Gish Optimized 7: The D&D 5e Artificer-Bladesinger Switch Hitter (aka Linka)

The time has come once more, my friends, to put on our optimization thinking caps and envision yet another fun-to-play and powerful Gish build for our 5e D&D games! This particular iteration of the Gish draws its inspiration from one of the most famous switch-hitters in the computer gaming universe. I’m talking about a little elfish dude who fights like a beast with most of the weapons he picks up — owing to the base magic he uses to enhance his martial prowess. He’s also well known for wearing a dorky green outfit and sporting a cheesy 80s style hairdo. Yep! You guessed it, we’re drawing at least some of our inspiration from Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s Link.

Image source: Link’s Facebook Page

Our build is that of a plucky badass who is equally proficient in sword, bow, and spell. And while our little Gish might not fully emulate Link from the computer games, she’s at least going to use the wonderful engine that is the D&D 5e rules set to leverage magic to make her similarly badass as a varied weapon and spell wielder. In particular, we’re going to focus on a fighting style that has become relatively difficult to emulate in 5e — The switch hitter. What is a switch hitter, you ask? Well, a switch hitter has the ability to use two or more fighting styles with almost equal proficiency. And our build is going to aim for just that.

Though we are drawing a boatload of inspiration from Link for our new build, we aren’t going to come anywhere close to perfectly emulating video game Link. For this reason, we’re not going to name our build after the plucky little monster slayer of great fame and renown. Instead, we’ll imagine a female relative of Link… possibly a sister who learned her badass fighting style from her brother before getting warped into the Dungeons and Dragons 5e multiverse…


Introducing Linka — The Artificer-Bladesinger Switch Hitter

Image source: @snow.berrie

Watch out boys, because things are about to get pretty unreal!

So far, for our gishes, we have two straight class builds — the Battle Sorcerer and the Dexadin — along with two one level dips — the Barbarian Hellblade Tank, and the Tempest Cleric/Sorcerer. Our Bladesinger/Artificer Switch Hitter will become the third member of our group that includes three level dips — the Classic Fighter-Mage and the Raven Queen’s Herald.

For our Linka build, we’ll be looking at starting off as a relatively effective bow, sword, and sometimes shield wielder, who will be able enhance her attacks with magic, critters, and feats. Though we won’t be a primary blaster, we’ll present a strong blasting threat by level 5-6. And we’ll often remain a better blaster than most. We’re particularly looking to combine buffs or ongoing magical effects with various fighting styles for maximum impact with weapons in combat. In addition, at level 2 and 9 we gain access to some helpful and friendly critters who also enhance our combat effectiveness. Meanwhile, we gain the ability to add greatsword fighting to our list of options by level 11. By the time we reach levels 14-20, the power of our buffs greatly increases — as our innate magic enables us to transform into a melee and ranged powerhouse on the battlefield.

Though we don’t have a NOVA option outside of critical hits, what we do have is the ability to dole out consistently high damage both in close combat and at range. In addition, those critical hits can become quite potent at later levels.

Sounds pretty amazing, right? Now lets get to it.

Level 1 — Half Elf, Intelligence, Dexterity, Constitution, Artificer

Jumping right in with ability scores, our Linka is nothing if not smart. In fact, her innate Intelligence is what allows her to unlock her amazing magical martial prowess later in-game. This high level of intellect is Linka’s main specialty. So we dump 9 points into Intelligence for a starting score of 15 before we pick our race.

For our next stat, we are looking for both deft speed and nimble agility. Yes, our secondary attribute is Dexterity. This stat does a lot of work on a traditional Bladesinger. Linka is no exception. Dex will pull weight as our primary weapons combat attribute for at least 9 levels. So we don’t want to neglect it. At level 1, we also dump 9 points into Dexterity for a total of 15 before we choose our race.

Our last primary stat is Constitution. Since Linka will be moving to the front line relatively often, we want to have at least a decent base HP. As with most Bladesinger builds, we are seriously vulnerable to critical hit and multi-dice damage attacks due to our lower base HP compared to our typically higher Armor Class. Constitution helps us shore up this weakness. In addition, we want to shore up our ability to concentrate on all the various buff spells that we’ll be using. We dump 5 points into Constitution for a total of 13 before we pick our race.

This leaves us with 4 points remaining. We go ahead and dump Strength at 8 while adding 2 to both our Wisdom and Charisma for 10 in both stats. Our initial ability score spread is 8 Str, 13 Con, 15 Dex, 15 Int, 10 Wis, and 10 Cha. Pretty darn strong.

Moving on to race, there are are a few potential choices. We could go with Wood Elf, High Elf, or even Eladrin. But, to my mind, these choices don’t quite seem to fit. We come from an ancient race that mixed both the blood of humans and elves even as they accessed strange magical technologies. I find that, in RP, this origin provides an interesting spin on Half-Elves for D&D 5e. Typically orphans to both elven and human society, Half-Elves are often loners who have to use their innate charm to forge their way. In this case, our Half-Elf is from a unique if ancient separate race that existed for hundreds of years. This gives our Half-Elf heritage, lineage, and real roots. From the stats perspective, we also get to add 2 to one ability score and 1 to two ability scores. We use these to gain a final ability score spread of 8 Str, 14 Con, 16 Dex, 17 Int, 10 Wis, and 10 Cha. We’re super smart, quick, and tough. A potent combination.

Half Elf, in addition to granting Linka Darkvision and Fey Ancestry, also unlocks a key option. We will be spending a good number of levels as Bladesinger early on. And though this Wizard subclass does grant us access to one melee weapon proficiency, we want more. So we use the Half Elf customization option provided by The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide to gain access to High Elf Weapon Training. At level 1, this gives us access to Longsword, Shortsword, Longbow, and Shortbow proficiency. Now we are super-smart, quick, and we wield a variety of weapons.

Last of all, for class, we pick up Artificer. This class provides us with some of our wonderful fluff. Our magic comes from an ancient magical/technological source. We re-fluff our arcane focus to a round, sometimes glowing, sometime music-playing, bauble that functions as Thieves Tools when we tap it against a locking mechanism. With Magical Tinkering, we can make it emit light, sound, or even a recorded message. Artificer also grants us some wonderful crunchy powers and abilities. We start off with proficiency in Constitution and Intelligence saves — with Constitution saves being key to maintaining our Concentration. We gain light armor, medium armor and shield proficiency. And we gain spells.

For our spells we pick up Greenflame Blade, and Guidance as Cantrips. The wonderful and versatile list from Artificer grants us a variety of options that we can rearrange as we choose. At present, we get to pick 3. I’m partial to Cure Wounds, Faerie Fire, and Grease at level 1. But we also find later uses for Longstrider, Absorb Elements, and False Life. In describing how Linka casts spells, we invoke a magi-tech, sprite-like spirit called Zel who, in turn, casts these spells for us.

For our equipment, we pick three light crossbows. Then we sell all of them for 37 gold and 5 silver. We turn around and buy a shortbow, some arrows, and a short sword. We pick up scale mail and a shield. Now our Armor Class is 18 with the shield equipped. Our base HP is 10. We can heal, we’re oddly decent at unlocking doors and chests, and we can throw down some nice area denials and debuffs against our foes. In melee fighting, we use our techno-magic to ignite our weapon with fire to deal 1d6+3 damage to our foe and 3 splash damage to one adjacent foe (if this effect triggers, it gives us about average damage for this level). For ranged combat, we use our bow to deal 1d6+3 damage at a distance. Though we’re not amazing at any one thing, we are rather good at many things. We’re relatively tough, we can do decent consistent damage in melee, we are no slacker with the bow, we can heal, and we have some nice spells to hamper our foes. A good start!

Level 2 — Wizard 1, Owl Familiar, Silvery Barbs, Linka Accuracy

At level 2 we immediately transition to Wizard. Our HP goes up to 16, which isn’t stellar. We are about 2 HP tougher than your average Wizard. And unlike typical level 2 straight class Wizards, we have easy access to 18 base armor class with scale mail and shield. We take the opportunity to upgrade to a Longbow, if it presents itself. For present, we’re happy with our shortsword for melee.

At present, our two modes of fighting are Longbow + spells for ranged. If we are threatened in our ranged mode, we draw our shortsword and lay about with melee cantrips. Mode two is sword and board. In this mode, we often keep our sword hand free to invoke Zel if we need to on round 1 of combat. Then, we draw our shortsword and lay about with melee cantrips. If we need to cast another spell with a somatic component, we use our object interaction to sheathe our shortsword. These two main modes of combat will dominate for most of our early to mid levels. Since we will be using medium armor for consistent higher base AC, we will not be using Bladesong (coming at level 3) in most circumstances.

Level 1 Wizard gives us more spells, a spell book (techno-magic), and Arcane Recovery to get 1 spell slot back on a short rest. Since level 1 Artificer counts as a caster level, we now have 3 base spell slots and possibly 1 more from Arcane Recovery. Our 17 Intelligence is pretty high, so we’re about on par with most Wizards at this level.

For our Spellbook we pick up Find Familiar, Silvery Barbs, Shield, Magic Missile, Thunderwave (or Magnify Gravity, if available), and Detect Magic. As Wizard Cantrips, we select Booming Blade, Light, and Firebolt (for instances when we don’t have the bow equipped).

Between both Artificer and Wizard, we gain 7 choices for the spells we have access to during an adventuring day, making us extraordinarily versatile at this level. We pick Silvery Barbs, Shield, Magnify Gravity/Thunderwave, Magic Missile, Cure Wounds, Grease, and False Life. That’s a boatload of options. We can drop blasts, focus fire with Magic Missile, heal, buff ourselves with THP, make an enemy re-roll and gain advantage for ourselves, create some nice area denial, and use our reaction to add +5 to our AC. Choose wisely!

This combination of spells and the ability to use Find Familiar to summon a helpful critter in the form of our majestic snowy owl Elsie also unlocks a cool and rather signature feature that I’m calling Linka Accuracy. How does this work? Here’s one example:

We are on patrol with our longbow equipped. An orc pops up in the distance. We lift our bow to shoot and as we do we have our snowy owl flyby the orc to use her Help Action to distract him, granting us advantage on our attack with the bow. Our average damage for this attack against the orc is 7.02. Higher, in large part, due to our accuracy gain. And we haven’t used a spell slot for the day assuming we summoned our owl previously. This simple combo grants us the ability to save our spell slots for a rainy day while still doing consistent damage. If we want to safeguard our owl while still gaining accuracy, we use Silvery Barbs to nerf an enemy attack and then gain advantage on our next turn. These multiple options to gain advantage can really stack up. One final point about Silvery Barbs — the only component is verbal. So unlike the Shield spell, you can use it while wearing a shield and holding a weapon.

Level 3 — Wizard 2, Bladesinger, Rapier, Upcast False Life

By level 3, we pick up another level of Wizard and gain access to the Bladesinger subclass. Our HP jumps up to 22. We keep our scalemail and maybe even upgrade it to Half Plate by this level for a base AC of 17 and 19 with the Shield. This keeps us from using Bladesong. But we’re not too worried as we already have Constitution save proficiency and we want to access consistently higher Armor Class rather than brief bursts of high AC. Making us more Linkish…

Bladesinger also gives us proficiency with a one handed melee weapon. We pick Rapier, trading in our trusty short sword for a longer blade. Our melee damage now goes up to 1d8+3 plus any effect from Booming Blade or Greenflame Blade.

For our Spell Book, we go for more utility and pick up Identify as well as Absorb Elements. We can gain access to Absorb Elements through Artificer. But I like the added versatility granted by putting this spell in our book.

Our spell slots have now greatly expanded to 4 level 1 slots and 2 level 2 slots. We don’t have level 2 spells. But we can get a lot of traction out of a higher cast Thunderwave, Magnify Gravity, Cure Wounds, and False Life. During games where we expect to take a lot of heat, we probably upcast False life to gain an average of 12.5 Temporary Hit Points — buffing our effective HP to 34.5 prior to entering a dungeon or other threatening environment. With our high AC and access to Silvery Barbs, this makes us relatively tankish. For the spells we take into battle, we go ahead and add Absorb Elements for a rainy day when we take a boatload of elemental damage (also potentially adding some extra punch to our weapon attacks).

At level 3 we are surprisingly tough (when we load some False Life), we’re versatile, we’re a mean debuffer, and we’re accurate. This is a good level for us.

Level 4 — Dragon’s Breath

By level 4, we pick up level 3 in Bladesinger and thus gain access to level 2 Wizard spells. For our first 3 levels, we’ve contented ourselves with doing relatively average damage in exchange for high accuracy, high versatility, and surprising toughness when we choose to expend resources for it. Now, with access to the wonderful spell that is Dragon’s Breath, we can begin to do some high, consistent DPR.

So for our Spell Book, we pick up Dragon’s Breath and Misty Step. We want the wonderful mobility afforded by Misty Step in our back pocket. Though we are starved for second level spell slots. So we only whip out Misty Step for a real emergency.

Dragon’s Breath, on the other hand, provides us with a 15 foot cone in which we do 3d6 fire, acid, lightning, cold, or poison damage. Since we’re Linka, perhaps we refluff this spell as a techno-magical attack that emanates from our sword or bow. I kinda like this refluff feel. But it can also be cool to simply decide to breathe fire. So you do you.

We can cast Dragon’s Breath on ourselves, our owl familiar Elsie, or later on our Steel Defender Ambi.

In any case, with our longbow or rapier combined with Dragon’s Breath, and with Linka accuracy active, we do an average of 17.02 damage to a single target and 10.5 damage to multiple targets, assuming failed saves. Even counting saves, we are now doing significantly above average damage to one foe, and average damage to a potential number of additional foes for up to 10 rounds. If Greenflame Blade triggers its splash damage, we’re doing above average damage to two foes. Not too shabby.

With so many spells to choose from, with our sword, shield, bow, high armor class, potentially high HP+THP, and 4 first + 3 second level spell slots along with Arcane Recovery, we retain our amazing versatility.

Level 5 — Sharpshooter, Gish Cantrip Upgrades

At level 5 we gain our fourth level of Bladesinger. Now we’ve just unlocked a wonderful set of ASI and feat feat options. We’ve also just upgraded our Greenflame Blade and Booming Blade cantrips. And though we don’t yet have access to the level 3 spell list, we do have access to level 3 slots. Glorious Linkishness!

