Robertscribbler’s Gish Optimized: Optimizing a Longsword with Great Weapon Master in D&D 5e

In this 36-minute video on the Robertscribbler YouTube channel, I explore how to use the Great Weapon Master feat to optimize the longsword and other one-handed weapons in Dungeons and Dragons 5e. This guide is intended to spread some RAW optimization love to our one-handed and versatile weapon wielders. It is also a supplement to my dexterity based Paladin Charop build.

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 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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