Poverty is an issue with roots that reach every corner of the world. It is no different on the streets of Waterdeep, where the most vulnerable, those without loving families and support systems, live lives of abject poverty, barely scraping by. Many of those unloved children wandering the dockside streets found only solace in each other. While most could only bear the weight of caring for themselves, a few formed relationships that would last lifetimes.
In the case of Kumo and Lyanna, born without families with names to hold onto, the earliest days were rough. Lyanna, weak and frail by birth, had been unable to fend for herself in her earliest days. She relied on the kindness of those around her who could afford the luxury of kindness, but as the days wore on, so did that kindness. However, Kumo was different. He was strong of body and naturally gifted with magic. Though his ability was limited, he could do enough to conjure food. His heart was always full of generosity, and he shared what he could, though he was no stranger himself to the cold clutch of hunger. Whenever he could find Lyanna on those bleak streets, he shared what he could with her.
Lyanna did have something to her advantage, though. Her body never did her much in favor, but her mind was strong. Just by watching from a distance and mimicking, she stole secrets from the nearby mages. Lyanna was not naturally gifted, but her determination carried her through. She learned to use basic magic through sheer force of will and a little bit of cunning. This led directly to the bright future to come.
Lyanna had a habit of watching any magic user she could on the streets. Her mind hadn’t been ready for most of it, but she picked up bits and pieces. Upon acquiring a notebook, she began taking notes of any magic she saw, making use of whatever secrets she could glean. It wasn’t long before the mages in question noticed, and some even gave chase, fearing their secrets would be taken to the wrong hands. However, being the crafty little urchin she was, Lyanna would be able to escape from these pursuers. That is, until the day she met Master Wyvernspear. Master Wyvernspear was a powerful Master Wizard from a local mage organization. The wizard had been seeking apprentices, but had found most applicants to be dim, lacking in ambition and boring. However, he saw the fire in Lyanna. One look into her eyes and he saw the future as it was going to be. Upon capturing the girl, the wizard offered Lyanna a position as his apprentice. In return for helping him with his work, Master Wyvernspear took her in and agreed to train her.
Lyanna’s apprenticeship with Master Wyvernspear continued on for a few years. The wizard took her in, but part of that consisted of a relationship with a local church of Azuth, god of wizards. Though small in size and community, the church did have premises in which it could house a few loyal devotees. There, Lyanna was taught the ways of divine magic. Azuth provided her directly with the gift of reading and language, which she in turn took to learn about magic, history, the gods and the world itself. Not content with just whatever Azuth bestowed upon her, Lyanna continued her apprenticeship with Master Wyvernspear. But her ambitions began to stretch further. She partnered the church of Azuth with a local Zhentarim organization, negotiating a deal between the two. She and Master Wyvernspear would gather individuals off the streets with magical talents, which the church could use to support its organization, which she and Master Wyvernspear could use as helpful apprentices, and the Zhentarim could use as loyal members of their organization.
Lyanna’s ambitions stretched even further than that. She sought more knowledge and more power. Her greatest fear, since she was a frail child, had been to die without ever leaving her mark upon the world. To be forgotten. So, in pursuit of those goals, after getting her organization, colloquially called the Children of the Wyvernspear, off the ground, Lyanna left to seek knowledge in Mulmaster, at the Tower of Arcane Might, among the Brotherhood of the Cloak. Lyanna has specialized in divining, specifically diving the future. She hopes to one day look into the future and see her own name describing a spell of her own creation. She seeks to understand magic and the Weave at its most fundamental level, to shape magic at its core for the future.
Lyanna has spent most of her days adventuring in and around Mulmaster, which she has saved from devastation more than once. Alas, she was unable to save it completely from the plots of the elemental cults, but she still spends most of her time in the Tower of Arcane Might. Along the way, she has dealt with difficult foes in many different places on behalf of her faction, including a mission to defeat the gathering forces of a fire giant baron. She has made allies in Mulmaster, such as the High Blade Selfaril Uoumdolphin, Rastol Shan and various members of the Tersely family. She herself is a junior vice-senior cloak in charge of fines and membership dues, a position which she welcomes. She has recently discovered an interest in rune magic, which combines her love of knowledge of raw magic and language.
On the other hand, the Children of the Wyvernspear have grown since Lyanna left. The few priests of Azuth, in cooperation with Master Wyvernspear and the Zhentarim, have made a few useful recruits from the street kids of Waterdeep. Most notably, Kumo, Lyanna’s sometime-companion from her early days. Kumo, being a trusting and unsubtle sort, has become an agent for the Zhentarim. He has embraced the Children of the Wyvernspear wholeheartedly, believing that they and the surrounding organizations essentially saved him and the others from those Waterdhavian streets. In fact, he has joined the church of the Azuth and serves to protect and heal those with arcane power, believing them to be of a higher purpose. He has expanded the organization and with his pay from his Zhentarim missions, he bought a nearby building, which now serves as a home for the other members of his organization and an orphanage for those without power. He is a very proud member of the Zhentarim, often declaring his allegiance openly and wearing a symbol to that effect on his armor. Though not quite gifted with true arcane power himself, Kumo is strongly attuned to the needs of wizards in particular, and in that, he supports them as well as he can. He continues to adventure, but not for any sense of adventure. He does so for duty to the organizations to which he belongs, and to make enough money to support both the Children of the Wyvernspear and the orphanage for whom he is the financial caretaker.
Kumo has more recently found himself in service of a higher-ranking Zhentarim officer named Sir Brak Tersely, the spider knight. He conducted an investigation in the town of Nightstone, discovered some disturbing things, then was sent on various missions, including a brief stint in Hulburg, during a time of great upheaval.
At the end of the day, though the two have parted ways, they both were, in their own ways, saved by the Children of the Wyvernspear. Though Lyanna’s eyes are firmly planted in the future, Kumo’s never leaves his past. He is eternally thankful to Lyanna, and though he will likely never travel with her, he protects all those frail-bodied wizard whom he comes across in the hopes that one day he can shield her from whatever she needs protection.
The word “fantasy” has some interesting and specific connotations. It immediately brings to mind a picture of elves and swords and magic. But dreams are also the realm of fantasy. And that’s exactly what La La Land is. A beautiful dream. A reverie. The movie isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty damn close. Every part of it is exact. Tailor-made. Cut to fit. It’s one of my favorite movies of the year and for good goddamn reason.
Let’s start off with the acting. Ryan Gosling delivers a great performance. He’s proficient, heartbreaking and joyous to watch. He has a pretty good track record of it, so it’s no surprise. Emma Stone is great in a lot of the movie, too. No one does the type of character she does as well as she does. She’s charming, goofy and sassy in even the barest of scenes. She is a bit uneven in the more serious scenes, and her singing left something to be desired, but whenever she’s on, she’s like wildfire; uncontrollable.
The music also plays a huge part in this movie. You can tell how much director Damien Chazelle is in love with Jazz. It’s pretty evident in Whiplash and it’s abundantly evident here. Sure, the musical sequences are fun and charming, and the dance numbers are a visual treat, but the heart of it is the music that runs even when the action isn’t as bombastic. Every scene felt beat-perfect, like the cast was playing a game of Dance Dance Revolution we weren’t quite privy to, all the time. It felt very deliberate and fit the theme really well.
The story is a bit light, and slightly predictable, but it felt true. Sometimes true things can feel like they are tautologies; better left unsaid. That said, it was resonant. The struggle between art and the difficulties of life, chasing dreams and unfortunate timings, I felt these close to my own heart. The ending was a bit of a departure of a take on the Classic Hollwood Ending, instead taking it to a more realistic direction, but it literally and figuratively was still a beautiful fantasy.
