The Wiztank (5e Optimized Character Build)
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"The best Offense is a good Defense" - in that case, a "good defense" would probably include some form or other of offense that causes the attacker to die first, be it through attrition, counterattacks, allies or whatever other means.
Once upon a time, i was bored, so i decided to make a certain thought experiment: i challenged myself to take the most fragile class in the game, and make a build that turns it into the biggest, beefiest tank possible. And, after several iterations, i ended up creating one of my favorite character builds in 5e: Ladies and Gentlemen, i present to you: The Wiztank! (a.k.a. the Wizard Tank, the Avatar of Agathys, or the Warrior Slayer)
This Build takes the most fragile class in the game, and turns it into a monstrous tank that:
- has Three Health Bars, all of them refillable for as long as you have spell slots. And as a wizard, you have lot's of em'.
- is an absolute nightmare for anything that fights in melee range - especially against those who do many low-damage attacks (unless they're immune to cold damage)
- boasts a Fighter's AC
- can compete with traditional tank builds, if not outright out-tank them.
- Provokes enemies into attacking it by the the virtue of still being a lv 18 wizard with nasty support and crowd-control spells.
- Has an actual valid reason to use the Blade Ward cantrip, on a regular basis no less!
For this build, we're picking the Goliath race, giving us:
- +2 STR - Actually useful, as it helps us with wearing heavy armor, qualifying for multiclassing, and making it through level 1.
- +1 CON - we are a tank, so more HP is always welcome.
- Powerful Build - This doubles our carrying capacity. You know how you need at least 15 STR in order to not get slowed down by wearing Platemail? Well, if you use the variant rules for encumbrance, you ignore the strength requirement of armor, because you are slowed down based on how much stuff you are carrying around. Thus, it shouldn't be difficult to convince your DM to let you ignore the STR requirement of Platemail thanks to this ability. Still, make sure to ask your DM about this before picking this build - you might need to put more points into STR, or use the alternate version of this build, shown below.
- Stone's Endurance - The main reason why we pick this race. This allows us to reduce the damage we take by 1d12+CON, which is especially good if you consider that it can allow our awesome upcast 25-cold-damage-on-hit Armor of Agathys take one additional blow, and thus deal an extra chunk of damage.
- As well as two other minor abilities.
For multiclassing purposes, we need:
- 13+ INT
- 13+ CHA
- 13+ STR or DEX. Since we're using heavy armor, and have a +2 racial bonus to STR anyways, we'll be going for STR. But if you REALLY want to boost your DEX saves, you can go for 13 DEX.
Using Point Buy, we get:
- 13/14 STR
- 8/9 DEX
- 16 CON
- 14 INT
- 10/11 WIS
- 13 CHA
We have one point leftover to put into either STR, DEX or WIS. Personally, i'd put it into WIS and get the Resilient(WIS) feat down the line. Alternatively, you can put it into STR to make your offensive ability at level 1 barely adequate. Or, put it into DEX and get Resilient (DEX) later in order to somehow salvage your DEX saves, altough that might be a lost cause.
If you REALLY want your DEX saves to be decent later on, you can go for something like 10/13/16/14/9/13, and also salvage your WIS saves with a feat later on as well. Keep in mind that you might be able to find a Headband of Intellect to boost your INT to 19, or get your hands on a collection of permanent stat boosters, such as the very rare Tomes and Manuals. But that depends on the DM and Campaign.
Level 1 - Fighter
- We get proficiency in heavy armor, shields, and all weapons.
- Second Wind is some nice healing.
- Fighting Style: Defense, for what should be obvious reasons. +1 AC FTW!
- For equipment, take a shield, chainmail (or even heavier armor, if you can), and maybe a warhammer to smash skeleton skulls, or whatever 1-handed weapon you prefer. You won't be using it much after this, anyways, unless you got decent STR and plan on taking the Booming/Green-Flame Blade cantrips.
Level 1 is where this build is at it's weakest. We are as durable as fighters get, but our offensive ability is subpar whan compared to your regular fighter. Still, we should at least be a good meat shield for our party, even if our offense is suboptimal.
Level 2 - Warlock (Celestial Patron)
- We get a refills-on-short-rest lv 1 warlock spell slot. While it'll be spend on AoA, or maybe CLW right now, later on, it'll be used before wizard spell slots for Shield, Absorb Elements, or - if for some reason it went unused - Cure Wounds before a rest.
- Healing Light is basically two castings of Healing Word per long rest, which are really useful for bringing unconscious party members back into the fight.
