Friday, August 4, 2017

The Defending Blade

Thunder rumbled through the room, the roar echoing from the eaves and growing to a fevered pitch. The black-robed cultists, interrupted in their prayers to the dark creature that granted them power, turned as one. They drew vicious blades, and rushed toward the interlopers who would threaten their unholy communion.

"How long is this going to take?" Shanna asked, sliding her supple sword from its sheath.

"No more than a minute," Hezekiah said, holding his holy tome aloft as he began to chant the Ritual of Locking.

"May as well ask me to hold the tide of an evening," Shanna grunted, setting her feet and raising her sword.

The first warrior came hard, charging recklessly. Shanna shifted her hips, and the weapon slid harmlessly past her. Another man tried to come in on her blind side, and she parried his thrust into an iron candle stand. It crashed to the ground, the sound barely heard in the tumult. A third warrior, seeing his opening, drove his sword toward Hezekiah's heart, but Shanna caught it on her quillions, yanking the thrust away from the old cleric. Hezekiah's voice grew, rivaling the howl of the demon lord as his spell pushed back the darkness. As the light grew, Shanna pushed back the tide of stabbing, cutting steel. Soon blood ran on the floor, and the dark servants were in retreat.

"I knew you could do it," Hezekiah said, clapping her on the shoulder.

Shanna smiled, and slid her blade back into its sheath. "It's all about choosing where to stand, really."

The only thing faster, is light.

What Is The Defending Blade?

When you picture a swordsman, chances are you're imagining the kind of warrior who takes the fight to the enemy. Whether they charge in with a battle cry, or trudge forward behind a tower shield, they are a weapon whose only defense is a straightforward offense. The defending blade, on the other hand, is a bodyguard first and foremost. While perfectly capable of leaving a trail of bloody bodies, their primary concern is keeping their allies safe. And they do that by using their own skills to make sure as many attacks are deflected as possible.

And how the hell does that work, precisely?
The key to making a defending blade work is to juice up your Aid Another bonus. Most folks never bother with Aid Another, because it only provides a +2 to an ally's attack or armor class, and that's not much of a big deal for a standard action. But what if you could provide your ally with a +10 or higher bonus as an attack of opportunity? Now you see where this is going.

I laid out a lot of build options for this in an older post, Aid Another in Pathfinder is More Useful Than You Think. However, the broad strokes of how to make this build work are to combine a cavalier with a bard, and then take levels of Battle Herald (As a side note, Daring Champion cavaliers and Arcane Duelist bards pair together beautifully for this combo). If you add in the trait Helpful (the good one that makes your base Aid Another +4, not the subpar one that makes it +3), take Arcane Strike, mix in some magical weapons like a Benevolent blade, what you have is an Aid Another bonus that's easily in the double digits by the time you're 12th or 13th level.

You don't have to wait that long to put your signature ability to good use, though. All you need are the feats Combat Reflexes, and Bodyguard. This allows you to use Aid Another on an adjacent ally as an attack of opportunity to buff their AC. And even if you're a level 1 character, you'll be giving them a +4 buff if you took the Helpful trait. And if you have Harrying Partners (and you give that feat to your ally with your cavalier class feature), then your bonus will last an entire round once it's been given.

And it only gets bigger from there.

The beauty of the defending blade is that everyone needs a bodyguard from time to time. No one wants the cleric to be gutted by a tentacled horror while he's trying to heal the rogue, and if the wizard is busy dispelling the villain's enchantments, you don't want a bunch of minions to run up and turn him into a pincushion. The defending blade can protect an ally using their attacks of opportunity (something most of us don't bother with anyway), and then during their turn they can still take other actions. Like re-positioning their charge out of harm's way, or putting an end to the threat so their protection is no longer necessary... for the moment, at least.

That's all for this week's Unusual Character Concepts. If you like it, let me know in the comments. This has quickly become one of my most popular features, and I want to make sure I'm keeping folks interested. If you want to check out even more gaming content from me, head over to Gamers where I'm slowly growing an archive of new content. If you want to stay current on all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to support Improved Initiative, then head on over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. If you can pledge as little as $1 a month then that will be a big help, and you'll get some sweet gaming swag out of the deal.


  1. Huh, i like the sound of a character like this. Good stuff!

  2. I attempted to do something similar to this with an Eidolon.

    Essentially the Summoner was a Heamophobic Healer, and the Eidolon acted as a bodyguard making sure he didn't bite it while in the middle of battle-field healing.

    The game where I was going to play him never got off the ground, but I have the sheets waiting, somewhere.

  3. There was a really cool prestige class focused around this idea (the Devoted Defender) in 3e. It's a really neat concept!

  4. I am not sure if Got your Back works with Bodyguard but that could be a great combo.

  5. You could always take the feats Cut From The Air, Smash From The Air, and Spellcut. That way you can also stop spells aimed at them

    1. Not with the build listed, as you need to have the Weapon Training class feature, which means either you need 5 levels of fighter, or you need a class that grants it to you. Good thoughts, but not ones that function with this build.

  6. Not to complain (I hope it doesn't come across this way, because I'm not), but do you have a example build?

    Great article as usual, Neil!

    Thanks for what you do!

    1. If you click through to the link provided, you find a level-by-level breakdown for a character build.

    2. I'm interested in an example build as well, but I don't see a link.

    3. The link is in the above post. Aid Another Is More Powerful Than You Think.

  7. Great article! Whats your opinion on the Yojimbo samurai archetype for this build?

    1. It could work. Depends on if you want to use Resolve on your allies, or not. That's really the only feature that makes it a better choice, from where I sit.