The Whirling Dervish
An agile battle dancer who prioritizes maximizing the number of attacks he can make. System (D&D 3.5)
Dexterity is the critical attribute for most dervishes, as the Two-Weapon Fighting feats have hefty dexterity pre-requisites. Intelligence also has a critical value (13+) in order to take the Combat Expertise feat. Strength is important to dervishes for damage since they focus on melee weapons. Constitution is also needed in order to survive long enough to engage enemies and deliver their attacks. Wisdom and Charisma are also useful to any adventurer.
Given the Elite Array the best Whirling Dervish would have ability scores Str: 13, Dex 15, Con 12, Int 14, Wis 10, Cha 8. Rangers, who still need to take Dodge, may exchange their strength and dexterity scores.
Few classes have preferred ability priorities that significantly conflict; those who focus on Charisma or Wisdom (such as the bard, sorcerer, cleric, druid, or paladin) may be set back if they don’t have at least 4 good scores (3 for the path, 1 for the class). Rangers have a special advantage in lessening the dexterity requirement. The preferred ability score arrays for barbarians, bards, monks, fighters, rogues, and even wizards synergize quite well.
- Dex 13+ (15+)
- Int 13+
- Feats: Whirlwind Attack, Greater Two-Weapon Fighting
- Balance, Jump, Tumble, Escape Artist
|Requirements by Class (standard PHB)|
Overall, fighters, rogues, and rangers have the best features for success as Whirling Dervishes. Fighters are the martial specialists here, and their feat access is uniquely suited to maximize their effectiveness along this demanding path. Rogues are perhaps the best suited to this path overall, thanks to their extra bonus feats, and their sneak attack damage can go a long way if they execute properly. Rangers also have an advantage in the feat department, thanks to their Two-Weapon Combat Style, which also lowers their need for very high dexterity to maximize their success on this road.
Wizards and sorcerers both have similar issues with this path; namely that their success anywhere is determined primarily by their spell selection. Wizards have an advantage in the synergy of their ability array, while sorcerers have the advantage in being able to spontaneously and repeatedly cast the necessary spells for success. As usual, when a wizard sets her mind to even this path, she can eventually become a great force to be reckoned with, inventing her own spells if necessary.
Bards, barbarians, and monks all have much that lends them to this archetype. Bards have all of the requisite skills and abilities, and may even find a few spells to round out their act, but their limitation in feats and restrictions on bardic music are their greatest inhibitors to this path. Barbarians’ rage boosts their survivability, damage, and willpower, but the DM may rule that they cannot tumble or balance while raging. Barbarians also have a few class features that go well with putting them mid-combat, such as uncanny dodge, and they can move quite fast. Monks are defined by their unarmed combat prowess, which can certainly work its way into this archetype; their flurry of blows even adds to the drive of this character type, but they lose all of their inherent abilities if they wear armor of any kind.
Clerics, paladins, and druids are all geared completely wrong for this path. Niether their skill sets, class features, or even spells work well in this regard; since none of these serve well to supplement or substitute for the requisite feats and skills.
Humans have a singular advantage in this path thanks to their bonus feat and skill. Elves and Halflings have a less pronounced advantage thanks to their superior dexterity, and grey elves also have better intelligence that can be quite helpful; grey elves and halflings will suffer in terms of damage, and halflings are typically less mobile because of their small size. Half-elves and dwarves do not suffer any specific drawbacks to this path; in fact dwarves’ racial stability may serve them well in this path. The bonus damage that half-orcs get from their improved strength may not make up for the harder time they have meeting the intelligence requirement. Gnomes are perhaps the singularly most disadvantaged as their small size, lower mobility, and decreased damage are not generally offset by any racial features that generally synergize with this path.
The Whirling Dervish doesn’t have any strictly required skills, but there are a few that are highly beneficial. Balance, Jump, and especially Tumble, all increase the dervish’s mobility, which is key. Escape Artist averts getting locked down in a grapple. Perform [dance] may be used (at the DM’s discretion) to attempt particularly exotic maneuvers, or just to synergize with Balance and/or Tumble checks. These should be selected only after choosing any skills demanded by the particular class (such as Spellcraft, Perform, Survival, Concentration, Knowledge, Decipher Script, etc.) Note that classes such as the fighter, paladin, and barbarian do not have any skills that are truly required to be successful in their class, except that paladins are encouraged to develop the Ride skill. Wizards on the other extreme, are required to focus in 3 prior skills just to discover and advance their spellcasting abilities (which are their route to this path) and then must take Concentration so that they don’t lose it all when they get hit. Thankfully wizards usually have high enough Intelligence scores that they can handle most of those skills. In fact, wizards who choose their spells wisely may not even need to make the same checks as other classes would. After achieving a satisfactory rank in the primary skills, a Whirling Dervish can branch out into any skills that will enhance their repertoire; sleight of hand, climb, listen, and profession are all good choices. Class skills should be selected sooner.
