Gish Optimized 5 — The Draconic Battle Sorcerer, Glede of Gloaming

Wow! It’s already time for another Gish Optimized episode. The time when we take a break from all our creative projects for a bit of D&D character optimization fun!

During our last three episodes, the Hexblade-Fighter, the classic Fighter-Mage, and the Cleric-Sorcerer, we explored three builds that each took a 1-3 level dip in a second class. For our newest bit of 5e Dungeons and Dragons character construction fun, we’re harkening back to a pure single-classed gish build. But unlike the stab and smite dexadin, this new draconic sorceress build is pretty heavy on the blast.

Glede of Gloaming

As a model for the draconic battle sorceress, I’m drawing heavily on Glede of Gloaming in the Rime of the Frostmaiden campaign series DM’d by Ted Burgess (YouTube list of live play episodes here). Storywise, Glede’s a punker street girl from the subdivision of Gloaming in Waterdeep. Her mother Aethelhorne, a golden dragon, married a Paladin of Bahamut named Rydan Redcrest. She lived her life with Rydan in human form and produced Glede as their only child. Aethelhorne met tragedy at the hands of Zhentarim dragon slayers and treasure hunters. They gained no profit from this murder as Aethelhorne had already donated her treasures to benefit the poor of Waterdeep. Aethelhorne’s loss drove Rydan into depression. Seeking drink as his only solace, he soon became an invalid and unfit guardian for Glede. Glede, still a child, turned to the streets of Waterdeep as a member of the Good Rats gang. Retaining the draconic blood of her mother and exhibiting its power as sorcery, Glede scraped out a living for herself and her father on the rough streets of Waterdeep.

Though human, Glede is covered in a thin patina of barely visible white-golden scales. Her hair is also-white-gold. Twin draconic horns sprout from her head. Her draconic eyes hint of the powerful flames she is able to conjure.

Glede’s Token from Rime of the Frostmaiden

Of course, you will probably wish to devise your own story for your battle sorcerer/sorceress. I simply provide Glede here as an example and to showcase how I’m setting up this character build in RP.

As an overview, our battle sorceress gish will have relatively high armor class values, she’ll possess cleric-range hit points, and she’ll wield some martial weapons to provide her with various melee opportunities in addition to possessing a powerful suite of blast spells. Though her primary strength is blast magic and area of effect, she’ll combine feats with sorcerer features and spells to enhance her abilities as a melee combatant.

Level 1 — Charisma, Dexterity, Constitution, Weapon Master, Variant Human, Draconic Sorcerer

OK! So let’s jump right in to our character build starting with ability scores! We’ll be taking Sorcerer all the way to level 20 so there’s little surprise regarding our starting stat. You guessed it, we’ll be going ahead and dumping 9 points, using the point buy system, into Charisma. This gives us a 15 in our primary spellcasting stat right from jump and before applying any racial modifiers. That’s pretty key as we’ll be throwing down a lot spells. These will primarily be blast spells, powerful single target attacks, and powerful defensive buffs. Charisma’s a cornerstone to all this magical might. It also helps us make friends and build alliances through our battle sorceress’s winning personality. We can also be a bit tricksy, given our high Deception skill.

Moving quickly on to our other main stat, we go ahead and dump 9 more points into Dexterity. This gives us a 15 Dex before we add any ability bonuses from Human. And we’re going to need it as we look to the rapier for most of our melee attacks barring access to some potent belts of strength or gauntlets of ogre power. It’s worth noting that Dexterity is also pretty key for us as we attempt to gain higher AC values — helping us wade into melee with confidence.

For our third stat, we pick Constitution. We’re going to want to be tough enough to stand near the front and take some heat in battle. Con also helps us with those crucial concentration checks. And we’re going to be concentrating on spells rather often. For starters, we dump 5 points into Constitution, giving us a 13.

After spending most of our points on Cha, Dex, and Con, we only have 4 points left for Str, Int, and Wis. I’m partial to having higher Intelligence and Wisdom. So I’m putting two points in each for 10 Intelligence and 10 Wisdom. Our Strength becomes a dump stat at 8.