As I alluded to earlier, the movie isn’t perfect. Aside from Stone’s uneven performance and lack in singing ability, parts of the movie felt a bit too long. Primarily, I am talking about the ending sequence. I felt this way with Whiplash as well. The ending feels long, though there wasn’t a single scene that I feel could be cut from the entire sequence. Everything was put in place deliberately and paced in a Tetris-like perfect construction. Still, in both movies, I did feel a touch of languidity in the ending sequence. But not enough that the movie isn’t one of my favorites. Many of my favorite movies are deeply flawed, and while La La Land isn’t perfect, its flaws can’t possibly detract from such a rich, beautiful, thoughtful and enjoyable movie. I love this movie. Enough to write this about it. Please, go see this movie. It’s completely worth it, even if just to dream a beautiful dream for a couple of hours.
With the release of Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I’m ranking the potentially playable races from worst to best. I say that they are only potentially playable because AL has its own set of rules which govern play, but I’m really hoping to try some of these out. I’m going to go ahead and skip the Goliath, for obvious reasons. So, without further ado, here are the new playable races in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, out now at Wizards Premiere locations and November 15th at all other retailers.
Orc – I would say that orcs are at the bottom of the barrel here. The inherent stat changes seem decent until you see that INT takes a dip right off the bat. In exchange for the INT reduction, you get darkvision, the ability to move your speed closer to an enemy as a bonus action, intimidation as a skill, and powerful build. Much worse than even half-orc, though it might be fun to roleplay INT 6.
Kenku – I’m a bit disappointed in the Kenku. Their stat distribution isn’t bad, actually. DEX and WIS make for solid rogues and rangers. However, they don’t provide a lot else and even the class choices are somewhat limited. They don’t provide too much unique that would make them interesting to build around, but their RP hook seems like a fun challenge, and I personally just love Kenku. I’ll definitely build something fun with them.
Kobold – Kobolds are an interesting race. They get a bonus to DEX, but they get a penalty to STR. They get darkvision and pack tactics, but they also get sunlight sensitivity. They can also grovel, cower and beg, giving your allies advantage to attack enemies within 10 feet of you. I’m not entirely sure what to do with these guys, but they are certainly interesting to think about.
Triton – The stat increases here are solid, though I feel a bit random. STR, CON and CHA all get +1. You get, as you might expect, a swim speed and the ability to breathe water. You can cast a few elemental spells. You have cold resistance. You can live in and speak underwater. It’s all decent, but it feels a bit too much like a genasi to me.
Hobgoblin – They are an interesting race, for sure. You get CON and INT, which is pretty much just useful for wizards. Sure, you could use that stat distribution for some sort of eldritch knight or arcane trickster, but you’d be missing out on STR or DEX. You do get darkvision and proficiency with two martial weapons and light armor, as well as the unique ability to add a bonus to your failed attack, ability check or save equal to the number of allies around you. It’s fun to think about, but ultimately those stats being locked in that way is slightly off-putting.
Lizardfolk – These guys definitely offer some interesting stuff. First off, they get a bite attack, which is always fun. That replaces unarmed strikes, so it could be an interesting way to splash a level or two of monk while still having decent damage dice. Their natural armor ability is also very cool, along with their stats which would point me in a druid-y direction. You also get the bite attack as a bonus action once per short rest, and you’d get temps from that. The main problem is that for any non-druid class, you are stuck with an otherwise underwhelming stat increase in CON and WIS. Not ideal for the types of classes you might want to pursue with the cool abilities it gives.
Tabaxi – These cat-like creatures offer some interesting abilities. First off, DEX and CHA make for a solid base, usable by a lot of different classes. You also get darkvision, an unarmored attack and a climb speed. You also get two skills for free, and good ones at that. Their unique ability is very interesting and doesn’t require an action other than a move action. Definitely something worth considering for any class that could use the ability.
Firbolg – The stats are a bit limiting here. WIS and STR don’t make for the most interesting combination, but you do get some spells, powerful build, the ability to speak to plants and beasts, and a very interesting unique ability. It provides some interesting build challenges, I’m looking forward to playing around with it.
Goblin – I feel like I’m a little biased, because I kind of love these little dudes. They get both DEX and CON, which is a solid start, but also darkvision, the ability to disengage or hide as a bonus action for free, and the ability to deal a scaling amount of bonus damage to a larger creature once per short rest. On top of that, they are a small race that moves 30 feet.
Bugbear – While the stat distribution isn’t exactly ideal, there are certainly many classes that could use both STR and DEX. In addition, you get darkvision, the ability to add 5 feet to your reach, powerful build and the surprise attack ability. It’s certainly very interesting to me and definitely makes me want to build an assassin bugbear.
Yuan-Ti Pureblood – The one thing holding this race back is the somewhat odd stat changes. You get CHA and INT, similar to Tieflings, which doesn’t tend to be the most useful combination. However, you get darkvision, the ability to cast poison spray, animal friendship on snakes, and suggestion, as well as magic resistance and immunity to poison. I have some very interesting and unorthodox ideas for this race for sure.
Aasimar – The aasimar at least seem to be the most complete. It’s the only race with subraces, and it offers a lot. Right off the bat, there is darkvision, two resistances and the ability to heal, as well as giving you the light cantrip. Protector probably has the least useful stat increase combination, but Scourge and Fallen both have quite a few potential class uses. The level 3 ability of each at least seems very strong and scales with level.
Overall, a lot of really interesting options I’d like to play around with, and I’m already brimming with ideas. A couple of disappointments in there, but that’s almost inevitable. Definitely looking forward to playing these new races, hopefully they will be available for AL play.
Level two is where some classes really start to shine. For some, it’s not a huge improvement, but for others, the second level is really what you’re waiting for. I think this is going to be one of the most popular of amounts for splashes. Let’s take a look at exactly why.
Gets you: Fighting style, divine smite, spellcasting
Paladins aren’t slouches at level 1, either. They aren’t the strongest class, not by far. At the very least, they get heavy armor and weapons, as well as a pool of 5 hit points to restore through lay on hands. At level 2, their efficacy essentially doubles. Not only do they have access to healing spells and bless, they can use their spell slots to smite, increasing their damage output immensely. Not only that, but they have access to a fighting style, which has implications no matter what they choose. Add to that another 5 points to their pool to lay on hands and this is a fantastic level for paladins.
Gets you: Action surge
Fighter already has one of the best first levels, but your follow up to it is to get action surge. That is great for pretty much any class. You can cast another leveled spell. You can make another set of attacks. In theory, it’s not the most impactful ability at second level, but as a splash, it’s fantastic. There are few builds that would go terribly wrong with a second level of fighter.
Gets you: Eldritch invocations, a spell slot
The second level of warlock doesn’t look like that much on paper. You get eldritch invocations and a second spell slot. Well, first of all, that is a spell slot that regenerates after a short rest. That makes it better than most in itself already. Sure, you have to settle for 2, while other full casters have 3 to start with and some have an extra slot to get back, but after that first rest, there’s no one that can compete with you for slots anymore, at least for level 1 slots. But wait, there’s more. Eldritch invocations are some of the most powerful level 2 abilities out there. A few, like repelling blast and devil’s sight, give you access to options no other class can replicate. Agonizing blast gives you more damage potential than any other cantrip can hope to provide. Beyond that, there are plenty of utility invocations which have a number of various uses, all for just 2 levels. Fantastic splash for any CHA-based class.
4. Wizard (Abjuration, Divination, Evocation, Bladesinging)
Gets you: Wizard school abilities, a spell slot
Each of these wizard schools has a very strong ability at level 2. Abjuration gets a shield, divination gets the portent rolls, evocation can exclude allies from their abilities and bladesingers can bladesing. Of these, the level 2 evocation ability is probably the weakest at this level, but all of them are quite powerful.
