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 Primal Strike, Improved Wild Shape (CR2) 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!

  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.

  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!

  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.

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