Neverwinter Nights Character Build Guide
Scope and purpose:
This is for people who have just bought the game, or who have played around with a handful of builds that sort of work, and are trying to make more effective character builds. It is meant to be clear and concise and as brief as possible. There are so many features to each character class that the build possibilities can be overwhelming, especially if you aren't already familiar with the Dungeons and Dragons (currently up to edition 3.5) tabletop roleplaying game.
As an aside, I don't know jack about player vs. player builds. If you
are a beginner wanting to do PvP, it certainly can't hurt to read this
guide, but you'll want to go elsewhere for PVP-specific information.
The generalist vs. the specialist
You can make a character who does one thing extraordinarily well, and everything else poorly; at the other end of the spectrum is the character who can do a little bit of everything, but nothing with any real skill. The specialist suffers when soloing, and the generalist suffers when faced with any challenges that are really tough.
On the Neverwinter forums, it is generally acknowledged that specialists who have their blind spots covered are the strongest builds. For example, in a build that is all combat with no spellcasting, it's likely that the character's Will saves will be abyssmal. To compensate, one might dump extra skill points into Spellcraft (every 5 ranks, including your INT ability bonus, gives you a +1 to saving throws vs spells), take feats like Iron Will, and keep an eye out for equipment that increases Will saves and provides spell resistance.
A character build that does two things reasonably well, with
blind spots covered, is also a strong build, just as strong as a
one-trick-pony specialist if their two areas of focus compliment each other.
An example of this is a character built around both melee and spellcasting,
commonly known as a 'spellsword' although a variety of weapons are used, who
can cast buffing spells before a battle to make themselves into incredible
melee or ranged attackers.
Single-class character builds
While there's nothing wrong with trying this, single-class builds tend to be eclipsed by multiclass builds, in some part because of the many prestige classes that are similar to, but have several advantegous differences from, the normal classes. Rogue/Shadowdancer and Fighter/Weaponmaster are two combinations that demonstrate this. So even if you want only one normal class, check out the prestige classes and see if adding some - or a lot - of prestige levels would make your build more powerful.
Single-class builds are good for playing your very first NWN character. This lets you get familiar with the game mechanics without having to worry about complimentary classes, multiclassing XP penalties, when to take levels in which class, etc. You can always add a prestige class later in the game, if you like.
Multi-class character builds
The thing to do here is pick classes, both normal and prestige, that
complement each other and provide means to cover the build's weaknesses.
Levels in prestige classes do not count towards figuring xp penalties for
Level progression for multi-class character builds
The base attack bonus (BAB), base saves, and bonus feats (if any) go up at different rates for different classes - until level 21 (the total number of levels your character has in all classes), whereupon the BAB and saves are the same for all classes (check the table called Epic Level Advancement in the game manual). This means that your ending BAB and base saves are determined by your mix of classes in the first 20 levels.
Look at the Base Saves and Base Attacks for All Classes table in the manual. The classes come in three groups for purposes of BAB. The first and most melee-oriented group gets a +1 BAB every level. The second, less melee-oriented group gets a +1 BAB every three levels out of four. The third group, containing heavy spellcasters, gets a +1 BAB every one level out of two.
It is most adventagous to your attack bonus to take levels in the second group of classes in multiples of four (and the third group in multiples of two). This may result in an XP penalty depending on your race, but many players consider it worth it. Example: 16 levels of Fighter and 4 levels of Rogue will give you a combined BAB on your first attack of +19, whereas 15 levels of Fighter and 5 levels of Rogue will give you +18 and only three attacks.
Also, you don't gain additional attacks per round after level 20. You get them according to what your combined AB for the first attack per round is; you get an extra at +6, +11, and +16.
Saves are a little more complicated but a little less important than BAB.
Also there are tradeoffs for the BAB, such as number of skill points earned
by a total level of 20.
Any racial bonuses should complement your build. The things to pay
attention to here are ability score modifiers, favored class (levels in this
class don't count towards determining multiclassing XP penalties), and any
bonus feats or proficiencies. Other stuff is mostly icing, and in many cases
the manual doesn't even tell you what some of it means in terms of game
Focus your build on one or two ability scores
Here's where you start to play with numbers. Whatever one or two things
your character does well will be tied primarily to one or two ability
scores. If it's just one, you need to max it over the course of your build
with your bonus ability points (1 every four levels for a total of 10 for a
40th level character) and the epic feat Great <ability>, which can be
taken multiple times, each one granting +1 to the ability score. If there
are two important ability scores to your build, decide on the minimum
starting and ending points needed in both of them in order for the build to
be effective, then play around with any extra points you have or can get
through feats, if any.
End your ability scores on even numbers
Your ability score bonuses change with the even numbers. Ending (at
level 20 or 40 or however far out you're projecting the build) with a STR of
19 and a DEX of 19 is a waste. You'll get another +1 in one of these by
leaving one at 18 and taking the other to 20.
