Death Knight (5e Optimized Character Build)

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Description[edit]

"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."
- commonly misquoted saying.

The Death Knight is a D&D 5th edition build that uses only official source material, namely the Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide and Xanathar's Guide to Everything.

The Death Knight is an attempt to combine the survivability of a martial class with the versatility of a spell caster. It is hard to hit (though if it does get hit it won't last all that long) and even harder to push into a situation where the build doesn't offer multiple options for surviving or even overcoming the odds entirely. It can hold the line during the early levels just like any other martial build, but also cast rituals and utility spells once it hits Tier 2, before progressing to nearly full spellcaster in Tier 3 & 4. In addition, once it hits level 9-11, it brings its own troops to battle, thus adding more meatshield or damage to the party as needed.

Overall the Death Knight is a build for those that value versatility and being reasonably good in multiple things over being excellent in very few things. However, anyone taking up the mantle of a Death Knight should better be able to think ahead, prepare well in advance while also being able to quickly adapt to quickly changing circumstances. It is not a "Hulk smash!" kind of build in any way, shape or form!

In essence, you are the parties backup in almost everything but leave the first try at things to them while focusing on helping them out, rather than doing stuff yourself. This, by its very nature, makes you the perfect character to become the party leader ...

Overview[edit]

Progression[edit]

During the first tier (level 1-4) the Death Knight plays pretty much like a standard Fighter.

During the second tier (level 5-10) the build gradually swaps from a tank that focuses on weapons to a tough cantrip-focused caster and versatile party support with loads of survivability.

Finally during the third tier (level 11-16) the build truly comes into its own, getting the ability to raise a squad of tough zombies or hard-hitting skeletons by level 12 at the latest, and finally truly deserving the name of Death Knight.

Should your campaign last long enough for you to reach the fourth tier (level 17-20) then you'll have become the equal to most casters while still being tougher than them and having more options for surviving battles - in addition to having a small army of minions at your beck and call that you can send out to do your bidding or support the party in battle ...

Strengths[edit]

You will be very hard to hit (high AC) and have multiple ways of reducing the harm when you actually are hit (Heavy Armor Mastery, Absorb Elements, temporary HP) as well as having several options for recovering from whatever gets through (necromancer archetype feature, healing word, vampiric touch, and many more).

In addition, you are very versatile and have more sustainability in your base abilities than many other characters will bring to the table. Many of your class features recover on a Short Rest - including a 1st level spell slot thanks to the Warlock level - while the primary tool in your kit, cantrips, are infinite anyways.

Overall you are highly versatile and very flexible. Your broad selection of abilities provides you ample means to adapt to just about any situation, and with some preparation, you can really shine.

That flexibility allows you to function very well as the leader of the party, letting others take point while supporting them from the back or stepping in if they fall short and giving the party a second shot at making it.

Weaknesses[edit]

While you are hard to harm in the first place and can recover reasonably well, your actual HP are at most average. That easily suffices on the first tier (level 1-4), but on the higher tiers, you'll find them somewhat lacking, even with all the options you have to make them last longer. In addition, the majority of your defense is based on your high AC. Together that means that you'll want to avoid AoE abilities as well as hostile spell casters since your saves are somewhat lacking and a single big hit can ruin your day significantly more than a ton of small hits ever will.

Your attributes are also all over the place, thus making you lag behind more specialized characters when it comes to attribute modifiers. Getting an item like the Headband of Intellect to compensate for that is almost vital.

The wide spread of classes also reduces the number of spell slots and their level, which in turn makes it very important that you spend them carefully and only when truly needed. Even though you'll eventually be able to cast Fireball, Action Surge, cast a second Fireball in a single turn you'll probably just about never actually want to do that. I suggest you consider your spell slots emergency options and 'get out of jail free' cards and leave the regular spell spamming to characters more focused on spell casting than you are.

Lastly, this character build will lack in raw numbers and thus will have to compensate with good planning, ample preparations, good tactics, and quick thinking during actual encounters. It is certainly not something that a (mentally) lazy person would enjoy playing.