5. Cleric (Life, Light, Tempest, War)
Gets you: Channel divinity, turn undead, domain divinity ability, a spell slot
Many of these abilities are quite exciting. Life gives you a pool of 10 hit points which you can use to heal up to half hit points in an area. Light gets you a nuke in an area. Tempest allows you to maximize the damage of either a thunder or lightning spell. War gets you a +10 bonus on an attack. All of these are very valuable, though some of these scale better than others. For a splash, I’d say tempest and war are the best, but light and life are both fairly strong as well. I think the ideal splash of the life domain is just 1 level, but for tempest and war, 2 levels are more worthwhile. Overall, great stuff here.
Gets you: Fighting style, spellcasting
Finally, rangers get something. And, it’s not all that bad. In fact, if rangers got their fighting style at level 1 and one of their level 1 abilities at this level instead, they wouldn’t look that bad. Their spells are not bad, getting access to goodberries is great and hunter’s mark is solid as well. Overall, a good level, though obviously having to slog through a level with no combat abilities sort of diminishes a little.
Gets you: Ki abilities, unarmored movement
Unarmored movement isn’t the most impressive thing in the world, but it’s not worthless, either, especially when combined with your ki abilities. You can use your step of the wind ability to kite enemies, so they can’t make it to you. You can use your patient defense ability and defend against all incoming attacks. I think the most important, however, is the flurry of blows ability. With that, you can make two unarmed attacks at the cost of a single ki point. There isn’t much to say about it other than that. Good level for monks.
Gets you: Reckless attack, danger sense
I would consider both these abilities to be quite good. Advantage in certain cases is always pretty welcome, and while going reckless effectively lowers your defensive options, rage mitigates that a bit. Any STR based melee class looking for advantage has a pretty clear destination, and that’s 2 levels in Barbarian.
Gets you: Wild shape, druid circle abilities, a spell slot
Let’s talk about something other than a splash for once. Let’s talk about level two. I would argue that in actually playing 2nd level characters, there isn’t much better than a level 2 moon druid. As a level 2 moon druid, you can use a bonus action to wild shape into a brown bear, which in essence gives you a 34 hit point cushion and two attacks per round. Not only that, but you can do that twice per short rest. However, beast forms don’t really scale that well, and as a splash, while wild shaping is great, your forms scale with your druid level and not character level, so at two levels of druid, you’re stuck wild shaping into the same somewhat unimpressive creatures. Not the most inspiring. As a circle druid, you get extra spells and the ability to recover 1 level worth of spell slots, which is fine but a little underwhelming.
Gets you: Cunning action
Even though this seems to rank low on this list, the second level of rogue isn’t that bad. The ability to dash, disengage or hide as a bonus action is something that is highly desirable. It’s a great ability, but having only that one ability and not advancing spellcasting is the only reason this level isn’t higher on the list.
Gets you: Jack of all trades, song of rest, a spell slot
Like most full caster classes, what you get from higher levels is mostly spellcasting scaling. You get the song of rest, which is a welcome addition to most parties, and jack of all trades, which at most levels adds +1 or +2 to skills you aren’t proficient in. Not the strongest, but gaining a full caster level is always welcome as a splash.
12. Wizard (Conjuration, Enchantment, Illusion, Necromancy, Transmutation)
Gets you: Wizard school abilities, a spell slot
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with these wizard schools. Some of them have powerful abilities, but all of those are locked away behind higher levels. At level 2, the abilities that these schools get just aren’t worth the splash.
13. Cleric (Knowledge, Nature, Trickery, Arcana)
Gets you: Channel divinity, turn undead, domain divinity ability, a spell slot
The reason that these archetypes are grouped this way is that their domains’ channel divinities are not quite as good as those of the other archetypes. Of these, I would say that the trickery domain’s invoke duplicity ability is the most interesting, but it counts as your concentration slot, which is less than ideal. It’s certainly interesting, but taking up your concentration stops some of the more interesting potential uses. As for knowledge, nature and arcana, all of the channel divinity uses aren’t that great.
Gets you: Font of magic, a spell slot
Sorcery points are great, but at second level, the only thing you can do with them is get back a level 1 slot. Nothing else to say, really.
Especially when thinking about gimmick builds, one thing to always keep in mind are “splashes.” Meaning taking just a few levels of a class to get some really good abilities quickly. Taking a splash of a class gets you access to some class features, some weapon, armor and tool proficiencies, and sometimes, spellcasting. In this first blog, I’ll rank the classes in terms of first level splashes in order to explore what a single splash would get you.
Requirements: 13 STR
Gets you: Medium armor, shields, martial weapons, rage, unarmored defense
Barbarian has the best first level in the game. It’s really easy to qualify for, rage is pretty fantastic, giving you resistance to weapon damage and extra damage, and between that and medium armor and unarmored defense, it gives you some solid defensive options. A great splash for any STR-based melee class that doesn’t need heavy armor.
Requirements: 13 STR or 13 DEX
Gets you: Heavy armor, shields, martial weapons, fighting style, second wind
A single level of fighter gets you a lot. Access to all types of armor and weapons is nice, but not exclusive. The lower barrier to entry is pretty nice as well, as you can qualify for it with either STR or DEX. Nearly every fighting style you can choose has merit and would fit nearly any splash. Second wind is also great, giving you basically a free d10+1 healing. Unless you are using your bonus action every single turn, you have a chance to do free healing, which comes back after a short rest. Really strong start to a really strong class.
3. Cleric (Life, Light, Tempest, War)
Requirements: 13 WIS (13-15 STR)
Gets you: Medium armor, shields(Light), heavy armor(Life, Tempest, War), martial weapons(Tempest, War), simple weapons, domain abilities, spellcasting
Clerics are always welcome in pretty much any campaign, but in particular, these domains are really great at level 1. Life gets you heavy armor as well as boosting your healing spells by a minimum of 3. War gives you extra attacks as well as heavy armor and martial weapons. Tempest gives you damage if you’re hit, heavy armor and access to thunderwave. Light gets you burning hands, faerie fire and warding flare. Meanwhile, every cleric has access to healing spells. Clerics tend to be classes you’d want to go heavier into, but single splashes, especially in these 4 domains, go a long way. A wizard who is able to heal and wear heavy armor is one hell of a wizard. Same with any other class you might splash cleric onto.
Requirements: 13 DEX
Gets you: Light armor, some weapon proficiencies, thieves’ tools, expertise, sneak attack
Rogue is a pretty fantastic splash. Depending on your build and proficiency level, expertise can be a godsend. Most commonly, of course, you’d put expertise on your stealth or perception skills, but there are plenty of other great choices. Unlike the bard’s expertise, you can take expertise in thieves’ tools as well, which can be very useful indeed. And of course, you get to add a d6 of sneak attack damage to any finesse or ranged weapon, which can be pretty reliably gotten in this edition. All that and a low barrier of entry makes a splash in rogue quite a good one.
Requirements: 13 CHA
Gets you: Some weapon proficiencies, sorcerous origin features, spellcasting
Actually, sorcerers are quite varied at level 1 as well. However, all the level 1 origin features are quite good. Draconic sorcerers get extra HP as well as starting with 13+DEX AC. Wild sorcerers can give themselves advantage on rolls, though they also have to abide by the rules of wild magic. Storm sorcerers can move themselves about the battlefield with ease. Aside from that, you get 4 cantrips and 2 sorcerer spells, which is definitely worth looking into.
Requirements: 13 CHA
Gets you: Light armor, simple weapons, patron feature, pact magic
Warlock is quite a unique class in that instead of getting regular spellcasting, you have pact magic. Pact magic, in this case, gives you a replenishing 1st level slot, which comes back every short rest. Unfortunately, warlocks don’t get a lot of spells at level 1, nor do they get a lot of cantrips. You do, however, have access to the SCAG cantrips for a splash to a melee build, and have access to the best cantrip, eldritch blast. Even with only a single level of warlock, it’s a good spell, though it is at its best after 2 levels of warlock. But that’s a subject for another post. Aside from that, you have your level 1 patron features. None of them are particularly impressive, though for a splash the fiend patron or undying patron level 1 features are both pretty solid.
