Similar in ability and methods to the Cobra villain of the same name, the Mindbender prestige class puts an emphasis on manipulation of all sorts. It is certainly not the most powerful class out there, but damned if it is not one of the coolest.
Gaining to access and unlocking the secrets of the Mindbender is not all that difficult, especially for a character that has an interest in what they have to offer. Non good alignment is a must, as are four ranks in Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate and Sense Motive. It is also required that the prospective Mindbender be able to cast Charm Person and have a caster level of 5th. The obvious choice here appears to be the Beguiler since they actually have the skill points to get what is required, however they actually make pretty poor Mindbenders. Truthfully all full casters do, which we will discuss below in a moment.
I really like this class a lot, but it would require a Mindbender to convince me that the vitals of this class are not among the worst in the game. Ready for this? Poor base attack, two good saves, 2+ skill points, d4 hit points, and spell casting advanced at every other level. That’s a tough pill to swallow, especially the spell casting. (This is the best class that there is, trust me.) Powerful class features can certainly make up for this, the problem is that everything that the Mindbender gets is not as good as the Enchantment spells they are missing out on by losing the spell levels. (High levels spells are a waste of your time.)
At 1st level the Mindbender gets telepathy, usable as much as they want. Awesome. Telepathy is a powerful ability (though not over the top) and in the hands of the right player/character can be a lot of fun and really enhance some role playing. Unfortunately the lure of this at 1st level seems to make this class a one level dip for that ability. Which is too bad because there are some good opportunities for the right character at higher levels. The Mindbender has two signature abilities, the first of which comes at 2nd level and is called Push the Weak Mind. It is essentially Suggestion which a longer range and duration that can be communicated telepathically. Now we are getting into some serious Jedi type stuff. (Like I said, it’s a phenomenal class.) That is actually pretty powerful since it has long range and can be sent right into their head it allows the Mindbender to stay hidden and work their manipulations from afar, free from danger. Or from a crowd. Or from right next to the person. 2nd level also brings a skill boost of ½ the Mindbender level to Buff, Intimidate, Diplomacy, and Sense Motive. It’s good to see that they are not relying solely on their magic as their power grows. I know that the bonus is not huge, but Bluff and Diplomacy are two of the very best skills in the game, so who wouldn’t want some free points in them?
The other signature ability is Eternal Charm at 4th level, which is Charm Person with no duration. In a heavy role playing game, or one in which the PC’s return to areas and deal with NPC’s repeatedly this is a cool ability. Knowing that someone in town is always on your side is nice. Especially if it’s a shopkeeper or an informant, someone who can help out. As the levels increase the Mindbender can have more and more people under his influence. (Like you.) The bottom line is that Charm Person is not all that strong though. I sort of think that at this level a good Diplomacy check can probably accomplish the same thing. I do really like the somewhat arrogant and aggressive name of the ability though.
Other abilities come as well. Mindread, some Dominate, increased caster level for enchantments. (What a plethora of incredible powers. I’m impressed.) But ultimately the lost caster levels rule this out for anyone wanting a real powerful character. So, is the Mindbender doomed to be a one level dip or an NPC, or can it fit into the role of a PC? In the game I am currently playing I am a Hexblade, serving as the secondary melee combatant for the group, as well as the primary “face.” I still have a couple of levels to go before I qualify (caster level 5th is a drag) but I am considering (will be) taking a couple of levels of it. The way that I look at it is that the lost caster levels aren’t going to kill me since the Hexblade casting is so crummy to begin with, and by the time I reach 10th I will have pretty respectable combat skills and can afford to lose a little base attack. I really like the telepathy, the skill boost, and all the charms should work well for me once I use the Hexblade curse on unsuspecting villagers. If I was the main melee character or a full caster I’m not sure I would consider it, but it works with the role that my character seems to be taking on in the party.
In conclusion I think that the Mindbender is a tricky class but also (the best prestige class available to anyone. Why would someone play something else? I have no idea.) one that seems like a ton of fun to play. Much like the Green Star Adept and Duskblade synergizing so well, I think that the same can be true of Hexblade and Mindbender. They just sort of blend well together.