Gish Optimized 3 — A Classic Fighter-Mage for 5e (Gaelya the Ghost)

Guess what time it is? Yes!! It’s Dungeons and Dragons character building time! In this third episode of the Gish Optimized series we’re going to jump into the way-back machine. We’ll harken to the time of D&D’s origins in the 1970s and 80s as we re-create that good, old Fighter-Mage from Basic and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons using the D&D 5e rules set.

Deedlit from Record of the Lodoss War was modeled after the Basic Dungeons and Dragons Elf. Elves, in turn, were the proto-typical Fighter-Mages in Dungeons and Dragons. Image source: Record of the Lodoss War Fandom. Artwork by: Artwork by Yutaka Izubuchi.

Now this particular build is one that’s near and dear to my heart. I’ve been playing Fighter-Mage types of various sorts for the better part of 41 years. Crazy, right? In fact, my first AD&D character was, you guessed it, a Fighter-Mage. This classic combo has seen many iterations over the years. It’s well represented in fiction and game-related anime. Early fantasy anime series like Record of the Lodoss War featured the Fighter-Mage prominently in Deedlit who was modeled after a Basic Dungeons and Dragons Elf. The Basic D&D Elf, in turn, mixed classic sword and sorcery. It represented the prototype for the Gish. In this build, we give homage to that fantastic origin.

Gaelya the Ghost as Classic Fighter-Mage

For our first Gish Optimized post, we explored a stab and smite style Dexadin. For our second post, we took a deep dive into the spank and flank Hexblade-Fighter or Chex-Fighter. We’re going to simply call our third Gish Optimized build the Classic (or Classic Fighter-Mage). And in this Classic build we’ll chiefly be looking for some serious versatility. More specifically — we want to be both a dangerous threat in melee combat and in slinging down various spells for devastating effect.

Unlike many combat specializations (our Dexadin was an example of a pretty specialized focus on mobile melee combat), we’re going to go wide with this build. We’re going to keep options open. Why? Because we want to be able to pick up such varied weapons as rapiers, scimitars, daggers, shortswords, longbows, crossbows, shortbows and employ each decisively. In addition, we want to really throw the heat down with our powerful magics both in NOVA bursts and over the long-term by slugging our way through big encounters. Last of all, we’ll open ourselves up to the wonderful arsenal of wands, staves, tomes, and scrolls available to mages. We’re going to have so much stuff to choose from! Which is part of the major fun involved in playing this build. So as we approach our Fighter-Mage, let’s keep in mind this generalist attitude we’re adopting to give us a crapload of tricks with which to confront the bads. This guide will help you to do all that and more.

Gaelya the Ghost’s Token for Icewind Dale

I’m playing this build now as Gaelya the Ghost in Ted Burgess’s classic Icewind Dale Dungeons and Dragons Campaign. You can watch this game on Twitch Saturday nights about once a month. I’ll also be building a video archive of these games in the Gaming Studio if you wish to find some examples of our Fighter-Mage build in action.

Level 1 — Dexterity, Intelligence, an Elf, Wizard

Alright! So let’s get started with ability score stats from point buy! Right off at first level, we are going to dump a crap-load of points, nine in all, into our most important ability — Dexterity. We are, after all, a fey wielder of sword and wizardry. As such, we want to be graceful, lithe, fast on the draw, and quick, quick, quick! DEX is so, so vital to this build for a number of reasons. The first is that we want to be tough to hit. Our HP is going to be relatively low. So we need to mitigate that vulnerability by layering in other defenses. DEX provides us with our first defensive line by bumping up our AC. It also gives us a big offensive edge by empowering both our melee and ranged attacks. Perhaps as important, DEX gives us better initiative. As a semi-squishy, we really like this extra burst of speed at the start of combat because higher initiative means we can get out of trouble if we need to. Last of all, a high Dexterity delivers the lithe, swift, mobile feel we want with this build — providing us with RP mojo in spades. Nine points in DEX starts us off with a maximum score of 15 before we pick our race.

For our next stat, we’re going to pick something that’s also really necessary for us. We’re a wizard so, you guessed it, we are also dumping a full nine points into Intelligence. INT is also crazy important for this build. So important that I hesitate to call it a secondary stat. It’s only secondary in that we’re going to be bumping INT just behind DEX as we level our Fighter-Mage. INT is of close-to-equal importance at low level and starts to really become pivotal for this build as we get into higher levels. Our Classic Fighter-Mage is thus pretty much a DAD — or dual attribute dependency — character. So we start off with a maximum score of 15 in INT as well.

Our #3 stat comes in with Constitution. With Wizard for our core class, we’re by no means a tank. That 1d6 HP for most of our levels really kinda hurts us. In fact we are more than a little squishy. This squishiness is a problem we want to mitigate. So we toss 7 points into CON. CON gives us so much! A higher score adds to our saves and, more importantly, to our concentration checks. And we are really, really going to want to maintain concentration on a good number of buff spells (more on this later). To make our Gish work, we really need at least a halfway decent CON. And with 7 points we end up with 14 CON at start of game.

After blasting through our ability score points like a teenage gamer blowing through ammo in Fortnight, we are left with just 2 points remaining for Charisma, Wisdom, and Strength. For my Fighter-Mage, I really want some Wisdom. So I spend my last two points there. I’m going to go ahead and dump both Strength and Charisma. A lot of old AD&D Fighter Mage builds also dumped Charisma. Continuing in this grand old tradition just feels right to me. But those 2 points could go anywhere. So you do you. Ultimately, these choices provide us with a spread of 8 STR, 10 WIS and 8 CHA for our dump stats. From an RP-perspective, I play Gaelya into her low Charisma. She’s a bit of a quirky loud-mouth who’s awkward in social situations and comes across as having weird obsessions (particularly with cheese).

Gish Optimized Discussion of the Fighter-Mage

Now that our Fighter-Mage ability scores are set, we move on to race. And it’s pretty obvious that we are going with the Elf. This race gives us a variety of great RP in addition to wonderful mechanical benefits. First off, we are the Classic Fighter-Mage race. Since we’re going for a classic feel, we would be remiss to overlook the elf. In addition, elves are, well, magical. Choosing High Elf, we lean into the magic even more — gaining an extra cantrip. This choice gives us a bit more wizardly oomph to add to our arsenal. High elf grants Darkvision, extra weapon proficiencies (pretty key to our Fighter-Mage feel), immunity to magical sleep, a bonus Perception skill proficiency, and the ability to shake off ghoul paralysis. The long life and catnap elf sleep provides us with even more of that lovely mojo.

With our choice of elf we also get two lovely stat bonuses. The +2 we go ahead and throw into Dexterity for a total score of 17 at start. Wof! This is huge for us! We also toss the +1 into Intelligence bumping that to 16. Now our full array is S 8 C 14 D 17 INT 16 WIS 10 CHA 8. Pretty badass.

Moving on to Class, we’re starting out as a Wizard. This limits us somewhat at level 1 on equipment. Wizard gives us a dagger, a wand, a scholar’s pack (which we might sell to buy a short sword), and the all-important Spellbook. We gain the wonderful Wizard Spellcasting and Arcane Recovery abilities. For elf, we use Tasha’s to switch our longsword proficiency for rapier and we keep the short sword, short bow, and longbow. From jump, we’re already capable of a little Fighter-Mage(ing). But let’s build on that, shall we? For cantrips, we pick Greenflame Blade and Booming Blade — both excellent gish spells. Firebolt gives us a ranged option. And because we’re a high elf we get one extra cantrip to choose. I’m picking Light. I like the RP feel of this spell and its potential major benefit for non-darkvision allies. But you do you. For our Spellbook we take Shield, Magic Missile, Magnify Gravity (If Wildemount is available for your campaign. If not, we go with Thunderwave.), Feather Fall, Detect Magic, and Absorb Elements. I find this spell load-out provides a great combination of offense, defense, and utility. If you don’t like these spells, you do you. But I’ve gotten great mileage out of them. Also, you may wonder why I’m not picking Mage Armor. In short, it’s an awesome spell that’s really useful. But I’m leaning more toward saving my spells for offense at this level and getting my armor defense at level 2.