As a result of all the above you will spend most of your turns standing still, only occasionally moving to a new position, and casting Toll the Dead over and over with the intent of finishing of whichever enemies are most injured. Though you could do significantly more by spending some of your very limited spell slots, you are almost always waiting for an emergency before actually doing so, and thus, while things go well, don't actually spend any. This becomes even more so if you decide to go for an undead army as they lock out most of your higher spell slots in the process. That kind of playstyle can feel fairly boring.

Short Version[edit]

Fighter 4 / Eldritch Knight (Chill Touch, Toll the Dead or Mold Earth, Absorb Elements, Shield)

Cleric 1 / Death Domain (Mending, Healing Word, do not pick Toll the Dead)

Warlock 1 / Fiend Patron (Blade Ward, Prestidigitation, Armor of Agathys, Hex)

Wizard 14 / Necromancer (Toll the Dead or Mold Earth, Haste, Vampiric Touch, Counterspell)


For attributes: 14/10/12/14/13/14 with intelligence being the most important.

For feats: get the Heavy Armor Mastery feat ASAP, at level 1 if possible, then the War Caster feat with the first ability score increase afterward.


Combat will primarily consist of casting Toll the Dead while being in a position where you can provide flanking to allies or pin down enemies through the threat of hitting them with opportunity attacks. The Cleric domain feature allows you to hit two adjacent targets with any necromancy cantrip you cast that targets one creature.

You keep a Healing Word handy for when an ally goes down and otherwise simply take your time to slowly grind the enemies down, leaving it to the rest of the party to waste their resources while you make sure you got enough to save the day if things go south.

Race[edit]

Any.

The race you choose does not really matter, though if your campaign is going to be a short one then picking the Human (Variant) for that 1st level feat might be worth it. Otherwise, you can easily pick up a feat later on and take whatever race you fancy at first level.

Of cause if you really do want to min-max this build then races that increase your HP or toughness even further are a good choice:

  • Half Orc (immunity to instagibs)
  • Hill Dwarf (more HP)
  • Warforged (several immunities and even more AC - start at 20 AC)

Though for tiers two and three (levels 5-15) you might be better served with races that allow you to achieve a higher intelligence instead ...

My personal favorite race is the Kalashtar race from Eberron.

Background[edit]

Any.

It really does not matter which one you take.

However for RP reasons I tend to pick one that gives me the Arcana proficiency as being an almost pure caster without having that one feels weird to me.

Attributes[edit]

Your main attribute is intelligence, followed by constitution.

However, you will need to meet certain thresholds for the multiple classes:

  • Wizard: 13 INT
  • Warlock: 13 CHA
  • Cleric: 13 WIS

In addition, your equipment also has certain thresholds:

  • Chainmail: 13 STR
  • Plate Mail: 15 STR (optional)

Anything beyond that is optional.

I suggest you get at least 14 Strength so that, with the +1 from the Heavy Armor Mastery Feat, you'll meet the 15 Strength required to wear plate mail without penalties. In addition, I suggest getting 14 Charisma so you get +3 temp HP per knockout from the Warlock class feature instead of +2 (it gives warlock level + charisma modifier temp HP).


Usually, that will leave you with something along the lines of 14/10/12/14/13/14 after racial bonuses.


It is worth reiterating that Intelligence is really the key attribute here as you will stop using a weapon at level 3 - at level 6 at the latest - and completely rely on your Eldritch Knight and Wizard cantrips - and later also spells - from there onward.

Items[edit]

Start Equipment[edit]

For your equipment you'll want to pick the Chainmail and Shield, which, together with your fighting style, will give you an AC of 19 at first level.

The rest of the gear doesn't really matter for the purpose of this build though I suggest you take a main weapon, a side arm and at least one ranged weapon in addition to the usual adventuring, dungeoneering and survival gear.

For the main weapon I recommend a Warhammer. Its versatile property allows you two switch from one-handed + shield to two-handed fighting, thus increasing your damage output at the cost of some AC if so desired. In addition a warhammer grants you bludgeoning damage, which is the weapon based damage type that is least often resisted.

For the sidearm I recommend either a dagger or handaxe. For this one I consider two aspects: on one hand damage type versatility, aka having the option to switch to another damage type if needed, and on the other hand general utility, especially outside of battle. I personally tend to take the handaxe as it helps with making camp and is a good and versatile tool that can be used for a lot of things outside of combat and most backgrounds already bring a small knife with them anyways, thus making a dagger somewhat redundant.