1st: Dodge; 3rd: Mobility; 6th: Spring Attack; 9th: Combat Expertise; 12th: Whirlwind Attack; 15th: Two-Weapon Fighting; 18th: Improved Two-Weapon Fighting – or – Exotic Weapon Proficiency [specific].
: 1st: Combat Reflexes; 2nd: ; 4th: Weapon Finesse [specific]; 6th: Weapon Focus [specific]; 8th: Improved Critical [specific]; 10th: Power Attack; 12th: Cleave; 14th: Great Cleave; 16th: Two-Weapon Defense; 18th: Greater Two-Weapon Fighting; . Alternatively, fighters may opt to Focus and Specialize with a particular weapon, or take other feats that generally enhance their combat or defensive capabilities; taking Iron Will to shore up a weaker will save, for example. Acrobatic and Agile are also good choices since fighters generally lack the skills that most benefit this path. Exotic Weapon Proficiency can also be highly valuable.
: 1st/15th: Combat Reflexes; 3rd/18th: Two-Weapon Defense; Fighter alternatives are also useful to the ranger as available, as are general feats that improve survivablity.
The Whirling Dervish may begin with any weapon(s) she is proficient with, and any armors or shields, though she should choose gear that she can tumble with light weapons, armor, and a buckler. A heavier weapon may actually serve a dervish better in her early career, since most dervishes don’t have the high strength that other melee martialists enjoy. Eventually a dervish will want to get twin (light) melee weapons or a double weapon, a mithral chain shirt, and no shield. Early expenses can range from 35gp to 195gp, including the cost of an inexpensive backup weapon.
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 39.24gp to 212.74gp which leaves plenty of gold to even the poorer dervishes, which they can use for room [good] (2gp), board [good] (5sp), rations (5sp), stabling (5sp), feed (5cp), and other upkeep each day (3.55gp+ total per day). Additionally, such a character might consider investing in items that benefit the whole party, or even purchasing alchemical or other relatively expensive items.
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 archetype may suggest the use of twin light blades, any two weapons, or even a double weapon can be used with equal or greater effectiveness.
- The DM may rule that bards cannot sustain their music while engaging in combat maneuvers.
- Wizards, sorcerers, and the like all suffer from an extremely low BAB and thus have much fewer natural attacks, which can even prevent them from taking Greater Two-Weapon Fighting at least until they become epic characters (or else very late in their careers).
A Whirling Dervish essentially wants at least a score of 13 in Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence, as these are the minimum scores necessary to get the basic prerequisite feats, especially Dodge and Combat Expertise. If a dervish belongs to a class that will maximize their feat progression – except the ranger class – she should put a score of at least 15 into dexterity, so that the score will be at least a 19 by the time she is ready to take Greater Two-Weapon Fighting. Since a dervish’s dexterity score will often end up higher than her strength, she should strongly consider just maximizing it and picking up Weapon Finesse.
Tumble and Jump both serve to grant a dervish heightened mobility, which is key for the hit-and-run playstyle. Balance and Escape Artist serve to ensure that the dervish remains on her feet, as opposed to entangled in a grapple or prone on ice. Anything that boots tumble should be looked upon as a welcome boon.
This feat is virtually definitive of the archetype; with a whip or similar weapon, this feat enables the dervish to make up to 20 attacks in one round, if so many enemies surround you, and the number can increase for larger characters (e.g. via Enlarge Person).
When not surrounded by a sortie of enemies, two-weapon fighting is easily the most direct way to gain extra attacks in a given round; better yet, they can all be directed at a single foe.
Generally, all of the listed feats (in the standard progression) are required to give the Whirling Dervish a decent shot at flooding their opponents with an array of strikes.