We’re already setting up in Classic Fighter-Mage style to be very versatile. The upshot, though, is also classicly predictable — we’re a bit squishy. Our HP is 8. Our AC is 13. A vulnerability that pushes us to the back line most of the time at level 1. We can boost this AC to 18 in a pinch with shield. But we really want to be using our spell slots to lay down the Magic Missiles and Magnify Gravities (or Thunderwaves) instead. For melee, when we decide to take the risk, we rely more on Greenflame Blade for added splash damage. Don’t forget to upgrade your weapons to swords and bows when you get the opportunity.

So, right out the gate, at lvl 1 we have a magically versatile character who’s able to pick up and use various weapons with skill and who has access to one of the broadest spell selections in the game. Also pretty darn fun to play as we lean into the old adage — a strong offense is the best defense. Our Fighter-Mage does get better, though — and fast!

Level 2 — Bladesinger Wizard

Now that we’ve established ourselves as a Wizard with a smattering of fighting ability, let’s continue our growth into a Classic Fighter-Mage. As we enter level 2 we take a big step on that path by picking Bladesinger Wizard for our subclass. Now this subclass provides us with a boatload of benefits. Namely — Training in War and Song and Bladesong.

Ah! This is so exciting! Now let’s get into it!

Training in War and Song gives us a number of goodies. The first is light armor proficiency. And, as soon as possible, we pick up Studded Leather Armor to boost our base AC to 15. Nice! But it gets better. This Bladesinger training also gives us another martial weapon proficiency. Since we’re a Dexterity-based Fighter-Mage, we take scimitar. Now we have access to all the major DEX-based melee weapons. Sweet! Last of all we get Performance. This doesn’t work too great for us given our low Charisma. But it might make for some fun moments in taverns.

An elven tradition blending magic with swordplay, the Bladesinger adds both melee and defensive capability to the already-powerful Wizard base class.

Now, for the real reason we came — Bladesong. And, oh man do we get some tasty benefits when we pop this major buff in combat by expending a bonus action. First off, the magical song of our blade ripping through the air grants us the ability to add our Intelligence modifier to our AC. Immediately, this bumps our AC to 18 (if we’ve managed to pick up Studded Leather). Now we’re up there with the sword and board types when we pop this bad boy. In addition, our speed increases by 10 feet to 40. Fanfriggintastic! Remember that Dexterity? Yeah. Well, with Bladesong active we also have advantage on all Acrobatics skill checks. If we trained Acrobatics as one of our DEX skills, we can now pull off some cool stunts like walking across tightropes, door tops, or tumbling out of grapples in combat with confidence. Finally, the uber buff that is Bladesong adds our INT mod to our CON mod when we make a saving throw to concentrate on a spell. This ability pre-sets us for the major buffs we’re going to employ as we level.

With Bladesinger coming in so strong, it’s easy to neglect our other Wizarding powers. We gain two new spells for our Spellbook. We choose Find Familiar and Identify. Find Familiar gives us a nice scout and flank buddy to help enable us, our allies, and to keep us alive by providing an extra set of eyes. For Gaelya, I chose the Bat for its blindsight. However, Hawk and Owl also make for excellent choices. Identify is pretty self explanatory. It’s a utility spell you really want later on when trying to figure out what magic items do. But the 100 gold cost of the component is a bit prohibitive at this time. So we back-pocket it for later.

Level 3 — Shadow Blade

The main reason we’re here for this level is the spells. We’re a wizard after all. Since we picked up Bladesong, our melee ability has really started to shine. Sure, we’re still a squishy Wizard with just 20 hit points. For this reason, we’re not standing in front to take hits. We’re letting the real tanks like Fighters, Barbarians, Moon Druids, Paladins, Battle Engineer Artificers, and some Monks and Rangers do that. What we’re doing is playing the role of skirmisher. We hang back and lob spells when it’s called for. Then, when our opportunity to melee arrives, we come in at the flanks, hit hard, then get out.

If we’re able to take Magnify Gravity at level 1, our blasting is already well on line. In this instance, we decide to go ahead and take False Life to help boost our hit points a bit. If we do not have access to Magnify Gravity, we take Shatter instead. It’s a nice blast that will help us lay down the heat without getting mixed up with the nasties. As an AOE, it will also remove some pressure from our buddies on the front line.

Now, the second spell we’re going to take is a pure Gish boon in the form of Shadow Blade. Armed with this piece of magical brutality we now do 2d8+3 psychic damage on our attacks. Since Shadow Blade is light, we can off hand a short sword or scimitar for another 1d6. Shadow Blade also gives us advantage if we attack a creature in dim light or darkness — providing a pretty amazing accuracy boost. Using Shadow Blade in this way gives us 15.5 average damage if all hits land. That’s rather strong. We’re not a major NOVA type. We’re edged out a bit by focused DPR builds as well. But we are doing strong consistent damage in melee… as a freaking wizard. And, don’t forget, we can still use the rest of our spells to blow stuff up or do all sorts of other cool stuff. Nice.

Level 4 — Elven Accuracy

By level 4 our build gets another big step up. We’re not yet where we want to be as a Classic Fighter-Mage. But we are both happy and comfortable as a full class Wizard with some respectable melee chops. These improve when we use our ASI to take Elven Accuracy. This boosts our DEX to 18, our base AC to 16, our Bladesong AC to 19 and our Shielded AC to 24. Woah. Yeah. Those Bladesingers can achieve some of the highest AC numbers in the game. But let’s not get too cocky. We’re pretty squishy with your 26 HP (31 if you cast False Life or 36 if we upcast) which means we’re really vulnerable to those crits and other high-damage attacks. All the more reason to think of ourselves as a quick skirmisher who moves in and out of melee as opportunities and dangers arise.

Our offensive ability also gets a bump. Now we’re rocking 2d8+4+1d6 if we’re casting Shadow Blade and drawing an off-hand shortsword or scimitar.

To top it all off, we get that juicy triple advantage when we achieve combat advantage against a foe. This turns us into a tiny crit fisher. And we like those crits with the Shadow Blade at 22 average damage +3.5 if we hit with the off-hand. This crit capability of 25.5 in a round is pretty substantial. Not what your Polearm Masters, Paladins optimized for melee, or Great Weapon Fighters are able to achieve. However, our combined accuracy, consistent damage and crit fishing make us a respectable threat. Especially when we’re adding in our Wizard ability to lay down some blasts.

For spells, we pick up Mirror Image (because we really want that second layer of defense during mob situations or in instances when we may take heavy damage from a single hit) and Misty Step (because we love the mobility).

Level 5 — Fireball and Haste

Hitting level 5 we take another level in Wizard and gain access to all the gloriousness that is Fireball. This one spell is a crown jewel of awesome that we can use to blast our way through even the worst things we’ll typically face at this level. Worth noting that YMMV depending on campaign. Toting a Fireball spell around in Hell is a lot less awesome than using it to blow up undead in a dungeon. However, we still have some fall-backs in the form of our melee capability which also just got a big boost because we chose Haste. With Haste active we get an extra attack and we can use our primary action to cast Booming Blade or Greenflame Blade. When Haste combines with Bladesong we end up with a 21 base AC and a 26 AC when we Shield. If we layer this with Mirror Image, we can reliably tank in some situations. Shatter, Magnify Gravity and Magic Missile each give us some damage types that are tough to resist as a fallback. Overall, we’re looking pretty healthy. But we are really, really looking forward to next level.