Some skills are practically useless in NWN (the module can't dynamically adjust itself to provide roleplaying opportunities for your skillset), some are useless for come classes, some are useless for some modules, some are vital to some types of character builds, and some are for covering a build's blind spots.
Try not to dump too many points into cross-class skills, which take two points for one rank instead of one for one. Most builds, you'll use up 75-100% of your skill points maxing the class skills important to your build anyways.
Important and vital skills
If I don't mention it here, it's because I think it is of dubious value, or only worthwhile in certain modules. Note that some skills not mentioned may be requirements for prestige classes or feats that are worthwhile.
Concentration - vital to spellcasters.
Discipline - vital to melee combat builds (max it). If you're taking levels in a class that has this as a class skill, dump a significant number of points into it.
Heal - if you can't cast spells that remove disease and poison, 3-5 points in this are incredibly useful at low levels, since it's an affordable way to cure such ailments, not to mention restoring hit points on the side.
Hide - vital to Rogues in almost all builds.
Listen - you need at least a few points in this to avoid blundering into monsters.
Lore - lets you identify items while out of town if you don't want to waste the spell slots or can't cast the ident spell in the first place. Nerf it (keep it low) if it's easy to get back to town and you have the gold to spend.
Move Silently - vital to Rogues in almost all builds.
Open Lock - if you don't have a strength-based build or if you're in a module in which breaking open a chest results in breaking what's inside it, points here are good if you can afford it. Knock spells will also work, as will some of the Wizard and Sorcerer familiars and some henchmen. Or another party member if you're playing with a known group.
Perform - vital to many Bard builds.
Search - you need this to detect traps. It's not vital, and characters with a lot of hit points can shrug off trap damage, but if you're playing a char who can disarm traps, this is a necessity. In some modules there are a lot of secret doors you can see with this skill.
Set Trap - an important secondary skill to many builds with Rogue.
Spellcraft - a successful check is required if you want to attempt a counterspell. Nice to know what spells are being thrown by your enemies, and most important of all, for every 5 ranks you get +1 to saves vs. spells. The last bit is important to character builds that are not heavy on spellcasting. It will eat up skillpoints in builds with no spellcasting levels at all, but many people think it's worth it.
Spot - you need at least a few points in this to avoid blundering into monsters.
Tumble - lets you try to avoid attacks of opportunity, a valuable skill to many builds. Even more valuable is the +1 to Armor Class for every five ranks in this skill. Many builds max this skill or dump significant points into it.
Use Magic Device - an awesome skill of Bards and Rogues,
this lets you use/equip items that would otherwise be impossible to use
because of class, alignment, or race (but not level. :( ). I have maxed
this skill in every build with levels of Bard or Rogue I have ever played.
Feats and feat dependencies
Your feats should, at the very least, support your build. Many builds are made around their feat selections and couldn't function without them. Your feats should be used to reinforce the concept of the build doing one or two things very well, and covering the weaknesses.
Many feats have dependencies, i.e. conditions that must be met before those feats can be selected. They require other feats, certain ability scores, the ability to cast certain levels of divine or arcane spells, and other things like that. Pay attention to these. Also, if a feat requires a certain class (possibly with some other property), having levels in that class and having the requisite property (like a base attack bonus of +4 or greater) aren't enough - you have to be leveling in the specified class when you take that feat.
Later on I may go down the feat list and note which can be used for
certain kinds of builds. For now, I'll say that feats that give small
bonuses to skill checks are a waste. By level 40 you will have somewhere
between 200 and 400 skill points, but only 15 feats or so.
Your spell selection, if you have one, should work with your build. If
your build does melee fighting and spellcasting, you need buffing spells
(stuff you cast before a battle that gives you all kinds of bonuses). If
you want to be able to cast offensive spells while in melee combat, you need
especially need buffing spells to keep you alive (because you aren't going
to be wearing much in the way of armor).
Look at other people's builds
Check out builds taken all the way to level 40 with the character build search engine. Note
that you need to activate your NWN account to do this (it's trivial compared
to the amount of inspiration you can get from this resource). Note also
that not all builds you find will be good ones - read the comments by other
posters before you look at the build, and that will tell you whether it's
worth persuing. If you find something you like, look for similar builds,
and then find the common elements to that type of build. Then try making
your own version.
Test your build
There is a module you can download called The Halls of Advanced Training that lets you level up (or down) any character and then test out the builds, with whatever equipment your heart desires, in a variety of customizable encounters.
There is a character build calculator in the form of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, which I have not yet downloaded due to a lack of desire to pay for Micro$oft Excel, which should be incredibly useful (and faster than the Halls of Advanced Training) for finding out things like just how many feats you get with specific combinations and orders of levels in different classes.