The build I am highlighting today is about maximizing a burst of damage. It’s likely not the best version of this kind of build, but I did want to try to get it to at least a decent level of effectiveness. In 3.5 optimization, there was a concept called the “Nova,” which was a measure of a character’s optimization in output in a short period of time. This is intended to make the most of that.
This blog is going to be a little different because I’m going to post an alternate build first. The issue with the first build I’m going to show you is that, technically, it may not work the way I’d intend. It involves the racial ability of Duergar to Enlarge themselves once a day. Technically, Enlarging causes weapons to grow in size, therefore dealing +1d4 damage. However, unarmed attacks(the consecutive normal punches) don’t technically count as weapons. You can make a “melee weapon attack” with an unarmed strike, but they are technically not weapons. That was a clarification in the PHB Errata, but I feel as though it requires clarification in itself. Regardless, keep that in mind when looking at this build. But enough technical talk, let’s go to the stats:
STR 15 (9 points)
DEX 13 (5 points)
CON 14 (7 points)
INT 9 (1 point)
WIS 13 (5 points)
CHA 8 (0 points)
As I mentioned earlier, this version of the build is for a Duergar character, so you’d add +1 to STR and +2 to CON, giving you 16/13/16/9/13/8. The main reason you need DEX 13 and WIS 13 is to qualify to multiclass out of Monk. Oddly enough, if you were going to stay in Monk, you wouldn’t face any requirements, but in order to multiclass, you’d need to meet the requirements.
Moving past stats, this build focuses on making a lot of attacks and empowering those attacks. That means focusing less on damage which could be considered one-shot damage, like Sneak Attack or Divine Smite, but abilities that affect all the attacks made. That’s the reason for the Enlarge trick, which, if it works, adds a d4 of damage(which translates to 2.5 average damage) to every hit. It’s also the reason to go at least 3 levels into Monk, where you can take Fangs of the Fire Snake, which gives you a d10(5.5 average damage) to each of your unarmed strikes. Going full Monk wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but for the best possible results, you can take a minimum of 2 levels of Fighter to get Action Surge, or 3 for either Battlemaster abilities or go Champion to chase crits(more on that in the other version of the build). So the build would look something like this:
Required level: 7
Classes: Monk 5, Fighter 2
AC 12(Can’t wear armor and do martial arts, apparently)
STR 18 DEX 13 CON 16 INT 9 WIS 13 CHA 8
Action Surge (1/SR)
Martial Arts (d6)
Ki (5 points)
Flurry of Blows
Fangs of the Fire Snake
With this build, each main hand attack(which unfortunately has to be a weapon attack) deals d4+d6+6 damage, an average of 12 damage. With Action Surge, that is 4 attacks. But on your Nova turn, you can drop your weapon and activate Fangs of the Fire Snake instead, leading to d4+d6+4 damage(10 average), but up to 3 of them can add d10 fire damage as well. Ultimately, if you get to Monk level 8, you can add that fire damage to all the hits. You could also go up to Fighter level 11 for 3 attacks on the attack action, meaning 8 with Action Surge.
But that build is predicated on Enlarge working with unarmed strikes, which RAW, doesn’t seem to work to me. The alternate route doesn’t really have a racial requirement, but for the sake of argument, let’s build it with the same stat array as our previous build.
This build uses Barbarian Rage as the source of extra damage instead of the Enlargement. They are incompatible with each other as Enlarge requires concentration and Rage disallows concentration. While essentially the same, this build uses the Barbarian’s Reckless Attack and the Monk’s many attack attempts to chase critical hits.
Required level: 10
Classes: Barbarian 2, Fighter 3, Monk 5
Action Surge (1/SR)
Ki (5 points)
Flurry of Blows
Fangs of the Fire Snake
In this version, the extra damage from Rage would take the place of the Enlarge bonus, and you would get the benefit of Reckless Attack, since you already have low AC. That’s 4 quarterstaff attacks at +8, with advantage, for d6+8(11.5 average) and 2 unarmed attacks with the same for d6+6(9.5 average). And your true Nova turns end up even better, as you can choose to save your ki for when you hit a crit. That’s 2d6+2d10+6(24 average) on a 19-20. Not too shabby.
Overall, like most of my gimmick builds, this one isn’t actually optimized for play. More of a narrow specialized build to do one thing. But that’s sort of the fun of these things, isn’t it?
Over the course of the last year or so, my interest in Wizard of the Coast’s other major property, Dungeons and Dragons, has returned. The last edition I played was 3.5. One of the things I enjoyed the most out of 3.5 was how much I could build and optimize. There was a lot of material to work with, and therefore more builds than I could even come up with myself. 5th Edition, or 5e, does not have this same luxury. It is much more highly limited in the variety of builds. Truly optimized builds are somewhat easy and slightly boring. Sharpshooters do, in fact, do the most damage. What I’m more interested in is something less optimized, but maybe more specialized.
