Prestige classes are a set of player options from the Dungeons & Dragons 3e DMG and other supplements. They are character classes with a specific set of requirements that a typical first-level character will not qualify for. Thus, they are typically taken as a multi-class at a later time, and can be anywhere between three and fifteen levels big, most being around 10.
The original intent of prestige classes was something like creating a specialty profession for a particular DM's game, with a unique set of abilities not found in the core rules, yet relevant to the setting. In practice, they are really just another way for powergamers to spend all their time optimizing their character sheets so they can have as many kewl powurz as possible. Another downside is that classes with a lot of class features will have these features gimped because of their new features.
They do however serve one useful function: they make it easy to spot munchkins in Dungeons & Dragons 3e. All you have to do is read a player's character sheet. If his list of classes reads like a reject Yu-Gi-Oh monster ("I SUMMON DWARF MONK PSYCHIC WARRIOR!"), then he is a weeaboo munchkin who thinks Katanas are Underpowered in d20.
While they exist in Pathfinder, Paizo's official "twenty-levels in a class" policy has made them more and more rare as time goes by, and the addition of archetypes that change out class features for different ones has largely come to fulfill the same role.
4th edition D&D replaced these with the concept of "Paragon Paths" and "Epic Destinies". In essence, at level 11 - remember, the idea in 4e was that you'd play from level 1 to 30, rather than level 1 to 20 - you get a Paragon Path. Over the next ten levels, you get a couple of new class traits and some new powers. The Epic Destiny worked under the same concept, except with much beefier class traits, including cheating death in various (generally along the lines of "once per day, you get to auto-rez yourself if you get killed") and only one new power.
- 1 Famous, Infamous and otherwise Notable Prestige Classes
- 1.1 Abjurant Champion
- 1.2 Chameleon
- 1.3 Eye of Gruumsh
- 1.4 Exemplar
- 1.5 Frenzied Berserker
- 1.6 Grey Guard
- 1.7 Hulking Hurler
- 1.8 Initiate of the Sevenfold Veil
- 1.9 Master of Many Forms
- 1.10 Master of Masks
- 1.11 Mystic Theurge
- 1.12 Rainbow Servant
- 1.13 Reaping Mauler
- 1.14 Risen Martyr
- 1.15 Sublime Chord
- 1.16 Thrallherd
- 1.17 Ur-Priest
- 1.18 Warshaper
Famous, Infamous and otherwise Notable Prestige Classes
A completely mandatory five-level class for all gishes. Advances Base Attack Bonus and casting at every level, which is already great, but also provides some nifty abilities including burning spells for buffs. Probably has one of the most frustratingly misread abilities in the game at fifth level, allowing the Champion to use their Base Attack Bonus in place of their Caster Level for a chosen class. It does NOT, contrary to popular belief, allow a Champion to use their Caster Level in place of their Base Attack Bonus or allow a Champion to learn higher-level spells.
Can change between being a fighter, an arcane caster, divine caster or sneaky dude daily. It was a little weird to qualify for, needing to be Human, Doppelganger or Changeling with Able Learner and 8 ranks in disguise and bluff plus 4 in Sense Motive and Spellcraft. This basically required at least one level in Rogue (or similar class) if you didn't want to wait till really late to enter or be stuck with aborted class features, since that was the only non-caster with the needed skills in class. It advanced casting at a fairly quick rate, could pick spells from any arcane caster class and had a bonus feat and bonus attribute scores they could change daily, but the cap on spell progression at 6th level spells. It was largely a novelty (though certainly better than straight rogue) and remained so until Factotum was printed 3 years latter. Factotum was not only easy to enter Chameleon with, it synergized extremely well since Factotum could gain extra actions and had all skills as class skills (which Chameleon effectively keeps thanks to Able Learner). Released for free as a book preview.
Out of all 3.5 classes, it's the most difficult port to Pathfinder thanks to how the skill system changed. Able Learner's entire reason for existence is gone so it needs either a different feet requirement. Since having a class skill only determines if you get a +3 bonus to that skill any class can enter it. Since a boost to intelligence lasting 24 hours or longer now gives skill points and there is a feat that gives you skill points equal to your character level, a Chameleon could get any skill they wanted with prep time without a specific exclusion.
