Arcane Tank (4e Optimized Character Build)

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You enjoy magic, but you are dissatisfied with the Wizard’s nasty habit of dying. Swordmages either do not exist in your campaign, or you have an aversion to blades. This build tries to maximize your AC at the expense of attack ability. Hit points are also a priority, followed by your other defenses.


Player's Handbook, Player's Handbook 3 (superior implements, feats), Arcane Power (spells), Adventurer's Vault (equipment)

First Level[edit]

Race: We will choose a human for this build. Humans have good non-AC defenses, a bonus feat, and can choose Intelligence as their bonus ability bonus.

Other possibilities:

  • Eladrin have an Intelligence bonus, and can choose Charisma as their other ability bonus (they won't need Dexterity). This also gives them a Will bonus to stack with their racial Will bonus.
  • If your DM allows them, Githyanki (Monster Manual 1) have a bonus to Constitution (for hit points) and Intelligence (for attack)

Starting Ability Scores: Strength 10, Constitution 16, Dexterity 8, Intelligence 18, Wisdom 13, Charisma 11. This includes the human's ability score bonus to Intelligence. Intelligence is the highest score. This should not be less than 18, since we will be taking a penalty to attack rolls for wearing armor. Constitution is our secondary ability, for hit points, fortitude defense, and Staff of Defense bonus. Finally, we can raise either Wisdom or Charisma for a small Will defense bonus.

Class Options: Your arcane implement mastery must be Staff of Defense. This gives us +1 AC, and our high Constitution gives us a +3 bonus to all defenses once per encounter.


  • Plate armor (50 gp). As you will not be proficient in it, you will suffer a -2 penalty to attack rolls and reflex defense. This is okay. It can be rectified by taking the armor proficiency feats. Make sure your stats are good enough to get the Armor feats you want to take. Your overall beefiness will take a hit, but you don't have to really worry about spells missing.
  • Staff implement (5 gp)

Feats: At 1st level, pick:

  • Hafted Defense
  • Staff Expertise (human bonus feat, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms) mitigates the armor attack penalty and helps us with close-in spells.

Powers: You want to be in a position which capitalizes on your high AC - and most vs. AC attacks are melee attacks, so you'll want to be up close. Staff Expertise allows us to cast ranged and area spells at melee distance. Your attack bonus is also low. Therefore we need spells with 1) Close attacks, 2) an effect without an attack roll, 3) to a lesser extent, large blasts and bursts that hit large numbers of enemies, 4) Constitution as a kicker.

Suggested level 1 at-will spells:

  • Magic Missile - The updated version does not require an attack roll. It just causes force damage. Perfect for you!
  • Thunderwave - The only Close Blast wizard at-will power.
  • Storm Pillar (human bonus) - Again, no attack roll needed, just sweet sweet controllery lightning damage.

Suggested level 1 encounter spells:

  • Astral Wasp - Ranged with an attack roll, but the meat of the spell is in the Effect (which occurs even if you miss) which uses Constitution as its kicker. We have good constitution!
  • Burning Hands - Close blast 5! If your DM let's you use the Essentials version, this also causes half damage on a miss.
  • Grasping Shadows, Icy Terrain and Orbmaster's Incendiary Detonation are all Area bursts with an attack roll, but have terrain effects that occur even if you miss.

Suggested level 1 daily spells:

  • Arcane Whirlwind - Area burst 2, and creates a zone of control that you can sustain.
  • Summon Fire Warrior - Your fire warrior will have AC 22, making it great for getting in the enemies' way even if it's attack bonus is poor.
  • Wizard's Fury (Dragon Magazine 374) - Makes your magic missile more awesome.

Final attributes[edit]

At level 1, you will have:

  • 26 hit points
  • Speed 5
  • Initiative -1
  • AC 20 (+8 armor, +1 staff of defense, +1 feat)
  • Fortitude 14, Reflex 14, Will 14
  • +3 attack bonus with your spells (+4 intelligence, -2 armor, +1 feat)


During Herioc Tier, consider these feats:

  • Toughness - more hit points
  • Durable - more healing surges
  • Superior Fortitude (Essentials) - You qualify for this through high Constitution, and the resistance to ongoing damage will be invaluable.
  • Superior Reflexes (Essentials) - You qualify through high Intelligence. Defense bonus is always good, but the kicker isn't as useful for you as Superior Fortitude
  • Teamwork Defense (PHB3) - Only choose if you have other frontline characters in your party with this feat.
  • Unfailing Vigor (PHB3) - Better chance of getting back up if you are dying.
  • Demanding Talent (PHB3) - If you actually want to Tank take the battlemind multiclass.
  • Wrathful Warrior (MP2) - This fighter multiclass grants you temporary hit points once per encounter when you are hit in melee, and it's based on your Constitution.
  • Initiate of the Faith - Alternately the cleric multiclass will give you healing powers.