Level 6 — Extra Attack, Cantrip, Spirit Shroud, Counterspell

Ah. Now here we come the delicious level of 6. And this is where our Fighter-Mage really starts to come on line. Thus far, we’ve relied a lot on our blasty magic to take care of sticky situations and to supplement our melee capability which, though strong, can sometimes feel a bit lacking. This situation starts to change in a big way at level 6.

First off, we get extra attack — putting us on par with Fighters, Paladins, Barbarians, and Pact of the Blade Warlocks with base attack numbers at this level. Nice. But then we also get the amazing Bladesinger ability to cast a cantrip for one of our attack actions. So if we use a rapier, for example, we now do 3d8+8 damage if we attack with Booming Blade or Greenflame Blade. Plus we get the rider of 1d8+3 splash damage or 2d8 damage if we meet these spells conditions. Not bad. But it gets better.

In addition, we pick some sweet spells for our Spellbook in the form of Counterspell and Spirit Shroud. Counterspell is something we really want because when we need to shut down those enemy spellcasters, this is our go-to. With 3 level 3 slots we’ve got the juice to throw it when necessary. Spirit Shroud however, provides a big buff to our melee and short range offensive oomf. Using the above mentioned combo with the rapier we do 5d8+8 damage or 30.5 average plus the riders for Greenflame Blade and Booming Blade should they trigger. It’s also worth noting that Haste is only 1 point on average behind this damage curve. With Haste and Bladesong both active, our speed is a stunning 80 feet, our armor class is 2 higher and we have advantage on Dexterity saves. We can also cast Shadow Blade at level 3 for 6d8+8 damage (35 average damage) and be a lovely crit fisher with Elven Accuracy if the Shadow Blade advantage comes on line. With a short sword in our off hand, our consistent damage increases to 38.5 per round if all hits land. On a crit, we do +13.5 for 52. Overall this is high consistent damage with a relatively low ceiling for the NOVA.

I hope you’re starting to see what I mean by versatility. We’re starting to gain access to a ton of options. We have numerous arrows in our metaphorical quiver for melee, blast, and utility magic. With Bladesinger, these magics provide potent synergies they wouldn’t otherwise.

Level 7 — First Level of Fighter

Now we could take our Bladesinger build all the way to level 20. And Bladesinger works out fantastic as a straight class. But since we are going for a classic Fighter-Mage feel, we’ll sacrifice a little wizardry to gain some martial fighting chops.

Adding a little Fighter to our Bladesinger for classic D&D flavor.

Our wizard class is now very well established. We have a good store of spell slots. We have two attacks. We have Bladesong. We have Fireball and numerous strong buffs. Adding a level of Fighter gives us some extra hit points, a fighting style, and second wind. Plus we now have access to all martial weapons. Our HP bumps to a still modest 46. But we can buff it with False Life. Second Wind gives us a little healing when we really need it. So our resiliency gets a minor boost. For fighting style, we pick Dueling. There are some potential major advantages that come from Two Weapon Fighting. But if we choose it, we really want to take Warcaster. On our build, that’s too intensive as we’re looking to max both our DEX and INT. Later on, some very nice bonus action attacks become available. So, long term, we get the most mileage out of Duelist.

As an example, Duelist bumps us to 6d8+12 damage with our level 3 Shadow Blade active for a total of 39 average DPR. Solid.

Level 8 — Back to Wizard for 4th Level Spells

At level 8 we go back to Wizard. We do really want our NOVA. But as a Fighter-Mage, we also want more spells. We decide to bite the bullet and wait. For our efforts, we gain access to 4th level spells and we gain one additional spell slot. If we have access to Wildemount, we take Gravity Sinkhole for a serious spell NOVA setup we want at level 9. By itself, Gravity Sinkhole is like a Fireball made of force that pulls our enemies toward a central point if they fail their spell save. Amazing control that we can use to enable our allies and hamper our foes in various clever ways. If Wildemount is not available, we instead take Vitriolic Sphere. For our second spell we take the relatively long-lasting Gish spell — Fire Shield. This provides us with a nice defensive buff in the form resistance to cold or fire damage on top of some reactive damage if we do get hit.

Level 9 — Fighter 2 and Action Surge

By level 9 we’re really coming into our own as a Fighter-Mage. In two words, level 2 Fighter grants us the glorious action economy benefit that is Action Surge. Now we can NOVA both with our Shadow Blade or by throwing two heavy AOE spells. With Shadow Blade active, our NOVA critical strike is pretty respectable — doing 15d8+24 or 91.5 total damage if all strikes land. This is a solid mid-range NOVA capability. We’re not hitting as hard as our Dexadin or Chex-Fighter. But we have quite a bit more AOE oomph than either of those builds.

So a little demonstration of what we may do with our new AOE NOVA capability… First, we drop Gravity Sinkhole — gathering as many foes as we can together. Then we Action Surge and cast Fireball. In total, that’s 5d10+8d6 damage to multiple targets assuming no save. Average damage on no-save is 55.5. If we catch 5 foes, with two making their saves, that’s 222 total damage over the entire strike. Now, if we’re Hasted, we can attack one additional time for 1d8+6 for 66 to a single target. Sweetness!

By level 9 we’ve really come into our own. We’ve mastered both the arts of sword and spell. We are a serious power and a force to be reckoned with. All it took was 7 levels of Bladesinger Wizard and two levels of Fighter. Over the next two levels, it gets even better.

Level 10 -13 — Wizard 8, 18 Intelligence, Steel Wind Strike, Song of Defense, Tenser’s Transformation

Now that we have Action Surge, we’re going to stick with Wizard for a while. We’re aiming both for cinematic flare and some serious smack down. At level 10 (8 Wizard and 2 Fighter) we bump Intelligence to 18. This increases our AC (bumping our max to 27 without magic item support) and it gives us a total of +6 to our concentration checks while Bladesong is active. We also get two more 4th level spells for our Spellbook. I’m partial to taking Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere and Fly from third level.

At level 11, we reach 9 in Wizard. This gives us 5th level spells. We jump all over Steel Wind Strike. Then we pick Scorching Ray (which we might’ve picked up earlier with a spell purchase). Steel Wind Strike has Gish written all over it. When we attack with this spell, we flourish our sword and then we vanish. We then choose five targets within 30 feet and make a melee spell attack against each. If we hit, we deal 6d10 damage. If we score a critical hit, this damage doubles.

Now our NOVA round looks amazing. It has pure Gish written all over it. And we have so, so many NOVA options. In one example, we cast Spirit Shroud adding +1d8 damage to our attacks. We choose radiant because we want to be shiny for this. For an AOE NOVA we cast Gravity Sinkhole for 5d10, move into position, and then we cast Steel Wind Strike for 6d10+1d8 for all targets within 10 feet and 6d10 to all other targets. Average damage against a single target is 65 and we can probably get between 4-5 if we’re smart and foes are numerous. If we crit against a single target, the total damage is 98. Brutal. Now, for a single target NOVA, we cast Spirit Shroud at level 5 for +2d8 damage. Then we focus fire two action surged Scorching Rays at level 4 for 20d6+20d8. If all strikes hit, we do 160 damage on this NOVA. If one of these attacks crit, we do 176. Now that’s some serious NOVA potential — both as AOE and as focus fire. We have more to come.

