Secrets of the Swordlords
A Guide to the Aldori Dueling Sword
They're the masters of the Blade. No other sword-fighting style can touch them. They need no armor, only their specially designed blades. They are the Aldori, the Swordlords of Brevoy and Mivon. And they suck.
It's a shame, really. They're such a nice addition to the setting. The backstory, the reputation, it's so full of flavor. And with one of the most popular adventure paths being set right in their home territory, there's a very strong desire to create an Aldori Duelist. But the mechanics simply don't back up their fearsome reputation. An Aldori is defined by their distinctive Aldori Dueling Blade, which as exotic weapons go is extremely underwhelming. The special options available for the Aldori are mostly traps, with huge feat taxes for poor benefits. Because of this, practically any other sword-fighting build will be better than an Aldori. How can they be the greatest sword-fighters in Golarion? Honestly, I think the Aldori swordlords fill their fighting style with little misdirections like this on purpose. That way any rival dueling schools that try to copy their style will either learn false techniques or underestimate the Aldori.
This guide is intended to help you build an Aldori Duelist who will closely match the setting fluff while still being an effective character. We'll look at what's unique to the Aldori blade, how to maximize its effectiveness, and how avoid the common traps lesser duelists fall into.
Why use an Aldori sword?
The centerpiece of any Aldori build is going to be the Aldori sword, so let's take a close look at it.
One-Handed Melee Weapons
Sword, Aldori dueling
Benefit: An Aldori dueling sword may be used as a Martial Weapon (in which case it functions as a longsword), but if you have the feat Exotic Weapon Proficiency(Aldori dueling sword), you can use the Weapon Finesse feat to apply your Dexterity modifier instead of your Strength modifier on attack rolls with an Aldori dueling sword sized for you, even though it isn’t a light weapon. You can also wield an Aldori dueling sword in two hands in order to apply 1-1/2 times your Strength bonus to damage.
So what we really have here is a special longsword you can finesse at the cost of 2 feats. There are a lot of possibilities here, but most of them are traps. Lets look at some of the reasons, mechanically, we might want to use an Aldori sword.
It's a Finesse-able longsword!
NO. Compare to the Rapier: we have a 1 die size increase, but a 1 point smaller crit range. Would you spend a feat that adds 1 to damage but reduces your critical range? I wouldn't, and that's effectively what getting Exotic Weapon Proficiency is in this case. If this is what you're after, just use a Rapier.
It's a Finesse-able 2-handed weapon!
NO. My first question is, why do you even want such a thing? 2-handed weapons maximize the effectiveness of strength, not dexterity. But even putting such concerns aside, there's a better weapon already. The elven curve blade is a 2 handed exotic weapon usable with weapon finesse, with a higher damage die and critical range. Just use that.
Together these form Aldori trap #1: Finesse. It's possible to use weapon finesse with the Aldori Sword, but it's actually a poor idea. The Rapier is a better choice overall for a Dex-based fighter. There are other mechanical reasons to take the Aldori sword, but combining them with a Dex fighter means using an additional feat you could have used for something else. It’s not so much that Finesse is a trap for Aldori sword users, it’s that the Aldori sword is a trap for Dex users.
It’s still possible to prioritize Dex over strength, and even to enter into a Finesse build later in your career. That’s one of the neat advantages of the Aldori sword: you can finesse it or not. I’m still going to give advice for Dex-based builds over the course of this guide. Just remember that the bonus to hit you get from weapon finesse has to justify costing not one, but two feats to get. To me, that means your dex is going to have to be at least 6 points higher than your strength.
I want Aldori Dueling Mastery!
NO. This feat is a trap. It has an INSANELY high feat tax for little benefit. It requires weapon finesse, which we've already seen is a bad match for the Aldori sword. Quick draw has limited use for a duelist. And the benefit is a +2 to initiative and a shield bonus to AC. Buy improved initiative and use an animated shield. You'll get twice the benefit for 3 fewer feats. The only real benefit is being able to enter the Duelist class.
This is Aldori Trap #1.5: Dueling Mastery. Going Finesse fighter is sub-optimal but workable, and has advantages for initiative, saves, and AC. This feat is nothing but a trap. If it didn’t have so many other prereqs, it might be OK. But it doesn’t provide any unique bonuses that justify the cost. Almost everything you get from it could be gotten easier some other way.
The only reasons you might want to take this is to enter the Duelist Prestige class, or you’ve already taken every other initiative boost available and that last +2 bonus is calling out to you.
Which leads into Aldori trap #2: Singleton. I think people get caught up in the “Duelist” part of the Aldori Duelist and assume that you’ll be fighting with one hand free. Yes, it’s true that all the unique class features of the swordlord archetype only apply “when wielding an Aldori sword and holding nothing in your off hand.” That doesn’t mean you are never going to hold something in your other hand. Oftentimes, you’ll find yourself using the Aldori sword two-handed.
And if you aren’t an Aldori swordlord, you really have no reason to go singleton. Just substitute the Aldori sword for a longsword in any of your favorite longsword builds.
I want to use the Aldori Swordlord fighter archetype!
YES! This class has several interesting class features that specifically require the use of an Aldori Dueling sword. For any of the other reasons to use an Aldori Blade, there's a better weapon, but here the Aldori sword is the only choice.
Essentially, the Aldori Sword and the Aldori Swordlord Archetype are married. You don't take one unless you intend to use the other. Sure it sounds like it would be a good fit for the Free-hand fighter, a Lore warden or a Magus, But it won’t get you anything beyond flavor. That's great if flavor is all you're worried about, but then use it as a longsword and don’t spend a feat on it. If you want to get the most out of your special sword, you need this archetype.
Building an Aldori, stat wise, isn’t that different from building a standard fighter, except that you cannot dump Int. You’re practically going to need combat expertise and improved disarm, so you’re going to need an Int of 13. Other than that, I’d prioritize strength, followed by Dex. Con can actually be a little lower because we simply aren’t going to take hits, but those extra HP never hurt. Depending on character high wisdom or Charisma may be useful. This is one of the advantages of the Aldori school: It’s adaptable to your strengths. Depending on feat selection and multiclassing, almost any spread of stats can be turned into a decent duelist.