Requirements: 13 CHA
Gets you: Light armor, some weapon proficiencies, musical instrument proficiencies, bardic inspiration, spellcasting
You get 2 cantrips and 4 spells, which isn’t so bad. Bards also can heal, so that’s a plus. Bardic inspiration gives out a d6 die to add to a roll, which you should be able to do at least 2 or 3 times as a bonus action, which is nice. In all, a solid choice.
Requirements: 13 INT
Gets you: Some weapon proficiencies, arcane recovery, spellcasting
The first wizard level is not the most impactful splash there is. Aside from getting no significant proficiencies, you only get one class feature aside from spellcasting. And that single feature is just more spellcasting. Aside from warlocks, who theoretically could have many more, wizards have the most spell slots at level 1 of any spellcasting class. Wizards do easily outpace warlocks at higher levels, but at the first level, what you get is just spellcasting. Fortunately, to make up for that, you get a lot of spells. Not only do you get more spells learned than any other class that has to learn their spells, you get to prepare at minimum 2, which is about as many as sorcerers and warlocks would get. To top it all off, you get access to a bunch of good spells, some of which other classes would really like, but don’t have access to, like find familiar, shield and absorb elements. Basically, it’s good for the access to specific spells, but not the most impressive for the cost of a single level.
Requirements: 13 STR, 13 CHA
Gets you: Heavy armor, shields, martial weapons, divine sense, lay on hands
Paladin is actually one of my favorite classes in 5e. However, you get most of your really worthwhile stuff at level 2, which I’ll explore at a later post. At 1st level, you don’t get any spellcasting, but instead divine sense and lay on hands. Divine sense is not that useful in practice and while being able to heal up to 5 points is fine, in terms of a splash, it’s not changing the world, either. You do get heavy armor and shields, which is quite nice, but the requirement conditions are higher. If you really want heavy and shields for a single level splash, fighter is just better.
10. Cleric (Arcana, Knowledge, Nature, Trickery)
Requirements: 13 WIS
Gets you: Medium armor, shields(Arcana, Knowledge, Trickery), heavy armor(Nature), domain abilities, spellcasting
Clerics vary a lot depending on the domain and the reason why these ended up lower on this list is because their domain abilities aren’t quite up to the same level. Nature and knowledge just give you skill proficiencies, though knowledge does give you double your proficiency bonus. Nature is the only among these that does provide heavy armor, however. Arcana gives you wizard cantrips, proficiency with arcana and access to magic missile. Not too impressive, but solid. Trickery gives you the ability to give someone advantage on stealth, which you can use to either negate a heavy armor wearer’s disadvantage or to give a rogue without a cloak advantage, and that ability doesn’t even use concentration. None of these abilities are very impressive, but of course these do come with that nice medium armor proficiency as well as a caster level in a healing class, which is always welcome.
Requirements: 13 WIS
Gets you: Medium armor*, shields*, some weapon proficiencies, herbalism kit, spellcasting
While not the worst, as you still get access to spellcasting, druid is, among spellcasting classes, one of the worst at level 1. All you get is 1 spellcasting level, and while the druid spell list is nice(other than wizard, the only spellcasting class able to get absorb elements, access to more exclusive healing spells like goodberry), it’s still all you get. In return, you get a flaw that makes you unable to wear metal armor. Yikes.
Requirements: 13 DEX, 13 WIS
Gets you: Simple weapons, an artisan’s tool or musical instrument, unarmored defense, martial arts
A single level of monk is not a great splash. The features it gets you are actually pretty decent, though plagued with built in weaknesses. Monks can’t really use their class features if they’re armored or using any martial weapons. However, to make up for these heavy restrictions, they have a version of the unarmored defense feature which is worse than the barbarian’s(relying on WIS instead of CON and not being to wear a shield is rough) and martial arts, which is pretty good. Being able to use DEX instead of STR for unarmed strikes and simple weapons is good, and getting free unarmed attacks as bonus actions is not too bad, either. However, between the heavy requirements and armor restrictions, it just doesn’t seem worth it for the most part.
Requirements: 13 DEX, 13 WIS
Gets you: Medium armor, shields, martial weapons, favored enemy, natural explorer
Welcome to the bottom of the barrel. Well, arguably. It’s completely arguable that 1 level of monk is just as bad or worse, but at least there are times when a splash in monk is what you might ever want. A splash in ranger gets you access to medium armor, shields, weapons… and nothing else. Favored enemy and natural explorer basically do nothing. You don’t even get a fighting style or spellcasting. Taking a level of ranger means you can talk to stuff and find stuff. I don’t even know what else to say. If you ever feel like taking one level of ranger, go take a level of cleric or fighter instead. Please.
Despite the way he looks, Grisel never thought himself destined for greatness. In fact, for a very long time, Grisel thought he was destined to a lonely, mundane existence, never knowing adventure or excitement, never suffering intolerable pain or loss, living his whole life in his little fishing village. But destiny had other plans for Grisel.
Growing up, Grisel was a simple boy with simple ambitions living in a simple village. Not content to be a fisherman as his father had been, Grisel joined his friends in signing up to be part of the village guard. However, unlike some of his friends, he had no ambitions of any sort of higher station. He guarded the storehouses, mostly against drunks stumbling into them in the dead of night. He was content to live that life, knowing no great desire but for the longing of the love of the most beautiful lady in his village, Tatiyana. But such desires he felt were distant as the sun in the sky. That is, until one day, when fate struck.
One day, several adventurers washed up on the shores of his village. They were taken in by the elder, who believed them to be an omen of good luck. His village had something of a tradition, which was carried out around once every year. Someone from the village was to be sacrificed to a creature from the ocean, who was a herald of the sea goddess. They had not yet chosen a sacrifice, and these adventurers had shown up just in time to be the sacrifices in question. And the village elder believed that more sacrifices would satisfy the creature so much that it would grant the village prosperity for years to come.
As luck would have it, Grisel was chosen to guard the house in which the adventurers were locked. That is where Grisel met the dwarf Wade, who tempted him with promises of gold and riches and women and adventure. But Grisel was not easily swayed. When Wade inquired as to Grisel’s desires, Grisel had only one to voice. Wade promised Grisel that women easily fell in love with the bravery of adventurers, Grisel’s heart turned a little. Not enough to free the adventurers, but enough.
On the night of the sacrifice, Grisel found out something that troubled him. The village elder had decided that the adventurers were not sufficient sacrifice for the creature, they needed to sacrifice someone from the village itself. The lottery was cast and the person chosen was Tatiyana. That was enough to move Grisel. When the night was dark and most of the village hid and huddled in their homes, waiting for the creature to leave, Grisel brought the adventurers their weapons and freed them. Wade convinced him to stay and fight, handing him a bow with which he was not at the time proficient. The adventurers fought the creature as Grisel aimed shot after shot at the creature. Most of his attacks missed, though a couple found purchase. Then, as the creature loomed and most of the adventurers were felled, Tatiyana in its sights, Grisel shot one final fumbling shot. It struck the creature in an exposed weak point at its core and destroyed it. Grisel had done it! He had killed a fearsome creature!
Scoring the final blow against the creature gave Grisel a great sense of confidence. Wade invited him to join the party and he did. He bade farewell to Tatiyana and joined Wade and his friends on his first adventure, to a haunted island. There, he watched and his new companions all get killed by shadow creatures which emerged as soon as they stepped onto the island. Then he sailed away to the Moonsea, where he started his journey as an adventurer, learning to wield his draconic blood for arcane power, as well as finding a place among the followers of Bahamut, doing his great works.
Not only does Grisel serve Bahamut, but in fact, he has met Bahamut on several occasions, though Grisel has yet to notice. He has been sent by Bahamut to right wrongs all across the land and even across time. Along the way, in service of Bahamut, Grisel has felled many dragon cultists, defeated many dragons, and even become a hero.
