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.

The 5e Skillmonkey

October 12th, 2014

Since 2nd Edition AD&D there have been a few reasonably good ways to create a character whose primary distinction was “does skills well.” Those were to create a Thief (Rogue), a Bard, or a Ranger. From 3rd edition onward you could pull a few tricks to gain access to more skills, but would generally have to sacrifice effectiveness in some core skill competence to do so. In 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons the skill system is significantly different, as are the multi-classing and class feature rules, allowing for a formidably-effective skill specialist. Once you have proficiency in a skill, your bonuses on rolls keep improving regardless of class. Adding skills does not decrease your effectiveness in any of the ones you already have.

Let’s take a look at one approach, from character creation on:

Attributes: You’ll need at least Dexterity 13, Wisdom 13, and Charisma 13. With the standard Heroic Spread Str 8, Dex 15, Con 10, Int 12, Wis 13, Cha 14 can do the trick.
Race: Half-elf. Two skills, your choice. Nice. Charisma bumps up by two to 16, nudge Dexterity to 16 and Wisdom to 14.
Background: Any. you get two skills.

1st Level: Rogue 1. Four skills from a pretty heft list. Expertise lets you pick two of your eight skills to get a double proficiency bonus.
2nd Level: Cleric 1. Select the Knowledge domain. Gain two languages and two academically-themed skills from a short list. Gain double proficiency bonus on those two skills. Make sure your Cantrip list includes Guidance, which grants a +1d4 bonus to a single ability check. Skill checks are a subset of ability checks.
3rd Level: Bard 1. Gain one skill of your choice.
4th Level: Bard 2. Jack of All Trades gets you a bonus on the few skills you don’t have yet, tools, initiative, and ability checks your DM rules aren’t covered by a skill.
5th Level: Ranger 1. Gain one skill from a reasonably big list.
6th Level: Bard 3. Select College of Lore and gain three skills of your choice. Select two more of your skills for Expertise.
7th Level: Bard 4. Now that you have four levels in a single class, you can finally take the Skilled feat and pick up the whatever three skills are left. You are now proficient in every skill in the PHB and get double your proficiency bonus in six of them.

This quadruple-class approach has the virtue of gaining proper always-applicable proficiency as opposed to relying on limited-use or conditional effects to achieve basic competence. Availing yourself of two classes worth of Expertise has some appeal as well.

From here it’s tempting to level up as a Rogue, taking the Thief archetype. This gets you Cunning Action on your 8th character level, Fast Hands on your 9th, an attribute bump (or feat) at 10th 14th 16th and 20th, another two Expertise skills at 11th, Supreme Sneak at 15th and Reliable Talent at 17th. With an ever-growing list of proficient skills and a smattering of Bard and Cleric spells at your disposal you stand to become and remain the go-to guy for anything that doesn’t directly involve stabbing or blasting something. With Dexterity-based weapons and either the Archer or Duelist fighting style (from your level of Ranger) you aren’t a total liability in a scrap, dishing out Sneak Attacks worth about 3d6 less damage than a single-classed Rogue. There’s a price for anything.

Alternately you can just carry right on with the Bard progression, if stabbing fools isn’t your style. Bardic spells frequently solve problems indirectly, which suits the skillmonkey theme to a tee. Peerless Skill, gained at Bard level 14, isn’t as impressive as the Reliable Talent feature from Rogue, particularly considering how late you pick it up, but again there’s a price for anything.

You’re welcome to continue pursuing Cleric or Ranger, as well. The Knowledge Domain’s 2nd level Channel Divinity feature (Knowledge of the Ages) lets you act like you’re proficient in a skill or tool, which is only half-useful to the fully-fledged Skillmonkey. For campaigns that spend a lot of time in the wilds, Ranger is a strong traditional relied-upon-out-of-combat character class.

The Settled Peoples

September 20th, 2014


Relating almost entirely to the situation and typical attitudes of the people of Cach and its satellite city-states.

The people of the city states think themselves civilized, the masters of their surroundings and bringers of order and prosperity to an unruly world. And with good reason. Their walls are tall and strong, their fields and fishing fleets are bountiful, their mines are rich and deep. The markets and caravans make all available in plenty to those with the means to buy. Meanwhile the barbarians nomads and hill-people scrabble by desperately in squalor and ignorance, binding themselves to fickle sprites and pixies and what-have-you. It is no wonder that they envy the comfort and wealth of the cities. That they have not abandoned their foolish, crass ways and accepted proper culture and laws is truly a tragedy.

