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I like odd (but not completely broken) builds, and am intrigued when I see them, but do like to see them somewhat balanced. Right now I'm considering whether a melee Wizard build is feasible.

If you focus your stats on combat (melee or ranged depending on race), and if most of the spells you take are based on buffing or gaining a situational advantage, (Transmutation, with some Abjuration, in particular), can a Wizard compete with other classes on damage output with a racial weapon? Obviously tricks like an Elven Wizard flying to rain arrows down is interesting in its own right, but I am asking more for capacity to stay relatively close in overall power level to a character of another class at either tanking and/or weapon-based damage output in to the later level ranges.

I do expect it to be less, but I am hoping it isn't too much less.

Post Script: I know that this question may require waiting until the PHB is released and the full spell list and Wizard specialization list are available.

Update: Giving the credit to Wax Eagle as his initial assessment is the best. Analysis of the Abjurer specialization gives me some extra insight that he didn't have at the time and a minor change to include the abjurer allows his answer to be even better. I will note those changes here:

Looking it over, the Abjurer gives some great advantages to hit points via their class abilities, and those advantages can protect another player after a few levels. They will not have the damage output of a fighter with a melee weapon, but they can absorb some serious damage with temp hp granted by specialization power. It appears that the damage output could be house-ruled through a feat or ability that allows the damage discrepancy to balance out, but that is out of the scope of the original intent. If first level is Fighter make an even better tank by granting shield and heavy armor proficiencies. All damage in the late game would need to be focused on by spellcasting, though a focus on touch spells would be in the spirit of the character, and thus still allow them to generate the right feel. There is a feat that allows casting with a shield, and it is worth it conceptually, and doesn't slow down progression much.

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Have you considered multi-class? If you start with one level of fighter and then switch to wizard, you get a good number of advantages of the fighter class: High starting hit points, second wind self-healing, proficiency to wear heavy armor. And when you switch to wizard you can keep wearing that heavy armor, as it doesn't prevent you from spellcasting if you are proficient with it. –  Tobold Jul 30 at 9:11
    
Looking at this for racial flavor... multiclassing would break the spirit of what I'm trying to do. My case in point is Mtn Dwarf. +2 Str, +2 Con, Medium armor prof... add wizard spells, and it is possible it could stand on its own. I only worry about damage output really, since the rest is basically taken care of. –  Aviose Jul 30 at 12:24

2 Answers 2

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No, you really can't unless the PHB abjurer/transmuter fixes this in the school powers. Th basic cleric gives us some clues on how WOTC might fix this.

There are two areas you have to look to know whether or not this will work. To-hit and damage.

The first is thankfully baked right into the system, with the boosts to stats and proficiencies, a wizard who starts with a 16 int/14 str or dex will be able to reach 20/20 by L19 and will get the full +6 proficiency in both their weapon (thanks to racial proficiencies), and on their spell attacks and DCs (thanks to...well...magic).

However, the other space that is far more problematic. The wizard stays at a single die of damage. The fighter gets more attacks, and the rogue gets more and more sneak attack dice (and eventually more turns), cleric and wizard cantrips continue to add more dice (from 1 up to 4).

However, the cleric provides and interesting picture of how this might work via a wizard school. A wizard school could provide a similar feature to the Life Cleric's Divine Strike where it would add an additional d8 (or d6 or d10, whatever), to melee/ranged attacks at two to three levels. This would provide a viable melee/ranged attack option that scales well enough to compete with cantrips and fighter/rogue melee attacks.

To take the cleric for an example, using a d8 melee weapon, his melee attack with the second upgrade of Spiritual weapon isn't quite as good as the 4d8 of sacred flame at L20, but it's within about 2 DPR of it, which is plenty good for them to be a competitive melee class at 20.

To sum up. Right now, having only seen the evocation school of wizardry, no, the wizard cannot compete. But they have laid the groundwork for how a melee or ranged wizard can work if they choose to add a school that's amenable to that. Looking at the list of schools with a bit of expanded info for each...I'm not seeing one that indicates a weapon attack focus, but until we see the details for the schools, we can't say yet.


Update:

Now that we've seen the Abjurer and Transmuter, we can say for sure that neither of these takes on school features similar to the Wizard that makes weapon based melee attacks viable. This is actually OK.