We’ve got our base ability scores for our battle sorceress set. So now we move onto race. Though we could go elf or half-elf, I’m relatively partial to human for this build. For me, it provides the flavor I’m looking for. Elf or Half Elf will give similar options — particularly by gaining access to Elfin Weapon Training. So if you prefer to go fey for your battle sorceress — have at!

Human grants us a number of key benefits. As a variant, we gain an extra skill proficiency. We also gain a feat. For this feat, I’m taking the half-feat Weapon Master. This feat allows us to increase our Dexterity or Strength by 1. With Str as a dump stat, we go ahead and bump Dexterity up to 16. The feat also gives us proficiency in four martial weapons of our choice. I’m choosing the rapier, the longsword, and the greatsword for melee weapons and the longbow for a ranged option. These choices give us a good mix. We’ll primarily focus on the rapier. But longsword and greatsword grant us access to strength-based weapons should we find a belt or a set of magical gauntlets to bump our strength up. Depending on campaign, you may want to ask you DM for a switch. For example, Glede has a laser rifle in Frostmaiden. That’s a nice thing to have, particularly when combined with Haste and Quicken Spellcasting (see below).

Human Variant also gives us two +1s to add to any of our starting abilities. We go ahead and assign these to Constitution and Charisma. Now our full starting array is Str 8, Con 14, Dex 16, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 16. Solid! We’re tough, fast, and we’ve got Charisma!

Class… What can we say about it??? What we say is we’re going Draconic Sorcerer and never looking back! From jump, this class and subclass combo gives us some amazing abilities. We pick golden dragon subtype because it fits our RP flavor and it’s just made up of frigging awesome. Starting with our draconic features, we gain a scaley skin that grants us a 13 base AC plus our Dexterity modifier for a total of 16 AC unarmored. Nice! For cantrips, we take Firebolt, Greenflame Blade, Light and Booming Blade. For level 1 spells we pick Shield and Magic Missile. We’re light on AOE right now. But that changes pretty fast as we level up. Draconic also gives us +1 to hit points so we start out with 9. The combination of 16 AC, 9 HP, and the ability to cast Shield makes us surprisingly tough at level 1 for a caster. Once we gain access to a rapier, we’re pretty happy to wade into melee and spam Greenflame Blade attacks all over the place. But be careful. We’re not a barbarian. So don’t get over zealous.

For starting equipment, we take a dagger or two, pick up an arcane focus, and get a kit with a hammer and some pitons. We’ll want to buy a rapier as soon as possible. If we can swing a rapier purchase with starting resources, even better.

Greenflame Blade is a very effective melee attack in the hands of a draconic sorcerer with fire affinity and quicken spell. Image by WoldyBoldy.

For our battle sorceress, I’m moving away from Strixhaven backgrounds. I understand there’s some controversy in the community over balance RE Strixhaven. So I’m going to steer clear for this build. I went ahead and picked up Urchin for my Glede RP persona — which provides cool flavor and some nice features. But that’s not core to the build so feel free to pick what you like.

Level 2 — Thunderwave, Sorcery Points

We were pretty tough at level 1. We get a bit tougher by level 2 even as we add some blast to our sorcerer mojo. Our HP jumps to 16 — which is just 2 behind a cleric with the same attributes. We now also have 3 first level spell slots to our name. Picking up Thunderwave gives us some much-needed blasts. Between Shield, Magic Missile, and Thunderwave we have a spell option for most battle occasions at level 2. Sorcery Points also give us the ability to effectively cast 4 level 1 spells each day. Not too shabby. By level 2 we’ve probably picked up a rapier and possibly even a longbow. It’s worth noting that this build is as fun to play as it is simple and compact. And there’s a kind of elegance in that simplicity.