Cachic society is diverse, with several distinct races living side by side under common principles of mutual tolerance and support. Healthy rivalries between craftsmen, families, mercenary companies, and cities result in a noisy but functional meritocracy of sorts. Social mobility between classes is somewhat rare due to the various native gifts of the laboring poor, the artisan, the lesser gentry and high nobles, but within these rough strata competition is nearly constant and excellence finds itself rewarded. The incompetent and unlucky must sometimes serve as motivational examples, ground up and spat out by the process as cautionary tales. In the past sixty years or so a shift towards the creations of guilds with legal monopolies over specific fields has taken root in Cach itself, providing some protection and structure not previously seen. This dismays some of the more conservative citizenry who prefer motivations of personal ambition, family, and state to remain dominant forces.

The exertion of military power is handled at three scales: the mercenary company, the house armsmen, and the state militia. Mercenary companies are entities created through legal contract, with charters filed in the public records of the city they operate out of. Individual soldiers, officers, and other agents enter into contracts with the company just as the company enters into contracts with patrons. Companies range in size from banner of less than ten to entire battalions of three hundred or more. A mercenary company will typically operate until the retirement or death of its captain, sometimes re-incorporating under new leadership under a new charter. House armsmen are gentry and nobles loyal to a particular noble house that can be called upon to fight for the interests of that house. Some will participate personally, some hire mercenaries to accompany them, and others send mercenaries in their stead. An ambitious gentleman will almost always personally serve in conflicts as a matter of reputation. The state militia is almost always a hodgepodge of house armsmen and a few mercenary companies under long-term garrison contracts. The cities of Cach, Hamza, and Sergeli maintain standing military fleets crewed by such mercenaries with local gentry serving as officers.

Dwarves - Few in number, the Dwarves are perhaps the most insular of the civilized folk. Over the generations they have gravitated toward each other, their nobles feuding almost exclusively with each other until only a single noble line, House Binici, remains. The common Dwarves tend to live and work in the same neighborhoods as each other, and primarily stick to the cities of Bektemir and Cach. Dwarves can be found elsewhere during their professional lives, but nearly all of them raise their children in the Dwarven enclaves. House Binici holds a disproportionate number of seats in the Cachic Council of Elders, in part due to simple Dwarven longevity and in part due to centuries of skillful political maneuvering and alliances that last entire generations for the shorter-lived people.

Halflings - The Cachic city-states are positively overrun with Halflings. They work the fields, staff the shops and bureaucracies, fill the slums, work the manufactories, and generally the salt of the earth citizenry that keep everything working. Halfling politicians have somewhat less influence than the sheer number of their people would suggest. This is largely due to an inclusive attitude among the Halflings regarding the other civilized races; they don’t much care if their leaders are from some other race. They have five major noble houses scattered across the civilized lands, with sixteen seats on the Cachic Council of Elders. They are not known to vote as a bloc.

Humans - Less numerous than the Halflings but nearly as ubiquitous, Humans play a similar role in Cachic society. Individual Humans are somewhat more likely to indulge in ambition and great endeavors than their smaller counterparts. They currently have seven major noble houses with a massive twenty-four seats on the Cachic Council of Elders. The interests of their houses are diverse and often in conflict internally and against each other. Even individual noble families, particularly Houses Yilmaz and Uzun, don’t vote as a bloc, with split votes being the norm. Perhaps for this very reason is is common to see a Human as Lord High Executioner; it is typically expected that a Human will put his ideals and personal interests before that of nepotism.

Tieflings - More numerous than the Dwarves, but only just, the Tieflings have a particular rapport with the infernal forces that make magic broadly available to the settled peoples. Tiefling children are raised with expectations of becoming merchants, cult functionaries, or politically active in some way. The great House Kasabian of Cach, with its nine seats in the Council of Elders, is a Tiefling family renowned for its cunning use of alliances and favors. Many prominent Warlocks and Paladins have been Tieflings, with several of today’s most influential and popular cults being run by both common-born and noble horned men and women.