At level 12, we go to level 10 in Wizard. We get a second 5th level slot and we decide to pick up Dimension Door and Animate Objects. We’ve got great uses for our concentration in the form of Spirit Shroud, Shadow Blade, and Haste. But Animate Objects even at this level is pretty amazing. With 3 4th level slots, Dimension Door also now becomes quite useful. Having two level 5 slots lets us cast Steel Wind Strike twice if we are well positioned to unload 12d10+2d8 (75) against five targets. On a crit, one of these targets takes 117. Pretty brutal combination of focus fire and AOE. In addition, we gain access to Song of Defense which lets us use a reaction to trade spells for damage reduction at 5 HP per spell level. Song of Defense competes with our other reactions like Shield, Absorb Elements, and Counterspell. But if we take a heavy hit, it provides us with a good option to both radically reduce the damage and to save our concentration.

By level 13 we’re accessing 6th level spells. We pick Tenser’s Transformation and Gravity Fissure. Our Gish-NOVA, which was already strong, takes another step up. We can achieve this NOVA a number of ways. In one example, as a bonus action, we cast Spirit Shroud at level 5. Then we cast Steel Wind Strike twice using Action Surge for 12d10+4d8 or 84 average damage per target and 135 against a single target on a crit. Meanwhile, our focus fire NOVA with Scorching Ray has jumped to 26D6+26D8 or 208 if all attacks land, 224 if one of these is a crit. We’re also doing substantial consistent damage with our rapier while level 5 Spirit Shroud is active at 8d8+12 or 48 plus around 13 if Booming Blade or Greenflame Blade trigger. This without magic item support. On the hit point side, we’re more than a bit squishy at 84. But our AC is 20 with Bladesong Active and goes to 25 when we cast Shield (up to 27 with Haste).

Level 14-16 Dexterity 20, Reverse Gravity, and Song of Victory

At level 14, we are level 12 in Wizard. This means we get another ASI. We choose to boost our Dexterity to 20. Along down the line, we get a 21 AC with Bladesong active, we do a total of +7 damage with our rapier (without magic item enhancement), we’re +12 to hit with our weapon attacks now (unmodified), and our initiative mod goes up to 5. For our two spells, I’m thinking Chain Lightning and Wall of Force.

At level 15 we access 7th level spells. Now we achieve another major boost on our focus fire spell NOVA in the form of Crown of Stars — adding 4d12+2d8 as a bonus action (or 170 and 259 respectively). For our second spell in our book we take Reverse Gravity. I love the effect of Reverse Gravity so much that it’s tough for me to pick between the two. For my play, I’ll probably keep the slot open for both and use as the situation dictates.

Often over-looked, Reverse Gravity can really ruin the day for team monster.

At level 16 we gain Song of Victory. This amazing rider to our Bladesong adds our intelligence modifier to our damage rolls. At this point, it’s worth assessing our average damage again since we’ve added so many goodies. If we’re going for high consistent damage, we’re casting Spirit Shroud at level 5, we’re also activating Bladesong and Song of Victory and we’ve cast Crown of Stars. This gives us 8D8+22 damage from our direct attacks for 58 average. If we’re able to hit with one of our stars, we do an additional 4d12+2D8 for another 35. Total is 93 which is pretty brutal. We add about another 13 if Booming Blade or Greenflame Blade trigger. And if we crit, we do up to another 35 damage for a total of 128. This is pretty substantial consistent damage. All without magic item support. Although we may suffer if we can’t organize our attacks so we can make a ranged strike with Crown of Stars while not adjacent to someone who threatens us in melee.

For spells, we do some back-filling and take Contingency and Simulacrum. Simulacrum can be a game-breaking spell, so use with caution and consult your GM before pulling it out. It’s possible we may want to save it for a big final battle when our companions will tend to appreciate the help more than being annoyed with us effectively playing two characters. In some campaigns, we may just want to avoid Simulacrum entirely. If you’re in a high-powered game, if the other players are optimized, and if the chips are down, then trot out your Simulacrum and double your NOVAs in a clutch moment. But be careful. Your snowman duplicate is even squishier than you. It’s also vulnerable to Dispel Magic.

Level 17-20 Dark Star, Meteor Swarm, Battlemaster

At Level 17, we are a level 15 Wizard. We now have 8th level spells and we take Dark Star. This brutal spell creates a 40 foot radius area of dark, deafening, silencing, crushing magical force. It does 8d10 damage per turn and is a major lock-down against enemy spellcasters particularly. This makes it one of the best area denial spells in the game. It’s concentration. So we don’t drop it unless it’s a clutch moment. But if we pick our moment and concentrate our foes, we could produce a devastating effect. Of course this is a Wildemount spell, so we may not get it. If not, we probably pick Incendiary Cloud. Our second spell, regardless, is Sun Burst.

Level 18 gives us 16 Wizard and our last ASI. We drop it into Intelligence. Now with both DEX and INT at 20, we’re at 22 base AC with Bladesong active. Shield pushes us to 27. Haste gets us to 29. All without magic item support. We’ve basically added 3 since level 5. So enemy hits do land a bit more often. However, it’s also likely we’ve picked up at least some form of protective magic item. If not, it’s very easy for us to cast Mage Armor and get to 23, 28, and 30 AC respectively. Our Bladesong now also adds 5 to our damage rolls with our blade and 5 to our concentration checks along with all the other goodies.

Our Bladesinger/Fighter build is just one of many possible Fighter-Mage combinations. Bladesinger artwork by Midnight Crows.

Since this is our last level before 9th level spells, it might be fun to do a basic NOVA example using only spell buffs, weapons, and a tiny bit of extra something to demonstrate our versatility. So activating Spirit Shroud using a 7th level slot we add 3d8 to each attack against a target within 10 feet. We’re using our rapier for 1d8+12 damage. We add in Booming Blade or Greenflame Blade for another 3d8 on two of our melee attacks with action surge. And we have Crown of Stars active for our devastating bonus action attack. If we Action Surge and manage a ranged attack with Crown of Stars we do 25D8+4d12+48 for a total of 186 or 225.5 if we crit. Not too shabby. Our damage per round in this set-up is 14D8+4d12+24 or 113 which is pretty freaky. All without magic item support. It’s worth noting that we are burning a 5th, a 7th, and an 8th level slot to achieve this level of melee destruction. But it may be worth it.

For 8th level spells we take Clone and Teleport. One spell will literally give us a second shot at life when we’re killed. The other will give us a lot of potentially life-saving mobility options.

Level 19…. Ahhh…. 9th level spells and 17th level Wizard. Sweetness! We’ve waited a long time for these. Early on, we made a major trade-off by taking two levels of Fighter. This gave us the option of both melee and spell NOVA type attacks for numerous levels. But, at level 17, we paid for it when we missed out on the gloriousness that is Meteor Swarm and other 9th level spells. Now, after going without for two levels, we finally catch up. Taking Meteor Swarm gives us an enormous spell NOVA. In addition, Shape Change provides access to some truly amazing alternate forms such as the Planetar and the Adult Silver Dragon.

Coming at last to level 20, we take our final level as a Fighter. We’ve mostly maxed out our potential as a Wizard. Now, we add some serious martial prowess to our arsenal in the form of Battlemaster maneuvers. For these, we pick quick toss, riposte, and brace. Now we have four dice we can use to add various forms of extra attacks as either bonus actions or reactions. These additions really expand our options in combat. They also make our short rests a lot sweeter as we recharge these maneuvers, 9 levels of spell slots, our Action Surge and our Second Wind. Our NOVA crit round also just got a big boost. Right now, we have so many options for this. So let’s give another example of what we’re capable of. Assuming we cast Shadow Blade at level 7, we can cast Meteor Swarm for 140 average damage if the target fails its save, then Action Surge for another 16d8+36 (108) +6d8 (27) when we attack twice more and then quick toss and crit for a total of 275. If we draw another weapon after we threw the Shadow Blade we can Brace or Riposte off-turn for another 2d8+12 (21) bumping our single turn damage to 226-296 to a single target and 70-140 to multiple others. Severe devastation.

