Roleplaying

Four Fun D&D Character Builds for Power Gaming

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition (5E) is one of my favorite RPGs out there. The system isn’t flawless. Between class options and the inherent randomness of a D20-based system, it has an almost comical lack of balance, leading to the infamous example of the 18 strength barbarian losing an arm-wrestling contest to an 8 strength child. However, what 5E does right is its combat system and character customization. The sheer scale of the system provides an almost infinite number of builds, and I’d like to share four of those builds.

While I believe that any of these builds can facilitate interesting roleplaying, this is a mechanically focused discussion. I provide a summary of what I consider the most important pieces of each build, along with a much more in-depth coverage of what the build does at each level. Now, with that said, let’s get into it.

1. The Bardcher

a metallic minature of a warrior with a crossbow Miniature by Hero Forge

I’ve always enjoyed the fantasy of being a master archer, picking my enemies off from afar before surfing off the trunk of an oliphant as I take it down with a well-placed arrow. To best accomplish this, I took a look at the traditional 5E archer options, from the reliable fighter to the picked-last-for-dodgeball ranger. However, as is D&D tradition, anything a martial character can do, a caster can almost certainly do better.

With this in mind I turned to a class that allows for the most unintended synergy, the humble bard. For those of you who are unaware, 5E bards are full casters that, as they level, have several opportunities to steal spells from any other class’s spell list. In particular, we’re looking at the following spells: Haste, Find Greater Steed, Tenser’s Transformation, Simulacrum, and Wish. Many of these spells are restricted to specific classes, such as wizard or paladin, keeping them balanced. However, balance isn’t something I like to spend much time worrying about, so let’s get this Tensered griffon off the ground, shall we?

Bard takes up the majority of this build’s levels, but I dipped into the fighter and sorcerer classes to gain access to a specific class feature and the ability to attune to several high-powered magic items normally not open to bards. The result is the strongest archer build I have ever seen.

Build Summary

Level Split

  • 1 fighter: Proficiency in con saves, heavy armor, and the archery fighting style.
  • 18 bard – College of Swords: The main selling point of this build, combining spells in unintentionally broken ways.
  • 1 sorcerer – Divine Soul: If you find a powerful arcane caster-only item.

Race

Human (variant). This build needs at least two feats before its damage potential really starts to show through. Picking human gives us one of those at level 1.

Starting Stats

  • Dex: 16 (main stat)
  • Con: 16 (secondary stat)
  • Cha: 13. Only used for multiclassing, this build doesn’t make use of spells that require a high charisma.
  • Wis: 12. Saves are good, and we have the points.
  • Str & Int: 8

ASI

  • Level 1 (racial): Crossbow Expert. This gives the build two attacks using a hand crossbow and the ability to fire at someone attempting to melee them. Combined with the archery fighting style, this gives us the highest consistent damage possible at low levels.
  • Level 5: Sharpshooter. Increasing the build’s optimal range from 30 ft to 120 ft is huge, allowing us to stay far away from danger while still dealing damage. This feat also allows us to leverage our high accuracy (-5 hit for +10 damage) to deal truly absurd amounts of damage.
  • Level 9 & Level 13: Dex +2.
  • Level 17: Warcaster. Warcaster helps us hold on to our buff spells by providing advantage on concentration saves.

Magic Items

While not needed for any of my builds, these are a few magical items that I believe help more than most. I am not including any of these items in my damage calculations.

  • +X Weapon/Armor: More damage and AC is always good.
  • Cloak of Invisibility: Constant advantage is great, giving opponents constant disadvantage is great, and not being targetable by spells that require site is great; this item provides all three.
  • Staff of the Magi: This is the reason we take 1 level of sorcerer, providing advantage on spell saves, the ability to absorb spells directed only at us, and a huge number of spells the staff itself can cast.
  • Insignia of Claws: Gives your griffon’s attacks +1 hit/damage along with the magical property, bypassing many monster resistances.

Level Breakdown

This build revolves around combining the damage output of Sharpshooter with amplification spell effects like Haste, Find Greater Steed, Tenser’s Transformation, and Simulacrum. Prior to level 11, the build is on par with any martial option, making 3 attacks a round with Sharpshooter for upwards of 3d6+42.

Level Features Spells Attack DPR vs AC
1: 1 Fighter Fighting Style: Archer, Second Wind, Crossbow Expert +7

2d6+6 (2 hand xbow)

10: 12.05
15: 8.80
20: 5.5
25: 2.30

2: 1 Bard Bardic Inspiration (d6), Spellcasting

Cantrips: Light, Mage Hand

1st: Cure Wounds, Faerie Fire, Detect Magic, Healing Word

+7 Same as above
3: 2 Bard Jack of All Trades, Song of Rest (d6) 1st: Comprehend Languages +7 Same as above
4: 3 Bard

Bard College (Swords), Blade Flourish

Fighting Style: Dueling, Expertise

Cantrip: Mending

2nd: Heat Metal

+7

1d10+2d8+3 (Heat Metal / 1 hvy xbow)

10: 16.93
15: 14.80
20: 12.68
25: 10.55

5: 4 Bard ASI: Sharpshooter,
Proficiency +1
2nd: See Invisibility +8

1d10+2d8+13 (Heat Metal / 1 hvy xbow SS)

10: 22.23
15: 17.60
20: 12.97
25: 10.20

6: 5 Bard Bardic Inspiration (d8), Font of Inspiration 3rd: Dispel Magic +8 Same as above
7: 6 Bard

Countercharm

College Feature: Second Attack

3rd: Catnap +8

2d10+2d8+26 (Heat Metal / 2 hvy xbow SS)

10: 32.45
15: 24.20
20: 15.95
25: 11.00

8: 7 Bard

1st: Replace Faerie Fire with Feather Fall

4th: Greater Invisibility

+8

3d6+39(adv) (greater invisibility / 3 hand xbow SS)

10: 46.07
15: 35.55
20: 18.84
25: 5.85

9: 8 Bard ASI: +2 Dex, Proficiency +1 4th: Polymorph +10

3d6+42(adv) (Greater Invisibility / 3 hand xbow SS)

10: 51.42
15: 42.89
20: 27.80
25: 6.14

10: 9 Bard Song of Rest (d8) 5th: Animate Objects +10

2d6+10d4+82 (Animate Objects / 3 hand xbow SS)

10: 105.52
15: 76.15
20: 46.77
25: 17.40

11: 10 Bard Bardic Inspiration (d10) , Expertise, Magical Secrets Cantrip: Message
3rd: Haste
4: Find Greater Steed
+10 1d8+5d6+10d4+90 (Animate Objects / griffon / 3 hand xbow SS)
10: 122.67
15: 88.43
20: 54.17
25: 19.92

At level 11 we gain Find Greater Steed, Haste, and Animate Objects. Find Greater Steed gives us a permanent griffon mount that receives any buffs we cast on ourselves, such as Haste. A Hasted griffon has 120 ft of movement, can make 2 attacks and then disengage, or make 3 attacks with a normal move. This combines with up to 4 attacks from the bard riding it. Animate Objects is another extremely powerful option: once summoned, 10 animated bolts provides 10d4 + 40 worth of damage a round, damage that requires at most a bonus action to activate.

Level Features Spells Attack DPR vs AC
12: 11 Bard 6th: True Seeing +10 Same as above
13: 12 Bard ASI: +2 Dex, Proficiency +1 +12

1d8+5d6+10d4+93 (Animate Objects / griffon / 3 hand xbow SS)

10: 130.62
15: 95.63
20: 60.63
25: 25.63

14: 13 Bard Song of Rest (d10) 7th: Forcecage +12 Same as above
15: 14 Bard

Magical Secrets

College Feature: Master’s Flourish

6th: Tenser’s Transformation

7th: Simulacrum

+12

(1d8+6d6+10d12+53) x 2 (Tenser’s Transformation /  Simulacrum / griffon / Defensive Flourish / 3 hand xbow SS)

10: 289.38
15: 250.77
20: 182.53
25: 114.78

At level 15 we can steal 2 more spells, namely Tenser’s Transformation and Simulacrum. Tenser’s provides many combat benefits, the best of which are an additional 2d12 on each damage roll and advantage on all attacks. Like Haste, this buff also applies to our griffon. Simulacrum, on the other hand, is a game changer. It allows us to make a carbon copy of our bardcher, complete with all the same features of the original. The only downsides to this are that the spell costs 1,500 gold to cast, the copy doesn’t regain spell slots, and it has half the health of the original. None of these come even close to the upside of doubling everything the build could previously do. It’s at this point that our caster archer leaves any martial option completely in the dust.

Level Features Spells Attack DPR vs AC
16: 15 Bard Bardic Inspiration (d12) 8th: Mind Blank +12 Same as above
17: 16 Bard ASI: Warcaster, Proficiency +1 +13

(1d8+6d6+10d12+53) x 2 (Tenser’s Transformation / Simulacrum / griffon / Defensive Flourish / 3 hand xbow SS)

10: 290.20
15: 256.91
20: 193.40
25: 122.20

18: 17 Bard Song of Rest (d12) 9th: Foresight +13 Same as above
19: 18 Bard Magical Secrets 9th: Shapechange, Wish +13 Same as above
20: 1 Sorcerer Divine Soul: Favored by the gods

Cantrips: Chill Touch, Control Flame, Mage hand, Sword Burst

1st: Absorb Elements, Shield

+13 Same as above

At level 19 we steal our final 2 spells, and while there are many good options available, I have opted for Shapechange and Wish. Shapechange is an incredibly fun and powerful spell that lets us turn into little things like demi liches or ancient white dragons; no matter how you slice it, the power and utility provided by this spell cannot be denied. Alongside dragon transformations, we grab the Wish spell. Wish is the most flexible spell in the game, even ignoring the “wish for whatever you want” portion of the spell. Being able to cast any spell of levels 8 and lower, such as Simulacrum, without requiring components of any kind, is great. Wishing for a Simulacrum lets us re-up our clone without the time or money requirements. On top of these stolen spells, we also get access to bard level 9 spells like Foresight, a powerful buff spell that lasts 8 hours and doesn’t require concentration. All these features add up to an incredibly powerful late-game character capable of killing enemies like Tiamat in between 1 and 2 rounds.

View the math behind these numbers.

2. Holiest Adventurer

A miniature of a warrior wielding a blue flame crouching behind his shield Miniature by Hero Forge, painting by Sarah Michelle Donovan.

Although 5E doesn’t require characters to fall into explicit archetypes, in practice we see characters broken up into damage, tank, and healer. This build focuses on creating a tank that is proficient at mitigating damage directed toward it, healing any damage it cannot mitigate, and being dangerous enough it cannot be ignored by enemies attempting to bypass it. After much tinkering, I settled upon three classes with both mechanical and story synergy: warlock, sorcerer, and cleric.

This build takes advantage of what I consider one of the best spells in 5E, Spirit Guardians. Spirit Guardians creates a 15-foot area around the caster that damages and slows enemies attempting to enter or stay inside it. The spell is incredibly efficient to upcast, starting at 3d8 and gaining 1d8 per spell level above 3, capping at 9d8 per round to each enemy it hits. This damage cannot miss, only able to be halved on a successful wisdom save, a weak stat on many monsters. This spell by itself makes us a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield; however, it’s definitely not the only trick the build has to offer.

Eldritch Blast is the other main tool the build uses. Without going too deep, Eldritch Blast is by far the strongest damage cantrip in the game. It does force damage, scales incredibly well, and we get to add our charisma modifier to it –  all in all, a great spell. However, on top of all that, it also has the eldritch invocation Grasp of Hadar, allowing our character to pull a target hit by a blast 10 feet closer to us. Normally this pull can simply be used to keep enemies away from our squishier teammates, but when combined with Spirit Guardians, it allows us to trigger the aura damage twice on one target per round, as damage is first triggered when the creature is dragged into the aura and again when the creature begins its turn inside the aura we dragged it into. Alongside these two spells we have access to both arcane and divine spell lists. The lists includes Absorb Elements, Shield, Fireball, Counterspell, Dispel Magic, Aid, Deathward, and many other options that give this character a high amount of flexibility alongside its tanking abilities.

Build Summary

Level Split

  • 5 sorcerer – Divine Soul: Access to the all-important Spirit Guardians, along with sorcery points and other staple spells.
  • 1 cleric – Life: Heavy armor and a bump to all our healing.
  • 5 warlock – Celestial/Chain: Keeping with the holy theme, this grants us three eldritch invocations, our damage cantrip, and a bunch of extra healing dice we can maximize.
  • 9 sorcerer: High-level spells, more sorcery points, and the ability to fly.
  • Human (variant): This build wants several feats to bring its tanking abilities fully online. Human lets us get to that point the fastest without sacrificing any core stats.

Starting Stats

  • Cha: 16. The build’s main stat and the only one we raise to 20.
  • Wis: 15. Secondary stat and a good save.
  • Con: 16. As a tank we need health.
  • Str, Dex, & Int: 8

ASI

  • Level 1 (racial): Warcaster. This build relies on concentration for its damage output and at later levels will be holding something in each hand, making this feat a must.
  • Level 4: Resilience (wisdom). This feat brings us up to 16 wisdom and adds our proficiency to those saves. Your party will thank you when you resist the vampire’s charm effect.
  • Level 10: Lucky. Lucky is one of the most flexible feats in the game. It protects us from crits and gives us a much-needed edge on critical saving throws.
  • Level 13: Cha +2.
  • Level 17: Cha +2.

Magic Items

While not needed for any of my builds, these are a few magical items that I believe help more than most. I am not including any of these items in my damage calculations.