Finally for the ranged weapon you are free to pick whatever you like, though should you be short on cash then a sling is always a good option to the point where I take one to three slings on just about all my characters even if I got cantrips or a better ranged weapon already - after all having a backup never hurts.

Of cause later on you'll want to swap to the best armor and weapons you can get your hands on and with a full plate, even without any magical items, you'll already reach an astonishing AC of 21.

Magic Items[edit]

Headband of Intellect

You'll really want to get a Headband of Intellect as soon as you can. Due to the number of classes and feats you'll be behind in stat progression basically from the moment the game starts at level 1. The Headband can really help you out with its fixed 19 intelligence - and, as an uncommon item, it should not be too hard to get a hold of either.

Classes[edit]

Level 1-3: Fighter[edit]

You start with three levels of fighter, picking the Defensive Fighting Style (+1 AC) at first level and the Eldritch Knight at third level.

As cantrips you'll want to take Mold Earth and either Chill Touch or Toll the Dead.

Mold Earth will allow you to create cover on the battlefield for your team members, including total cover if need be (make a 5ft cube hole underneath your party member and put the excavated 5ft cube directly adjacent and in the direction of the enemy - voila, you got a 10ft high wall covering your ally). It is also a neat option for creating a base or bypassing enemy guards and patrols in many caves. Its full usefulness largely depends on how creative you can get and on how much the GM lets you get away with.

Chill Touch would give you a ranged option with unlimited ammunition though the key portion of that spell is not so much the damage but the fact that it prevents the target from regaining HP. This locks down any form of regeneration, healing, health potions, etc on the target and should make a couple otherwise very tough fights quite manageable.

Toll the Dead is the primary damage option for this build but it does not really matter when you pick it up. You can either pick it up at 3rd level as Eldritch Knight or at 7th level as Wizard. I recommend choosing to pick it up later unless your party is severely lacking in damage output or you know that you'll have to fight from melee for the first 7 levels. (Using ranged attacks - e.g. a ranged spell attack for casting Chill Touch - while in melee gives you disadvantage on that ranged attack. Toll the Dead does not involve an attack and can thus be used while in melee with no issues.)


For the Eldritch Knight spells you'll want to pick the Absorb Elements and Shield spells for your restricted spells and either Sleep, maybe Feather Fall or possibly Tasha's Hideous Laughter for your unrestricted spell.
Keep in mind that any spell you learn as an Eldritch Knight is a spell you do not need to prepare and can always cast (if you got a slot for it). Thus putting spells that you always want prepared into those slots - or one that may cause you to die if you do not have it prepared - is always a good idea. Additionally you'll want to pick spells that still work well even at higher levels since you'll never be able to change them but will have them available even at level 20...

Level 4-6: Fighter, Cleric, Warlock[edit]

For the next three levels you will have to pick up the 4th level in Fighter and pick a Feat for the ability score increase as well as picking up a level of Cleric with the Death domain and a level of Warlock with the Fiend patron.

The order you pick these in does not matter for the build and should be based on the requirements of your campaign.

Fighter 4[edit]

The Feat you pick for the ability score increase on fighter level 4 will be either Heavy Armor Mastery or if you already have that one, War Caster.

Picking the Heavy Armor Mastery Feat will also increase your Strength by 1 and thus most likely bring you to the 15 strength required for plate armor.

Cleric 1 / Death Domain[edit]

The Death domain from the Cleric gives you access to the Reaper class feature. That one allows you to get a free necromancy cantrip and, more importantly, allows you to target two adjacent targets with any cast of a single target necromancy cantrip. From here on forward hordes of enemies will be your preferred encounter...

Note: Do NOT pick any damage dealing cantrip for that free cantrip. The cantrip you pick here counts as cleric cantrip and you'll want all your combat cantrips to use intelligence as their casting attribute, not the cleric's wisdom. I suggest taking Spare the Dying so you can stabilize your allies if you need to without having to make a roll for it.


As for the cantrips and spells that you can learn and ready, for the most part they do not really matter.