Before we go into our ASI choices or look at our DPR potential, let’s first manage our Spell Book. Last level we picked up Dragon’s Breath and Misty Step. At this level, we look to shore up our blasting with Shatter and we pick the wonderful defensive gish spell that is Mirror Image. Our defensive suite, combining Silvery Barbs, Shield, Absorb Elements, Mirror Image, and False Life, is now quite extensive. We’re also likely casting Longstrider at day start now to increase our base movement speed to 40. Our snowy owl familiar is still giving us consistent advantage when we are not using Silvery Barbs. We’ve got a deep well of various buffs and tricks working for our advantage at this point.

Our spell slots increase to 4 first level spells, 3 second level spells, and 2 third level spells. We don’t know third level spells. But can now upcast Dragon’s Breath, Cure Wounds, Shatter, False Life, and Magnify Gravity/Thunderwave. Dragon’s Breath, particularly, becomes quite potent when upcast using a third level spell slot.

At level 5 our Booming Blade and Greenflame Blade Cantrips now do an extra 1d8 thunder or fire damage when we hit in melee. With Linkish Accuracy, we do a bit of crit fishing in melee. For ranged attacks with our bow, we go ahead and pick up the Sharpshooter Feat. Now we shoot at up to a rather long range and we can do an additional +10 damage. Due to Silvery Barbs our our owl, we can set up advantage to make those attacks land far more often.

If we upcast Dragon’s Breath to level 3 and attack with Greenflame Blade we do up to 4d6+2d8+3 (26 average) damage to a single target, up to 4d6+1d8+3 (21.5 average) damage to a second target and potentially 14 damage to a number of additional targets. If we maintain concentration, we can do this for ten rounds. Taking into account Linka Accuracy and an average monster AC, that’s 21.9 average damage against a single opponent and 10.5 average damage to multiple opponents assuming a cluttered battlefield. So we are doing above average damage to a single target on top of an AOE. If we use a bow with Sharpshooter (adding in combat advantage) instead of a blade, we do 22.6 average damage against a moderate AC opponent if we can shoot them with an arrow and blast them with Dragon’s Breath. On a crit with this attack and assuming a failed save, we do 4d6+2d8+13 or 36. This is rather high DPR, even if our NOVA + crit is a bit underweight.

Level 6 — Fireball, Haste

By level 6, we are now a level 5 Bladesinger and we gain access to 3rd level known spells. Adding both Fireball and Haste to our Spell Book adds a suite of wonderful options. If we cast Haste and add Sharpshooter with Linka accuracy (using our owl familiar and Silvery Barbs), we up our DPR to 23.28 against a moderately armored foe. Not a huge gain, but more significant against low AC foes. Casting Fireball with Haste active and shooting a foe with advantage generates our new NOVA critical which is 8d6+2d8+13 or 49 — much more substantial in addition to the large AOE that is Fireball.

Leveraging Fireball in this way might not feel very Linkish. However, if we ignore Fireball, we’re hurting our potential in D&D 5e. We are Linka after all… It is worth noting that many of our spell and weapon combinations can be refluffed as using various forms of techno-magic or as activating powers from our weapons. And our invocations to Zel to produce these effects provides a more Linkish feel. That said, our next level swings us back to more of a weapon focus.

Level 7 — Extra Attack, Cantrip Attack Action

Hitting level 7 overall and level 6 in Bladesinger we finally gain access to the Extra Attack feature. We also breach level four spell slots which add to our ability to NOVA. Using our bow, Haste, Sharpshooter and Linka Accuracy on the first two attacks, we now do 30.5 average damage against a moderately armored foe. This is about 70 percent above the average base damage for this level. With advantage on just the first attack, this DPR drops to a still respectable 25 — or nearly 50 percent above average. Our NOVA is now Haste+a level 4 Fireball+advantage+bow and Sharpshooter for 52.5 on a critical and a failed save or simply three hits and one crit with Sharpshooter and Haste active for 57 damage. With our sword, with Haste active, and using Booming Blade for one of the attacks along with our Bladesinger special attack action ability, the average damage is about 22 with advantage on the first attack and about 25.5 damage with advantage on the first two attacks. Also strong DPR.

On the defensive side, sword and board plus Haste grants us a 21 AC. Adding Mirror Image generates even more resiliency. Silvery Barbs saves both us and our Mirror Images. Our base hit points are relatively low at 46. However, we’ve likely added about 11 THP by pre-casting False Life using a level 2 slot, giving us 57 effective HP (comparable to the 60 average HP for Fighter, Paladin, and Ranger at this level). Absorb Elements gives us the ability to reduce the damage of a good number of typically high damage area attacks. If we’ve added Blink (new to our spellbook at this level), we are absent on 50 percent of our off turns (preventing damage but also preventing us from defending our allies when we’ve blinked out). A newly added Counterspell access grants us the ability to suppress enemy casters at admittedly high cost for this level.

Level 8 — Artificer 2, Infusions

By level 8 we return to our Artificer roots and pick up a second level in the class. We gain some decent benefits in the form of two magical Infusions. These Infusions are straight out of our magi-tech background — providing our RP basis for how Linka accesses this magic.

The two magical Infusions we’ve gained can do work for us now even as the provide a key benefit at high level. If we don’t yet have a magical bow and rapier, we go ahead and use our Infusions to enchant both weapons. If we do have a magical bow and rapier, we infuse our shield to +1 and our half plate to +1. For damage calculation purposes, we’ll assume that the bow and rapier are infused. However, it is relatively likely that we have a magical bow and sword by level 8. If we do, we instead infuse our shield and half plate to gain a 21 base AC which jumps to 23 AC when we cast Haste.

Though these Infusions are both powerful and flavorful, we’ve set our sights on level 3 Artificer for a key feature.

Level 9 — Artificer 3, Battlesmith, Battle Ready, Steel Defender, Greatsword

Level 9 grants us that sought-for third level of Artificer. Now, we unlock our Artificer subclass option and we immediately jump all over the Battlesmith. Battlesmith grants us a key feature in the form of Battle Ready. With Battle Ready, we can use our Intelligence instead of both Strength and Dexterity when we wield a magical weapon. In addition, we gain proficiency in all martial weapons. With Intelligence now serving as our main stat for magical weapon attacks and as we gain proficiency in all martial weapons, our eyes drift over to the Greatsword.

Now, we gain three modes of fighting. Our main mode remains Bow + Spell given Sharpshooter, our relatively lower HP, and our increasing ability to gain advantage on attacks by various means. However, if enemies close in, we can now draw our Greatsword, use Intelligence for our ability modifier with this potent weapon, and employ it for our melee option. Sword+Shield becomes somewhat more niche as we reserve it for combats when we need higher defense.

If these benefits weren’t enough, we gain another cool critter in the form of our Steel Defender. We flavor this Steel Defender as a wolf made of iridescent blue and violet metal named Ambi. Ambi isn’t very tough at 20 HP. However, he is another presence on the battlefield. At this level, he provides aid in combination with our snowy owl Elsie and Silvery Barbs to grant us advantage on up to three attacks. We achieve this by using our bonus action to have Ambi move adjacent to an enemy and then use his ready action to prepare to distract the foe at the start of Linka’s next turn. This tactic may have varied effectiveness. But it is worth noting that if Ambi forces a foe to move, then we’ve disrupted the enemy’s maneuver. In addition, any attacks made on Ambi are attacks that aren’t made on Linka or her allies. If we use the optional flanking rules, Ambi becomes far more useful as a flank buddy. Otherwise, his ability to attack for 1d8+4 force damage is also helpful.

Ambi — a Wolf Steel Defender

Given Haste, Sharpshooter, a +1 Longbow and advantage from three sources, our ranged DPR has now jumped to 40 — or 110 percent higher than average. At this point, we are a DPR machine. Our NOVA+crit damage has also increased to 60 (68.5 if we use our bonus action to attack with our Steel Defender). Again, we are more solid as a DPR type than a NOVA type (our more NOVA-focused builds hit in the range of 90+ at this level). But we knew this coming into the build.

It’s worth noting that we are now effectively a single attribute dependent (SAD) build. Which makes us very happy and not sad at all. Another point is that a Headband of Intellect has now become a highly desirable magic item for us. Keep a lookout for it as it’ll help us with our spells, ranged, and melee attacks through level 15.

Last of all, our spell slots have gained a bump. Now we access 4 first, 3 second, 3 third and 2 fourth level spell slots. Notably, we’ve only sacrificed one effective caster level through our multi-classing. Our Artificer spell pool for any given day has also grown to four — adding still more versatility. Given access to Fireball and the five spell slots we can use for it, we are still a substantial blaster as well as a consistent threat as a weapon wielder.

Level 10 — Bladesinger 7, Fireshield, Spirit Shroud

At level 10 we return to Bladesinger and never look back. Here, we gain access to level four spells for our spell book. We pick up Fireshield and Spirit Shroud. Both are strong gish options for Linka. Fireshield provides us with a non-concentration ability to gain either cold or fire resistance on top of 2d8 reactive cold or fire damage when we are hit. This effect lasts for ten minutes. So we can cast it prior to entering combat. Spirit Shroud, if upcast to level 5, gives us a ten round 2d8 radiant, necrotic, or cold damage buff to our attacks that hit a foe within a ten foot radius. In addition, it slows our foes’ movement within 10 feet. Spirit Shroud does not yet replace Haste for us in most cases. But having the option to cast Spirit Shroud adds to our quiver of gish spells.

Our new fifth level slot provides various upcast options. An upcast fireball does 10d6 damage. If we need resiliency, False Life at level 5 gives us an average of 26.5 THP. Spirit Shroud, discussed above, provides another option.

Level 11 — Bladesinger 8, Great Weapon Master, Vitriolic Sphere, Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere

At level 11 we gain our second ASI or Feat as we hit level 8 in Bladesinger. Now that we have various ways to achieve combat advantage on the battlefield and now that we can use our Intelligence to wield a greatsword, we go ahead and pick up our second main switch-hitter option. You guessed it, we’re taking the amazing feat that is Great Weapon Master. Now, when foes close with us, we can devastate them with our Greatsword and with our ability to gain Linka Accuracy.

With Haste active, our ranged DPR of about 40 (without non-infusion magic item support) is now supplemented by a melee DPR with the greatsword of 61.65 (don’t forget, we’re adding 2d8 damage from Greenflame Blade or Booming Blade). Greatsword also provides us with a potential NOVA+crit round of 10d6+4d8+56 or 109. If we add in 2d8 off turn damage from Fire Shield, our NOVA+crit round jumps to 118. The greatsword-based DPR is approx 120 percent higher than average. The NOVA+crit enabled by the greatsword+GWM edges into the lower boundary of some of our more NOVA focused builds — owing to Haste, the explosive nature of Greatsword criticals by providing a bonus action attack, and adding in the ability of the Bladesinger to mix a melee cantrip into the attack sequence. We have now matured into a full-on Switch Hitter. It only gets better from here. Wof!

This higher melee damage potential creates a draw for us to focus on melee. But we should still play as a Switch Hitter. Our ranged attacks are still quite potent — allowing us to soften foes before they reach us or to target squishier caster or skirmish type foes with focus fire. Our multiple AOEs and ranged spell options further facilitate this style. When foes enter melee range, we choose our moment to pounce on them with our greatsword.

At level 11 we also pick up another AOE option in the form of Vitriolic Sphere or Gravity Sinkhole along with the wonderful defensive spell that is Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere.

Level 12 — Bladesinger 9, Steel Wind Strike, Cone of Cold

At level 12 we reach Bladesinger 9. We pick up the wonderfully gish and anime spell that is Steel Wind Strike. Now we can vanish, make a melee spell attack dealing 6d10 force damage to multiple foes and then teleport adjacent to one foe within 30 feet. Paired with Haste or Spirit Shroud, Steel Wind Strike becomes even more potent. In addition, due to Linka Accuracy, we have the option to crit fish against up to three of these foes.

For our second spell, we pick up the blast beast that is Cone of Cold for 8d8 cold damage in a 60 foot cone.

Our quiver for higher level spells is now rather deep as we have 1 sixth level slot, 2 fifth level slots, 3 fourth level slots, and 3 third level slots. This spell quiver totals 11 and we can draw from it for a number of wonderful buffs and powerful blasts as the need arises.

Level 13 — Bladesinger 10, Dimension Door, Summon Draconic Spirit

Level 13 gives us the opportunity to shore up some of our gish versatility. I like taking mobility options such as Dimension Door and the very versatile summoning spell that is Summon Draconic Spirit — giving us mounted flight and a powerful companion for up to 1 hour.

Level 14 — Bladesinger 11, Tenser’s Transformation, Chain Lightning

Reaching level 14 provides another major boost to our weapon-fighting ability. This comes in the form of Tenser’s Transformation — a powerful buff spell that sacrifices our spellcasting ability in favor of turning us into a vicious melee and ranged fighter. Tenser’s is a clutch spell that requires good timing to be used effectively. Typically, we will want to unload our other spells before tapping Tenser’s. We may also want to hold this spell in reserve for a moment when we need to swing the tide of battle by stepping in to join the front line and/or provide more powerful ranged support.

Our Linka Build is all about Going Full Gandalf on a Balrog

With Tenser’s Transformation active, we gain advantage on all our attacks with a weapon, we gain 50 Temporary Hit Points, and we add 2d12 force damage to each of our weapon attacks. Using a bow and Sharpshooter, our DPR jumps to 47.35. With our greatsword and Great Weapon Master, our DPR is 64.16 (about 125 percent above average). These are boosts beyond our previous peak. Our NOVA+Crit with a bow is now 6d12+3d8+28 or 80.5. With a greatsword, our NOVA+Crit is 8d12+8d6+42 or 120. If we have Fire Shield active and are hit once, the total NOVA round damage is approx 129. The combined high DPR and ability to NOVA when we crit is potent — particularly when we add the resiliency given by 50 THP. For best effect we pre-cast non concentration buff spells like Longstrider, Fireshield, Mirror Image and Blink. If we prep in this way, then cast Tenser’s our combination of offense from greatsword and bow switch hitting and defense in the form of resistances, 50 THP, passive damage, mirror images, and blinking out on our off turn is brutally effective.