Abjurers are actually semi-viable in melee. Provided you're willing to use one of your L1 spells to cast Mage Armor daily (or play a dwarf). If you're Dex is decent you'll want a finesse weapon at L1. After tier 1, you're melee attack is no longer viable, and you will want to make sure you have access to Shocking Grasp, and a few cone or self centered cube spells at low levels (Burning Hands and Thunderwave are good options) to cast at their specified level or higher). However, the class feature that really shines for the abjurer is the Arcane Ward feature that lets you wrap magic around yourself to create something of an energy field. This becomes transferable at L6 giving you a defenderish type power.

That's basically it for the Abjurer's melee support. They can take about one more hit than your average wizard, so you don't want to get into melee often, but they aren't a total loss if they get there.

Transmuters don't really get something that makes them viable in melee until L10. With a 1/rest free polymorph that is limited to a CR 1 creature. Like the Druid's Wild Shape, polymorph can be used as a HP sink as your original HP is restored when your polymorphed shape is dropped to 0 (though you take over damage if there is any). I would not attempt to enter melee with this school until at least L10, and probably not even then except in limited doses.

So, ultimately, the answer to this question is no. No wizard is truly viable in melee, at least not the way the Cleric is.

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Was thinking, in the case of strength based, going with the Mtn Dwarf for 16 Str, 15 Int... with a buff-based wizard, the int doesn't need to grow like strength does, or at least can be a hair weaker initially. Of course, being able to channel touch based attacks through weapons could be a cool way to make it work. –  Aviose Jul 29 at 20:07
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@Aviose yeah right now a lot of attack spells are S or M component which means you're either out a weapon or a shield when you cast them. However, depending on how you read the "interact with object as part of action" rule, you should be able to juggle weapon and free hand just fine (enough that I'd be very willing to ignore that). –  wax eagle Jul 29 at 20:14
    
Fine without a shield... fits the concept better overall to keep a hand free when you want to go with a fighting style that involves magic anyway. –  Aviose Jul 29 at 20:25
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@Aviose I don't see how that would be imbalancing. It's definitely way weak even for a +1 int feat. I'd let you channel all your spells via your mundane weapon...and I'd have to relook at the magic weapons in the starter, but I'd probably be less inclined to let you channel through a magic weapon. –  wax eagle Jul 29 at 20:30
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In this respect, I'd insist on actually keeping a limitation of proficient weapons. I know the old Arcane Archer Feat they were testing let you do it with any level 1 or higher spells... This kind of defeats the purpose in this case. Even if it's only shocking grasp through a weapon, it would keep the character down to the power level for basic attacks of close to what other classes are mustering. The cantrips are the most important part of this process to give it the feel I'm kinda searching for. –  Aviose Jul 29 at 20:41

I would highly doubt it. Remember that most buff spells require concentration in 5e, and you can only concentrate on one spell at a time (so no stacking buffs like a 3.x Transmuter). And taking damage always brings the possibility of breaking your concentration and losing your buff. So you either buff yourself defensively, to mitigate your vulnerability to losing concentration your general lack of HP, or you buff for offense, potentially allowing yourself to out-damage your allies in melee at the risk of taking damage and losing both your offensive buff AND a good chunk of your HP. You'd be a "glass cannon" with the potential to becoming just "glass" after taking your first hit.

I'm not saying there won't be class features or feats that won't help mitigate one or more of these issues, but you'd need to both mitigate both losing concentration and find a way to stack buffs to really be able to stack up in melee as a wizard. There's probably several answers for the former but I doubt there'll be much of an answer for the latter. Limiting buffs was key to 5e keeping casters in check.

It seems that for melee wizards 5e would really prefer to steer players towards the Eldritch Knight.

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A dwarven wizard with a starting CON of 14 is only going to lag about 22 HP behind a striker of similar CON and 44 behind a Fighter of similar CON at L20 (less at lower levels). And going to have a decent AC. The only thing a INT/STR/CON wiz of this type won't have is stat boosts left to boost CON. That does mean that the point about concentration is salient, though it neglects the fact that the Basic cleric has the same concentration issues, but has a viable melee/ranged option. –  wax eagle Jul 30 at 10:10
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Exactly. A melee-built Cleric doesn't NEED to keep a buff up in order to contribute enough to damage. Presumably, a Wizard a will. Meanwhile, an Eldritch Knight is getting four attacks per round and will have access to several of the same buff spells. –  agradine Jul 30 at 16:36

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