As a servant of Bahamut, Grisel is no friend to evil chromatic dragons, especially those in league with the cult of the dragon. On his adventures, Grisel has taken out many dragons in the pursuit of his ideals. Dragons such as Venomfang, a young and foul green dragon living in an old wizard’s tower. Then he and his companions fought a fully mature white dragon named Arauthator, the Old White Death, who was defeated, but managed to flee with his life. The next dragon he faced was Chuth, the Emerald Assassin, a brutal green dragon and loyal servant of the cult. As one of the witnesses to the horrifying events at Phlan when Vorgansharax laid claim to the Cinnabar Throne, Grisel and his allies set their sights on the Maimed Virulence and took him down right at the seat of his power. Not simply satisfied with taking out such a colossal and corrupting threat, whose influence spread like poison across Phlan, Grisel sought out more disruptive draconic prey. To that end, he took to Skyreach Castle, to the lair of Glazhael the Cloudchaser, and took down that great white beast. After hearing of Grisel’s reputation for dragon slaying, King Hekaton of the court of the Maelstrom requested Grisel’s help from the Lord’s Alliance, despite his shaky relationship with the organization. With the king’s help and that of some other fellow adventurers, Grisel took down the Doom of the Desert herself, Imryth the ancient blue dragon, along with her spawn, an adult blue dragon named Anaxaster. Though he did not himself deliver the final blow, his strikes were powerful enough to drive her back into her lair. If an evil chromatic dragon should hear the name “Grisel,” even in a whisper, they now know to hide.
Indeed, as when Grisel left his home, his little fishing village, he was hailed as their folk hero, Grisel felt destined to be a hero. He personally witnessed the fall of Phlan as the dragon Vorgansharax took the town over. But it wasn’t too long before Grisel had a chance to return to take down the great beast. He, along with a new team of adventurers, called Team Lightning Round, took the beast down in the beast’s own lair, a throne room littered with a hoard of treasure. Grisel had become a hero, the hero of Phlan. But more adventures await him in the future. He is not yet done. Until he feels he has earned enough renown to win the love of Tatiyana, he will not return home, even if it takes him the rest of his life.
Gimmick builds are usually about optimizing characters in certain ways. The builds I’m writing about here are going to be about optimizing certain aspects of characters. They’re going to be pretty simple and emphasize one specific trait.
The first build I’m writing about here is going to be one I’m actually playing. It’s a build to optimize initiative. There aren’t a lot of things in 5e which manipulate initiative. In Adventurer’s League, there are a few items which raise initiative. There are both Rings and Cloaks of Protection, as well as Staves of Withering, all of which give +2 to initiative. There are also Whips and Tridents of Warning. Outside of that, most characters are simply at the mercy of their dexterity for their initiative modifier. A few of the only exceptions I know of are the rogue archetype Swashbuckler, which gives you a bonus to initiative equal to your charisma modifier, the Jack of All Trades feature of bards, and the Alert feat. Fortunately, these work pretty well with each other.
The minimum level to get all of these is level 5, with 3 levels of rogue and 2 levels of bard. At level 5, assuming 16 DEX and 16 CHA, you’d have +12 initiative. At level 20, with 20 DEX and 20 CHA, you’d have a total of +18. Assuming all AL-legal items, that would put you at +24 to initiative. Chances are, you’re going first.
The next build is even simpler. It’s a build that emphasizes maximizing hit points. Most hit points are purely based on hit die and constitution, but there are a couple of ways that this can be manipulated slightly. The most obvious method is the feat Toughness, which simply gives you 2 HP for every level. The second one is the hill dwarf subrace, which gives you an additional 1 HP per level. As far as the hit dice themselves, you would maximize it by becoming a barbarian, which is the sole owner of the d12 hit die. In addition, at level 20, the barbarian gets +4 to STR and CON, for a total possible 24, increasing HP by another 2 points per level over any other class.
Since this build is fairly pure, it is achievable as early as level 4. However, due to how hill dwarves’ stat bonuses work out, the true peak of the build happens around level 12 or level 20. At level 4, you’d have 57 HP. At level 12, you’d have 185 HP. At level 20, you’d top off at 345 HP, not even mentioning that this 345 HP is effectively 690 since the character would likely be a Bear Totem barbarian, giving you resistance to almost all damage.
There are a couple more tricks, but they venture into a different territory I’m not exactly prepared to talk about at the moment. Just keep in mind that in theory, Heavy Armor Mastery could potentially shave off a couple of points.
The next build is a little more involved, and that revolves around a DEX-based paladin. Now, the one thing to keep in mind is that a DEX-based paladin is normally unable to multiclass. So in order to multiclass, a version of this character would have to do something special, such as acquire Gauntlets of Ogre Power. The reason why the paladin has to be DEX-based is that the point of the build in question is to be a different kind of tank to the dwarf barbarian. It would be a character with high save values and high AC.
The most important part of the character, and probably the one aspect that takes the most interesting route, is the stat array. You’d start with an array of 8, 15, 13, 8, 12, 15 as a variant human. You put +1 into DEX and CHA, as well as taking the feat Resilient – CON, putting you at 8, 16, 14, 8, 12, 16, but giving you +3 to DEX saves, +4 to CON saves and +3 to WIS saves, all at level 1. DEX, CON and WIS being the most important saves. As DEX would be your primary stat, you’d put your points into it at higher levels, leaving your saves at +5 DEX, +5 CON and +4 WIS baseline at level 8, just based on stat increases. However, that’s not all. As a paladin, at level 6, you begin to add your CHA to saves. That gives you an additional +3 to all saves at level 8, and you’d end up with +8 DEX, +8 CON, +7 WIS. Starting at level 17, assuming you put the rest of your points into CHA, you end up with +10 DEX, +11 CON, +10 WIS. In addition, if you choose to be an Oath of the Ancients paladin, you can give yourself and your party resistance to damage from spells.
The other half of this equation is the AC. Without magic items, for this build, the highest possible achievable AC would be 20. With studded leather, +5 from DEX, +2 from the shield and +1 from the Defense fighting style. In AL, there are a variety of increasing that number a little higher. The Wall of Teeth gives an additional +2 on top of the shield’s bonus, and is not an attuned item. +1 studded leather can be traded for with a rare item and is also unattuned. There are also a variety of attuned items which provide AC, such as the Ioun Stone of Protection, Cloaks and Rings of Protection, the Glasstaff, Staves of Power. Some of those are able to be attuned by a character with this build, though some are not.
A truly tricked out character would have at least 1 level of sorcerer, using Gauntlets of Ogre Power to qualify to multiclass out of paladin, then have the Wall of Teeth as well as +1 studded leather, then have the Ring of Protection and Staff of Power as remaining attuned items. That would give the character +11 DEX, +12 CON, +11 WIS, 26 AC and access to the Shield spell. Barring a no-save situation, bad luck or one of the few save spells outside of those main save attributes, that’s one hell of a wall.
As of my writing this, Adventurer’s League is currently in Season 4. To the uninitiated, that means this set of adventures takes place in a place called Barovia, a land ruled by a powerful vampire named Strahd von Zarovich. Practically, this means two things: the first is that adventurers that become trapped in Barovia are stuck there until they somehow find their way out. The second is that everything is 5x-10x more expensive, and that potions are much more rare and practically impossible to buy while in-game. That creates somewhat of a shortage of potions in Barovia, but fear not, Dr Feelgood is here to help.
The requirements for crafting a Potion of Healing are somewhat vague. In the Downtime Activities rules, it lists that you can craft a Potion of Healing with 25g and 10 downtime days. The requirement for crafting items in general requires a character to be a spellcaster and at least of 3rd level. Specific to crafting a Potion of Healing, the text for the Herbalism Kit states that a character must be proficient with the Herbalism Kit to craft Potions of Healing.