For our second spell, we pick up the wonderful blast that is Chain Lightning. Our blast ability remains quite potent even as we gain a seventh level spell slot for up-casting our blasts, summons, and various buffs like Spirit Shroud. It’s worth noting that with Spirit Shroud upcast to 7 and with advantage our greatsword DPR jumps to 72.1 with the NOVA jumping to 138/147. This gives us an option outside of Tenser’s for a damage boost. Though the other benefits from Tenser’s including better support for our ranged option, granting us 50 THP along with continuous advantage, and lasting for up to ten minutes (vs 1 minute for Spirit Shroud), may make it a stronger choice for a long term buff in a pinch.

This level feels really strong for our Linka build. I’m adding a little * here and a note that we probably don’t want to take this build for campaigns that remain in the level 1-10 range. We’re no slacker at low to mid levels. But this build really shines at 11-16 and then again at 20. If we only play Linka in lower level campaigns, we miss out on her amazing potential.

Level 15 — Bladesinger 12, Elven Accuracy, Intelligence 18, Contingency, Drawmij’s Instant Summons

Now our boosts are coming hard and fast. At level 15, we hit 12 in Bladesinger. Gaining an ASI we pick the wonderful feat that is Elven Accuracy. Now our Linka Accuracy and Tenser’s Transformation grant us triple advantage. With Tenser’s constant advantage our DPR with the bow jumps to 61.8 (more than double average DPR at this level) while our DPR with the Greatsword leaps to 83.6 (about triple average DPR). Elven Accuracy also bumps our Intelligence from 17 to 18 which adds a bonus to, well, everything.

For spells, we pick up Contingency and Drawmij’s Instant Summons. Contingency provides us with some clutch action economy in a pinch. Drawmij’s lets us conjure one item we need that we don’t have — which can be useful for us in certain situations.

Level 16 — Bladesinger 13, Crown of Stars, Simulacrum

At level 13 we pick up more spells that further enhance our potential. At the top of this list is Crown of Stars. Now, we can use our bonus action to hurl a star that deals 4d12 radiant damage to a foe within 120 feet. This increases our peak ranged DPR to 81.3 and our ranged NOVA+crit to 12d12+3d8+28 or 119.5. Even when we hop into melee, the Crown of Stars may provide us with an option for our bonus action if we play our cards right. We should also mention that Crown of Stars has a nice, point blank synergy with Spirit Shroud. This becomes a clutch option for us at level 18 (below).

Our second spell at this level is Simulacrum. We’ve discussed this spell in previous build guides. It’s extraordinarily powerful and may not be a wise choice if we are playing at less optimized tables. Talk with your DM before using this spell. However, if we do create a Simulacrum of Linka, we can double our action economy or have our snowman version of Linka do some wonderful things like cast Haste on us right after we cast Tenser’s Transformation. Using a contingent spell to summon your Simulacrum in a pinch might prove clutch in a difficult battle.

Last of all, we now have an 8th level spell slot for upcasting. Wof!

Level 17, 18, 19 — Teleport, Forecage, Clone, Sunburst, Maze, Mighty Fortress, Intelligence 20

At level 17 we pick up the wonderful spells that are Teleport and Forcecage. Here we gain some more versatility — including the option to trap one or more foes in a Forecage. Fun!

Level 18 gives us Clone and Sunburst. The magi-tech Clone can save us from death. Sunburst is yet one more powerful AOE option for our quiver. At level 18, we also gain 9th level spell slots. This grants us a unique option to cast Spirit Shroud at 9th level while also casting Crown of Stars. If we can manage to pull off an effective greatsword+Crown of Stars attack sequence with Linka Accuracy, we do 124 DPR. If we NOVA+Crit with this sequence, we net 8d12+19d8+4d6+30 or 176.5 (185.5 with Fire Shield). Pretty darn deadly.

At level 19 we gain our final ASI and immediately use it to boost our Intelligence to 20. Maze and Mighty Fortress round out our spell selection. Zel’s magi-tech has grown into an extraordinary power. It’s also worth noting that as an effective 18th level caster, we now have 3 level five spell slots. Nice!

Level 20 — Shapechange…

Coming to level 20 really feels like gaining a capstone for our Linka. We gain access to the superlative list of 9th level spells. For our choices we pick Shapechange and something else we desire (I like Foresight, Meteor Swarm, or Blade of Disaster, but you do you). Shapechange by itself is pretty key to capping off the amazing D&D character that is Linka.

Linka can now Shapechange into a Planetar aka Angel of the Holy Sword — to devastating effect. Image source: Forgotten Realms Wiki.)

When we take Shapechange, we might consider renaming it to Angel of the Holy Sword or something similar that fits with our Linka mojo. When we cast this extraordinary spell, we use it to transform into a Planetar. This boosts our HP to 200, gives us 24 Strength and provides us with a boatload of other benefits. Here our Artificer infusions provide a key benefit. We commission the forging of a large greatsword as well as the crafting of large longbow crafted. We then infuse these items to each be +1 weapons. Placing them in our Bag of Holding (I hope we have one by now), we save them for when we cast Shapechange, then have our Planetar form draw both from the bag. Now we are a Planetar switch hitter. Boom!

With our bow in our Planetar form, we do 5d8+2d6+16 owing to the radiant damage we add to weapon attacks, our magic bow, our 20 Intelligence and Sharpshooter. With Crown of Stars active and with Linka advantage, we now do 117 DPR with our ranged attacks. Our Greatsword now deals 5d8+4d6+18 for a devastating DPR of 152 if we achieve Linka advantage on 2-3 attacks and adding in Booming Blade or Greenflame Blade on one attack. Our Greatsword NOVA+Crit round is now 26d8+8d6+54 or 198 (207 with Fireshield). If we have a Simulacrum available to cast Haste on our Planetar form, it gets even better.

Overall, our Bladesinger 17/ Artificer 3 build as Linka is a DPR powerhouse that really shines in the level 11-20 range. She’s an able spellcaster with great access to buffs, blasts, summons and spell utility. Her ability to gain advantage from numerous spell and ally options gives her a potent additional sting. And her critical strikes are often powerful enough to hit the lower range of builds specifically optimized to NOVA. Though her hit points are on the lower end, her ability to cast multiple defensive spells, to wear medium armor, and to transform into powerful forms makes her remarkably tough. A very strong build. One which I’ll be testing out in an upcoming one-shot in which my friends and I take on Vecna as level 20 characters! Stay tuned for dates and times as we’ll be livestreaming the devastation on Twitch!

Wow! This was quite a fun and enjoyable ride! I hope those of you who love Link and Zelda can make great use of the Linka build. Until next time — warmest regards and best wishes to you all!

Gish Optimized 6: The Barbarian Hellblade Tank, Myra Helkey

So it’s time to crack open our Dungeons and Dragons books again for another episode of Gish Optimized! Because D&D is much more fun when you Gish! And boy are we going to Gish today — in the form of a fantasy character as a D&D character build! She delivers some big booms, a lotta splat, serious tankage, and a heapin’ helping of Hellish sizzle!

Welcome to the Barbarian Hellblade Tank — Myra Helkey!

Thus far in our build series, we’ve explored two straight-classed Gishes — the Stab and Smite Dexadin and the Battle Sorcerer. Both pack a serious punch and demonstrate the 5e truism that you don’t have to multiclass to kick serious character optimization butt in D&D. We’ve also explored three dip Gish builds — the Hexblade-Fighter, the classic Fighter-Mage, and the Tempest Cleric-Storm Sorcerer. All dip builds included just 1-3 levels in their secondary class.

For our Barbarian-Hellblade Tank, we’re going for another dip. We’re just taking one level in a second class — Barbarian — to help enable an explosive piñata style tank that is also primarily a caster.

“Explosive pinata, what the eff does that mean?” you ask?

It’s exactly what it sounds like! This tank basically blows up in the faces of bad guys who beat on it. Now doesn’t that sound like fun? Yeah! Explosive pinata! Say it with me now! Sounds like Mustafa! Explosive pinata! And for our explosive pinata tank, that one level dip in Barbarian is going to carry one helluva lot of beefy, damage-soaking weight. The rest, the ice shards piercing bad guys, the shields of magical fire and cold, the temporary hit points stolen from each fallen foe, will be delivered by the nineteen levels coming from Warlock.

Now let’s jump into it!

Myra Helkey as Explosive Pinata Hellblade

Our new build gets its RP cred straight from the Helkey modern fantasy series that many of you have been enjoying here. Though this build will not perfectly mirror Myra Hellkey’s abilities from Into Infernia, it will provide you with a powerful full caster who’s capable of laying down severe blasts of magical power, of delivering some rather devastating NOVA damage, and, most importantly, of tanking like a champ on the battlefields of D&D. With these goals in mind, we’ll leverage both the Hellishly cool mojo of Myra from our series and the D&D ruleset to give you a great template for combat and RP fun in your games.

Myra steals both secrets and powers from devils. IRL, Myra would side with Ukraine in its existential struggle against the diabolical Vladimir Putin. A conflict that forms one back-drop of this modern fantasy tale.

Story-wise, our Myra gains her magical powers through her name curse tattoo. This source of magic is not a Warlock’s fiendish pact in a strictly traditional sense. Instead, Myra has been gifted by her mage parents with the ability to steal power from fiends — either by slaying them directly or by sheltering souls the fiends have taken in her name curse. These souls, in turn, gift Myra with magical energy. In past role-play, I’ve described Myra taking souls from slain fiends (which end up residing in her shadow, perhaps to be redeemed later) and by liberating the souls of the damned in the lower planes (which end up in her name curse, perhaps to be resurrected or carried to the celestial realms later).

This build is heavily lower planes themed. However, the character’s backstory, I find, works great for almost any campaign. Since there are many ways to render and describe Myra Helkey mechanically in D&D 5e, our guide here will be the first of many for Myra. One made more enjoyable owing to its improbable nature. A Fiend Warlock that steals power from fiends — tipping the tables against them. The build also makes excellent use of a Barbarian dip, often considered non-optimal, to great effect. A reverse Elric of Melnibone — in which the soul-sucking nature of fiends comes back to haunt them. Our version of Myra here is thus a rough-and-tumble Paladin — by other means. It often feels like pulling off a major coup to play her. I hope you enjoy her as much as I have.

Level 1 — Strength, Charisma, Constitution, Dexterity, Half-Elf, Barbarian

Starting with ability scores, the first thing we notice is we’re really, really MAD. We need Charisma for our spellcasting, we need Strength for our melee because man are we gonna melee, and we need Constitution because we want to be tough. In addition, we want a decent Dexterity because we don’t want to have a terrible AC. We also want max Strength and Charisma at high level. That’s a lot. But don’t fret! We have an awesome build plan that’s gonna make all this MADness work out for us. We’re just going to have to do some serious ability score gymnastics to accomplish our admittedly ambitious goals.

We begin with Strength — which is our first primary statistic. Using point buy, we dump 9 points into the physical might and prowess attribute. This gives us a 15 before we begin to tap into our racial bonuses. We’re taking Strength all the way to 20 (unless we gain a Belt of Giant Strength as an item drop, of course) and this buy gives us a great start. It also empowers our melee strikes. Since we are taking Fiend Warlock, not Hexblade for our main class, Strength is going to do a lot of work to help us stand tough in close fights. To this point, we’re not going to avoid close fighting. Instead, we’re going to run right into most fights with a high confidence in our power to take a literal crap-load of incoming physical punishment. Hell yeah! Because our Myra Helkey is a real scrapper. Indeed!

For our next stat, we drop 7 points into Charisma. This gives us a 14 before we access any of our race’s ability modifiers. Charisma’s our casting stat and we don’t want to neglect it. Sure, we’re going to be amazingly tough and badass in melee combat. But we are a Gish after all. And by level 6 we gain access to some seriously heavy blast effects. In addition, we have access to the wonderful Eldritch Blast and related supports. To fail to leverage our caster side in this build would be to hand in our Gish card. And we really don’t want to do that.

Moving on to Constitution, we drop 5 points into the stat for physical toughness and resiliency to end up with a total of 13 before any adds from our race. We’re not as heavily concentration focused as some of our other builds (which we’ll discuss more below). However, we do need the HP since we’re going to be wading into melee quite a lot. And though we don’t rely on any specific set of concentration magic, we may want to avail ourselves of a number of wonderful spells from the Warlock list like Hex, Shadow of Moil, or Spirit Shroud, from time to time.

We’re going to rely on our physical toughness, on our magic, and on the Fiend Warlock’s ability to generate temporary hit points for our main defense. However, we don’t want to have absolutely terrible armor class. Since we’re main-lining a Greatsword for our primary weapon and won’t have use of a shield, and since we’re stuck with medium armor from Barbarian, we want at least a halfway decent Dexterity. I’m gonna go ahead and drop 4 of our remaining points into Dexterity. This buy gives us a 12. We won’t max out medium armor. But starting with a 15 AC together with scale mail and all our other fun features ain’t half bad.

Myra prepares to enter Hell.

After being considerably MAD, we are only left with 2 points to spend on Intelligence and Wisdom. I’m not comfortable dumping Myra’s Int, so I’m going to drop these last 2 to get her a 10 in the smarts stat. That leaves Myra with an 8 Wisdom. I’m cool with her having a lower Wis. She’s always getting herself into trouble in fiction. A low Wisdom in-game lets us really lean into this RP characteristic.

So before choosing our race, we end up with 15 Str, 13 Con, 12 Dex, 10 Int, 8 Wis, and 14 Cha. A solid spread and yet somehow not stretching ourselves too thin.

Moving on, we go ahead and take Half Elf for our race. In RP, Half Elf works great as Myra Helkey is the daughter of the angelic and fey Beatrice Lushael. We could go Aasimar for this RP theme. But I’m more partial to Half-Elf both mechanically and story-wise. For one, Myra’s father, Robert Mori, is Human. Second, Beatrice comes from the very Fey Heaven that is Oesha. Third, Half-Elf gives us some great stats to help us out.

