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:
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
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):
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 with 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.
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.
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.
Since this ability scales with cleric level, we’re pretty committed to piling on cleric levels. Paradoxically enough, 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 be able to use some metamagic to get extra mileage out Vampiric Touch:
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 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:
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.
Dark One’s Blessing
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.
It appears the site I linked to for the Death Domain is down (permanently?). You can find a working, updated* link here: Death Domain
*Updated Feb 2nd, 2019