  • +X Armor/Shield: Being a tank, this build wants as much AC as it can find; prioritizing these items is a good idea.
  • Rod of the Pact Keeper/Wand of the War Mage/Staff of the Magi/Staff of Power: These items are all different flavors of the same idea, which is buffing our spell casting and providing some other bonus. Personally I think Staff of the Magi is the strongest, as it does roughly 1 million useful things, but any of these are good options.
  • Amulet of Health: If you know your character will have access to this item, you can completely change this build, dropping starting con for a 16 in dexterity and grabbing the Shield Master feat instead of one of the other ASI. For space reasons I don’t fully map out that variant here, but I play this version of the character in Adventurer’s League and it is quite good.
  • Cloak of Invisibility/Cloak of Displacement: Giving attackers disadvantage is great for any tank, and while the Cloak of Invisibility is strictly better, the Cloak of Displacement is a great option for lower-powered games.

Level Breakdown

Level Features Spells DPR vs AC Spirit Guardian vs. Wis Mod
1: 1 Sorcerer Divine Soul: Divine Magic (good), Favored by the Gods Cantrips: Create Bonfire, Fire Bolt, Guidance, Resistance
1st: Absorb Elements, Cure Wounds, Shield
1d10 (Fire Bolt)
10: 4.68
15: 3.30
20: 1.93
25: 0.55
N/A
2: 2 Sorcerer Font of Magic 1st: Feather Fall Same as above N/A
3: 3 Sorcerer Metamagic: Quickened Spell, Extended Spell 2nd: See Invisibility Same as above N/A
4: 4 Sorcerer ASI: Resilience (Wisdom) Cantrip: Mending
2nd: Misty Step
Same as above N/A
5: 5 Sorcerer Proficiency +1 3rd: Replace Feather Fall with Catnap, Spirit Guardians

2d10 (Fire Bolt)

10: 9.90
15: 7.10
20: 6.91
25: 1.65

3d8

-2: 11.75
-1: 11.40
+0: 11.05
+1: 10.70
+2: 10.35

6: 1 Cleric Life Domain: Medium/Heavy armor/shield proficiency, Disciple of Life Cantrip: Spare the Dying, Thaumaturgy, Toll the Dead Same as above Same as above

Levels 1–5 are spent as a normal sorcerer. Depending on your campaign, you could rearrange the levels to fit what your party needs, but this is how I did it. At level 6, we take 1 level of life cleric. It’s at this point we can start standing on the front line using our increased AC from heavy armor to protect us. The Life cleric’s increased healing is also nice, although its strength will show through later.

Level Features Spells DPR vs AC Spirit Guardian vs. Wis Mod
7: 1 Warlock Celestial Patron: Healing Light Cantrip: Blade Ward, Eldritch Blast, Light, Sacred Flame
1st: Armor of Agathys, Hex
Same as above Same as above
8: 2 Warlock Eldritch Invocation: Agonizing Blast, Grasp of Hadar 1: Arms of Hadar

2d10+6 (Eldritch Blast)

10: 15.00
15: 10.75
20: 6.50
25: 2.25

6d8 (double activation)

-2: 23.50
-1: 22.80
+0: 22.10
+1: 21.40
+2: 22.70

9: 3 Warlock Pact Boon: Chain, Replace Agonizing Blast with Gift of the Everliving Ones, Proficiency +1 2nd: Mirror Image

2d10 (Eldritch Blast)

10: 10.45
15: 7.70
20: 4.95
25: 2.20

6d8 (double activation)

-2: 24.20
-1: 23.50
+0: 22.80
+1: 22.10
+2: 21.40

10: 4 Warlock ASI: Lucky Cantrip: Mage Hand
2nd: Earthbind
Same as above Same as above
11: 5 Warlock Eldritch Invocation: Agonizing Blast 3rd: Counterspell, Replace Arms of Hadar with Dispel Magic

3d10+9 (Eldritch Blast)

10: 23.77
15: 17.40
20: 11.03
25: 4.65

Same as above

Levels 7-11 see us picking up Celestial warlock and Pact of the Chain. Five levels in this class gives us Spirit Guardian spell slots on short rest and our bread-and-butter cantrip. Pact of the Chain is especially useful as it contains a unique invocation that, as long as our familiar is within 100 ft of us, all healing dice rolled to heal us are automatically maximized. Combined with Life cleric’s bonus to healing spells, we can keep ourselves alive through exceedingly high amounts of damage.

Level Features Spells DPR vs AC Spirit Guardian vs. Wis Mod
12: 6 Sorcerer Empowered Healing 2nd: Aid Same as above Same as above
13: 7 Sorcerer Proficiency +1 4th: Dimension Door

3d10+9 (Eldritch Blast)

10: 25.05
15: 18.67
20: 12.30
25: 5.92

8d8 (double activation)

-2: 33.23
-1: 32.30
+0: 31.37
+1: 30.45
+2: 29.53

14: 8 Sorcerer ASI : +2 Charisma 4th: Death Ward

3d10+12 (Eldritch Blast)

10: 27.90
15: 22.20
20: 15.07
25: 7.95

8d8 (double activation)

-2: 34.15
-1: 33.23
+0: 32.30
+1: 31.37
+2: 30.45

15: 9 Sorcerer 5th: Greater Restoration Same as above

10d8 (double activation)

-2: 42.70
-1: 41.55
+0: 40.40
+1: 39.25
+2: 38.10

16: 10 Sorcerer Metamagic: Distant Spell Cantrip: Prestidigitation
5th: Mass Cure Wounds
Same as above Same as above
17: 11 Sorcerer Proficiency +1 6th: Heal

4d10+16 (Eldritch Blast)

10: 37.20
15: 31.50
20: 22.00
25: 12.50

12d8 (double activation)

-2: 52.62
-1: 51.25
+0: 49.88
+1: 48.50
+2: 47.13

18: 12 Sorcerer ASI: +2 Charisma

4d10+20 (Eldritch Blast)

10: 41.00
15: 36.80
20: 26.30
25: 15.80

12d8 (double activation)

-2: 54.00
-1: 52.62
+0: 51.25
+1: 49.88
+2: 48.50

19: 13 Sorcerer 7th: Regenerate Same as above

14d8 (double activation)

-2: 63.00
-1: 61.40
+0: 59.80
+1: 58.20
+2: 56.60

20: 14 Sorcerer Otherworldly Wings Same as above Same as above

Levels 12-20 are spent increasing our sorcerer levels. This gives us more spell slots of higher level to play with, and powerful synergies like regeneration, healing 10 hp per round thanks to Life cleric. Though this build does take a bit of time to become the tank it was meant to be, it’s never weak at what it’s trying to do, and if you’re playing in a campaign that will go past level 10, I highly recommend trying out the triple-holy tank.

View the math behind these numbers.

3. Grapple Bear

A miniature of a druid wearing a helmet with antlers holds up his shield and axe Miniature by Hero Forge, painting by Sarah Michelle Donovan.

I doubt I’m surprising anyone when I say that Moon druids are some of the most consistently powerful characters across all levels. Whether tanking, dealing damage, or casting from their full list of spells, the druid always has options, capping off at level 20 with the infinity-mammoth ability. To spice this well-known build up a bit, I want to focus on a mechanic I don’t see getting a lot of love in 5E: grappling.

Grappling in 5E is much simplified compared to previous editions of D&D. Instead of a separate dimension into which you draw unsuspecting monsters, 5E grappling simply reduces your target’s movement to zero and forces them to move with you. On its own this is not particularly powerful, but when combined with beast-form strength scores and attacks with auto grapples, our druid gains a large amount of battlefield control and helps solve the build’s biggest problem.

The main issue with wildshaping is that our beast forms all have relatively low accuracy compared to other players, especially once those players find magic weapons. To fix this we take the Grappler feat, which gives us advantage whenever we attack a creature that we have grappled. Not only does this allow our druid to do much more damage, but it also keeps that pair of rowdy orcs safely away from our casters by “carefully” holding each one in our giant scorpion pincers.

Build Summary

Level Split

  • 20 druid – Moon: As the name suggests we take all our levels in druid, as the class’s capstone ability is so powerful that no amount of multiclassing can come close.
  • Human (variant): As this build spends most of its time as other creatures, we want as many abilities that carry over to our wildshaped forms. Feats are one of those abilities.

Starting Stats

  • Wis: 16. Main stat.
  • Con: 15. Secondary stat, raised with feat.
  • Dex: 16. Tertiary stat for saves.
  • Cha & Int: 8

ASI

  • Level 1 (racial): Warcaster. This is a front-line build that will want to have a concentration spell up most of the time, which makes this feat a must.
  • Level 4 – Resilience (constitution): As with Warcaster, this feat ensures we can maintain concentration while taking hits.
  • Level 8 – Grappler: Significantly increases our accuracy and incentivizes inviting enemies to our bear hugs.
  • Level 12 – Prodigy (Athletics): This gives our druid expertise in the Athletics skill, doubling their proficiencies whenever they try to grapple someone, making it very difficult for enemies to avoid the hug.
  • Level 16 – Ritual Caster: Rituals, especially Find Familiar, are good; let’s get some of those.
  • Level 19 – Alert: Alert is a generally good feat that will help us go first in any combat encounter.

Magic Items

While not needed for any of my builds, these are a few magical items that I believe help more than most. I am not including any of these items in my damage calculations.

  • Insignia of Claws: The only way I’ve found to give animal forms +1 to hit and damage. If you can get this item for your Moon druid, it is 100% the best choice.
  • Ioun Stone (Mastery): A magic item that can continue giving you its +1 proficiency while you are in animal form.
  • Staff of the Woodlands: Although you can’t use it while transformed, this staff is very flexible and the ability to cast Pass without Trace at will is very powerful.

Level Breakdown

Level Features Spells Attack DPR vs AC
1: 1 Druid

Warcaster (racial)

Druidic

Cantrips: Guidance, Shillelagh

1st: Absorb Elements, Cure Wounds, Goodberry,

Healing Word

+5

1d8+3 (Shillelagh)

10: 6.22
15: 4.35
20: 2.48
25: 0.60

2: 2 Druid Wild Shape, Moon Circle: Circle Form (CR1) 1st: Long Strider +5

2d6+1d8+8 (brown bear)

10: 16.18
15: 11.30
20: 6.42
25: 1.55

3: 3 Druid 2nd: Heat Metal +5

2d6+3d8+8 (brown bear / Heat Metal)

10: 25.18
15: 20.30
20: 15.43
25: 10.55

4: 4 Druid

Wild Shape Improvement (Swim Speed)

ASI: Resilience (Constitution)

Cantrip: Resistance

2nd: Barkskin

+5 Same as above

Levels 1-4 see us turning into a brown bear, providing your party with a tank/damage dealer more powerful than the members of the party dedicated to those roles. The druid can assume these shapes twice per short rest, meaning they will likely have the ability to wildshape in every fight.

Level Features Spells Attack DPR vs AC
5: 5 Druid 3rd: Dispel Magic +5

10d6+9d8+58 (cave bear / 8 raptors)

10: 133.69
15: 110.11
20: 72.54
25: 20.96

6: 6 Druid Primal Strike, Improved Wild Shape (CR2) 3rd: Dispel Magic +7

10d6+9d8+58 (cave bear / 8 raptors)

10: 133.69
15: 110.11
20: 72.54
25: 20.96

7: 7 Druid 4th: Polymorph +7 Same as above

Level 7 grants us the Polymorph spell, allowing us or any ally to become a giant ape, a creature with 157 hp and 6d10+12 worth of attacks per round. As we gain further levels in the class, our Wild Shape also gets stronger. This combined with Conjure Animal’s excellent upcast bonuses provide our druid with a steadily increasing power curve that can dominate encounters.

Level Features Spells Attack DPR vs AC
8: 8 Druid

Wild Shape Improvement (Flight Speed)

ASI: Grappler

4th: Freedom of Movement +7 (advantage) Same as above
9: 9 Druid 5th: Greater Restoration +7 (advantage)

16d6+18d8+3d10+102 (giant scorpion / 16 raptors)

10: 259.54
15: 217.23
20: 142.99
25: 39.88

10: 10 Druid Elemental Wild Shape

Cantrips: Mold Earth

5th: Mass Cure Wounds

+7 (advantage) Same as above
11: 11 Druid 6th: Heal +7 (advantage) Same as above
12: 12 Druid ASI: Prodigy 6th: Wind Walk +7 (advantage)

19d6+16d8+4d10+106 (giant subterranean lizard / 16 raptors)

10: 271.74
15: 230.56
20: 156.07
25: 48.26

At level 8 we pick up the Grappler feat, allowing us to leverage our beast form’s increased strength to gain easy advantage on most enemies, along with forcing them to stay with us. Our ability to do this increases even further at level 12, almost guaranteeing we succeed at any grapple check we make, even against powerful enemies.

Level Features Spells Attack DPR vs AC
13: 13 Druid Proficiency +1 7th: Reverse Gravity +7 (advantage)

27d6+24d8+4d10+154 (giant subterranean lizard / 24 raptors)

10: 385.50
15: 326.12
20: 219.42
25: 65.42

14: 14 Druid Thousand Forms 7th: Regenerate +7 (advantage) Same as above
15: 15 Druid 8th: Feeblemind +7 (advantage) Same as above
16: 16 Druid ASI: Ritual Caster 8th: Animal Shapes +7 (advantage) Same as above
17: 17 Druid Proficiency +1 9th: Foresight +7 (advantage)

35d6+32d8+4d10+202 (giant subterranean lizard / 32 raptors)

10: 499.26
15: 421.68
20: 282.79
25: 82.58

18: 18 Druid Timeless Body, Beast Spells 9th: Shapechange +10 (advantage)

32d6+36d8+4d10+206  (mammoth / 32 raptors)

10: 512.81
15: 437.98
20: 300.41
25: 100.08

19: 19 Druid ASI: Alert 9th: True Resurrection +10 (advantage) Same as above
20: 20 Druid Archdruid 8th: Sunburst +10 (advantage) Same as above

This all leads to the Archdruid ability at level 20, which bumps the number of times we can wildshape per rest from 2…to infinite. This is such a huge increase in power that I am amazed this made it into the game, as no other class’s capstone even comes close to this feature. Archdruid also grants us the ability to cast almost every spell while we’re transformed, allowing our druid to remain as your friendly neighborhood magical mammoth for as long as they please.