Adding in bonuses (+1, +1, +2) from Half Elf, we boost our Strength to 16, bump our Constitution to 14, and increase our Charisma to 16. Our final ability scores are Str 16, Con 14, Dex 12, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 16. These are solid stats. From Half-Elf, we also gain Darkvision, two extra skills (which we can trade for 5 feet of extra movement or a wizard cantrip, though I’m partial to the extra skills or movement, myself), advantage on saves against being charmed and magic can’t put us to sleep.

Now at last we come to class. We’re a Gish. But for our first level in this build we are going all in for Barbarian. We’ll never see another level in this class again. But at first level, we get a lot from the Barb. Our starting HP is 14. Wof! We pick up Scale Mail for a 15 base AC — about average. But we’re not too worried given our combined Rage and high HP. We gain proficiency in Strength and Constitution saves. We grab a Greatsword. For ranged attacks, we pick up hand axes or javelins. And, perhaps most importantly, we gain Rage which effectively doubles our Hit Points relative to physical attacks, buffs our damage, and gives us advantage on Strength checks while raging. In RP, I describe Myra’s Rage as an effect of her magical name curse tattoo. Of course this is pure fluff. But, again, I find this distinction from typical Barbarian Rage to be a fun story element.

Overall, at first level, we have nothing to complain about. Our strong ability scores, high HP, ability to Rage and versatility coming from Half Elf are our high points. We might lag a bit behind pure class Barbarians. But we’re no slackers. Our unique capabilities, however, begin to manifest as we progress to level 2.

Level 2 — Fiend Warlock, Eldritch Blast, Armor of Agathys, Dark One’s Blessing

Here we gain access both to our magical nature and to a rather unique combination that I’m calling the explosive pinata tank. To access this new talent, we take level 2 in Fiend Warlock. Immediately, we gain two Cantrips. I’m taking Eldritch Blast and Light. I enjoy Light for its utility and as a party aid. I often run into parties where members lack Darkvision — which can be a real impediment in dungeons if a light source isn’t available. Eldritch Blast is pretty self explanatory here. It immediately provides us with a medium range attack that does decent damage and scales quickly as we level. We can’t use it while we’re raging. But when we’re raging, we’re also tanking. Just in case we need a ranged attack, we keep a few javelins or hand axes at the ready.

We also gain access to two spells. I’m leaning toward picking up the thematic Burning Hands for a blast. Although Arms of Hadar might be a better choice. In any case, we grab a blast of some kind to give us an AOE option. The second spell, however, is pretty crucial. Armor of Agathys both gives us a resilience buff in the form of 5 temporary hit points (THP). This spell requires no concentration. And it lasts for 1 hour. Due to our short rest spell recharge, we can cast this spell multiple times per day. Combined with our two rages, Armor of Agathys gives us a serious edge as a Tank. Here’s how it works. Right now, we have 21 Hit Points. When we Rage, we take half damage from physical attacks. When we cast Armor of Agathys, we gain an additional 5 THP. And when we are hit, our attackers take 5 cold damage so long as some of the THP from Armor of Agathys remains. With rage active, it turns our 5 points of THP into an effective 10 THP for physical attacks. This means we are more likely to deliver that 5 cold damage multiple times. So attackers are taking damage from hitting us. Their hits are less effective due to our Rage. And we are also smacking them around with our Greatsword for 2d6+5 damage as we Rage. Explosive pinata!

Armor of Agathys — Ice Armor with a bite.

Moving on to our Fiend Pact, we get a nice cherry on top of our, already strong, resiliency suite as we gain Dark One’s Blessing. This power enables us to pick up 4 THP every time we reduce an enemy to 0 hit points. It doesn’t stack with other sources of THP. But it can give us a carry-over effect. For example, say we enter combat with six kobolds. We have Armor of Agathys already cast. We Rage and run into battle smashing one to bits. We gain 4 THP that doesn’t matter, because we still have 5 THP from Armor of Agathys. All five kobolds attack. Two hit. The first does 6 damage (reduced to 3 because we Raged) and the second one does 5 damage (reduced to 2 because we Raged). Typically, the first hit would take down our Armor of Agathys. Since we Raged, our spikey ice armor survives the first shot. This means that we have now killed two Kobolds as our Armor of Agathys delivers 5 cold damage to each. We’ve taken zero damage off our base HP. Our Armor of Agathys goes down from the second hit. But, we now have 4 THP because our Armor of Agathys killed the second Kobold that hit us. Only two Kobolds remain. They get lucky and we miss our attack. They attack us, again getting lucky and hitting twice. They each do 4 damage. Because of our Rage, we again lose none of our base HP. It all gets taken off the THP we gained from Dark One’s Blessing. Next round, we kill one of the Kobolds and recharge our THP to 4. The last Kobold crits us for 8 damage, which we turn to 4 because of Rage. Then on our turn, we kill the last Kobold and recharge our THP again. So far, we’ve taken 27 damage, reduced to 13 because we Raged, reduced to zero+4 because we racked up 17 THP in total. In addition, two of the hits against us killed enemy attackers.

Explosive pinata, baby!

Level 3 — Agonizing Blast, Hex

At level 3 we pick up Eldritch Invocations from Warlock along with a new spell and our second Warlock slot. For our first Invocation, we take Agonizing Blast. Devil’s Sight is somewhat less useful for us than for the Hexblade-Fighter as we won’t be leveraging magical forms of darkness to gain advantage very often. We also like to have the powerful ranged option provided by Agonizing Blast during the times when we are not raging. Our second spell slot also gives us a number of helpful options. We can, for example, cast Armor of Agayths prior to combat, wade into battle, on round 1 cast an AOE like Thunderwave, Burning Hands or Arms of Hadar. Then, for our bonus action, we activate rage and begin tanking. For our third spell choice, we pick Hex which allows us to further buff our Eldritch Blast to 1d10+1d6+3 when we are not raging. This provides us with a nice switch-hitting option and adds versatility to the character.

Level 4 — Pact of the Blade, Shatter

Reaching level 4 we hit level 3 in Warlock — granting us our Pact. Since we are an explosive pinata style tank, we immediately jump on Pact of the Blade. Now, our attacks count as magical with this amazing weapon we summon from mid-air by invoking the power of our name curse (err… patron). We set aside our second invocation at level 3, so we go ahead and immediately use it to buff our summoned Hellblade with Improved Pact of the Blade — granting us a +1 Greatsword. Mechanically badass and thematic.

Our Warlock spell slots bump up to level 2. Armor of Agathys delivers 10 THP and 10 damage to attackers that hit us in melee. Assessing our tankishness, we’ve probably accessed Half Plate for 16 AC, our base HP is 35 or about in line with the fighter/ranger average. Armor of Agathys gives us 10 THP and Dark One’s Blessing grants 6 THP when we reduce a creature to 0 HP. Rage effectively doubles both our Hit Points and THP against physical attacks. While raging and while Armor of Agathys is up, we also deal about 23 damage per round assuming our Greatsword attack lands and we’ve been hit once. With Rage ongoing, we can expect Armor of Agathys to reliably last for 2-3 hits or more, resulting in 20-30+ single target damage while also effectively absorbing 20 hit points of incoming fire. When Armor of Agathys goes down, we can still boost our survivability through Dark One’s Blessing (at 6 THP per pop) so long as we can land hits and reduce critters to 0 HP.

Last of all, for our new spell choice, we pick up Shatter. This choice grants us another, more powerful AOE which we can use to good effect just prior to activating our Rage.

Level 5 — Great Weapon Master, Misty Step, Mirror Image

This level isn’t as big for us as for many other builds, mainly due to the fact that we dipped into Barbarian right from jump. That said, level 5 does bring with it a number of major perks. First off, we gain a feat/ASI and we use it to pick up Great Weapon Master. Now, we can subtract 5 from our to hit roll to add 10 to our damage. In addition, we can use a bonus action to deliver another attack after we roll a critical hit or reduce a creature to 0 HP. These features provide us with another boost to our melee damage.

Picking up a new spell slot gives us access to the mobility-enhancing Misty Step. We don’t tend to use it as much as other builds due to a combination of high Strength and access to Eldritch Blast. But we have it for a rainy day when we need to get into or out of trouble quick. Eldritch Versatility also allows us to retrain one spell. We use this ability to switch out our level 1 AOE for Mirror Image. Now we have another spell we can cast in addition to Armor of Agathys that does not require concentration and is compatible with our Rage. It also adds to our tankiness. So we’re all over it.

Level 6 — Thirsting Blade, Fireball

At level 6 we get a big boost. First, we pick the Thirsting Blade Invocation. This grants us two attacks per round with our Greatsword. In addition, we gain a new known spell. We pick Fireball from our Fiend Warlock spell list.

By now, in addition to having access to a solid tanking ability, we also have some powerful offensive options. We can enter combat with Armor of Agathys pre-cast to give us 15 THP and 15 explosive pinata damage. On round 1, we might cast Fireball, then bonus action to Rage. If, on a subsequent round, we score a critical hit with Great Weapon Master, we do an average of 46-76 plus 15 reactive damage if we are hit once for a total of 61-91 damage on a NOVA round. Very solid damage for a build that leans more heavily toward tanking.

Our tanking at this level is also pretty badass. We have 49 base HP. But adding in 15 THP from Armor of Agathys brings us to 64. Our Rage effectively doubles our hit points against physical attacks. Due to Rage, our reactive damage from Armor of Agathys likely lasts for 2-3 hits or more for a total of 30-45 off turn damage. Our Dark One’s Blessing adds 8 THP every time we reduce a target to 0 HP. These THP additions now happen more often with our extra attacks and Fireballs.

Level 7 — Dark One’s Own Luck, Fly

By level 7 we pick up a little boost to our saves and ability checks in the form of Dark One’s Own Luck. I’m partial to saving this clutch ability to add a d10 roll onto a failed save or concentration check. We’re already a little weak on our Int, Dex, and Wis saves. Dake One’s Own Luck helps to fill that gap and shore up a major vulnerability. For our spell choice, we gain some amazing mobility options by picking up the Fly spell. Fly allows us to zoom around the battlefield while spreading havoc with our Greatsword or Eldritch Blasts if mobility is something we decide we need.

Level 8 — Eldritch Smite, Fire Shield

Rolling into level 8 we gain another set of enhancements to our explosive pinata style tank. For one, our key Armor of Agathys jumps to 20 THP. With our base HP at 63, Agathys gives us an effective HP of 83. This compares to a typical Barbarian of this level at approx 85 with the addition of reactive damage. We can’t Rage as many times as the Barb’ so we need to choose our moments. But when we do, we are a serious impediment to foes that try to blow through us. Armor of Agathys lasts for at least 3 hits against most physical attacks while we rage for an average of around 60 reactive damage. We are also now getting 10 THP additions from Dark One’s Blessing. This is all pretty amazing for a tank.

For our new Invocation we pick up Eldritch Smite. I’m honestly not as jazzed about Eldritch Smite on this build as I am with other melee Warlocks. However, if we do manage to land a critical hit, we can burn one of our precious spell slots to add 45 average damage to that single strike. Overall, this net effect is lower than casting Armor of Agathys while raging and taking physical hits. But there are encounters when we will find this extra potential critical hit damage more effective — for example, when we need to take down a big bad, when enemies are resistant to cold damage, or when we are dealing with an encounter when we are mainly dealing with energy-based damage and our Rage ability isn’t as effective.

Speaking of energy damage, we look to add some options for resistance in this category and gain some additional reactive damage by picking up Fire Shield for our spell selection. With both Armor of Agathys and Fire Shield active, we can deliver a total of 20+2d8 reactive damage for an average of 29 each time we are hit so long as Agathys is still up. If we’re in combat against a creature that does Fire or Cold damage, and we have the wherewithal to apply Fire Shield to help deflect this damage, our combat tankishness also gets a boost.

Level 9 — 18 Strength, Counterspell, Wall of Fire

At level 9 with get another ASI. If we don’t have Gauntlets of Ogre Power or a Belt of Giant Strength by this time, we boost our Strength to 18. If we do have one of these highly desirable items, we can either increase our Dexterity to 14 and gain some much-needed AC, or we can increase our Charisma to 18 to further buff our spells. I’m more partial to option 2, but you do you.

Assuming no magical Strength enhancement, the ASI boost to 18 gives us 2d6+7 damage with our Greatsword when we Rage, 2d6+17 if we use our Great Weapon Master feature. Solid. Now our NOVA rounds are looking pretty strong at 123-153 if we’re hit once while Armor of Agathys is active, if we crit, and if we activate our Eldritch Smite on a critical hit. Adding such a high damage potential on top of our already impressive tankishness is pretty amazing to say the least. Though our 2 slots from Warlock make such NOVAs a clutch choice as we decide to unload a lot of our available resources into an admittedly powerful combination.

Using Eldritch Versatility, we might switch Shatter to Counterspell. We are heavy on fire-based magic. However, our ability to use Eldritch Blast does provide us with a force option to counter most damage resistances. I tend to want to have access to Counterspell by this level, so I’m going to recommend it for our Myra Helkey Gish.

Wall of Fire is an effective area denial spell.

Speaking of fire, we decide to double down on this particularly hot elemental damage type by gaining access to Wall of Fire. We probably stole this spell from some devils somewhere. So let’s use it wisely to divide up our foes during a clutch moment.

One caveat — if we’re in the lower planes on a hunt for fiendish souls to power our magic, fire becomes less effective. So we may instead want to keep Shatter and take the wonderful area denial spell that is Sickening Radiance if our Myra is out to go get the fiends.

Level 10 — Devil’s Sight, Synaptic Static

At level 10 we gain access to 5th level spells. I’m not super jazzed about our options. But picking up some non fire AOE damage seems like a good choice to me. So I’m going to recommend Synaptic Static — providing us with tough to resist psychic damage and a nice debuff against monsters with even just a little jot of Intelligence. We also gain another Eldritch Invocation. Since we’re stealing powers from fiends, we now pick up the wonderful Devil’s Sight granting us 120 feet of Darkvision that also ignores magical darkness.