I suggest that you get the Mending cantrip so you can repair your clothes, armor and weapons after each battle and don't have to walk around looking like a murder hobo all the time and maybe the Light cantrip if you are lacking Darkvision from your race. A stone with light can easily be sling-shot forward quite some distance and give you that vision at range that might otherwise be lacking - even with darkvision (which is limited to 60ft and thus not really useful for ranged combat).


For the spells only Healing Word is a key component of this build, the rest does not really matter all that much, though you might want to prepare Shield of Faith just in case, especially if you already have War Caster for that advantage on Concentration saving throws.

Warlock 1 / Fiend Patron[edit]

And finally, the Warlock will, aside from some spells and cantrips, gives you the Dark One's Blessing feature. With this feature, you'll get temporary HP whenever you knock someone down to 0 HP. The amount you get is equal to your charisma modifier plus your warlock class level which means you will usually get +3 temporary HP for each knockout.

Please keep in mind that while a creature (including NPCs) dies at 0 HP an NPC might not, depending on how your GM handles Death Saves. They might be merely unconscious and need to make death saves until they die or stabilize.


For cantrips I suggest Prestidigitation.

Prestidigitation allows you to not only clean up after battle, thus once again reducing your murder hobo appearance level to 'civilized', but also allows you to color your gear, thus giving you the option of using (mono color) camouflage by painting up to three items (armor, shield, weapon) in a color of your choice ...

Although those two uses of Prestidigitation are the ones I use the most often they are by no means the only ones and I strongly recommend that you spend a few minutes to google for one of the dozens of '100 hundred uses of prestidigitation' lists that are out there on various boards and wikis.


As for spells Armor of Agathys and Hex are most likely your best choices, but neither is a required component of this build. I do suggest that you take spells that are not on the Wizard list though since you can always copy any wizard spell to your spellbook for a fee at the local library or mage college.

Level 7-11: Wizard[edit]

Finally, once you reach level 7, you pick the last class of this build - the Wizard.

With the wizard you will pick either Chill Touch or Toll the Dead as on of the cantrips you get - whichever one you did not pick as an Eldritch Knight. The rest of the cantrips and spells are entirely up to you.

I strongly recommend that you focus on getting as many ritual spells as possible since you are lagging behind in terms of spell levels and spell slots by roughly 4 character levels compared to pure full caster builds. Focusing on ritual spells alleviates your reliance on spell slots while offering a lot of utility potential for your party outside of combat. In combat you'll be using your spell slots for Shield, Absorb Elements and Healing Word almost exclusively anyways so having a lot of combat spells to choose from doesn't really matter for this build.

The spells that this build needs that you do not have by this time are Counterspell, Haste and Vampiric Touch, though Counterspell has the lowest priority among these for most campaigns - usually one simply does not encounter magic users often enough to make it more worthwhile then the other two options.

Wizard Archetype[edit]

Once you reach character level 8 - and wizard level 2 - and can pick your wizard archetype you'll have two choices. For this build you can either pick the Abjuration Wizard and become even tougher while also becoming able to use your ward to tank for the party, or you can choose the Necromancer Wizard, which is what this build is named for. [READER EDIT: War magic is also an option, as arcane deflection complements the martial half of this build.]

Abjuration Wizard[edit]

I will ignore the Abjuration Wizard option as that is not the one I named this build after, nor the one I personally consider the better one. However, there is one thing I'd like to point out: casting abjuration spells as ritual counts for the purpose of activating or recharging the ward. Alarm is an abjuration ritual spell.

It is, however, a valid alternative if you don't want to play something quite so dark.

Necromancer Wizard[edit]

That being done with, let us focus on the Necromancer.

As a necromancer you'll immediately get the benefit of being able to heal yourself when you kill enemies with your non-cantrip spells. Keep in mind that his specifically states killing, thus knocking someone to 0 HP is not enough here.

In addition you'll later on get free access to the Raise Dead spell and even improved undead minions.

Together this not only increases your survivability but also gives you cannon fodder and cheap labor to use as you desire.


At level 11 you'll get the next ability score increase. If you have not already picked up the War Caster feat then now is the time to get it.

