The 5e Archer Druid

October 26th, 2014


In which we attempt to make a Druid whose focus is on archery for Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons

Let’s delve into a spellcasting class and do something a little different with it, shall we? Let’s take our favorite pointy-eared friends with Longbow proficiency and a bonus to Wisdom, the Wood Elf, and see if we can’t come up with a bow-wielding Druid that works reasonably well.

Racial selection is pretty simple. Wood Elves are thematically appropriate, they bring proficiency with the best ranged weapon to the table, they get a +2 bonus to Dexterity (nice for the bow) and a +1 bonus to Wisdom (nice for Druid spellcasting). For stats we use the standard Heroic array and place the 15 in Wisdom, 14 in Dexterity, 13 in Constitution, 10 in Strength, 8 in Charisma. After our racial modifiers we get a statline of Str 10 Dex 16 Con 13 Wis 16 Cha 8.

For a background let’s take Hermit. This isn’t a charismatic elf, so a solitary life surrounded by nature seems about right. This grants proficiency in Nature and Religion and a bevy of story-driving background hooks. As a Wood Elf we’re already proficient in Perception, so for our last two skills we select Animal Handling and Survival from the Druid list.

At first level we gain the Druidic language. Hooray. More importantly we gain spellcasting. We know two cantrips and can prepare four spells at a time. Cantrip selection is important. Guidance can make our ranged attacks more successful, so we definitely pick that up. Mending lets you get all your arrows back at the end of a fight and can be generally useful for fixing other things. Interesting 1st level Druid spells for an archer include Entangle, Jump, Longstrider, and most particularly Faerie Fire. Cast Faerie fire on a group of enemies and watch your allies fall in love with you.

At second level we gain Wild Shape and Druid Circle as class features. Wild Shape has a fair amount of utility, but we won’t be using it in combat. Bears don’t shoot bows, last I checked. They prefer to use polearms. Selection of a Druid Circle is fairly straightforward. The Circle of the Moon offers better combat-capable Wild Shape use. But we don’t care about Wild Shape in combat, so we select Circle of the Land. We get initiated in the Grasslands for reasons of spell selection and because archers thrive on the open steppes. Ask the Parthians. Or the Huns. Or the Mongols. This level the Circle of the Land grants us a Wizard-like ability to recover some of our spell slots as part of a short rest. It also grants us a third known cantrip. At this point we should know Druidcraft, Guidance, and Mending. Not a game-breaker, but nice.

At third level we gain access to 2nd level spells. As a Grassland Druid, we gain Invisibility and Pass Without Trace on our spell list, always treated as prepared, and available to cast normally. How handy Invisibility might be to an archer should be self-evident. Other 2nd level spells on your list include Enhance Ability (which doesn’t actually improve your ability score, but grants advantage), Heat Metal, and Spike Growth. You also gain a fourth cantrip. Let’s take Thorn Whip.

The fourth level we get our first feat or ability score bump. Sharpshooter is extremely tempting here. To avoid range and cover penalties we pick it up. With only a +5 to attack with a bow, taking a -5 to hit for a +10 to damage is something that would rarely be worthwhile at this point, but the option is there. We also get an improvement to Wild Shape, being able to take CR 1/2 forms, including those with swim speeds. Potentially very useful.

At fifth level all our Ranger and Fighter buddies just got their second attack. We’re super jealous, but our Druid Circle selection gets us Daylight and Haste. Why might we be interested in getting Haste? Hmm. A mystery.   Other 3rd level spells we may find interesting include Dispel Magic and Wind Wall.

At sixth level we gain Land’s Stride, allowing easier movement through non-magical rough terrain. This may be good for getting into an advantageous position.

At seventh level we gain access to fourth level spells, including Divination and Freedom of Movement. Other fourth level spells we may find interesting are Grasping Vine and Stone Shape.

At eighth level we finally get off our butts and improve that Dexterity score to 20. We attack once per round at +7 for 1d8+4 damage with a longbow, various means of assuring advantage on our attacks, pinning opponents in place, deterring them from closing into melee with us, and otherwise supporting our allies. We may also use Wild Shape to take CR 1 forms, including those that can fly.

At ninth level we get fifth level spells and our last round of Circle Spells in the form of Dream and Insect Plague. Neither of these are particularly on-theme for our bow-wielding Druid. Other fifth level spells of interest are Contagion, which is insanely good and should be house-ruled or tamed by errata of some sore, and Scrying. Our proficiency bonus bumps up to +4, and we are now at a point where using Sharpshooter for extra damage is frequently a reasonable choice.