Action Economy, 9th Level Spellcasting, Powerful NOVA — All in One Admittedly Fragile Package

In closing, this build has so many options available to it, I could write multiple build guides just talking about the various spell and combat combos to choose from. For example, at level 16 with Tenser’s Transformation, a hand crossbow, and Crown of Stars active we can do 2d6+8d12+22 (81) damage per round to a medium range target with Bladesong active. Due to Tenser’s, our weapon attacks are at triple advantage. This without expending any feat cost for Sharpshooter or sacrificing accuracy to get a +10 to our damage rolls. Plus we have 50 temporary hit points for when we decide to wade into battle. And when we switch to rapier we do 2d8+8d12+22 (83) damage per round if all hits land while also maintaining our triple advantage on 2 attacks. Our crits on these rounds push us to 96.5 and 98.5 respectively. And this is just combat. Another guide could be built around the various utility spells and combos you could muster.

It’s worth noting that we’re rather squishy and rely on spells for a second line of defense. At level 20, we only have 128 HP (6×16 + 8×4) without magic item support. In comparison, our Hex-Fighter has 205 base HP at the same level and our Dexadin has 164. Thus, Tenser’s, Contingency, Shapechange, False Life, Song of Defense and other protective magics are often necessary fallbacks. An Amulet of Health is something we really desirable. We may also want to invest in the Clone spell in the event of tragedy. This low HP is the chink in our armor throughout our career. But we do have the massive power of a near-full spellcaster along with the extra defenses of the Bladesinger to throw down to help us survive. We’ll probably need it. If we’re playing this build right, we’re going to draw some serious aggro from team monster.

Overall, this build runs fast and powerful. It does not hit as hard in melee as the top line direct damage focused builds. But it comes close. And it is one of the best builds in the game for controlling the battlefield, shaping reality, and dealing mass damage to multiple foes. For more than half of your career through level 20 you’ll have access to Action Surge to pull some clutch moves by casting two spells in the same round, casting a spell and then attacking with a melee or ranged weapon, or going full NOVA with your weapon of choice. This combination of martial prowess, spell power, and action economy will make you a serious force to recon with on the battlefield, particularly if you’re a strategic thinker.

Our Classic Fighter Mage build has thus captured much of the original flavor of earlier incarnations and is overall an amazingly fun build to play. I hope our enjoy!

Gish Optimized — The Dexadin (Morgen Schnee as Ultimate Duelist)

Welcome to Gish Optimized — a new series dedicated to optimizing one of the most enjoyable sub-types to play in all of Dungeons and Dragons. The Gish!

Named After the Githyanki of D&D Yore

So what is a Gish, you may ask? Well, Gish is an old term dating all the way back to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. It comes from a specific monster — the Githyanki. First appearing in the Fiend Folio, published in 1981, the Githyanki were an evil race of humans who managed to throw off enslavement by the terrible Mind Flayers (aka Illithid).

A Githyanki Gish. Image from Forgotten Realms Fandom.

Having served under these despotic masters for generations, the Githyanki had developed a combination of powerful magic, potent psionics, and mastery of deadly magical weapons. In particular, Silver Swords were prized items forged by Githyanki and gifted to their most powerful swordmasters. These special talents aided them in their revolt. Led by their progenator — Gith — the Githyanki soon became the most feared pirates of the Astral Sea.

First Figher/Mages, Then The World

Among the Githyanki was a special sub-class known as the Gish. In Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Gish were fighter/mages. And they were among the most badass of the type — slinging spells and swinging swords to deadly effect. As the years progressed, people who played characters that specialized in magic and swordplay often became known as Gishes — no matter the race. This urbanized term also steadily became non-specific to class — including Figher/Mages, Ranger/Druids, AD&D Bards, Fighter/Clerics and so on. As Dungeons and Dragons transitioned through editions 2-5, Gish became even more generalized and popularized. Many fictional characters in the modern zeitgeist combined swordplay with magic and people trying to build their favorite anime, movie, or live-action character in game often fell back to the Gish to make their powers seem more real.

5th Edition — The Golden Age of Gishes

Enter 5th Edition D&D and we come to the golden age of Gishes. A time when there are many, many core classes and subclasses that mix swordplay with magic. Eldritch Knight Fighters, Rangers of every stripe, Paladins, Bladesinger Wizards, Sword and Valor Bards, melee Clerics, and Pact of the Blade Warlocks all easily fall into this category. And that’s without multiclassing — which can back into a Gish in about a thousand different ways. Some 5e core classes are even specialized to the point that they can burn spell slots to make their sword strikes stronger. That infamous SMITE ability used by Paladins and, to a lesser degree, Pact of the Blade Warlocks. So it is fitting that for our first blog on the subject of Gish optimization, we’ll be looking at the King, or in this case, the Queen of Smites — the Paladin.

The Dexadin Optimized

Enter the Dexadin — or the dexterity-focused Paladin. It’s an oft-neglected Paladin build for numerous reasons. First, D&D typically preferences strength builds for melee damage. This is due, in part, to the fact that Great Weapon Master and Polearm Master are seriously potent feats. And you can find a thousand blogs and videos proclaiming the strengths of each. In another, somewhat more subtle, respect those sticking with Dexterity for a melee-focused class like Paladin also can miss out on powerful magic item drops — which in the published modules preference longswords and greatswords. This is particularly true for Adventurer’s League which relies on published material. One exception to this general rule is the Sun Blade — which appears in Curse of Strahd and Out of the Abyss. Another is a DADL adventure that includes a Vorpal scimitar. Those playing with Game Masters willing to drop things like Vorpal scimitars and Holy Avenger rapiers and short swords in their original built-worlds may tend to be less inhibited by lack of powerful dexterity-capable items in the standard adventures. It’s a soft constraint for these reasons.

On the flip side, the Dexadin has a number of inherent base benefits. The first is that high dexterity preferences better initiative roles. This moves our Gish off the line fast, allowing her to get in front of the flow of battle and capitalize on superior action economy. But have a care! Acting early in initiative is a great way to draw aggro. So watch out and don’t punk team monster too hard or too early unless you’re ready to take the incoming fire.

The second inherent benefit for the Dexadin is arguably a bit meh — you are better at ranged attacks. This adds some useful versality. But have a care — you’re a melee-focused character. So your specialty is not going to be ranged. Particularly, if you want to have the added defense bonus coming from a shield your use of bows will be inhibited by the action economy cost of taking the shield on and off. And you really want to have that shield bonus. Because you’re going to be in the enemy’s face a lot. Depending on your party composition, you will often be the first person in the enemy’s face. Dropping the shield to use a bow will seriously hurt your survivability. And, after damage, survivability is something we’ll be looking to optimize — at least a little bit. Sure, you’ll still want to have a longbow for those times when the enemy is way off and you can’t reach them. But you are going to have some vicious mobility (another thing we are somewhat optimizing — you want to get to the bads to deliver your SMITE after all). So as you level, situations where you can’t deploy your rapier and, more importantly, your SMITE, will grow more and more seldom.

The third inherent benefit is your higher dexterity gives you better saves to avoid AOE damage. This benefit can be kinda situational depending on campaign. However, DEX saves are some of the most common. And having both high DEX and high CHA will give you an effective soft proficiency in DEX saves. This is pretty darn cool.

Last of all, a high DEX opens you up to the PIERCER feat to use with your rapier, shortsword and, yes, longbow. Though not great by itself, this feat adds synergy to your inherent build benefits. It gives you a signature Brutal Critical-style move and it adds to your round-to-round damage by giving you a re-roll for piercing damage. Don’t like that 1. Reroll it. Pretty darn cool.

