Tag Archives: healing

You Can Play These Supreme D&D Characters, But Should You?

When I drafted my list of supreme character builds for Dungeons & Dragons, I originally included a section that asked, “You can play this, but should you?” The answer became this post, but why even ask?

In a comment, designer Teos “Alphastream” Abadia identified the supreme builds as enjoyable concepts, but “generally horrible at the table.” Although any character can fit the right game, some optimized builds reduce the fun at most tables. Teos writes, “For me, the biggest social contract item for players is to contain whatever optimization they cook up to reasonable and fun levels.”

D&D’s design aims to create a game where all a party’s characters get to contribute to the group’s success. When a single member of the group starts battles by one-shotting the monster with a huge burst of damage, or one character learns every skill to meet all challenges, then that character idles or overshadows the rest and makes the other players wonder why they showed up.

Most skilled

DM’s guild designer Andrew Bishkinskyi singles out one optimization to skip. “The most skilled character is made to do everything, and exists by design to exclude others from play, which I don’t want.”

Early editions of D&D embraced this kind of specialization. Thieves started as the only class with any capabilities resembling skills, but rated as nearly useless in a fight. Nowadays, D&D’s class designs aim give every class ways to contribute through all the game’s three pillars of exploration, combat, and roleplaying interaction.

Most damaging

Combat makes a big part of most D&D games, so characters optimized for extreme damage tend to prove troublesome. I’ve run public tables where newer players dealing single-digit damage would follow turns where optimized characters routinely dealt 50-some points. I saw the new folks trade discouraged looks as they realized their contributions hardly mattered. DM Thomas Christy has hosted as many online D&D games for strangers as anyone. He says, “I have actually had players complain in game and out about how it seemed like they did not need to be there.” In a Todd Talks episode, Jen Kretchmer tells about asking a player to rebuild a combat-optimized character. “The character was a nightmare of doing way more damage off the top, and no one else could get a hit in.” See Sharpshooters Are the Worst Thing in D&D.

D&D’s strongest high-damage builds make ranged attacks from a distance. Such builds can leave the rest of the party to bear the monsters’ attacks. Teos Abadia writes, “Even if we don’t have character deaths or a TPK, a ranged character can create a frustrating situation for the other characters, who find themselves relentlessly beaten up, constantly targeted by saving throws, and harried by environmental and terrain damage. Over the course of a campaign, this can be tough for the party. Players may not even realize the cause. They simply find play frustrating and feel picked on. If the ranged player keeps saying, ‘hey, I didn’t even take any damage—again!’ the rest of the party might start to realize why.”

If you, like everyone, enjoy dealing maximum damage, I recommend a character powered by the Great Weapon Master and Polearm Master feats. See How to Build a D&D Polearm Master That Might Be Better Than a Sharpshooter. If you favor a ranged attacker, the strongest builds combine Sharpshooter, Crossbow Expert, and an Extra Attack feature. In a typical game, pick two.

Biggest damage novas

A few D&D players welcome characters capable of starting a fight with a huge burst of damage for an unexpected reason: These gamers find D&D’s combat pillar tiresome. By bringing a fight to an immediate end, a nova just brings the session back to their fun. Perhaps these games need a better approach to combat, or even a switch to a different game.

In groups more interested in roleplaying and exploration, players might not mind letting an optimized character showboat during the battles. Or perhaps others in the group feel content in roles other than damage dealing. Perhaps the bard and wizard both enjoy their versatility, the druid likes turning into a bat and scouting, and nobody minds letting you finish encounters at the top of round 1.

But most gamers enjoy a mix of the D&D’s three pillars. For these players, characters designed to start fights with maximum damage prove problematic because when they work, no one else participates. “The issue is that even if those characters don’t completely trivialize an encounter, they can reduce the fun of other players by taking a disproportionate amount of the spotlight,” writes @UncannyPally.

You can’t blame the players aiming for these builds. The occasional nova can create memorable moments.