View the math behind these numbers.

4. Angry Wizard

A miniature of an elven wizard holding her two staves at the ready Miniature by Hero Forge, painting by Sarah Michelle Donovan.

I feel like a lot of people look at martial/caster mixed characters, or gishes, as inherently weaker than focusing on either individually. A goal of this post is to prove this kind of thinking wrong. The bardcher showed that a caster makes the best archer; now, it’s melee’s turn. To do this we’re selecting the martial powerhouse…wizard, specifically the Bladesinger.

While this build’s damage output is nothing to sneeze at, it’s the somewhat absurd defensive abilities we can achieve that make this one interesting. Unlike traditional tanks, we don’t make the mistake of wrapping ourselves in cumbersome metal; that’s for amateurs. We prefer the comfort of our favorite bathrobe, a pair of trusty rapiers, and our favorite power ballad as we carve our way through the enemy.

The exact abilities we’re stacking are Mage Armor, Bladesinger, Dual Wielding, the Shield spell, Haste, and 20s in both intelligence and dexterity. Bladesinger specifically is an interesting bonus, as unlike unarmed defense it can stack with mage armor. Without any magic items, our AC comes to 31, making us so hard to hurt that even Tiamat will kindly request you stand still so she can hit you.

Build Summary

Level Split

  • 19 wizard – Bladesinger: Wizard is one of the strongest classes in the game, so we’re never mad to have so many levels in it.
  • 1 monk/fighter: If you know you can get items like Staff of the Magi/Power, take monk; if not, take fighter.
  • High elf: Since Bladesinger requires some form of elf, our hands are tied.

Starting Stats

  • Dex: 17. Primary stat, raise to 20.
  • Int: 16. Secondary stat, raise to 20.
  • Con: 14
  • Wis: 10
  • Cha & Str: 8

ASI

  • Level 4 – Resilience (dexterity): Bumps our dexterity to 18 and increases one of the best saves at the same time.
  • Level 8 – Dexterity +2: Increases dexterity to 20 for more damage and AC.
  • Level 12 – Dual Wielding: This feat gives us several important features. The ability to dual wield non-light weapons, +1 AC that nudges our defenses even higher, and the double unsheath/resheath mechanic, which is useful if your GM enforces those rules.
  • Level 16 – Intelligence +2: More AC and our mage spells get better.
  • Level 19 – Intelligence +2

Magic Items

Unlike previous entries this build is much more reliant on the recommended magic items to achieve its full effect, and while I assume that the character doesn’t have any for the detailed calculations, keep in mind that these items greatly enhance its power.

  • Staff of the Magi: A +2 weapon that gives you protection from single-target spells, advantage on spell saves, and a wide variety of spells you can cast without using your own spell slots.
  • Staff of Power: Another +2 weapon that increases your defensive values by +2 and can hit for an additional 1d6 every attack.
  • Bracers of Defense: Since this build doesn’t use any armor, this is a great way to get +2 AC early on.
  • Cloak of Invisibility: With this build’s extremely high AC, imposing disadvantage on the enemy makes it near impossible to hit you, requiring double crits on each attack roll.

Level Breakdown

Level Features Spells Attack/AC DPR vs AC
1: 1 Wizard Arcane Recovery

Cantrips: Mage Hand, Mending, Toll the Dead

1st: Absorb Elements, Comprehend Languages, Detect Magic, Find Familiar, Identify, Mage Armor,  Shield

+5/21

2d6+3 (2x short swords)

10: 9.56
15: 7.63
20: 4.88
25: 1.32

Level 1 presents us with multiple combat options to suit the situation. Thanks to being an elf, we can already dual wield short swords with a constant AC of 16 from Mage Armor. We also have access to Toll the Dead, Fire Bolt, or a longbow for ranged damage options. While none of these are spectacular, it keeps us roughly on curve with other level 1 characters.

Level Features Spells Attack/AC DPR vs AC
2: 2 Wizard Arcane Tradition: Bladesinger 1st: Feather Fall, Tenser’s Floating Disk +5/24 Same as above
3: 3 Wizard 2nd: Mirror Image, Shadowblade 5+/24

2d8+1d6+3 (Shadowblade / shortsword)

10: 15.37
15: 12.55
20: 8.22
25: 2.40

4: 4 Wizard ASI: Resilience (dexterity)

Cantrip: Prestidigitation

2nd: Blur, Misty Step

+6/25

2d8+1d6+4 (Shadowblade / shortsword)

10: 16.74
15: 14.07
20: 9.79
25: 3.87

Levels 2-4 gives us a couple important features: Shadowblade as a powerful concentration spell, more low-level spell slots to burn on things like Shield, and the all-important AC increase that Bladesinger gives us. What makes this AC boost unique is how it stacks with preexisting AC calculations. Normally when a character has access to a feature like Unarmored Defense and casts an AC buff spell like Mage Armor, they have to choose one of those calculations to determine their AC. Bladesinger doesn’t have that issue; it just stacks on top of whatever was already there. This means that, with Mage Armor, our AC becomes 13+dex modifier+int modifier.

Level Features Spells Attack/AC DPR vs AC
5: 5 Wizard Proficiency +1 3rd: Haste, Fireball +7/27

3d6+8 (x3 shortswords)

10: 18.02
15: 14.42
20: 9.89
25: 4.42

6: 6 Wizard Extra attack 3rd: Counterspell, Dispel Magic +7/27

4d6+12 (x4 shortswords)

10: 24.94
15: 19.47
20: 13.07
25: 5.72

7: 7 Wizard

3rd: Water Breathing

4th: Polymorph

+7/27

6d10+12 (x2 giant ape)

10: 46.25
15: 40.40
20: 30.56
25: 17.90

Levels 5-7 are where we pick up our second attack, Haste, and Polymorph. Haste is a great work-a-day combat buff that replaces Shadowblade as our primary concentration spell. Polymorph is a great buff for either ourselves or our party members. Which spell we choose to use is based on how important we think the fight is.

Level Features Spells Attack/AC DPR vs AC
8: 8 Wizard ASI: +2 Dexterity

3rd: Leomund’s Tiny Hut

4th: Fire Shield

+8/28 Same as above
9: 9 Wizard Proficiency +1 5th: Animate Objects, Cone of Cold +9/26

3d6+10d4+50 (x3 shortsword / Animate Objects)

10: 83.32
15: 63.16
20: 41.07
25: 17.91

10: 10 Wizard Song of Defense

Cantrip: Light

3rd: Catnap

5th: Wall of Force

+9/26 Same as above
11: 11 Wizard 6th: Tenser’s Transformation, True Seeing +9/26 Same as above

Levels 8-11 see us gaining spells like Animate Objects and Tenser’s Transformation. Both of these are great damage-increasing options.

Level Features Spells Attack/AC DPR vs AC
12: 12 Wizard ASI: Dual Wielding 6th: Soul Cage, Contingency +9/27

3d8+6d12+10 (x3 rapier / Tenser’s Transformation)

10: 67.46
15: 63.17
20: 51.99
25: 32.46

13: 13 Wizard Proficiency +1 7th: Force Cage, Simulacrum +10/27

6d8+12d12+20 (x3 rapier / Tenser’s Transformation / Simulacrum)

10: 134.93
15: 130.24
20: 109.92
25: 73.99

14: 14 Wizard Song of Victory

6th: Disintegrate

7th: Teleport

+10/27

6d8+12d12+38 (x3 rapier / Tenser’s Transformation / Simulacrum / Song of Victory)

10: 152.88
15: 147.52
20: 124.28
25: 83.17

15: 15 Wizard 8th: Mindblank, Power Word Stun +10/27 Same as above
16: 16 Wizard ASI: +2 intelligence 8th: Antimagic Field, Antipathy / Sympathy +10/28

6d8+12d12+44 (x3 rapier / Tenser’s Transformation / Simulacrum / Song of Victory)

10: 158.86
15: 153.28
20: 129.06
25: 86.23

17: 17 Wizard Proficiency +1 9th: Foresight, Wish +11/28

4d6+8d8+20d12+64 (x3 rapier / Tenser’s Transformation / Simulacrum / Song of Victory / Find Greater Steed (Wish))

10: 196.63
15: 186.38
20: 155.87
25: 103.98

18: 18 Wizard Spell Mastery: Shield, Mirror Image 9th: Shapechange, True Polymorph +11/28 Same as above
19: 19 Wizard ASI: +2 intelligence 9th: Meteor Swarm, Time Stop +11/29

4d6+8d8+20d12+64 (x3 rapier / Tenser’s Transformation / Simulacrum / Song of Victory / Find Greater Steed (Wish))

10: 202.62
15: 192.24
20: 160.91
25: 107.44

Levels 12-19 grant us a steady increase in power, with spells like Simulacrum and Shapechange standing out as both fun and powerful additions to our toolbox. The fact that this build is both a potent melee fighter and a full spell caster gives us a huge number of options to choose from. We can mix it up on the front line, leveraging our good saves and massive AC, or play it safe and launch fireballs from the backline. Thanks to Spell Mastery, we have constant access to both Shield and Mirror Image, and Arcane Recovery ensures we will have spell slots to use for almost every combat.

Level Features Spells Attack/AC DPR vs AC
20: 1 Fighter Fighting Style: Dual Wield, Second Wind +11/29

4d6+8d8+20d12+64 (x3 rapier / tenser’s transformation / simulacrum / song of victory / find greater steed (wish))

10: 212.59
15: 202.02
20: 169.31
25: 113.22

Level 20 is an interesting level for this build, and one I’ve waffled on quite a bit. The capstone for wizards is bad, so we don’t lose a lot by multiclassing to pick up a specific level 1 feature, but which class and when to take the level has been tough to nail down. For this build, I chose fighter for the two-weapon fighting style; if I knew I could get a Staff of the Magi/Power, I would take a level of monk instead. This dip doesn’t necessarily have to happen at level 20, but I felt delaying all my power spikes by 1 level simply for +5 damage per round wasn’t worth it.

View the math behind these numbers.

Treat your friends to an evening of dark ritual murder. In a fictional game scenario, of course. Uncover your lost memories and save the day in our stand-alone game, The Voyage.

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Comments

  1. JackbeThimble

    I thought I’d be using this post to correct you that the Bardcher wouldn’t be able to use their dexterity bonus to damage on their off-hand hand crossbow but turns out the extra hand crossbow attack from crosssbow expert isn’t affected by any of the other two-weapon fighting rules, it’s just it’s own thing. Bravo.
    I’d have to do quite a bit of math but I’m still not entirely convinced that this gives as much burst damage output as a paladin, particularly a Vengeance Paladin who gets Hunter’s Mark early and Haste later on, though it would definitely be hampered by fewer spell slots. Similarly I think a fighter who used Great Weapon Fighting and Polearm master would be able to match or exceed the regular damage output for your bardcher until Level 13 when you manage to max out your Dexterity- since they could use the fighter’s extra ASIs to max out their strength several levels before you could max out your dexterity and so counter-out the extra accuracy you would get from the Archery fighting style which seems pretty core to this build. At later levels they would also be able to get the fighter’s extra attacks so I’m not entirely convinced that this build leaves any martial character in the dust the way you claim (maybe you were just referring to martial archers? If that’s the case I don’t have time to work it all out right at this moment but I think a Kensai monk with a 2 level dip in ranger for hunter’s mark and the Archery style could give you a run for your money). And call me old-fashioned but I tend to prefer relying on martial abilities over a buff that takes me a turn to cast and goes away if I fail a con save at the wrong moment. Even Tenser’s Transformation has a 50+% chance of going poof if you take a half-decent hit. I think Simulacrum is truly broken though so once that spell becomes available I think it all goes out the window.
    I’m surprised That your build passes up a second fighter level which would allow you to get Action Surge- Arguably the fighter’s best ability.

    Generally speaking though it’s probably worth pointing out that ‘Broken’ is kind of an exaggeration here. None of these builds would allow you to be a one-man party, at least not until very late levels when the game kind of breaks for everyone. Each of these builds would be clearly better than a non-optimized build at most of its levels but not enough that it would be likely to completely overshadow everyone else in the party or solve combats with one or two spells the way a 3e or pathfinder character could quite easily. For a game with such a breadth of combat options 5e actually is quite well-balanced.

    • JackbeThimble

      Edit: Lol okay just ignore that bit about the Kensai

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Technically there is no off-hand crossbow, the quirks of the weapon means you just fire the same one twice, no Diablo 3 demon hunter with dual hand crossbows for us =P.

      You are right that, for most of the game, the bardcher build does less potential burst damage than a paladin going all out, but it also uses significantly less resources to do way more consistent damage. I hope to cover a paladin build in an eventual followup to this article, cause they are awesome.

      Great weapon fighter/polearm master is a good combination, as with the paladin I hope to cover a character that makes use of it. However, the bonus to hit from archery fighting style is just too good to overlook. Baring incredibly low AC targets archers do much more damage on average because they can sharpshoot a wider range of targets without missing most of the time. You’re right that a fighter will max their chosen stat before the bardcher, but those bonuses don’t make up for the fighting style, not to mention spells like haste and find greater steed.

      Concentration is an issue, but staying at range with a decent con score is designed to help mitigate this. If you’re really concerned you can always opt to not put a concentration spell up, the build does just fine without casting any spells.

      When designing this character as a level 20 build taking a 2nd fighter level would mean we either don’t get wish or lose the ability to attune to very powerful items like staff of the magi. If you’re campaign is ending at a lower level, that extra dip might end up being worth it. You’re certainly right action surge is great.

      As for what is considered “broken” that’s a very subjective term. I don’t believe I actually use it to describe any of my builds, just how bards literally break game balance by combining spells that weren’t balanced around said combinations. I do think that all these builds are significantly above average power level, and from experience using them they could solo many of the adventures they have played through. Of course the GM could always make a scenario that would stump any of these characters, but by that measure no build is broken, as the GM has unlimited ability to cut a PC down to size.

