Episode 7: Hulk Smash

The party is camped outside the Sacred Stone monastery when something very bad happens.

More analysis later, but, for now, pics:

casualty markers 
torchbearer ring
the ill fated watch
ambush start

ambush retreat

Daniel: player killer
wake up call

Warning: 90% Stunned By What You’ll See Next!

Or A Brief Study in Creating the Optimal Stunner

Nonlethal Damage? D:
Non-Lethal Damage? D:

Unfortunately, last week’s overpowered optimization was cancelled thanks to Wizards’ publishing the Players Handbook Errata. It was a little looser than I’d prefer anyway… but, no time to dwell on the past; the “char op” must go on. By request, we’re going to talk systematically about the development of my next build. Today, we’re working through to the #1 Stunner.

Outlining Objectives

First to make explicit our goals:

  1. Inflict the stunned condition maximally, or “stunlock” as the kids say.
  2. Be disruptive otherwise, especially when stunlock strategy is inapplicable.
  3. Be resilient.

We will work through finding the simplest solution to these goals. First, I believe it is very hard to dispute that the class with the most frequent and consistent ability to stun is the monk class. At level 5, one may expend a single ki point to cause any hit to have a chance to stun. You will also have very many chances to hit with multi-attack and free bonus attacks. In fact, one would not do too badly of our goals putting all character levels into monk class….

Yet, I’d suggest there are several alternatives to mono-Monk that are superior because the mono-Monk stunner doesn’t take advantage of spells that would greatly increase his chances of causing a stunlock. More, besides stuns and some reasonable damage, he doesn’t have much more utility to the other party members and will do little to be disruptive. Last, some abilities do offer remarkable resiliency but improvements can be made through multi-classing.

Reasoning to Objective Optimization

So, addressing Goal 1, how can the monk be made a more efficient stunner? At very low levels there is access to Spell Level 1 Bane, which will improve chance to stun from 5-20%. As a bonus, it will be disruptive of multiple foes through debuffing their chances to hit. Next improvement comes with Spell Level 3 Bestow Curse giving disadvantage on saving throws but only to one target. Then there is Spell Level 5 Contagion that will cause Slimy Doom which will not only cause disadvantage to constitution saves, but any damage will stun the creature.

And that’s it.

There are many abilities and spells that affect ability skill checks, but hardly any that effect saving throws negatively. That’s fair, but it makes our job tougher. Thankfully, Bane is easy with only one level multi-class and Bestow Curse isn’t too much of a stretch.

Now Goal 2, given constraints of Goal 1, is simpler. The following classes can learn spells that will buff our stun chance: Bard, Any Cleric, Oath of Vengeance Paladin, Warlock. One of these is not like the others. See it? Yes, that’s it: we would be forced to split the ability score focus into Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma to do any multiclass but the Cleric.

So, Cleric it is.

On examination of the cleric specializations, I believe Light Domain is the strongest here. It gives the following benefits, most with very little commitment.

  1. Access to the spells we want to buff out stunlock abilities.
  2. Access to very nasty fire spells with long ranges, like fireball.
  3. Disruptive Warding Flare ability that gives disadvantage to enemy attack at Cleric 1
  4. Ability to apply the disadvantage to enemy attacks to other at Cleric 6
  5. Channel Divinity 30-foot-radius Area of Effect 2d10 + Cleric Level

And regarding Goal 3, access to other Cleric spells besides those noted so far only augments the inherent resiliency of the Monk class over a mono-Monk build with little tradeoff. The ability to cast Sanctuary, use ki points to dodge, and retreat while healing others is impossible to dismiss, even neglecting the Warding Flare ability granted by Light Domain.

Given the success of a Monk / Cleric multiclass over mono-Monk stunner, I will propose a build: the Stunning Hieromonk (SHM), also known as the Stun Clonk.

The Build

Although I really like idea of starting Cleric, then immediately switching to get access to Monk’s Stunning Strike, the rest of the advancement order is up to the player and may vary widely based on campaign expectations and party make up. My personal preference would be to immediately move to Bestow Curse and Fireball after Stunning Strike. The build proceeds as below, assuming maximum level roughly 15th CL

    Select Human, prioritize wisdom, then dexterity in array. Take Alert.

