The world of Dungeons and Dragons certainly has no shortage of character classes that blend magic and melee. The Abjurant Champion, Eldritch Knight, and Spellsword are just a few of the many masters of the martial and magical mixture. However, only one of this archetype is good at jumping, tumbling, and speaking some strange language that is the D&D equivalent of ancient Latin. That’s right, the somewhat odd, but actually really cool Suel Arcanamach. The prestige class has it’s roots in the World of Greyhawk campaign setting, where the Suel are some sort of something or other. Honestly, I’m not sure and I don’t think it’s all that relevant. Not because I don’t like the fluff of the character (I actually really like it) but because I usually just don’t really care about the history of fantasy worlds. I like to live in the present of made up worlds. All that being said, the Suel Arcanamach is an interesting class and a real good approach to the fighting spellcaster concept, but an even more interesting approach to prestige classes in general.
See, the unique thing about the class is that they are a spellcasting prestige class that does not need to know how to cast spells to get into the class. It’s probably a waste if your character can already sling spells, actually. The entry requirements for the Arcanamach (I’m making it campaign setting neutral and dropping the Suel) are a decent bunch, but more than anything they take an approach to prestige classes that I rarely see. One of the major problems that I have with a lot of classes is that you just fill some random requirements and then, suddenly, your character begins to develop an entirely new set of abilities. The same is also true of multiclassing into a new base class. Wait, how did my rogue learn to spontaneously cast Grease? But the Arcanamach actually resembles a character that is learning something, that is breaking away from just being a martial character and moving in the direction of acquiring some new skills.
They need a +6 Base Attack, proficiency with at least four martial weapons, four ranks in tumble and jump, and Iron Will. That seems like a somewhat standard, mobile combat build to me. However, they also need (and this is where is gets interesting) Combat Casting, five ranks in concentration and spellcraft, be able to speak Ancient Suloise, and must have read the Grimoire Arcanamacha or studied with someone who knows it really well. Remember, this is not a spellcaster to begin with. You’ve got to take Combat Casting without being able to cast spells! Awesome. Speaking some weird ancient language is sort of a throwaway for flavor, it’s not like it costs a feat, it’s just a language. And since most D&D characters seem to have ability to be tri-lingual or so, it’s not that big of a deal. The spellcraft ranks are a bit tough to swallow for a lot of martial characters, it’s just that very few of them have it as a class skill. And since it will probably be cross class it will also slow down the entry into the class by a level or two.
So what martial class makes the best Arcanamach? The natural assumption is that a character that already has some magic would be the best, something like the Hexblade or Duskblade. The catch is that the Arcanamach does not advance casting the way that most prestige classes do, but rather has it’s own spell list. Therefore, the mediocre casting of the Hex-and Dusk-blades will never get any better. The character that seems to make the most sense, to me, is the Swashbuckler. It has good fighting, doesn’t use heavy armor (which will interfere with the Arcanamach spellcasting), access to some Charisma skills, and also those physical skills that the class needs. The problem is that the Swashbuckler sucks after three levels, so what to fill those other levels before qualifying? This is where the Hexblade comes in.
Swashbuckler 3/Hexblade 3 makes a real good entry into the Arcanamach. For one it can easily meet all of the requirements by 6th level, allowing access to the class at 7th level. But more than that I see this combo making sense. A physical, swashbuckling character adventures for a little while and gets exposed to some of the more magical aspects of the world and begins to develop a taste for magic (i.e. he becomes a Hexblade). Some magical abilities begin to develop but it isn’t until he discovers an ancient tome that teaches him to blend magic and melee that he actually learns the skill himself. And if you wanted to take it one more level in Hexblade you could get a familiar and some first level spells. Not a bad option.
Okay, you’ve finally found a logical way to get your character to be an Arcanamach. After all this, was it worth it? D8 Hit die, medium base attack, two good saves, and 4+ skill points are a nice start. They also receive Charisma based spontaneous casting that advances slightly quicker than a normal progression, which is a good way to make up for the late entry. The spells they get come from the wizard list, but are restricted to Abjuration, Divination, Illusion, and Transmutation. It’s not everything, but there are plenty of awesome options contained within those schools. After a couple of levels your Arcanamach can be casting Shield, True Strike, Protection from Arrows, Blur, Haste, and many others.
They also get a handful of other abilities, none of which are great but all have their uses. Some extended spells, dispelling strikes, and the ability to reduce spell failure in armor.
At the end of the day the Arcanamach lags behind classes like the Abjurant Champion and the Duskblade in terms of power. But it is so much cooler than those, because it actually makes sense as an example of a character growing into a new type of power, which is what prestige classes should be. It’s not overpowered, it lets a character do something that a base class build can’t do, and the requirements mean that you actually need to commit to the build by making some not so great choices. I also really like classes that are self reliant and can actually do the things that they are supposed to do, as opposed to relying on magical items and the party cleric to buff them up. The backstory of the Arcanamach is that they originally started off as bodyguards and assassins, particularly ones that were experts at killing mages. This class seems capable of doing those duties.