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The Railgun (no, not the peasant kind)


First Post
This is a build I've been working on the past few days just for giggles. It turned out to be both interesting and surprisingly effective, so I figured I may as well share it.

I must admit, I shamelessly based this build on a character from an anime. Namely, this one:

This is Misaka Mikoto, main character of A Certain Scientific Railgun. She uses her potent psionic ability to generate and manipulate electromagnetic forces to shoot coins with tremendous force, a distinctive signature move for which she's given the nickname "Railgun".

So...anyone care to guess how much punch we can pack into as few shuriken as possible with the restriction of using an electricity-focused psionic build? The answer may surprise you!

No, it's not exactly up to par with your typical high-optimization damage-dealing builds, but it's certainly enough to obliterate most level-appropriate enemies, or at least take out a very significant chunk of their health.

Let's build us a Railgun.

Assembling a Railgun

First and foremost, what ability scores does the Railgun need?

Dex is by far the most important stat for the Railgun, providing accuracy and (at short range) power for the railgun attack itself as well as helping her other electricity-based attacks hit. And the extra AC and initiative certainly don't hurt either!
Wis is good to have as much as you can, as it benefits the Railgun's AC, power points, and Will save (her weakest save). It's a distant second in priority to Dex, though.
Con is always good to have as high as you can get for any character, and since all of the Railgun's classes have d8 HD, a high score is definitely helpful. It's probably not quite as high-priority as Dex or Wis, though, since hp is about all it's really needed for.
Str needs to be at least 13 by level 18, but doesn't really need to be any higher than that.
Int is good to keep at least out of the negatives to maintain a decent amount of skill points, but otherwise is unnecessary.
Cha is entirely dispensable for the Railgun. And really, even from a flavor perspective of trying to emulate the anime character as closely as possible, it wouldn't be all that inappropriate to have this a bit below average (a certain teleporter's opinion notwithstanding).

Using a 32-point buy, I'd personally build the Railgun as a human with starting stats of 12 Str, 16 Dex, 14 Con, 10 Int, 16 Wis, and 8 Cha. Stat increases will go to Dex at every level except 16, where it will go to Str instead. Unless the DM rules that item-based ability score increases count for meeting feat prereqs, in which case it all goes to Dex and you just pick up a +2 Str item at some point before level 18. (While this is the ruling favored by the FAQ, the FAQ is not strictly RAW and I know many groups disagree with this point.)
You could also go strongheart halfling, for the Dex bonus and size bonuses to hit and AC, though the Str hit would make getting that 13 Str a little trickier (particularly if the DM doesn't allow items to count). Personally, I prefer the human skill point bonus regardless.
Any other race wouldn't really work unless flaws are allowed, as you really need that extra feat at level 1. Unless you can talk your DM into houseruling Point Blank Shot to be a default part of the ranged weapon rules rather than a feat, and thereby strike it from all places where it appears as a prerequisite -- which, frankly, is probably easier to do than getting permission to take flaws.

Now that we have our base attributes, let's look at the Railgun's build.
LevelBABSaves (F/R/W)FeatsSpecial
1-Monk1+02/2/2Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Power AttackAC bonus, Decisive strike (-2), Unarmed strike 1d6
2-Monk2+13/3/3Monastic Training (Electromaster)Evasion
3-Monk3+23/3/3Weapon Focus (Shuriken)Fast movement +10 ft, Still mind
4-Psychic Warrior 1+25/3/3Dead Eye
5-Psychic Warrior 2+36/3/3Psionic Shot
6-Electromaster 1+38/5/3TashalatoraElectricity lash, Unarmed strike 1d8
7-Electromaster 2+49/6/3
AC +1, Decisive strike (-1), Electricity adaptation, Hand electrified
8-Electromaster 3+59/6/4
Bolt of electricity
9-Electromaster 4+610/7/4Greater Psionic ShotWeapon electrified
10-Master Thrower 1+710/9/4Quick DrawPalm Throw
11-Electromaster 5+710/9/4
Nimbus, Unarmed strike 1d10
12-Electromaster 6+811/10/5Psionic MeditationDecisive strike (+0), Lightning walk
13-Electromaster 7+911/10/5
AC +2, Fear no lightning
14-Electromaster 8+1012/11/5
Decisive strike (2 attacks), Greater weapon electrified
15-Master Thrower 2+1112/12/5Brutal ThrowImproved evasion
16-Master Thrower 3+1213/12/6
Defensive throw
17-Master Thrower 4+1313/13/6Snatch Arrows
18-Master Thrower 5+1413/13/6Power ThrowWeak spot
Discipline focus (Weapon Focus), Quick to act +1
AC bonus