At tenth level we gain a fifth cantrip. Considering how hard some things hit at these levels, Resistance can be a life-saver. We also gain immunity to poison and disease. We’re also immune to charm and fear from fey creatures, which I suppose is good for some campaigns.

At eleventh level we gain access to sixth level spells, and most D&D campaigns are winding down or rapidly approaching climax.  Take a look at Conjure Fey. Then look through the Monster Manual at what some of the creatures you can summon are capable of doing. Then scratch your head and wonder why you wouldn’t want a little of that in your life.

At twelfth level we bump Wisdom up to 18. Will we ever top off an attribute at twenty? Odds are we’ll never see level 16, so no. The DC to resist our spells stands at 18. We attack with our Longbow at +8 for 1d8+4 damage twice per round with Haste (which we can cast 3 times per day at 3rd level, nine times tops). We may optionally attack at +3 for 1d8+14 due to Sharpshooter. We have several ways to gain advantage for ourselves.

By way of comparison, a Battle Master Archer attacks three times per round, all day every day, with a 15% higher chance to hit and a hair more damage, with a few handy tricks for making those shots have tactical effects. She can’t, however, turn into a flying venomous serpent twice a day.

Archer Druid
Wood Elf Druid (Circle of the Grassland) 12
Hermit Background
Chaotic Earthy

Attribute Value Bonus Save
Str 10 +0 +0
Dex 18 +4 +4
Con 13 +1 +1
Int 12 +1 +5
Wis 16 +3 +8
Cha 8 -1 -1

Skills:Animal Handling (8), Nature (5), Perception(8), Survival(8), Religion(5)
Languages: Common, Elven, Druidic, Masonic
Hit Points: 75
Armor Class: 15 (Leather plus Dexterity)
Initiative: +4
Weapons: Longbow (+8 to attack, 1d8+4 damage) or Longbow (+3 to attack, 1d8+14 damage), Short sword(+8 to attack, 1d6+4 damage)
Spell DC: 18
Spells Prepared: 16
Cantrips: Druidcraft, Guidance, Mending, Resistance, Thorn Whip
1st: Cure Wounds, Detect Magic, Entangle, Faerie Fire, Fog Cloud
2nd: Barkskin, Enhance Ability, Flame Blade, Heat Metal, Invisibility*, Pass Without Trace*
3rd: Daylight*, Dispel Magic, Haste*
4th: Divination*, Freedom of Movement*, Grasping Vine, Stone Shape
5th: Contagion, Dream*, Insect Plague*, Scrying
6th: Conjure Fey, Heal
Other notable features: Wild Shape (up to CR1 beast), immunity to Poison, Disease, Magical Sleep, Charm or Fear from Fey sources, Advantage against Charm from any source, Darkvision 60′, unshorn armpits.

Please feel free to use in your own adventures, with or without attribution or even remembering where you got the idea. Games are made to be played.

5e Archery Master

October 21st, 2014


In which we create a trick-shot artist that takes advantage of the Battle Master archetype’s lack of melee-only restrictions.

From a look at the D&D NEXT playtest material, one of the features I most looked forward to were the combat maneuvers. They had tinkered around with various ways of using martial dice with various classes to various effect. In the finished rules the martial dice are gone, replaced by “superiority dice” that are the purview of one Fighter archetype, the Battle Master.

The Battle Master strikes me as a nod to how Fighters and Warlords played in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. They can do tricky stuff that makes their allies more effective and their enemies somewhat useless, they can take a beating, they can hit hard. An excellent addition to any team. In 4th edition the Fighter and Warlord classes were heavily invested in being right up in the thick of it, scrapping toe-to-toe with the bad guys. You could use a polearm or whip to keep a little distance, but most of their features required an up-close-and-personal approach.

Which of course makes me want to fiddle with the 5th Edition D&D Battle Master as a ranged specialist, hanging back with the squishy spellcasters and such. Let the Blade Pact Warlock get his hands dirty, the Archery Master likes to phone it in from afar.

