In this post, we’re going to cover building an extremely effective, Single Attribute Dependent tank in 5e. This character can hit hard, has good HP and AC, phenomenal saves, and a ton of in and out of combat utility.
A bit of background: my D&D group had just finished a campaign where we relied on stealth and trickery to overcome (bypass) most encounters; between a rogue/bard who had godly skills, a shadow monk with Pass Without Trace, a ranger/rogue, an Eldritch Knight with Boots of Flying, and a Wizard/Sorcerer so paranoid that he was ALWAYS prepared to cut and run, there were not a lot of encounters that we couldn’t just sneak by.
It was fun, but it quickly became a game of “everyone into the Bag of Holding while we buff someone to sneak past the encounter, or fly over it, or talk our way out of it, or etc…”
In the new campaign, we decided to take a more traditional “kick in the door” type of approach and we would probably need a tank. I decided that I would make the tankiest tank that ever tanked. But I don’t have fun just doing things directly, so I added another restriction: he would also have to be the most SAD character that I could make. In other words, super tanky and relying only on a single attribute: I picked Charisma just for fun.
What we want in a tank
If my tank was going to be incredibly tanky, he needed multiple ways of staying up and useful ways of supporting the party while he was up. This meant high HP, high saves, darkvision (to maintain effectiveness in the dark), and enough spells and/or damage to “hold aggro” or at least keep the enemies’ attention. Lastly, as a matter of good character design we should optimize our action economy to make sure that we have viable options for all 3 types of actions: bonus, reaction, and action.
Enter the Paladin: the perfect chassis. It had everything I needed: HP, great support spells, healing, and phenomenal saves once the level 6 aura came on-line. We can also pick up the Protection fighting style which will allow us to use our reaction to impose disadvantage on an attack against an ally. However, a vanilla Paladin is not very SAD at all: you need Constitution, Strength, and Charisma to make an effective character. Could I simplify it? Yes I could: enter the Hexblade. (Recently published in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything).
With just a single level of Hexblade, we now had a character on the front-line and who uses Charisma for attack and damage. The Hexblade’s Curse ability also gives us increased damage and crit range (19-20) on a single target once per short rest. We can take advantage of that increased crit range to smite enemies, ensuring we remain a threat while also optimizing our damage dice pool. On top of that, we can now add Shield, one of the best defensive spells in the game to our repertoire. The extra level 1 spell slot that recharges on a short rest was just a bonus.
Now all our Paladin needs is Charisma and Constitution. While I couldn’t find a way to fully remove the need for Constitution from a tank, I did find a way to feed Charisma back into survivability. Enter the Shadow Sorcerer (Recently published in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything). While a level of Sorcerer adds some oomph to our spellcasting and some additional spell slots for smiting, it also brings darkvision to the table, and more importantly an ability called “Strength of the Grave”.
Starting at 1st level, your existence in a twilight state between life and death makes you difficult to defeat. Whenever damage reduces you to 0 hit points, you can make a Charisma saving throw (DC 5 + the damage taken). On a success, you instead drop to 1 hit point. You cannot use this feature if you are reduced to 0 hit points by radiant damage or by a critical hit. After the saving throw succeeds, you cannot use this feature again until you finish a long rest.
Now any time our Paladin would be dropped to 0 he makes a CHA save to instead drop to 1 HP. While the DC will be too high to be reliable for most boss fights, it will certainly help against ranged attacks and large groups of enemies. In addition, Paladin’s have the spell Bless on their spell list enabling us to gain an additional +1d4 to our save and attack rolls while also buffing two other allies.
Could we get more durability out of Strength of the Grave? Absolutely.
At our 6th level of Paladin we are adding CHA to all of our saves from Aura of Protection. This means at character level 8, when the whole build comes together, if we have an 18 in CHA and we take we are adding +4(CHA) +3(Prof) +4(AoP) = +11 to our CHA save, with bless active we now have a minimum of +12, meaning that our tank can never be dropped by less than 9 points of damage and on average it will take at least 17 damage in a single hit to knock out our tank.
An Emergent Theme
At this point we’ve got a character who’s mostly a Paladin, with at least one level of Hexblade and one level of Shadow Sorcerer. It seemed clear to me that we were building toward a fallen paladin. Fortunately for us, the Oathbreaker subclass was not only thematically appropriate, but offered a ton of benefits for battlefield control and maximizing our action economy.
In addition to completing the dark, shadowy theme of our character we gain the spell Hellish Rebuke which allows us another option for reaction. More importantly though, we gain Dreadful Aspect, an important channel divinity feature:
As an action, the paladin channels the darkest motions and focuses them into a burst of magical menace. Each creature of the paladin’s choice within 30 feet of the paladin must make a Wisdom saving throw if it can see the paladin. On a failed save, the target is frightened of the paladin for 1 minute. If a creature frightened by this effect ends its turn more than 30 feet away from the paladin, it can attempt another Wisdom saving throw to end the effect on it.
For the low cost of a single action we can, once per short rest, force all creatures within 30ft to make a Wisdom save or have disadvantage on all attacks against us and our allies as long as we’re conscious and they’re within 30 ft. This is important because it heavily encourages enemies to either attack us or to run away. In other words, it’s a phenomenal feature to “draw aggro” and it can change the course of an entire fight.
Since our allies are already heavily incentivized to stay close to us thanks to our +CHA to saves aura, and Protection FIghting Style, this puts us in a win-win scenario: we either draw the fire of enemies (being a good tank) or force the enemies to temporarily retreat from the party (battlefield control).
The Shadow-Steeped Oathbreaker
The build comes together nicely with only two one-level dips to enhance our Paladin chasis. If we go with the Human variant in the Player Handbook, we can easily start with Resilient(CON) to have a 16 CON and 16 in CHA by level 1. Of course, the build works well with Aasimar too and if you are playing a Human, you could pick up the Warcaster feat instead of Resilient(CON).