Powers known: Offensive Prescience, one other of your choice
Maneuvers known: Moment of Perfect Mind, Counter Charge, five others of your choice
Stances known: Giant Killing Style, one other of your choice

Notable gear (at level 20):

  • [*=1]Gloves of Dexterity +6 [36k gp]
    [*=1]Manual of Quickness of Action +4 (assuming points from levels must be spent to increase Str to qualify for Power Throw) or +5 (if a Str-boosting item can be used to qualify for Power Throw) [110k or 137.5k gp]
    [*=1]Goggles of the Ebon Hunter (MIC) [18k gp]
    [*=1]+5 Collision Returning Distance adamantine shuriken; eleven sets of four with Bane keyed to types expected to be needed against, and six with Magebane [103k gp]
    [*=1]Dorje of Hustle [4500 gp]

How the Railgun Works

Essentially, the Railgun tries to stack loads of static damage bonuses onto shuriken attacks to be doubled with Decisive Strike, along with a little extra from Greater Psionic Shot and Weapon Electrified (for flavor as much as anything). With the Tashalatora feat, her electromaster levels advance her decisive strike all the way to the point of making two attacks at no penalty to hit (at least assuming the DM is reasonable enough to allow the feat to apply to decisive strike rather than flurry of blows, which DS replaces). The Railgun takes advantage of the fact that shuriken, being considered ammunition, are dirt cheap to get in small quantities even with very extensive enchantment. Granted, shuriken are technically destroyed when used, but most DMs would presumably not apply this rule for adamantine shuriken, given that the whole point of adamantine is that it's nigh-indestructible. Thus, you simply carry around a handful of +N Collision Returning adamantine shuriken. At higher levels, when you have more gold to throw around, you can have a sizable collection of shuriken consisting of a number of different Bane varieties keyed to different enemy types. If you were to invest as much in your shuriken collection as you would in a primary weapon, you could easily have enough different types to have a set of +N Collision Returning XBane shuriken on hand for most any X you come across that you'd really want to pull the railgun on. Maybe throw Distance on them too, because shuriken have piddly range normally.

A large chunk of the Railgun's damage comes from the Dead Eye feat (from Dragon Compendium), allowing her to add her Dex bonus to damage against crit-susceptible targets within 30 ft. While this does mean the Railgun suffers from many of the same restrictions as sneak-attack-based damage dealers for peak effectiveness, the amount of other, unconditional bonuses that can be accrued make the attack retain a reasonable degree of effectiveness even against targets immune to or too far away to be affected by Dead Eye's bonus. The targetteer variant fighter from Dragon Magazine #310 could allow Dex to damage without range restrictions, but since this feature replaces your Str bonus to damage it would not be applicable in conjunction with the tricks from Master Thrower (which do not allow you to apply your Str bonus to damage). Dead Eye, rather than replacing your Str bonus, adds Dex as an extra bonus, and thus should be valid with the Master Thrower's tricks.

Those tricks, by the way, are what really bump the Railgun up from "passable" to "shockingly potent" (pun 100% effective). Palm Throw doubles the damage of each attack in your decisive strike (and this is a real-math doubling, not a D&D-math stacking multiplier, as it actually has you resolve damage twice for each attack), while Weak Spot lets you dump all of your BAB into Power Throw while making ranged touch attacks. Technically. A lot of DMs might take issue with using Power Throw on an attack that doesn't allow Str to damage, in which case you'll probably want to cut Master Thrower off at a one-level dip for Palm Throw and instead take four levels of fighter to get Weapon Specialization and Ranged Weapon Mastery by level 18. It's not as good as ranged-touch Power Throws, but it's still not too shabby.

Finishing off the build with two levels of swordsage loses you a point of BAB, but shore up the Railgun's weak Will save, provides a variety of useful maneuvers, and most importantly, gives access to Giant Killing Style. This stance is one of the few Tome of Battle tricks that can apply to ranged attacks, and while it only applies to enemies that are bigger than you, most things that have huge pools of hp you'd want to railgun through are bigger. And for those that aren't, the Railgun's psychic warrior levels allow her to use a dorje of Compression to make sure the bonus applies.