To start things out, we select a race. Ideally we want something that is dexterous and charismatic. This is neatly filled by the Drow and the Lightfoot Halfling, but light sensitivity is a serious drag and small creatures are no good with heavy weapons like the Longbow. That leaves us with High Elf or Wood Elf to get the full +2 to Dexterity, or Half-elf or Human to get a simple +1. Let’s hold our noses and take Half-elf. From the standard heroic spread we put the 15 into Dexterity, 14 into Constitution, 10 into Strength, 12 into Wisdom, 13 into Charisma, 8 into Intelligence. We get a +2 racial bonus to Charisma and +1 to each of two others, so we end up with a statline of Str 10 Dex 16 Con 14 Int 8 Wis 12 Cha 14. We select Perception and Medicine as our racial skills.

Our Archery Master isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed academically, but is wise, charming, nimble, and hale. Let’s select the Outlander background. This gets us the Athletics and Survival skill proficiencies, which would already have been ours to take as a Fighter, but we also get the opportunity to dispense pithy proverbs and back-woods wisdom to our civilized allies. For our first level we select Fighter and take the Archer fighting style. We select Acrobatics and Insight for our class skill proficiencies. We have 12 hit points, have an AC of 15 with leather armor, and attack at a +7 for 1d8+3 damage with a Longbow or at +5 for 1d8+3 damage with a Rapier. As a bonus action we may get a second wind, recovering 1d10+1 hit points once per short rest.

We continue with the Fighter class at second level, gaining the Action Surge feature.

At 3rd level we select Battle Master as our Fighter Archetype. This confers a few benefits. We gain three maneuvers from a list, four 1d8 superiority dice, and proficiency with an artisan’s tool. As an archer, woodcarver’s tools seem appropriate. Some maneuvers provoke saving throws, the difficulty for which is 8 + Proficiency Bonus + Dexterity Bonus, or 13 for us at the moment. For the moment we’ll select the following maneuvers:

  • Commander’s Strike – spend a superiority die to let an ally take an attack out of turn. This can be used without engaging the target in melee, and can be used to allow the party Rogue to gain additional Sneak Attack chances. Note that Sneak Attack is limited to once per turn, not once per round. It isn’t the Rogue’s turn any more when this is used.
  • Rally – spend a superiority die to grant temporary hit points to an ally. The number of hit points granted benefits from Charisma, hence the prioritization of Charisma earlier.
  • Trip Attack – spend a superiority die to force your target to make a Strength save or be knocked prone. Depending on the target, this is better than a normal shove-to-trip attempt in melee. You also do your normal attack’s damage plus a little extra.

At 4th level we face a tough choice. Attribute improvement or feat? We bite the bullet and bump Dexterity up to 18, gaining a +1 to initiative, attack, and damage rolls, and improving Dexterity saves and checks. We currently attack at +8 for 1d8+4 damage with the Longbow, +7 for 1d8+4 with the Rapier. Saves against our Trip Attack are at DC 14.

At 5th level we gain an extra attack and our proficiency bonus goes up to three. At 6th we finally take the Sharpshooter feat. This lets us choose to attack at +9 for 1d8+4 damage or at +4 for 1d8+14 damage. We also ignore cover, can fire into melee or at extreme range without disadvantage. This allows us to support our close-combat allies more effectively.

At 7th level we gain the Know your Enemy feature, which is handy outside of combat. What, a Fighter that can do something useful outside of a fight? I know, right? We gain a fifth superiority die. We also get two more maneuvers and can swap out an old one. We drop Rally, as everybody we roll with should have a few hit dice on them finally, and grab three new ones.

  • Commander’s Strike – spend a superiority die to let an ally take an attack out of turn. This can be used without engaging the target in melee, and can be used to allow the party Rogue to gain additional Sneak Attack chances. Note that Sneak Attack is limited to once per turn, not once per round. It isn’t the Rogue’s turn any more when this is used.
  • Disarming Attack – spend a superiority die to force your target to make a Strength save or drop an object he’s holding. Shield? Weapon? Spellcasting focus? A double-scoop ice cream cone? On the ground you go. Particularly useful if you already know that one of your allies will get a turn between the disarm attempt and the target. No need to let the evil wizard pick his staff back up, right?
  • Menacing Attack – spend a superiority die to force your target to make a Wisdom save or get frightened. This serves to keep enemies away from us personally and forces disadvantage to attacks and ability checks, improving our allies’ survivability.
  • Pushing Attack – spend a superiority die to force your target to make a Strength save or get pushed fifteen feet away. Good to brush an opponent off an ally or nudge somebody into a spell effect or other hazard.
  • Trip Attack – spend a superiority die to force your target to make a Strength save or be knocked prone. Depending on the target, this is better than a normal shove-to-trip attempt in melee. You also do your normal attack’s damage plus a little extra.

