Graw Brokenaxe, Ancestral Defender

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, I’m putting together a defender paladin character that I’ve been hemming and hawing about for a while.

A New Format

I’m going to try a slightly different format for this one, something I’ve been fiddling with for a while, that I think will make this a bit easier to chew through. I often dig deep into character concepts, and sometimes it feels like its bulky and not great. Anyway. Hope this helps.

The Concept: Defender

When I first started looking at Graw, I was drawn specifically to creating a character that can “tank” much as an MMO class does. A player that stands in the way of the enemy, stares them in the eyes and dares them to go anywhere else. They hold choke points, protect the softer characters, and make sure that they are the ones who take the brunt of the enemies ire.

This means that a character needs to have a number of fairly distinct and separate abilities in order to make this concept work. They are going to need the ability to hold the attention of an enemy, of forcing engagements on their terms and preventing the enemy from fleeing once engaged. They are also going to need the best armor class and hit points that they can get, as they are going to be eating a ton of attacks if everything goes correctly. So, let’s take that and examine what we are looking at.

Build Walkthrough

Class choices

There are two classes that are the epitome of the tank concept, but both play it a bit of a different way. Fighters get the protection fighting style at first level, and the Battlemaster has a great suite of defensive and offensive abilities to keep opponents focused on them. However, what they do not have is the Paladins generic suite of situational defensive abilities. This matters because the paladin also gets the protection fighting style, and build on it with the rest of the class abilities they get as they level up. This includes Aura of Protection, granting huge saving throw bonuses, Aura of Courage, negating fear effects, and Cleansing Touch, if you get up to 14th level, which simply ends any other spell effects. This is a tremendous suite of abilities that, in my eyes, overshadows the Battlemaster fighters flexibility in this particular build. When looking at the three paladin Oaths, There are strong options in Oath of ancients and Oath of Vengeance for the build, depending on the type of campaign you are playing in, but I like the Oath of Devotion for its Aura of Devotion and the Purity of Spirit. These abilities compound with the rest of the paladin class to create a defender who cannot suffer fear, has a huge bonus to spell saving throws, can cleanse others of spells, cannot be charmed, cannot be possessed, and gives many high-level enemies disadvantage when attacking them. It seemed a pretty solid direction to go.

Following the choice of starting class, that of Paladin, I wanted to see if there were any classes that would amplify this defensive stature. Surprisingly, Fighter didn’t really feel like it was much better than going through as a Paladin, and a number of other classes had a lot of overlap, and like the fighter weren’t really bringing a lot to the show when it came to improving the class. The class that stood out was, surprisingly, the Barbarian. Specifically, the Path of the Ancestral Guardian from Xanathars. This class has a great introductory defensive ability in the form of the Ancestral Protectors. When I enter a rage, spectral warriors come to my aid and hinder the first creature I hit on a turn, imposing disadvantage on any attacks that that creature makes that isn’t against me, and if that attack does land, it deals half damage. This ability is massive, as I can, effectively tank two creatures a turn. The first one I can hit with an attack, and then not worry about it for the rest of the round, as it’s going to come after me or become ineffective. My second attack can be made against anyone else nearby, and I can focus the rest of my abilities on that creature, likely holding both at bay.

Ancestral Guardian tipped my build exactly towards the Barbarian, which coincidentally brings a number of extremely good defensive abilities and good hit dice, making the class even more attractive. Thankfully, Ancestral Guardian doesn’t stop with Ancestral Protectors, it also brings with it Spirit Shield, another fantastic defensive feature that begins at 6th level, and can reduce the damage to any other creature I can see within 30 feet by 2d6, which can, with the help of Ancestral protectors and the dice themselves, reduce the damage to nothing. At 10th level and above, however, the Ancestral Guardian becomes less desirable as neither of the last two abilities really feel worthwhile for the concept. I’ve mentioned the Barbarian abilities before, with Danger sense giving me a bonus to some of the most common saving throws, fast movement and unarmored defense granting bonuses when I am wearing light or no armor, and Feral Instincts helps me get into position, but the real benefit is the damage reduction and damage output of the rage. Resistance to, essentially, weapon damage makes the character even more resilient than expected, and the raging damage helps to make up for the fact that I’ll be using a shield in one hand, preventing me from getting the most out of the melee output.

This build is reaching up through paladin until at least 10th level to get Aura of Courage, which means that we’re limited to at most 10 levels of Barbarian. I’m not really a fan of critical effects, so anything beyond level 7 is likely a waste, and looking through the rest of the abilities that the barbarian provides, even though Spirit Shield is really solid, I’m not sure that I need it in the build. Preventing waste at level 5 in Barbarian by getting the second attack, and simply dipping for 4 levels, getting the primal path, rage, and the Ability Score Increase is probably all that I need.

We’re now looking at a Devotion Paladin 16/Ancestral Guardian Barbarian 4 if we get all the way up to 20, which is a pretty solid setup. (Until later – for continuation of thought, see Feats: Martial Adept)

Race Choice

With our classes chosen, its time to look at what race helps this class concept out the best, or alternatively provides the best compliment to it. We’ll need Constitution, Strength, and Charisma as strong stats, so anything that can give us a couple of those is a solid contender. The choice really boils down here to two races: Half-Elf and Half-Orc. The Half-elf provides you immunity to sleep and Stat bonuses to Charisma and two others, likely Constitution and Strength. Half-Orc provides +2 Strength and +1 Constitution and allows you to stay standing one additional hit, which may mean the difference between a friend getting hit or not. While Sleep immunity is very tempting, I’m going to go with the Half-Orc for the stat bonuses and their durability.