So those requirements are pretty low. The first order of business would be to get proficiency in Herbalism Kits and to be a spellcaster. So, to fulfill both those requirements, the easiest way is to just become a druid. We’re done, right? We can just go home now. Well, wait. We still need 2 more levels to be able to craft. They could be any levels, even druid levels. But, what would be better for someone whose job is delivering potions than to have Fast Hands? With 3 levels of rogue, you can choose the oft-ignored archetype, thief. As far as I can tell, there aren’t a ton of benefits to being a thief, but one of them is the ability to Use an Object as a bonus action. What better way to deliver a potion(or Goodberry, for that matter) than to use it as a bonus action? This is a much smaller writeup because this is a much less ambitious gimmick build than the others I’ve posted.
However, for bonus points, you could put a level into Life Cleric so that each of your Goodberries(which, again, you deliver at bonus action speed) heals 4 points. That’s 40 points total from a level 1 spell. Sure, it doesn’t scale and you’d have to spend actions and bonus actions eating them or feeding them to people, but it’s just one more element to make your allies Feel Good.
So I was telling someone the other day that I wanted a different kind of show out of the MCU TV slate. Sure, Agents of SHIELD is a thing, and the Netflix shows are great, and I know they’re doing Damage Control and Cloak and Dagger, but what I really want is the Avengers Initiative. So, I started to type this out, and then it got more fun, so I started typing more of it out, and now I have a full, episode-by-episode, full season synopsis, which I think is fun. No one really has to read this, but I thought it was fun to make up and type, so I’m putting this here because where else am I going to put this?
The tl;dr version of this is that this is a team of young heroes who, for one reason or another, become part of a government-controlled team. They are training to, in essence, become the next Avengers, should the Avengers fall or perhaps become criminals in the eyes of the world’s government. They get involved in a plot with a certain criminal organization and have to deal with their own personal problems of being young people with this sort of a lifestyle.
So, without further ado, here is my take on a MCU TV Avengers Initiative show:
Episode 1 – The first episode centers on Kate Bishop. She’s a rich former socialite who moved from New York to LA after the Battle of New York. Because of her traumatic experiences and constantly feeling like she wasn’t in control, she learned martial arts, fencing, swordfighting, archery. She is taking out thugs in LA, trying to track down a drug ring supplying a new drug, which is actually Inhuman Growth Hormone. She runs into a bit of trouble, but at the same time, she runs into a “retired” Hawkeye. She decides to reject his help and tries to go off on her own. She eventually tracks down one of the suppliers, but that supplier takes a large amount of the drug and she can’t handle him. She’s saved by Hawkeye and he invites her to be part of the Avengers Initiative, which is a group of kids being trained to become the next wave of the Avengers, if they are ever needed.
Episode 2 – The second episode introduces the team. Michael Van Patrick is the leader of the team, he has abilities which have been compared to a young Captain America. Alex Wilder is the brains of the group, primarily in the planning and strategic departments. He controls the flow of information on the team. Eli Bradley is a strong young man who feels he has a lot to prove and is often a bit brash about it. Jeanne Fouccault is an extremely capable lady whose abilities seem almost supernatural. In addition to these folks, who are being trained for combat situations, there are also Humberto Lopez, Karolina Dean, Kamala Khan and Molly Hayes at the facility. Those four and Alex Wilder were all rescued from what was ostensibly a Hydra base and aside from Wilder, they all seem to be exhibiting signs of powers. It turns out that they are all Inhumans whose powers were being trained so that they could be used as soldiers. The team of Van Patrick, Bradley, Fouccault and Wilder train and show Bishop around the facility and explain what the Initiative is all about. In their training, Wilder commands the team from a separate room while the others carry out the plan. Bradley strays from the plan, saying he would be a better leader, but Van Patrick chides him, saying that his defiance will get someone killed. Wilder lets slip to Bishop that he knows where there might be a facility that is related to the drug ring she was trying to bust and suggests that it might also have ties to the people that took him and the others, presumably Hydra. She convinces Van Patrick to take a team there, ostensibly to scout. The team runs in to trouble, but they manage to take out the base, though not without some trouble. Because of Bradley’s defiance and hard-headedness, the folks at the base are able to destroy their data and Van Patrick has to step in at the last moment to save everyone. He chides Bradley again and says that he won’t always be there to save him.
Episode 3 – The third episode more closely follows Bradley. In this episode, it is revealed that Bradley’s grandfather was meant to be a super soldier, but with Erskine’s death, that never happened. As an angry teenager, after learning this, Bradley blamed this on racism, saying that the only reason his grandfather wasn’t Captain America was because of racism. This is the reason Bradley is so eager to prove that he has the capability of leading the team, ahead of Van Patrick. Wilder secretly tells Bradley that he actually was able to get some of the data that from the enemy base and had leads on where to get the next clues about this drug. Meanwhile, the non-combatants are going stir-crazy, especially with Lopez and Hayes wanting to go out into the field. Bradley goes off on his own to investigate Wilder’s clue, but it turns out to be a trap. What is presumably a Hydra scientist manages to inject Bradley with some IGH and tortures him for a bit to test his limits. Fortunately, Bishop figures out where Bradley went and then Wilder confesses that he sent him on that mission. Then they convince Van Patrick and Fouccault to go and save Bradley. However, when they get there, Bradley is out of his mind drugged up, and the scientist has outfitted him with a weapon. In trying to subdue Bradley, the scientist escapes and Van Patrick has to sacrifice himself to save everyone. The end of the episode ends on a sour note and Hawkeye, whom we have not seen since the end of episode 1, comes back to tell everyone at the compound what happened.
Episode 4 – This episode opens with the non-combatants, centering primarily on Lopez. They are discussing what happened with Van Patrick, mainly if their presence would have made a difference. Hayes cries. Kahn believes in the system, that if they just trust the higher-ups at the compound, things would be made clear. However, Lopez insists that they are being misused. As the ones with the powers, they should be the ones in the field. Dean says she doesn’t want to be in the field. She just wants to go back to being a regular California girl. Bishop approaches them to get their take. She brings their plight to Wilder, who is the de facto leader of the group in Van Patrick’s absence. He agrees that they should at least be trained. Lopez, Kahn and Hayes get their chance to train. Dean abstains. Meanwhile, Bradley is alone in his room, trying to recover from the drugs and having nightmares about killing Van Patrick. He regrets his decisions and wants to quit. At the end of the episode, the team watches a news broadcast about what happened in Lagos. Then the team is briefed about the Sokovia Accords and how that affects them. They are also told that Hawkeye has gone missing and is a fugitive.
Episode 5 – This episode centers on Wilder. As the leader of the group, he struggles to get the control and respect he feels he deserves. We see flashes into his past, about his strained relationship with his parents and his escapism into a virtual world. He talks with Dean and Hayes, whom he knew personally as children, and about how the Initiative brought them together. They talk about not knowing where their parents are. Fouccault overhears and decides to put forth a plan to steal information from their own people about their parents’ whereabouts. Fouccault also does not know where her parents are, but for different reasons. Fouccault finds nothing on her own parents, but Wilder, Dean and Hayes find out that their parents are suspected to be part of Hydra, but that their current whereabouts are unknown. This comes as a shock to all of them, except Fouccault, who is completely unphased. The three hatch a plan to launch a raid on a facility mentioned in some of the files as a possible location of a Hydra base. This plan is found out by Bishop, who invites herself along, as well as Lopez and Kahn. The group goes and raids the Hydra base and take it out, but finds no more clues of their parents’ whereabouts. Bradley decides to quit the team and the episode ends on a flashback of Wilder’s father saying he is a disappointment.
