Or A Brief Study in Creating the Optimal Stunner
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.
First to make explicit our goals:
- Inflict the stunned condition maximally, or “stunlock” as the kids say.
- Be disruptive otherwise, especially when stunlock strategy is inapplicable.
- 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.
- Access to the spells we want to buff out stunlock abilities.
- Access to very nasty fire spells with long ranges, like fireball.
- Disruptive Warding Flare ability that gives disadvantage to enemy attack at Cleric 1
- Ability to apply the disadvantage to enemy attacks to other at Cleric 6
- 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.
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.
- Cleric 1, Light Domain; gain Warding Flare, Spellcasting for Bane.
- Take Monk 1; gain Unarmored Defense, Martial Arts.
- Take Monk 2; gain Unarmored Movement (+10 ft) and ki abilities.
- Take Monk 3; gain Opened Hand tradition, Deflect Missile.
- Take Monk 4; gain Slow Fall, take Wisdom ability +2.
- Take Monk 5; gain Stunning Strike, Extra Attack.
- Take Cleric 2; gain Channel Divinity (1/rest)Turn Undead, Radiance of Dawn;
- Take Cleric 3; gain Spell 2nd Level Spells
- Take Cleric 4; take Wisdom Ability +2
- Take Cleric 5; gain Destroy Undead, 3rd Level Spells
- Take Monk 6; gain Ki-Empowered Strikes, Open Hands’s Wholeness of Body.
- Take Monk 7; gain Evasion, Stillness of Mind.
- Take Monk 8; gain feat Lucky, Warcaster, or Mobility, or improve Dexterity +2.
- Take Cleric 6, gain Channel Divinity (2/rest),Improved Warding Flare
- 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:
Come back next week for a general discussion of tanking and my beloved Drubarian.<3