It’s easily possible for an Aldori swordlord to add the bonuses from dexterity, wisdom, intelligence and charisma all to armor class. Because raising 4 stats to 12 costs less than raising 1 stat to 18, this can actually be a build that rewards spreading your stat points around a bit. This build is also great for your “aged swordsman” characters, because the gains from boosting all three mind stats outweighs the losses from the physical stats.
By the Fluff, the Aldori swordlords are Human. And Human works good. You’ll get a bunch of skills, an extra feat (don’t spend it on E.W.P. with the Aldori blade, please), and you put your floating +2 into strength.
Being half-human, the Half-elf is a solid choice both fluff-wise and stat-wise. The floating stat goes into strength, and the multi-talented takes some of the pain out of a multi-class dip. You could trade your skill focus for exotic proficiency with the Aldori sword, but I don’t recommend it.
Half-orcs have the same fluff connection Half-elves do, and the same floating bonus to strength, but nothing else going for them.
Elves have decent stat bonuses to useful abilities, but nothing else to recommend them and almost no fluff reason to learn the style.
If you’re using Dragon Empire races, The Tengu automatically have the E.W.P. for the sword, which takes some of the sting out of a finesse build, and bonuses to stats that make a finesse fighter with a dip in monk make sense. Fluff reasons to learn the style are minimal, though.
All other races are Red
Unless your GM won’t allow it, you are taking Sword Scion. +1 to hit and combat maneuvers with your chosen weapon? Yes please! This is like half-priced weapon focus.
Heirloom Weapon can’t give you the weapon proficiency, but you’ll be making good use of the +1 to AoOs and +2 to disarms.
Other good choices are the same ones good for any fighter. Reactionary, Threatening defender, and Fencer deserve special mention.
The Abilities of the Aldori Swordlord
So what is this archetype getting us that worth using a weapon that on it's own is sub-par? Lets look at the class abilities: Defensive Parry, Disarming strike, Steel Net, and Counterattack. You forgo the fighter's standard armor training, and get weapon training 4 levels later than normal. These abilities are a little situational, but can be very powerful if built towards correctly.
On the subject of Singleton Style.
Every special ability the Aldori swordlord gives you requires that you be using an Aldori Dueling Sword and have nothing in your off hand. This of course immediately suggests that you’ll be fighting singleton style. This is not entirely true.
Until you get to third level, not one of your abilities prevent you from using the sword in both hands, and you’ll get a damage boost from doing so. At your early levels you still also have shield proficiencies. That shield bonus to AC is better than what you get from Defensive parry until higher levels. So before 5th level, you can carry a shield without really losing anything in the bargain. Discard the shield or animate it once you’ve got your real class abilities. Until you get Disarming strike at 5th level, there’s not a lot of reason to use only one hand. Your early career will probably use a sword and board style or a 2-handed grip constantly.
Even at higher levels, Both Defensive Parry and Steel Net require that you use a full round action to use. So any time you make a standard attack you might as double up hands as you won’t be using the class features anyway. Disarming strike requires one hand, but it doesn’t apply strength to damage so you didn’t need an extra hand anyway. Basically, any turn you aren’t specifically using an Aldori ability, you’ll want to double up on your grip. Remember that changing grip is a free action.
And yes, you’re going to want Power Attack. Don’t think for a moment you won’t. Even when single-handing your sword, your job is still to do damage.
At 3rd level, when an Aldori swordlord makes a full attack with an Aldori dueling sword, he gains a +1 bonus to AC against melee attacks until the beginning of his next turn. This bonus increases by +1 every four levels after 3rd.
This ability grants additional AC. While it looks nice, you have to compare it with similar abilities granted at the same level by other archetypes. The main drawback here is that you have to be using a full attack action to get this extra AC. Once you're getting multiple attacks this will kick in more often, but remember that you'll lose this AC anytime you move. This forces us to be a more static fighter. Honestly the AC bonus isn’t worth altering tactics for. At low levels you’re better off holding a shield, and at higher levels you have better reasons to your hand free and make full attacks. This is just bonus AC when you do start using singleton tactics.
This is as good a place as any to mention Aldori Trap #3: Light or No Armor. It's true that the fluff for the style talks about how practitioners wear little or no armor. But the class does grant proficiency with heavy armors and with shields, like any other fighter. The Aldori who fight with light or no armor are the ones who have mastered steel net and Crane style, not those just starting out. Even then, the Aldori style is perfectly usable in full plate. The Aldori style is as suited for the real battlefield as it is to a duel of honor, in sharp contrast to the Rapier-based styles of the southlands.
Making the most of Defensive Parry:
Honestly, it's just best to accept that this is a situational bonus to AC. It only really gets good enough to plan around at higher levels, when you already want to take as many full attacks as possible in order to get iterative attacks.
That said, anything that boosts Full attack actions will stack nicely with Defensive Parry.
Two Weapon Fighting can give you a reason to take full attacks before your BAB is +6 or better. Requiring a High Dex makes it a little M.A.D, but if you ignored my advice about weapon finesse you might as well pick it up. Because the Aldori style requires you have an empty off hand, you’ll only be able to use this if you have improved unarmed strike, preferably from monk levels. But you’ll have one or the other anyway, in order to qualify for style feats.
You can also get this feat early, before you really have Aldori abilites, and retrain it for something else once you’ve got a good reason to keep your off hand free.
Snapping Turtle Style: You have to keep your off hand free anyway, so why not get a small benefit from it? This is pretty good for the Master of Many Styles build, as you can combine it with Crane Style. It’s only green, though, because it’s just a +1 shield bonus. If you can only take 1 style, it should be crane, and if you’re going to get Aldori Dueling Mastery you won’t need it either.
Snapping Turtle clutch: This feat lets you use that empty hand to initiate grapples with a smaller penalty than normal whenever your opponent misses. They’ll be missing a lot, so if you want to grapple it’s nice.
At 5th level, when an Aldori swordlord successfully disarms an opponent using an Aldori dueling sword, the swordlord also deals normal damage to the target, but without the normal Strength bonus to damage.