Episode 6 – This episode revolves around Fouccault. Her flashbacks of her parents, her childhood, everything are fuzzy. However, in her training montage, she does every move perfectly. Bishop approaches her and asks why she isn’t leading the team. Fouccault flatly shrugs it off, saying she isn’t interested in all that. Then she does more cool kung fu moves. The episode continues the plot threads of the previous episodes. Lopez wants himself and the other powered folks to be more of a presence on the team, Dean doesn’t want any part of that, and Wilder struggles to hold the team together. Fouccault decides that since she is the most adept at fighting, she will train the powered folks. We get to a training montage, where in each of the clips, Fouccault dispatches them easily despite their powers. She demonstrates that they can’t rely on their powers too much, but they shouldn’t be afraid to use them, either. Dean still refuses to participate. Fouccault and Dean share a moment. Dean reveals that she spent a lot of her time trying to be what people wanted, trying to get people to like her. And she feels the weight of this new life differently than anyone else. It’s heavier for her. Fouccault reveals that she can’t even remember her past, before she was here. It’s hard for her to feel like Dean feels. She almost envies Dean. They share significant glances. The episode ends with the two sharing a kiss, then being interrupted by klaxons and red warning lights.
Episode 7 – A new character is introduced. The first thing that happens is all the members of the team are sent to their rooms. Naturally, Bishop sneaks out and goes to spy on what’s going on. It turns out, their servers are being hacked and a lot of the data about the Avengers is being erased. Bishop gets caught and the administrators of the facility decide to tell the team about what’s going on. Wilder tries to fight back the hack, but is unable to, the hacker is better than he is. Fouccault is distraught because she thinks whomever is hacking the server now may have hacked the server before and deleted all the data about her parents. However, Wilder recognizes the signature of the hack as someone who cheated against him long ago in his virtual world game. He suspects it’s someone with the username AwesomePoPInc. They get help from SHIELD agent Daisy Johnson, who, with the help of Wilder’s experience with the hacker, track him down. They get a location and the team is dispatched to find the hacker. They come to the small town of Broxton and spread out to try and flush out the hacker. Meanwhile, Johnson talks to the Inhumans of the group, giving them advice about the way that being an Inhuman can change them, but how that shouldn’t let it change them. Bishop ends up in a diner populated by old folks who don’t seem to know anything about computers and an Asian kid sitting in a booth by himself, with a puppy, who seems to be playing a gameboy. She sits down in the booth opposite him and they share a few moments. He introduces himself as Amadeus Cho and says he’s the smartest boy in his class. She introduces herself and asks how he hacked a secure server with a game boy. Cho asks her what she thinks of the Sokovia Accords and General Ross. He asks her why SHIELD and the other government organizations keep meddling in the affairs of the Avengers, especially ones they can’t possibly contain, like Thor and the Hulk. He says that when he lived in New Mexico, the Hulk saved him once. That even though a lot of people blame the Avengers for a lot of the world’s problems, he knows better. She says she knows and that she also looks up to the Avengers. That’s why she’s joined the Initiative. Cho wishes her good luck with that. Bishop leaves without ratting him out. No one else comes upon him.
Episode 8 – This episode starts with a flashback of Dean. It shows her life as a rich Southern California socialite. Going to parties, going to Coachella, trying as hard as she could to gain popularity. But somehow, she always kept her kindness. The flashbacks have her standing up to bullies, making friends with the less popular, but always keep her own secrets. We see Dean at her most vulnerable. Alone, in her dark room at night, how she really feels. Despite everything going right in her life, she feels empty. Dark. Then we flash forward to her life at the facility. She’s being pulled into a life she doesn’t want. She can’t control her powers of projecting light from all parts of her body. Most of the time, it doesn’t show, but she is having a hard time controlling it. Everyone else, powered and non-powered, is training, trying to control their abilities. Dean spends her time pining for simpler times. The way she remembers her life makes her think they were brighter days than they were. She is approached by Fouccault. The two share some moments, but avoid talking about their kiss. Fouccault tells Dean that she is the only one with as much darkness inside her. Dean’s mind flashes back to her secret life. The way she used to think of some of the girls who were her friends. Dirty thoughts. Things she wasn’t sure of. The way she thought she’d be judged. When one of the girls she had a crush on came out to all their friends, and was accepted, Dean had decided to tell everyone as well. But when that girl also announced she had found a girlfriend, Dean changed her mind, choosing instead to bury that secret deeper still. Meanwhile, Wilder’s extracurricular activities finds a new clue in the search for his, Dean’s and Hayes’ parents. He convinces most of the team to check out the lead, but Dean feels conflicted. Fouccault convinces her it would be a good idea to come, even if just to see the outcome. She promises Dean that she’d protect her. They go check out this lead and it leads to a Hydra base. The team do not find their missing parents, but they do get into a fight with Hydra soldiers. However, some of these soldiers have used IGH on themselves and are fighting back with powers. With the team in a tough spot, Dean uses her powers brilliantly and saves the day. The team return with a partial victory, but hurt. When Dean gets back to her room, also dark and alone, she starts to cry. She regrets even hurting those men with her power. Fouccault comes into the room eventually and consoles her. This episode also ends with them kissing.
Episode 9 – This episode starts off with Hayes’ dream. In her dream she is one of the Avengers and they are fighting Fin Fang Foom and she knocks it out in a single punch. Everyone cheers for her. She and the Hulk share a high five. She wakes up, excited. She goes through some training where she does really well. We get to see how much Hayes wants to be an active part of the team, though the others tell her that she and Kahn are too young to take part in the more dangerous missions. The episode continues with her discussing her frustrations with Kahn about being left out. Kahn feels that the responsible thing is to let the more trained members of the team use their best judgment, but Hayes disagrees. In pursuit of this, she sneaks into Wilder’s room so that she can hear what his plans are and go take care of the next mission on her own. She overhears Wilder talking to someone on his computer about plans regarding a facility in New York. Excited by the possibility of taking on a mission on her own, and possibly finding out what happened to her parents, she sneaks back out to steal a Quinjet. However, Kahn catches her in the act and tries to stop her. Hayes pleads to Kahn, saying that they are too important to keep leaving on the bench and convinces her to take part in the plan, if only for a scouting mission. They program the Quinjet’s autopilot to take them to the facility in New York. However, upon arriving there, Hayes rushes forward and they come upon enemies who have taken IGH. Despite their powers being quite strong, Hayes and Kahn are fought back and get injured. They fall back somewhere in the facility and hide to recover a bit. This being the first time her powers hadn’t been enough to overwhelm her opponents, the realization kicks in to Hayes that she’s not invulnerable and that her actions have put Kahn in trouble. Meanwhile, Bishop has noticed that the girls have disappeared and when she brings it to Wilder’s attention, he tells her not to worry about it. That causes Bishop to suspect that Wilder might know something. The episode ends with the girls hiding, trying to recover and then someone opening the door to their hiding spot.
Episode 10 – The first image of the episode echoes the last image from the previous week. The girls are hiding, someone’s opening the door, the girls are steeling themselves. It goes close on Kahn’s face. Then we flash back to her youth. She is bullied constantly at school for being Middle Eastern and being a Muslim. She wants desperately to fight back, to stand up to these bullies, but her parents tell her that it would only makes things worse. So she swallows her feelings, is obedient and just takes it in. She tries to repay hatred with kindness, even when it results in things like her father’s store being graffiti’d and rocks being thrown in their windows. We flash to her taking a fish oil pill and her transformation, which happens at home. She shows her parents, telling them that it is some sort of miracle. Her mother begs her not to show anyone. According to her mother, that would only make things worse. Already an outsider, with this change in her, it would only make things worse. But then we flash forward to a time where she couldn’t help herself. She used her power to save someone from being beaten in an alleyway on her way home from school. The next thing that flashes into her mind is her being taken away from her home by government folks. Except they weren’t government folks, this was likely Hydra. They experimented on her and Lopez and Hayes and Dean and she even remembered seeing Wilder at that facility. There were others, though some did not make it. She remembered the girl from the cell next to hers, an Asian girl named Jennifer Takeda. She remembered how that girl was experimented so heavily upon that she wasted away and died. Then, the door opens and standing is Spiderman. He had been tracking this organization for some time as well, and figured out where they were hiding to help them. Kahn and Spiderman share a few moments and stories about how they looked up to the Avengers for helping. How the power that they had meant they had these responsibilities to do the right thing with them. Spiderman helps them take out the rest of the enemies just in time to intercept a call from Wilder. Wilder sees the kids there instead of his men and then starts to enact his contingency plans. The lights go out at the team’s facility and Wilder disappears. Bishop, who had been tailing him, is not caught in the blasts that he causes. Several members of the team are hurt, but Wilder escapes. Spiderman takes the girls to Stark Tower as they try to figure out the status of the team.