      • JackbeThimble

        Sorry for using the term ‘Broken’ for some reason I thought I had seen it in the headline or something my mistake.

        I suspect most of my quibbles are based mostly on differences in the types of campaigns I play in (or, more commonly, DM). Since i usually play with tougher-than-normal monsters that are smart enough to recognize and exploit a PC’s vulnerabilities I tend to assume that combat improvements based on buff spells are fleeting since in most combats I’ve seen they will usually be erased by a failed con save in 1, max 2 rounds. From my perspective a level 15 fighter with decent feats is to your bardcher as an AK47 is to an M16. I also generally don’t play to high levels- the highest level a campaign of mine ever got to was 14 and If I’m not mistaken a Martial Class optimized for range combat should match or exceed your bardcher until at least level 11 when it gets it’s magical secrets.

        One minor note: I think that strictly speaking your angry wizard shouldn’t be able to cast spells while dual-wielding if they don’t have warcaster, but the rules about drawing weapons are so vague and confusing that you could probably just sheathe and unsheathe your sword every turn or something silly like that. It might become a problem if you’re using shield after dual-striking I guess.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          It’s certainly a possibility that if the bard is heavily targeted then the concentration spells won’t be as valuable, but even without them the build is a decent archer with a ton of utility outside of combat. If you’re really worried about them then warcaster can be taken before maxing dex to 20. Prior to level 11 classes like the fighter can out burst the bard’s non spell using damage output using things like action surge, but even then the bard has things like polymorph, greater invis, and animate objects, which are all very good damage enhancing spells. None of this is to say a sharpshooter fighter is bad, just that I believe the bardcher is stronger in most situations.

          Yeah prior to taking warcaster you can drop your weapon as a “free” action, cast something, then pick it back up, that whole song and dance is pretty poorly defined in the rules so checking with your GM is important, if they’re more strict in that regard I’d just take warcaster earlier.

  2. Deus Ex Anthropos

    Great article, glad to see there is at least some love for 5e at Mythcreants!

    One point that is always contentious: you need a second LOADED hand crossbow to make a bonus action attack with crossbow expert, and on subsequent turns you CAN’T RELOAD IT WITHOUT A FREE HAND. The errata clarifies that the crossbow expert fear doesn’t turn a hand crossbow into a semiautomatic weapon; you need a free hand to load any weapon that has ammunition, regardless of whether you have the crossbow feat or the weapon had the loading property. (https://media.wizards.com/2017/dnd/downloads/SA-Compendium.pdf)

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      As long as you have a free hand when firing the crossbow you can load it between shots. The bardcher build doesn’t run afoul of this.

      • Deus Ex Anthropos

        I’m sorry, I must have misread.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          It’s a needlessly obtuse set of rules between need to reload a weapon that also has an unrelated mechanic called “loading”, I see people of all skill levels misinterpreting it.

          • goodgulf

            Except the build is saying 2x Hand Crossbow. With a hand crossbow in each hand, after firing one with an attack action, and the 2nd with bonus action, he cannot a) make a 2nd attack with the main hand crossbow; nor reload either hand crossbow for next round, because he does not have a free hand.

            Crossbow expert eliminates the “loading” attribute (pg. 147): “You can fire only one piece of ammunition from it when you use an action… regardless of the number of attackes you can normally make.”

            It does *NOT* eliminate the “ammunition” attribute (pg. 146): “you need a free hand to load a one-handed weapon”.

            Rather, he should be using a hand crossbow in one hand, and nothing in the other hand. That allows the attack action with main hand, the free hand reloads, then he can make a bonus attack with the main hand. Ideally, you’d want to get extra attack from something, and then you could make 3 attacks a round if you commit your bonus action.

            In essence, his level 1 table entry (“2d6+6 (2 hand xbow)”) is wrong, that is not the DPR. that’s the DP/1 round – and then he has an unloaded crossbow in each hand on the 2nd round.

          • goodgulf

            Ah well ignore my wall of text, I realize this is exactly what you are doing – 1-handing a single hand crossbow.

            One more question, why do you stick with heavy crossbow after you get sharpshooter, wouldn’t it be more damage to immediately switch to hand crossbow/2 shots?

            2d6+26 (33) vs. 1d10+2d8+13(27.5) ?

            Also, have you investigated getting some rogue levels in for extra sneak dmg on each shot?

          • Ari Ashkenazi

            Once heat metal becomes an option there are a few levels where using our bonus action for that free damage + the larger damage dice of the heavy crossbow beats out the hand crossbow’s extra attack. My calculations factor in chance to hit and the fact that heat metal can’t miss adds quite a bit of average damage.

            I looked at rogue levels, but getting high level bard spells added way more damage.

  3. Deus Ex Anthropos

    Your grapple build looks like a ton of fun, I’ve never tried grappling in wildshape!

    You don’t necessarily need the grappler feat to attack a grappled creature with advantage, ANYONE in your party will be able attack a grappled creature with advantage once you shove it prone. And when a prone creature is grappled, it can’t use it’s movement to get up.

    If you were to multiclass with this build, barbarian is a great choice to get advantage on strength checks (both grapple and shove) during rage. And an amazing feat for any grapple build is shield master, which lets you shove as a bonus action.

    Most DMs probably won’t let a use a shield, so a good wildshape choice for grappling might be a panther since it can knock opponents prone.

    …on the other hand, RAW you must have a “free hand” to grapple, so a DM might rule that you can’t grapple while wildshaped at all. But it’s such a fun and unique build that I’d definitely let it slide

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      It’s true that shoving someone prone while grappled can be quite good, it does eat another action which is a pretty steep cost IMO.

      Rage bear is great if you feel losing a level of druid is worth.

      It’s always good to check with the GM about what they’ll allow, I’ve never heard of someone saying a bear can’t grapple, but you never know =).

      • Deus Ex Anthropos

        RAW, most animals cannot grapple. The grappling rules require that you use “at least one free hand,” and the wildshaping rules state: “your ability to speak or take any action that requires hands is limited to the capabilities of your beast form.” But you’re right, I’m sure most DMs would allow it by RAF. (And I guess bears kinda have hands?)

        As for shoving, you can do it as a bonus action if you get the shield master feat! Or if you get multiattack (which your grapple build does at level 2!!) then the shove can replace one of the attacks.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          Gotta hug em with your bear hands! If your GM does want to enforce that rule, the build still works with things like the giant scorpion’s auto grapples. It’s especially good with scorp because it’s bonus to hit is so garbo, even compared to other animals.

          Don’t you need to be using your shield to shove? And unfortunately the “multi-attack” action cannot have one of its attacks replaced with a shove or grapple. It’s an annoying distinction I probably wouldn’t enforce as a gm, but it does restrict shove bear a bit.

          • Deus Ex Anthropos

            You are probably right about the limitations of the shield master feat, since you would have to use it to shove, then drop it to draw a weapon. Your grapple bear is a much better build, especially since it doesn’t even need the grappler feat to get advantage!

            In the PHB under the “Combat” rules there are two sections titled “Grappling” and “Shoving a Creature.”  Both of these sections have the same sentence at the end of the first paragraph:  “If you’re able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this Attack replaces one of them.”  Thus, it is completely legal for the grapple bear to take the multiattack option and use the first attack to shove a creature, and then the second attack to grapple it.  All subsequentattacks against that prone/grappled creature will then have advantage (and it has disadvantage on attacks against you), and it can’t stand up until it breaks your grapple!

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          The key, and unintuitive, issue is that “multi-attack” isn’t actually the “attack” action. “Multi-attack” is a special action monsters get. All of the “substitute 1 of your normal attacks for X” don’t function with the “Multi-attack” action.

          • Deus Ex Anthropos

            Thanks for pointing out that a monster’s multiattack is not the same as a character’s extra attack, I actually forgot that.

            So yeah, by strict RAW a character, but not a monster, can substitute grapples and shoves when they attack more than once as an action. I wouldn’t worry about this strict reading too much, since (1) By strict RAW, anything without hands can’t grapple at all,l.
            (2) You really can’t follow a RAW interpretation of monsters’ stat blocks too strictly without ending up in absurd scenarios (There are plenty of monsters who, RAW, can only attack or multiattack with listed weapons. Does a knight not know how to use a spear? Some of these monsters, like the centaur, are even drawn holding weapons that RAW they can’t use!)
            (3) Because of (2), the designers built DM discretion to alter monsters (racial traits, equipment, etc) into the MM. The MM even gives guidelines on making custom creatures based on existing creatures. I would think letting a bear grapple like a PC is well within the intent of these rules.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          I certainly agree that many of these RAW rulings take away from the fun of the game, however I do try to base my builds on RAW, since it’s impossible to account for GM taste. This would sadly preclude the literal grapple bear, but there are enough wildshape targets with built in grapple rules that I’m not too worried about it.

          As a GM I would allow a bear to grapple.

  4. Greg S

    This discussion is very interesting. And it really points up why I stopped playing systems like D&D in favor of less crunchier ones.

    Arguing whether a 200+ lb bear should be able to knock down or wrestle with a human-sized opponent – something they can reliably do in real life – puts a smile on my face. But then again, most games of this style are woefully unrealistic in the way combat works with real life animals.

    I do appreciate that all of the builds seem interesting on a story/role-playing level. And I’m not trying to diss on anyone that enjoys the meta/mechanical aspect of roleplaying.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Dnd is the place I go to tinker highly mechanical rpg systems. While I love games like torchbearer or rising tide, they don’t allow for the downright silliness you can get in dnd.

      People are really bad at conceptualizing how dangerous many animals can be if they set their minds to killing you =P.

      I’m a firm believer that a cool story can be created around any mechanical choice, something I tried to touch upon in this post, I’m glad you liked it =).

    • Deus Ex Anthropos

      DND 3.X had a mechanic for *everything* (this article mentions how grappling was like going to another dimension). 5e has mostly gone the other way, preferring (relative) simplicity to realism and leaving realism to “the theater of the mind” and I guess also “the rule of cool.”

      That’s why the grapple druid has nothing to do with what a real-life bear can do, it’s about with the very specific meaning of “Grapple” in DND.  Grappling someone doesn’t put them on the ground, it holds them in place.  A bear in real life or in the game can easily knock a human to the ground, which is mechanically represented by the “Shove” action, not the “Grapple” action.

      RAW, the only ways to grapple are with a free hand or a special grapple action that some monsters have.  This means, for example, there is no mechanic for a mastiff to bite a human to hold them in place, even though that’s something real dogs are very good at.  It also means that whether a bear can grapple is entirely dependent on how generous a DM is with the meaning of “free hand.”  Unless a campaign includes serious war gamers, the overwhelming majority of DMs would probably err on the side of “Rule of Cool” with the grapple bear.

      • Ari Ashkenazi

        Yeah RAW bears can’t grapple, thankfully there are decent animal forms with built in grapples that are also good combat forms, so it doesn’t hurt the build too much if your GM decides to stick to RAW grapple.

  5. Antalis

    Hello, I am looking at the Bardcher to run in a campaign soon and I have a question. Why do we move into using a heavy crossbow at level 4? Also what does the SS mean in 3 xbow SS? I like what I have seen of the build so far. I am new to 5e and am still trying to work some of the rules out.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      If you have any other questions about the builds or 5e just post em here and I’ll answer them. Always happy to chat with folks new to the game =).

  6. Ari Ashkenazi

    I swapped the build to the heavy crossbow because heat metal was a better use of the character’s bonus action than a hand crossbow attack. SS stands for the feat sharpshooters -5 to hit for +10 damage.

    • Antalis

      Thanks. I am looking forward to playing this!

    • KagNekem

      Hi! Kinda new so quick question. How do you use Heat Metal with the crossbow? I know you can use your bonus action to keep consistently burning them, but do you just use heat metal the first then of attack and then the crossbow on every turn after since they both use up an action? Thanks

      • Ari Ashkenazi

        You are correct. The first round it would just be heat metal, the damage chart reflects future rounds where it only take an action to use the spell’s damage. Hope that helps =).

        • Siento

          Wouldn’t the monster just remove the cross bow bolt? Wouldn’t the bard build lose a large amount of damage to any creature with hands that is able to remove the heated bolt?

          • Ari Ashkenazi

            Normally with heat metal you use it on a target’s armor, as they can’t take that off. You can also use it on a weapon as an easy method to disarm. It’s possible there are no metal weapons or armor in the fight, making heat metal useless, but there is usually at least one enemy that has metal equipment.

  7. Kage

    The holiest adventurer would be relegated to ring mail armor at best. Your build lacks the strength 13 for chain mail and 15 for splint/plate. How do you supplement a higher AC for your “tank” build

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      The only negative to not having high enough strength is reducing movement speed by 10ft, this is a worthwhile trade-off in my mind and can be mitigated in a number of ways via magic items and/or good tactical planning.

  8. Adam Powell

    Angry Mage cant multi into Monk without both Dex and Wis at 13.
    You would have to Start as a Monk and Cross into Wizard.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Since this article assumed no magic items I could skip monk and keep my wis at 10. Good call out for folks who want to take the monk dip though.

      • goodgulf

        You can’t multi into “or out of” monk without Wis 13. Those stat requirements on pg 163 count for “both your current class and your new one”. You can do fighter with the dex, tho. Unfortunate, because getting dex dmg bonus on dual-wielding staves is kinda sick idea. Maybe bump the wis a bit and drop some con. I believe that gives even more AC, too?

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          Yeah if you ever wanted to dip monk you’d have to choose at character creation. Since this theory crafted build never used magic items I could safely leave wisdom at 10, but in a real build where those staves could show up I would definently drop some con for 13 wisdom.

          Unfortunately monks unarmored defense is still worse than mage armors calculation, so I’d stick with that one.

