The Axe Thrower
The dwarven archer (System: D&D 3.5)
Strength is important to the Axe Thrower for damage, and for those early days where they also have to engage in melee from time to time. Dexterity is required to hit a ranged target. Higher dexterity requirements limit armor options to the light category, but this only expands the access to the path, since most characters are proficient with light armor, and high dexterity already provides a good buff to AC. Some say a cunning Axe Thrower doesn’t need any armor at all. Constitution is good for survival. Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma are not required for the basic functions of an Axe Thrower, but they can’t hurt.
Given the Elite Array the best Axe Thrower would have ability scores Str: 14, Dex 15, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 13, Cha 8.
Few classes have preferred ability priorities that conflict; those who focus on Charisma, Intelligence, or Wisdom (such as the bard, sorcerer, wizard, cleric, druid, but also paladin or ranger) may be set back if they don’t have at least 3 good scores (2 for the path, 1 for the class). Fighters, barbarians, rogues, and monks all tend to prefer ability scores that synergize quite well.
- Proficiency with a light thrown weapon and a 1-handed melee weapon.
This lone requirement is not actually necessary, as proficiency is not as crucial for this path as others.
This path is perhaps the most open among the classes; because there are no real requirements, virtually any class can take this path. However, some will find it easier than others.
Fighters, rangers, and rogues, can all be scary when taking this path. Fighters are the martial specialists here, and their feat access means that they will hit, hit lots, and hit hard. Rangers are already set for this path whichever Combat Style they choose, since it essentially combines the best of both of them; they merely need to fill in the blanks as needed. For example, if they take the two-weapon style, they get all 3 of those feats for free, which leaves their regular progression room to fill in with Weapon Focus [specific], Precise Shot, and Improved Precise Shot. If the DM allows thrown weapons to be thrown in multiples via the Manyshot feat, the Ranger can instead keep the two-weapon progression, and take Weapon Focus at level 1. Clever rogues can proc their sneak attack damage on all attacks in a given round, though they will generally have to move in between attack rounds to regain the element of surprise.
Barbarians and monks both make surprisingly good Axe Throwers. While barbarians are often thought of as melee-only characters, all this template does is take that and apply it at range. They may not be quite as good at range as melee, but they are not handicapped either; in fact, their rage gives them a unique advantage in the damage department. The fact that it costs them some AC is offset by the fact that they’re not on the front lines. Barbarians and monks both have very good movespeeds which means they can get into position quite easily. If a monk leans toward the Deflect Arrows ability, and then gets the Snatch Arrows feat, they can pump out that many more projectiles in a round. At the DMs discretion, a monk may also be allowed to add his full strength bonus to damage, regardless of which hand the projectile was thrown from – this is the default case with sais and shuriken which are special monk weapons.
Paladins have two signature abilities that are strictly melee, and therefore tend to be ignored or wasted in this path: smite evil, and lay on hands. While the latter is always valuable as a healing tool, the former simply has no secondary use.
Clerics, sorcerers, wizards, and druids all have the same issues. They have nothing that prohibits their success here directly, but like all mage types, their success is limited only by their spell selection. Druids also have a couple of interesting restrictions: 1) their chosen weapons can’t be metal, mostly metal, axe-like, or otherwise offensive to their leafy brethren; and 2) they can’t use weapons while in their Wild Shape.
Bards will likely have a singularly difficult time, since they cannot wield weapons and use their bardic music at the same time; even if their instrument is their voice, the music requires concentration to sustain.
Elves, ironically, may be the best in this vein, since they get a natural bonus to Dexterity, and better vision in dim light. Halflings are a close second for similar reasons, but their penalty to strength and small size hampers their damage potential. Half-orcs by contrast have better damage potential thanks to their above average strength, and humans have an extra feat that is sure to allow them to specialize here just as well as anywhere else. Half-elves and dwarves suffer no mechanical encumbrance to the path, but also have no inherent advantages leading specifically towards it. While the name is very much reminiscent of the dwarvish culture, it perhaps should be noted that the dwarves typically use such ‘archers’ because they invariably prefer melee combat, but those who are less apt to the preferred military position maintain their honor by serving their clan and king in tactical obeisance. Gnomes have a distinct tradition that is somewhat akin to the Frankish Axe Throwers of Charlemagne’s era, though their deficiencies in damage due to their size and strength are not reciprocated by the halflings’ improved dexterity.
The Axe Thrower doesn’t have any skill restrictions; but two skills that greatly benefit the path are Craft [weaponsmithing], and Search, but only after choosing any skills demanded by the particular class (such as Spellcraft, Perform, Survival, Concentration, Knowledge, Decipher Script, etc.) Search is useful for recovering thrown weapons, and craft is useful for replacing lost ones. After achieving a satisfactory rank in these skills, an Axe Thrower can branch out into any skills that will enhance their repertoire; jump, listen, and profession are all good choices. Class skills should be selected sooner.
1st: Point-Blank Shot; 3rd: Far Shot; 6th: Quick Draw; 9th: Rapid Shot; 12th: Two-Weapon Fighting; 15th: Improved Two-Weapon Fighting; 18th: Greater Two-Weapon Fighting
: 1st: Weapon Focus [specific]; 2nd: Iron Will; 4th: Weapon Specialization [specific]; 6th: Precise Shot; 8th: Greater Weapon Focus [specific]; 10th: Improved Critical [specifc]; 12th: Greater Weapon Specialization [specific]; 14th: Improved Precise Shot; 16th: Two-Weapon Defense; . Alternatively, fighters may opt to balance their melee roles in proportion as a backup.