Episode 11 – This episode shows us more of Wilder’s journey. He was this slacker genius who had disappointed his parents. His parents were these highly successful science-minded business people whom he held little admiration of. Then he found out his parents were part of Hydra. They were trying to advance science in ways that they believed would benefit all of humanity. When Captain America took down the contingent of Hydra in SHIELD, his parents withdrew from Hydra somewhat. They still believed in their mission, but they were biding their time. When Inhumans became public knowledge, they couldn’t help themselves any longer and started up their operation. When Wilder saw that they were experimenting on children, whose potential for power they believed was greater than that in adults, he hatched a plan to destroy his parents’ facility. When he saw that Hayes’ and Dean’s parents, whom he recognized, were willing to volunteer their own children to the cause, he became so angry that he decided that there was a problem inherent with the system and that he would need to start his own society. So with his friends from the internet and by manipulating some of the unknowing Hydra agents, he took control of a sect of Hydra and they disrupted the facility and killed all the leaders. Then he sent a tip to SHIELD about the weakened facility and they rescued Lopez, Kahn, Hayes, Dean and himself, as well as others. However, while the others had parents to go back to, none of these folks did. But when Wilder realized they were being put on the Initiative team, and while fundamentally mistrusting any authority other than his own, Wilder created an organization. The organization consisted of what he considered to be low lives and other criminals, who would blindly follow his orders, given some money. He used that organization and the Initiative team to slowly weed out Hydra and carve out power from the powers that be, though he had to create an infrastructure of a drug ring that created superpowers to do it. We find out that Wilder created IGH with his parents’ research and kept many of his loyalists addicted to the drug to control them. Though Wilder’s intentions may once have been pure, his mistrust of anyone but himself has led him to do terrible things, which need to be stopped. The episode ends with the team trying to come together, many of them hurt, but both SHIELD and the Avengers unsure of what to next and unwilling to make a move on Wilder.
Episode 12 – The episode starts in a hospital room shared by Fouccault and Lopez. They both seem quite hurt. Kahn and Hayes are also recovering from their own injuries. While Bishop and Dean are both fine, Dean isn’t much of a combatant and Bishop can’t handle this on her own. Bishop feels they need to take down Wilder themselves. None of them have any idea why he did what he did or which missions they were sent on were just his manipulations. Fouccault and Kahn both argue that they should stay put and let the grown-ups handle it. For once, Hayes somewhat agrees. She’s seen what rushing ahead can do. Lopez and Bishop, however, think they’re the only ones who can appeal to Wilder. Whatever he has done, they can talk to him to smooth things out. However, they can’t do it by themselves. Bishop decides to try to get help. She goes to Bradley, who hasn’t been seen in a while. He’s gone back to his old life, though decidedly less enthusiastically. Instead of being the ambitious leader, he hasn’t gone back to any of his old extracurricular activities, instead becoming quiet and reclusive. Bishop interrupts this routine of his, saying the team needs his help. He says he doesn’t do that anymore. She tells him about what happened. He says he wants to help, but he can’t. He has nightmares about what happened. He was so eager to be the leader that he got Van Patrick killed. He bears the weight of that. She says that the only way to get over the guilt and the nightmares is to do something about it, and there are friends that still need his help. As she leaves, he doesn’t seem convinced. Unable to get Bradley’s help, Bishop decides to try to take Wilder on by herself. However, while she is trying to find Wilder’s trail, she gets a message from AwesomePoPInc. He has also been tracking Wilder’s activity on the web, and says he has been making some shady movements. He offers to help her, and she agrees on the condition that they meet up and work together. Cho hits on her a bit and then agrees. As Bishop and Cho go to try and steal yet another Quinjet, they are approached by the rest of the team, including Bradley. Even Dean comes along, saying that she’ll help even though she doesn’t want to be part of the fight. Bishop first tries to convince them not to come, saying that many of them are too damaged to come, but they insist.
Episode 13 – In every previous instance, Wilder had been directing the team to targets he had chosen. He was careful to choose things which could help him but would not risk exposing himself. Cho saw through all that. He tracked the signal and activity to a specific location where they would find Wilder, but he would likely be ready for them. So the team gets ready for a fight, including Cho, who, unlike Wilder, is coming into the field with them. They sneak through his base until they get to him, getting past a bunch of guards and taking them out stealthily, mostly because of the skills of Bishop, Fouccault and Cho. When they get to Wilder, he is ready for them. He has outfitted many of his men with weapons and IGH-enabled powers. He tries to appeal to their logic. He says that the institution is fundamentally flawed and that he needs to build the infrastructure of the world’s power back up himself. He appeals to Cho, who also has a fundamental mistrust of the powers that be, who have come up with a plan to curtain the good that can be done. He appeals to Bradley, whose issues of favoritism, racism and hero worship are his downfall. He appeals to Fouccault’s logic about the most pragmatic way to create a just new world. He appeals to the Inhumans, whose treatment by Hydra and by SHIELD has been one of fear and wariness. Then he tries to appeal to Bishop, who has only ever wanted to do what was right, despite what anyone else might think. The team all take some time to ponder what Wilder has said. Then Bishop says that there might be flaws with the system, but they should try to make those changes from the inside. She says that the methods he has chosen of manipulation and lies will only end in sorrow. She says that the team has become a family and they can work things out, that they don’t have to resort to such extreme measures like Wilder’s plans to make a difference. Wilder says it’s too late. Then they have a big fight. The team looks like they’re losing, as several of the members are hurt and they are severely outgunned and outnumbered. Then Dean decides to unleash her power, which damages a lot of their enemies but also damages the foundation of the building they are in. The team manages to get out, but as they are doing so, they see parts of the building fall on top of Wilder. The IGH manufacturing facility is destroyed, but so too, it would seem, is Wilder. On the flight back, there is a somber mood. Most of them feel like they failed their mission. The end of the episode is each member of the team having their own reaction to what happened. Dean feels bad that she hurt people, and that she may have inadvertently killed Wilder. Fouccault tells her that she has killed people, before she came to be a part of the team, and that it never gets easier. They comfort each other physically. Lopez wonders why he ever wanted to be a bigger part of the team. He considers this by himself and then is visited by Kahn and Hayes. They all talk about what they thought being a hero was, and how this didn’t feel at all like that. They are then joined by Bradley and Bishop, who tell them that being a hero doesn’t always feel good, but it’s standing up for what they believe is right. They talk about the versions of Wilder they knew and conclude that he was kind of a hero in his own right, though his actions were misguided. This discussion continues. The next scene is Cho trying to sneak out, but Bishop stopping him. Bishop says he should stay and join the team. Cho says that he is pretty fundamentally opposed to being part of a government-controlled team, though he believes the team’s hearts are in the right place. He gives Bishop his number and says to call him if she ever needs him, suggesting that even if it’s just for his body. The two laugh it off and Cho leaves. Then Bishop is left alone to ponder what Wilder was thinking. His methods may have been extreme, but Wilder wasn’t wrong. There was something poisoned about the well he was drawing from, but justice needed to be served, and if it was something the Avengers weren’t around for, she and her team would just have to take it on themselves.
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?