And speaking of dorjes, with a dorje of Hustle the Railgun can significantly improve the efficacy of her signature attack. At higher levels, she can make two attacks in a round with decisive strike, using Hustle to regain psionic focus as a swift action between attacks thanks to Psionic Meditation and thus apply Greater Psionic Shot to both shots rather than just one. If sustained fire is needed, the Railgun can Hustle to re-electrify the shuriken at the start of each turn after the first. She won't be able to apply Greater Psionic Shot after the first round, since she can't regain psionic focus, re-electrify and fire all in one turn, so there's a bit of a drop in damage after the first shot, but still -- sustained railgun fire!

For targets that don't warrant pulling out the signature attack, the Railgun can also fall back on (electrified) unarmed strikes, electricity lash (which, with two-handed Power Attack as a ranged touch, puts out some pretty decent damage), and bolts of electricity.
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First Post
Test Firing the Railgun

Now, let's look at the output of the Railgun's signature attack at various levels. The calculations here assume our Railgun is a human with starting ability scores of 12 Str, 16 Dex, 14 Con, 16 Wis, 10 Int, and 8 Cha, as noted above, and cannot use Str-boosting items to qualify for Power Throw (and thus must put a point from leveling up into Str at level 16). We will also assume that the DM is not using the optional damage adjustment rules for pyrokineticist variants; even if they were being used, the difference in damage is relatively trivial.

Railgun Mk. I: Prototype
While a basic form of the railgun attack can be attempted from fairly early on, I personally wouldn't consider it a proper railgun until level 9, when it becomes possible to add electricity damage to the attack. At this point, the Railgun has increased her Dex to 18 by level bonuses, and presumably has acquired at least a +2 Dex item. Assuming she's invested in her shurikens as a secondary weapon, a value comparable to a +1 weapon would be appropriate. Two or three +1 Collision Returning adamantine shuriken would be in about the right price range; the Railgun really only needs one, but a few extras wouldn't be a bad idea. Here's how it looks:
To hit: +6 BAB +5 Dex +1 enhancement +1 Weapon Focus +1 Point Blank Shot -1 Decisive Strike
= +13 ranged
Damage: 2*(1d2 +1 Str +5 Dex +1 enhancement +2 insight +5 collision +1 Point Blank Shot) +2d6 electricity +4d6 Greater Psionic Shot
= 2d2 +30 +6d6 (average 54)

Outside point-blank range, the Railgun loses 1 to-hit and 12 damage. The damage loss against targets immune to critical hits is nearly identical, and in fact there is no difference between damage to crit-susceptible and crit-immune targets outside of point-blank range.

...Ok, so maybe actual optimized damage-dealers are trying politely not too laugh too hard at what little sparky here thinks is a lot of damage, but still, you gotta admit, that's not too shabby for just one measly shuriken, right?

Railgun Mk. II: Basic Model

Just one level later, at level 10, the Railgun gets a tremendous boost in power to her signature move thanks to the Palm Throw trick from master thrower. She loses her Str bonus to damage from this, but doubles everything else (including the electricity and Psionic Shot damage!). She will need to use twice as many shuriken now, but since she’s been budgeting for an excess anyway she should have no difficulties there. I won’t go through the full detailed calculations here, since it’s nearly identical to the Mk. I – just a simple matter of removing the Str to damage and doubling everything else. This gives an average damage of 104. However, the drop in damage from shooting out of point blank range also increases proportionally (to 24 damage lost).

At this stage, the Railgun will probably begin budgeting more and more toward improving her railgun attack.

Railgun Mk. III: Rapidfire Model

The next major improvement in the Railgun’s eponymous attack comes at level 14, where both her electricity damage and decisive strike improve. At this point, she’s also acquired the Psionic Meditation feat, allowing for sustained firing of the railgun attack as described above with dorjes of Hustle. Let’s see what her two shots might look like with the improved gear available to her at this level. She should easily have a +4 Dex item by this point, giving her a Dex score of 23, and if we assume she’s budgeting the shuriken as a primary weapon she could easily afford a collection of +4 Collision Returning Bane shuriken of various types – up to 9 bane types, if she gets just enough for a single decisive strike (a total of 36 shuriken). Since she can Power Attack with the electricity lash (now dealing 1d8+4d6 electricity damage plus Power Attack as a two-handed weapon while making ranged touch attacks) and use Bolts of Electricity for general attacking, she can afford to focus more on this more specialized attack rather than investing in a more standard weapon. That many bane types ought to be enough to cover the large majority of enemies that will really need railgunning, so we’ll assume bane is in effect for the calculations now:

To hit: +10 BAB +6 Dex +6 enhancement +1 Weapon Focus +1 Point Blank Shot
= +24
Damage: 2 attacks @ 2*( 2*(1d2 +6 Dex +6 enhancement +2 insight +5 collision +1 Point Blank Shot) +4d6 electricity +4d6 Greater Psionic Shot +2d6 bane)
= 4d2 +80 +20d6 per attack (average 156); combined average damage if both hit = 312

Outside point-blank range, the total damage drops by 56. Losing the Greater Psionic Shot damage after the first round drops the average damage to 128 per attack (256 total) for sustained fire at point-blank range after the initial round.