Morgen Schnee as Ultimate Gish Duelist

So we’ve talked a little bit about the basics of our Dexadin Gish build. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, crunchy-monkey stuff, let’s define what we are going for with our Dexadin. So what kind of Gish are we looking at here, after all?

First of all, we’re not looking at a BLAST and bash kind of Gish. Nor are we looking at an explosive PINATA kind of tank with damage retribution kind of Gish. Nor a SPANK and flank Gish… we could go on and on. In fact, we’ll be looking at some of these Gish builds later. For our Dexadin, though, which I’m calling Morgen Schnee after my Battlestorm Online character (Because she’s using this exact build. So if it rocks, you can watch it rock live on Twitch most Thursday nights from 930 to midnight. And if it sucks, you can also watch me fall on my face live as well. Bonus!), is a fast-moving pounce and SMITE Gish. In other words, Morgen the Dexadin uses her magic to position herself on the battlefield, to maneuver to strike the enemy with a serious VEANGEANCE in NOVAs or mini NOVAs, and to teleport herself out of sticky, high-aggro situations.

Our Dexadin is based on my Morgen Schnee build for Battlestorm Online — run by Ted Burgess. Above is my Roll20 character Bio for Morgen. You can watch the latest episode of Battlestorm Online most Thursdays on Twitch. Archived episodes are on YouTube.

So without further ado, let’s get into some crunchy highlights of the build. To be clear, I won’t be hitting every aspect of this build. But I will be giving you the major bits. So have fun building and/or customizing your own stab and SMITE Dexadin.

The Stab and SMITE Dexadin

Level 1 — We start with point buy. We put 9 points into Dexterity. This is our primary attribute and we really want to start at a 17 in this stat. 9 points gets us to 15. So we’re a lot of the way there. Next, we want a lot of Charisma. Sure, we could go Constitution secondary if we wanted more survivability. But the added synergy for the class coming from Charisma buffing you and your allies at later levels is kinda a big deal. In addition, the high score makes you shine in personal interactions. And we’re RPing this puppy as a bit of a glam Paladin. So we want 9 points for CHA — giving us a 15. We talked about Constitution earlier and we don’t want to neglect this needed attribute for front liners. You may not be a big bruiser, but you want to be tough enough to take some rockin’ hits. So we also throw 7 points into Constitution, but we won’t be bumping up with ASIs for this stat. This leaves you with 2 points for STR, WIS, and INT. I dumped STR and WIS to 8 and put Morgen’s INT at 10. But you do you.

Tony DiTerlizzi’s original conceptual drawings of Aasimar from 2e Dungeons and Dragons remain among the best, IMO. Image Source: Forgotten Realms Fandom.

Next we do race. Ahh…. All the wonderful options! We could definitely go elf and rock some cool elfin accuracy. And that is a seriously potent build notion in and of itself. We could go Custom Lineage or Variant Human to get some badass feats right out the gate. Great choices that I would never criticize. But, for Morgen, who’s a genuinely benevolent person, we want something with a bit more of a, dare I say, angelic feel. And for this build to really sing we want to get some serious extra scaling base damage, two damage resistances, mobility (do I hear flight?), and versatility options. Yep. You guessed it. The race we are choosing is Aasimar. Do I hear some groans? Are there angel haters among the masses? Probably. So if you’re one of those who doesn’t like Aasimar, perhaps just go elf or human or tiefling or custom lineage or somesuch. For my part, I like the Aasimar, particularly for this build. The first reason is we are building in a handy little kill switch that helps to balance out the fact that we chose the arguably less damage-optimal Dexadin build. We have to compensate for not having a polearm or a greatsword in some way. I chose angel. And right off the bat we get some cool buffs — first is Light Bearer, which gives us the Light spell as a cantrip. This is a very handy utility option that is quite thematic. It also gives you the ability to help your non-darkseeing buddies in a pinch. They’ll appreciate it. On top of your base Paladin Lay on Hands you get one HP of healing hands. It may not sound like much, but it will put one of your buddies back on his feet. Something that can save your entire party in a sticky situation. You get Darkvision too. In addition, you gain some amazing resistances — one to radiant damage and one to necrotic damage. The latter is literally a life-saver. Some of the nastiest monster damage types come from necrotic sources. Did I hear someone say Catoblepas? I think I did.

Using the Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything rules for character creation, we take the Aasimar starting ability score bonuses of +2, +1 and apply them to Dexterity and Charisma. This gives us a 17 DEX and a 16 CHA. Pretty badass, right? It gets better.

For class, we take Paladin. This is what we signed up for in the first place, right? No major Gish stuff at level 1. We have to wait ’til level 2 to get to that. However, we do access some great healing magic in the form of Lay on Hands, a cool detection suite in Divine Sense, basic armor and weapons proficiencies are all part of the bargain for our Dexadin.

For gear we want good AC and good attacks. At level 1 our options are limited. So we choose rapier which gives us 1D8+3 damage (not too shabby), a shield, and sell the chain mail for half to buy scale mail armor. An 18 AC at level 1 is looking pretty good too. We might spend our extra background cash to get another dagger or three (we took 1 at the start). Our high DEX makes throwing daggers look pretty optimal at this level.

So this rounds out our choices for level 1.

Moving on to Level 2, there are two things we really, really, like. The first is our fighting style. Since we’re a rapier-wielder and we’re interested in damage, we pick duelist. The +2 to damage may not sound like much. But it’s a solid static addition. This bumps us to 1d8+5 on our unaugmented strikes in melee and 1d4+5 with our thrown daggers. We’re not as badass as the human with the polearm or greatsword or maul at this point. But we are solid rockin an 18 AC, 18 HP and doing good consistent damage. We are also versatile with a pretty decent short ranged option while still holding a shield.

At level 2 we also get the spells. Oh, the yummy, yummy Paladin spells! I feel like I just opened a jar of spell jelly beans. Who needs magic spell cards when you can eat your own components? Watch out Magic the Gathering! All that tastiness aside, this is when our Gish aspect really comes online. With our 16 Charisma, we get 3 bonus spells and at 1/2 our level we have 1 base spell to choose from. That’s four. And since we are a Paladin, we can choose any four spells from the whole list each and every friggin day. Now that’s some versatility.

A drow Dexadin designed by Imogen Kaal. View Kaal’s portfolio here.

For our typical load-out, we are picking Divine Favor, Cure Wounds, Protection From Evil, and Shield of Faith. Divine Favor is a seriously badass buff spell. It’s a bonus action, so you don’t lose much action economy. And it adds +1d4 RADIANT damage to each of your strikes. It takes 4 hits to catch up to a first level SMITE, though. More if you’re fighting undead or fiends. However, for a long fight, this can really up your damage consistency round over round. Something that a Paladin can really want when dealing with mobs rather than bosses. Be careful at this level, though. Divine Favor is a concentration spell and right now your Constitution saves aren’t great. So you risk losing Divine Favor quick if you draw too much aggro. Consider for ranged attacks, long combats, and combats where you can position yourself to draw less aggro. Cure Wounds is a great backup to have for healing your friends. You’ll typically be wanting to spend your spells on SMITES. And you already have 10 HP of Lay on Hands, plus 2 HP of Healing Hands from Aasimar. That’s already pretty solid for an off-healer. But I find that when you need healing, you really need healing. And you don’t want to be empty when you really need healing. Protection From Evil is one of the most badass defensive spells against fiends that money can buy. Disadvantage to hit you is no joke, especially if you are mobbed. The other riders on Protection From Evil are situational life-savers. You want to have them when you are in THAT situation. Last of all Shield of Faith is a serious defensive buff. Your mileage may vary, though. I often prefer SMITES and Divine Favor. But when I want 20 AC at lvl 2, I want my bonus action to active Shield of Faith.