This means you don't have to choose between disarming your enemies and damaging them. I've seen this rated poorly before because many consider disarming to be a poor trick, but I think it's shortsighted to dismiss this because it solves half the problem disarm has. While this ability doesn't do anything about the fact that many of your foes are using natural weapons, it does solve the problem of having to forgo damage to disarm. Remember that the Aldori are the best sword duelists in Golarion. This means they're good at fighting other swordsmen. The fact that this ability doesn't help against dragons is besides the point for our intended role.
Disarming strike actually has some interesting situational advantages to consider. If an opponent's AC is significantly higher than their CMD against disarms, this may be an easier way to do damage to them then attacking normally. Bonuses to disarm essentially become bonuses to attack as well. You don't add your strength bonus to damage, which means a 1-handed grip is fine. This is the only area where weapon finesse actually meshes well with the Aldori style, but not well enough to justify taking it.
Rules Lawyer alert: Ask your GM if added dexterity damage from the “agile” rapier quality acts as strength for all rules purposes. The exact wording is ”apply her Dexterity modifier to damage rolls with the weapon in place of her Strength modifier.” The question is, can we apply a dex modifier to damage to disarming strike? I’d say no, but if your GM answers yes then suddenly a Finesse build is much better.
Making the most of Disarming Strike:
The most important problem to solve with any combat maneuver is avoiding the AoO that they normally provoke. The first option is to get lunge, so that you aren't in a threatened square when you attack. The second option is to get the improved disarm feat.
Lunge: Increase your reach on your turn only in exchange for -2 AC. You've got the AC to spare, and with proper positioning it means disarming without provoking attacks of opportunity. This doesn’t require you to have Int 13 to take.
Combat Expertise: Many people have commented how crappy a feat this is. It's especially crappy for you because fighting defensively is so much better. But it's situationally useful, and opens up a great many feat trees. You'll probably wind up with it anyway.
Improved Disarm: +2 to the disarm attempt, and no provoking. Works in every circumstance.
So which way to go? Either/or really. Improved disarm has the advantage of just working, but Lunge is more efficient if you know how to use your 5’ step effectively. Are you the sort who stands calm and still in the middle of a whirlwind of steel, or the sort who dances around your opponent in battle?
Other disarm-related feats:
Greater Disarm: The +2 bonus is appreciated, but the 15' toss may be worse than just letting it drop at their feet. You might want them to pick up the weapon and draw an AoO, not run out of your threatened area. Strictly speaking I'm not sure the rules give you the option to not apply the feat, but I can't imagine a single GM who wouldn't let you choose not to send it sailing if you don't want to.
Equipment Trick (Heavy sword scabbard): The equipment trick that's important here is that with improved disarm, you can put the enemy's sword into your scabbard. If you want to actually keep your opponent disarmed, this is much better than greater disarm. Note that you have to have nothing in your off hand when using disarming strike, so either you have to forgo your damage on disarm, or accept a -4 penalty to the disarm check, when you use this feat. This is a case where you really want True Strike.
You may find a few of the other tricks situationally useful. If you ignored me about finesse and got quick draw on the way up to Aldori Dueling Mastery, being able to make a thrown attack as a swift action is a dramatic way to open up a fight. But we really get this for the sword-stealing.
Disarming Strike: Hit for damage, get a free disarm, which also does damage. Your 19-20 crit range is decent, but not as reliable as an 18-20. That is what keeps this from being blue.
Break Guard: If you went with a 2 weapon fighting style, this gives you an additional attack with your off hand when you disarm, adding insult to injury. An unarmed attack, because of your empty hand, but still, and attack is an attack. This isn't free damage like Disarming strike, but it's the next best thing to having being disarmed provoke an AoO. What keeps this yellow is the need to roll an attack, and the fact that since it’s a swift action you can’t use it when you disarm as an AoO.
I wouldn't go much beyond getting improved disarm, honestly. That's the point at which the trick really works, and past that is the point of diminishing returns. While it's a powerful trick, any foe that fights unarmed will be completely immune to this ability, and anyone with a locking gauntlet will give you issue. Therefore it's better to invest a small amount into making it work for you, and then using your extra feats to find ways to deal with opponents you can't disarm.
Flurry of Maneuvers: This is a class ability for the Maneuver Master Monk. It replaces Flurry of Blows, which you can’t use with your weapon anyway, and allows you to make a “free” maneuver after every full attack action. Obviously for you this is going to be a disarm attempt. You make the maneuver at -2, but this is effectively -1 because you use your monk level as your BAB for this maneuver. The nice thing is, you don’t take any penalty on your other attacks. Also, as you are taking a full attack you’ll trigger all the aldori abilities that require full attack actions.
Dueling Weapon Enhancement (Field Guide): This adds twice its enhancement bonus as a luck bonus to all combat maneuvers with it, in addition to the normal enhancement bonus. As a +1 ability, this is great for you. Get it right away.
Dueling Weapon Enhancement (APG): The Aldori sword can be finessed with the right feats, so it qualifies for this ability. This in only a +2 bonus to disarming, but the initiative boost is good too. The cost to benefit ratio is lower than the Dueling enhancement from the Field Guide, but you can take both on the same weapon.
True strike: This spell applies equally to disarm attempts as it does to standard attacks. This is great for those times you absolutely have to get that disarm attempt off. This combined with spell combat is the reason you might want to dip Magus. The Charisma Duelist might be able to use a wand and UMD to do this as well. This is the only reliable way to deal with locked gauntlets and Huge foes. Be warned though, it’s not going to work well against other Aldori Duelists for reasons we’ll see below.
At 7th level, an Aldori swordlord can throw up a blazing wall of steel to defend himself. When fighting defensively as a full-round action with an Aldori dueling sword, the swordlord’s penalties on all attacks in a round are reduced by 2, and the dodge bonus to AC is increased by 2 for the same round.
This is the headliner. On it's own it's OK, making defensive fighting a -2 to hit for +5 to AC. That would be a yellow to greenish ability. What makes it Blue is that it stacks with Crane Style, for a total of -0/+6. You're looking at a +6 Dodge bonus to AC with no penalty!
It's worth noting this only applies when you take a full round action to fight defensively. Like Defensive parry, you'll lose this when you start moving. Crane style still applies, though, so you can still claim -2/+4 when you move. Crane Riposte (which you'll want anyway) will make that -1/+4, which isn't too bad itself. Unlike defensive Parry, the full-round action doesn't have to be a full attack. It simply needs to have an attack roll, so that you can fight defensively.
