Friday, January 3, 2014

How I Became a Min-Maxing, Number Crunching Point Whore

There comes a time in every gamer's career where he or she has an "ah ha" moment regarding the rules. What was once a collection of rough guidelines that were a little blurry around the edges finally snaps into clear focus, and you realize exactly what they are; building blocks. Once that realization is made, and you as a player realize how to fit them together in order to achieve the results you want, there's no unseeing it.

This is a story about my first time experiencing that.

So, I Was Playing a Frenzied Berserker When...

The DM let you do what now?!
Right, maybe I should begin at the beginning. I'd been a gamer for a few years, and I'd played Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 under a few different DMs. The problem was games just kept falling apart on me, and as such I'd never really been part of a full campaign before. I was invited to join a game run by a fellow named Jer, and he told me to bring whatever I wanted within the basic rules. I told him I had this idea for a barbarian, and he warned me that if I chose to play that class there would be times where he might trigger my rage for story reasons. That little caveat juiced my brain and really got me rolling.

The story I crafted was there was once a settlement in the north. This place was beset by the beasts and monsters of the frozen lands, from frost giants and gnolls to trolls and bugbears. When the forces arrayed against the town became too much, one clan of warriors made a deal with devil. They offered their souls to the spirits that dwelt on the peaks in exchange for the power to protect their friends and families. The spirits granted them the power to deny death, and to destroy their enemies with blood and fury. Heroes one day, the town began to fear the berserkers and the destruction they could wreck. Cast out, the clan became mercenaries who sold their swords to those desperate enough to pay for madness with coin.

Generations passed, and over time some powerful warriors were allowed to marry into the clan. This was a rarity, as only those who could defeat their lovers in fury were given permission to wed. The curse always bred true though, and frenzy came sooner or later. The clan was hired to fight by a nobleman, and fight they did. To the last man, a teenage boy named Sigurd. Sigurd fought bravely, but the only person he killed that day was his own mother, the clan matriarch, whose frenzy gripped her and refused to let go even as she slew those nearest and dearest to her.

Pictured: Sigurd's Mom.
Sigurd, fearing the madness he knew he was destined to grow into, traveled south where no one would know his name or the tale of his clan. He hoped that he might be able to escape the curse, but swordplay and bloodshed were the talents he'd been bred to, and adventure was what called his name.

Things Get Rolling

I came into the game a bit late, and as such I walked into the plot at level 8. When I sat down to character creation I was handed a copy of Complete Warrior, and my eye fell on the Frenzied Berserker prestige class. Because I had a bad case of what I like to call shiny-red-ball syndrome, I thought that Deathless Frenzy was a really cool ability. The DM said I could take the class, but he reserved the right to nerf me if I got stupid with it. So I gave Sigurd a few levels of fighter, a few levels of barbarian, and then started him on his path to death and glory in the tradition of his forebears.

From the point I walked in it was pretty standard high-fantasy stuff. Cults and evil orders are doing bad things, go and stop them. Along the way we just happen to pillage and loot pretty much every stronghold, gangland territory, and black knight's keep we can find. There are a few sentient items here, some really powerful sets of magical armor there, and by and large we're getting to be a pretty beefy bunch of adventurers. Before I knew it I had a character that was more powerful, and higher level, than anything I'd been trusted with up until that point. Nothing crazy yet, but the increased strength from stacking Frenzy with Rage was definitely making me feel pretty good about what I had going. I wasn't destroying entire encounters on my own like I had been at lower levels, but I figured that was normal.

The Moment of Clarity

Like many players trying out a new character concept, I wanted to make sure I had my numbers straight. So before one session I was reviewing my newly gained abilities when I came across Supreme Power Attack. I hadn't really paid much attention to that ability, but I figured I should know what it did. Especially given that we were closing in on the end of the campaign, and I was lingering around level 20. The ability, in short, said that because I had a big, two-handed sword, I got a +4 for every -1 I took from my base attack bonus when using Power Attack instead of a +2. Not bad.

I was busy patting myself on the back when a memory niggled at me. So I did some double checking and researched a few of the feats I'd taken. Leap Attack, which multiplied your power attack damage by 3 with a two handed weapon if you made a successful leap during a charge made my eyes go wide. After that was Combat Brute and Shock Trooper, which gave me the ability to follow through with my power attack on the second round after a charge, and which allowed me to take the negative from my armor class rather than from my base attack bonus respectively. All at once I realized that, without even meaning to, I had created a monster. I conferred with the DM, and he agreed that the feats worked the way I thought they did. He didn't appear worried though. Not right then, anyway.

The Mayhem

Damn Right
So, everyone settles in, we recap from the last game and get rolling. The party is assaulting a huge castle through a basement filled with clockwork golems. Jer, because he was confident in us, beefed up the baddies just to give us a challenge. By a miracle I rolled well on initiative, so I dropped Rage, Frenzy, and charged. In a single blow I dealt enough power attack damage to destroy one of the two big bads utterly. I rolled just because I felt like it, scattering clockwork and scrap metal the length of the field. The rest of the party, confidence boosted, attack the second golem. It tears them a new one, until round two when it also falls to Sigurd's obscenely over-muscled attack. Then, before I get another turn, most of the party dog-piles on the berserker and the cleric pokes Sigurd in the forehead to give him a huge will save bonus so he comes out of his frenzy. Bad guys dead, party victorious, barbarian thoroughly tweaked.

That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the adventure. Our DM kept throwing bigger and bigger bad things at us, and I just kept knocking them down. If I couldn't do it in one hit, then the enemy wasn't likely to live through a second. I had to sit out the last battle sadly, I was out of town at the time it happened, but I will forever remember that moment where a cool story and a pile of feats came together, creating a concept that was significantly more than the sum of his parts.

Got a cool gaming story of your own? Tell us about it, and we just might feature you on Table Talk! As always, thanks for stopping by Improved Initiative. Help support us by bribing the DM in your upper right hand corner, or checking us out on our Patreon page (which now uses PayPal!). To stay up to the minute with our updates, follow Facebook or Tumblr. Hope to see you again soon!


  1. So...take a -5 to AC and get a +60 to damage? Is that how it works?

    1. Yup. That's pretty much how it works. Errata kinda decreased that bonus, but it's still ridiculous compared to other martial options. 3.5 is broken like that.