Level 12+[edit]

A few levels later you also get access to Raise Dead via the wizard level 6 class feature (I advice against picking that spell as a wizard 5 level up spell - Haste, Vampiric Touch and Counterspell have priority here if you haven't gotten them already by copying them from scrolls or other sources). In addition, any undead you do raise will get increased HP and damage, thus allowing you to easily have a meat-shield that hurts or an archery squad of doom, depending on your preferences.


From this point forward you are a true Death Knight.

Anything you kill or knock out will heal you and you can bring your enemies back as undead to fight for you. Death is something you control, not fear.

Tactics[edit]

Your normal turns will consist of you moving to a good position and then either casting Chill Touch or Toll the Dead, based on the circumstances. You will use your Bonus Action primarily to cast Healing Word and rarely use your Reaction for anything other than opportunity attacks with Toll the Dead.

If the enemy regenerates, heals a lot, has plenty of healing potions or otherwise keeps recovering their HP then you will need to use Chill Touch to prevent them from doing so for a turn.
However, if you are in melee then you'll have disadvantage on your ranged attacks, which includes the ranged spell attack chill touch requires. Hence you might want to get out of melee and even accept one or more enemy opportunity attacks in order to give your party the opportunity to focus on and burst down that HP recovering enemy quickly.

In all other situations, and especially if you are in melee, you'll want to use Toll the Dead though. Not only does it d12s instead of d8s when the target is missing at least 1 HP, but it is also not an attack and does thus not suffer from the disadvantage one gets on ranged attacks while in melee.

Thanks to the Reaper class feature from your Cleric's Death Domain any cast of a necromantic cantrip that targets one creature can instead target two creatures within 5 feet of each other. This means you'll be focusing your Chill Touch and Toll the Dead spells on any situation where the enemy clusters up. In those situations you might even outperform the rest of the party in terms of damage per round, especially when the enemies are already wounded and you are in range to use Toll the Dead.

Spells[edit]

You are short on spell slots. That is a direct consequence of multi-classing into so many different classes and can't be helped.

Hence you will have to think carefully about when to use your limited spell slots and what to use them for.

1st Level Spells[edit]

From the very beginning, your 1st level spell slots are your most sparse resource. Hence they are reserved for true emergencies and not to be wasted on trifles.

Healing Word

Healing Word uses a Bonus Action to heal a creature within 60 ft for 1d4+WIS HP.

As a means for recovering HP it is awful and you should never use it for that.

Regaining even just a single HP when one is at 0 HP and unconscious, however, is enough to wake one up again and put one back into the fight. Hence your primary use for your first level spell slots is to cast a Healing Word on any ally that got knocked out, ideally before they even have to make their first death saving throw.

That ally then uses half their movement to get back on their feet and is right back in the battle as if nothing had happened, potentially not even losing a single action.

Any other use of your 1st level slots has to be at least as effective - otherwise, it is a wasted spell slot.

Shield and Absorb Elements

Your two main damage negation spells are Shield and Absorb Elements.

However, unless you can convince your GM to play with the Spell Points optional/variant rule from the DMG, you will be lacking the sheer number of 1st level spell slots to truly make use of these two spells in anything other than an emergency.

Basically you will only cast either spell when doing so will do one of two things

  • keep you alive/conscious when not casting the spell wouldn't or
  • reduce the incoming damage by an amount equal to at least a third of your total HP

In just about every other situation you will want to hang on to those 1st level spell slots for Healing Words.

Life Steal / Burst Healing[edit]

Usually, with this build you'll fight fairly stationary, throwing around your cantrips and piling up a bunch of KOed or killed enemies around you. Once you have hit half HP it becomes time to capitalize on the KOed ones though.

At that point, you'll cast Vampiric Touch - or simply use a melee attack - and start touching/hitting those KO-but-not-dead enemies all around you.

Any attack on an unconscious target has Advantage. Any attack on an unconscious target from 5ft or less range that hits is an automatic critical hit.

This not only doubles the damage you do with Vampiric Touch (and thus the amount you get healed by) but also causes the target to fail two death saves, thus probably killing them either from the damage or the failed death saves, hence triggering your necromancer archetype feature for 9 HP regained (2x spell level HP, 3x if using a necromancy spell. Vampiric Touch is a 3rd level necromancy spell).

