is. If it feels like you're just casually using it and not getting a really intense benefit, I'm likely to dock you points in Power.
- Do all of your major choices (race, 20 class levels or equivalent, feats, etc.) matter? Prereqs are just plain part and parcel of 3.5 optimization, but if it feels like half of your build is dead weight that's just taking up space until you qualify for the good stuff, that's less interesting than if you make things pop at every turn. If you take a feat or a level or whatever that isn't a prereq, make sure that you get a good return on it! Minimize, to the extent possible, the number of "boring levels" (that doesn't necessarily mean dead levels with no class features) that don't really make you more interesting or more powerful. Make all your choices matter and minimize dead weight.
- Are your basic numbers up to snuff? I don't have a hard-and-fast table of numbers that I want you to hit, but if you say that you're doing something, make sure that you've got the crunch to back it up. Don't tell me, for example, that you're relying on melee long-term with 10s in all your physical stats and low BAB unless you're getting your bonuses from somewhere else. You don't necessarily need to be able to be an unhittable tank, but if you're ever going to be shot at or swung at (which is true for nearly everyone), do you have some source of AC or of equivalent ways to not be hit or to not care about being hit? I recognize that most of this sort of thing comes from magic items, but I'd like to see at least a token acknowledgement of what's going on here.
- I attempt to factor the level at which game elements come online into your Power. I will not necessarily judge a given PrC the same if you enter it at level 7 versus if you enter it at level 15. I will weight things more heavily in the early game than in the late game, and to be entirely honest, you need to pull out something crazy to make me really pay attention at level 18+, especially level 20. (Truenamers aren't good just because they get Gate at level 20.) Be warned that this may lead to tension with UoSI, of course. I will follow One Mistake, One Penalty, but it's only fair to warn you that prioritizing a non-SI class early might cost you in UoSI while putting it later may mean that it doesn't strongly affect your Power. I do try to be holistic, though. It is not the case that entering the SI ASAP and finishing it ASAP is the true path to victory or even to a high UoSI. But the point is that elements of your build that come online late are much less likely to influence your Power score than elements that come online early.
- Hoardstealer is a class that's intended for Rogues and other skillmonkey-types. How does your build compare to a generic Rogue (or Factotum or Scout or whatever other class you entered as)? Since WotC wanted you to be a Rogue going in, the baseline here is Rogue 20 or something very similar; if you don't present me with a clear power level that you're shooting for or with a clear reason why you should be judged against a different baseline, I'm going to be kind of defaulting to that. (Does this mean that I necessarily want you to be a Rogue? No. You can be one, or you can be something totally different. But that's the approximate power baseline I have in my head until you give me a reason to expect otherwise, such as by showing up with way more spells than I initially anticipated or something else like that.)
- First things first: CITE YOUR SOURCES. Failure to include a source list and to indicate which build elements came from which books will result in an automatic -1 to Elegance. You have been warned. (I won't be a hard-ass about stuff from the PHB, but this really ties into making it easy for me: don't make me scramble to figure out where the hell that weird feat you used came from, you know?)
- Make sure that you're legal at every level. Always check all the prereqs for each and every one of your feats and your PrCs. Always know which skills are in-class for each class. (If you have something that messes with which skills are class skills, please tell me that.) Remember the order of leveling up from PHB pp. 58-9. If you're getting bonus feats from somewhere, double-check whether each feat you're taking is on the approved list for that source of bonus feats. Alignment restrictions are stupid and I try to relax them in a real game, but they're RAW, so don't play fast and loose with them unless you've got a super good explanation to the contrary.
- And just to save you some time to call out the most common errors I see in prereqs and in bonus feats, Toughness/Endurance/the Great Fortitude line are NOT FIGHTER BONUS FEATS, Obtain Familiar requires 4 ranks in K: Arcana, Practiced Spellcaster requires 4 ranks in Spellcraft, and Weapon Finesse bafflingly requires BAB +1. I don't know why so many people get those wrong. Don't be among them! For that matter, as baffling as this is, Hide and Move Silently are NOT CLASS SKILLS FOR HOARDSTEALER. Please don't make me penalize you for that. It's incredibly stupid that they aren't class skills, but they aren't class skills!
- Once we're past the bare-bones basics of legality and presenting sources, how well does the build flow together? If I were to look at the build one level at a time without knowing what comes next, how often would I say "okay, that's logical" and how often would I say "wait, why did you put THAT there?" It's okay to fall short of the ideal a little bit, but I want to see you striving for that sort of thing.
- I don't care one tiny bit about multiclassing penalties. Multiclass yourself into oblivion for all I care.
- I will not penalize for pulling from obscure sources (though as I mentioned in Originality, I may dock in Originality for a shameless grab) as long as those sources are cited and are legal for the competition. I will not penalize for pulling from lots of books as long as all the material you use is relevant.
- ACFs are fine, but keep track of what you're giving away with each one. You can't trade what you don't have, and I've more than once seen someone ACF themselves away from qualifying for something else.