“It’s only fun the first few times a character charges in and essentially one-shots the boss before you get to do anything,” writes @pocketfell. “And of course, upping the hp of the monsters just means that when the mega-damage PC doesn’t get lucky, it’s a slog through four times the usual number of hp.”

I suspect that D&D class features that power damage spikes steer the game in the wrong direction. However, I respect D&D’s designers and they seem to welcome such features. For example, paladins can smite multiple times per turn. In more recent designs, rangers with the Gloom Stalker archetype begin fights with an extra attack plus extra damage. The grave domain cleric’s Path to the Grave feature sets up one shots by making creatures vulnerable to the next attack.

Surely, the designers defending such features would cite 2 points:

  • Players relish the occasional nova. They can feel like an exploit that breaks the game, delivering a quick win.
  • Some spells shut down an encounter as well as massive weapon damage. Fair’s fair.

I argue that encounter-breaking spells rate as problematic too, but D&D traditionally limits such spells to a few spellcasting classes, often at higher levels and only once per day.

Highest AC

I accept that as a DM controlling the monsters, I will almost always lose. A defeat for my team evil counts as a win for the table, so I welcome the loss. But I must confess something:  For my fun, I like the monsters to get some licks in. Is that so wrong? Under suggestion and zone of truth, I suspect other DMs would echo the same admission. Some gamers even float the courageous suggestion that DMs deserve fun like the players.

A character with an untouchable AC doesn’t rob the spotlight from other players, but for DMs, such characters become tiresome. If you back up a maximum AC with, say, a class able to cast shield and block those rare hits, then your DM might not show disappointment when you miss game night.

To be fair, players who sell out for maximum defense wind up with few other strengths. These players enjoy their chance to shine at the end of every fight when they crow about not taking damage—again! I’ve learned to accept their source of bliss and welcome their characters. They may soak attacks, turning claw, claw, bite into useless flailing, but I can always add more attacks to go around.

Toughest

In theory, tough characters should trigger the same annoyance as untouchable characters, but the barbarians and Circle of the Moon druids actually suffer hits, so their durability feels different.

In tactically-minded parties, tough characters and characters with high AC fill a role by preventing monsters from reaching more fragile characters. If your group favors that play style, your DM surely dials up the opposition past very strong and also pairs smart foes with clever strategies. Optimized characters of all sorts often fit that style of play.

Fastest

Nobody minds a fast character. I love playing monks who speed around the battlefield stunning everything in their path. However, those stun attacks certainly bring less acclaim. See How to Build a D&D Monk So Good That DMs Want to Cheat.

Most healing

If you play the healer and miss game night, everyone feels disappointed. ’Nuff said.

Related:
If D&D Play Styles Could Talk, the One I Hate Would Say, “I Won D&D for You. You’re Welcome.”
10 Ways to Build a Character That Will Earn the Love of Your Party

Fast, Unkillable, Deadly: The 7 Supreme D&D Character Builds for One Thing

Have you ever wanted to play a Dungeons & Dragons who boasted the highest armor class, the fastest speed, the deadliest attacks, or another extreme ability? This post shows the way to making the most amazing character at one of 7 things.

Fastest

For the fastest character, start as a monk. Your choice of race depends on what your campaign allows.

  • Wood elves gain the fastest walking speed.
  • Tabaxi from Volo’s Guide to Monsters make better 1-turn sprinters. Their Feline Agility trait doubles their speed for a turn, but they must spend a turn moving 0 to use it again.
  • Aarakocra, also from Volo’s Guide, gain a flying speed of 50 feet, which combines perfectly with the monk class. Not every campaign allows flying characters, especially to start.

Take 10 levels of monk for a 20-foot speed bonus. Then add 5 levels of barbarian for Fast Movement and another 10-foot bonus. Choose the Path of the Elk Totem Warrior from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide to increase your walking speed by 15 feet while raging. Sadly for aarakocra, this bonus doesn’t improve your fly speed.

For even more speed, add two levels of fighter for the Action Surge.

