Lego Dungeons and Dragons by Marco Hazard used under CC BY-SA 2.0

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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