Gaining fifth level spell slots also boosts our signature Armor of Agathys to 25 THP. Combined with our base HP of 77, we have 102 effective HP for most encounters. Rage grants us resistance to physical attacks and our Fire Shield can give us resistance to cold or fire, two very common damage types. Our Dark One’s Blessing grants 12 THP when we bring creatures to 0 HP which we now do rather often given our sweet collection of offensive abilities. We can also boost our reactive damage to 25+2d8 for an average of 34. Our Armor of Agathys typically lasts through three or more hits while raging. So we can expect to do upwards of 75-102 reactive damage over the lifespan of Agathys.

Level 11-13 — Fiendish Resilience, Circle of Death, 18 Charisma, Lifedrinker

Reaching level 11, we are now a level 10 Warlock and we access another trait from our name curse (err… Fiend Patron). This trait — Fiendish Resilience — grants us one resistance of our choice at the end of a short or long rest. I’m partial to fire, necrotic, cold or lightning resistance considering we already have access to Rage. This extra resistance pairs nicely with our ability to cast Fire Shield. Yet another helpful addition to our tankish suite. For our level 11 spell choice I’m going to suggest Dispel Magic. It adds still more versatility to our suite. Since we’re getting another spell slot next level, this spell can be pretty clutch. For us, it’s more potent than your typical dispel, as it’s always upcast to level 5.

Level 12 grants us our first Mystic Arcanum. For it we take the very large AOE that is Circle of Death. This spell gives us a huge 60 foot radius area in which we inflict 8d6 necrotic damage. It’s like a gigantic necrotic Fireball. Speaking of Fireball, we can now also cast three of these bad boys at level 5 for 10d6 damage on top of our Circle of Death. Blasting isn’t our main schtick. But our spell choices enable us to still provide powerful blast support when we need to.

By level 13 we’ve hit level 12 in Warlock and gained another ASI. We use it to boost our Charisma to 18 granting us a +4 bonus. As we now lob three Eldritch Blasts, we can do 3d10+12 total damage if all hit. Yet another arrow in our quiver of versatility. Boosting Charisma also fuels our newest Eldritch Invocation — Lifedrinker, which adds our Cha bonus to our Pact Weapon attacks as necrotic damage. Our melee attacks using our Pact Weapon now deal 2d6+9 total damage, 2d6 +11 when we Rage, and up to 2d6 +21 if we use our Great Weapon Master ability to add 10 damage. Pretty badass.

Level 14-17 — Crown of Stars, Hurl Through Hell, Maddening Darkness, Witch Sight, 20 Strength

Level 14 grants us our second Mystic Arcanum. We use it to choose the amazing Crown of Stars. Now we have a ranged bonus action attack that we can use without concentration. This gives us another spell we can cast pre-Rage and use while we Rage. The damage from Crown of Stars at 4d12 is considerable. If we are outside of Rage, this ranged option adds to our already impressive Eldritch Blast. When we wish to, we can buff both of these effects with Hex for a total of 4d12+4d6+3d10+12 or 68.5 average damage per round if all attacks land. Wof!

With the arrival of level 15, we access our final Fiend Warlock feature — Hurl Through Hell. Now, when we hit a creature with any attack, we can take it out of combat until the end of our next turn and inflict 10d10 psychic damage to it if the creature is not a fiend. It’s like a free no-save one-turn banishment combined with a boatload of psychic damage to non-fiends. My fluff for Myra’s RP of this power is that the fiends trapped in her shadow shoot out to engulf the target, temporarily tearing it out of existence and pulling it into a deadly, hellish dimension only to spit it out again six seconds later. On single strike, if we land a critical hit, unload Eldritch Smite and Hurl Through Hell, we do 4d6+12d8+10d10+21 (if we are Raging and if we use Great Weapon Master) or 134 average damage. Our NOVA round damage including Armor of Agathys and Fire Shield is now 224 average. This on a build primarily optimized for HP and THP tanking.

Hell is deadly. So is being hurled into it unexpectedly.

Level 16 grants us our third Mystic Arcanum and we choose the amazing spell that is Maddening Darkness. With this spell, we fill a huge 60 foot radius area with magical darkness that damages opponents for 8d8 psychic each round all while lobbing Eldritch Blasts into the zone. Nasty.

Level 17 provides us with our fourth ASI which we use to boost our Strength to 20. Our Eldritch Blast jumps to 4d10+16 from all missiles. Finally, we pick up the Eldritch Invocation Witch Sight allowing us to see through shape-changing and illusions that mask physical forms. As an alternative, we might want to take Lance of Lethargy to make it more difficult for creatures to leave our damaging area denial zones like Maddening Darkness by reducing their movement by 10 feet when we hit them with our Eldritch Blasts.

Level 18-20 — Foresight, Eldritch Lance, 20 Charisma

Rounding out our high level gains, we pick up Foresight for our Mystic Arcanum at level 18. Foresight grants us advantage on our attack rolls, ability checks and saving throws while causing attacks against us to be made with disadvantage. This powerful buff lasts for eight hours and does not require concentration — meaning it is yet one more spell we can use while we Rage (against the dying of the light…). At level 19 we pick up Eldritch Lance to increase the range of our Eldritch Blast attacks to 300 feet. And last of all, by level 20, we boost our Charisma to 20. If we haven’t yet picked up Spirit Shroud, we go ahead an take it as another melee buff option when we are not Raging. We might need it for some long, high level adventuring days. Spirit Shroud also trades our resilience for some powerful potential NOVA rounds.

For both ranged and melee, we are looking pretty impressive. Our Eldritch Blast attacks now do 4d10+20, our melee attacks with our Greatsword now do 2d6+11 up to 2d6+23 while raging and using Great Weapon Master to boost our damage by 10.

Our NOVA critical round, while raging, hasn’t improved too much from level 14. But it has risen a bit to the hefty 8d6+12d8+10d10+2d8+72+25 or 242. With Spirit Shroud active, we can boost this NOVA by another 8d8 (subtracting 6 from the loss of Rage) for 272. Right up there with our other powerful NOVA builds.

Our tanking also remains very impressive when we do Rage. Our base Hit Points + THP are now 147+25 or 172. While raging, we take half damage from physical attacks. With Fiendish resilience, we’ve chosen one energy resistance. With Fire Shield, we can gain resistance to cold or fire. With Foresight active, attacks are made at disadvantage against us and we have advantage on our saving throws. When we bring a creature to 0 hit points with one of our powerful attacks, we gain 24 THP. The Barbarian has long since outpaced us on base hit points — averaging about 264. However, we surpass the Barb in average HP + THP if we reduce just four creatures to 0 HP over the course of one or more combats. Meanwhile, our strong suite of magical options provides us with powerful ranged attacks, various other buffs, deadly NOVAs, and amazing area denial and AOE damage effects.

Our girl — Myra Helkey as a Hellblade Tank — is one helluva Gish. She’s got badass RP mojo. As I mentioned from a start, I’ve played many versions of Myra throughout my career as gamer. I’ve enjoyed her so much I’ve even written a book about her. I hope your experience with this build version of Myra Helkey is as fantastic as mine has been. We will likely be returning to explore further D&D build renderings of this particular OC.

Love to you all and happy gaming!! 💙💛

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.

Gish Optimized 4 — The Big Bada Boom Cleric-Sorcerer (Merrin Valkire)

It’s that time again! Yes! Time to dig back into that big box of 5e Dungeons and Dragons nuts and bolts to construct another sweet build for you to enjoy. For our first three gish builds we stuck mostly to tradition. Our stab and smite dexadin is a 5e classic, the Hexblade-Fighter is a well-known build (though I think we provided a few unique tweaks), and our rebuild of the traditional Fighter-Mage hails all the way back from D&D’s roots in the 1970s.

Merrin Valkire

Now we’re shifting gears, switching batteries, and cruising on into something truly new and electric. Welcome to the electric avenue of gish. Literally. Because we’re going to build ourselves an angelic warrior capable of wielding sword, commanding powerful healing magic, and laying down devastating destructive blasts of light and storm. She’ll do it all with equal ease — without taking a single level in a traditional fighting class. Her novas will be achieved by combining basic swordplay and magics of multiple types — with surprising effect.

Merrin Valkire is the mother of Luthiel from Luthiel’s Song

Narratively, our badass gal will tap into some alternative mojo. We’ll be looking to the story of Luthiel’s Song — specifically to Luthiel’s mother Merrin who is queen of the Blue Moon — to help us form an entirely new rendering of the Dungeons and Dragons gish. Merrin is graceful, gracious, wise. She is also a powerful warrior who married the only male Valkyrie ever to exist — Vlad Valkire. Her bond with the seas of her ocean realm grant her a deep and unique compassion. This is realized in her angelic aspect and her many and varied powers. She provides a huge range of story potential, party support, offense, and melee capability. I’ve played Merrin in multiple versions. However, this Merrin is a master class refinement on her early essays.

It’s also worth noting that our Merrin is a surprisingly fast versatility build that really starts to gain some powerful focused options in the 9-14 level range. Her main strengths are AOE damage, versatility, mobility and consistent high damage all packed into the larger support base that an almost full-classed Cleric provides.

Level 1 — Wisdom, Dexterity, Protector Aasimar, Prismari, Sorcerer

Starting off at first level we need to take a broad view toward stats, spells, and abilities. We’re multiclassing, we’re going for some melee combat, we want to be capable of casting spells at close range to our foes, and we want our spells to be powerful. For our first stat, we focus on Wisdom, putting seven points into this key ability. Landing us at a 14 pre-race bonuses. This will be our core spellcasting stat. It’ll also help us with key skills like Perception and Insight.

For our second ability, we want a high Dexterity. Though Wisdom powers our spells, Dexterity powers our melee attacks, initiative and armor class. We are fast, graceful, even artistic. Starting out, we dump seven more points into Dex for another 14.

Constitution is our third most important stat. We really want to be able to hold onto some amazing concentration spells. So we won’t be neglecting the toughness stat. We drop 5 points into Con and start with a 13.

Our Merrin build is, indeed probably the most versatile so far and we’re spreading ourselves a bit wide. But that’s for a number of reasons that’ll come clear really soon. We want a high Charisma to get us access to a key multiclass — so we drop 5 points into Charisma for another 13.

Merrin only has two stats left. I think of her as more Intelligent than strong. So I’m putting all 3 remaining points into Intelligence for an 11. Then I’m dumping Strength to 8.

For race, our Merrin is an angelic being who hails from an ocean moon of the celestial sphere. Protector Aasimar fits this theme perfectly. Aasimar grants Merrin resistance to Necrotic and Radiant damage, the Light spell as a cantrip, Darkvision, Healing Hands, and, later Radiant Soul, which grants her flight and bonus radiant damage. She uses her ability bonuses to boost her Constitution to 14 (+1 from Aasimar) and her Wisdom to 16 (+2 from Aasimar). This gives her a Str 8, Con 14, Dex 14, Wis 16, Int 11, and Cha 13 starting ability array after race bonuses. Our angel of the Blue Moon that bears her name is extraordinarily well rounded with only strength as a dump stat.

Last of all we come to class. And here we really get to make a key choice for level 1. You’ve probably already guessed from my talk about healing that Merrin is going to mainly focus on Cleric. But we’re holding that off for some set ups we’ll be giving ourselves at level 1. So we go ahead and pick Sorcerer for our first level class. Sorcerer gives us quite a lot of gish support right out of the box. First off, we gain proficiency in Constitution saves. This really helps us hold on to those concentration spells. Next, we gain access to melee cantrips. And we jump all over Booming Blade. At this point, we’ve already gained features that would’ve taken two feats to access. But we get even more. As a cleric, one thing we tend to lack is mobility. But since we’re taking Storm Sorcerer, we now have the ability to spend a bonus action after we cast a spell of first level or higher with the Thunder or Lightning keyword to fly 10 feet as gusts of wind bear us aloft without provoking attacks of opportunity. We’ll have lots of uses for our bonus action. But this can get us into or out of a sticky situation when we need to. Storm Sorcerer also allows us to speak Primordial which is a nice little rider.

Storm Sorcerer, Aasimar and Tempest Cleric make for an electric combination

For our other cantrips, we pick Mage Hand, Shape Water, and Frostbite. We also have Light from Aasimar. Already this gives us a lot of utility and versatility combined. Our ranged option is less effective given the lower save. However, at first level it shouldn’t matter too much. Our leveled spells are Shield and Thunderwave.

Now we are also going to feature the Strixhaven Background — Prismari Student — for Merrin at level 1. If it’s available in your game, it’ll give her another major boost to her powers and mojo. I’ve always thought of Merrin as a bit of an artist. And being able to artistically shape elements, with a heavy lean toward storm, water, and wind, really makes sense for me here. For this level, we add Thunderwave and Chromatic Orb to our spells lists. We already started on the AOE path pretty quick with our choice of Thunderwave earlier. So the extra options we get here don’t pay off until level 4 for us. But man do they pay. We also add Acrobatics and Performance to our chosen skills.

For equipment, we start out with a dagger, a wand and some other basics. Our AC without Shield is 12. Our starting HP is a relatively squishy 8. We’re soft. But we have a huge variety of spell options to choose from. Everything gets better from here.

Level 2 — Tempest Cleric 1 and oh boy the versatility…

If level 1 looked amazingly versatile if a bit dangerous for us, level 2 gives us even more versatility and shores up our survivability as we take our first jaunt into Tempest Cleric. We bump to 15 HP — which is getting better. Though we might still be short on cash for our equipment, when we have the opportunity we pick up Scale Mail, a Shield, a Rapier (we gain access to martial weapons with the Tempest Domain) and a Holy Symbol. Now our base AC is 16, 18 with the physical shield or 21-23 with the Shield spell. We have the option to wield our rapier to go hands free and use the Shield spell for our main defense. However, we still only have 3 first level spell slots. With seven good options for those slots, we’ll often find ourselves tapped out. So the backup physical shield will help us out a lot. It’s also worth noting that we have a minor non-spell healing source in the form of Healing Hands from Aasimar to bring a buddy back from zero. This can be a clutch move in combat — particularly at low levels — while also saving some of our spell slots for other uses.

