Tool Time With Tim The Toolman Taylor (5e Optimized Character Build)
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Well hi-di-ho there, neighbor!
You've seen guides that tell you [how toi get expertise in most skills] or even [how to get almost all languages], but what if you're not interested in skills or languages, but instead want to become a master craftsman? Well, my friend, THIS is the guide for you! You'll be an expert at so many tools it'll make Tim the Toolman Taylor blush.
For clarification: A tool is anything listed on page 154 of the PHB, so this includes gaming sets, musical instruments, and anything that isn't strictly an artisan's tool.
Naturally, you're going to want a race that starts you off with a tool proficiency. Quite possibly THE best race for this is human, but not just any human, and I'm not even talking about the human variant that comes with a free feat. Nope, I'm talking about the Nephalia Human from Plane Shift: Innistrad. The Breadth of Knowledge trait lets you choose 4 (Count 'em, FOUR) of any combination of skills and tools. Choosing this one will let us automatically start with 4 tools, so we're already doing pretty well for ourselves.
However, assuming your DM wants to pull an Al Borland and say, "I don't think so, Tim", don't worry as you have other options. Unfortunately, not a whole lot of other races start with tool proficiencies, but the few that do are:
Changeling: Divergent Persona gives you one tool proficiency and expertise with that tool if you are using it while in your alternate persona.
Dwarf: Dwarves, regardless of subrace, know one of three tools: Brewer's Kit, Mason's Tools, and Smith's Tools.
Gith: The Githyanki subclass's Decadent Mastery grants you one skill or tool proficiency in addition to one language.
Warforged: The Envoy subclass's Specialized Design and Integrated Tool grant you one tool proficiency AND expertise with that tool.
Human: While the previous choices might be good if you're going for a non-human character, this is definitely the one you'll want mostly because of a feat that will help that only humans can get (also, for the purposes of this guide, we'll assume you chose this). However, we'll get into that after we choose our...
Choose any background that grants you proficiency in at least 2 tools. That's all there is to it.
This class lets you start out with 3 tool proficiencies: Tinker's Tools, Thieves' tools and one artisan's tool of your choice. Then, at level 3, when you pick a subclass, you automatically get 2 more tool proficiencies which are the following:
- Alchemist: Alchemist Supplies, Herbalism Kit
- Archivist: Calligrapher's Supplies, Forgery Kit
- Artillerist: Smith's Tools, Woodcarver's Tools
- Battle Smith: Smith's Tools, Leatherworker's Tools
Pretty great, right? But that's not even the best part. you get a little something else at level 3, and that is "Tool Expertise", which stats: "Starting at 3rd level, your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses your proficiency with a tool."
What does this mean? Simply put: All of your tool proficiencies automatically become expertise, regardless of whether or not those proficiencies came from the class or not.
Put 4 levels into this class and take the Way of the Drunken Master subclass at level 3, which gives you proficiency in the Brewer's Kit and an ability score improvement.
Put another 4 levels into this class and take either the Assassin of the Mastermind subclass at level 3. Assassin gives you proficiency in the Disguise Kit and Poisoner's Kit while Mastermind gives you, among other things, the Disguise Kit, Forgery Kit and one gaming set of your choice. Either way you'll have another ability score improvement to play with.
If your DM is ok with using Unearthed Arcana (especially material that, unlike the Artificer, doesn't look like it'll be printed in an official book anytime soon), then take 2 levels in Wizard and take the School of Invention subclass. Among other things, you get two tool proficiencies of your choice.
Once more, if your DM is ok with using UA (and is even allowing prestige classes in 5e in the first place), then put 1 level in this class for 3 free tools: Calligrapher's Tools, Woodcarver's Tools and Mason's Tools.
Just one level in Bard grants you proficiency with one musical instrument for multiclassing into it.
You should be at level 15 by now, so pour your remaining 5 levels into Fighter, choosing Battle Master at level 3 which grants you a tool proficiency. The rest of your levels are here to help boost your HP and to get at least one more ability score improvement, resulting in a total of 3.
If you really want to cut out the middle man and skip all this multiclassing, you could just put 2 right into Cleric right after reaching level 3 in Artificer, choosing the Knowledge Domain. The Channel Divinity you get, Knowledge of the Ages, lets you gain proficiency with a skill or tool for 10 minutes, meaning, combined with the Tool Expertise from Artificer, you technically can have expertise with literally ANY tool for 10 minutes. Or, you could simply put 3 levels into Fighter and put the two levels in Cleric, which would mean having only two ability score improvements, but with a Channel Divinity like that it may very well be worth the loss.
Speaking of ability score improvements, it's time to talk about...
Ability Score Improvements
Assuming your DM is letting you have a starting feat, here are the feats you're going to want (in no particular order):
1. Prodigy (Human, Half-elf, helf-orc exclusive): Among other things, you gain a tool proficiency.
2. Skilled: You gain proficiency with 3 of any combination of skills or tools of your choice.
3. Lucky: It's always good to have a little something just in case of a pesky Nat 1. Even the best slip up sometimes.
4. (Assuming you went 8 levels in Fighter and not 6) This one can be anything, really. Perhaps a feat that gives you proficiency in a tool you don't already have or maybe a stat boost. If you're a human, Human Determination might be a good option.
The End Result
Assuming the most optimal conditions are met (Your DM letting you be a Nephalia Human, being ok with UA, you picked classes/sublcasses that grant the most expertise, etc), then our character should look like this:
Nephalia Human: 4 tools
Background: 2 tools
- Artificer(3 levels): 5 tools
- Monk (4 levels): 1 tool (Brewer's Kit)
- Rogue (4 levels): 3 tools (Disguise Kit, Forgery kit, one gaming set)
- Wizard (2 levels): 2 tools
- Bard (1 level): 1 musical instrument
- Rune Scribe (1 level): 3 tools (Calligrapher's Tools, Woodcarver's Tools and Mason's Tools)
- Fighter (5 levels): 1 tool
- Prodigy: 1 tools
- Skilled: 3 tools
This means our grand total is expertise in 26 total tools. That's 26 out of a grand total of 38 (or 39 if you count both types of vehicles (land and water)), according to the chart on the PHB. Naturally, you can always sack that one ability score improvement for those two levels in Cleric to get that Channel Divinity and technically make it 39.
Either way, congratulations! You are now the handiest handyman in all of the Forgotten Realms... or wherever your adventures take place!