Enter Level 3 and we really start to see this build blossom. For starters we get to pick our Paladin Oath. Since we are playing a duelist focused Dexadin, we are picking the Oath Vengeance. RP-wise I might catch some flak for this. The standard understanding is that Oath of Vengeance Paladin is your Batman Paladin. A dark knight who may be less scrupulous in her quest to eradicate the world of evil. For Morgen, I’m going to focus more on the righteous rage side of the Oath of Vengeance. Her Oath is declared when evil pisses her off. And when that happens, the gloves are off. Otherwise, she’s a pretty kind, if a bit fiery and strong-willed person. Rules-wise, Oath of Vengeance gives us some serious sweetness in the form of Oath of Enmity. This turns on advantage against a chosen foe once per short rest as a bonus action. Abjure Enemy is pretty cool too as it’s an automatic debuff to one enemy’s mobility. That said, it’s more situational and secondary to the glorious vengeance coming from the Oath of Enmity.

Oath of Enmity gives us one half of the kill switch we are developing for our Dexadin. The second half of our kill switch also comes online at level 3. And that’s our Protector Aasimar ability — Radiant Soul. Ooowee, now we are talking. Radiant Soul causes beautiful spectral wings to sprout from your back — granting you a fly speed of 30 feet and causing one of your attacks or spells to do additional radiant damage equal to your level once on each of your turns.

An aasimar depicted by missuskisses on deviantart.

Why is this a kill switch and how does it work out for you? Well, since you have a high dexterity, you roll high on the initiative. You’re in a room with a big bad. You see the big bad and you want to throw down some serious heat. You spend your action to sprout your radiant wings and ignite your weapon with radiance. You spend your bonus action to declare you Oath of Enmity. Now you are a flying menace to your chosen foe dealing 1d8+8 damage on your weapon strikes and making your attacks at advantage. And don’t discount the ability to fly in selective combats without the use of a spell or magic item. The mobility from flight ensures that you will be able to deliver your damage more consistently while giving you better options to choose your place on the battlefield.

But wait, it just got even better. Why? Because you added one new first level Paladin spell slot. This means three potential smites. In addition, you’ve just gained access to Hunter’s Mark and Bane from your new Oath of Vengeance class. This means that on round 2 you can cast divine favor, or hunters mark and smite on a strike in which you hit — dealing 3d8+1d6+8 damage on a single strike or an average of 24 damage. If you crit, this rises to 40 average damage. And you can do it again next round. This is a solid mini kill switch for level 3. It bumps you up into the ranks of stronger damage dealers. You’re not the best of the best NOVA types at this level. But you are now quite respectable when considering both accuracy and damage output against a single foe.

Level 4, however, is when things start to get really fancy for our Dexadin. Because at this level we gain access to our first feat or ASI. Now I know I mentioned the Piercer feat and you’re probably thinking we take that feat here to bump our dexterity to 18 and gain the nice benefits of Piercer. But while that is tempting, I’m going to ask that we hold off a bit before dipping into Piercer. Am I crazy? Maybe, but hear me out.

Instead of Piercer we are looking at entirely different feat for level 4. Remember when we talked about those great feats for Strength-based Paladins way back in this blog? Well, we’re going to take one of those. Specifically, we’re going to take Great Weapon Master. Woah! You can only use that with heavy weapons you say? Well, that is only half true. Bear with me while we look at the wording of this amazing feat. Specifically at the first benefit:

“On your turn, when you score a critical hit with a melee weapon or reduce a creature to 0 hit points with one, you can make one melee weapon attack as a bonus action.”

This text doesn’t say anything about using a heavy weapon to gain this benefit. You just have to use a melee weapon. The second benefit of the feat does, however specify that you use a heavy weapon to subtract 5 to hit and add 10 to damage. So we can’t use that. But for our Dexadin, the added action economy of the first benefit — gain a bonus action attack when we crit or kill is a big deal. One that is too big to pass up. It sets up the possibility of a severe NOVA critical strike round in which we crit, smite, then use the bonus attack to smite again if we hit. Being an Oath of Veangeance and declaring our Oath of Enmity on a boss target also makes it more likely that these crits will occur and that the second attack will land.

Boom! Now we are talking! Still feeling jealous of Mr. Polearm or Mrs. Greatsword? Probably a little. But not as much. And we still get the nice benefit from our shield. Pretty sweet right?

At Level 5 we get the glorious thing that is extra attack and we add in some great new spells. Let’s go with the spells first. Oath of Vengeance gives us two beauties. The first is Hold Person. This spell is absolutely badass if it lands because it imposes paralysis — which makes all attack hits that land from 5 feet critical strikes while taking away the target’s actions until they save. This is a major team enabler, particularly if another of your allies is also a heavy hitter. The second, however, is one of the main reasons why we chose the Oath of Vengeance. And that is the beautiful spell as mobility enhancer that is Misty Step — hitherto referred to as Bampf! Caught in the jaws of a T-rex? Bampf! Surrounded by enemies with no way out? Bampf! Big fire gaint grabs you and wants to carry you off? Bampf! Out of movement and really want to hit that bad guy with your rapier? Bampf! The beautiful mobility potentials provided by Misty Step as Bampf are practically endless. And this wonderful spell adds another mobility arrow into a quiver that also now includes your Aasimar flight ability as Radiant Soul. Now that’s some synergy, baby!

Overall, our spell/smite quiver is starting to also get rather substantial at this level — 3 first level spells and 2 second level spells for 5 in total, plus our light cantrip. Yeah. That’s pretty Gish-a-licious.

But, arguably, the main reason we’re here is the extra attack. Now we get two attacks per round which is a major damage boost. Un-buffed, we’re doing 1d8+5 twice. Pretty decent consistent damage. If we crit or kill, we get another attack as a bonus action. And that’s also without magic item support. But where we really shine is during what I’m calling NOVA-critical rounds. What’s a NOVA-critical? Well, it’s when you do an explosive NOVA attack following a critical hit. These strikes aren’t easy to plan. But because we have the Oath of Enmity power granted by our Vengeance pali, we can fish for them. We want to fish for them on big bads. And when those fish do bite, they are really big catches.

So let’s apply our kill switch and see what a NOVA-crit round looks like. Round 1 we set up with Radiant Soul and Oath of Enmity on our chosen victim. Round 2 we crit with one attack for 2d8+6d8+5 (radiant soul) +5 (regular damage mod) for an average of 46 damage. We bonus action attack to smite for 1d8+3d8+5 — average 23 damage. And we take our second attack to smite for 1d8+2d8+5 or 18.5 damage. That’s 87.5 in total, without magic item support. If we had the time to cast Divine Favor, we add another 10 damage for 97.5. If we are fighting Undead or Fiends, this average damage rises to 115.5 assuming the 3 attacks hit. All with a rapier. How effective do we feel now? In addition, we are probably also flying, rocking a 19 AC with half plate, and sporting 42 hit points. We have 25 hp worth of healing in Lay on Hands and 5 from Healing Hands. All non spell. So we can give this to our allies or self heal without burning our spell or smite resources. On top of all this we have good initiative rolls and do nice consistent damage due to our combination of duelist and rapier weapon master.

I’m going to fast forward through the next levels a bit because I’m pretty sure you’ve gotten a gist of the build.

Video guide to the Stab and SMITE Dexadin on YouTube and Twitch.