  9. christopher murff

    On Bardcher you show character lvl 10(9 bard) as having griffin attack
    But you dont get greater stead until character lvl 11(10 bard) when you steal the spell, right?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      You are correct, looks like a level is actually missing from the table, thanks for the catch =)

  10. christopher murff

    I’m wondering on your damage for the angry mage at lvl 5 when they get 3rd level spells. you say haste is better. But why wouldnt you main hand a lvl 3 shadow blade for 3d8 per strike. its still 3d8+1d6+3?

    When you get extra attack at lvl 6, instead of your 4d6+12, (main handing shadow blade) wouldnt it be 6d8+1d6+3? (2x shadow blade + 1 shortsword)

    • christopher murff

      Also, how do you get double activation on spirit guardians on your sorc/cleric/warlock build?

      • Ari Ashkenazi

        Grasp of Hadar lets me pull an enemy into my spirit guardian, triggering it’s “first time they enter it” effect, then they begin their turn within it, triggering it a second time.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      You are right shadowblade does more damage, but for this calculation I was prioritizing AC over pure damage, in a real game I’d make the call depending on the encounter.

      • christopher murff

        Thanks for the replies. I thought it had to do with grasp of Hadar some how but wasn’t 100% if that was the gimmick

        Yeah i know what you mean, haste for the bonus +2 AC seems nice depending.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          Yeah it’s a weird interaction I see a lot of folks get wrong.

          Haste and shadowblade are both awesome spells, the build would totally use both in a real game situation, but for theory crafting it’s more fun to stack dat AC =P

  11. Pepe

    Hi,

    I’m reading the grapple druid build, and I don’t know whether the numbers check when you say brown bear/8 raptors, for example. I get it you are talking about Conjure animals, but you’re not even talking about the spell until much later, you’d have to cast it (slot and action) and you wouldn’t be able to use any other concentration spells… And you shouldn’t even choose which creatures appear (will 99% not be raptors)… I think those numbers take too many things for granted.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      You are right it takes an action to cast the spell, but that is true for most spells, and the raptors will get a chance to go before the druid’s next turn, so it’s not taking much more of a time investment than other abilities. I mention the spell at the level 7 discussion paragraph in the build breakdown. We get it at level 5 so that’s when the numbers start mattering, but post format means I needed to group some of my talking points.

      As for whether or not you can pick the animals, yes the spell is significantly weaker if your GM doesn’t allow the player to pick. I fall on the side that it doesn’t say random and the generic rule is that players choose what their spells do unless stated otherwise. I’m aware of the sage advice on the topic but that is not an official ruling. If your GM follows this reading of the spell then the build does significantly less damage, but I’ve seen it fall the other way enough that I don’t think it’s a huge assumption.

      • Jacob Paul LaMontagne

        I like the build, and which creatures are not the concern, but when you wrote “27d6+24d8+4d10+154 (giant subterranean lizard / 24 raptors)” for things like level thirteen I understand that the final number is all of the abilitiy stat damage, and the first two are the sting and pinchers, but how is it you have at some levels you fighting as a great ape (concentration) while also concentrating on conjured animals? Am I missing something, I think the guide is interesting.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          I don’t believe I ever mentioned using both polymorph and conjure animals at the same time. Polymorph is used as another powerful combat option instead of conjure animals. It’s much less susceptible to area attacks, and is better against higher ACs than a bunch of raptors.

          If there is a level where I have the druid using polymorph and conjure animals please let me know so I can fix it.

  12. Emron

    Why the 1 level dip on the bladesinger?
    Seems like pretty week benefits from the fighter. Offhand damage+mod.
    Monk dip, I don’t even know what you’d get.

    Also you’d need a free hand, Warcaster, or to be very careful with your spells.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      The fighter dip is simply because the wizard capstone is bad and a little extra damage never hurt.

      The monk dip is needed if you want to use quarterstaves as dex weapons.

      When it comes to free-handing, you can conduct the weapon sheath, cast, unsheath dance if you have the dual wielder feat, or drop, cast, pickup if you don’t. If you do end using staves they can count as your arcane focus and fulfill the hand requirement as your focus holding hand can also be used for somatic components.

  13. Emron

    I don’t think Tenser’s Transformation would work on the griffon because it says “attacks with simple and martial weapons”
    So for
    3 hand crossbow attacks +SS 3d6+3*15
    Tenser’s bonus 3*2d12 = 6d12
    Defensive flourish once per turn 1d12
    griffon attack 1d8+4 + 2d6+4
    Total is 5d6+53+7d12+1d8 Average output assuming all hits is 120.5
    Simulucrum doubles it to 241
    You are using resources with the defensive flourish would run out in 5 turns.

    Without using resources in combat (besides the 1 spell slot) drops it to 114 per bardcher and 228 total which you can maintain for 10 minutes or until your concentration is broken.

    SS Crossbow expert fighter by comparison uses no resources but averages 107.5 from 5d6+15*6.
    Not something I would have considered given how Simulacrum is expensive and will need to be recast after the double uses Tenser’s Transformation 6 times or dies. But that is impressive steady damage. I don’t like the mixing. But it’s a great idea for a boss fight.

    Bladesinger would be 12 points lower
    Bardcher gets 3d6+45+6d12 = 94.5
    Bladesinger could do 3d8+30+6d12 = 82.5

    I guess the main benefit is with one casting of Simulacrum you’re copying the spellcaster and the fighter

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      You are right the griffon wouldn’t get advantage, but it would still get the 2d12 extra damage.

      Assuming all hits doesn’t reflect actual damage output. Part of what makes the bardcher good is how likely it is to hit with constant advantage and a big attack bonus.

      Simulacrum is expensive, but a high level character should have enough money to cast it at least once and the ranged build is safe enough that it shouldn’t have to recast the spell too often. As for the copy’s spell slots it’s unlikely that most fights will require tenser’s so it can just act as a second martial sharpshooter. This cost concern is eliminated once wish is acquired.

      The bardcher’s damage is so much higher than any martial option that if all you want is the most combat effective archer I don’t see any other viable option.

  14. Landon

    For the Druid build, I’m working with 27 point buy. You never mentioned strength for the stats. When you get to level 8, based on the stats you gave, you can still only be 8 / 16 / 16 / 8 / 16 / 8 with the point buy. The problem is the Grappler feat requires 13 strength to take. Arguing that “Well my bear form has more strength so I can take it” would get you a lot of weird looks from most GM’s. How do you get enough strength to get Grappler feat?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Can’t find the passage right now but I recall the way feats and such abilities work in regards to stat requirements is that if you take the feat then lose the required stats, in this case 13str, then you lose the feat’s features until you regain those stats. Under that reading you would just regain the features once you wild shaped.

      If you or your GM don’t want to play it that way then drop con or one of the other 16s and bump str up to the required 13.

  15. DXWishMaker

    I saw you put the max damage output for the level 7 wizard as giant ape attacking twice. How is this possible? Polymorph is a concentration spell, so it will cancel out the haste which means you only get one action per turn.

    • DXWishMaker

      you know what just ignore me. i have no idea what i’m talking about obviously.

      • Ari Ashkenazi

        Happens to all of us, there’s a lot of rules to remember =)

  16. DXWishMaker

    Also for the mad wizard, how do you have 2 weapon fighting at level 1?

    • DXWishMaker

      nevermind, didn’t read the rules clearly.

  17. ccaswell

    With your angry wizard, after haste you still have the +2ac even after you no longer use haste. Am I missing where the +2ac is coming from?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      You are totally right I believe, good catch =).

      • ccaswell

        Have you looked at scag cantrips? For many lower levels they out preform dual wielding, and stack with shadow blade or get amplified with flaming sphere. Or is it that the damage is too situational?

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          Those cantrips are great for melee casters who don’t get an extra attack. By the time they start adding straight damage the bladesinger can be attacking 3 times with their dual wield. They are real good for arcane tricksters and eldritch knights though.

  18. goodgulf

    Hey here’s a thought: Bard of Whispers (15th) with Champion Fighter (5th). Uses Swift Quiver as concentration spell to get 4 attacks/round. They critical 10% of the time (auto-hit for double damage) – so you’ll average 2 criticals every 5 rounds.

    When they crit, you use (psychic blades) bardic inspire for 8d6 (doubled = 16d6) damage on top of the +20 from sharpshooter and +10 from dex. That’s about 86 damage on top of weapon damage, and you’ll pull this out about once every other round. (That’s at level 20 total, but you can start stacking damage on as early as bard-3 (2d6 doubled for 4d6.)

    Not to mention all the “regular” damage you’re doing from the other of the 18 attacks you manage to hit with (at wpn dmg +15) over those 5 rounds.

    You can pull this trick 5 times per short rest (with 20 CHA) across 2 combats (swift quiver casting limits) per long rest. That compares really favorably to total divine smite output of a level 20 paladin, I think.

    After that, you still have level 15 bard spell capabilities to fall back on (including stolen fireballs using level 6-8 slots maybe, if you want to drop AoE damage?).

    If you’re getting consistent advantage on attacks, you can also be an elf race and take Elven Accuracy for 3 rolls per attack to really up the crit rate. Rolling 12 dice a round with a 10% crit rate is a pretty good shot at getting at least 1 crit per round. Not sure if EA is worth it or not, though.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Sounds like a good build, there’s definitely a lot of flexibility to be found with a bardcher type build. I haven’t compared the exact numbers you mention here but I believe my version still delivers more damage over time. Whispers is really cool though and I like how you solved the missing extra attack with 5 levels of fighter. When I have more time and energy I can try running the comparative numbers against each other to see who wins out.

  19. goodgulf

    I was distracted by the WS when I wrote that, of course it’s only +15 for sharpshooter and dex, you don’t get to double mods.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      An easy mistake to make that I have done many times myself =P

  20. Jeff

    In the Holiest Adventurer Level Breakout, shouldn’t the spell at Sorcerer 5:5 be Spirit Guardians instead of Catnap?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Hmmm, yeah that’s a slight oversight, thanks for point it out =P.

  21. Zipedy

    Hey man, I’m new to the game. Can you explain how the mad wizard has dual welding fighting at lvl 1 please?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Anyone can dual wield, the fighting style and feat just improve the feature.

  22. DXWishMaker

    For the level 5 in angry wizard, wouldn’t shadow blade using a 3rd level spell slot plus shortsword 3d8+1d6+4 be better than the 3d6+8 from a haste? It also gives no real penalty such as losing your action if haste is broken

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      For this theory crafting I wanted to focus on increasing AC. In a real game I’d decide between shadowblade and haste depending on the situation. It’s definitely a good spell.

  23. Peaches

    Quick question about the bardcher, you can’t wear heavy armor without 15 strength RAW unless you are doing variant encumbrance in which case you would likely be encumbered.

    Am i missing something? Could you do the bardcher without taking 1 level of fighter?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      You could forgo the fighter level, but +2 to hit from the fighting style is so powerful, it’s one of the things that pushes archery past the other types of weapons.

  24. Peaches

    Oh nevermind you would just lose 10 feet of movement

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Yeah it’s a much smaller penalty than most people realize =P

  25. Peaches

    Well thanks for the guide, it’s very interesting. I think i’m going to try a pure bardcher with studded leather and 1h crossbow so I can hit those power levels 1 level sooner.

    These are some of the best build optimization guides I’ve found so far. It would be awesome if you made some standard build guides too! Most guides don’t have the level progression laid our the way you do which is super helpful.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      I’m glad you like them, I had a lot of fun making them =). Going pure bard is definitely an option, but you will be doing quite a bit less crossbow damage without the archery fighting style. One day Wiz might make a feat that lets characters get a fighting style without multi-classing, but until then I think the early fighter dip is optimal.

      I’m working on some other 5e articles right now, might be a bit before I do more detailed builds as they take a while, but I certainly want to.

      • Peaches

        Cool, I’ll keep an eye out for them!

      • Johniferous

        Hi there! Cool builds!

        If you were doing a campaign that only went levels 1 to 10, would you agree that a ranger using the crossbow expert feat is basically a better option than the bardcher? I’m thinking hunters mark, the plus 2 fighting style to ranged attacks, along with colossus slayer, would pump out more damage through those levels.

        Do you think there is an even better option I’m not aware of? Thanks!

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          Umm, I would say that bardcher still wins out. Hunter’s Mark isn’t as good as you’d think since your bonus action is already being used for the extra Xbow attack.Even though the Haste/Greater steed doesn’t come online until 11, the bard still gives you access to things like Polymorph, Greater Invisibility, and Animate objects.

          If you wanted a martial class I’d say fighter is your best option, since they have action surge and heavy armor.

  26. Adam

    For your Bardcher build, you have “College of Swords: The main selling point of this build, combining spells in unintentionally broken ways.”

    But don’t you mean College of LORE?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      College of Lore is great, but it lacks the second attack that this build really wants. I would rate lore stronger for any sort of casting focused bard.

  27. Bombasaki

    Amazing builds!

    Quick questions regarding specifically the Bardcher: is the DPR adjusted with the corrections read on the comments regarding Tense’rs Transformation? I will start one this week.

    TYVM!!

  28. Howls

    Bardcher only uses stringed instruments?

  29. Robert Norton

    It’s worth noting that the Griffon fighting assumes the Bardcher isn’t riding it, since controlled mounts don’t attack.

    On the other hand, a griffon can take the ‘dash’ action while it is a controlled mount… and Haste lets it do so *again* while doubling it’s movement, so the Fly of 80 speed becomes the ability to carry the Bardcher 480 Feet in a turn. Completely insane.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Mounts summoned by “find steed” and “find greater steed” are intelligent can can operate on their own, but no matter how you slice it having the mount around is a huge boon for movement and/or damage.

  30. PoisonedPoet

    Life cleric 1/druid circle of the shepherd for the rest. Strong extra healing, and summoned animals nat. weapons count as magic.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Druid/Life cleric is incredibly good. Several builds I wasn’t able to fit into this post use that 2 level combination

  31. Twisted sister

    In holy avenger how do you make use of Eldric blast if it’s getting disadvantage when your standing next to your targets as you are tanking?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      In my experience with the build you spend most of your time targeting creatures that are farther than 5ft away from you and let spirit guardians handle the melee enemies. If you really want to shoot things in melee with you the crossbow expert feat also solves that issue.