The full build is online from level 1, but gets a definite bump in effectiveness at levels 7 and 8 when we gain our second attack, 2nd level Paladin spells, and Aura of Protection. We end up with a character with the following abilities:
- Paladin’s d10 hit for all except 2 levels and 16 CON mean high HP
- Monstrous saves with ability to buff through spells
- Prof in CON, CHA, and WIS saves
- CHA added to all saves and saves of allies via Aura of Protection
- Strength of the Grave means we will never be dropped by mooks and only rarely be dropped by ranged attacks
- Battlefield Control/Aggro Management
- Dreadful Aspect – protects the party and causes all eyes to be on us as enemies take disadvantage on all their attacks
- High melee damage- Between smiting, two melee attacks, CHA added to damage from the Hexblade and then added a second time from Aura of Hate, and the Hexblade’s curse guarantee that our damage output is always relevant and we stay a high-priority target
- Healing – Lay on Hands, cure spells, and eventually (if you play to 14 levels of Paladin) Cleansing Touch ensure that we can always add a bit of sustain to the party
- Buff and debuff spells- Keeping bless up adds to our durability and helps the party to hit and save, then there’s many other abilities such as Aura of Vitality for healing, and many others. We can always take additional levels of sorcerer to gain metamagic if we find that we need to quicken spell or need to make enemies fail their saves more often.
- Protection Style – A highly underrated fighting style that allows us to impose disadvantage on a single attack against an ally as long as we’re wielding a shield and the ally is next to us. Preventing heavy hits helps keep our strikers, off-tanks, and unfortunately positioned casters from going down during the fight.
- CHA to attack, damage twice thanks to Hexblade and Aura of hate
- CHA to all saves and the saves of allies within 10ft thanks to Aura of Protection
- CHA save to avoid being reduced to 0 HP except by radiant damage and crits, thanks to Strength of the Grave
- CHA based spellcasting for save DCs
All those abilities and it’s CHA based. So far we’ere looking pretty good.
The action optimization breaks down to the following:
- Attack – 2 attacks with +CHA to hit and + 2xCHA to damage, ensuring our average damage will be extremely high.
- Spellcasting – Bless, Aura of Vitality, Dispel Magic, Daylight, Heroism, etc. Because of our high saves we need to receive more than 24 damage from level 8 onwards before we even have to roll a CON save to maintain concentration, making us an ideal party buffer even on the front lines.
- Channel Divinity – Control Undead or Dreadful Aspect are both almost always worth the cost of an action when they’re needed.
- Lay on Hands – Not the best use in combat, but a great way to guarantee that an ally pops up with a decent amount of health.
- Bonus Action
- Hexblade’s Curse – A good debuff, especially to take down bosses, it increases damage, grants advantage, and restores HP when the target goes down.
- Smite spells – Not the best choice, but often good when an enemy needs to go down now and you’re not already concentrating on a spell.
- Expeditious Retreat – A level 1 spell found on both the Sorcerer and Warlock spell lists. It has a Bonus Action cast time, and allows the caster to dash as a bonus action. This spell is a top-notch pick because it allows our Paladin to always be where he needs to be on the battlefield, closing great distance into melee rather than relying on sub-optimal ranged attacks.
- Aura of Vitality – While this is a 3rd level spell, we can now use a single bonus action to heal an ally for 2d6 per round, there is not a better healing spell short of wish. With a single bonus action we can bring any ally within 30 ft back into the fight or patch up wounded allies.
- Quicken spell – While not in the base build, if we do take sorcerer to third level, instead of one, then we have the ability to transform into the ultimate gish and quicken action length spells into bonus actions. Highly recommended if building as a striker instead of a tank.
- Shield – Buff your AC to stop attacks from hitting you.
- Protection Style – Impose disadvantage on an enemy attack against an ally.
- Hellish Rebuke – Deal damage to a foe who just struck you.
- Opportunity Attack – Punish a foe for leaving your range.
- Absorb Elements – One of the best level 1 spells in the game, perfect fit for our character. Reduce incoming elemental damage and add damage to the next attack.
All in all, it looks like our reaction has a healthy amount of choice without being overloaded as each choice is for a somewhat different scenario. We have plenty of actions thanks to Divinity, Spellcasting, and our two melee attacks.
The only area lacking is our bonus action which has preciously few options. Some would suggest filling that gap with the warlock spell Hex but an extra 1d6 per hit (only our hits) that requires concentration pales in comparison to the other party-wide buffs on which we could use our concentration. Instead, if we decide that we really need to fill up our bonus action options, taking additional levels of sorcerer will allow us to quicken spells and guarantee that we always have a good option for our bonus action.
In a quest for a super-tanky SAD character we came up with a Variant Human Paladin 1/Hexblade 1/Shadow Sorc 1/Paladin X build with an incredible amount of support, healing, damage, and durability. Theme seems to suggest a darker, Oathbreaker, type of character but there’s absolutely no reason that we couldn’t use other Paladin subclasses.
The recently published Paladin of Conquest from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything would also provide most of the same benefits as the Oathbreaker.
Our character can hold the front-line, maintain enemy attention, buff the party, debuff enemies, spike damage, and should always be the last one down in a fight. Best of all, we’re a phenomenal tank from the get go and an unstoppable one at level 8 when we gain our 6th level of Paladin.
Thoughts, comments, suggestions? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @FinlamElmanor comment on this post. Talk to you next time!
Update 3-7-2018: Corrected typo – Hold Person cannot be cast without additional investment in either Warlock or Sorcecer. Thank you, Althexia, for catching that!