Eye of Gruumsh
A ten-level class for Orcs and Half-Orcs who worship Gruumsh. It makes you rage harder than a Barbarian, give some bonuses to (half) Orcs fighting at your side, grants you a neat AC bonus and lets you spit acid at the faces of your foes. Given its requirements (being aligned to Gruumsh, taking out your own eye) are not often what a player character does, they are more often seen as high-level enemies. The most notorious thing about them is that if an Eye of Gruumsh regains the ability to see with its eye it took it loses all of its class features, so if you face one cast Regenerate or other potent restorative magic on it to make it lose all of its abilities.
A 10 level class for Barbarians to either be a motherfucking rampaging god of slaughter, or to have a "DO NOT WAAANT!" moment after finally passing the mandatory DC20 Will save to stop being PCP-bugnuts-insane while surrounded by the corpses of his or her party. It adds Frenzy which stacks with Rage for truly ridiculous Strength bonuses but requires a DC 20 Will save to stop or you'll keep killing anything you see, makes it pretty much impossible to stop the Barbarian when they're "emotional" and allows the character to make his allies also go so batshit nuts for blood that they need to pass that DC20 test to stop. Infamous for two reasons: it functionally changes the party's strategy from "Kill the scary one" to "Point the Barbarian at them and try to bring him under mind control when they're dead", and the possibility a party TPKs itself because everyone is acting like they're on the mother of all Bath Salts rampages. Calm Emotions is a low level CORE spell that is fairly good for putting down the frenzy after the enemy is dead. Hopefully your DM will let the Beserker to voluntarily fail the Calm Emotions Will save.
A ten-level class meant for Paladins who do not like being Lawful Stupid. If you want to play your Paladin as Jack Bauer, breaking faces and choking bitches to protect the innocent, this is where you should be at. Rare amongst prestige classes is that some of the features you get with the Grey Guard stack with your normal Paladin classes, making you suck less at your main job than you would normally. Features include being able to receive the Atonement spell without XP cost, allowing you to fall and get up again like a Necron in a Tubthumping video; being able to use Lay On Hands to hurt people (Lay On FISTS), smiting Chaos and eventually Good and Law as well, with the final bonus being unable to fall as long as you act for the forces of good.
Originally intended as a refinement for the rock-throwing abilities of Giants, the Hurler received noteriety for having an ability that allowed them to throw anything as long as it was within their equip load limit, scaling damage up based on weight. With proper minmaxing, however, the Hurler became one of the most powerful classes in the game, capable or hurling small moons and dealing enough damage to destroy whole planets.
Initiate of the Sevenfold Veil
A seven-level class meant for Wizards who want to become even more crazy powerful. While the class has notable requirements (12 ranks on two skills, meaning you have to be around level 9 before you can take this prestige class). It does not interfere with how the caster gains its levels, and makes them even more powerful. An Initiate gets to cast Wardings: shields they use as personal shields, area shields or walls. These wards can be infused with veils, much like the dreaded Prismatic spells: from fire, acid and lightning damage to constitution damage, petrification, insanity and disintegration. At higher levels the Initiate can use these abilities more often, as reaction to being charged, have her Abjurations become more difficult to dispel, impart two veils on a warding and even cast Greater Dispel Magic infused with the power of the veils once per day, becoming more powerful the more magic effects the target has on it. Work together with your Cleric or Bard to make this more potent.
Master of Many Forms
A ten-level class meant to crank the Wild Shape ability to the max. With is simple requirements (Alertness, Endurance and Wild Shape) a Totem Druid can enter the class at a level as low as 2, or a character with the Divine Minion template can do so at level 3 (because of the +1 LA). Otherwise you can get in at level 6 by obtaining Wild Shape the natural way as either a Druid or a Wild Shape Ranger at level 5.
