Get the most out of Vampiric Touch [5e build guide]

Hello Readers!

Your friendly neighborhood lizardman here! Today we’re going to discuss how to build a character around the spell Vampiric Touch.

We’ve all seen the spell Vampiric Touch and noticed that while it’s conceptually cool, it’s definitely not optimal and it can be a little cumbersome to use in combat. In this post we’re going to optimize it a bit by porting it over to the Mystic class.

First, let’s take a look at the spell:

The touch of your shadow-wreathed hand can siphon force from others to heal your wounds. Make a melee spell Attack against a creature within your reach. On a hit, the target takes 3d6 necrotic damage, and you regain hit points equal to half the amount of necrotic damage dealt. Until the spell ends, you can make the Attack again on each of your turns as an action. At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the damage increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 3rd.

It’s a really cool spell! You damage a creature and heal yourself, the only spell in the all of 5e that does this. And it’s for arcane casters who otherwise lack healing. But it has a few restrictions that make it kind of tough to use:

  • Requires your Attack action to use, limiting it to 1/round
  • Limited to reach, usually 5 ft, requires character to be in melee
  • Requires concentration, so we cannot have other buff spells up and we are likely to drop the spell when we get hit
  • 3d6 damage against a single target with an attack roll, low compared to other 3rd level spells like fireball
  • Half of 3d6 healing, not bad, but definitely not enough to keep up with the damage we’re receiving from being in melee

Requiring an action, low damage, low healing, taking our only concentration, and forcing us into melee make this a difficult spell to use without putting our character into a tight spot.

But I’m never satisfied with the straight-forward answer, so I figured I’d try to make it good.

Making Vampiric Touch Good

In order to get the most out of Vampiric Touch, we’re going to use the Mystic class. The Mystic class (V3) is latest publication of psionics for 5e. Instead of spells, the Mystic picks disciplines: think of these as a thematic group of spells. 

In addition, the Mystic gets a Psychic Focus from each discipline it knows. Think of this a minor, passive benefit like Advantage on some skill checks or a +1 AC bonus. The Mystic can only have one active at a time, but there are a lot of good Focuses to choose from.

The last piece of this puzzle is the Wu-Jen, a Mystic subclass that gets to learn 3 wizard spells at level 5.

Let’s take a look at the disciplines we need to make Vampiric Touch work:

The Discipline:

Giant Growth

Immortal Discipline
You infuse yourself with psionic energy to grow to tremendous size, bolstering your strength and durability.
Psychic FocusWhile focused on this discipline, your reach increases by 5 feet.

Just by focusing on this discipline, we can keep our character out of melee and make Vampiric Touch attacks at a range of 10ft. It’s a start, but we’re still a long way off from making the spell better than other options such as Fireball or Haste

Let’s take a look at the WU-Jen subclass:

Order of the Wu Jen

Arcane Dabbler
At 6th level, you learn three wizard spells of your choice and always have them prepared. The spells must be of 1st through 3rd level.
As a bonus action, you can spend psi points to create spell slots that you can use to cast these spells, as well as other spells you are capable of casting. The psi-point cost of each spell slot is detailed on the table below.
[table redacted]The spell slot remains until you use it or finish a long rest. You must observe your psi limit when spending psi points to create a spell slot.
Whenever you gain a level in this class, you can replace one of the chosen wizard spells with a different wizard spell of 1st through 3rd level.

So now our 6th level character can Vampiric Touch at a range of 10 feet while gracefully maneuvering outside of melee range of most monsters. Yet it’s still only 1d6 damage per spell level, it uses our attack action, and it has a chance to miss. Can we make it better?

The extra oomph (Brute Force):

Brute Force
Immortal Discipline
You augment your natural strength with psionic energy, granting you the ability to achieve incredible feats of might.
Psychic Focus. While focused on this discipline, you have advantage on Strength (Athletics) checks.Brute Strike (1–7 psi). As a bonus action, you gain a bonus to your next damage roll against a target you hit with a melee attack during the current turn. The bonus equals +1d6 per psi point spent, and the bonus damage is the same type as the attack. If the attack has more than one damage type, you choose which one to use for the bonus damage.Knock Back (1–7 psi). When you hit a target with a melee attack, you can activate this ability as a reaction. The target must succeed on a Strength saving throw or be knocked 10 feet away from you per psi point spent. The target moves in a straight line. If it hits an object, this movement immediately ends and the target takes 1d6 bludgeoning damage per psi point spent.

