Monday, December 29, 2014

D&D Homebrew (5e): the Swordmage

I've written before about the difficulties of trying to imagine myself with my actual background as a D&D Character.  It's frustrating because I like to take elements from my actual life and drop them into fantasy as a part of my writing process, but doing that in Dungeons and Dragons never yields quite the right feel using the existing D&D class structures.  It was a little easier with D&D's 4th Edition because you could create a multiclass Swordmage / Artificer or Artificer / Warlord, take the Soldier background, and come up with a useful quasi-melee build that makes at least some sense in the contest of my family's would be party of adventurers.

As of this writing, though, the new edition has neither a Swordmage nor an Artificer class.  An Artificer is probably coming with the eventual Eberron campaign book, but that book is probably two years or more away, and in the meantime, my family wants to play D&D now.  Besides, I a melee build, and it needs to fit within the context of my family's party.  The Artificer probably isn't going to go quite as far as I'd like in that direction.

As it stands now, the family party breaks down like this:
  • Hannah -- Always a Halfling named Sneax.  Either a Rogue or Warlock.
  • Emma -- A Human Wizard or sometimes a Cleric.
  • Sally -- The Half-Elf Ranger Salamatu with her wolfhound Zen.
  • Me
As party leader, I clearly need to be able to slide into the "Defender" role most of the time.  However, I have to be honest and say that bashing people with the strength of my sword-arm is not my style.  Neither is sliding nimbly about the battlefield like a Swashbuckler.  I'm a smart guy who's strong enough, but I'm also an engineer who's much more likely to succeed with brains and close combat spell attacks.  This is unfortunately not the ethos of the current Eldritch Knight build, so we're left with something of a problem.

The traditional bladesinger swordmage spellsword archtype is the obvious solution, but we're going to have to build it using the guidance in the new Dungeon Master's Guide.  Fortunately, Sally gave me a DM's Guide for Christmas.

We'll imagine our concept as a subclass of the wizard.  Call it "The School of Sword Magic".

School of Sword Magic

I really liked this book and thought
it did a nice job describing what a
swordmage is supposed to be.
As a Swordmage, you favor close combat magic.  Unlike other wizards, your spells are designed to let you close with the enemy and do damage, protecting your allies so that they can strike blows that defeat your enemies.

Sword Magic Savant
Beginning at 2nd level, you gain proficiency with one martial melee weapon of your choice.  You can use this weapon as an arcane focus for your spellcasting.

Arcane Aegis
Starting at 2nd level when you select this school, you can use a bonus action to create an arcane aegis of protection out of your reserve of physical strength, shaping it like a tower shield around any hand that you have free.  With this aegis in place, you gain a bonus to your AC equal to your Strength modifier (minimum +1).  It also gives you temporary hit points equal to your Wizard level plus your proficiency bonus.  These temporary hit points recharge every time you complete a long rest.  If you later take the Shield Master feat, you can use your aegis in lieu of a shield.

Eldritch Defender
Starting at 6th level, you can use your reaction to teleport up to 30 feet whenever an enemy attacks one of your allies.  You can then make a melee attack against the attacking creature as a free action.  Once you use this feature, you cannot use it again until after you have completed either a short or a long rest.

Empowered Swordmagic
Starting at 10th level, you can add your Intelligence modifier to the damage roll of any spell you cast with a maximum range of 15 feet or less (i.e. Flaming Hands, Shocking Grasp, Guardian Blades, etc).

Empowered Aegis
By 14th level, you have mastered the power of your Arcane Aegis.  Your arcane aegis gives you temporary hit points equal to your Wizard level plus your proficiency bonus.  These temporary hit points recharge at the end of every long rest.


New Spells

These are mostly based on spells from the 4th edition.

Greenflame Blade
Evocation cantrip
Casting Time: one action
Range: your weapon's reach
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous
Your weapon is wreathed in eldritch green flames.  Make a melee spell attack against the target.  On a hit, the target takes 1d10 fire damage.

This spell's damage increases by 1d10 when you reach 5th level (2d12), 11th level (3d12), and 17th level (4d12).

Burning Blade
1st level transmutation
Casting Time: one bonus action
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to one minute
Your weapon is transformed into a creation of pure elemental fire of a color of your choice.  The first time you hit with a melee weapon attack using this weapon during the spell's duration, your weapon flares with light, and your attack deals an extra 2d6 fire and radiant damage to the target.  The target must then make a Constitution saving throw.  On a failed save, its vision becomes distorted, and it grants advantage to the next attack made against it.  Creatures that do not rely on sight are immune to this effect.

Guardian Blades
2nd level evocation
Casting Time: one action
Range: 5 feet
Components: V, S, M (a pinch of metal shavings)
Duration: Concentration, up to one minute
You summon forth a set of spectral blades that whirl protectively about your person.  For the duration of the spell, whenever a creature within 5 feet of you hits you with a melee attack, it must make a Dexterity saving throw or take 2d6 slashing damage, or half as much damage on a successful save.

Electrified Lash
4th level evocation
Casting Time: one action
Range: 10 feet
Components: V, S, M (a small lode stone)
Duration: Instantaneous
Your spellcasting focus elongates into a whip of deadly red lightning.  You snap the whip and cut your enemies in half!  Each enemy within a ten foot radius must make a Dexterity saving throw.  A creature takes 2d8 slashing damage and 4d6 lightning damage on a failed save, or half as much on a successful one.

At higher levels.  You can cast this spell at higher levels.  When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the slashing damage increases by 1d8 for each level above 4th.


Editing Note

I've been fooling with this build's Arcane Aegis feature for a couple of days now.  Feedback indicated that the initial version was way over-powered.  This was decidedly not my goal.

The first cut gave the Swordmage a free +2 to AC (per the effects of carrying a mundane shield), along with temp hp equal to Wizard Level + Proficiency Bonus.  This meant that our Wizard could easily wind up with an AC that's on par with a Fighter or Paladin while still retaining full spellcasting capability.  He/she wouldn't even have the normal armored movement restrictions!  When you add in a normal Wizard's other defensive spells, i.e. Blur, Mirror Image, etc., you created a melee Wizard that was just as strong as an Eldritch Knight but which had no balancing restrictions at all.


In designing the build, I was thinking of it as a Strength-based character (AC 15 with Mage Armor), but building it as a Dexterity based build (AC 17 or 18 with Mage Armor) obviously makes more sense in min/max terms.  Hence our problem.  One of the strengths of the Eldritch Knight design is that it requires focus on multiple ability scores.  I've made the Aegis at least partly dependent on Strength for this same reason, hopefully giving it a bit of interesting fluff at the same time.  This change is meant to balance Strength and Dexterity-based Swordmages by incentivizing the former.  It should also make it a challenge to create a Swordmage with an AC higher than 16.  With the loss of the temporary hit point, this will--hopefully--balance the build.  I'm hoping to create a viable melee build for the Wizard class, not an unbalanced engine of destruction that is clearly better than other existing options.

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