  1. Cleric 1, Light Domain; gain Warding Flare, Spellcasting for Bane.
  2. Take Monk 1; gain Unarmored Defense, Martial Arts.
  3. Take Monk 2; gain Unarmored Movement (+10 ft) and ki abilities.
  4. Take Monk 3; gain Opened Hand tradition, Deflect Missile.
  5. Take Monk 4; gain Slow Fall, take Wisdom ability +2.
  6. Take Monk 5; gain Stunning Strike, Extra Attack.
  7. Take Cleric 2; gain Channel Divinity (1/rest)Turn Undead, Radiance of Dawn;
  8. Take Cleric 3; gain Spell 2nd Level Spells
  9. Take Cleric 4; take Wisdom Ability +2
  10. Take Cleric 5; gain Destroy Undead, 3rd Level Spells
  11. Take Monk 6; gain Ki-Empowered Strikes, Open Hands’s Wholeness of Body.
  12. Take Monk 7; gain Evasion, Stillness of Mind.
  13. Take Monk 8; gain feat Lucky, Warcaster, or Mobility, or improve Dexterity +2.
  14. Take Cleric 6, gain Channel Divinity (2/rest),Improved Warding Flare
  15. Take Monk to gain mobility on vertical surfaces, or Cleric for 4th Level Spells.

The strategy will be to act as early as possible and never be surprised. Size up foes. If numerous and tough, you should begin nuking from a distance with fire magic to soften up the opposition. Then Bane and wade in, relying on combination of Mobility, Warding Flare and Bane as well as Open Palm techniques to conserve HP while lesser foes are picked off. Then focus on stunlocking the remaining opponents.

If faced with many smaller critters, the build excels at large numbers of consistently damaging area of effect magics– largely lacking unless ki points are optionally expended for Monk’s Four Elements spells– with access to fire magic like Burning Hands, Wall of Fire, Fireball and Light Domain Channel Divinity Radiance of Dawn.

For dealing with solo opponents, you should cast Bestow Curse and stunlock it while protecting yourself and others with Warding Flare, Evasion, bonus action dodging, Cleric heals/debuffs/fire magics, Open Hand proning techniques…

You get the point: there are more than enough tools to get the job done.

Also, you can have 50 or more feet of movement… and on vertical surfaces if you want.


Beginning with a clear goal in mind– propagating a useful status ailment– and working rationally through the problem has yielded a very effective solution indeed. There are a few interesting solutions left unexplored here. However, I can say from experience as DM that a even a 5th edition mono-Monk can frustrate and disrupt most any encounter, and I’m thankful the SHM hasn’t shown up at my table yet. But beware, its coming to a table near you, as below:

Note: Hood, Beard.
Note: Hood, Beard.

Scary-hand is the Stun-hand.
The Scary-hand is the Stun-hand.

Hieromonks with Rasputin, Left.
Two Hieromonks with Rasputin, left. Ill Omen?


Come back next week for a general discussion of tanking and my beloved Drubarian.<3

Try This One Weird Trick to Optimize your Fighter!

Part 2, The Worst Best Build


In Part 1, the relative superiority of Half-Orc Great Axe Champion vs. Human Glaive Battlemaster was shown. A few facets were left unexplored regarding the conclusion and will be examined at end of this article as there is overlap with those concerns and our subject today: the optimal damage per turn fighter and its variants, as well as a few words on Superiority Die.

The Mystery Build, A.K.A. The Worst Best Build

To recall, the last two builds examined used a similar strategy of maxing attacks per round while tacking on to each hit a power attack of +10 damage in exchange for -5 to hit. Each of these relied on the Great Weapon Mastery feat to generate bonus attacks and power attacks. However, these builds are embarrassed by the combination of two other feats.

Sharpshooter and Crossbow Expert should be taken with Archery fighting style for maximum damage and used in conjunction with a hand crossbow. One build is shown next, chosen for comparison to HGBM from previous article.

    Select Human, prioritize Dexterity in array. Take Crossbow Expert feat.

  1. Fighter, Archery specialty.
  2. Gain Action Surge
  3. Battle Master specialization, learn precision, evasive footwork, and parry.
  4. Take Sharpshooter feat.
  5. Extra Attack.
  6. Upgrade Dexterity score to 18, gain +1 Dexterity mod.
  7. Bonus superiority die; learn 2 more maneuvers.
  8. Upgrade Dexterity score to 20, gain +1 Dexterity mod.
  9. Superiority dice grow to d10s, learn 2 more maneuvers.
  10. Extra Attack (2)
  11. Feat of Choice, perhaps Alert, Mobility,or Toughness
  12. Feat of Choice
  13. Bonus superiority die, learn 2 more maneuvers.

Many customization options are available for this build, even for those with expected maximum level of roughly 15, popular in recent official adventure paths including Princes of Apocalypse. Since very little is gained past CL 11-12, multi-classing the last few levels is optimal. It can be noted here that HGBM also benefits from multi-classing but for many reasons DPT is scarcely impacted with these versus the proposed multi-classing for The Worst Best Build (TWBB).