: 1st/12th: Iron Will; 3rd/15th: Weapon Focus [specific]; 9th/18th: Improved Initiative;
The average starting gold for classes best suited to the Axe Thrower archetype is about 140gp.
3 Throwing Axes (24gp), battleaxe (10gp) or dwarven waraxe (30gp), heavy wooden shield (7gp), scale mail (50). Total: 91gp to 111gp.
No adventurer can assume that they will have a tavern room at the end of the night. Assuming moderate weather and climate (no scaling frozen peaks or camping in the rain), the adventurer really needs only the following gear: a bedroll (1sp), flint & steel (1gp), grappling hook (1gp), jug [clay] (3cp), 50ft. rope [hemp] (1gp), sack (1sp), torches (1cp ea.), and a change of clothes [traveler’s] (1gp). Depending on the circumstances you will want to also get a blanket [winter] (5sp), a tent [sleeps two] (10gp), and cold weather clothes (8gp). Total cost: 4.24gp to 17.74 (assuming someone splits a tent).
The grand total in flat expenses ranges from 95.24gp to 128.74gp which leaves up to 45gp (avg) to the wealthier Axe Thrower which they can use for room [good] (2gp), board [good] (5sp), rations (5sp), and other upkeep each day (3gp+ total per day), as well as class specific items such as spell components or thieves’ tools, and even useful miscellaneous gear such as healing potions, alchemical items, and the like.
Belt pouch w/ caltrops (11gp), whetstone (2cp), artisan’s tools (5gp),
Spells listed roughly in order of selection, and according to level (i.e. spells listed sooner should be prioritized at lower levels); note that no spell list is absolute, and spells should always be chosen (when possible) based on circumstances (e.g. if a healing spell is needed, pick that one). Boldface spells indicate final selection for the level, prioritized from first to last. Selection may indicate more spells than possible to cast; this is to help account for bonus spells.
: 1st: 1, 2, 3, 4; 2nd: 1, 2, 3, 4; 3rd: 1, 2, 3, 4; 4th: 1, 2, 3, 4.
- While this type is described with axes; any other thrown light weapons such as daggers, light hammers, clubs, etc. can easily be substituted. With little alteration, other thrown weapons such as javelins can be substituted without modifying the concept terribly; though 1-handed or 2-handed thrown weapons cannot be used two handed, but there are a number of other feats that may readily benefit such a character.
- If a character is not proficient with a suitable weapon, they should replace Far Shot with weapon proficiency for a thrown weapon with a 20+ft. range increment, such as a light hammer or javelin.
- If a rogue can use a bit of magic, he can apply his sneak attack to all projectiles thrown, and likewise if he has enough suitable targets within range for a round.
Most light or 1-handed throwing weapons of significant damage have a base range of 10ft., which limits their max range to 50ft. This feat increases the effective attack bonus for all thrown weapons by more than any other single feat available at early levels.
6th level is the earliest at which characters get a second attack; this feat enables the character to draw throwing weapons (other than shuriken) as if they were ammunition.
At this point the base attacks should be high enough to begin dabbling in two-weapon combat with success; the de facto weapon is a light throwing weapon, which can be used in either hand; this is the natural progression of that usage.
Feats that improve the accuracy, number of attacks, or attack damage are preferred.
The one item that makes this setup work best, is an unorthodox pair of +1→5 distance returning throwing gloves. Useless by themselves, their true power is evident when they bestow their properties on any throwing weapon held; which is a great improvement over trucking 100 axes around, or getting a special set of 10 magic axes, daggers, or what-have-you. The only other semi-reasonable alternative is to get a pair of hirelings to carry and prep the 100 axes.
In general, spells should be selected at first on an as-needed basis, and then they should be selected for their ability to enhance the Lancer’s capabilities.
Paladin: initial spell selection should be utilitarian. A paladin gets spells as a cleric does, which means he can always choose ones according to specific situations. At first the spell selection needs to be geared towards hitting targets and staying alive; later on spells should be chosen to maximize damage while still covering the weak points. As better spells become available, lesser ones should be phased out.
Initial combat tactics are simply “throw and retrieve”. Until the Axe Thrower gets returning gauntlets, he is always bound by a limited number of axes. The early routine works as follows: throw an axe, draw the next one, move toward the first one if possible; throw the second axe, draw the third, move toward the first one if possible; throw the third axe, draw the battleaxe; move to retrieve the thrown axes, engaging as needed; Repeat. When the Axe Thrower has 2 attacks per round available (thanks to Quick Draw), he should have 4-6 throwing axes, and when he gets 3 attacks per round, he should have 9 throwing axes, so that he can sustain his output as he levels. By the time he would have 12-16 axes, he should be looking at getting magic gloves. Once the Axe Thrower gains magic throwing gloves, the tactics greatly simplify. All the Axe Thrower does at this point is throw axes all day long, moving as necessary.
By level 20, a fighter, ranger, paladin, or barbarian Axe Thrower should have 4 basic attacks from their levels, 3 extra attacks on their off-hand, 1 extra attack for Rapid Shot, and at least 1 extra attack due to magical effects such as a haste spell. This does not account for the possibility of using Manyshot to fire multiple axes in one throw, or other class features and abilities that grant extra attacks. The Axe Thrower ultimately wants 2 more axes than he can throw in a round, not including melee weapons, so that his hands are always full and ready for offense or defense.