  32. Robert Z

    Thank you very much for the guides! I did wonder as I didn’t see an answer – for the Bardcher, why College of Swords over College of Valor? The spellcasting focus that Swords provides requires a melee weapon. Valor is also able to get extra attack and is able to cast a spell plus a crossbow shot at level 14.
    Is it specifically for the flourishes? Thank you for reading!

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      You’re correct, the flourishes are the main reason, they add damage and a host of other useful bonuses that valor doesn’t. The character casts maybe 1 spell a combat and the constant use of flourishes is better IMO. Valor would work just fine though, they’re fairly close.

      • Robert Z

        Ah, that would make sense. Considering that until level 14 one has to use Bardic Inspiration for the flourishes and you only get one Inspiration per rest with 13 charisma, would it make more sense to bump that up to 14 while reducing Wisdom to 10?

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          That’s a totally viable change. I personally wanted a higher wisdom because so many wisdom saves are critical to your character being able to function, but an additional inspiration dice is also quite good.

  33. Zephyr Thornleaf

    Quick question on the Angry Wizard. Id like to try out this build but i just need a bit of clarification.
    If you have not taken the War caster feat, how are you casting shield as a reaction?? You have a sword in both hands so aren’t you unable to use the spells somatic component therefore the spell does not activate?

    Also am i right in assuming that first turn combat we would have to have one sword and our focus in hand, BA would be blade song, and our action would be haste plus then a free action to store our focus? Then on second turn draw the second sword?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      The way you’d cast shield while wielding swords is by dropping one of your weapons at the end of your turn so you have a free hand on the enemy’s turn. You pick it up at the beginning of your next turn and repeat. If you ever end up using a staff as a weapon it can act as your focus so this no longer becomes an issue. Honestly the weapon draw/stow/drop rules seem to vary wildly from table to table, so it’s hard to predict what a GM will allow, however RAW the “drop dance” works.

      Yes you’d be right, that is how the 1st turn would work.

  34. Jacob Paul LaMontagne

    To whom it may concern, I am interested in many of the builds, however, I wonder if the Druid makes sense after level 4. The damage does not seem to make sense and the primal attack is added at level 5 and 6 when it is added at 6 in guides. What is up? Also, can you explain where the damage is coming from with those high numbers at level 5-6 and then the ones later would be appreciated, they just don’t seem to make sense or rather, are too high.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Looks like a copying error, thanks for pointing it out. Fixed it so the ability is properly denoted at level 6. The damage spike at level 5 is due to conjure animal generating 8 velociraptors that add a huge amount of damage.

      • James

        Aren’t there stipulations I’m having to have seen the creature you want to summon? I can see a GM not allowing you to summon velociraptors because of that restriction.

        • tom 2e

          I’m still new but having seen the animal is only a requirement for wild shape. There are a list of assumed seen animals by lvl 2 based on background in the Xanathars book. I could be wrong but there is no such requirement for the spell Conjure Animals.

          • tom 2e

            I didnt make this clear in my comment the bear is from wild shape and the raptors is from using Conjure Animals. Raptor CR is 1/4 which is why you get 8 of them see Volos book for that info.

  35. Bob

    Would taking 1 level of Warlock (Hexblade) make sense? It would allow you to exclusively focus on CON/CHA (DEX 14 with a breastplate + shield is still decent AC). Hexblade curse once per rest is free damage. You also get either Shield (Hexblade expanded spell list) or Hex (standard Warlock spell list) spells 2x per short rest for extra defense or damage. Quite new to 5e and would welcome your thoughts.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Are you referring to the Bardcher? While hexblade would be a decent 1 level dip, the archery fighting style provided by the fighter level is irreplaceable and I’d rather start progressing my bard levels than slow it down further by taking 1 level of warlock.

      The hexblade is great though, many of my builds make use of it for dipping 1-3 levels.

      • Jacob Lamontagne

        I ask the same question about the Warlock Hexblade, what about using that instead of the Sorceror and getting it earlier?

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          That last level could easily be warlock if you wanted. I chose sorcerer because it gave me Shield and Absorb Elements while continuing my full spell progression for a second 6th level spell slot. If you prefer warlock or just another level of bard for the ASI it would be fine overall.

          I wouldn’t take it earlier because delaying the build’s power-spikes isn’t worth what would be gained by the dip.

  36. Jacob Paul LaMontange

    It appears at level 5, you are. your damage shows. 10d6+9d8+58 (cave bear / 8 raptors)

    How is this possible? a bear does
    Bite
    Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (1d8 + 5) piercing damage.
    Claws
    Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d6 + 5) slashing damage

    which is the 2d6 out of 10. and 1d8 out of 9 +10 flat damage if you hit. Cool.
    Then the raptors if they are from Volos guide to monstersis

    Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 5 (1d6+2) piercing damage.

    Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d4+2) slashing damage.

    which is the 2d6 out of 10. and 1d8 out of 9 +10 flat damage if you hit. Cool.
    8 more D6 to make the 10d6 so were good on that. Then 8D4 then add 2×8 and 2×8 which is 16+16 which is 32+ damage, plus the 10 from the bear. for 42.

    What you wrote at level 5, you are. your damage shows. 10d6+9d8+58 (cave bear / 8 raptors)

    What it appears you have is indeed 10d6+8d4+1d8+42 which is cool, but not your figures. i am either really missing something, or you are.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Since writing this I’ve realized the raptor block I used was actually homebrew, and I haven’t put in the time to re-do all the calculations. The stats are a little off, but the damage output of the volos vs homebrew is very close.

      • Jacob Paul LaMontange

        For what it is worth, I think it the druid and Bard is especially cool and plan to borrow from either and make both at some time and I really like your Wizard and might do so as well. I hope you double check the math for the damage because I would like to understand it.

  37. Mahe4

    Am i missing something or would the sorcerer/cleric/warlock be pretty slow on the field?
    he has a strength score of 8 and is wearing heavy plate, isn’t he?
    without the str requirement, his movement would be reduced by 10 feet.
    that would really bug me, if i had the tank role, because everything could flee with ease.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Yes the character is slower, but its spirit guardians halves the speed of creatures within it and it can pull creatures towards it with eldritch blast. Out of all these character concepts I’ve played that one the most and movement was rarely an issue. I can’t say for sure everyone will have that experience, but I intentionally built in ways to mitigate the speed reduction.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Also if it’s really a problem you could get some Mythril armor. It’s very cheap and eliminates movement penalties.

      • Mahe4

        Well fair enough.
        Can i ask you what your reasoning is for your metamagic choices?
        i would think that twinned is nice, since you already are a concentration master, so twinning haste or greater invisibility would be great.
        and subtle has nice RP possibilities.
        i am not going to spend my sorcery points on quicken, when i have spiritual weapon, to fill my bonus action economy.
        but that would just be my choices. what is the reasoning behinf yours?
        btw. really nice build! i will try it, with some minor changes but with the core idea.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          Quicked is there mostly to allow us to setup spirit guardians and drag someone into it on round 1. Extend spell if very good with things like death ward and aid, allowing those spells to last multiple rests. A sorcerer in a game I’m running right now uses it and it has proven to be a life saver for the party.

          Replacing quicken with twin is certainly a viable choice, I didn’t pick it simply because the build is almost exclusively casting spirit guardians, which can’t be twinned, you make a good point about spiritual weapon though. Overall the metamagics aren’t key to this build so I’d say it’ll come down to personal preference more than anything.

          I’m glad you like it =). It was a lot of fun to play.

          • Mahe4

            Damn you are right.
            In-fight, i will always concentrate on spirit guardians, so twinning is mostly wasted. Thanks!
            yeah then quicken seems like the best choice.
            But i will take it together with subtle spell. Don’t want to miss my subtle suggestion.

          • Ari Ashkenazi

            Subtle is also nice if you GM likes throwing enemies with counter spell at you, can’t CS what you don’t know is being cast.

  38. Adam Jelen

    Quick question about the mad wizard. How do you get the 17 for dex with a half elf when point buy only goes up to 15 and you only can add a +1 to dex with that race?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      I believe it says high elf, did I write half-elf somewhere?

  39. James

    On your Holiest Adventurer build. On the right side it says Double Activation of the Spirit Guardian.

    What does that mean, and how do you make that happen?

    • James

      Have you considered feats like Sentinel and Tunnel Fighting? It would allow you to pull the enemies into your aoe, lock them in place, and react to any attempted movement to keep them there. You could even bonfire cantrip under their feet for added DoT.

      • Ari Ashkenazi

        If you can free up the feat slot to add Sentinel, it would probably work pretty well, I didn’t take because I had so few to begin with I felt they were better spent elsewhere.

        As for Tunnel Fighting, I believe that is UA content, and I avoided using any UA content for these builds. However, if your GM allows it I believe Tunnel Fighting is incredibly good so it could definitely be worth grabbing.

        • James

          What does a typical three round of combat look like? Are you shoving with shield mastery so that you can pull back in? Using Guardian of Faith for the extra opportunity damage when entering its range?

          1. Spirit guardian at highest level, bonus action Hex target, wisdom saving throws. Move between bad guys and party members, up next to an enemy if possible. Familiar Help action you or a party member. (Rogue ideally as a nearby ally will give sneak attack damage as well.)
          2. Bonus Action shove a creature away. Can now step away without an attack of opportunity. Eldritch blast the enemy outside of your attack range to pull them adjacent to you, triggering the aoe again. Reaction of Shield or Absorb Elements.

          Something like this?

          • Ari Ashkenazi

            When I played this character, this is what my early rounds looked like.

            1. Bonus action for quickened Spirit Guardians (SG). Step forward and Eldritch Blast (EB) a target and if possible drag them into the aura, doubling the aura activations. If needed use reaction for the shield/absorb elements spell. If fighting a boss cast SG as an action and activate Hexblade’s Curse using a bonus action.

            2. Continue to look for targets to drag into the aura, if possible never EB a target in melee as that incurs disadvantage, let the aura kill them. If targeting someone in melee with you either accept the attack of opportunity (AOO) or eat the disadvantaged EB, depending on the enemy.

            3. Rinse and repeat round 2 healing/moving as necessary.

          • Ari Ashkenazi

            It’s important to remember that Hex and SG can’t be up at the same time as they both take concentration. You are correct that the familiar should be using the help action every turn if possible, although you want to keep it safe as if it dies you lose your maximized healing dice ability until it is revived.

            RAW you can’t shove using the shield master feat unless you take the Attack action, which this build never does. If your GM allows it to be used after EB then yes it would be a decent use for your bonus action.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      With the Grasp of Hadar invocation on Eldritch Blast you can drag an enemy into Spirit Guardians, this counts as them “entering it for the first time”, then they start their turn within the aura, triggering it for a second time that round.

      • James

        Ah, okay. I was checking the rules for familIar concentration, thinking maybe we could double up the aura or something.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          The rules on doubling auras is a bit hazy in 5e. I’ve seen some folks claim that if you get an evil person (necrotic aura) and a good person (radiant aura) overlapping creatures take damage from both, but 2 of the same type don’t stack. I’ve also seen people say that no matter what they don’t stack, and people who say they stack just fine.

          I was considering a build where a good paladin rides an evil mount, meaning that when they apply Spirit Guardians to themselves their mount also gets it, creating both auras and possibly allowing them to stack, so that’s fun =).

  40. Mahe4

    I really hope, you’ll do some more of those posts.
    These guides are really nicely structured, and the builds are nice ideas.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Thanks =). I plan to do more, but these articles take quite a bit of work so it may be a bit while I wrap up review articles and the campaign I’m running.

  41. Mahe4

    Do you think, that the core idea of the holiest adventurer build could be faster done with divine soul sorcerer x/hex blade 2?
    you need 14dex for most ac potential (medium armor)
    but you can save 4 levels (1 cleric and 3 warlock)
    you would lose the incredible self healing ability of your build, but would come online earlier and with less out of sorcerer levels.
    what do you think?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      That could definitely work. You highlight the downsides of going that route, but if you need to get tanky fast then that’s totally reasonable. If your GM is allowing some of the new unearthed arcana there’s an invocation you could take to let you wear heavy armor. I believe it’s called eldritch armor in the “Class Variants UA. It does leave you tight on invocations you want (agonizing blast, grasp of hadar, eldritch armor), but what else is new for warlocks =P.

      With your build you’ll probably want a second front line since you’ll be less resilient, but I think it would work great as a second tank.

  42. GregB

    Great article! I had played a Divine Soul/Life Cleric, but had not mixed in the Warlock for pulling targets in. Genius!

    Please take no offense, but I believe you missed the most powerful element of a Sorcerer casting Spirit Guardians. Before I give it away, revisit the spell and see if you can find it. I believe you will and it is truly a game changer!

    I’ll check back in here to see your success or share the solution, but I have faith that the sharing will not be required.

    Be a Blessing Every Day!

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      I’m glad you liked it =), pull + SG is always fun.

      None taken, there are a lot of interactions in 5e and I’m always happy to find one I hadn’t recognized before. I’m afraid I couldn’t find the powerful element you mentioned, I took a look at the metamagics and none of them interact with SG in a particularly strong way. I would greatly appreciate you enlightening me on this interaction, or at least giving a hint.

      • GregB

        Here’s the hint that gives away the answer: Unlike most AOE spells in 5e where point of origin can occur within the Range of the spell, SG’s point of origin is Self and the Range is the size of the AOE!

      • GregB

        BTW: You can effect Aura of Life and the other Aura’s the same way, just doesn’t have the same impact as SG.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          Are you talking about combining SG with distant spell?

          • GregB

            Yes. The Range is 15 ft radius. Distance doubles the Range to 30 ft for SG and 60 ft for Auras.

          • GregB

            Does not work on all auras… like Crusaders Mantle since the 30 ft radius AOE is not listed as part of the Range.