Along the way, choose the Mobile feet to add another 10-foot speed bonus. Also consider the Magic Initiate feat to learn the longstrider spell, which adds another 10-foot speed bonus for an hour. Obviously, seek Boots of Speed, Potions of Speed, and friends able to enchant you with haste.

Even without the magic, this build yields a 70-foot base, doubled to 140 by feline agility. For maximum speed, choose a dash action, add a dash using the monk’s Step of the Wind ability, plus a dash using Action Surge to move 560 feet in 6 seconds. That amounts to 63 mph or 102 kph!

See How to Build a D&D Monk So Good That DMs Want to Cheat.

Most skilled

For the most-skilled character, start as a half-elf rogue. This gains you 4 rogue skills, plus 2 skills from being a half-elf and 2 more from your background. Don’t pick proficiency in Nature or Survival. You gain those skills when you select the Scout archetype at level 3.

Remain a rogue until level 4 when you can choose the Skilled feat for 4 more skills.

For level 5, multiclass into bard for another skill. At level 7, select the College of Lore for 3 more skills. Then at level 8, elect the Prodigy feat for that last untrained skill plus Expertise in a choice of skill. Expertise doubles your proficiency bonus for that skill.

At level 8, your character boasts proficiency in every skill in the game.

Most damaging

The highest, most consistent damage output comes from characters who combine the Sharpshooter and Crossbow expert feats with a hand crossbow.

Start as a human with the Sharpshooter feat. Your class can either be fighter or ranger. Either way, select the Archery fighting style to gain +2 on your ranged attacks.

For a fighter, choose either the Battle Master or the Samurai archetype from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. As a ranger, choose the Gloom Stalker archetype, also from Xanathar.

At level 4, take the Crossbow Expert feat to gain the ability to make extra attacks with a hand crossbow as a bonus action.

For more, see How to Build a Sharpshooter Who Wins D&D.

Highest AC

The simplest route to a maximum AC uses heavy armor. Select a paladin or fighter and then select the Defense fighting style. Equip plate mail and shield for AC 21. Then seek magic that improves AC. If you find +3 plate, +3 shield, plus a Cloak of Protection, a Ring of Protection, and an Ioun Stone of Protection for your three attunement slots, your AC reaches 30. If you attune a Staff of Power instead, you reach AC 31, the highest permanent level you can achieve. Plus, the munchkins make you their king or queen. Also your absurdly indulgent dungeon master wants to date you. If you learn the shield spell, then you can vault your AC 36 for a turn.

Someone in half plate with a 16 Dexterity and the Medium Armor Master feat can reach the same ACs.

A barbarian with just a shield can reach a 24 AC without any magic, but that requires a 20 Dexterity and the 24 Constitution attainable by the class at level 20.

Toughest

For the toughest character, start as a hill dwarf for a +1 hp bonus per level. Select the Barbarian class. At 3rd level, pick the Path of the Bear Totem Warrior to gain resistance to all damage but psychic while raging. At fourth level, take the Toughness feat for 2 more hp per level, and then use your ability score increases to maximize Constitution.

Biggest damage nova

When characters unload all their abilities to deal maximum damage in a single turn, they go nova. You could just level a Wizard up to level 17 and cast meteor swarm on a hoard of foes, but true nova builds aim for focused damage more than once a day. Thanks to the Divine Smite ability, paladins bring big nova potential, but the class lacks enough spells slots to fuel maximum damage. For the biggest numbers, combine 2 levels of paladin with either sorcerer or warlock.

For a sorcerer combination, your dream turn starts when you cast a quickened hold monster on your foe, and the hit with green flame blade plus a smite that spends your highest-level spell slot. On a paralyzed enemy, you automatically score a critical hit and double all your damage dice. (If you don’t paralyze your target, booming blade makes a better cantrip combination.)

While sorcerers bring more spell slots, the warlock combination boasts better synergy. Start by creating a paladin with maximum charisma and the 13 strength required for multiclassing. After reaching 2nd level as a paladin, multiclass to a warlock and choose the Hexblade pact. At warlock level 3, choose the Pack of the Blade boon, and then at level 5, choose the Thirsting Blade invocation for multiple attacks. Your dream turn starts when you lay a Hexblade’s Curse on your foe for a damage bonus, and then strike twice, scoring critical hits on a roll of 19 or 20. Back each hit with a smite. After a short rest, you can reload slots to repeat the combination.