Feats and Weapons

Now, we come to the last part of the build, one that really defines the character and how they interact with the game as a tank. There are a couple of distinct directions that you can take here, but they all start with the weapon choice.

As you’ll be using a shield both for the AC bonus and for the protection ability, You’ll want a complementary weapon to go along side it. It’ll never stop irritating me that they don’t have a proper Spartan Spear, but that is alright here because they’ve added spear to the weapons that can be used with polearm master, so I think its a solid choice even though it does a touch less damage than some other one-handed options, we do have the rage to make up for it. The reason I reach for polearm master is that it is a way to use your bonus action to make another attack, albeit a weak one, but any damage is damage.

This build likes a lot of feats, so hopefully, we can get a good set of stats when creating them. If not, though, that is fine, we have a thousand other ideas for characters! The feats we want to look at are:

  • Sentinel – This is a huge and pretty imperative feat to grab, as it does three things: Allows opportunity attacks on the disengage actions (but only within 5 feet of you, so reach weapons have a dead zone here) , reduces opponents speed to 0 if you hit them with an opportunity attack (which has super synergy with reach weapons…) and, lastly allows you to use your reaction to make an attack when a creature attacks a target other than you and they are within 5 feet of you (again, a reach weapon dead zone)
  • Shield Master – because you already have a shield, this gives you more bonuses for having it and synergizes with reach weapons pretty well. It gives you mini evasion and allows you to get a small bonus to your dexterity saves. Combined with Danger Sense and the Paladins Aura of Protection, you can potentially get a +7 or more bonus with advantage on a to save you don’t have proficiency in, which is really nice.
  • Polearm Master – As I mentioned above, this gives you a bonus action, on a character with very few, with which to make an attack, which is nice, and it allows you to make an attack of opportunity when an opponent enters your weapon range. This, combined with Sentinel, can keep an opponent at bay if you have a reach weapon, but you’re putting away your shield to do it.
  • Martial Adept – This is how we get the best battle master ability in the set, the one we would want to take if we were going down the fighter path: Goading Attack, which is a saving throw based version of the Ancestral Spirits ability. With this, you can easily lock down two creatures in a single turn, possibly 3 if you want to burn both dice in a single move. There is something to be said about taking 4 levels of fighter, here, instead, though. Actually, that might be the better move.

When I started, I thought this would be a quick two class build, but its clearly a three class build. Taking four levels in fighter gets you Action Surge for a turn with potentially 5 attacks, Second Wind for pinch healing, another Fighting Style, which is dueling to push up or damage, and four superiority dice that are all d8s along with three different maneuvers in Goading Attack to force the attacks, Maneuvering attack to help allies get away, and Riposte, for when the monster eventually attacks you and still misses.

This build has an absolute riot of choices for reactions, so lets work through them real quick.

Protection Fighting Style When a creature within 5 feet of you is attacked, you can have that attack be made at disadvantage.
Sentinel – when a creature within 5 feet of you makes an attack, you can have that attack be made with disadvantage
Riposte – when a creature misses you, you can make an attack against that creature
Polearm Master – when a creature advances into your weapons range, you can make an attack against it.
Shield Master – when you make a Dexterity saving throw, you can gain evasion.

It took me a while to understand and appreciate the difference between Protection and Sentinal. Having both means that no matter what, someone is getting disadvantage on their attacks. Combined with Ancestral Spirits and Goading Attack locking down an enemy each, and even new monsters that move up and try to get into the fray are going to end up having a hard time taking out allies around you, and if they choose to go after them, you can punish them with a riposte attack when they finally do miss

The Path

I’d start with Paladin, and work towards Oath of Devotion, taking Sentinel at 4th level as the ASI, and then getting 5th level for your second attack. I’d then move over to Barbarian for four levels, picking up Ancestral Protectors and Polearm Master at 8th level with the ASI from Barbarian. From there, we move over to Fighter, picking up Battle Master along with spending the ASI on either Shield Master to round out the defensive abilities or picking up a stat that is down a bit. From here on out, you’d go with Paladin, taking it all the way to the end, improving stats along the way.

The Build

Graw Brokenaxe, Ancestral Defender
Paladin 12: Oath of Devotion
Fighter 4: Battlemaster
Barbarian 4: Ancestral Guardian

Race: Half-Orc: The bonus Str and Con will likely be needed, as you are unlikely to be using a lot of ASI’s for stats, and the ability to stand tall when you finally do drop will come in handy.
Highest Stat: Constitution: as it is going to benefit your hit points and your armor class both, which you’ll need. You’ll need to look at how your stats pan out with Strength, Dexterity, and Charisma all being strongly desired.
Second Highest Stat: Charisma: Getting a strong Charisma score will power a number of your abilities and get you a good around bonus to your saving throws. Don’t neglect Strength or Dexterity, though. Intelligence and Wisdom are both pretty dumpy here.
Armor: Here you have to be conscious of both your dex and con and how they work together. A low Dex will allow you to use a Breastplate, while a high con and Dex will make you consider wearing no armor. Adding a shield pushes that AC up to pretty reasonable levels.
Weapons: Spear: here is works with polearm master way down the line to get an extra attack, and you can throw it in a pinch, or toss the shield aside if needed.
SkillsAthletics, and Medicine: Both of these will help you get out of sticky situations, saving lay on hands points for dying people, and allowing you to escape grapples.
Spells: Being a barbarian pretty much excludes combat spells, so I picked a bunch of utility.
1st(4): Cure Wounds, Purify Food and Drink, Detect Magic, Compelled Duel
2nd(3): Lesser Restoration, Zone of Truth, Locate Object
3rd(3): Create food and Water, Remove Curse, Revivify
4th(1): Death Ward

Let me know what you think, and what you would do differently!