Level 3 — Metamagic, Shatter, Retraining Thunderwave to Absorb Elements

By level 3, we’re starting to really access our battle sorcerer mojo. We got 2 Sorcery Points at level 2. By level 3, these increase to 3. We also now gain the wonderful thing that is Metamagic. For our battle sorceress we’re looking for two things — added power to our blasts and action economy. So as our Metamagic options we pick Quicken Spell and Empower Spell. A lot of folks pick Twin Spell in addition to Quicken. This is also an amazing option. However, we’re looking to boost damage from our blasts so we’re taking Empower instead. It’s worth noting that empower is also low-cost compared to Twin — which can really burn through your Sorcery points quick. Now with Quicken Spell we gain access to a mini NOVA comparable to the Fighter’s Action Surge. At this point, we’re only able to use Quicken once per day. But with it we can do things like cast Shatter for 13.5 damage as a bonus action, then cast Greenflame Blade for 1d8+3 or 7.5 damage with our rapier. That totals 21 or 25.5 on a crit against a single target, 13.5 for the Shatter +3 for the splash damage from Greenflame Blade for 16.5 on a second target, and another 13.5 damage on maybe one or two other targets. In addition, we can empower Shatter to boost that damage even further. Not too shabby! We already mentioned Shatter — which we take for our level 2 spell slot. Now we have big blasts, some of the best defensive spells in the game at low level, action economy, the ability to boost our blast damage, and a little focus fire. We’re sitting pretty.

Level 4 — Misty Step and 18 Dexterity

At level 4 we boost our Dexterity to 18. This bumps our base armor class to 17 even as we jump to +4 to hit and damage with our rapier attacks. When we trigger the Shield spell our AC boosts all the way to 22. Our defenses aren’t as high as a bladesinger, for example. But our hit points are now 30 — four ahead of the bladesinger base at this level of 26. To this point, we may have also used Sorcerous Versatility to retrain Magic Missile to False Life — granting us access to temporary hit points for increased durability. Regardless, we also trade out Thunderwave for Absorb Elements. For our spell choice, we pick Misty Step for the added mobility. We’re going to want to save our 3 level 2 spell slots for Shatters. But if we need to teleport out of the maw of some nasty beast, across a deadly obstacle course, or out of a trap, the option is open to us.

Level 5 — Fireball!

As we reach level 5, we gain access to some substantial benefits. First, Greenflame Blade boosts our melee attacks to 2d8+4 damage together with a potential 1d8+3 splash damage. With Quicken Spell, we can make this attack again using our bonus action. Our hit points are now 37 — so we continue to be a rather tough caster. But the big boost for this level comes with our access to Fireball. With two spell slots and our sorcery points, we can now cast this powerful spell three times. It’s worth noting that some campaigns will feature monsters with fire resistance at this level. So your mileage may vary. But for most campaigns, when you combine sorcery points, Empower Spell metamagic, and Fireball, you’re one of the most potent blasters in the game at this level. Meanwhile, your melee capability is a solid backup to your blasting specialty.

Level 6 — Haste and Elemental Affinity

At level 6, we pick up Haste. This spell provides another powerful boost to our melee capability. Particularly if we’ve picked up a magical rapier or various strength items together with a magical greatsword. We also gain Elemental Affinity — which now adds 3 fire damage from our Charisma modifier to our fire attacks thanks to our gold dragon ancestry. Now our Fireball and Greenflame Blade attacks are even more potent. Together with Haste and Quicken Spell, we’ve also gained access to a spell+melee NOVA combination. To achieve this NOVA, we cast Haste on round 1. Then on round 2, we cast Fireball using Quicken Spell, with our attack action we cast Greenflame Blade, and then with our Hasted action we attack with our rapier. Against a single target failing its Fireball save, we do 8d6+3+2d8+7+1d8+4 damage for a total average of 54.5. If Greenflame Blade crits, this average boosts to 63.5. On a second target, we do 8d6+3+1d8+3 from Fireball and then from the splash damage applied by Greenflame Blade for a total average of 37.5 damage if the target fails its Fireball save. Not to mention the other targets you just did 30.5 average damage to from Fireball. A rather potent NOVA round that we can further enhance through Empower Spell. Elemental Affinity also gives us resistance to fire damage for a sorcery point — which is a nice added rider to all the wonderful benefits we’ve gained thus far.

Level 7 — Sickening Radiance

By level 7, we now access more choices. Thus far, we’ve relied on elemental damage — particularly fire damage — for our blast effects. For fall-back, we’ve taken Shatter, Booming Blade and, to a lesser extent, Magic Missile (if we didn’t retrain Magic Missile to False Life). Now, with access to 4th level spells, we choose the long-lasting Sickening Radiance. Accessing radiant damage through this spell is a key enabler for us against various resistant foes. It also gives us a large area denial effect. For the most part, though, we continue to rely on Haste and Fireball. But if faced with a horde of fire resistant foes or an immune big bad, we now have a fall-back that we can maintain over multiple combat rounds.