In this series, I’ll explore some of these specialized builds. These are not necessarily going to be the most effective builds, but builds that I find to be the most interesting. In Magic, they have what are called player psychographics. Timmy likes big effects. Spike likes to win at all costs. Johnny likes to do cool things. I’m kind of a Johnny. As much as I can, I want to do things in a way that is unexpected. This first build does that in spades.
The build I am highlighting today is a very special and gimmicky one, just the way I like it. Essentially, it’s about getting hit and dealing damage back that way. It’s a way of kind of tanking while still being a nuisance, damage-wise. The build revolves around casting Armor of Agathys and standing on the front lines. When you are hit, you cast things like Hellish Rebuke back at the enemy. Let me explain…
First, the stat array:
STR 13(5 points)
DEX 8 (0 points)
CON 13 (5 points)
INT 13 (5 points)
WIS 14 (7 points)
CHA 13(5 points)
Now, just looking at it, I know what you’re probably thinking. “God, what an abomination of a stat array. Is the gimmick just that this build sucks?” And the answer is, thankfully, no. I wasn’t sure what race I should go with until I started thinking about how Armor of Agathys worked. It deals damage to someone making a melee attack, not necessarily someone dealing damage. After thinking about it some more, I came upon the Goliath race from the Elemental Evil Player’s Guide. That was perfect. Reducing incoming damage(in this case, particularly melee attack damage) would cause the temporary hit points to last longer. So with that in mind, I decided to go with Goliath as my race for this build.
Stat Array Revised:
I’m sure you’re still wondering why this stat array still looks awful. The reason is that I had to split the stats up in a different way to get the stats I needed for this build. 15 strength is in order to wear heavy armor. Though the build revolves around getting hit, the temporary hit points are limited and in order to not die immediately, some amount of armor is needed. There is an argument that could be made for medium armor, but since Goliath happens to give you +2 to strength anyway, you might as well take advantage of it and get heavy armor. Why 13 to INT and CHA? This is a pretty heavy multiclass build. In 5e, the requirements to take a class are at least 13 in their main stat.
This build takes 1 level in Warlock, purely for access to Armor of Agathys and Hellish Rebuke. Now, there are other ways to get these, but in particular for Armor of Agathys, there is no better way than just taking a level of Warlock. This build also takes 2 levels of Wizard. This is done for two reasons. First and most important, for the Abjuration school ability Arcane Ward. This ability creates a ward which absorbs damage, but is separate from temporary hit points. So if an incoming attack would do, say, 7 damage, and you have both a level 1 Armor of Agathys and a full Arcane Ward up, you would take only 2 temporary hit points worth of damage, the Armor of Agathys would stay up, and they would take 5 cold damage for their troubles. Using Stone’s Endurance to prevent some of that damage would even keep the Armor and Ward up for longer. Additionally, this Ward can be bolstered by casting Shield, Absorb Elements or even Armor of Agathys itself. The second reason to go Wizard is access to unique and useful Wizard spells. Primarily, Shield and Absorb Elements. These would be used differently in this build as opposed to others. Its primary use would not be to avoid damage entirely, but more to avoid the sorts of damage that would break your Armor without dealing damage back. That means area of effect spells, ranged attacks and the like. You can also cast Blade Ward if you have both Armor of Agathys and Spirit Guardians up already to lower the amount of damage you take from some of these attacks. Between that and Absorb Elements, you should essentially have resistance to all types of damage.
This build’s primary class would be Cleric. Spiritual Weapon is a decent tool which does not require concentration while still allowing you to do the rest of what your build wants to do. And going Tempest Cleric not only gives you a free-ish way to return damage in Wrath of the Storm, but also heavy armor proficiency. As a full caster the spell levels would stack with your Wizard spell levels, but eventually it would also give you access to Spirit Guardians, the ultimate aggro generator. And with that, you have your build.
Required level: 8
Classes: Warlock 1, Wizard 2, Cleric 5
AC 20 (Plate & shield)
STR 15 DEX 8 CON 14 INT 13 WIS 14 CHA 13
Dark One’s Own Blessing (2 max)
Arcane Ward (5 max)
Wrath of the Storm (2/day)
Destructive Wrath (1/SR)
Relevant Spells (4+1*+1*/3/3/1)
Cantrips – Eldritch Blast, Blade Ward, Frostbite, Sacred Flame, Resistance, Guidance
1st level – Armor of Agathys, Hellish Rebuke, Find Familiar, Shield, Absorb Elements, Magic Missile, Cure Wounds, Healing Word
2nd level – Spiritual Weapon, Aid, Warding Bond
3rd level – Spirit Guardians, Mass Healing Word
This build is pretty inelegant and certainly not optimized for anything but exactly what it’s doing. There are alternate builds possible to get Spirit Guardians and Armor of Agathys on a Bard, but then you’d be missing out on Hellish Rebuke and Wrath of the Storm. There is also no way of getting Stone’s Endurance on any caster with 16 in a primary casting stat to start. It’s not what I’d call good, but I’m not looking for good, I’m looking for a gimmick.
Don’t hit me or you’re dead.