Making the Most of Steel Net.
Here's one thing to get out of the way right now: You're going to get the full Crane Style feet tree. For the Aldori Swordlord, these feats are beyond blue on the rating scale. They're absolutely required, like 2 weapon fighting for the dual wielder.
Crane style: Combines with steel net to completely eliminate the penalty for defensive fighting on full-round actions. This alone is worth the feat. Remember that it takes a swift action to enter a style. Some gamemasters may argue, but by the rules as written you get the reduction in penalty even when not using the style, and entering the style grants you +1 dodge AC.
Remember that you’ll have to pick up Improved unarmed Strike and Dodge to get this style feat. I suggest dipping a level in monk, but even if you go straight fighter Crane style is worth the feat tax.
Crane Wing: Deflect one melee attack per round regardless of how high it rolled? Gods yes. Usually the attack most likely to hit you is first in a round, so once you’ve deflected one attack you can rest assured the others are unlikely to hit you either. You can deflect maneuvers too, so you can cancel that disarm. It’s also worth noting that this feat simply shuts down anyone who’s strategy relies on True strike.
This feat lends itself well to the style because any turn you use an Aldori Swordlord class feature you have to grip the sword with one hand and leave the other empty anyway. But even on turns where you grip the weapon in 2 hands, you can still use Crane wing because switching grips is a Free Action. On your turn, start by gripping your Aldori sword with 2 hands. This will get you that extra strength and power attack damage on every attack you make on your turn. At the end of your turn, use a free action to switch to a 1-handed grip. You now have a free hand to use with crane wing. Any AoO you make, such as the one from Crane Riposte, will be 1-handed attacks with 1-handed damage. Which is why I suggest any AoO be taken as a disarm attempt. The damage from disarming strike doesn't benefit from high strength anyway, and a successful disarm can stop an enemy's iterative attacks. At the beginning of your next turn, switch back to a 2-hand grip before attacking. Rinse and repeat. I call this dance the Nifty Grip Shifty.
Crane Riposte: This one is only standard blue instead of super blue like the first two Crane feats. It's not strictly needed, but it's so good you want it anyway. You might think Steel net makes the penalty reduction to defensive fighting superfulous, but this bonus still applies on standard actions where steel net does not. The free hit on the person who's attack you deflected is the real reason you want this feat, though. Don't forget that this AoO can be a disarm!
Other Feats that work well with steel Net:
Mobility and Spring attack: Due to many of your class features, you are a pretty static fighter. Mobility can help deal with your AC loss when you HAVE to move, but it's not worth taking except as a pre-req to spring attack. Spring attack, on the other hand, has an interesting effect. It's a full round action with an attack roll, which means that Steel Net applies when you spring attack. Because they work together like this, spring attack gives back some of the mobility our class features normally deny to us.
Whirlwind attack: If you already picked up combat expertise for improved disarm, and spring attack for added mobility, this is a no-brainer. Usually Cleave and Great Cleave would be a better choice, but in our case those standard actions mean we can't use Steel Net. Whirlwind is a full round action, which means we make the most of our class features. Don't forget these attacks can be disarm attempts as well! You may be a duelist but there comes a time in every swordsman's career where they need to kill several lesser fighters quickly.
Osyluth's Guile: This feat is perfect if you make a Gladiator build. Pump your charisma for those perform checks and eventually add it to your AC as well. The drawbacks (must be fighting defensively, only works on one enemy) are hardly drawbacks for you at all, because steel net+crane style means you're always fighting defensively, and since you're a duelist you usually fight one on one anyway. High Charisma Melee, it's not just for Paladins anymore!
Starting at 9th level, a fighter can select one group of weapons, as noted below. Whenever he attacks with a weapon from this group, he gains a +1 bonus on attack and damage rolls.
Every four levels thereafter (13th, and 17th), a fighter becomes further trained in another group of weapons. He gains a +1 bonus on attack and damage rolls when using a weapon from this group. In addition, the bonuses granted by previous weapon groups increase by +1 each. For example, when a fighter reaches 9th level, he receives a +1 bonus on attack and damage rolls with one weapon group and a +2 bonus on attack and damage rolls with the weapon group selected at 5th level. Bonuses granted from overlapping groups do not stack. Take the highest bonus granted for a weapon if it resides in two or more groups.
A fighter also adds this bonus to any combat maneuver checks made with weapons from this group. This bonus also applies to the fighter's Combat Maneuver Defense when defending against disarm and sunder attempts made against weapons from this group.
The Aldori Swordlord may have to wait 4 levels to get this, but it's still just as awesome for him as it is for the standard fighter. You're going to take it with heavy blades, of course. There is no question of that. Later weapon trainings should be ones that help your unarmed strike, or which help with whatever ranged option you’ve chosen.
Getting the most out of Weapon Training:
Get some Gloves of Dueling, to start with. Also, since you're working exclusively with the Aldori Sword, Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, Greater versions thereof are a no-brainer. These are especially valuable because the bonus damage from both weapon specializations and weapon training apply to the damage dealt by Disarming strike.
And then there’s the old version of Aldori Dueling Mastery from the older Pathfinder Chronicles - Campaign Setting book (PZO1111). I believe the new version replaces this version officially, so this probably isn’t going to be seen in PFS play. But in a home game it’s worth asking your GM if he’ll let you take the old version (perhaps calling it “True Aldori Dueling Mastery”) This feat has more prerequisites than most prestige classes, but it gives you an additional attack when you make a full attack, and some bonus AC and Damage when you use a two handed grip. And except for finesse, all the pre-reqs are useful themselves.
At 11th level, an Aldori swordlord can make an attack of opportunity as an immediate action against an opponent who hits the swordlord with a melee attack, so long as the attacking creature is within the swordlord’s reach.
You get a retribution strike when you get hit in combat. This is yellow because if you've built your character right, by the time you get this no one will be hitting you anyway. Still, If someone manages to hit you at all, they're obviously your biggest threat, so hitting them back is a good idea. Use the AoO to disarm if possible, as always.