Level 8 — Fireshield, 18 Charisma, Counterspell

Level 8 gives another ASI. We immediately use it to dump 2 points into Charisma — boosting our key spellcasting stat to 18. Now we deal +4 damage with our fire spells and our spell save DCs boost to 15. This ability bump grants both our Fireball and Greenflame Blade attacks some extra juice. We also pick up Fireshield both for its long duration reactive 2d8 fire or cold damage and for fire or cold resistance. Combined with Shield, Elemental Affinity, and Absorb Elements, Fire Shield adds to significant suite of defensive magic. We can also now concurrently deploy three energy resistance options. Our hit points are also a cleric-range 58 without magical supports. Last of all, we’re going to retrain Magic Missile or False Life for Counterspell — keeping the ability to shut down enemy magic in our back pocket.

Level 9 — Summon Draconic Spirit

Accessing 5th level spells as we reach our 9th character level, we choose the amazing Summon Draconic Spirit. This spell grants us the ability to summon a powerful spirit dragon. It has 50 hit points, it’s large, possesses a fly speed of 60, has blindsight, is capable of delivering two melee attacks and a breath weapon attack, and it has a 19 AC when cast at 5th level. We must concentrate on this spell. However, so long as we concentrate, it lasts for a full hour. For my Glede RP persona, this draconic spirit will emulate her mother — Aethelhorne. Our draconic spirit grants us some pretty amazing consistent damage in the form of 2d6+18 from its dual rend attacks plus 2d6 from its 30 foot cone breath weapon. If we attack with Greenflame Blade, we’re adding 2d8+8 and 1d8+4 splash damage to a second target. It’s a potent combo that delivers 49 damage to a single target, 15.5 damage to a secondary target and 7 points of damage to numerous creatures in a zone. If we quicken a level 4 fireball into this set, we deal 83.5 damage to a single target (92.5 damage on a crit), 50 damage to a secondary target and 41.5 damage to multiple additional targets caught in the overlapping zones from fireball and dragon breath.

Summon Draconic Spirit conjures the mighty spirit of a dragon to join you in battle. Image source: Spell Rankings for Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons.

Level 10 — Transmuted Spell, Cone of Cold

With level 10 comes another Metamagic choice. And boy do we love Transmuted Spell which allows us to change our non-fire spells into devastating flaming conflagrations. On our present list, we can now change Shatter to a 3d8+4 (17.5 average on a failed save) 10 foot radius blast of flame. Transmuted Spell also allows us to switch our Fireballs for balls of Thunder, Lightning, Cold or Acid if we run into one of the many enemies resistant or immune to fire damage. Transmuted Spell comes at the perfect level for us to pick Cone of Cold for our spell list. This huge, 60-foot cone deals 8d8 cold damage to creatures caught in its freezing blast wave. Transmuted to fire, our draconic battle sorceress deals an extra +4 fire damage for an average of 40.5 fire damage to foes in this cone of devastation.

Level 11 — Chain Lightning, Increased Cantrip Damage

By level 11 our cantrips again bump up in power. Now, our Greenflame Blade rapier attacks deal 3d8+8 damage to a single target (21.5) and splash 2d8+4 (13) damage to a secondary target. With Quicken Spell, we can double that. Level 11 also gives us level 6 spells. We pick up Chain Lightning for 12d6 lightning damage (40.5) against up to five targets. Transmuting this to fire bumps the multi-target damage on a failed save to 44.5. Of course, we might just want to up-cast Summon Draconic Spirit to level 6. Doing that, we gain a 60 HP, 20 AC dragon with three rend attacks that each average 13.5 damage on a hit (40.5) and the ability to breathe for an additional 7 average damage to multiple targets. Quickening a transmuted Cone of Cold on top of these dragon attacks and casting Greenflame Blade with our action deals 81+21.5+7 for 110 damage to a single target target that fails all three saves, 123 damage on a crit. A secondary target takes 40.5+7+13 or 60.5 damage from the two AOEs and the splash damage from Greenflame Blade. Other targets in the overlapping Cone of Cold (fire) and dragon breath take 47.5 damage on a failed save. A notably strong single target NOVA overlapping a pretty devastating blast.