Looking closer at spells, we gain two more cantrips for a total of 7. We pick the all-important Guidance and Sacred Flame. Now our consistent ranged option is looking quite a bit better. Plus we’re not shy about using Booming Blade in melee with our rapier. With our Tempest Domain, we also gain Fog Cloud which provides some situational but effective control magic. Thunderwave from Tempest means we don’t need to use one of our sorcerer choices. For our regular known Cleric spells, we pick up Healing Word, Cure Wounds, Guiding Bolt, and Inflict Wounds. As we noted above, we now have seven choices for our first level spells ranging from defense, healing, melee offense, ranged focus fire and AOE. We’re lacking somewhat in utility options for our leveled spell load out. However, given the cleric’s versatility, we can trade out some utility options for Guiding Bolt and Inflict Wounds when we need to. This extraordinary range of spell options is probably wider than almost any other class, subclass and background combination at this level.

Last of all we gain the wonderful Wrath of the Storm feature from Tempest Cleric. In a mini NOVA round we do 3d10 damage with Inflict Wounds (17.5) and 2d8 damage with Wrath (9) or a total of 26.5. If we crit with Inflict Wounds, we do 44 total damage to a single target in one round at level 2. We could already do this with a Cleric. But we wanted other things from Sorcerer like Booming Blade, the Shield spell, extra mobility and a Constitution Save proficiency.

Level 3 Protector Aasimar and Channel Divinity

At level 3 our wonderful AOEs really start to come on line with Destructive Wrath. Now we can pump up Thunderwave to do 24 damage in a 3×3 cube (half on a save). With four first level slots and two second level slots, we’re not shy about upcasting Thunderwave. Recharging Destructive Wrath on a short rest lets us lay down this powerful if somewhat small and close range AOE twice. When we lay down the Wrath, we can then fly away from danger without provoking opportunity attacks. To be able to hit hard and flit away like this is a tactically clutch move.

We should not neglect to mention the amazing feature that is Turn Undead as an option for our Channel Divinity. This clutch ability provides us with even more versatility as another non-spell option. We’re trading some massive control for relatively focused AOE damage from Destructive Wrath, though. But Turn Undead provides us with yet another tool in our very large kit of options.

At level 3 we also add flight and a damage buff to our capabilities with the Aasimar racial ability — Radiant Soul. Activating this power as an action grants +3 to one of our damage rolls once on each of our turns. This can bump Thunderwave up to 27 damage to a single target — providing even better focus fire and AOE in a clutch situation. Flight adds to our Tempestuous magic mobility as well. We can stay in the air after we flit away with Radiant Soul active.

Last of all for our level 3 spell load we gain one more choice. With it, we pick up the amazing party buff that is Bless. Now we have a concentration buff that we can throw down when we need some extra heat for our attack rolls and saving throws.

Level 4 Shatter, Spiritual Weapon, and Kinetic Jaunt

As we broach level 4, level 3 for cleric, we gain access to second level spells. Our Tempest Domain immediately gives us access to Shatter — a ranged AOE that increases our blasts to a 10 foot radius. We’re now a powerful blaster. Perhaps one of the most powerful at this level. Gust of Wind provides us with another situational control option. However, for concentration, we’re probably using Kinetic Jaunt from Prismari which adds 10 to our movement speed, prevents opportunity attacks, and lets us move through another creature’s space. This amazing mobility really enables our Booming Blade cantrip. If we’re smart, we can now often apply its rider. Last of all, we pick up Spiritual Weapon.

With Kinetic Jaunt active we can now reliably apply four sources of damage for a number of rounds in the form of melee attacks with Booming Blade (1d8+2), Spiritual Weapon (1d8+3), Wrath of the Storm (2d8), and the Booming Blade rider (1d8). With Radiant Soul active from Aasimar, this consistent damage is 5d8+9 or 31.5 if all our attacks land, enemy saves fail, an enemy hits us, and spell riders proc. This is very high consistent damage for level 4. Some of the effects are situational, however. Nonetheless, we are an artistic blur of motion in a mouth of thunder with a deep well of potentially shocking damage effects to draw from. When we choose to, we drop a Shatter for 28 damage to a single target and 24 damage to multiple targets using Radiant Soul and Destructive Wrath. Our Spiritual Weapon flies in to do another 7.5 damage. And our Wrath of the Storm reacts for 9 more for 44.5 to a single target and 24 to multiple targets. Brutal!

Level 5 — 16 Dexterity, Booming Blade Bumps Up

Level 5 is a key level for most characters. For us, we don’t get quite so many goodies. However, we’re not complaining because level 4 was amazing and now we get to be even more badass as Booming Blade generates direct thunder damage. Using our ASI to increase Dexterity to 16, and gaining the benefits of level 5 for Booming Blade, this weapon attack now deals 2d8+3 damage on a turn when we attack and possibly another 2d8 on an off turn when the enemy moves. Our Kinetic Jaunt gestalt of motion and damage options now does 7d8+11 if all effects go off for 42.5 against a single target. A consistent effect that we can sustain for three rounds. In addition, our Shatter NOVA now has increased to 32 damage for multiple targets and 37 damage for a single target as we use a level 3 slot to cast that spell. If we hit the single target with Spiritual Weapon, damage goes up to 42 then jumps to 51 when the bad hits us back and we proc Wrath of the Storm. Our focus fire NOVAs aren’t in line with those of the Dexadin or Chex-Fighter. But we are still solid. Our mobility and AOE at this level are pretty amazing. We lack the big blasts that wizards can throw down with Fireball, however. For support we add Lesser Restoration to our regular spell load. And, yeah, with that mention we remind ourselves that we can achieve all this badassery while also healing and removing status effects on our buds.

Level 6 — Spirit Guardians, Call Lightning, Sleet Storm, Destroy Undead

At level 6 we are a level 5 Cleric and we gain access to some amazing spell options. First off, for our Tempest Domain, we gain Call Lightning and Sleet Storm. Call Lightning is a powerful, long-lasting spell that lets us consistently rain destruction on our foes in the form of small blast lighting bolts. This spell lets us conserve our resources while doing consistent damage over a large battlefield. It’s not as punchy as the wizard’s Fireball. But it does give us a nice option to use over a long-term combat. Sleet Storm is an amazing control spell that we can use to screen our allies from trouble — forcing foes to come closer to do us harm in most cases while hampering their movement. For our main spell choice, however, we are picking up Spirit Guardians. This amazing, long lasting concentration spell really increases the total effect of the damage we are able to deliver — doing 3d8 radiant damage whenever enemies start their turn within 15 feet of us. It also reduces the speed of enemies by half in the zone — potentially setting up some wicked lock down situations for team monster.

Spirit Guardians is a powerful cleric spell that provides a wonderful variety of flavor options.

Now our main line consistent damage option includes Booming Blade (2d8+3), Spiritual Weapon (1d8+3), Spirit Guardians (3d8), and Wrath of the Storm (2d8). With Radiant Soul active, we are now doing 8d8+12 damage to a single target (48) and 13.5 damage to multiple targets for consecutive rounds. When Booming Blade procs (admittedly less frequently as we sacrifice some mobility for Spirit Guardians) the single target damage jumps to 57. On a crit, it’s 66. If we up-cast Shatter and use Destructive Wrath, the AOE damage jumps to 32+13.5 for 45.5 for multiple targets and 60.5 for a single target when Radiant Soul and Wrath of the Storm activate. This is a devastating close-in AOE capability — one made more effective by our ability to fly to reposition ourselves with Radiant Soul and Tempestuous Magic.

Remember Turn Undead? Yep. We can now destroy 1/2 CR Undead or lower when they fail their saves. This means skellies and zombies are in a world of trouble if we run into them at this level.

At this level we probably also have half plate for 19 AC. Our HPs at 43 are decent. Though we are probably buffing those to 48 now with Aid (which we picked up at some point). Two of our friends also benefit from Aid, so even better.

Level 7 — Extra Channel Divinity, Mass Healing Word, Spirit Shroud

By level 7 we now gain two Channel Divinities per short rest. This makes us even more effective as a blaster. With an upcast Shatter, we can now do 40 damage in a ten foot radius. We only have one 4th level slot, though. So we might be more inclined to cast Spirit Guardians using the slot for 4d8 consistent damage every round, saving the Channel Divinity for two 32 damage Shatters in the Guardians zone for a total effect of 50 damage for two rounds. Yikes!

For our spell choices, we switch out one of our lower level known spells for Mass Healing Word, then we use the level gain to access Spirit Shroud. When we cast Spirit Shroud, it buffs any attack we make against a creature within 10 feet — dealing an extra 1d8 radiant, cold or necrotic damage on a hit. It also slows down nearby foes in that radius. Overall, we’re not netting as much damage from this spell as Spirit Guardians. But there are situations when we’ll benefit from the Focus Fire potential provided by Spirit Shroud as we can use it to buff both our melee attack using Booming Blade and our bonus action attack using Spiritual Weapon.

Level 8 — Death Ward, Ice Storm, Control Water

Hitting character level 8 and cleric level 7, we now access 4th level cleric spells. We first pick up Death Ward. Though we might not be casting this spell every adventuring day, it can come in handy real quick during deadly encounters. We’d rather have it than not. Also from Tempest Cleric, we pick up Ice Storm which gives us a larger AOE blast option and Control Water which is great control option in water environments.

Two fourth level slots also allows us to activate Spirit Guardians at level 4, cast Spiritual Weapon at level 4 and go to town. With Booming Blade, we are doing 2d8+3 damage. With Spiritual Weapon, we do 2d8+3. On our off-turn, nearby enemies take 4d8 damage. If Thunderous Wrath triggers, we add another 2d8. If Booming Blade triggers, yet another 2d8. With Radiant Soul active, that’s a consistent damage potential of 12d8+14 or 68 average damage against a single target (whew!). A critical hit brings this up to 77. Meanwhile all nearby foes are taking 18 average from the Spirit Guardians if they fail their save. This a very high consistent single target damage combining strong AOE damage and some zone control.

Level 9-10 — 18 Wisdom, Divine Strike, Destructive Wrath Crits, Fifth Level Slot, Destructive Wave

By level 9 we are a level 8 Cleric and we bump our Wisdom to 18. We gain a fifth level spell slot which allows us to upcast our favorite buff and blast spells to even greater effect.

At this point, it’s worthwhile to take a look at our prepared spell list. For Cantrips, we have Light, Mage Hand, Booming Blade, Frostbite, Shape Water, Guidance, Sacred Flame, Word of Radiance, and Spare the Dying. For Prepared Spells we have Shield, Magic Missile, Healing Word, Cure Wounds, Inflict Wounds, Thunderwave, Fog Cloud, Kinetic Jaunt, Shatter, Spiritual Weapon, Gust of Wind, Lesser Restoration, Call Lightning, Sleet Storm, Spirit Guardians, Spirit Shroud, Mass Healing Word, Haste, Ice Storm, Control Water, Death Ward, and Freedom of Movement. Quite a versatile set of healing, buff, blast, mobility, and control along with some utility options. For heavy blast damage, we can now upcast Shatter to level 5 then use Destructive Wrath to maximize the damage to 48. Although we’re only throwing this heavy damage down in a ten foot radius.

Our melee attacks now also get a boost as we pick up Divine Strike. When we attack with Booming Blade, our damage is increased to 3d8+3. Coupled with 4th level Spiritual Weapon, we’re doing 5d8+7. If we want to focus fire, we can upcast Spirit Shroud to 5th level and do an additional 2d8 radiant damage per strike for a total of 9d8+7 or 47.5. If we activate Radiant Soul, this goes up to 56.5. With Wrath of the Storm, we get to 65.5. Booming Blade can get us to 74.5. If we crit, we now add 22.5 for a total max average potential of 97. At this point, we should note that we can now effectively use Destructive Wrath to maximize our critical hit damage dice that deal thunder damage. This changes 4d8 from 18 average damage into 32 max damage. So applying Destructive Wrath to a crit gives us a maximum one round focus fire damage potential of 111 against a single target. Pretty badass. But it gets better.

By level 10, we gain the amazing blast option that is Destructive Wave. We can now upcast Spirit Guardians to 5 — doing 5d8 damage round after round in a 15 foot radius. For big blast rounds, Destructive Wave gives us 5d6 radiant and 5d6 thunder damage in a 30 foot radius in addition to knocking targets who fail the save prone. If we use Destructive Wrath to maximize the Thunder damage, we do 46.5 from Destructive Wave and 22.5 from Spirit Guardians for a total of 69 average against multiple targets. That doesn’t include the focus fire options we can add to a single target in the form of Spiritual Weapon upcast to level 4 (2d8+4), Radiant Soul +10, and Thunderous Wrath (2d8) for a total of 101 on a single target. Insect Plague also provides excellent ranged control and area denial. Although we are more optimized for fighting with Spirit Guardians or Spirit Shroud active.

Level 11-13 Divine Intervention, Heal, 18 Dexterity

Broaching Level 11, we gain Divine Intervention. Though unlikely to occur and subjective to the Game Master’s whim, this powerful ability can alter the face of your campaign in some situations. Our Booming Blade also increases in potency. So we are now doing 4d8+3 damage with our rapier strikes. When we cast Spirit Shroud at level 5 we do 6d8+3. When we crit, have Radiant Soul active, and use Destructive Wrath, we do 6d8+62 or 99 damage on a single hit. Adding in Spiritual Weapon at Level 6 and Thunderous Wrath, our total NOVA round damage to a single target is 134.5 (148 if Booming Blade’s rider triggers). Solid. At this point, we’re in danger of forgetting that we’re a cleric.

At Level 12, we get our first 6th level spell. We pick Heal. Now we remember… Rolling right into Level 13, we bump our Dexterity to 18. Checking in, it’s worth noting that our HP is now 92 — pretty mid-range. We’re not a glass cannon. Our AC is relatively high, particularly when we cast Shield. By now, we’re also upcasting Aid to at least level 3 to bump our HP to 102. For spells, we’ve also picked up Cone of Cold from the Prismari list. It’s a huge AOE. Though not Thunder, it’s a great weapon to add to our already potent arsenal of blast magic.