Note: According to the MM, p7 Monsters usually die or are destroyed when reaching 0 HP. Make sure you ask your DM how they handle 0 HP on NPCs (both monsters and humanoids) so you know whether or not you can 'finish off' KOed enemies for bonus HP recovery both with the Wizard (Necromancer) class feature and with Vampiric Touch.

Undead Horde[edit]

You will gain a total of 3 spells that can give you permanent undead minions.

  • Animate Dead
  • Create Undead
  • Finger of Death

Animate Dead[edit]

This 3rd level spell will become available at character level 9, if you find a way to copy it into your spellbook from somewhere. Otherwise, you could pick it as a free 'on-level-up' choice on character level 11/wizard level 5 or get it for free from the wizard/necromancer level 6 class feature one level later.

In any case, each casting of the spell raises 1 (or 2 with the necromancer class feature) undead, either zombies or skeletons, which you then control for 24 hours. Once this time has passed you no longer control the undead created this way but they still remain - though they are now hostile to all living things (including you) and no longer bound by your orders...

Casting the spell on an existing group of undead allows you to control up to 4 undead (zombies or skeletons only) for the next 24 hours.

It is thus a good idea to raise the undead you want to control, restrain them until you have the desired number raised, and henceforth maintain your control of them by re-casting Animate Dead every 24 hours.

Casting Animate Dead using a higher level spell slot increases the number of undead you can raise/control per cast of the spell.

Create Undead[edit]

This 6th level spell works along the same basic principles as Animate Dead and becomes available 6 character levels later. The only difference is the type of undead you can create with it. Unlike Animate Dead, Create Undead allows you to create Ghouls - and when using higher spell slots, more of them or alternatively even more powerful undead like Ghasts, Mummies and Wights.

Wights (requiring an 8th level slot) are one of the best options here if you want numbers since each of them can, under the right conditions, create up to a dozen (permanent) zombies under their own (permanent) control.

Finger Of Death[edit]

This 7th level spell becomes available 2 character levels after Create Undead and is the key spell to an infinite number of permanently controlled undead.

Each time you kill a humanoid with this spell you raise it as a (permanent) zombie, under your (permanent) control. There is no limit to the number of zombies that you can raise & control this way - which makes this the best use of all your 7th level spell slots if you want to raise an undead army.

Optimizations[edit]

Each casting of Animate Dead or Create Undead maintains control over the targeted undead for 24 hours. A long rest takes 8 hours. Hence you could prepare a large number of raised (but uncontrolled) undead, then take control over half of them before taking a long rest, then rest and afterward take control of the other half.

This potentially doubles the number of minions you can control.

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be sustainable in the long run and may not be possible at all for the more intelligent undead. Wights and Mummies may rather violently object whenever they are given the chance (aka are not controlled). Thus, while this is a good way to go in order to raise a large army of cannon-fodder to throw at the enemy, it is fairly risky to extend that to the intelligent undead. Still, having twice the cannon-fodder from those two spells is quite the boon in any case.

Tips & Tricks[edit]

How to avoid getting hit.[edit]

You start with Chainmail (16 AC), a Shield (+2 AC) and the Defensive Fighting Style (+1 AC) for a base AC of 19 at first level. At third level, you get the Shield Spell (Reaction: +5 AC for 1 round) and once you got the Cleric you also have Shield of Faith (Concentration: +2 AC basically for a fight).

That gives you 19 AC baseline, that you can boost to 21 AC baseline for a fight if you need to and a further boost to 26 AC for a single round. There is very little that will be able to hit you with anything other than a crit or something close to one when you don't want it to.

Replace Shield of Faith with Haste once you got access to that via your Wizard levels and add spells like Mirror Image or Blink to make it even harder to hit you. Just keep in mind that spell slots are a valuable resource that can potentially save the lives of your party members. Don't waste them.

Combine that with cover from a Mold Earth or Minor Illusion and very little will be able to threaten you with attacks even if you go easy on the spell slots.