Level 12 — Elemental Adept

We waited a long time to ignore resistance to fire damage. As level 12 rolls around, we finally address this chink in our AOE devastation by picking up Elemental Adept — Fire as a feat. Now all 1’s count as 2’s on spells’ fire damage dice. In addition, yep, you guessed it, we ignore fire resistance when casting Fireball, transmuted Cones of Cold, Shatters, and Chain Lightnings. Even our humble Greenflame Blade attacks now ignore fire resistance. Rolls of 1s counting as 2s also increases our average damage. The aforementioned Greenflame Blade now averages 22.5 damage netting +1. Fireballs cast at level 3 do 36 rather than 32. A fire-transmuted Cone of Cold does 44 average damage instead of 40. The mighty fire-transmuted Chain Lightning averages 52 instead of 46. If our dragon spirit breathes fire, it now adds an overlapping AOE to these blasts that increases damage by 8 (12 on the first shot due to the sorcerer Elemental Affinity ability) on a failed save (instead of 7). We can further bump these high averages by using Empower Spell metamagic. Our suite of blasts now deliver consistent devastation against foes. Meanwhile, Transmuted Spell and Elemental Adept allows us to circumvent or overcome most enemy resistances.

Level 13 — Draconic Transformation

Our AOEs just got a big boost at level 12. They’re taking another jump now as we pick up Draconic Transformation at Level 13. Another concentration spell, this powerful magical buff grants us aspects of a dragon overlapping our present physical form. We gain blindsight. We sprout wings and gain a fly speed of 60 feet. Even better, though, we can now use a bonus action to breathe a 60 foot cone of magical force that deals 6d8 damage. On the round we use a bonus action to cast this spell, we breathe our cone for 27 average damage, then we use our action to attack with Greenflame Blade for 22.5 average damage for 49.5 damage to a single target, 40 damage to a secondary target, and 27 damage to multiple targets if they fail their save. A concentration spell, this effect primarily enables our blasts, however. On a subsequent round, we might cast a fire-transmuted Cone of Cold (44 average) on top of the force blast as a bonus action (27 average) for a total of 71 average on two failed saves within these overlapping 60 foot cones. Dropping an fire-transmuted Chain Lightning nets 79 damage. Even casting the now somewhat ‘humble’ Fireball into such an over-lapping zone averages 63 damage on a failed save. Draconic Transformation thus gives us a means to provide a major consistent boost to our larger AOEs. On the flip side, Summon Draconic Spirit is still the king of focus fire for our battle sorceress.

Level 14, 15, 16 — Dragon Wings, Sun Burst, 20 Charisma

Between Draconic Transformation and Summon Draconic Spirit, we have multiple means of accessing flight. Now, at level 14, we can sprout Dragon Wings for non-spell source flying at our base movement speed. This innate feature is welcome as we remove concentration-based dependence on flying. Plus we don’t need to worry about armor restrictions as we continue to rely on our Dexterity and draconic scales for our AC.

Level 15 grants us access 8th level spells. We pick up Sun Burst for its huge radius and ability to blind our enemies. However, we’ve got some competition for our 8th level spell slot as Summon Draconic Spirit gives us an 80 HP, 22 AC dragon capable of making four melee attacks at 15.5 damage each for a total of 70 damage when adding in its breath weapon. With Greenflame Blade active, we deal 92.5 damage to a single target, 22 damage to a secondary target and 8 damage to multiple targets on a failed save. Quickening a fire-transmuted Chain Lightning into this mix and critting with the Greenflame Blade nets us 107 + 52 for 159 against a single target, 74 damage against a secondary target, and 60 against multiple targets if saves fail. Brutal!

At level 16 we bump our Charisma to 20. This further increases our save DCs, adds more damage to our fire-based spell attacks, and helps us with our RP mojo even more. Greenflame Blade now does 14.5+9 for 23.5 damage without magic item support and all our fiery bursts just got that much more potent.