- I tend to be lenient about using setting-specific material unless it's really egregious (I don't care one bit if you take some generic feats from cross-setting sources, for example, but don't tell me that you both are part of a dragonmarked house and are a member in good standing of some Faerun-specific church, just to throw a hopefully sufficiently crazy example out there). Can't speak for other judges, of course.
- Dipping here and there is not automatically inelegant if there's an obvious reason for it; I'd rather see you picking up a few prereqs in a single level rather than plodding along a less direct (but "dipless") route if you aren't getting much else out of the deal. However, be aware that throwing in classes that don't seem to do you any good will be considered to be inelegant. Make sure that everything you present as part of your dish is there for a reason.
- This is sometimes more possible than others, but I like to see prereqs doing double duty. This can mean actually using them as prereqs for multiple different game elements or it can simply mean making sure that you get a good use out of them even before the goal comes online. Again, you might not always be able to reach the ideal, but that doesn't mean it's not worth reaching for it.
- It is rare for a skillful character with multiple different classes to have a completely even and unbroken progression of skills over 20 levels. This is normal and I expect it. That said, "lumpy" skills tend to be inelegant; I don't like to see builds that constantly lunge from skill to skill dumping in four or six or eight points at a time and then letting the skill just stick around waiting for the next binge investment. It's going to happen a little bit, and that's normal and fine, but try not to do it more than is necessary. (I also generally find it weird when you go from no ranks in a skill to a whole ton of ranks in the skill all at once in the middle of your build; it can happen and I've seen it successfully defended as being elegant, but understand that you're likely going to need to explain it.)
- To build on the discussion of skill ranks, "cowlick" ranks (single ranks or otherwise small investments in skills taken midgame or late game with no real explanation) are confusing to me. I do recognize that sometimes you just don't have anywhere to put a spare rank, especially if you're taking lots of different classes or if something is cross-class for a number of levels that would result in a half-rank that never becomes a full rank, but when you stick a spare point or two into something weird, tell me why! Almost anything can be argued into being elegant, but it's on you to make that argument.
- As should be obvious, if you're using a questionable interpretation of the rules, you'd better make that argument and convince me why it's worthwhile or why you're actually correct. Try not to use too much that's questionable.
Use of Secret Ingredient:
- The single most important job you have is this: convince me that you need to be a Hoardstealer and that the build just won't work with other classes. Everything else that I'm talking about in this category is just an explanation of this or something that falls under this rule's umbrella. Convince me that Hoardstealer is the obvious choice for you and that the build is clearly Hoardstealer first and all the supporting structure second.
- Use whatever unique abilities the class gives you to the maximum extent possible, even if you can't necessarily make them the centerpiece! If the SI gives you some tricks that you can't really get elsewhere and some tricks that you can get from other common classes, I obviously want to see you using everything, but what do you think is going to really let you convince me that the SI is the best choice you could have possibly made?
- Ordinarily, I have a line or two here about trying to make the SI's prereqs meaningful even after you enter the class, which generally means trying to keep the prereq skills at acceptably high ranks and trying to keep getting use out of any prereq feats. Of course, this SI requires high ranks in two skills that it doesn't offer as class skills for some incredibly stupid reason, so that's a little bit less of a cut-and-dried sort of thing in this particular case. Still, make the prereqs feel meaningful in whatever way you can, and you're likely to do better than if you treat them as something to be gotten out of the way and then ignored.
- Taking more of the SI is better than taking less of the SI. In a case like this one where the SI stops offering unique features for the last few levels, this is a wee bit squishier than when the class has an actual capstone that you'd be giving up, but let's face it: we aren't taking these Sis because they're amazing and wonderful classes from start to finish. Part of the challenge before you is to convince me that you really care about those last few levels. Like everything else, you can probably talk your way out of a penalty if you bend or break this guideline, but you'll have some explaining to do, and I want you to do it in your actual build rather than in a post-hoc dispute.
- Showcase as much of the SI as possible. Hoardstealer is going to be a hard nut to crack here because so many of its abilities are passive or situational. We all know this going in. But don't ignore more than you have to ignore—do your best to show me what you're doing with the features (just name-dropping them isn't what I care about; show me what they let you do!) to the fullest extent possible. Once again, you very well may fall short of this ideal, but the more I see you reaching for the ideal, the happier I will be.
- Don't give me some random build that has Hoardstealer plopped randomly in the middle of it. Spell out for me why you care about being a Hoardstealer and why being a Hoardstealer makes you awesome in ways that the rest of your build couldn't do alone.
- For extra credit, I have a handful of goofy ideas that I thought about and rejected as options when I was considering cooking for this round. If your build stumbles across something in a similar vein and shows it off, that's likely to make me happy! It's far from a requirement and not the only way to get a good score here, but if chance allows you to come up with a better use for the half-formed ideas I discarded, I'll definitely mention that.
I could probably keep talking, but I don't know if that would make anyone happy. I'll stop for now. I can't wait to see what everyone comes up with!