An all-in nova build adds 2 levels of fighter for an Action Surge, another swing or two, and as many smites as you have spell slots to fuel.

See D&D’s Best Multiclass Combinations With Paladin.

Most healing

Update: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything enables a new build to take the best healer crown.

The older best-healer build combined of life domain cleric with enough bard levels to gain the paladin spell aura of vitality via the bard’s Magical Secrets feature. Tasha’s Cauldron paves a short cut by simply adding aura of vitality to the cleric’s spell list. Forget multiclassing; just play a life cleric. For each of the 10 rounds of aura of vitality’s 1 minute duration, you can use a bonus action to heal 2d6 hit points. The cleric’s Disciple of Life feature boosts that to 2d6+5 hp.

Now, to claim the crown as best healer in D&D, take the Metamagic Adept feat, also in Tasha’s Cauldron. “You learn two Metamagic options of your choice from the sorcerer class.” Select the Extended Spell option. “When you cast a spell that has a duration of 1 minute or longer, you can spend 1 sorcery point to double its duration, to a maximum duration of 24 hours.” When you cast aura of vitality, spend 1 of your 2 sorcery points to double the duration and the healing. One third-level spell heals an average of 240 hp. At just level 5, you can perform the trick twice. Remember when folks fretted about pairing the life domain with goodberry for 40 points of healing?

For the easy path to a character who vies for the best healing, play a cleric and choose the Life domain. Done. By the time you reach 17th level, nothing else comes close. But hardly anyone plays at tier 4. In tiers 2 and 3, you can become the best healer as a bard with just a one level dip into cleric.

Start 1st level as a human Life domain cleric. Choose the Healer feat, which lets you spend one use of a healer’s kit to restore 1d6 + 4 hit points, plus additional hit points equal to the creature’s maximum number of hit dice. A creature can only regain hit points this way once between each rest, but this still counts as the cheapest healing in the game. See The Two D&D Feats Everyone Loves (For Someone Else’s Character).

After level 1, switch to only taking bard levels. At bard level 3, choose the College of Lore, and then at level 6 choose the paladin spell aura of vitality for your Magical Secrets feature. For each of the 10 rounds of aura of vitality’s 1 minute duration, you can use a bonus action to heal 2d6 hit points. The cleric’s Disciple of Life feature boosts that to 2d6+5 hp. One third-level spell heals an average of 120 hp. You will have 3 third-level spell slots.

Plus, the bard spell list includes most of the cleric’s best remedies, including the restoration and resurrection spells. You can raise dead through song!

Related:
You Can Play These Supreme D&D Characters, But Should You?
7 Dungeons & Dragons character builds absurdly good at one thing

D&D’s Designers Can’t Decide Whether Characters Must Rest for Hit Points and Healing, but You Can Choose

In the original Dungeons & Dragons game, ordinary monster attacks inflicted just 1d6 damage. Yet characters still died, frequently. Clerics gained far fewer spells and much less healing than today, so most damage took a trip out of the dungeon to heal. Heroes mounted dungeon expeditions, fought as many battles as they dared, and then hoped their mapper could lead them to safety and healing.

To threaten full-strength characters in a climactic fight, monsters needed unique attacks that did massive damage, like a dragon’s breath weapon, or save-or-die effects like a beholder’s eye rays.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons granted clerics more healing spells, so characters entered more fights at full hit points, but damage still taxed resources that only a rest could regain. If the cleric squandered spells on something other than cures, the party hollered.

Third edition changed that equation. Without anyone ever needing to rest for spells or healing, characters could regain all their hit points after every fight.