At 8th level we get another feat or attribute bump. We top off Dexterity because that’s the kind of thing you do. We now attack twice at +9 for 1d8+5 damage or +5 for 1d8+15 damage with the Longbow or at +7 for 1d8+5 damage with the Rapier. Our maneuvers have a DC 16 to resist.

At 9th level we get Indomitable. We get to re-roll a failed saving throw once per day. Also our proficiency bonus bumps up again.

At 10th level our superiority dice goes from 1d8 each to 1d10. We also get two more maneuvers. This is where the Battle Master model of character progression comes apart a bit. We already the five maneuvers we think are the most useful for us. So we get to pick up two of the also-rans. We choose Maneuvering Attack and Precision Attack because those are useful from time to time.

At 11th level we get our cherished third attack per round.

Archery Master
Half-Elf Fighter (Battle Master) 11
Outlander background
Chaotic Bossy

Attribute Value Bonus Save
Str 10 +0 +4
Dex 20 +5 +5
Con 14 +2 +6
Int 8 -1 -1
Wis 12 +1 +1
Cha 14 +2 +2

Skills: Acrobatics (9), Athletics(4), Insight(5), Medicine(5), Perception(5), Survival(5)
Languages: Common, Elven, Aramaic
Hit Points: 92
Armor Class: 18 (Studded Leather plus Dexterity)
Initiative: +5
Weapons: Three attacks, Longbow (+11 to attack, 1d8+5 damage) or Longbow (+6 to attack, 1d8+15 damage), Rapier (+9 to attack, 1d8+5 damage)
Maneuver DC: 17
Maneuvers Known: Commander’s Strike, Disarming Attack, Menacing Attack, Pushing Attack, Trip Attack
Superiority Dice: 5 @1d10 each
Other notable features: Second Wind (1d10+11 hp as bonus action once per short rest), Indomitable (once per day), Action Surge (once per short rest), Sharpshooter (ignore cover and range penalties, option for +10 damge for -5 to hit), Know your Enemy, Darkvision 60′, Fey Ancestry, lovely mulatto skin tone.

Please feel free to use in your own adventures, with or without attribution or even remembering where you got the idea. Games are made to be played.

The 5e Savage Duelist

October 14th, 2014


In which we brew up a Sword & Board trip specialist that leverages Barbarian and Rogue class features to improve performance.

Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts frequently think of the Barbarian as an unarmored hulking brute that lashes out mindlessly, heedless of his own safety. The Fighter is frequently thought of as a heavily-armored knight or mercenary with a sword and shield deftly and methodically beating down his foes. Putting the two together is generally not the most efficient way to take advantage of either’s strengths. Let’s see what we can do to harness the fury of the Barbarian for a classic Fighter approach to things, with a side trip to Rogue for a little something extra.

To select a starting point, we look at the facets of a class that differentiate by multiclassing benefits. Both have proficiency in Strength and Constitution saves, so no difference there. You start with full hit points, so the Barbarian’s d12 edges out the Fighter’s d10. The Fighter has a somewhat more broad selection of skills to choose from. The Fighter has proficiency in heavy armor only as an initial class. If we want to go with a heavy-armor sword & board approach, this is important. We’re going to skip that, so it’s immaterial. A point to consider at low levels is survivability. We cannot get a Fighter/Barbarian character until 2nd level, and 1st level characters are rather fragile. The Barbarian Rage feature grants resistance to non-magical weapons a 1st level, which along with a higher Hit Point value gives our Savage Duelist a better chance at living to see level 3. We start with Barbarian.

Traditionally a Barbarian is strong and wields weapons that benefit from this. In order to multiclass to Fighter we’ll need a 13 Strength, so from our Heroic Spread we put a 15 into Strength and 14 into Constitution. Our 13 goes to Wisdom, our 12 into Dexterity, our 8 to Intelligence, and our 10 to Charisma. We will be bouncing around a bit between character classes, so trying to beef up to take full advantage of Unarmored Defense probably isn’t going to pay off for us. We select Human because we are already enough of a special snowflake as it is, and we want an extra feat early on. +1 goes to Strength and +1 to Wisdom bringing our statline to: Str 16 Dex 14 Con 14 Int 8 Wis 12 Cha 10.