Getting the Most out of Counterattack:
Combat Reflexes: You're going to need this because you negated the first hit against you with Crane wing and counterattacked with Crane Riposte. So if you get to use counterattack it will always be against the second successful attack in a round. You won't have the AoO to use unless you've gotten combat reflexes.
Snake Style, Snake Sidewind, Snake Fang. It's all about Snake Fang here. Anytime someone misses you in combat, you get to take an AoO with your unarmed strike, anytime they hit you get to take an AoO with your sword. No matter what, anyone who attacks you is vulnerable to a counterstrike. Nice! I call this the Retribution Build.
Snake style's Sense motive defense ability may be situationally useful as a backup to Crane wing, but it requires an immediate action and so ties up your swift action for the round. Your AC may be higher than your sense motive anyway. Snake sidewind is a collection of nearly useless situational modifiers. This is really only an option if you're going to dip for a level or two of Master of Many styles monk. Then you can combine it with crane style, and skip the crappy middle feat.
There's only one other fighter archetype compatible with the Aldori Duelist, and that's the Gladiator. You'd be exchanging your heavy armor proficiency for Performance Weapon Mastery, which is effectively a +2 to your performance combat checks. You also get Perform (dance) as a class skill. At second level you replace Bravery with Fame, which are both extremely minor bonuses to specific circumstances. So why do I rate the Gladiator green? Because you're an Aldori Duelist, and Duels are frequently performance combats. You're giving up things you are unlikely to use anyway for things that will help you in such fights. Perfect if your character is a bit of a show-off. This is a strong build if you pump your charisma up to a 14 or higher, and take Osyluths Guile at 8th level after getting steel net.
One of the nice things about the Aldori Swordlord is that the class is fairly front-loaded. You get all the really good abilities before level 10. Usually Multiclassing in Pathfinder is weak, but for the Aldori style there's a lot of synergy that can make multiclassing worthwhile. While almost any Melee focused class could be interesting to add to a swordlord, a few deserve specific mention.
Master of Many styles Monk: We're taking at least one style here, so it makes sense to dip into this class for at least one level. You get a better version of improved unarmed combat, Unarmed damage that makes it worthwhile to punch someone, and a bonus style feat that can ignore pre-reqs. You also get stunning fist, or can use another monk archetype like Hungry Ghost Monk to get certain other feats. The save bonuses are like picking up all 3 save feats. You don't get Flurry of Blows, but you're using an Aldori sword so you weren't gonna use that anyway. Your wisdom bonus to armor will probably go unused, but it’s there if you need it. The drawbacks are 1 less Base attack bonus, 1 less HP, and delayed progression towards the Aldori Swordlord abilities which are the reason you took the class.
Taking a second level gets you evasion when unarmored, more saves, and another bonus feat that ignores prereqs, but delays you another level in Swordlord. Getting those swordlord abilities are the point of the build and you may not wish to wait that long. I would hold off at least until you have Steel net.
This is also the only way to combine crane style and snake style at the same time, which you want to do if you're going for the retribution build.
The next two archetypes modify Master of Many styles: you won’t take them on their own but they stack with MoMS just fine:
Monk of the Sacred Mountain: Unless you’re going for an armorless build (why? that’s trap #3!) this is a great choice when dipping monk. You sacrifice evasion, which you can’t use anyway, for bonus HP and +1 natural armor. And its compatible with Master of Many styles! If you’re going to take that 2nd level of monk there is no reason not to use this archetype.
Sohei: Sohei sacrifices your stunning fist attacks for Devoted Guardian, which lets you act in the surprise round, and get a bonus to initiative if you get a second level in monk. This is great because it lets you get your sword out and start crane style. Note, however, that you won’t be able get your steel net bonus until the first real round, nor your defensive parry bonus to AC. This is because both require a full round action to activate, and you only get a standard in the surprise round. This and the fact that it can’t combine with Monk of the Sacred mountain means it’s only yellow, but it’s better than Monk of the sacred mountain if you’ve decided to go the Dex Route.
On the other hand you have:
Maneuver Master Monk: Special Thanks to Flynn Walker for pointing this one out to me. Again we’re trading Flurry of Blows for something you can actually use, this time focusing on your disarm maneuver instead of defenses. Your bonus feat allows you to take improved disarm without the feat tax of combat expertise. This not only saves you a feat, but allows you to dump Intelligence and make the build less MAD. Since you’re likely going to be focusing on a single maneuver, this is a one level dip.
Spire Defender Magus: This class is a great dip for one level that's also good to keep going in. The first level trades the armor proficiencies you're already getting from Aldori Swordlord for combat expertise and dodge as bonus feats. This alone would put you ahead on feat progression, but add in spellcasting and spell combat and the deal is sealed. Oh, Arcane pool features somewhere in there too, and you get to pick an exotic disarm or trip weapon you probably won't use. Further levels get you spellstrike for that extra attack each round, more spells, and some Arcana to make things interesting. I wouldn’t keep going past 4th level, but you could.
The downsides are -1 BAB, one less hit point, and the fact that you need to connect your backstory to both the Mordant Spire AND Brevoy to justify this combo fluff-wise. Also, spellcasting is frowned on in sword-duels, and you'll probably be called a cheater if you're caught casting. You might be tempted to call the combo MAD, but honestly you needed Int 13 anyway for combat expertise and since you're only dipping into magus you won't need much more than that.
Kensai Magus: This one is for all of you who ignored me, fallen into Aldori Trap #1, and insisted on playing a Dex Fighter. Kensai gives up the armor proficiencies you already got through fighter in exchange for exotic weapon proficiency in a bladed weapon of your choice (Aldori sword, obviously), and Weapon Focus in that weapon. Canny defense is basically +1 AC when in light armor, as we're dipping for 1 level and your int should only be 13 anyway. Your spell combat ability remains, but you take arcane spell failure chance in armor and you have diminished spellcasting, so we're only looking at one spell per day and it's probably true strike. This is essentially a less awesome version of taking the Spire magus, above, and it has most of the same drawbacks. The only thing going for it that Mordant Spire doesn't have is that it doesn't require weird backstory to justify. It's a good pick if you're a dex fighter, but that just means it's a better way of doing something that was a bad idea to begin with.