Over the next several levels, she’ll move up to a +5 enhancement bonus on her shuriken and expand her library of bane types. She’ll also want to pick up Goggles of the Ebon Hunter (MIC) at some point for a +1 competence bonus to hit and damage. If she wants to increase her range, she can add the effect of Horizon Goggles (CM) to her Goggles of the Ebon Hunter (or, more likely, she’ll do the reverse, as the Horizon Goggles are cheaper and also benefit her ranged touch attacks from electromaster, and so would presumably be bought before the Ebon Hunter), pick up Gauntlets of Extended Range (MIC), and get Distance shuriken. Between these three together, the range increment on the Railgun’s signature attack is 40 ft – not exceptional, but sufficient for most combat scenarios.

Railgun Mk. IV: High-Power Penetrating Model

At level 18, the Railgun’s signature move hits its full potential, with the acquisition of the Weak Point thrown weapon trick and the Power Throw feat. By this point she should easily have a set of +5 Collision Bane Returning adamantine shuriken for the large majority of bane types she’s likely to need (between 11 different monster types plus Magebane), further increasing the likelihood that she’ll have an appropriate bane shuriken set on hand. Most if not all of her shuriken could also have the Distance property as well. She should also be able to afford Goggles of the Ebon Hunter by now, giving another small boost to damage, as well as an upgrade to a +6 Dex item, making her Dex score 25 now.
Here’s how the attack looks at this stage:

To hit: +7 Dex +7 enhancement +1 competence +1 Weapon Focus +1 Point Blank Shot
= +17 ranged touch
Damage: 2 attacks @ 2*( 2*(1d2 +7 Dex +7 enhancement +2 insight +1 competence +5 collision +1 Point Blank Shot +14 Power Throw) +4d6 electricity +2d6 bane +4d6 Greater Psionic Shot)
= 4d2 +148 +20d6 per attack (average 224); combined average damage if both hit = 448

The damage dropoff for firing outside point-blank range at this point is 64 damage out of the total (32 per attack). Sustained fire at point-blank range deals 196 damage per attack after the first round, for a total of 392 per round after the first.

By level 20, the Railgun will pick up Giant Killing Style for an extra +2 to hit and +16 damage per attack against any target of a larger size category (ie, the vast majority of high-hp creatures in need of the railgun treatment, and a dorje of Compression can help to get the benefit even more often), an additional point of BAB (which translates to +4 damage per attack with Power Throw), and a Manual of Quickness of Action to get her Dex bonus up to a solid +10. Thus, the level 20 Railgun makes ranged touch attacks at +22 to hit, and deals 4d2 +180 +20d6 damage per attack, for a total average damage of 512 if both attacks hit. Outside point-blank range, the damage is reduced by 44 per attack, bringing the average total down to 424. For sustained fire at point-blank range, each attack after the first round deals 228 damage on average, for an average total of 456 per round if both hit.

If the DM doesn’t allow Power Throw to work with the Palm Throw trick, the Railgun would want to take four levels of fighter instead of master thrower for Weapon Specialization and Ranged Weapon Mastery to crank the damage up. She won’t be making ranged touch attacks (at least not necessarily; this route does free up her level 15 feat slot, so she could take Fell Shot and use her psionic focus for that instead of Greater Psionic Shot if an enemy’s AC is problematic), and the damage bonus won’t be quite as high, but every little bit helps. With this build, the damage at level 20 is 4d2 +136 +20d6 per attack (average 424 if both hit) with Greater Psionic Shot, or 4d2 +136 +12d6 per attack (368 if both hit) without Greater Psionic Shot – not quite as good as with Power Throw, but still quite respectable.

So there you have it. It may be a bit on the modest side compared to the levels of damage optimization you can get with other builds in 3.5, but I’d say anything that can drop a dragon with just four shuriken is still rather impressive, wouldn’t you?