          • Ari Ashkenazi
          • GregB

            Well darn! I was fortunate to have been allowed the shenanigans.

            Appreciate your knowledge! Would Spirit Guardians then be shareable with a Find Steed mount to double the damage?

          • Ari Ashkenazi

            That’s a pretty contentious topic =P. I’ve seen opinions that they never stack, others say if your mount is evil and you’re good (or vice versa), the necrotic/radiant effects would stack, but not 2 of the same type, I’ve also seen people say they all stack fine.

          • GregB

            Master Ari,

            Please help. I cannot find anywhere the answer to my quandary:

            Opportunity Attacks might need to be made against a non-hostile or foe. Take for example a fleeing child or prisoner or a ‘charmed’ friend who is moving away from you to a horrible outcome. You might also be acting as an ally and secretly be an enemy waiting for that moment to strike. Even a foe’s mount or wagon draws opportunity attacks without being a hostile, right? Seems like opportunity attacks are viable options when anything attempts to leave your reach, correct?

          • Ari Ashkenazi

            I put the relevant text bellow my answer. In short, whenever a creature leaves your reach you could use to take an attack of opportunity against it. This could include anyone you wanted, as you control who you consider “hostile. However, that character could be ruled as taking the “disengage” action, meaning they’d be immune to an attack of opportunity.

            This is the relevant text:

            In a fight, everyone is constantly watching for a chance to strike an enemy who is fleeing or passing by. Such a strike is called an opportunity Attack.
            You can make an opportunity Attack when a Hostile creature that you can see moves out of your reach. To make the opportunity Attack, you use your Reaction to make one melee Attack against the provoking creature. The Attack occurs right before the creature leaves your reach.

            You can avoid provoking an opportunity Attack by taking the Disengage action. You also don’t provoke an opportunity Attack when you Teleport or when someone or something moves you without using your Movement, action, or Reaction. For example, you don’t provoke an opportunity Attack if an explosion hurls you out of a foe’s reach or if gravity causes you to fall past an enemy.

          • GregB

            Master Ari,

            I completely agree! You can even take opportunity attacks against ‘friendly’ targets that try to move away from your reach who are not disengaging, right? Any creature or vehicle, right?

  43. GregB

    If true, then Warcaster would allow casting Cure Wounds or Haste… whatever on a friendly as a reaction if the provoke an opportunity attack, right?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Rules as written this point is debatable, however both as a GM myself and others I talked to would not allow this type of action to be taken to buff what in actuality is a friendly target.

      The main point of contention in RAW is the word “hostile” do you decide who is hostile to you or do they decide they are hostile?

      Either way, rules as intended definitely would not allow spells like haste or other buff abilities to be used via a reaction “attack of opportunity”. Creative use of warcaster though.

  44. BrayasTheSpider

    Hi there! Great article! A question: where is the stat block for a raptor located? And the giant subterranean lizard?

  45. Nicholai

    Great ideas. I am still reading through them. Just a note though, I do not believe forced movement would trigger the entering effect of Spirit Guardians. I would need to double check but I know there are some semantic peculiarities regarding movement in 5E.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      This is the source I’ve used in my rulings:

      https://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/rules-answers-april-2016

      “Entering such an area of effect needn’t be voluntary, unless a spell says otherwise. You can, therefore, hurl a creature into the area with a spell like thunderwave. We consider that clever play, not an imbalance, so hurl away! Keep in mind, however, that a creature is subjected to such an area of effect only the first time it enters the area on a turn. You can’t move a creature in and out of it to damage it over and over again on the same turn.”

  46. Fantomp

    ‘This damage cannot miss, only able to be halved on a successful wisdom save, a weak stat on many monsters.’
    Three things:
    1) Not being able to miss isn’t that impressive, almost all spell are like this.
    2) Past early levels, EVERYTHING IMPORTANT HAS A HIGH WISDOM SAVE, as this is the most common save, and includes many conditions that will completely shut down a monster.
    3) This wasn’t a part of this quote, but it isn’t that efficient to upcast (just like, in general). You could cast it at level 4 for an additional d8, or you could cast sickening radiance or wall of fire, higher level spells are more efficient than upcasting. (Hence why level three burning hand does 5d6, while fireball does 8d6 in a bigger area with more flexibility)

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Never missing is very good, just because other spells have it doesn’t make that less true. As far as go-to round-to-round damage abilities go, the way SG is usually used, it is both powerful and consistent.

      Part of the reason always doing damage is good is because it’s still useful even against high wisdom monsters. It’s also good to not discount early – mid levels. It’s where most games take place after all.

      You are correct that Wall of Fire and Sickening Radiance do more damage than a 4th level SG, although SR is a save-or-suck spell. However, they only do slightly more and lack the ability to move their effects and avoid friendly fire, to name two.

      I am definitely not alone in my praise for SG, while my description covers a lot of it I’d encourage you to check out other optimization guides like Treantmonk’s and hear what he has to say on the spell.

  47. SkoobyDoo

    Hi, there! Great article. Permit this noob a dumb question: For the bardcher build, how do you get the Sharpshooter feat at level 5 (Fighter 1 / Bard 4)?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Glad you like it =). All classes get an ASI (or feat) at level 4, since the build takes 1 level of fighter, that bumps it’s 4th level bard ASI to character level 5. Does that answer your question?

      • SkoobyDoo

        Thanks very much, Ari! I must have read the rules wrong. I thought the Sharpshooter feat was exclusive to a Fighter and, therefore, a player would need to reach level 4 AS A FIGHTER in order to have access to the Sharpshooter feat. I did not know that as long as I hit 4th level, even as a Bard, that the Sharpshooter feat would be available to me.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          Ah, yes I can see how that could be confusing, and it would make sense that a martial feat would be constrained to martial classes, but thankfully for my builds Wizards doesn’t seem interested in doing that =P

          • SkoobyDoo

            Thanks again! Your writing is always informative and easy to read! Great job and a Godsend for noobs like me!

          • Ari Ashkenazi

            Any time! Working on my next builds article so hopefully I can have that ready to go soon(TM).

  48. Kroschak

    A question concerning your druid:
    Do I miss something or will the raptors always have only a +4 to hit? Because it is unlikely they will hit anything at all, so the damage will be very low after some levels.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      They do only have a +4 to hit, but I did factor that into my calculations. Turns out that even against high AC targets rolling enough dice results in high average damage.

  49. Merryweather

    What am I missing on the Grapple bear’s damage once it gets conjure animals? Shouldn’t it be 10D6 (2 from bear 8 from raptors) 1D8 (bear Multiattack) 8D4 (8 raptor Multiattack) +X (assuming raptors are the Velociraptor from VGtM)

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      It’s buried somewhere in these comments, but I accidentally used a home brew raptor stat bloc for these calculations without realizing it. However, the real raptor damage will be similar, so it shouldn’t change the numbers much.

  50. Deezyl

    Greetings!

    I’ve noticed on the Angry Wizard at !st Level that there are seven 1st Level Spells chosen. I thought that a 1st Level Wizard only had six to choose from.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      You are correct, that’s an error on my part, just drop your least favorite one =)

  51. Sie

    Hello,

    Absolutely love the work here. I love that the builds are justified in mechanics, but also that they have some good story possible elements. I’m really looking forward to more of this, and I see your comment that you are working on part two. Excited for that.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Glad you like it, I swear I’ll finish part 2 eventually =P

  52. Dabberwokky

    Hi. Really like your builds. About to start a (hopefully) multi year long campaign with the 3xHoly build. Couple quick questions/advice… starting as cleric for class gear (and roleplay/background purposes) which forces me to take Resilience(CON) instead.

    Also is extended deathward better than twin deathward? I realize the SP difference, but I think twin/quicken is the way to go. In rare cases I think twin haste/poly/enlarge could be a massive tactical advantage. And after reading the comments, I now see the tactics for quicken 1st round. Also, what are your thoughts on twin guiding bolt? Seems like an amazing use of 1 SP and a lvl 1 spell. Especially until I get EB since I may not be able to take my warlock levels until 8 or later, depending on the DM and campaign/roleplay timing for the switch to warlock.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Glad you like them =). Extended DW is nice because it gives you an extra long-rest buffer before the buff falls off. Twin is a totally viable option, as it is usually the strongest metamagic. I didn’t take it on this build because the way I would play it had the character never casting single target buff spells like polymorph because concentration is being used by spirit guardians.

      Twin guiding bolt sound like a decent use of the ability, especially at early levels, but I would guess those returns would diminish quickly as you increased in level. If you do take twin I’d focus on using your SP for things like shield of faith or other buff spells until the build comes fully online.

      • Dabberwokky

        Yup, bolt is my plan until I get EB. Had been debating what concentration buff to run until guardians. Bless is the easy cheap one for the whole party, but twin blur or enlarge/reduce seem better than SoF once I get lvl 2 sorc spells. I think I saw mention of spiritual weapon, is this used much?

        You mentioned you have played this build alot, at least compared to the other 3 here… you never found a situation where guardians was mostly if not totally negated due to positioning or DM shenanigans? What did you use concentration for in those situations? Can think of aerial or long range combat just off the top of my head. Our DM is using modified flanking rules where size matters, so I can see enlarging our bruiser and reducing the boss could more useful.

        Did you use any crowd control nova type spells? Earth tremor, tidal wave, etc. Also looking at grease as a non concentration crowd control/area denial…?

        PS: wanted to mention I will be running this as the tank companion to a halberd sentinel echo knight. Excited to play with the positioning and interactions with his echo’s attacks and my aura. Should be a tactical monster on the Roll20 grid.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          Spiritual Weapon doesn’t work with Twin Spell, but it is a good use of your bonus action if you have nothing else to do.

          In my experience Spirit Guardians is so universally applicable it always was useful to some extent with its range and the pull on EB. If I weren’t able to use SG, spells like Haste or blur would be my go to. If you feel your GM will specifically try to counter SG, then I’d say take Twin Spell so you have more flexibility with your single target buff spells.

          I’ve never found tremor or tidal wave type spells worth the below par damage they bring to the table. SG already has a good crowd control element with the rough terrain, and if I want burst damage Sorc gives us Fireball.

          Sounds like a rad combo, if you have time I’d love to hear how it goes =).

          • Dabberwokky

            Would be happy to. Will still post pertinent stuff to the build here, but I thought you might appreciate the backstory I built to tie in the 3 subclasses. It’s a bit lengthy so I don’t want to post it here. If you’d like, you can message me on discord or is there a way to dm here?

          • Ari Ashkenazi

            friend me on discord, my name is

            pancakemaster808#8368

      • Dabberwokky

        Until SG, would you say that twin SoF is superior to Bless or twin Blur? 10 minutes vs 1 minute and level 1 spell slot and 1SP vs level 2 spell slot and 2SP. Obviously Blur is far more powerful, but for the levels I will be using it (before SG at Sorc 5, 6 overall), SoF seems plenty powerful and might last multiple encounters, thereby further increasing its economy.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          I’m a big fan of twinned SoF as an early game buff. If you have 2 targets for it I’d definitely say go for it for all the reasons you listed.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          Side note, I don’t think you can twin Blur since it has a range of “self” which is explicitly prohibited in the Twin Spell description.

          • Ari Ashkenazi

            Oren is right, sadly no double blur, although if you get Find Steed you can blur yourself and your horse.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Or you could just get Big Foot as a mount, he has Blur as a permanent effect.

          • Dabberwokky

            Oh snap, did I just instigate a Bro-jacking of your thread?! Hadnt considered the self range on blur either. Thanks.

  53. Dabberwokky

    Also, are you casting that extended deathward on yourself? Or on multiple party members? Trying to forecast SP usage as this will be my first 5e sorc build.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Extended buffs like DW and aid are what you use leftover spell slots/sp for at the end of a long rest, immediately before your spell slots and SP refresh. If you have the slots/SP doing it this way makes them essentially free.

      As for who you cast them on, I’d say whoever in your party you’re most worried about going down. Not the most helpful answer I admit, but it’s highly contextual.

  54. togo burrows

    I love these builds, lifelong D&D player since the OG days. Trying to work out the math on the Bard-cher – always been a sucker for archer builds – it really does not look like the Sharpshooter -5 to attack rolls is being applied, especially in the earlier levels. Is there something I’m missing? Thanks again, big fan of the site and Tabletop stuff specifically.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      I believe that the build doesn’t start using Sharp Shooter until level 8, you can check out the calculations via a link in the build.

  55. Innate

    What is you were allowed to use all UA classes, how would this change your view on the best multiclass builds? Ranger (Favored Foe) for a 1 level dip (for monk for instance) or 1-3+ levels of mystic prior to taking Eldritch Knight or Bladeslinger would be pretty exceptional I would think.

  56. Tremonsien

    Love this whole article, as I am the munchkin at my table, and these are things of beauty. May I add one suggested build for theorycrafting purposes?

    I run a High Elf Vengeance Paladin 3/Assassin Rogue 17.

    Taking Booming Blade as your racial, and elven accuracy feat, along with the lucky feat, and a 20 for dex by level 20 you can dish out unstoppable single target damage, especially if you have a dm who let’s you get your hands on a vorpal scimitar (or even better, a moon Blade with vorpal and finesse properties). Cloak of invisibility would also help, along with boots of elvenkind, or even just a tanky mammoth druid grappling and restraining whatever it is you are trying to ice with instadeath levels of skill.

    When closing on the unsuspecting Solar or Kraken, pop your vow of enmity, granting you advantage (Elven Accuracy anyone?) and free sneak attacks for 1 minute – this also guarantees critical strikes on any attack that lands, thanks to Assassinate. As an assassin, you made sure to harvest or buy Purple worm poison, to help guarantee you one shot just about anything in the game without poison resistance. Here is how it works:

    Vow of enmity is up once you see the monster, then you get 3 (or 4 with Lucky) opportunities to get a natural 20 each time you attack for one minute (one extra for advantage and one reroll for EA and an extra d20 for Lucky). Before combat, you applied your purple worm poison to the vorpal blade. To make your sneak attack, cast booming blade and burn a spell slot for divine smite. Then roll your 3d20 and reroll the lowest, and if one drops a 20 here is what it looks like:

    Vorpal scimitar (against things with legendary resistances) with criticals applied to dice totals and damage totals = 2d6 (magical slashing) + 4d8 (Divine Smite) + 18d6 (Sneak Attack) + 12d8 (Vorpal vs legendary) + 6d8 (Booming Blade) + 32 + 6d6 (purple worm poison after the legendary save).