- Spells: Armor of Agathys (the signature spell this entire build is based around) and Cure Wounds (For when we desperately need some extra HP refill)
- Cantrips: We get Light and Sacred Flame for free - Light is especially useful, since we don't have Darkvision. As for the remaining two cantrips, we sadly can't take Eldrich Blast, as the Spellcasting Modifier for our Warlock Spells is based on CHA, which we don't plan on increasing. So take spells without spell attack rolls or saving throws: If your STR (or DEX) is good enough, you might want Booming/GrnFlm Blade. Prestidigitation can be useful, Mold Earth might come in handy, Minor Illusion can be used to give ourselves full cover against ranged attacks...
Of special note is the infamous "useless cantrip": Blade Ward. Unironically, this might be the only build where that spell is genuinely useful! Crazy, i know, but hear me out: unlike most other builds, we don't want to dodge hits - instead, we kinda want to get hit (by melee attacks), so that our Armor of Agathys and Flame Shield can do counterattack damage to our enemies. So using our turn to cut the physical damage we're taking in half will greatly increase the lifespan - and thus, total damage dealt - of our Armor of Agathys. So, pick Blade Ward as one of your Warlock cantrips, because this might be the only time you'll have a good excuse to use it.
Levels 3-20 - Wizard (Abjuration)
And then, all that's left is to be a wizard. This is supposed to be a "Wizard Tank", after all. Here's the breakdown of the levels:
- We get Arcane Recovery, which will be useful for replenishing wizard spell slots.
- We learn three cantrips: Things like Sword Burst or Thunderclap might actually be useful, since we want to be in melee, but keep in mind that any smart enemy will stay far away from you and your Icy Death Armor. So take whatever you deem appropriate or useful.
- Make sure to get yourself a Spellbook for your new spells! You learn 6 of them: Shield and Absorb Elements are must-haves, and Fog Cloud is great to render these annoying ranged attacks, which don't get countered by AoA, ineffective. Make sure to take and prepare some genuinely useful support spells, though: Sleep, Grease - whatever will make your enemies dearly regret chosing to ignore you. There's a good reason wizards are a priority target, and you are (a slightly multiclasses) one, so make sure you pose a serious threat to them - or else you'll fail as both a wizard and a tank.
The Build is now oficially Online!
- Take the School of Abjuration
- Arcane Ward is basically a mana shield that can be recharged by casting abjuration spells. More importantly, even if an attack hits our Arcane Ward, it will still trigger the damage reflection of our Armor of Agathys! In other words, this feature makes our icy armor last even longer, which leads to it being able to deal even more counterattack damage - and at 5/level of spell slot, it scales fast! Furthermore, AoA itself is an abjuration spell, so simply casting it again once after it breaks already refills our Arcane Ward! A beautiful synergy. So our enemies now have to chew through three seperate health bars: Our Arcane Ward, Our AoA, and our actual HP. And we can refill all three of them via spell slots, which we will be getting a lot of!
- We get access to 2nd level spells & spell slots. Our Armor now boasts 10 HP of durability & damage, and our Arcane Ward should have 8 HP. We ourselves have 42 HP, plus 1d10+1 from second wind, plus more from Cure Wounds and Healing Light if we're desperate. Our cantrips now do two dice of damage. True, our damage output is pretty bad, but anything trying to melee us (and isn't immune to cold damage) is going to get itself killed instead, and we still have various potent utility spells to aid our teammates with in case we're being ignored by the enemy. Did i mention we should have at least 21 AC?
- Various 2nd-level spells worth considering: Rope Trick (team support), Levitate (no-save disable + fall damage), Web (CC), Warding Wind (Counters Ranged Attacks, forcing enemies to attack in melee or run out of ammo trying to kill us). There's more of them, but go look at a good wizard guide for professional advice instead.
Lv 6 Our first ASI! We'll get 4 in total, and there's several things we could do with them:
- Boosting our INT (duh) - if we spend 3 of our ASI's to max it out, our spellcasting ability will be on par with a normal wizards, making spells with attack rolls / saving throws just as good as usual. It will also slightly increase the durability of our Arcane Ward. Overall the more agressive option.
- Boosting CON - more HP is always nice for a tank, but the bulk of our raw HP is coming from spamming AoA, so it's not necessary. It does, however, make it easier to maintain concentration on spells while getting beaten up, in case you want to maintain buffs on your allies or yourself - on that note, ask your DM if enemies hitting your Arcane Ward requires concentration checks, as it's the Ward that's technically taking the damage, and not our character.