Swashbuckler Rogue: Once you've reached level 9 in Aldori Swordlord and gotten weapon training, Rogue has a lot to offer you. More skills, better reflex saves, rogue tricks, and sneak attack damage out the Wazoo. Feats and rogue tricks that help you flat-foot your foes are where it's at here. Consider Catch-off guard, as you'll be leaving a lot of people unarmed. And yes, you'll get sneak attack damage on a disarming strike if your opponent is flat-footed or flanked.
The Swordlord Prestige Class:
So since I wrote my guide to the Aldori Swordlords, the Swordlord prestige class came out in Paths of Prestige. And a lot of people noted that my guide was “obsolete,” and a few asked me to update it. So why has it taken me this long to do so? Simply put, the Prestige class version of the Aldori Swordlord barely changes any of my advice. The original guide shows you how to get the most out of the Adori fighter class, and the Prestige class is a completely different beast. Still, my desire to remain the go-to expert on all things Aldori drives me to delve into the new class.
What the Prestige class doesn’t do:
So here’s what you’re not going to want to hear. The new Prestige class doesn’t really make being a Dex-based Aldori fighter any better. Yes, you get to add Dex to Damage. Yes, you get to change some of the feat tax on Aldori Dueling Mastery from the somewhat pointless quickdraw to the more useful Dazzling Display. This is a vast improvement on previous Dex-based Aldori builds. But as always, you have to compare it to Dervish Dance. Dervish dance provides the same benefit, in feat package you can get at level 3 (Fighter at 2, Bard at 1), with less requirements, and without having to multiclass. There’s no comparison. This class doesn’t save Finesse for the Aldori, it just makes it suck slightly less. Yes, Trap #1 is still Finesse.
If you’re going down this path, The Swordlord Prestige class is basically a one-level dip for you. Everything you want for Finesse fighting is right there in the first level, and it allows you to meet the pre-requisites for the actual Duelist class. So dip one level, then either go back to the class you came from, or go on to the Duelist class. I know you can make several workable builds this way. Unfortunately, every single one of those builds would probably work better as a dervish dancer with a scimitar.
The other truth is, The Prestige class doesn’t really work with the Swordlord Fighter Archetype. The Fighter archetype doesn’t provide any of the prestige class requirements. None of their abilities stack. And the juicy bits of the fighter archetype start coming at 5th level, which is about when you’d leave for the Prestige class. The only class feature that stacks is Defensive Parry, which is the feature I ranked lowest. I’m not saying it’s bad, but it certainly isn’t optimal. Again, you could dip and go back. So for all that you’d think they should go together, Trap #2 is the Swordlord Fighter Archetype. I figure they represent different schools of the Aldori style. There are, after all, Mivoni Swordlords and Brevoy Swordlords, and it makes sense that they’d develop different styles over time.
However, that does mean you can enter into the prestige class from classes other than the swordlord fighter archetype, giving you more freedom to build other classes as Aldori Swordlords. The following classes are fairly good choices, but these ratings reflect how well they lead into the Swordlord prestige class, not necessarily how effective the actual build is compared to other melee combat specialists.
Cavalier: It’s all about the order of the Cockatrice here. Free Dazzling Display you can use as a standard action at 2nd level. What you want is right there at the front, so it’s an easy dip.
Kensai Magus: For all the reasons it’s a good dip for the Swordlord archetype, it’s a good way into this prestige class. It gives you 2 of your prereqs for free at first level, as well as Spell combat + True strike for all your disarming needs. Again, you can dip this.
Weapon Master fighter: Early entry into Weapon Training allows you those sweet gloves of Dueling, and you’re already focused on a specific weapon. Strictly better than other fighter archetypes for this. That said, Cad, Free hand Fighter, and Lore Warden are all decent choices that get you some flavor and a bonus on disarm checks. Also, Lore warden gets you the skill points you need for your prereqs without having to be a human with Int 12+
Thug: This archetype of Rogue give you sneak attack damage and that little extra oomph on your intimidate checks, both good things when you’re going for a shattered Defenses build.
Abilities of the Swordlord Prestige Class
So if it isn’t a good way to become a Finesse fighter, and it isn’t a logical extension of the Aldori Fighter Archetype, what is this class? It’s an intimidate-based debuffer, that’s what it is.
First, you have to take Dazzling Display to take the class. This is the go-to debuff ability for non-spellcasters, so there’s that. The class features not related to dexterity fighting build on this base, giving you bonuses to this check or giving you new ways to use the intimidate skills. If you’re doing more than the one level dip, this is why.
So lets go ahead and break down the abilities we’ll get, and how to best make use of them.
Yeah, ok, everyone else is gonna rate this green, but I hardly have to reiterate my reasons for not rating this higher. What this is doing is covering for a weakness, not being a bonus. Still, between this and the pre-requisite feats, you’ve now completely replaces strength for your combat potential. Using strength at this point would somewhat silly.
Similarly, this bonuses from this feat are decent but not Awesome. You’re getting +2 AC and +2 to initiative. My major issue with this feat is the crazy pre-reqs. You’d think getting it as a bonus feat would make this less terrible, but really the pre-reqs are just shifted to the class itself. Oh, look! They’re almost identical, except you trade dazzling display for quickdraw. How about that.
Display Weapon Prowess
The bonus on intimidate checks for Dazzling Display are nice. It’ll be at +2 when you get it, and grow from there. You aren’t gonna be in the same Tier as an intimidate focused inquisitor, but you’ll be better than the equivalent fighter. You also get a bonus to Performance combat checks. Normally that’s gravy, but since duels are often performance combats you’ll enjoy the bonus.
Making the most of Display Weapon Prowess
Shattered Defenses: Make your shaken opponents Flat-footed. Since a lot of people you’ll be dueling will be have a high Dex component in their AC, this is nice. Especially awesome if you get...
Sneak attack Damage: Now that your opponent is flat-footed, you’ll be doing extra damage. Excellent.
Deadly Stroke: Double Damage + con Bleed. No iterative attacks, though.
Performing Combatant, Master Combat Performer, Performance Combat Feats: This lets you use Performance combat in normal combat, you show off. Since you’re getting a nice bonus to those, they’ll almost be auto-successes. Still, the abilities the various performance combat feats give you aren’t quite awesome enough to justify the feat tax, actions, and skill check they take to get. I like savage and masterful combat performer, myself, but +2 to hit and +1d6 to damage just isn’t impressive for the feats.