Level 17-20 Meteor Swarm, Distant Spell, Draconic Presence, 20 Dexterity, and Sorcerous Restoration

Hitting level 17, we access Meteor Swarm. This is an extraordinarly powerful AOE. In our hands, it’s even more devastating — doing an average of 155 damage on a failed save (vs 140 for a ‘normal’ casting). If we Empower Meteor Swarm, we might average 160 or more on a failed save. We also pick up another meta magic ability. I’m partial to Distant Spell at this level. Distant Counterspell, for example, is a clutch way to shut down enemy spellcasters at 65 to 90 feet away while outranging their own Counterspell options. In addition, we’re keeping to our theme of low cost meta-magic so we can continue to throw down powerful enhancements to our spells over longer periods of time.

Level 18 gives us Draconic Presence. Mass fear or charm can be extremely useful given the situation. But it costs us 5 sorcery points and our concentration, which makes it less useful. At level 19 we max out our Dexterity at 20. Our Greenflame Blade attacks now do an average of 29.5 and splashes for 20 damage without magic item support. Finally, level 20 brings us Sorcerous Restoration — which means we get 4 sorcery points back on a short rest. Now we’re gonna have to work pretty hard to burn all those meta-magic points!

Though our battle sorceress is a capable melee combatant, her main strength is laying down powerful fiery blasts. Image source: Pintrest.

For a final tally, let’s provide some examples of focus fire and AOE NOVAs. For focus fire, we Summon Draconic Spirit at level 8 for a total of 70 average damage from rend and breath weapon. We quicken and empower Meteor Swarm for 160. Then we use our regular action to cast Greenflame Blade for 29.5. This nets us 259.5 average damage assuming failed saves and 279 on a crit — without magic item support. For our AOE NOVA, we simply apply our Draconic Transformation on round 1, then cast an empowered Meteor Swarm on round 2. Now we do 187 average damage to multiple targets on a failed save. Though it’s worth noting that with Draconic Spirit, and the above focus fire NOVA we’re still doing 168 to multiple targets. So not a huge difference.

Turning to mostly melee, Glede is a pretty simple striker at high levels. For most optimal, long duration melee fights, Glede will conjure her mother’s Draconic Spirit Aethelhorne. Riding this large summons into battle, Glede will attack with Greenflame Blade for 29.5 damage — often twice with Quicken Spell for 29.5-59 average damage. Her Draconic spirit summons will deal an additional 62 damage if all attacks land plus 8 from breath weapon. This combination does 99.5-129 damage to a single target if all attacks land. Very solid.

We’ve talked a lot about damage — and well we should considering that this build focuses heavily on blasting the enemy to smithereens while laying waste with our Greenflame Blade — but let’s finish off by looking a bit at our battle sorceress’s survivability. By level 20, without magic item support, we have a solid 142 Hit Points, a base AC of 18 which jumps to 23 with Shield, and the ability to access numerous resistances. For mobility we have access to three forms of flight, one form comes from our very own set of dragon wings which we can unfurl without the use of a spell. We keep Misty Step for teleporting. But at level 19, for added versatility, we likely retrain one of our spells for Wish and another for Teleport. Our core, though, is blasting with a hefty side of Greenflame Blade bashing. And for consistent blasts, this build is probably our best so far.

Our Battle Sorceress Build is Now Complete!

So that finalizes our battle sorceress. For my part, the Glede of Gloaming build is one of my favorites. It might not have the options and higher pure power potential of our classic Fighter-Mage — Gaelya the Ghost. It’s not as tough as our Hexblade-Fighter — Beatrice Lushael. And Glede isn’t so single target NOVA-focused as our Dexadin — Morgen Schnee. But for consistently throwing down powerful blasts while also retaining the ability to melee like a champ, it’s tough to beat good ol’ Glede. I’ve played her through three different campaign series now and she never disappoints. Plus, her happy-go-lucky nature despite a tragic background makes her a very enjoyable character to play. I hope you get as much enjoyment out of this build as I have! If you want to watch Glede in action, you can join me on Twitch Saturdays about once every three weeks for our Rime of the Frostmaiden game. Or you can check out our livestream archive here.

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