Of course, there's a bunch of useful feats we could take instead:
- Heavy Armor Master - Now enemies deal even less (non-magical) physical damage to us, making our AoA last even longer!
- Resilient (DEX / WIS) - to patch up our saving throws.
- Toughness - more HP. We're a tank. Go figure.
- Eldrich Adept (Armor of Shadows) - We can now cast Mage Armor, a 1st level abjuration spell, an infinite number of times. While the spell itself is useless to us, this means we can refill our Arcane Ward to full durability after every fight!
- War Caster - in case you REALLY want to maintain your concentration on spells.
For a more agressive and magic-focused variant of this build, max out your INT and then do whatever you want with your last ASI - maybe even take Heavy Armor Master first before maxing INT. However, for the classic Wiztank build, we'll take Heavy Armor Master at level 6, and rely on spells that work regardless of our spellcasting ability (go look at the "Dumb Wizard" build for examples)
- 3rd level Spell Slots and Spells! Dispell Magic and Counterspell are part of the course for Abjurers, and other spells worth considering are: Haste (buff the barbarian), Sleet Storm, Wall of Sand/Water, Fly and so on.
- Projected Ward - we can use this to shield an ally in case of an emergency, but we usually want to keep our Arcane Ward for ourselves.
- 4th level spell slots! A 20 HP AoA is nothing to sneeze at. Stoneskin will make it last even longer, and Fire Shield will make you a swordmaster's worst nightmare. Polymorph is a great buff for the party!
- Our second ASI. I'd take Eldrich Adept (Mage Armor) to refill our Arcane Ward's Durability.
- 5th level spell slots! Animate Objects and Wall of Force/Stone are great spells worth considering.
- Improved Abjuration: makes our Counterspell / Dispel Magic even better. Great!
- 6th lv spell slots! Take a look at Contigency, Globe of Invulnerability and Otto's Irresistible Dance.
- Our 3rd ASI! Take Resilient (DEX/WIS).
- 7th lv spell slots! Lots of goodies here - Etherrealness, Forcecage, Mirage Arcane, Power Word Pain, Magnificient Mansion, Reverse Gravity, Plane Shift. Of course, we're likely to just use the slot on a 35 HP Armor of Agathys instead...
- Spell Resistance: advantage on saving throws vs spells, and resistance to their damage? Yes Please!
- 8th lv spell slots! More great spells here, such as Mind Blank, Power Word Stun, Mighty Fortress, Maze, Clone, Demiplane... if all else fails, you can use Antimagic Field and laugh as your party tears that helpless Lich to shreds.
- Our last ASI! Take Resilient, or Toughness, or whatever else you fancy.
- We are now a level 17 wizard. This means 9th level spells! Pick whichever one your like, or flex with a 45 HP Armor of Agathys.
- Perhaps Fittingly, we're getting a great capstone ability on our final level: Spell Mastery allows us to cast Shield and a 2nd level Absorb Elements as many times as we want. Keep in mind that these are both abjuration spells, which means they actively refill our Arcane Ward - and we'll be using them all the time, too!
The Dwarf of Warding Variant
The Dwarf (Mark of Warding) subrace is a great fit for this build:
- +2 CON, +1 INT, that's just perfect
- Does not get slowed down by heavy armor: ergo, dump STR.
- actually has Darkvision
- lower movement speed
- a bunch of other abilities and free abjuration spells
- gets access to an expended list of 9 extra abjuration spells, including Armor of Agathys!!!
With this, we have no reason to multiclass into Warlock, meaning we can safely dump CHA as well. This means that our starting stats would look something like: STR 8/DEX 14/CON 16/INT 16/WIS 12/CHA 8
This variant goes Fighter 1 / Abjuration Wizard 19, making it "purer" in a way. While you miss out on the Goliath's damage reduction that makes the original build basically an "Armor of Agathys build", this variant might be more viable in actual play. You even get all 5 ASI's, and some extra wizard spell slots! Plus, the build goes fully online at level 3. Though you do miss out on the regenerating warlock spell slot used for Shield, the two uses of Healing Light to revive downed teammates, two cantrips, and the Cure Wounds spell for the HP refill.
Better Armor of Agathys
If your DM is nice enough, they might allow you to modify/reflavor Armor of Agathys to have a better damage type:
Force Armor: AoA for wizards, this reflavor deals force damage.
Holy Armor: It doesn't make much sense that a Celestial would teach us a spell that's named after an legendary Archdevil. This version deals radiant damage, while also providing some illumination (good for seeing, bad for stealth).