Fist of RazielHello everyone and happy new year! I wish that you all have a healthy 2013 with lots of energy in order to play your favorite roleplaying games.
This year's first update will be to the Paladin's Handbook and it will focus on a powerful prestige class from Book of Exalted Deeds, Fist of Raziel. A free version of the prestige class can be found on the wizards' site, located here.
Fist of Raziel is a prestige class that does not have the power to break certain campaigns (like Emissary of Barachiel), but it does have a strong array of special abilities. The main features are that your Smite Evil ability is greatly enhanced and that in general your paladin chassis (full base attack, good fortitude saves and spells per day) is retained. The class has a strong martial (and since it focuses of Smite Evil, melee martial) feeling and should be perfect for a paladin looking to specialize.
Requirements: Fist of Raziel is generally a very easy prestige class to qualify for. The biggest investment you're making is spending two feats: Power Attack and Servant of the Heavens BoED; the first feat is not a bad choice at all and you need it anyway to get Divine Might CW. Servant of the Heavens on the other hand is an [Exalted] feat which is not that good; you can use it to gain a +1 luck bonus on any one roll or check - the biggest impact that this ability could do to the game is if you use it in rolls involving ability damage, and even then, spending a feat for just a +1 bonus is not optimal. What makes things worse is that you have to use it before you roll, not after. Having to spend a feat slot may be unfortunate, but thankfully the prestige makes up for your loss. Another requirement that you should be aware of is that you have to be able to cast the spell Divine Favor; this should normally be no problem, but your build cannot utilize those alternative class features that trade the Paladin's spellcasting abilities for other bonuses. The other requirements are minor and should not be of any concern - Lawful Good, +6 Base Attack, 5 ranks in Knowledge(Religion) and Diplomacy.
Class Skills: There are no surprises there - the only significant change is that you get Knowledge(The Planes) as a class skill, so make sure that you at least spend a couple of points there. The Handle Animal and Ride skills do not appear in Fist of Raziel's class skill list, so, if you plan on making a character that rides his companion to battle plan accordingly and spend enough points between the two skills in order to be able to make most of the maneuvers listed in the Ride skill without breaking a sweat. Alternatively, you can use an alternative class feature and get rid of your companion, since the prestige class does not increases its power.
Class Features: Fist of Raziel's class features can be summed down to Magic Circle, Smite Enhancing and Bonus Feats. Magic Circle is a very good feature and one of the greatest assets that the class provides; your natural enemies (being Lawful Good) are evil creatures and you're giving your teammates some numerical bonuses to armor class and saving throws if they stay close to you; regardless of your enemies' alignment, a Magic Circle against Evil protects from summoned monsters and mind control. Smite Enhancing class features include stacking your paladin class level with fist of raziel levels to determine your smite bonus and also enhancing your Smite Evil abilities with additional benefits (good-aligned, automatically confirm critical hits, gain the Holy weapon enhancement and deal additional damage to evil enemies). Bonus Feats are Sanctify Martial Strike, Holy Martial Strike and Sunder Evil Item; only the first is an actual feat in reality - Sanctify Martial Strike is a weird choice, since you need to actually have picked up Weapon Focus in order to benefit from it. Sunder Evil Item is one of those abilities that I don't like: from a roleplaying perspective, a Lawful Good servant of the heavens would feel the urge to sunder those items and render them to bits and would not consider selling them for profit; however, the optimization perspective generally frowns upon sundering equipment, especially when dealing with expensive, magical enhanced stuff. Finally, Holy Martial Strike is a very good capstone ability, giving any weapon you wield the Holy enhancement, but does not have synergy with the class's own bonus feat, Sanctify Martial Strike. That is not that much of a loss, since you most probably have to pick up Weapon Focus before you're able to use it, but you do flush another feat down the toilet.
Build Ideas: Use the Charging Smite paladin variant. If you want to have higher spell levels, you can even do something like Paladin 6/Fist of Raziel 1/Divine Crusader 2/Fist of Raziel +9 (increasing divine crusader's spells).