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!

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