The main feature of a Master of Many Forms is that you get a lot of different new sizes and shapes you can turn into, with many of them being unique to the Prestige Class. These are as follows:
In addition to a 3/4 BAB and good Fort and Ref saves, the prestige class grants a few other options as well. At level 1 you can talk normally in your shape, in addition to being able to communicate with creatures of the same kind. A third level Wild Shape becomes a move action rather than a standard action, at level 7 you get all the Extraordinary abilities the creature has (often including at-will powers), and at level 10 you get Shapechanger as a subtype. In addition to all of this, the Master of Many Forms also gets one additional use of Wild Shape per level, meaning a total of 16 uses at level 20, or 19 with Totem Druid.
The obvious use to this is that the Master of Many Forms has a tremendous variety of creatures to choose from, not just those formally restricted by type but also by size. Turning into a T. rex and devouring dudes or a Roc and ferrying around your party has a lot of potential, but can leave a player overwhelmed with all the options. The best practice is to make a shopping list in advance so you have on hand what you can turn into.
The problem with this class is the same that the normal Druid has: the Familiarity Question. Some DMs demand that you have seen a creature before you can turn into it. While this is not a problem to some DMs, others will not allow you to shapechange into them because of reasons. The best piece of advice for this is talk with your DM about this before you play a Master of Many Forms, and don't be a dick and try to break the DM's game by turning yourself into Pun-Pun.
Master of Masks
This prestige class looks damn cool but underpowered at first glance, but it can be an excellent way to suprise a DM with its versatile power-set. Particularly the Gladiator mask which grants weapon-proficiency *EVERYTHING*. It's not unheard of for a DM to trick the party into buying a weapon nobody can use, and then the master of masks slips that mask on and wipes the floor with the challenge ahead. Still, while this is sometimes a good one-level dip class in some builds, it sadly tends to be overshadowed by other far superior versatile classes like the Chameleon, Factotum, or even Use Magic Device build Truenamer!
A ten-level class designed to combine arcane and divine casters into a single package. Infamous for being a trap despite sounding good on paper: the Mystic Theurge requires you to take levels in both an Arcane (Wizard, Sorcerer, Bard and so on) and a Divine (Cleric, Druid, Paladin and so on), then the Mystic Theurge allows you to keep gaining levels in BOTH classes. The downside to this is you require to be able to cast level 2 Arcane and Divine spells alongside 6 ranks in Arcana and Religion knowledge spells, putting you at level 6 while only being able to cast as a level 3 class. This means that you'll always lag behind when it comes to casting levels, AND you do not get the delicious class bonuses/feats you normally would receive for leveling up. This puts you at a supreme disadvantage when compared to other classes: your caster level will always be low, you'll struggle with SR, and for most of the game you'll still be stuck casting Glitterdust while everyone else is getting Polymorph or Evard's Black Tentacles. You also suffer a bit from MAD, generally needing to heavily devote to two mental stats to very little benefit.
This class can be very good, but only if you use some sort of cheese to qualify early like the Precocious Spellcaster feat or the Alternative Spell Source feat (from Dragon Magazine) and get their first Mystic Theuge level at lv5. Then with the proper feats to increase your caster level and beat SR, you can make a spellcaster who's only missing one level of say, Wizard spells, but can also cast spells like a Cloistered Cleric of his level-3! In general, it performs best either very early (where any low-level spell can make a difference) or very late (once it's off the ground). If magic being overpowered is due to always having the right spell to solve a problem, though, this class can get very overpowered.
Best put here to compare the differences between the two classes. This is a class from Races of the Wild that also combines Arcane & Divine functionality for ten levels, but this one is SIGNIFICANTLY improved over the Mystic Theurge. You still require the ability to cast level 2 Arcane and Divine spells, however you also need the Trackless step ability, which practically dictates that you have to have taken your divine levels in Druid (though funny combinations of other classes can bypass this). Compared to the Theurge, you still get normal progression with each spellcasting class, meaning you will still lag behind a few levels at top level spellcasting, however you do not sacrifice as many class features as a Hierophant. Your Druid animal companion becomes your familiar and gains the benefits of both, and you still continue improving your wild shape as if you were a druid. Additionally, your arcane spellcasting now ignores spell failure while wearing druidic armour. Finally, as you progress you gain the ability to Channel Animals or Plants... all in all a much better choice than Mystic Theurge if you were already a druid caster.