Perhaps the most iconic weapons for this path are a pair of scimitars. Unfortunately scimitars are considered 1-handed weapons for all purposes including two-weapon fighting and Weapon finesse. There are options to deal with this issue in the extended sourcebooks, such as feats and even class features of certain prestige classes, but if all else fails, there are two possible routes. One is to work with the DM to create a custom feat that would enable the character to treat scimitars (or some similar weapon) as a light weapon, such as an exotic weapon proficiency (akin to that for the bastard sword). The second option is to find a pair (or at least one) that is made from a special material – perhaps mithral – or imbued with magic that causes it to handle as if it were a light weapon. Early on, a would-be dervish should worry more about getting a weapon that will deal damage when it does hit, because her early career will likely see fewer hits thanks to a lower strength score.
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 Whirling Dervish’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. Since the paladin generally lacks any spells to make up for her lacking the requisite skills and feats, spells should be chosen to complement or fill the paladin’s alternate roles. As better spells become available, lesser ones should be phased out when they overlap, such as Magic Weapon and Greater Magic Weapon. At the last levels, spells should be kept based upon who may need them.
Initial combat tactics are fairly straightforward and consistent. Until the Whirling Dervish gets Whirlwind Attack, he engages, attacks, and breaks off, possibly engaging a separate target. The dervish needs to take care that she always positions herself optimally, anticipating responses. In this way the dervish is very similar to a roguish type. Once the Dervish has a significant number of attacks (i.e. 3+) she should try to plan her maneuvers so that she can take a full round action to expend a full attack on a choice target. The same goes for Whirlwind Attack, but the latter also sets up the enemy quite nicely for a fireball or similar effect.
Morgana Swan is a progressing dervish who has now reached 12th level and earned her freedom from the gladatorial circuit, eager to explore the larger world. Because she has learned her techniques in the gladiator arena, she has opted to pick up Improved Two-Weapon Fighting early, in place of Combat Expertise and Whirlwind attack (saving those for her last feats). While searching out an ancient dwarven passage with friends, they come upon a small band of orc scouts, and quickly engage them to prevent their warning anyone else. Morgana capitalizes on her offset position to tumble around the forward orc, attacking him as she passes, and then continue on to the orc cleric behind the first. The total distance comes in at about 30 feet, so she has to take a -10 on her tumble check to move at full speed, but her bonus on the check is at least that much because she’s been focusing in that skill from the beginning (and has picked up whatever synergies or other boosts she can); so she gambles on the roll … and makes it, avoiding all attacks of opportunity (AOs), rising just in front of the orc cleric. On the orc cleric’s turn he moves a 5-foot step away from Morgana, and prays for a spiritual weapon to intercede, readying his own in turn. The orc she tumbled passed also moves up behind her to attack, but misses. On Morgana’s turn, the dervish matches the enemy cleric’s movement, and unleashes all (5-6) of her newly hastened attacks, thanks to the wizard she tagged along with. She does pretty well and the cleric clearly won’t survive too much longer if he’s forced to continue toe-to-toe, so the orc cleric (wisely) withdraws toward some of the other orcs, as they move to intercept. The cleric’s withdrawal would have forced Morgana to pull another fast one just to keep pace, but haste improves her base speed by 30 feet, so she doesn’t have to take the -10 to keep up. Also, the other orcs weren’t able to completely cut off her options, so she’s able to follow the orc’s path, or rather, closely mirror it, flipping over one of the new orcs (attacking from above/behind) and continuing on passed the cleric, now (nearly) cutting off his escape route. Since she didn’t have to take -10, she is able to make the DC: 27 tumble check with little difficulty). Even better, there are now about 4-5 orcs lined up almost perfectly for a lightning bolt that her wizard friend unleashes, seriously hurting 2 of them (one being the cleric), and significantly injuring the other 2. The 4 orcs who had tried to surround Morgana now complete their maneuver, even as the orc cleric makes a break for the back passageway: Morgana’s glancing off of the orc’s mail. Seeing her wizard ally move toward the passage opening and hurl a Melf’s acid arrow, Morgana opts to attack the orcs who now surround her. Being a bit easier to hit, generally, she’s able to drop 2 and almost a third, whom her wizard friend finishes with one of his magic missiles. Unable to see down the corridor, she opts to risk an AO herself to catch the fleeing cleric, only to watch him succumb to the acid arrow before he could even reach another chamber; she listens for a moment, and returns to her wizard ally, satisfied that no further reinforcements are imminent. Together they quickly dispatch the remaining orc barbarian.