The First Tuesday of every month, I like to try my hand at creating an interesting character, one that fits a certain archetype or cool concept. This month is a bit late, but I’m gonna tackle an amusing character concept I’ve had floating around in my brain: Dwarven College of Swords bard that uses axes!
The Concept: Axe-Man
While I do tend to dwell on character concepts, think of how best to optimize them so that they do what they are supposed to do correct, every once in a while, character concepts come to me unbidden and with little foresight. This is true of Udin, who sprung into my head when I looked at the College of Swords Bard art in Xanathars. In my mind, instead of a halfling being attacked, it was a Dwarf, one that used axes instead of swords. I guess I do have a tiny bit of Whimsey.
This character has one goal: Use axes and fight baddies. Bards aren’t much known for fighting, but I think a dwarf bard could be a fine example of one that does. I want him using two axes to make good use of the Swords Bards two weapons fighting. A solid AC will be useful, but not critical. Most choices I make are going to go towards creating a melee damaging character.
Udin is clearly going to be a bard and a College of Swords Bard at that. That much is simple, which is pleasant. Beyond that, I had to look at what level of bard I wanted, and if there was anything I wanted to take that would cut it short. Looking at the College, They get a fighting style at 3rd, and Blade Flourish, the core of the class, at the same time. Fighting style can be either Two-Weapon fighting or Dueling. Clearly, we are going to take Two-Weapon Fighting. Blade Flourish increases our walking speed by 10 feet when we make the attack action, and allows us to use one of three options when we make an attack. It can be an increase our armor class via Defensive Flourish, Slashing Fourish to hit an extra creature with a little extra damage, or Mobile Flourish which allows you to move yourself and the target. Each of these attacks uses the Inspiration die to add damage to the main attack, as well as their additional effects and can be used once per turn. You cannot use blade flourish on an enemies turn, as it has to be part of taking the attack action. It doesn’t limit many of our current options, but it is good to know for future action and interactions, specifically cutting off riposte, Sentinal, and Polearm master attacks. Swords also gives an additional attack at 6th level, and at 14th level allows the choice of using a d6 instead of an inspiration die when making flourishes via Masters Flourish. This is interesting as it is a much smaller die than your inspiration die at 14 (d10) and especially at 15th (d12) but it does enable you to use it every turn, which feels important.
The base class of bard gives us a few more things, though not many of them accentuate the axe-fighting style. Spellcasting and Bardic Inspiration are both at 1st level, with the Bard being a full spellcasting class, this will give us access to a ton of spells. Most we will be using, I expect, to increase our fighting effectiveness. Jack of all Trades and song of rest are both neat but aren’t going to really benefit the concept of the character. Expertise, at both 3rd and again at 10th level, will come in handy. There is always something that a character can bolster to either help the party or improve on their own. The Ability Score Improvements at 4th and every four levels thereafter will first be used on Dual Wielder, and after that will simply be stat boosts. Font of Inspiration will allow more uses of Blade Flourish prior to getting masters flourish. I don’t know when we’ll use countercharm, but it’ll be nice to have anyway. Lastly, Magical Secrets at 10th will allow us to grab, likely, a pair of paladin spells, as they seem to often be stronger than their level suggests.
Looking through bard, it seems like the solid cutoff point is 16th level. Everything up to that point seems solid enough to want to take on its own. 14th is Masters Flourish, 15th is d12 Inspiration dice, and at that point, 16th is an ASI, so why not reach for it. That means that I have 4-5 levels of another class that I could use to bolster our concept. I could be willing to give up the ASI if it felt like a strong enough fit at 5th level. We’ll be using Axes, so that cuts off Rogue, which would be an excellent fit otherwise, and honestly, making this many attacks in a round (3) means that I don’t want to be trying to consume the bonus action with other abilities. I also don’t want to double up on extra attacks, so most martial classes I’d not go past 4th level. Which leads me to Fighter, specifically champion. You get Action Surge for another two attacks, Second Wind for more healing, another Fighting Style, this time to improve our AC, and Improved Critical for another 5% critical hit chance. I think it fits well with the dodgy, bounding bard of axes.
Udin here is then going to be Bard 16/Fighter 4, and his abilities are really going to take off around 9th level, with Bard 6 fighter 3.
As the concept for this class is an axe-wielding dwarf, this is an easy choice. Also, amusingly to myself, the only choice, as it is the only reasonable way to get a college of swords bard the axe proficiency that they need without starting as a fighter. You get +2 con and, if you take mountain dwarf, +2 Strength, both of which will be useful in this build. Darkvision, bonuses to poison saves and resistance to poison damage are solid bonuses, but the axe proficiency are the main draw, and medium armor proficiency also won’t hurt, as we have almost no need for dexterity in this build, and needing 2-3 stats, not needing another to spread out to by taking light armor is going to be useful.
Feats and Weapons
Unlike many builds, the feats and weapons here are pretty much pre-determined since we started out. The build focused on using axes, and while there are a few choices we could use – hand axe or battle axe, the concept really builds on the battle axe as the main weapon. You can throw hand axes in a pinch, but I’m not sure that is needed.
That does mean, however, that we will absolutely need the Dual Wielder feat at 4th level, and until then we’d be using a single axe, which is fine, but it’s not what the build is based on. We’ll not have a shield either, so our Armor Class is fairly limited, and why Dwarf helps out with the medium armor proficiency as well as the fighter AC boost, letting us use chain shirt to push our AC up just a little bit.
For this build, it’s clearly bard focused. I’d take at least the first 6 levels in bard, grabbing the ability to replenish Inspiration on a short rest as soon as possible, as well as a boost of those inspiration dice to d8’s and the additional attack. At this point, I’d slide over into fighter for those 4 levels to grab everything from the class, and not need to look back. From then on, it’s just taking more levels of bard until the adventure ends.
Bard 16: College of Swords
Fighter 4: Champion
Race: Mountain Dwarf: The bonus Str and Con will be needed, as you have a number of stats you’re trying to push, as will the armor and weapon proficiencies to make the build work.
Highest Stat: Strenght. Unsurprisingly, getting a melee character a high strength score is important, and though this is a bard these axes are going to need a high strength to properly utilize them.
Second Highest Stat: Charisma. Getting a strong Charisma score will power a number of your abilities and get you a good save on your spells when you need them.
Armor: Chain Shirt. using the armor proficiency from the dwarf allows you to start with an AC of 13+ dex, which is solid.
Weapons: Battle Axes. Take axes. This is the whole build.
Skills: Perception, Deception, Intimidation. Lets not completely abandon the idea that we are a bard. Using your necessarily high charisma for something will be nice.
Spells: Bard is going to have a ton of spells to chose from, so this is just a small selection
1st: Healing Word, Longstrider, Sleep
2nd: Detect Thoughts, Invisibility, Lesser Restoration, See Invisibility
3rd: Dispel Magic, Nondetection, Speak with Dead, Leomunds Tiny Hut
4th: Dimension Door, Greater Invisibility
5th: Animate Objects, Greater Restoration, Mass Cure Wounds, Raise Dead
6th: Find the Path, True Seeing
7th: Forcecage, Regenerate, Resurrection, Teleport
8th: Mind Blank, Power Word Stun