Also, you can take levels in both Mystic Theurge and Arcane Hierophant at the same time, which with the right build allows you to get 9th level Druid spells AND Wizard spells - Wizard 3/Druid 3/Mystic Theurge 4/Arcane Hierophant 10. Maybe not as strong as a straight build, but you have more spell slots than the party Rogue has daggers. Use them.
Also put here for comparison's sake, this is basically the same concept, just using Psionics instead of divine magic. However unlike the Mystic Theurge this class actually kicks 20 kinds of ass. What's the difference? Well, you don't have any MAD problems since Wizard and Psion make use of the exact same attributes. Psionics is way more suited for raw damage powers due to the rules for enhancing powers, meaning you can save your spell slots for the less explosive but still game breaking spells. And finally, if you're playing with the full or even half transparency rules (Psionics is not effected by anti-magic/dispel magic and vice versa) you can bypass and set up the proper defenses. If there's a downside, it's the fact that this class takes a lot of time to build up power, but it's well worth the wait.
A ten-level class that can give an Arcane caster access to the Cleric spell list. Based on the fake Native American myth about the rainbow warrior, who will defend all life (which was written by an evangelist, and said rainbow warrior is actually Jesus), the Rainbow Servant fights evil and inspire hope and mercy wherever they go. Like a paladin but not an ass and dressed in bright colors. In-universe the Rainbow Servants are the agents of the Couatl, Lawful Good feathered serpents who fight evil, despair and lovecraftian horror all over the planes. By finding their temples in the jungle they will train Arcane casters in the ways of Divine casting and worship of their futanari progenitor sitting on her fat tail all day long.
This class is, using the FAQ, more powerful than intended: the text describing the class says the Rainbow Servant gets new casting levels at EVERY level, netting you the full 10/10 instead of only 6/10. This, combined with the FAQ saying that text ALWAYS takes precedence over tables, means that you get the full package. Fun times! The Portugese translation even makes the table match the text. So at the cost of only two feats (as a Wizard) you get access to the Good domain and Detect Evil at will at level 1, the Air domain and the ability to grow multicolored wings at level 4, the Law domain and Detect Chaost at level 7, capping off at level 10 with Detect Thoughts(!) and access to all spells on the core Cleric list(!!). While this does not give you access to the Domain spells, this makes any Arcane caster FAR more flexible with what it can cast.
The use for the Prestige Class is somewhat limited for Bards and Sorcerers (since you can only CHOOSE the spells when you level, you do not get them for free), the class is rather good for the Wizard. You get a large number of spells to add to the Spellbook, making you a poor man's Archivist. Bring plenty of gold to write all those spells down when you hit the coveted level 10, though. But where the class truly shines is on the Warmage, Beguiler and Dread Necromancer. Since these classes get to pick their spells from fixed lists, this means that they get the full list of Cleric spells added to what they can pick from, immensely increasing their versatility.
A five-level class that improves your grappling capabilities. It also allows you to cast a Sleep-like effect with your bare hands at level 3 and have a chance at outright killing a target by pinning it for three turns at level 5. The downside to this is that the saves for those effects are rather easy to make (Fort on DC10 + Reaper Mauler level + wis modifier). This means that for a good Reaping Mauler you'll need STR, DEX and WIS, meaning that you'll have to be a MAD Fighter, a Cleric or a Monk in order to use this class well. Still, with a bit of minmaxing you might end up pinning dragons to death. Pathfinder adds additional feats, if your DM allows the systems to mix, that allow you to break jaws and such, as well.
A ten-level class from the Book of Exalted Deeds that turns you into Jesus. Well, more or less. You have to martyr yourself and, if you have the requirements (spread over saves, skills and feats) you rise from the dead as a Deathless, aka an undead who does not run on negative energy. They get all kinds of personal defense bonuses and can cast shields. This goes on until level 10: if you gain enough XP to level up after that point you'll leave the world and go to the Upper Planes. No, you can't advance other classes to avoid that. Oh, and if you commit as much as 1 act of Evil (Exalted guidelines), your ass is grass and you get pulled to the Upper Planes for a paddlin'. Most often seen on Monks with the Vow of Poverty, giving them nearly unbeatable touch AC.