Cornugan Smash, Gory Finish, Enforcer: All nice feats for a demoralizing fighter, but unfortunately they won’t benefit from display weapon prowess since it specifies Dazzling Display.
Same as the ability for the Aldori swordlord fighter archetype, and rated the same for the same reasons. The only note is that you’re more likely to actually have iterative attacks by the time the prestige class gives it to you.
This ability comes it two parts. The first is simply and underpowered version of steel net. I’d rate it Green on it’s own, because with work we can pull the same tricks we do with steel net. The other part, however, is essentially a floating +2 bonus either to hit or to AC. I’d rate that yellow: It’s nice, but it eats a swift action and we’ll have other uses for that.
Which leads me to ask, WHY is this class so damn complicated? Between dazzling display, performance combat, and adaptive tactics we can get several decent buffs and debuffs for our fighter. But each one is short term, requires a specific set-up, requires a skill check, and usually an action of some sort that keeps us from using them together. And then we’re handed just enough bonuses on the checks to make them seem reliable but fail enough to be frustrating. This is simply unneeded complexity, and compares poorly with things like spells, bardic music, or hexes. Plenty of abilities I’d rate higher for their effects get complexity penalties that bring them down to not that useful.
Making the most of Adaptive Tactics.
Max out sense motive to give you that floating bonus as much as possible.
Crane style, Crane Wing, and Crane Riposte are as awesome here as they are for the other Aldori Class. You’ll need Crane Riposte or 8th level to fully negate the penalty, but it’s still a huge AC boost, and a Negated attack each round, and a free attack back. Unlike the archetype, however, this class feature doesn’t require you to be using the full attack action to benefit! Excellent.
Shatter Confidence, Confounding Deulist:
This is as good as it gets. Like the previous abilities, this actually has two parts. The first is a free intimidate check to demoralize whenever you crit, disarm, reposition or sunder. That’s a nice little boon. But the meat here is the ability to further intimidate anyone already shaken into losing their Morale bonuses. This is a swift action after any successful melee attack.
Now I haven’t scanned through the book determining how many different sources of Morale bonuses there are to various things. But the big obvious one is barbarian rage. With this ability you can shut a raging barbarians strength and Con bonuses down, and that’s awesome. At 10th level, you’re destroying Morale, competence and insight bonuses. That is most of the bonuses, and that’s really awesome.
So this is the real reason to take the prestige class. Is it worth it? Well, I don’t think so. Frustrating raging Barbarians is nice and all, but how often does that really come up? Is it worth taking 5 levels of an otherwise underpowered prestige class to get that ability? This is more something for In fact, I’m so underwhelmed by this that I’m not even going to post a build. If you really think you need this, figure it out yourself.
Making the most of Shatter Confidence:
First, make the most of dazzling display, as above. That’ll get your foes Shaken, and you can shatter confidence the rest of the combat.
Although really, the source of the shaken condition doesn’t actually matter. So here’s where Cornugan Smash, Enforcer, or Gory Finish become helpful.
Saving Slash, Greater Saving Slash.
Fortification, but won’t stack with other sources, requires an immediate action, and works best on melee. Meh.
I’m sure someone, somewhere will be thrilled to have these abilities, but there’s other ways of getting them and they don’t really add much to what we’re trying to do. Utilitarian gravy.
The Aldori Magus:
There’s one other context where the Aldori Sword comes up frequently, and that’s the Magus class. The reasons are obvious. Aldori is a sword style that uses a free off hand, and the magus requires a free off-hand to cast their spells. It seems like a perfect match.
I think Magus makes a fine dip for an Aldori fighter, which I’ve discussed above. I’m a little more skeptical of a pure Magus with no levels in Aldori Swordlord. Without the class abilities of the swordlord, the Aldori blade is outclassed by a scimitar or Rapier for Finesse fighting, and no better than a longsword for strength. There is, however, one possible utility for the Aldori Magus, and it comes from my much maligned Aldori Weapon Mastery.
Spellcasters have a high need to go first in order to get their buffs and battlefield control spells off before the enemy gets right next to them. With that in mind, stacking the Aldori Dueling Mastery bonus to initative with the improved initiative feat, an 18 dex, and the reactionary trait means you’ll be getting a solid +12 to initiative. I still can’t really recommend this build, because it’s only 2 points higher than a finesse Magus could otherwise achieve, and takes 4 extra feats (Exotic weapon proficiency, Quick Draw, Weapon Focus, and Aldori Dueling Mastery) to get. That’s 4 feats in an already feat-starved build. Kensai get two of those as bonus feats, but the diminished spellcasting means they benefit far less from improved initiative than other builds. This isn’t the best build, but if you’re going to give a Magus a specific Aldori flavor and get some mechanical benefit from it, an Aldori Magus is an initiative beast. You can dip into Mastery of Many styles/Sohei Monk for a tad more initiative and a lot more defense, though spellcasting suffers a bit.
Sample Aldori Swordlords
Here are a few sample builds to get you started. Nothing too complicated. I’ll build these up to 12th level, past that you are on your own. I only list important class features and options, leaving other stuff up to you. And I don’t drop stats below 10, Personal choice.
The Straitforward Aldori Swordlord,
This build doesn’t multiclass, doesn’t prestige class, and doesn’t bother with any of the trap builds. It just gets straight to the point. The advantage is that you’ll get full attack progression, all your favored class bonuses, and eventually the fighter capstones. You also get your Aldori Abilities before the other builds. The disadvantage is you have to wait till later levels to get the best parts of crane style, lower saves, and you aren’t making the most efficient use of your feats. Except for the Crane Style feats and their pre-requisites, you can move most of these feat selections ahead or back as desired.
Str 18 (10, +2 bonus). Dex 14 (5), Con 12 (2), Int 13 (3), Wis 10 (0), Cha 10 (0)
Traits: Sword Scion, whatever else floats your boat.
Skills: You’ll want at least 3 ranks in acrobatics, but other than that skills are up to you.