Level 14 – 17 Regeneration, Divine Strike 2, Sunburst, 20 Wisdom

At level 14 we’re 13 in Cleric and we pick up Regeneration to help us add a bit more resiliency. By level 15, we roll up to another 1d8 thunder damage from Divine Strike. So we now do 5d8+4 damage with our Rapier. If we upcast Spirit Shroud to level 7, we do 8d8+4. With Radiant Soul, that increases to 8d8+19. On a critical hit with Destructive Wrath activated, that’s 6d8+83 or 110 in a single hit. Add in Spiritual Weapon at 6 and Thunderous Wrath that’s 8d8+4 or 40 average for a total of 150 (163.5 if Booming Blade triggers) damage during a NOVA round. We can also have Spirit Guardians active and upcast to level 7 for a terribly punishing 7d8 AOE damage instead.

The blast of blinding radiance and heavy damage that is Sunburst can devastate team monster’s momentum.

Hitting level 16 we roll up to 8th level spells and immediately pick Sunburst. By level 17 we get another ASI and increase our Wisdom to 20. Meanwhile, Booming Blade just got more potent so our melee attacks with the Rapier now do 6d8+4 damage.

Level 18-20 Stormborn, Mass Heal, Channel Divinity x3, 20 Dexterity

When our lady of storm reaches level 18 she gains the ability to fly while outdoors and not underground. We simply walk and the winds of our world bear us aloft. By level 18, we also have 9th level spells. We go ahead and pick up Mass Heal. At level 19, we gain another Channel Divinity for a total of three per short or long rest. Now we can throw down our potent blasts or critical hits even more often. And finally hitting level 20, we use our final ASI to increase Dexterity all the way to 20.

The Thunderous Blows, Devastating AOEs, and Powerful Heals of the Blue Moon’s Queen

Our lady of oceans and storms has now reached her full potential. She possesses a broad spectrum of magics ranging from deadly strikes, to devastating blasts, to extraordinary, revitalizing healing. She’s also one of the best consistent damage dealers over a long combat we’ve constructed thus far.

At this point, we should revisit our powerful local destructive potential. If we go all-in for focus fire, we now cast Spirit Shroud at level 9 for +4d8 radiant damage to our attacks. We also activate Radiant Soul. This means our rapier strikes now do 10d8+25 damage. We also cast Spiritual Weapon at level 8 for 8d8+5 damage. The average damage from these two strikes is 111 HP if both land. Very solid average damage. If Thunderous Wrath activates, it bumps to 120. This increases to 138 if Booming Blade activates. If we roll a critical hit with the rapier, the total damage is 10d8+105 or 150 average damage from a single strike or 218 average damage with the buffed Spiritual Weapon and Thunderous Wrath added in. This is a lower range for our NOVA builds. But it is still considerable. Meanwhile, consistent damage is in the high range for our gish builds thus far.

If we instead cast Spiritual Guardians at level 9, we do 9d8 (40.5 average if saves fail) damage to all enemies within 15 feet once per round. In addition, our rapier strikes do 6d8+25 or 52 with Radiant Soul active. Our Spiritual Weapon at level 8 does 4d8+5 or 23 average. If Thunderous Wrath activates, the total damage on a single target is 125.5 (143.5 with Booming Blade’s rider) with 40.5 damage dealt to multiple foes in the Spirit Guardians zone. A critical hit yields 186.5 (204.5 with Booming Blade) damage to a single target in addition to the AOE damage from our Guardians.

If we choose to use Destructive Wrath to buff a Destructive Wave while we have a 9th level Spirit Guardians active, we can do 80-100 damage to multiple targets over up to three turns.

What stands out the most for me when looking at this build is both the potential high consistent damage and the wide versatility of options. It is worth noting that the above are just examples of our capability. We’re probably going to want to save our 9th level slot for Mass Heal. However, we do have a deep well of options to chose from and our spell load is such that we have multiple fall-backs to effective lower level spells including Shield and even Kinetic Jaunt.

Overall, our Merrin build taps into a wide range of versatile options. She can NOVA to 218 damage at high level without item support, she can lay down a combination of AOEs in a single turn that deal 80-100 damage to multiple foes, and she can provide heavy healing support to her party members. Flying through the skies born up on winds or wings of light, she’s surprisingly mobile for a cleric. Though not as tough as other builds, she mitigates mid-range hit points with powerful buffs, healing, and a rather high armor class. Our Queen of the Blue Moon is thus everything we asked for and more.

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 2 — The Hexblade-Fighter (aka Raven Queen’s Herald)

Welcome to the next installment of Gish Optimized. Man, are you guys in for some fun! Because we have an awesome new build for you! It’s one of my favs for a number reasons. Greatsword attacks without strength, some serious heat coming from our spells, a tough character that can take a lot of physical punishment, and beaucoup tactical options on the battlefield. So put on your Dungeons and Dragons, spell flinging, sword swinging, gishy character optimization hats and get ready!

Discussion of this Hexblade-Fighter build.

In our first post, we explored a special build for the optimized Dexterity-based Paladin — aka the Dexadin. This build was primarily melee-focused relying on superior mobility, smites and buffs to deliver heavy hits in combat. A serious stab and smite kind of gish. Now it’s time for a bit of a switch. One with a dash of darkness, a helping of noir artistic flare, and well more than a dalliance with death…

The Spank and Flank Chex-Fighter

For this episode, we’re going to shift gears to a Charisma-based, great weapon wielding hexblade-fighter or Chex-Fighter. But unlike our Dexadin, this character is going to have some serious magical heat under the hood in the form of various buffs, buddies, and blasts. We summed up our Dexadin as a stab and smite kind of gish. Well, the Chex-Fighter is, instead, a gish of the spank and flank variety. Spank because she’s gonna hit real damn hard with her great weapon. Flank because she’ll employ her warlock spells to conjure buddies or buffs to grant her combat advantage. You’ll find out more as we progress! So let’s get into it!

Level 1 — Charisma, Constitution, Half-Elf, Prismari, Fighter

Jumping right in at first level, let’s start out with stats. Remember, we’re a Chex-Fighter and the C in Chex stands for Charisma. So we’ll allocate major pointage here — throwing a full nine at the stat pre-racial bonuses. That gives us a 15 starting out. Solid.

Moving on to our secondary stat, we find that C also stands for Constitution because we’re dropping another full nine points into the tough stat. Why so heavy on Con? Well, we’re mostly a front-liner with our greatsword. Sure, we’ll be able to throw down some ranged heat. But we’re going to want to mix it up in melee big-time. And we really want both high HP and high Con saves. A lot of our melee spells need high rolls for concentration checks too. So we drop those nine points and start out with a 15 in Con as well.

Beatrice Lushael as Raven Queen’s Herald

Our third most important stat is Dexterity. We’re not a Dexadin. But we still want decent initiative rolls for our character. We’ve also decided to go the medium armor route and dump strength. Why? Well, what’s more cool than going full anime and having our badass Raven Queen’s Herald artistically wielding a large but nimble greatsword with nothing more than the ample force of her personality to power her strikes? For all these reasons, and because we are indeed a shiny dancer, we drop 5 points into Dexterity for a starting score of 13.

After spending like a drunken sailor on these three stats, we have 4 points left over for Strength, Wisdom, and Intelligence. I’m gonna dump Str to 8 and go with 10 in Wis and 10 in Int. This seems right to me for our Ravenqueen Herald’s mojo. If you want something else — go for it!

So we’ve got our base stats. Now let’s look at race. Ah! There are so many options! And I must say I’ve used both Elf and Human for this build. I love each for different reasons. Human lets us get a feat right off the bat. Elf gives us so many juicy options. And one of them we really, really want. But we also want some beautiful stat bumps. They’re actually pretty key. So we’re going to go for fancy this time, split the difference, and take Half Elf. Holy racial stat bonuses Batman! We get a +2 in one stat and +1 in two others. This is amazing!

Now we really want Charisma so we throw 2 points of our Half Elf bonuses into that for a starting stat of 17. Remember Con? Yeah. We’re putting 1 point into that for a 16. And last of all for Dex we get our final stat bonus. So finalizing our level 1 stats, we end up with S 8 C 16 D 14 I 10 W 10 Ch 17. Not bad at all! But it gets better…

With our Background. Typically, I wouldn’t talk background for character optimization. But with the advent of Strixhaven, I’d be remiss not to mention the amazing mage college backgrounds. As a Raven Queen’s Herald, we are playing an artiste of the Queen of Death. Our paintbrush for spell and combat — a pact blade. In this artistry we’re enabled by a somewhat macabre twist on the Prismari background found in Strixhaven. Typical Prismari focus on mastering the arts and the elements. Our Raven Queen’s Herald will hone in on the dire and yet beautiful artistry of fate and death. By picking this background we also get two cantrips, access to some cool spell choices, and an extra first level spell. Since we’re mostly a warlock, this extra spell slot really helps us out. I’ll leave the cantrip choices up to you. But what I’m really here for is the fate-bending power of Silvery Barbs. Right out the gate our servant of death gains the ability to twist the threads of fate as a reaction in order to impose disadvantage on an attack roll, an ability check or a saving throw that previously succeeded. We get an extra slot from which to cast this spell AND we can add this spell to our list. Now, if your game doesn’t allow Strixhaven as a resource, just ignore all of the above and some of the below, then drive on with the core build. It’s already amazing. Strixhaven just provides some delicious gravy.

Our mage background also helps round our character out as we go into first level. Because for this build we are starting with fighter. Why? Well, for one, we really want to be trained in Constitution saving throws. We also get some survivability in the form of Second Wind. Our Defense Fighting Style option adds 1 to our AC — making us even tougher. Since we didn’t start out as Warlock, we’re going Dexterity for our level 1 fighting. So we pick rapier, shield, and scale mail. From Strixhaven mage we also pick up Chill Touch for our ranged attacks. Our starting HP is 13. Our AC is 19. This makes us both tough and versatile at lvl 1. Even though we are not a heavy hitter, we can take some serious heat, attack reliably both in melee and at range, and occasionally pull a clutch debuff with Silvery Barbs. That’s pretty badass. But it gets better.

One word to the wise on level delay — this optimization guide does delay key features by one level. So you’ll lag a bit behind straight-classed options in exchange for some really nice build options. This delay is not too terrible as our build really starts to hum at level 6 and even moreso at level 9. However, if you want to race to gain badass features at level 5 and forego some of the amazing tweaks, just pick Variant Human, take Resilient Constitution at level 1, and go straight Hexblade until 17 at which point you’ll take the final three levels as fighter. I’m doing just that in a campaign I’m playing this build in right now. So don’t feel bad if you want those powers sooner. We’re just showcasing the more idealized version of the build here.

Level 2 — First Level of Hexblade Warlock

Now that we’ve set up a strong chassis for our Ravenqueen’s Herald, we move into the core class of the build which is Hexblade Warlock. We’re taking Hexblade all the way to level 17. And it’s going to give us so many wonderful things.

At level two we initially gain two amazing features. The first is Hexblade Curse — letting us set up some serious focus fire on one opponent by using our bonus action to apply this curse to a target we can see within 30 feet. This curse expands our crit range to 19-20 and gives us a buff to our damage rolls against the target. The second feature from Hexblade is Hex Warrior — allowing us to use our Charisma with one melee weapon of our choice that lacks the two handed property. We pick a Longsword. Then we drop the shield and go two-handed with it because it’s versatile. We now do 1d10+3 damage or 1d10+5 damage with our Hexblade Curse. Our AC drops to 17. But we’re not here for the AC. We’re here for doing a dance of death with our large and nimble blade.

The Bladelock Fighter is one of the more potent 5e gish builds.

We are now a solid damage dealer for level 2. But we’re going to pick some spells up that help us even more. For Cantrips we take Eldritch Blast for our ranged option and never look back. We get another Cantrip which I’m leaving open — so have fun. For First Level Known Spells, we’re taking Hex and Armor of Agathys. Hex adds 1d6 on top of our already strong 1d10 damage with Eldritch Blast and Longsword. With proficiency in Constitution saves, it’s unlikely our Hex will be lost if we take a hit. Armor of Agathys gives us 5 Temporary Hit Points and deals damage if a foe hits us in melee. Since we have a 22 HP, those 5 THP stacked with Second Wind really makes us pretty darn tough while also giving us good reactive damage in close combat. These spells give us strong choices at level 2 for our spell slots.

Level 3 — Invoking the Raven Queen

At level 3 (level 2 Warlock) we get two Eldritch Invocations. And it’s here that our build’s specialty really starts to come on line. We don’t get to benefit from our choices in a major way just yet. But our deathly artistry arising from our pact with a blade blessed by the Goddess of Death is starting to take shape. Our eyes begin to take on a red gleam as we take Devil’s Sight. This gives us 120 feet of darkvision in both normal and magical darkness. The coolness factor here is just to die for (quoth the Raven Queen). What this invocation gives us by level 6 is just beyond amazing. It yields benefits earlier. But the cherry on top is our big surprise coming at levels 6 and 9. We want something special with our other invocation at level 4. So we set it aside for now.

At level 3, we also get another spell choice for level 1. I’m partial to having a blast option, so I’d pick Arms of Hadar. I also like the cinematic flare of arms of darkness erupting from you to batter your foes. This isn’t key to the build, so if you want something else like Hellish Rebuke, go for it!

Level 4 — Forging a Pact With a Blade Blessed by Death in Darkness

By level 4 our mojo is really starting to shine. We forge a pact of with a blade blessed by the Raven Queen. For my character, I’ve picked a weapon possessed by the spirit of the good death. There are many shades of death so our options here are broad. For game purposes, our Pact of the Blade now allows us to summon a special magical sword that can be used as an arcane focus for our spells. We also now use our second invocation to empower this sword — taking Improved Pact of the Blade. Now we gain two more boons — our weapon is a Greatsword which we can use with our Charisma. It is also enchanted to +1. So our base damage jumps again — hitting 2d6+4, 2d6+6 if we’ve applied our Hexblade Curse, and a maximum of 3d6+6 if we’ve cast Hex. Pretty significant.

