Kicking in the door is not for everyone. Sometimes you want to play that character that is seen only when they wish, who can circumvent any obstacle, and sidestep any danger.
A character who is silent, but deadly.
Here we’ll discuss the Sneakmage, a gish character built around Utility(Stealth) an oddly specific, but really fun niche.
What is Stealth? (baby don’t hurt me…)
1) Non-detection of self – This is going to be primarily Dex(Stealth) skill, but also spells like Invisibility that prevent NPCs from detecting our character.
2) Escape Abilities – We need ways to get out of tough situations in case the unlucky dice roll causes our stealth to fail.
3) Party Stealth – D&D is a team game and a stealthy character is much better if they can make the party stealthier too. It’s no surprise that Pass Without Trace is our creme de la creme for party stealth.
Monk/Warlock – A Delicious Combination
Our build starts with 6 levels of Monk, taking Shadow Monk as our subclass. There are 3 reasons for this:
- We are DEX based and can max out our Stealth easily
- For the low cost of 2 ki we can cast Pass Without Trace, granting us and our party +10 to Stealth Checks
- We can teleport at-will in within dimlight and darkness as a Bonus Action up to 50ft. Perfect for sneaking around enemies, escaping grapples, and moving quickly.
That’s a good start, but here’s where it gets really fun. We add on 3 levels of Warlock and take the Pact of the Chain feature at level 3, allowing us to pick a Warlock familiar. This is important for an unusual combo we’ll discuss later.
If your enemies can’t see you (they are Blinded in the darkness) then they can’t make attacks of opportunity and you have advantage on your attacks against them. This is the ultimate boost for a striker role.
That said, I’m not a huge fan of this combo because 20ft of darkness radiating from a melee character tends to impede and blind the whole party, so please consider your party’s playstyle before using it.
Back to an interesting combo, this will be the peanut butter to our chocolate: let’s look at the text for the Shadow Monk’s teleport ability:
At 6th level, you gain the ability to step from one shadow into another. When you are in dim light or darkness, as a bonus action you can teleport up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space you can see that is also in dim light or darkness. You then have advantage on the first melee attack you make before the end of the turn.
The Warlock’s pact boon at level 3 let’s us learn the spell Find Familiar as a ritual (I prefer the Pseudodragon so we can get advantage on all saves against magic). Let’s take a look at an excerpt from that spell:
While your familiar is within 100 feet of you, you can communicate with it telepathically. Additionally, as an action, you can see through your familiar’s eyes and hear what it hears until the start of your next turn, gaining the benefits of any special senses that the familiar has.
Now, we the have the ability to teleport from any shadowy square within 50ft to any shadowy square that our familiar can see within 50 ft.
Suddenly walls, guards, patrols, and all manner of enemy are very little obstacle to our familiar who can fly and upon whom we can cast Invisibility. By extension all these things are now very little threat to us.
If we choose the Great Old One as our patron, we can increase our party stealth even further by gaining at-will telepathic communication.
At level 9 we’re a Shadow Monk 6/GOO Warlock 3 with pact of the chain. We can:
- At will teleport with 50ft between areas of dimlight or darkness (provided we’re standing in dim light or darkness) that we or our familiar can see
- See through darkness 120ft (Devil’s Sight invocation)
- Communicate Telepathically (silently) to everyone within 30 ft
- Cast Darkness (2 ki)
- Cast Invisibility (1 spell slot)
- Cast Pass Without Trace (2ki) granting ourselves and the everyone within 30ft a +10 to Stealth
- Advantage on saves against magic (Pseudodragon familiar)
- Monk goodness (+15 ft move, slowfall, projectile deflection)
- Stunning Strike
- Warlock Spells
- Another Warlock Invocation
We only need a 13 CHA to multiclass into Warlock, allowing us to focus fully on DEX and have a respectable 18 in DEX. Giving us 4 + 4(prof) + 10 (Pass Without Trace) for an average Stealth of 29 and minimum of 19.
Add in some Boots of Elvinkind (a minor magical item) to get advantage on this check and even a bad roll will be mid-20’s.
Not only that but with Pass Without Trace and the GOO Warlock’s ability to communicate telepathically out to 30ft, we can act as a relay for the party, making even the most un-stealthy tank a silent, killing machine.
So far we’re using only Player Handbook classes and spells, leaving us open to expansion into other supplement books.
Silenter and Deadlier
There’s 3 solid options for extending the build.
You’ll pick up Evasion at the next level. With Evasion +Advantage on all saves against magic thanks to your Pseudodragon familiar which gives you a whopping +8 to DEX with advantage on saves vs Magic at level 10, while taking no damage at all on a successful DEX save.
It only gets better as you level up. Eventually, you’ll be able to freely turn invisible in darkness and then, at level 17 you get one of the best abilities in the game: Diamond Soul.
Proficiency in all saving throws, plus you can re-roll by spending 1 ki. Combine with your magic resistance, you will never fail a save against a spell.
If you want to feel more like a true Sneakmage, then go Warlock. You can pick up a ton of useful spells and invocations to make you the ultimate infiltrator.
Good infiltration invocations:
- Mask of Many Faces – Unlimited Disguise Self
- Ghostly Gaze (Xanathar’s) – See through solid objects at a range of 30 feet. Also combines well with our teleport ability, allowing for Shadow Stepping through walls.
- Eyes of the Runekeeper – Read all written language, useful for a spy, but Comprehend Languages is also on the Warlock spell list.
- Trickster’s Escape (Xanathar’s) – Cast Freedom of Movement at will
As well as a plethora of spells: Expeditions Retreat, Misty Step (for when darkness just isn’t available) Counterspell (for when you need to annoy the GM) Dimension Door, Seeming (good for whole-party disguises but Archfey pact only) and many more.
Go Gloom Stalker Ranger
We could instead advance as a Ranger, taking Gloom Stalker as our subclass. This gives us the added benefit of making us freely invisible in the darkness, increasing our move speed on the first round of combat, and giving us an extra attack on the first round.
With Iron Mind, we’ll have proficiency in STR, DEX, and WIS.
Finally, we pick up a few more spells which are very useful for a skirmisher/scout type character. Notably, Zephyr Strike which allows us to move without provoking attacks of opportunity.
The Monk/Warlock chasis is a ridiculously good starting point for a Magical Ninja or Sneakmage type character. It’s playable at each level and immensely customizable after the core build is established.
It’s greatest drawback is Multiple Attribute Dependency, but this is more than compensated for by the versatility and utility of its abilities.
It’s worth noting that this is not the right build for anyone looking to be the “star of the show” or to be a major damage dealer: you will be neither.
Instead, this build is a fantastic stealth character that helps the party to circumvent challenges far above their weight-class and, in the wrong hands, causes the GM more than a bit of frustration.
Use your power wisely.