    If you somehow surprise the creature, double almost everything again for Death Strike. Max damage is 364, death strike would be 692 (poison does not double) or it is at max 364 with 2 legendary saves burned, since death strike is a Con save as well. Snicker-snack indeed. I haven’t run the numbers on the average damage yet, but the top end is really something. If you have a cleric or druid who can cast Contagion – Flesh Rot on the foe, they get vulnerability to all damage for up to 7 days on a successful melee spell attack, which can really boost this build into the stratosphere for damage. It also synergizes well, since Contagion requires 3 saves avoid the effects, but with this Holy Avenger on them, they will people be dead first.

    If somehow this doesn’t kill something, next round do it again without the poison damage (the build gets 3 divine strikes per long rest). If the creature moves away, after any attack, it gets a shot of 4d8 thunder damage as BB triggers. Feel free to go gallumphing back with the creature’s head and treasure.

    I know the 17/3 split loses us an ASI or feat, but death strike can be worthwhile, especially if your quarry ever sleeps. Elven Accuracy comes with a + 1 to Dex, so with 27 point buy go 13 Str (multi-class Pally), 15 Dex, 14 Con, and 10 on Int, Wis and Cha. Take EA @ 7th (4 Rogue) +2 Dex at 11th (8 Rogue) and Lucky at 15 (12 Rogue) and Defensive Duelist at 19 (16 Rogue) At high levels, rogues in melee range need the added Prof bonus to AC on melee attacks to help avoid dying.

    Roleplay wise, this character concept makes a great inquisitor or bounty hunter. If your DM enjoys your build, maybe they let you earn or quest for a Moon Blade. Then the damage goes even more berserk, since those sentient blades are bonkers.

  57. tom 2e

    I understand that in your druid build you used some different numbers for the lvl 5 damage calc but my question is about the CR of the cave bear. if your CR with a moon druid does not go to 2 until 6 how are you wild shaping into a cave bear at lvl 5? brown bear at lvl 5 is still strong just for each of the additions to the damage rolls it would be +4 instead of +5 with cave bear.

    Also I am contemplating a natural druid build like you outlined verse building a druid multiclassed with barbarian to gain rage at lvl 1 and resistances at barb lvl 3 with token bear. I think the major difference is if this is a short campaign the multiclass would be great but if it ends up being a super deep campaign missing out on those druid levels would hurt me late in the game because the multiclass doesnt scale well. Can you let me know your thoughts on which way i should go?

    • tom 2e

      Also thinking about making my character a Ghostwise Halfling which gives you silent speech to be able to communicate during wild shape. Is there a better a option or will this be useful?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      You are totally right to question the lvl 5 cave bear, that’s a mistake on my part, there are quite a few in these builds given their complexity and the editors I saddled with reviewing this post aren’t deep DnD nerds.

      You hit the nail on the head with the barb druid. Multiclassing with a moon druid is awkward no matter what, given how the classes’ power spikes work. If you wanted to go more than 1 level barb dip, I’d say take 5 levels for the multi attack, then use 2 levels of moon druid to get a ton of extra bear HP while raging. If you go past level 7 then you can put levels wherever you see fit. That kind of build will fall behind in damage later, but at mid level it’ll be incredibly tanky.

  58. DXWishMaker

    Which Raptors are you using to have them do 1d8+1d6 while still being a CR 1/4 for the grapple bear

  59. Christian

    Wanted to leave a comment to point out a couple things about the bardcher
    1: I love your combination of find greater steed and tenser’s transformation, I honestly never looked at TT because I don’t play arcane classes much but it’s got great synergy with the find steed spells (if you’re playing with an independent mount which comes with plenty of problems if in melee, not as much if you’re a ranged character)
    2: your animated objects trick is nice in theory but there’s a couple problems with it. first of all it takes a whole turn to set up (action and bonus action) to get them on the field. In that time any martial character is gonna slash up the enemies for dozens of damage. secondly those tiny objects only have 20 HP and are gonna die in the first fireball/any AOE they encounter and if you’re placing them in melee with the BBEG they’re probably gonna die in 1 round. finally they only have a move speed of 30 so if you’re facing a mobile enemy or anything that can teleport the spell (lv 5 slot btw) is wasted.
    3: I can beat your character with a lv 2 spell. hold person… you should have taken counterspell or the resilient feat for wisdom if you’re really powergaming… IMHO

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Glad you like it, I love TT, always happy for a chance to use it.

      AO is actually faster to setup than many concentration effects, as you can start benefiting from its damage the turn you cast it. 10d4 + 40 is much more than most martial character will be doing in a round, so I’m not worried about the spell reducing damage output. As for vulnerability to aoe, it is a concern, but if you feel a fight will throw a lot of AOE at you, just hold onto your spell slot for one that doesn’t. As for melee, any attacks going at your objects are attacks not going at your party, which is a huge win in its own right. As for movement, this is once again being aware of the kind of fight your in and acting accordingly. It’s impossible to plan for every fight in a guide like this, but in my experience there will almost always be good targets for AO to hit.

      You’re right, powerful save spells can do well against characters with lower saving throws, and if I were building this for PVP I would definitely invest in a higher wisdom save. Counterspell is certainly a viable choice if you’re worried about your GM making use of those kinds of effects, I didn’t take it because I find the spell unfun and I trust my GMs to not lock me out of playing for failing a single role. Also RAW you don’t know what a monster is casting before countering it, so Counter Spell will often get wasted on minor spells, making it less useful for avoiding powerful effects.

  60. Rayhan

    I am one of those D&D players that optimizes builds way too much, and spends all of their free time staring at the PHB. However, while i was browsing for some inspiration for a new build, i stumbled upon this guide. The builds here are extremely powerful compared to what I am used to, but i believe i have a few others ones that i can contribute: first, Tap Man. This build is using a combination of classes to max out the assassin sub class. Using rage (barbarian), savage attacks (half orc), dual wielding (feat and also fighter), two longswords (flame sword for magic weapons), sneak attack, martial adept (feat variation), lucky (if you want extra hit chance), assasinate, (the feature that gives you an addition action (i think level 2 fighter)) and death strike, you can achieve around 200 damage average in a hit, and up to 400 at max. With magic items, it gets to around 300 damage, using purple worm poison, and dexterity increasing items. If you want UA, you can also add hexblade warlock and grave cleric for more damage. Sadly, i dont have a PHB or DMG near me, nor my initial calculations. I can explain it in more detail later. The second build is amazing for clearing out monsters. Using a great axe, rage, same fighter lvl 2 feature from before, sneak attack, martial adept feat variation, assasinate (rogue), whirlwind attack (ranger), and extra attack (ranger), you can attack any number of monsters near you for 30 damage, doing it twice if you want, with 60 movement speed, and 120 single target damage. i am looking into details with both builds, and if sneak attack doesnt work with the weapons i listed, you can edit them (longsword would be preferred secondary weapon after greataxe, if not, then shortsword). Great builds, keep up the good work, and well met!

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      I’m glad you like them =). I’d definitely enjoy seeing the builds you’ve described mapped out in detail, they sound like fun.

      I’m actually in the process of writing a second set of these builds, so hopefully that’ll be out SoonTM

      • Rayhan

        well please link the second set

        • Rayhan

          Also if you havent, you should try out diablo type games their literally dnd but free for all violence.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          Keep an eye on this site, I’ll be posting it here, hopefully within the next week or 2.

  61. Robert

    How is the “Bardcher” running around with a Staff of the Magi, if his primary weapon is a Crossbow. I’d only let the character use it if he’s got it in hand, and gain any advantages – including defensive ones- from it. It’s strapped to your back while you’re shooting dudes with the Crossbow? Sorry, no spell absorption for you. Most Crossbows take 2 hands to use. Even with a hand crossbow, you’ll need a spare hand to load it. Maybe not the best choice.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      One way to manage this is through the drop staff, fire crossbow, pick staff up. If that’s not allowed at your table the staff’s innate spells, such as passwall are incredibly good out of combat abilities.

  62. Allan

    Hello!

    I am looking at the Sorc/Cleric/Warlock build and i definitely love it and will play it next. However, when looking at the rules for multiclassing, it specifically states in 5e that cleric’s do not gain heavy armor proficiency when entering the class from another. https://5thsrd.org/rules/multiclassing/

    I doubt this build would be significantly impacted by taking cleric at first level to gain that proficiency though, would it?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Cleric gets around this issue by giving you heavy armor proficiency as a subclass feature that you just happen to get from level 1 assuming you pick a sublcass like Life, War, or Forge.

    • Ryan

      Yes, the Life Domain (Cleric choice) gives you Heavy Armour at 1st level (the only level we take).

  63. Kosplosion

    Holy Avenger Notes-

    So I am playing this Holy Avenger build in Adventure League. Currently Lvl 5. TLDR- IT’S AWESOME!

    So this is in the build, but not discussed in the article, so wanted to highlight… Blade Ward cantrip (resistance to piercing, bludgeoning, slashing damage until end of next turn) and/or dodge (disadvantage to incoming attack rolls). If you’re less worried about damage and more worried about survival – this can be useful. The damage from Spirit Guardians will make you threatening already. Both Blade Ward and Dodge make the Spirit Guardians easier to maintain and keep you in the front of the fight longer.

    Consider this at level 7 – Upcast Armor of Agathys to 2nd level before fight start (1 hr duration). 10 temp HP + 10 dmg to melee attackers. On turn, walk into room 20 ft and use Quicken Metamagic to cast Spirit Guardians as a bonus action. As your action, cast Blade Ward Cantrip for resistance to piercing, bludgeoning, slashing. If you’re fighting melee targets in some type of room or dungeon, they’re going to have to deal the equivalent of 20 damage (while taking Armor of Agathys and Spirit Guardians damage themselves) before getting to your actual HP. And this scales as you gain higher level spell slots to upcast. I wouldn’t recast Armor of Agathys in combat, but its a guaranteed health buffer and (hopefully 2+) unavoidable melee damage couterattacks.

    Assuming +3 CON and no Hill Dwarf-
    Lvl 7 Barbarian: 75 HP (15 + 60)
    Lvl 7 Fighter: 67 HP (13 + 54)
    Lvl 7 Holy Avenger: 68 HP (9 + 7×4 + 8×2) + 5 (Lvl 2 Aid) + 10 (Lvl 2 Armor of Agathys)

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Glad you’re enjoying it =). You’re totally right about Blade Ward and Dodge, I’ve used both when I actually played this character in a campaign. I hadn’t thought of Armor of Agathys, but you’re right it’s a good way to spend some lower level spell slots and combos well with blade ward. As it so happens, I’m currently working on a part 2 for this post and Armor of Agathys does make a major appearance.

      • Kosplosion

        Thanks Ari! A few more thoughts….

        Using Point Buy, I used your recommended stats except for taking Wis to 13 and Dex to 12. The loss of +1 Wis was worth the gain of +2 Dex to me. Starting Stats: Cha & Con 16; Wis 13; Dex 12; Str & Int 8

        I was lucky enough to get a Staff of Defense around Lvl 4. Having +1 AC and 3-5 extra Shield casts has been pretty cool. I’d recommend grabbing one if possible!

        I grabbed the Lucky Feat at Lvl 4 rather than Resilient (Wis). Lucky has felt really strong at low levels and doesn’t compete with reactions like Shield and Absorb Elements. And the Resilient Feats get stronger as you level and your proficiency bonus gets higher. Plus in my campaign we’ve been almost exclusively fighting martial enemies. I plan to pick up Resilient (Wis) for my next ASI.

        I’m not at this point in the build yet, but I am currently planning to only take 3 levels of Warlock. I probably won’t use Eldritch Blast. I think I’ll have an enemy in melee range in most combats, and that would give me disadvantage on Eldritch Blast attack rolls. I won’t be using ASI’s for CHA boosts until level past level 10 and I won’t have Rod of Pact Keeper, so I’ll increasingly be less accurate. And you can’t twin metamagic EB past lvl 5. So I’ve been enjoying Twinned Toll the Dead instead. I’ll take Gift of the Ever-Living Ones and Devil’s Sight (pretty nice for a Variant Human) as my invocations. This is mostly a play-style preference. Plus, I think my DM would lecture me and my player friends would revolt if I played this build for optimal damage. Especially my friends playing martial characters haha.

        • Ryan

          I think the idea of using Eldritch Blast is on targets not currently in melee with you (i.e. you ignore the one in your face and let Spirit Guardians damage them while you try to drag others into the aura). That way there is no disadvantage to attack rolls, etc.

          • Ari Ashkenazi

            Yes that is the idea. If you want to EB the enemy in your face then you can invest an early feat into Crossbow Expert, but that’s quite a large opportunity cost in delaying your asi/feats.

  64. Ryan

    Just wanted to confirm that the multiclassing for the Holiest Warrior grants two 3rd level slots back each short rest. I know the build specified that this is useful for the Spirit Guardians, but that would only be 3d8 (since it would only be 3rd level slots that you get back from the short rest due to the Pact Magic). Is that correct? I assume the idea is to use our highest slots for Spirit Guardian (at 16th level that would be 5th level – or 5d8 for the spell damage) and that the short rest, if necessary, just potentially gives us some slots back that COULD be used for a lesser spell effect (SG) if other slots were used up?

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Yes you are correct, the warlock slots are great for when you want to conserve your resources but still put up SG. Fighting a squad of weak monsters you can just spend short rest slots instead of investing a high level long rest slot.

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