One may be tempted here to funnel the TWBB after CL 12 into Rogue’s Assassinate path for sneak attack damage. Some narrow utility may be found here, but this variant is nearly outperformed even in its assassinate round versus surprised targets by the preferred TWBB Ranger variant. In fact, the TWBB Ranger variant is the optimal build, last 3 levels taken as follows.

  1. Multi-class Ranger 1, gain Favored Enemy and Natural Explorer
  2. Multi-class Ranger 2, gain Defense fighting style, Spellcasting
  3. Multi-class Ranger 3, gain Colossus Slayer or Horde Breaker

The advantages are clearly seen with the additions of damage from Hunter’s Mark with every hit and Hunter’s Prey perks that apply every round, regardless of creature surprise. A +1 AC bonus is also gained via Ranger fighting style. These bonuses should be seen as preferred to continuing mono-Fighter to CL 15.

Of course, any other suggestions to multi-class are welcome and should be left in comments, with the discussion of alternatives limited to those proposed. Now, let’s see how it all stacks up.

The Data

TWBB is compared to HOGAC and HGBM in average DPT at CL 15 vs. AC in the figure below.

The other builds are outpaced by TWBB Ranger Variant every step of the way. The reason can be easily understood when one considers that there is 100% uptime of the bonus attack with the hand crossbow, so at least as many attacks are made as other builds. More importantly, each attack is made at +2 to hit, so the damage from Sharpshooter bonus is applied about 10% more often.

Other advantages include:

1. Each attack is made at range, without disadvantage and ignoring cover.
2. Disadvantage is not imposed if adjacent to enemy.
3. Improved flexibility in feats and multi-classing seen with base build.
4. Improved survivability at range, bonus AC.
5. Relevant non-combat perks with Ranger.
6. High sustainable rate of damage.


How to Really Bring the Beats

Another advantage of this build is found at the Race selection slot with some wiggle limited only by ending character creation with Dexterity of 16 from array. A favorite of this contributor that truly deserves name TWBB is to select a Stout Halfling Fighter, using a single hand crossbow with a large sack of bolts.

The Halfling racial feature Lucky can be used to make a critical miss extremely unlikely at 1 in 400 rolls, contributing to steady DPT. Survivability is given by additional constitution buff, raising HP, with racial bonuses to frightened condition and poison in form of advantage. Last, movement through the space occupied by a creature larger than TWBB is allowed by racial bonuses, making TWBB very evasive and running or positioning easy.

Interestingly enough, the only other change to above listed build is pushing the feat schedule up a slot, so that the Feat of Choice at CL 12 is used to maximize Dexterity score to 20, if desired.

Yes, the Stout Halfling TWBB Ranger Variant is proposed as the most potent fighter.

Wrap up

First, as promised, a brief discussion of Superiority Die (SD) will be made. An SD used for precision provides a great temporary boost for HGBM vs. HOGAC to DPT that increases based on AC. The effect can be demonstrated in examination of the figures tracing DPT at CL 15 vs. AC by identifying the target AC on the chart and subtracting 1d10 (average 5.5) from the AC for the new target AC, then a line can be traced up to the damage tracing of choice. This number can be compared against the DPT numbers at the original target to see the effect. The sizable effect represents using SD for every one of the 3 multi-attacks and the bonus attack.

However, the limits are substantial. First, there are only 5 SD available per short rest to be used in this way. The effect above on average requires about 4 SD and the chance to miss still exists. In other words, this rate of DPT can only be sustained for a little over a round. Second, if the exercise above was done, it is seen that the damage increase with HGBM is small when compared to HOGAC and always less than TWBB. Third, if the SDs are used for precision, they cannot be used for anything else, say, surviving or buffing or commanding the rogue to sneak attack.

So why are SDs chosen for use by TWBB? Stout Halfling TWBB Ranger Variant does not depend on SDs to deliver the most DPT with rock-solid survivability. But the tactical flexibility, synergy, and survivability that can be brought by them is worth more here than Champion Fighter’s perks, while TWBB has the flexibility to multi-class or feat as deemed appropriate.


In conclusion, it has been shown that TWBB is superior, especially in its Stout Halfling Ranger Variant. It is strongly encouraged to put this information immediately into use and its benefits reaped broadly. Aspirational image is attached below to encourage the banishment of mediocrity. Note fresh new halfling face of fighter archetype. Note tiny crossbow and fancy appearance. Note empty hand, the brandy-hand. See game changed.

Shade will be thrown, but be encouraged. For hate will always be had by the haters.

Next week, the power of the much-maligned Beastmaster Ranger will be revealed and optimized…