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.

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.