We also gain another spell and our Warlock slots jump to level 2. This means Armor of Agathys hits 10 THP. So our base 31 HP can be pushed to an effective 41 even as we are possibly doing 10 damage if something strikes us with a melee attack. With this bump in spell level comes another spell choice. We pick Darkness. Now you probably saw this coming when I chose Devil’s Sight. But I must emphasize that Darkness is not a core feature of the build. It instead represents a situationally powerful option that can also harmfully debuff your allies if you’re not careful. Walking around with 15 feet of darkness surrounding you blinds everyone, even your buddies (although, if you team up with a Gloomstalker Ranger, you’ve just thrown down a major party buff). Unless the party is optimized to fight in Darkness, the spell is a bit clunky to say the least. That said, if you are wise about when you cast it and you do something clever like casting Darkness on an object that’s easy to mask with a free action or an object interact action, then you’ll get more mileage out of it. Admittedly, the advantage you can gain and the disadvantage impacting your foes can be pivotal. Just think about your buddies before popping this out.

Level 5 — Great Weapon Master

At level 5 we are a level 4 warlock and we immediately throw our ASI into the Great Weapon Master feat without looking back. We already have access to Darkness, which allows us to apply advantage — making hits more likely when we choose to subtract 5 to hit to add 10 damage. But we are still in training mode here. Though a main feature has just come online, we’ve got much more to look forward to.

Even so, we’ve just unlocked some serious NOVA-crit potential. If we have Darkness active, pop Hexblade Curse, and attack our foes with advantage we can now strike for 2d6+17 damage. For a single hit, this results in a seriously beefy 24 average damage. But due to Hexblade Curse, we now also crit on a 19-20 and when we crit we make a second attack as a bonus action. Our NOVA-critical does 6d6+34 for a total average damage of 55. Not as brutal as our stab and smite Dexadin at level 5. But remember, we haven’t even picked up extra attack yet. So we are well on the way.

At level 5 we also get another spell to choose. I’m partial to Mirror Image, Shatter, or Misty Step. None are critical to our build. So have fun!

Level 6 — Flank and Spank!

Ahhh… Level 6… Beautiful, glorious level 6… This level is the level where our build finally comes on line. We’ve laid all the groundwork. We’ve made all the choices and now we can unlock our optimization to deliver some serious spanking and flanking against our foes.

But before we get into that, let’s just take a moment to celebrate because we’ve gained access to extra attack through our new Invocation — Thirsting Blade. When using our pact weapon which is an incarnation of the blade of the good death, we now get to attack twice when we take the attack action. Our melee rounds just got really brutal for the bad guys.

Our summoned fey is a badass little flanker from the Shadowfell.

Still, it gets even worse for the bads because at level 5 we pick a really clutch spell in the form of Summon Fey. With this spell, we call forth a special flank buddy Fey Spirit. This guy or gal is a mean little bugger — packing quite a wallop in her diminutive 3 foot tall package. With one attack she unloads 2d6+6. Not too shabby. But the real feature for us comes from our Fey Spirit’s bonus action. Why? Because we want darkness. And when we want darkness we want it not to harm our allies. Enter our Tricksy Fey Spirit who can use a bonus action to cover one 5 foot square in darkness. A square our Chex Fighter is now standing in. Hello advantage! Hello let’s beat the tar out of the badguys with our greatsword! Hello to spank and flank!

With Summon Fey active, we now attack twice for 2d6+4 base damage and our ally attacks once for 2d6+6. Our Chex Fighter attacks with advantage if the Tricksey Fey has summoned darkness into our square. If all these attacks land, we average 35 damage. Not too shabby. But our maximum potential damage just went through the roof. On a NOVA-crit round after we applied Hexblade Curse, we now do 10d6+57 damage for a total average damage of 92. Woof! That’s some serious heat. And we’re not even action surging or smiting yet!

So nice!

Level 7 — Accursed Specter

Now that our spank and flank is fully online, we want more options for flank buddies. Our flank strategy will carry us on for a long time — through level 18. This strategy will afford us with multiple options for achieving advantage on attack rolls. At level 7, level 6 in Warlock, we gain another of these options — our Accursed Specter. When we slay a humanoid affected by our Hexblade Curse, we summon a special specter which we command. The specter has its own initiative and full set of turns. It can use these turns to deal another 3d6 necrotic damage — further buffing our DPR. Depending on its place in the initiative order our specter ally can also use the Help Action to give us advantage on attack rolls against a foe. This addition isn’t key to our build. But it does provide us with another helpful spank and flank option.

For spells we also gain another choice. I’m partial to Counterspell. When you need it, you really need it. But it can hurt to unload one of your only two spell slots on Counterspell when you could otherwise be Summoning Fey for multiple encounters and getting a juicy 15 THP from Armor of Agathys to buff your already beefy 67 HP at level 7.

Level 8 — Eldritch Smite

By now we’re starting to pick up quite a managerie of nasty critters and equally brutal powers. At level 7, we add a keystone in our NOVA Critical capability in the form of Eldritch Smite. It’s worth noting, though, since we’re a Warlock that we need to hold one of our two precious warlock slots in reserve to deliver this smite as part of an attack series. Ideally, we’ve got our Summon Fey up, we’re getting advantage from our buddy’s helpful square of darkness, and we’re holding our second 4th level spell slot in reserve for our smite.

This combo is a once per short rest spark of deathly glory. But when it goes off, it is just insanely good. So let’s get into some basic math. Our flank buddy Fey now attacks twice for 2d6+7 damage on each hit. Assuming he hits, that’s 28 damage. Oof. Our specter, if he hits does 10.5. We’ve applied our Hexblade Curse and we’re adding +10 from great weapon master even though our advantaged attacks still aren’t super-accurate. But we still have a good chance of landing hits due to that second roll. If we crit, land all three, and smite on the crit we do 10d8+8d6+51 for a total of 123 damage. Our flank buddies add 38.5 for a grand total of 161.5 damage at level 8. If we don’t risk the -5 to hit, we still do 131.5 average damage if all hits land. Absofrigginlutely brutal!

At this level, it’s worth noting that another spell can give us our cozy shroud of part-friendly darkness. That spell, Shadow of Moil, is a worthy addition to our arsenal as it obscures you for 1 minute while also doing 2d8 necrotic damage to any foe that does manage to hit you. So we add this buff to our arsenal.

Level 9 — Elven Accuracy!

But wait… It gets even better. At level 9, we’re a level 8 warlock and we get our second ASI. We choose to spend it on Elven Accuracy. A half feat, we use the point to bump our Charisma to 18. We are now +9 to hit with our magical greatsword. If our Fey buddy throws some nice shade over us, we now roll 3 times to hit when we have advantage. Yikes. Now we can feel a lot more confident about using great weapon master.

For spells, I’m kinda partial to the area denial option that is Sickening Radiance. Since we’re a Prismari Mage background, we might also take Wall of Fire or Freedom of Movement. Again, these diverge from our core options. But we might find situations when we’re glad we have them. We’re a gish after all!

Level 10 — Eldritch Pain

By level 10, we finally have space to enhance our ranged attacks by picking up the Eldritch Pain Invocation. Our eldritch blasts now do 1d10+4 on each shot, 1d10+8 if we apply Hexblade Curse. Pretty nasty. We also now have access to 5th level spells. It’s worth taking Cone of Cold for some extra blast damage in a pinch. If we took an ongoing AOE option last level, we’ve just built us a solid off-blasting secondary option. Although, we’ll primarily be working with our flank buddies over longer time periods vs throwing down quick and heavy blasts due to our limited spell slots.

Level 11-13 — Armor of Hexes, Circle of Death, and Lifedrinker

Coming up on level 11 we now attain Armor of Hexes which is a solid defensive buff against a single foe. Now, targets we lay down the focus fire on with Hexblade Curse are quite a bit less likely to hit us. We can use our reaction when a foe hits us to roll a d6. If we roll a 4 or higher, the attack misses. If our flank buddy is throwing shade on us, foes are also attacking us with disadvantage unless they can penetrate magical darkness. This kind of layered defense can be quite difficult to pierce — adding to our dueling capability. At level 11, we also have the ability to cast Armor of Agathys for 25 THP to add to our pretty beefy 103 base HP.

By level 12 we now have 3 fifth level spell slots and 1 first level slot for Silvery Barbs. This gives us more options. One we add to with our Mystic Arcanum which we use for the big AOE that is Circle of Death. If you prefer another lvl 6 spell, go for it. Circle of Death isn’t pivotal to our build. But I like the option for more backup AOE throw down.

Upon hitting level 13 we finally max out our Charisma at 20. We also pick up the Lifedrinker Invocation. Now our consistent damage gets a serious bump to 2d6+11 when we add in the extra 5 necrotic damage from Lifedrinker. Our Fey and Specter flank buddies are also starting to lag a little due to our warlock slots not continuing to accrue and the Specter not scaling. They’re probably still decent for most combats. But we’ll start relying on our solo abilities more and more from this point forward. So it’s nice to get a damage buff. Updating our NOVA-crit round and including Hexblade Curse, we’re doing 12d8+8d6+78 for 159 individually plus 10.5 from the Specter and 30 from the Fey for 199.5. Very substantial damage that we can potentially deliver on two consecutive rounds.

Level 14-17 Creature of Light and Maddening Darkness

At level 14, we get our second Mystic Arcanum. Now I’m partial to Crown of Stars. But this comes with a note — it sheds bright light which interferes with our darkness abilities. In my view, taking Crown of Stars gives us a good long lasting option when we want to hang back and deal extra ranged punishment. It’s not concentration. And it lasts for an hour. It also helps us fill a possible gap when flinging darkness might be less helpful or even hurt. Thematically, this makes us a creature of light and darkness, which is pretty amazingly cool. It also fills another one of our versatility gaps. Which from the gish standpoint is pretty darn cool.

At level 15 we pick up the amazing Master of Hexes ability. When a creature affected by our Hexblade Curse dies, we can then apply our curse to another creature as a bonus action. This effectively gives us continuous use of our Hexblade Curse so long as our cursed foes continue to fall. Presently, our curse adds 5 to our damage rolls for a total of 2d6+16 or 2d6+26 if we use our great weapon master feature. So the ability to fling this curse around more often is a major buff. Just be aware that your bonus action now has quite a lot of competition for its use. This is a good thing. But we’re going to need to manage it to eek out our highest level of effectiveness.

Maddening Darkness is one of the most devastating area denial spells. Image source: Innocent Bystander.

At level 16 we get our 8th level Mystic Arcanum. For it, we choose the devastating and huge Maddening Darkness. The utility of this massive area denial and enemy debuff spell is compounded by our Devil’s Sight which allows us to see the enemies who are now stumbling around in the psychically crushing darkness we’ve just conjured. Our quiver of darkness has thus been added to yet again — and this added arrow is seriously devastating if used at the right time. We also get another Eldritch Invocation which we use to shore up our already strong ability to concentrate on spells. To do that we take Eldritch Mind as our Raven Queen patroness fortifies our ability to focus.

At level 17, we gain another ASI. We take Constitution which now bumps us up to 18. We now have +10 on Constitution saves, advantage on concentration checks and +4 hit points per level. Pretty significant for a character that’s mostly a Warlock. For resiliency we’re sitting pretty at this point with 174 HP and the ability to conjure our Armor of Agathys for an extra 25 THP. We also hold onto our spells with a difficult to shake tenacity even when we take significant amounts of damage.

Level 18 — Foresight

Over the past 4-5 levels we’ve been steadily transitioning away from a flanker and into more of a spanker. We’ve still made good use of our flank buddies. But combats where they’re effective have become more and more limited. Meanwhile, our own individual abilities have begun to really shine. We have access to a combination of strong AOEs, ranged attacks, and area denial. Our core ability to rip bads apart with our greatsword has only gotten stronger. And our ability to stand strong through the fray is quite respectable.

At level 18 we complete our transition. We become a pure spanker who’s no longer reliant on flank buddies. We might still use them. But our core abilities have propelled us beyond that need. A key part of that transition is our gaining access to the Foresight spell for our Level 9 Mystic Arcanum. This amazing spell grants us advantage on attack rolls, saves, and ability checks for 8 hours. We can’t be surprised and attacks against us are at disadvantage. Because we are using a greatsword with Elfin Accuracy and using Charisma we roll 3 times to hit during those 8 hours. And when we apply our Hexblade Curse, we roll a critical hit on a 19-20. This makes our NOVA Critical strikes really brutal. But we’ll hold off on a full assessment of the damage for now…

Level 19 and 20 — Action Surge and Battlemaster

Moving on to levels 19 and 20 we achieve the keystone features of our build. By taking our last two levels in Fighter we gain the amazing action economy and NOVA buff that is action surge. We also go one better to get Battlemaster because we really want to be able to use the Riposte manuever up to 4 times per short rest. Why? Well, let’s do some basic math.

At level 20, our NOVA critical is now among the most devastating in the game. When we NOVA, we’ve set up our Hexblade Curse on our chosen target, we’ve cast Spirit Shroud (which I haven’t mentioned before, but which we’ve used our Eldritch versatility to switch out one of our 3rd level known spells for), and we are operating under Foresight. This takes about 2 rounds to set up. So maneuver yourself accordingly. When we unload, we action surge. And when we crit, we use our Eldritch Smite. This makes our NOVA-crit devastating at 24d8+12d6+135 for 285 average damage. But wait, it gets even better when we riposte and do a total of 74.5 addition damage with a second Eldritch Smite and the added riposte damage for a total of 359.5 damage on a NOVA-crit + riposte round. All this without magic weapon support, assuming a crit and that all hits land. This devastation is about 25 percent above that applied by our stab and smite Dexadin. However, our nimble Paladin may benefit more from some specific magic item support. So YMMV.

Final Notes — A Really Fun NOVA Build That Can Throw Down Powerful Spells

Overall, I really love what this build has to offer. It’s tough. It can throw down some AOEs, particularly at higher levels. And it really goes for those head shots with that greatsword. I would love to see this with a vorpal weapon. Although I’m sure a DM wouldn’t! Or maybe they would…

That concludes our Raven Queen’s Herald optimized gish build. I hope you enjoy it! If you do, please send us a little love by mentioning where you found her. Until next time — may the goddess of nat 20s smile upon you!

Check out the Stab and Smite Dexadin build here.

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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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