Level 6 we pick up Aura of Protection — a great ally buff. Level 7 we get Relentless Avenger — another mobility buff that’s pretty situational for us because we are not a Polearm Master. But this was your choice when we picked Dexadin.

By Level 8 we finally pick the Piercer Feat. This bumps our Dexterity to 18, giving us an added +1 to hit and damage with our rapier. It also gives us a free re-roll on one of our rapier damage dice each turn and it grants us a +1d8 on damage when we crit with our rapier. Now Rapier crits, without smites, do 3d8+6 damage AND give us a bonus action attack through our Great Weapon Master feat.

At Level 9 we pick up 3rd level spells. For us this is another big milestone level as we gain access to the major mobility and attack buffing spell — Haste. Another gem coming from our Oath of Vengeance subclass. Haste gives us 3 attacks per round — four if we crit or kill. It also gives us advantage on all dex saves. This beautifully synergizes with our +7 bonus to dexterity saves by this level. Last of all, it doubles our base movement speed to 60 for both walking and flying. Haste is thus the third leg of our mobility platform that now includes Radiant Soul (flight), Misty Step, and Haste. All give us the ability to deliver our increasingly devastating attacks over larger and larger portions of the battlefield. Who needs ranged weapons when you have the means to reach your foes with near impunity. Some caution here is advisable. All these spells and powers take prep to set up or burn your bonus action. In addition, Haste is a concentration magic. You are +5 to your Constitution saves at this time. But Haste can still go down from damage or be dispelled. When this happens, your action economy takes a serious hit. So keep these limitations in mind when deploying Haste.

At Level 10, you gain Aura of Courage — a buff your allies will love you for.

And by Level 11 your attacks become even more potent through Improved Divine Smite. Your now doing 2d8+6 damage on each attack with your rapier without magic item support. If you’re Hasted, you apply this damage 3-4 times each round. That’s powerful consistent damage. If you turn on your kill switch — Radiant Soul + Oath of Enmity, you’re making all these attacks with advantage and you’re doing an additional 11 radiant damage on one of these strikes on a turn. All without adding in SMITES. When you do SMITE, you’re adding up to 5d8 damage with a level 3 spell slot. This is amazing on a number of levels. So let’s do another NOVA-crit assessment. In total on a NOVA-crit round in which you have Haste active, you hit on every attack, and you SMITE on every attack, you do a total of 11d8+23d8+35 damage. This averages out to 190 damage when adding in the extra d8 and one reroll from Piercer. With a rapier. Brutal! You are now competitive with some of the top NOVA builds while also maintaining a solid presence on the battle field when you aren’t blowing things up. You’re also very mobile when you choose to be and you have good survivability and defenses.

Hitting Level 12 we take an ASI to bump Dexterity to 20. This feels really good. We have probably already shed medium armor for Studded Leather. With a DEX of 20, our defenses are now strong — just 1 shy of those with plate mail and shield. Our initiative is now +5. And we have a Dexterity saving throw bonus of +8. Our base weapon damage again bumps — going to 2d8+7 with our Rapier. Sweetness!

Level 13 gives us some more spell goodies in the form of Banishment and Dimension Door. Banishment is a great trick for removing bads from the field. It’s a Charisma save which can be hard for many monsters to make. Just remember this spell is Concentration. So it may interfere with some of your other choices. Dimension Door is a big Bampf that takes an action to cast. But when you need to move 500 feet you have it. Another spell I’m going to recommend for this level is Greater Find Steed. We are already mobile through various spell and power options. But summoning a Pegasus with 90 feet of flight speed gives us even more range on a big battlefield. Remember, though, that we are not optimized for Mounted Combat. So the Pegasus’s survivability will rely a lot on your positioning on the battlefield.

Level 14 gives us Cleansing Touch with is a good, if situational, debuff remover.

Level 15… Ah… Delicious Level 15… gives us the wonderful, wonderful power adding on to our Oath of Enmity that is Soul of Vengeance. So against our sworn foe, with Haste active, we are making between 4 and 5 attacks per round if the baddie makes an attack. To be clear, the nasty doesn’t have to attack us for our Dexadin to get this benefit. It just has to attack something.

Coming to Level 16, we get another feat or ASI. At this level we really want some higher saving throws and so do our allies. So we are going to finally bump our Charisma — this time to 18. An 18 Charisma gives us +4 to all our saves. Allies in our aura also gain this benefit — which is set to expand to a 30 foot radius pretty soon. So now is a great time to give the Aura of Protection benefit a boost.

At Level 17 we gain Hold Monster and Scrying as well as 5th level spell slots. Hold Monster is an even better version of Hold Person. One that is made even more potent now that we have an 18 Cha. Scrying is a really cool spell for a Vengeance Paladin — afforing you with another tool for tracking down your sworn foes. Worthy of mention at this point is the level 3 spell Spirit Shroud — which up-cast to level 5 nets us an additional +2d8 on damage per hit. We probably still prefer Haste due to its synergistic benefits coming from mobility, defense, and the extra hasted action attack. However, Spirit Shroud is only a bonus action to cast. And though it requires concentration like Haste, it does not have the major drawback for ending the spell. Something to think about. Also worth mentioning is Banishing Smite. This is situationally very dangerous as it can be used on both melee and ranged attacks — dealing +5d10 damage and granting the ability to potentially remove a foe from combat entirely if they have less than 50 hit points remaining.

At Level 18 we get big expanded auras — that’s 30 feet for our Aura of Protection and Aura of Courage. Our allies are going to really love this. At this level, let’s do our last NOVA-Crit damage assessment. With the kill switch that is Radiant Soul and Oath of Enmity turned on, with Haste active, and if our chosen foe makes an attack, we end up with 5 attacks — 4 on our turn and 1 on our off turn. On our turn we do 11d8+30d8+46 or 233 average damage including Piercer. On our off-turn we do 7d8+25 for another 57 damage totaling 290 damage in one round without magic item support and assuming a critical, all smites at highest dice and all hits land. Devastating. It is worth noting that as a Paladin we are also going to see major befits from magic item drops at this level. So take this into account when comparing with other NOVA builds that may see less potential benefit from item drops. Heavy weapon Paladins and Heavy Weapon fighters, though, may see more benefit from magic items than a Dexadin. So YYMV.

We finish off at level 19 and 20 with 20 Charisma and our beautiful capstone in Avenging Angel which allows us to swiftly fly around the battlefield terrifying our enemies and buffing our own attacks and those of our allies when those enemies do succumb to fear. The 20 Charisma again bumps us up as a caster, increases the force of our magnetic persona, and buffs our saves as well as those of our allies. Some mention should be given to the Mobility feat — which might be tempting. I’m most likely to take Cha 20. But if you like Mobility — go for it! As for mobility, our Avenging Angel Capstone gives us 60 feet of flying speed, lasts 1 hour, and applies a frightened de-buff to our foes for 1 minute that also gives us and our allies advantage on attack rolls against them. One key benefit is the fact that such foes only get one save from this effect. So we are both super-mobile and super-devastating against mobs that don’t have fear immunity while our vengeful wings are sprouted.

And that Completes our Gish Dexadin Ultimate Duelist Build!

Whew! What a wild ride! I didn’t know how involved this character optimization post would be when I first started it. But this, at last, is the culmination of our Dexadin-build. A straight class ultimate duelist build with serious mobility, strong AC, good hp, and a devastating rapier. Fast on initiative, she will beat her foes to the punch most of the time and many will be lucky to survive even one round of her focus-fire attacks when she decides to lay down the heat. A very fun Stab and Smite Gish with lots of surprises up her sleeve. I hope you enjoy playing her. I’ll be playing this wonderful build and RP design as Morgen Schnee tonight and almost every Thursday on Twitch. Join me there if you fancy!

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