We have 14 hit points and an Armor Class of 17 with a chain shirt and shield. Our feat is Shield Master, which will be important mostly for the generation of bonus actions. To take best advantage of Shield Master, we make sure to select Athletics as a skill proficiency. The second goes to Perception because you never know when you’re going to need that one. The Outlander or Soldier background is a bit on-the-nose, so let’s select the Acolyte background, gaining Insight and Religion and two additional languages. Proficiency in Athletics will give us a +5 total to our Strength (Athletics) checks to shove or knock down opponents and when raging we gain advantage on all of our Strength checks, so we should be quite competent at that. We use a Rapier as our primary melee weapon. We attack at +5 and deal 1d8+3 damage on a hit. While raging this improved to 1d8+5 damage. Whenever we select the Attack action we get a free attempt to shove a target within five feet courtesy of the Shield Master feat.

At second level we switch straight away over to Fighter, gaining a Fighting Style in the process. As a Sword & Board specialist, Dueling makes a lot of sense with +2 to damage done when attacking with a single-handed weapon. We now attack at +5 and deal 1d8+5 damage with that rapier normally, 1d8+7 damage while raging. We also gain the Second Wind feature, allowing us to recover 1d10+1 damage as a bonus action.

We stick with Fighter for the next four levels, gaining the formidable Action Surge feature at Brb1/Ftr2, selecting Champion as our archetype for the Improved Critical feature at Brb1/Ftr3, bumping up our Strength to 18 at Brb1/Ftr4, then finally gaining the coveted Extra Attack class feature all Martial characters covet at Brb1/Ftr5. We could have picked Battle Master for the tremendously-useful combat maneuvers and superiority dice, but we already have a good go-to trick for the heat of battle, so why not leverage frequent advantage on attack rolls for a little taste of critical hits?

At sixth level we switch to Rogue for a little while. Sneak Attack damage is nothing to sneeze at, even at 1d6, but more importantly we can select Athletics for Expertise. This doubles our proficiency bonus for shoving and tripping. At Brb1/Ftr5/Rog1 we attack with the rapier twice at +7 for 1d8+6 damage and can trip as a bonus action at +7 with advantage while raging. If trip is successful, we’re attacking with advantage, allowing +1d6 sneak attack damage, improving our odds of hitting significantly, and scoring a critical hit worth 2d8+2d6+8 19% of the time. A little under once every other round.

Starting at seventh level we return to Barbarian, getting back to our roots for three levels. By Brb4/Ftr5/Rog1 we’re approaching the end of most actual Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. We select the Bear Totem archetype, gaining resistance to everything but Psychic damage. We finally bump our Strength to 20, and at this point we attack twice at +9 with our rapier for 1d8+9 damage, trip at a +13 with advantage, have an 18 AC with a Breastplate and Shield. We can rage three times per day.

Once we reach our eleventh character level we can resume advancement as a Fighter. This gets us another feat or a stat boost, but unlike our pure Fighter brethren it will be a long time before we pick up a third attack per round, not hitting that milestone until Brb4/Ftr11/Rog1, but that’s the price you pay.

At 10th level, while raging, we stand a 91.88% chance of tripping or shoving a creature with Strength or Dexterity of 20. Such a creature proficient in Athletics or Acrobatics stands only an 18.70% chance of keeping its feet under it.

Savage Duelist
Human Barbarian 4 (Bear Totem), Fighter 5 (Champion), Rogue 1, Acolyte Background, Chaotic Pushy

Attribute Value Bonus Save
Str 20 +5 +9
Dex 14 +2 +2
Con 16 +3 +7
Int 8 -1 -1
Wis 12 +1 +1
Cha 10 +0 +0

Skills: *Athletics(13), Intimidation(3), Insight(5), *Perception(9), Religion(3)
Languages: Common, Uncommon, Very Uncommon, Ancient Greek
Hit Points: 88
Armor Class: 18 (Breastplate plus Dexterity plus Shield)
Initiative: +2
Weapons: Rapier (+9 to attack, 1d8+7 damage), Javelins (+9 to attack, 1d6+5 damage, range 30’/60′)
Sneak Attack: +1d6 damage
Other notable features: Rage (3 per day), Resistance to all but Psychic damage while raging, Second Wind (1d10+5 hp as bonus action once per short rest), Action Surge (once per short rest), Shield Master (benefits to Dexterity saves, free Shove as bonus action when using Attack action), Danger Sense, Short fuse.

Please feel free to use in your own adventures, with or without attribution or even remembering where you got the idea. Games are made to be played.