1st: Figher 1 Power Attack, Dodge, Imp. Unarmed Strike
2nd: Fighter 2 Crane Style, Bravery
3rd: Fighter 3 Combat Expertise, Defensive Parry
4th: Fighter 4 Imp. Disarm, +1 Str
5th: Fighter 5 Crane Wing, Disarming Strike.
6th: Fighter 6 W. F. Aldori Sword
7th: Fighter 7 W. S. Aldori Sword, Steel Net
8th: Fighter 8 Crane Riposte, +1 Str
9th: Fighter 9 Mobility, Weapon Training
10th Fighter 10 Spring Attack
11th Fighter 11: Combat Reflexes, Counterattack
12th Fighter 12: Whirlwind Attack, +1 Str or Int (PFS)
The Technique Swordlord:
This build multiclasses into Master of Many styles monk in order to make better use of Crane style. The benefit is better unarmed attacks, better saves, and an extra feat. The drawback is losing the fighter capstone, a level of favored class bonuses, 1 less point of base attack, and you get your Aldori abilities 1 level later. Directly compare this with the previous build: you get all the same tricks (though not at the same time), and a few extra besides.
Str 18 (10, +2 bonus), Dex 15 (7), Con 10 (0), Int 13 (3), Wis 10 (0), Cha 10 (0)
Traits: Sword Scion, whatever else you want.
Skills: 3 ranks in acrobatics, whatever else you want.
1st: Fighter 1 Power Attack, Dodge, Combat Expertise
2nd: Fighter 2 Two weapon Fighting, Bravery
3rd: Monk 1 Crane Style, Crane Wing, Unarmed Strike, Stunning Fist
(Master of Many styles)
4th: Fighter 3 Defensive Parry, +1 Str
5th: Fighter 4 W. F. Aldori Sword, Imp. Disarm
6th: Fighter 5 Disarming Strike
7th: Fighter 6 Mobility, Spring Attack
8th: Fighter 7 Steel Net, +1 Str
9th: Fighter 8 Crane Riposte, Whirlwind Attack
10th: Fighter 9 Weapon Training
11th: Fighter 10 W, S, Aldori Sword, Combat Reflexes
12th: Fighter 11 Counterattack, +1 Str or Dex (PFS)
The Crowd Pleaser Swordlord:
This build multiclasses into Maneuver Master monk in order to get free disarm attempts. The benefit is the extra disarm attempt after every full attack, and removing the need for high INT. We’ll put those extra points into a decent charisma score, which ties into performance combat and Osyluth’s Guile. Your AC when fighting defensively is going to be through the roof (+8 dodge for no penalty!), and between a high check and more opportunities to make if from disarming, you’ll be a beast at performance combat. Stopping an opponent’s attack cold, disarming him, cutting him, and putting his sword in your scabbard is a real crowd pleaser. The drawbacks are the same as the technique build. Compare this with the previous builds: You’re getting extra disarm attempts each round and you still get Crane Style, but without combat expertise you miss out on whirlwind attack. But you’re a Duelist, not crowd control.
Str 18 (10, +2 bonus), Dex 15 (7), Con 12 (2), Int 7 (-4), Wis 10 (0), Cha 14 (5)
Traits: Heirloom Weapon, whatever else you want.
Skills: Perform (Dance), 3 ranks in acrobatics, whatever else you want.
1st: Figher 1 Power Attack, Dodge, W. F. Aldori Sword, Performance Weapon Mastery
(Aldori Swordlord, Gladiator)
2nd: Monk 1 Flurry of Maneuvers, Imp. Disarm, Unarmed Strike, Stunning Fist
3rd: Fighter 2 Crane Style, Equipment Trick (Scabbard), Fame
4th: Fighter 3 Defensive Parry, +1 Str
5th: Fighter 4 Mobility, W. S. Aldori Sword
6th: Fighter 5 Disarming Strike.
7th: Fighter 6 Crane Wing, Spring Attack
8th: Fighter 7 Steel Net, +1 Str
9th: Fighter 8 Crane Riposte, Osyluth’s Guile
10th: Fighter 9 Weapon Training
11th Fighter 10 Two Weapon Fighting, Combat Reflexes.
12th Fighter 11: Counterattack, +1 Str or Dex (PFS)
The Retribution Swordlord:
This is a Finesse build, primarily because we want to maximise the number of AoOs we can take. If you insist on making a Dex-based Aldori, this is how you do it right. The idea is that anyone who attacks you is going to have to eat an AoO to do so. This is a more defensive build than the previous two, but hopefully gets the damage in with all those provoked attacks. To get this trick going, though, we had to sacrifice Spring Attack and Whirlwind Attack. I’d make getting those a priority if you go beyond 12th level. Master of many styles is required here, otherwise you can’t mix Crane and Snake Styles.
A special note: ask your GM if Crane Wing’s deflection will trigger Snake Fang. By RAW it’s a bit unclear if deflection is a miss or a “hit that causes no damage.” If he says yes, this build is a lot more powerful at lower levels. You might even skip getting Crane Riposte (though I’d get it anyway, I’d rather take an AoO with my sword where possible, and I want the -1 penalty for defensive fighting for those times I can’t take a full round attack action.)
Human or Half-Elf w/ Ancestral arms to get E.W.P. Aldori sword.
Str 14 (5), Dex 19 (13, +2 bonus), Con 12 (2), Int 10 (0), Wis 10 (0), Cha 10 (0)
Traits: Sword Scion, whatever else you want.
Skills: 3 ranks in acrobatics, Max ranks in sense motive, whatever else you want.
1st: Fighter 1 Weapon Finesse, Dodge, E.W.P. (Aldori Swordlord)
2nd: Fighter 2 Combat Reflexes, Bravery
3rd: Monk 1 Snake Style, Snake Fang, Unarmed Strike, Stunning Fist
(Master of Many styles)
4th: Fighter 3 Defensive Parry, +1 Dex
5th: Fighter 4 Lunge, Crane Style
6th: Fighter 5 Disarming Strike
7th: Fighter 6 Power Attack, Crane Wing
8th: Fighter 7 Steel Net, +1 Dex
9th: Fighter 8 W. F Aldori Sword, Crane Riposte
10th: Fighter 9 Weapon Training
11th: Fighter 10 W, S, Aldori Sword, Two Weapon Fighting
12th: Fighter 11 Counterattack, +1 Dex