Now our 6th level Wu Jen has 10 feet of reach and can Vampiric Touch for 8d6 necrotic damage (healing half the amount) with the option to push the target away and gain extra damage from pushing it into a wall. 

The downsides are that Vampiric Touch has an innate lack of synergy with any reach build because a spell that heals the caster does not synergize well a build that avoids damage to the caster.

For an even lighter investment we could just dip Mystic 1 to get the 10 feet of reach, but that 2 point psi-limit is really going to hurt our ability to nova.

Considering that core of the build uses only two of our 5 disciplines and only 1 of our 3 spells known, it presents a powerful option for characters who need to heal and deal a decent amount of damage. 

Conclusion

The Mystic (Wu-Jen) is the perfect class to make Vampiric Touch work. With just the Brute Force and Giant Growth discipline, we have a character that can use the spell at 10 feet or range and deal up 10d6 damage on a hit, healing for half the amount. 

It doesn’t overcome all of the drawbacks of the spell, but it goes a long way toward making it combat effective.

 

 

Add-Ons

While the Wu-Jen is best chasis for building an effective vampire there are a couple of class dips that we could use instead. I would not suggest putting all these options into a single character, but if you’re already taking them anyway, then you can find some great synergy with Vampiric Touch.

Death Domain Cleric

Channel Divinity: Touch of Death

Starting at 2nd level, the cleric can use Channel Divinity to destroy another creature’s life force by touch.

When the cleric hits a creature with a melee attack, the cleric can use Channel Divinity to deal extra necrotic damage to the target. The damage equals 5 + twice his or her cleric level.

Since this ability scales with cleric level, we’re pretty committed to piling on cleric levels. Paradoxically enough, but the limited use per short rest means our Vampiric Touch build has very little synergy with the Death Domain.

If you’re going the Sorcerer route, you may think be able to use some metamagic to get extra mileage out Vampiric Touch:

Sorcerer 3

Quickend Spell

When you Cast a Spell that has a Casting Time of 1 action, you can spend 2 sorcery points to change the Casting Time to 1 Bonus Action for this casting.

Why quicken? Let’s take one more look at the wording for vampiric touch: “Make a melee spell Attack against a creature within your reach. On a hit, the target takes 3d6 necrotic damage, and you regain hit points equal to half the amount of necrotic damage dealt. Until the spell ends, you can make the Attack again on each of your turns as an action.”

By quickening the spell we can make two attacks with Vampiric Touch in the first round that we cast it. But that’s not really optimal: we gain more by using our bonus action with Brutal Strike instead and just pumping up the damage at a 1 PP to 1d6 ratio. Honestly, rather than quicken, we’d get more mileage out of Empower which at least allows to re-roll some of of 1’s.

Sadly, none of the other metamagics will really help us to optimize this spell as it is range of self, can’t be twinned, and has a long enough duration to make extending it unappealing.

Perhaps instead, 2 levels of Wizard for the Necromancer ability:

Wizard (Necromancer)

Grim Harvest
At 2nd level, you gain the ability to reap life energy from creatures you kill with your spells. Once per turn when you kill one or more creatures with a spell of 1st level or higher, you regain hit points equal to twice the spell’s level, or three times its level if the spell belongs to the School of Necromancy. You don’t gain this benefit for killing constructs or undead.

At least now we’re getting (3d6)/2 + 9 hit points back if we kill something with Vampiric Touch. That’s OK, and goes a long way to boost the healing aspect, but doesn’t make the spell appealing on its own. When combined with some of the other options though, it could make for a fairly tough character.

Fiend Warlock

Dark One’s Blessing

Starting at 1st level, when you reduce a hostile creature to 0 hit points, you gain temporary hit points equal to your Charisma modifier + your warlock level (minimum of 1).

So now when we kill something with Vampiric Touch we gain (3d6)/2 HP+ Warlock Level + CHA temp HP. Better, but a lot of investment for a niche trick. If you’re already multi-classing as a Necromancer, it looks better with (3d6)/2+9 HP + Warlock level + CHA temp HP. Certainly usable, though pretty far from abusable.

In conclusion: the Vampiric Touch spell is neat conceptually, but requires a lot of bizarre and unintended ability interactions to make it even somewhat effective. The most “bang for our buck” comes from exploiting the Mystic ability to smite with the spell’s existing damage type; everything else is a lot of investment for relatively small gains. It may be worth it on a Mystic (Wu Jen) 6, but I don’t think I’d look twice at it on any other class.

Can we improve it further? Post your ideas below.

Vampiric Touch
Mystic v3
Death Domain

 

 

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