A 2nd-level character who had gained the 900gp of treasure recommended in the Dungeon Master’s Guide could buy a 50-charge Wand of Cure Light Wounds for 750gp. At 2nd level, the party might share the cost. In just a few levels, characters gained enough gold to make buying in bulk a minor expense. Of course, dungeon masters could limit the purchase, but by 5th level, PCs stopped needing a magic shop. A cleric could take the Craft Wands feat and make wands at half price.

Third edition’s Living Greyhawk organized-play campaign enabled PCs to craft and purchase healing wands. Most characters bought Wands of Cure Light Wounds and loaned them to the party cleric for healing between battles.

In a standard third-edition campaign, savvy characters stopped needing rest to recover hit points.

Third edition’s designers probably overlooked how the low cost of healing wands would erase D&D’s 25-year-old limits on hit points and healing. The fourth-edition designers noticed. Their edition kept magic healing available for purchase, but also limited healing between rests. Rested characters gained a limited number of healing surges, and then healing magic let characters trade surges for healing. For example, healing potions just let characters spend a surge in the heat of battle. Fourth edition’s treatment of hit points and healing ranks as one of the edition’s best innovations.

At a glance, fifth edition seemed to keep D&D’s tradition of limiting hit points and healing between rests. This presumed limit made the introduction of the spell Healing Spirit seem like a game breaker. With a mere 2nd-level spell, everyone in the party could regain 10d6 hit points in just 1 minute. Casting at higher levels increases the healing, so a 3rd-level spirit could restore 20d6 to every PC in the party.

Blogger Merric Blackman summarized the concerns, “One of the major objections to the healing spirit spell is that it turns all the assumptions of hit point recovery in 5E on their head; suddenly we’re in a 3E-style game of ‘hit point loss isn’t important’ rather than the 5E-style of ‘hit point lost drains resources.’”

While Healing Spirit outshines other out-of-combat healing spells so much that druids need sunscreen, the spell doesn’t shatter any standing limits on healing. When the Player’s Handbook offered healing potions for sale for 50gp, the fifth-edition rules freed characters of any need to rest for healing or hit points. Unlike in early D&D, characters can buy potions. Unlike in fourth edition, potions work without a limit imposed by healing surges. Characters who gain a typical amount of treasure can easily afford all the potions they need. Most PCs gain tons of gold and have nowhere else to spend it.

Savvy characters can recover hit points without ever resting.

Dungeon masters who want to capture D&D’s original limits on hit points and healing between rests need to limit both healing potions and Healing Spirit. Such limits restore hit points and healing as a resource to manage through an adventuring day.

If you want to keep healing potions readily available for 50gp each, I suggest adopting a version of the fourth-edition limit: Drinking a potion lets characters spend a Hit Die for healing as if they had rested. To avoid doses that just heal a point or two, make potions heal an extra 1d4 hit points per Hit Die spent. Stronger potions spend more Hit Dice. With this house rule, make stronger healing potions for sale at higher prices. Although these potions spend hit dice, they still bring the advantage of granting healing in the heat of battle.

Potion of Healing
Potion, rarity varies

When you drink this potion, you spend hit dice up to the maximum listed on the Potions of Healing table. For each Hit Die spent in this way, the player rolls the die plus an extra 1d4, and then adds the character’s Constitution modifier to the rolls. The character regains hit points equal to the total.

Whatever its potency, the potion’s red liquid glimmers when agitated.

Potions of Healing

Potion of … Cost Spend up to …
Healing 50gp 1 Hit Die
Healing Moderate Wounds 300gp 2 Hit Dice
Healing Serious Wounds  750gp 3 Hit Dice
Healing Critical Wounds  1400gp 4 Hit Dice

Potions of Greater Healing, Superior Healing, and Supreme Healing can remain unchanged as long as they keep their rarity and only appear in treasure. These potions bring the precious advantage of healing without costing Hit Dice.

James Haeck listed a couple of house rules for limited Healing Spirit. For instance, designer Jeremy Crawford suggests having the spell end once it restores hit points a number of times equal to twice the caster’s spellcasting ability modifier.

Of course, none of these house rules apply to organized play. Authors who write adventures for the Adventurers League should expect characters to enter every fight at full health and to never run short of healing between battles.