Level 2:

  • Suggested utility spells: Shield, obviously. If your DM lets you take powers from Dragon Magazine, there's also Moonstride (DM 382).

Level 4, 8, 14, 18, 24, 28': Increase Intelligence and Constitution for improved attack bonus and hit points.


  • Level 1:
    • Magic Staff +1
    • Magic Armor +1
  • Level 2:
    • Create, find or buy a Defensive Staff +1 as your first magic item. It synergizes with your class feature, providing a bonus to all your attacks and defenses. Your AC is now 22 and attack bonus is +4. Note: Don't be conned by the level 3 Staff of Ultimate Defense. It's inferior to the Defensive Staff in every respect.
    • Armor of Resistance +1, picking a damage type common to your campaign.
  • Level 3:
    • Armor of Cleansing +1: You can't afford to be taking ongoing damage - this will help you shake it off.
    • Meliorating Armor +1: Your AC increases over time? Yes please!
  • Level 4:
    • Black Iron Armor +1: Good resistances against two of the most common damage types.
    • Reinforcing Armor +1: Maybe it's tempting fate to have a property that requires you to get hit first, but a bonus to all your defenses shouldn't be sniffed at.
  • Level 6: Rimfire Plate and Layered Plate become available at about this level. Rimfire provides damage resistance, whilst Layered has an AC bonus.
  • Level 7: Defensive Staff +2. Again, ignore the Staff of Ultimate Defense at this stage.
  • Level 8: Armor of Cleansing +2, Meliorating Armor +2
  • Level 9: Black Iron Armor +2, Reinforcing Armor +2
  • Level 11: Gith Plate armor becomes available , which provides an additional AC bonus.
  • Level 12: Defensive Staff +3.
  • Level 13:
    • Staff of Ultimate Defense +3 is now a contender. You get a +3 (plus your Constitution modifier) bonus to defenses against one attack per encounter, in contrast to the Defensive Staff's permanent +1 bonus.
    • Armor of Cleansing +3, Meliorating Armor +3
  • Level 14: Black Iron Armor +3, Reinforcing Armor +3
  • Level 16: Spectre Plate and Warplate become available. Spectre provides damage resistance, whilst Warplate provides an AC bonus.
  • Level 17: Defensive Staff +4
  • Level 18:
    • Staff of Ultimate Defense +4
    • Armor of Cleansing +4, Meliorating Armor +4
  • Level 19: Black Iron Armor +4, Reinforcing Armor +4
  • Level 21: Legion Plate becomes available, providing an additional AC bonus.
  • Level 22: Defensive Staff +5
  • Level 23:
    • Staff of Ultimate Defense +5
    • Armor of Cleansing +5, Meliorating Armor +5
  • Level 24: Black Iron Armor +5, Reinforcing Armor +5
  • Level 26: Tarrasque Plate and Godplate become available. Tarrasque provides damage resistance, whilst Godplate provides an AC bonus.
  • Level 27: Defensive Staff +6
  • Level 28:
    • Staff of Ultimate Defense +6
    • Armor of Cleansing +6, Meliorating Armor +6
  • Level 29: Black Iron Armor +6, Reinforcing Armor +6

I'm not a fan of daily magic item powers. Here are some good items that I considered but left out:

  • Stoneborn Armor: Daily power that grants lots of temporary hit points (with your Constitution as a kicker) which carry over to subsequent encounters.
  • Defensive Armor: This is only a daily power, but anything that helps you avoid being hit is worth considering.
  • Mithral Armor: Once per day ability to shrug off that big monster's big attack.
  • Reflexive Armor: Lets you use your AC instead of Reflex for a turn. Shame it's daily.
  • Crystal Armor or Dazzling Plate can be considered if you wish to focus on protecting your mental faculties.

Alternate builds[edit]

You might consider a Guardian Staff (PH3) as a superior implement instead of taking Hafted Defense (the shield bonuses do not stack).

The 1st level spell Cloud of Daggers might be picked as an alternative to Storm Pillar. It does have an attack roll, but leaves an auto-hit square.


  • In a party with a defender who is doing their job, having a high AC can be redundant - you will not be the target of most attacks.
  • You will be going last in the initiative order.
  • A swordmage with Intelligence 20, leather armor and a blade starts with an AC of 20 - although the role is a defender rather than controller, and might be limited to Forgotten Realms campaigns.
  • A wizard with Intelligence 20, cloth armor, Staff of Defense, and Unarmored Agility feat (or leather armor with the feat Armor Proficiency; Leather) has an AC of 18, AND no penalty to attack or Reflex.
  • The above AC is increased further by taking your human feat as Hefted Defense for another +1 to AC while wielding a staff with two hands.
  • An armored Wizard will never be as good a defender as a defender class, and trying to be will necessarily degrade it's abilities as a Wizard because you're placing resources in his weaknesses instead of his strengths.

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