But aside from using magic, one can always use mundane means too. Alchemy, shopping, or simply good RP can easily get you access to things like smoke bombs or flash powder to further obstruct any enemy attempt at striking you or your party members. Maybe the GM even allows you to use your sling to fire such items at your enemy from further away than you could reasonably throw them.

A warning though: while you can fairly easily avoid getting hit by attacks - including spell attacks - due to the high AC that does not make you immune to damage nor able to take damage once it manages to actually affect you. Area of Effect damage, be it from a fireball or a molotov cocktail, doesn't care about most of your defenses and neither do environmental or mental effects like illusions, suggestions or simply a sticky toxic swamp ...

Build Variants[edit]

Skipping Warlock[edit]

One of the interesting variants of this build is to simply skip the single level in Warlock - and thus forgo the continuously recovering temporary HP buffer - in favor of taking one more cleric or better wizard level, so you can reach those 9th level spell slots.

That, depending on how your GM interprets the multi-classing rules when it comes to the wizard spellbook, might be enough to allow you to copy 9th level spells to your spellbook, then cast them even without having learned them 'for free' on a wizard level up - so long as you find a scroll, spellbook or another source to copy those spells from in the first place.

Skipping Cleric[edit]

Skipping the single level of Cleric in this build robs you of what basically amounts to 'double damage vs clustered enemies'. It also removes your healing spells. Hence this choice, on its own, is not something I can recommend.

However, if you pair it with swapping the Fiend Warlock to a Celestial Warlock (e.g. of an evil/death god) then suddenly you gain your healing options back and no longer even need to spend spell slots on them, though in turn, you have less total healing to offer ...

Abjuration Wizard[edit]

Another potential variant and one more appropriate for 'heroic good' parties are to take levels as Abjuration Wizard rather then Necromancer Wizard, and take the Celestial Warlock instead of the Fiend Warlock which in turn potentially allows you to skip the level of cleric all together depending on what exactly you want in terms of available spells and options.

That will give you the Ward from the Abjuration Wizard. The ward not only improves your own toughness and recharges whenever you cast an abjuration spell, like Shield or Counterspell, but at Wizard level 6 it also allows you to let the ward take damage that would otherwise be dealt to your party members. In addition, the Celestial Warlock gives you 60ft range Bonus Action based healing that does not require a spell slot. Together with the Cleric spells this, in turn, will give you a huge amount of emergency healing all over the battlefield but also allows you to spend more spells on things other than healing. All in all, it turns you into something like a spell rather than martial focused paladin...

Just be aware that any damage resistances and even the damage reduction from the Heavy Armor Mastery feat do NOT apply to any damage the ward takes.

Ask Your DM[edit]

Death Domain[edit]

The Death domain is from the DMG. It is specifically listed as a villainous class option. Make sure you ask your DM whether or not you may use that domain.

NPCs at 0 HP[edit]

According to the MM p7, monsters usually die or are destroyed when they reach 0 HP. The inverse of that that means non-monsters, e.g. humanoids don't automatically die on 0 HP.

Knowing whether you need to knock out (0 HP) or kill (3 failed death saves) enemies for your Wizard (Necromancer) class feature to trigger is fairly important.

In addition, knowing whether or not you can use Vampiric Touch to finish off and regain extra HP (melee spell attack; attacks on incapacitated creatures are at advantage and on a hit from within 5ft are automatically critical hits - hence basically provide twice the HP) is also important to know so you can plan those long battles properly.

Make sure you ask your DM how they handle enemies that hit 0 HP.

Copying Spells[edit]

The multiclassing rules are fairly clear on what spells you can learn 'for free', aka when leveling up. They are however somewhat fuzzy when it comes to knowing which spells you may or may not copy to your spellbook.

My standard assumptions are that a) you can copy any wizard spell you have a spell slot for into your spellbook and that b) you can prepare (and cast) any wizard spell that you both have a spell slot for and know, aka have written into your spellbook. I also assume that c) you get the opportunity to, on average, copy about 1-2 spells per character level - though not necessarily for free or without actively looking for it. This would mean that if you spend enough gold & time and the DM grants you access to spells to copy you can learn spells in advance of your wizard level.

Make sure you ask your DM how they handle multiclassed wizards and their spellbooks as well as how they intend to handle access to spells for the purpose of copying them in the game.


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