Build (Part 3)

I’ll admit it. I’m a middle-aged white dude. An enlightened one–or at least one always striving in that direction–but I do have my predilections.Melf the Elf

When you’re a game designer engaging in your craft, you often get pulled between two–oft-competing–goals. Make something marketable so you can pay your rent and making something you think is fucking awesome, the market be damned. And typically, because I’m a child of the 70s and 80s, there is a class of characters I think are cool and deserving of special rules consideration.

The elfish fighter/mage is one of them. From Melf the Elf to Arilyn Moonblade of the Forgotten Realms, and on to Elric of Melnibone as well as the dragaerans in the Empire of the Vlad Taltos novels, it just sings to a lot of folks of my generation, and it sings to me. Unfortunately, it never found it’s a firm root in most game systems. It’s a powerful combination and one that most game designers think is the province of mix/maxers that make a mockery of their craft. In the end, usually, when this sort of admixture sees print, it’s rather weak sauce. Middling magic with uninspiring swordplay. There are some sweet-spot levels, lower levels mostly, but I always thought it deserved its own build–a build of choices, but one that could be fantastic to play. Here’s my first take.

Much like the Giantslayer and the Lorekeeper dwarven mechanics, I wanted to do something with this destiny through racial talents, at least as a starting point.  Enter the spellsword.

novice spellsword.jpg

What follows relies on some knowledge of the progression of character in Delve, so take a look below, and keep in mind the various talent categories of Delve, because we are going to hit a lot of them.


The goal was to find a way to mix spellcasting and swordplay: cast a spell, wave your sword around, striking with oomph. This leads me toward a particular class of spells, classics like shocking hand and chill touch. Few sane wizards rely on these spells, but the spellsword would. These spells (and several other ones you can imagine) become very attractive with this build. Get close, zot with a spell, and then smack with a sword becomes a damn good option.

Of course, there’re still dangers. First off, the drain on your action economy toward damage output puts you on the front line more often than not. Wizards, as a rule, have little training in armor, and an excellent Agility only gets you so far. But wizards always have a trick or two up their sleeves.

arcane armor

It’s a good talent, that as you level in wizard allows you to increase your defenses with some sacrifice. Unless you take it at 1st or 2nd level, you may not sacrifice one of your highest mastery spells to gain its benefit, but you will likely sacrifice your second highest mastery spells to shore up your defenses.

But that’s not your only option. You can become trained with other armors.

armor training

You can cast arcane spells in light and medium armor, but it becomes more difficult with heavier armors. Like our Melf, you can strut around in chainmail and even a  wooden shield (as long as you take that Novice Spellsword talent) without risking the sacrifice your spells as you cast them. If you wear heavy armor, there’s always a chance of sacrificing the spell. When you sacrifice a spell, you can’t cast it again until you prepare (this is my version of Vancian/Not-Vancian magic).

But that is not the only path toward a higher defense. Here is another option you might consider if you choose to multiclass a level or more into the warrior class.

fencers grace

The fun thing about this one is that it grants a talent bonus, which stacks with an item bonus (which both the Arcane Armor and Armor Training grant). The price is multiclassing, which costs at least two talents. Of course, there’re other benefits to multiclassing into warrior if you go the spellsword route, but we will get to those later. How you shuffle your talents is the build economy, and with many builds, the goal is to create exciting story hooks for you to latch on to.

But that’s only the beginning. Let’s look a the next destiny talent in this progression.

noticed spellsword

It’s a gamble with each spell, but one without the risk of sacrifice, and the reward of arcane power mixed with martial moxie. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

And that’s just the beginning. There are many parts of the trope to fiddle with, and many builds that come from such simple 19th-century concepts. Dark Lord knows what we could do with catfolk or leshies.

And on that note, see you next week. That’s where things get interesting. On Tuesday, July 2nd, at 5 p.m. PST, I’ll be on GDZ with Zach Glazar and Skeeter Green. It’s a live Facebook show. I’ll share the link on the Delve Facebook page and Twitter before the show so you can listen in to us geeking out about games, both Old School and new. It’ll be a hoot, and maybe you’ll get a sneak peek to the changes that are coming. Just maybe.


Author: SRM

Stephen began working on RPGs in 2000, when he became the RPGA editorial assistant at Wizards of the Coast, working on both Polyhedron magazine and Living Greyhawk Journal. Over the years he's administered the Living Greyhawk campaign, aided in the development of the D&D 3.5 Edition rules, was a developer for D&D 4th Edition and Star Wars Saga Edition, taught numerous game design classes in the Seattle area, and contributed to the Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player's Guide and Ultimate Magic as a freelance designer. He worked at Paizo for nearly nine years as a designer and then senior designer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. He's also the guy who designs the Pathfinder Flip-Mats, Flip-Tiles, and Map Packs. His current credits include Southlands for Kobold Press, as well as Hell’s Vengeance: For Queen & Empire, Horror Adventures,  Villain Codex, and Ultimate Intrigue, Ultimate Wilderness, Pathfinder Playtest, and Pathfinder Second Edition all for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. He was also on the initial design team for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game and wrote Dead Suns: The Thirteenth Gate adventure for that game. He served as the senior designer for the Pathfinder Playtest and the Pathfinder Second Edition Roleplaying Game. Currently, Stephen is a freelance game designer, content writer, and consultant working with various companies when he is not spending time with his family, wrangling kittens, and working on Delve. Delve is a culmination of Stephen's ideas about tabletop roleplaying games over the past 19 years. It's a new look at d20-resolution systems and traditional fantasy roleplaying game design and tropes through the lens of more modern modes of game design. And Stephen sincerely hopes you enjoy playing it because that's the point.

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