A ten-level class from Complete Arcane that lets you gish the fuck out on a bard. A properly min-maxed Sublime Chord build will only actually have like one level of the fairly worthless class itself, but the class opens the entire spellbook (all the way to ninth level spells) with only nine levels, which means you can use other PrCs to make full casters with base attack bonuses that don't look like full casters. GMs won't like it because the class doesn't actually look overpowered on its own, and it's only when you start getting other crap involved that it turns everyday bards into flawless casters capable of doing literally everything. So if your GM is new, they probably won't notice that anything is weird with your build until you cast max level buffs on yourself and charge into a mob of demons slaughtering them all with a bastard sword.
The Thrallherd takes the already broken Leadership feat and builds an entire Prestige Class around it for psions. The requirements are not too difficult: Knowledge (Psionics) 8, Diplomacy 4 (which is a class skill for Telepaths, but with nomral skill point investments this is obtained at the same level as the previous skill), the Inquisitor feat (requires 13 Wisdom), Manifester Level 5 and the Mindlink power. This is an 8/10 advancement class, but what you get for those levels in return is staggering. First off, at level 1 you get yourself a Thrall. This is a cohort of one level lower than you, as long as this level is not higher than the one mandated by your Leadership Score (character level + Thrallherd level + Charisma modifier, maxes out at 25 so unless Charisma is your dump stat you hit it at Psion 5/Thrallherd 10) who is drawn to you through the psychic resonance that you radiate, making them want to serve you. In the same vein you get another Thrall at Thrallherd 10, who is 2 levels lower than you. On top of that you also get a whole horde of Believers: a bunch of low-level NPCs who more or less worship you. Their levels are in the 1-6 range, and at the highest level you can have 135/13/7/4/2/2 of them in order of lowest to highest. On top of that at the odd levels you get a mix of new psionic powers (Psionic Charm and Psionic Dominate if you didn't have them already) and have them be cheaper to cast.
Dreamscarred Press' Ultimate Psionics has a version of the Thrallherd as well, taking the same class and adding a number of features. At the even levels they gain a permanent +2 buff to Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate or Sense Motive (bonuses can stack) and at level 10 they gain an upgrade to their Thralls and Believers, increasing the maximum levels of the first (17 to 19) and greatly increasing the number of Believers to 300/30/15/8/4/2.
Just like the Leadership feat, the Thrallherd is infamous because of its ability to attract large amounts of manpower for relatively little effort. As such, few DMs will allow you to play this, because even with just the Thralls this is a supremely potent class that's nigh impossible to keep track of. If you really want to piss off your DM you point out that it doesn't say that the Thralls can't be Psions with levels in Thrallherd themselves, which means that your class features have class features more powerful than entire classess. But if you do this you have to accept that your DM is going to force-feed you your psionics book.
A ten-level class for Evil characters who want to steal Divine spells from the gods and use them against them. Being some kind of anti-cleric the Ur-Priest has a nice array of spells it can use (Cleric list) and cast (interestingly enough they're not bound by alignment). They also get to Rebuke Undead, get 20 Spell Resistance against Divine spells and spell-like abilities from Outsiders, can combine spell slots into higher level spell slots and at level 10 steal spell-like (no supernatural) abilities from any creature. While it is open to any class that meets it requirements, without some serious weight in Knowledge skills (and Bluff and Spell craft) you're not going to join the kewl kids club.
A meh prestige class that gave a few more options when using shape shifting abilities... unless you had at will shapeshifting. While no player character friendly method for getting that existed at the time of printing, Eberron eventually added the Changeling. A Changeling in this class is hard to kill (+4 con and fast healing 2, 10 if they spend the round concentrating), can reach like Mr. Fantastic and grow any natural weapon they want potentially even as many as the GM will let them (though the limit on changing "body type" in the Changeling's shapeshifting should prevent growing extra limbs or enough tentacles to fill a hentai OVA).