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Assume you used the first two ASIs to maximize the intelligence for a Wizard (Divination). Then, on level 12 you have the choice for another feat. The primary goal is to maximize the survivability (i.e. not dying) for the wizard. What feat will best achieve that?

The campaign is a typical D&D campaign in a Forgotten Realms setting, with a mix of dungeon exploration, overland and city adventures, mostly dungeon delving. Party of four, with a fighter, rogue and cleric. The wizard's role is to stand in the back if possible for battlefield control and remote damage, not to engage in melee, but they obviously cannot always avoid that. Sometimes intelligent opponents will decide that they should take out the squishy mage at the back and focus fire on him. The wizard is not the one scouting ahead or checking for traps, that is either their familiar or the rogue, who has high perception due to expertise and high Wisdom. The cleric can cast Aid to bolster the entire team with 15+ increased hit point maximum.

Sometimes foes lie in ambush and assault the group from the side with surprise. I'd like the wizard to avoid dying (going down is fine, as long as they do not die in the end). Situations that took the wizard down, or nearly so, during the first 12 levels include being fireballed, being fireballed multiple times in one round, being attacked with surprise by a Clay Golem, Ropers, a Behir, multiple Shambling Mounds (all different times), and being attacked by a Hellfire Engine.

Playstyle: The wizard will not flee combat and abandon their comrades, unless that is the only way to avoid ensured TPK. We tend to do careful exploration, with a good amount of scouting and divination spells before going somewhere, but even doing that we've not been able to know everything -- many dangers are hidden or camouflaged. The vibe is pretty "oldschool", i.e. a DM that sees his role as challenging us with deadly encounters.

Assume the wizard has no special magic items. Their spell list includes all the staples of: mage armor, shield, find familiar, misty step, dimension door, and for remote damage and battlefield control fire bolt, web, fireball, polymorph, wall of force. They do have access to arcane eye and scrying to help scouting. They have contingency, typically set to dispel mind control effects. Pretty much any spell under 5th level is available. They have 8 Str, 13 Con, 14 Dex, 12 Wis, 14 Cha.

Feats I think could be good candidates could be Alert (to avoid deadly surprise rounds, side benefit of higher initiative in combat), Resilient (to get extra hp, side benefit of better ability to keep concentration), and Lucky. Maybe Tough. Among those, which is the best, and what are the reasons for it?

I realize that all feats are good for something, but if you had to pick one to maximize the chances of the wizard surviving, which one would it be, and why that one? While this will differ from situation to situation, when one has to make this choice, one does not have perfect information about the spells, monsters, traps etc. one will be facing. Did you play higher-level campaigns? Maybe what is deadly up there is different to what was deadly in tier 1-2. What was really effective in your experience?

For example, Tough is giving the wizard more hp, but Resilient also helps them to survive Con saves better (and I think due to the collateral Concentration benefit is generally picked far more often than Tough). Are Con Saves (e.g. vs poison creatures) relevant enough for that to matter? Surprise rounds seems to be what often creates deadly situations for the party, and especially for wizards as it means they will be ill positioned. Would you pick Alert over Tough or Resilient, or is it better to just have the extra hp? Lucky can help you make saving throws, on any ability and help with initiative or perception checks against surprise, would you expect that to be more effective than extra hp?

To keep this focused, I'm asking only about Alert, Tough, Resilient, Lucky, and Inspiring Leader. Other feats ar OK to mention, but you should be able to explain why they achieve the objective better than any of them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Out of scope for your question, because it's not one of the feats you listed, but my Dragonborn wizard took Dragon Hide (Constitution) and got a lot hardier. But it would depend on your DEX modifier. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Jun 8, 2022 at 4:49

4 Answers 4

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Lucky or Tough

Lucky extends your ability to mess with die rolls. It can potentially halve the damage of 3 area attacks per day or with some luck, negate up to 3 enemy attacks. If your DM likes using monsters with very high attack scores (a common practice, albeit one I find distasteful) such that most attacks hit even high AC PCs (a wizard with decent dex, mage armour, and Shield, for example), Lucky will be heavily outcompeted by Tough. Tough will also help in situations where damage is unavoidable. But otherwise, Lucky on average will negate more hp damage than tough will provide hp.

HP is by and large the measure of enemy effects in DnD 5e. Few attacks provide status conditions and those status conditions are often save-ends, or conditions you don't hugely care about as a Wizard (assuming you're using mostly save spells and area effects, anyway).

Exception: Alert

If you are willing to use the first turn of combat to become invisible or teleport (dimension door or likewise) to a position of more relative safety (out of reach of Ropers, for example), Alert is likely to save you from more hp loss than either Lucky or Tough. Observant would theoretically help in this regard as well, but implementation of perception to spot ambushes and the like is generally more patchy - many DMs will just have ambushes 'happen', or rule that situations with invisible enemies or enemies submerged in bogs or whatnot do not allow perception to spot signs of their presence.

Many 'oldschool' DMs will however intentionally negate commonly-used player tactics. Using invisibility in every fight at many of those tables will lead to every single enemy coming standard with see invisibility or some similar means of negating it (regardless of if this makes any sense).

As you can see already, which feat is more useful depends heavily on how the DM views the fights and the game and to what degree they are influenced by player choices (metagaming, in other words). Optimization relies heavily on this information - many of the stronger optimization choices are so because they don't seem powerful to the casual eye. Lucky may make it seem like you're needing to use up resources to stop from getting hit, in a way that is sharply limited per day. Tough lets you take more hits - the DM sees the monsters doing damage to you. Both of these are likely to avoid any particular counterplay on the DM's or the enemies' part in the way that a wizard turning invisible or teleporting away might.

All of that said, the solution likely lies in another castle

Of all these options, probably Inspiring Leader is the strongest one in general (if we disregard the 'to stop wizard getting knocked down' caveat). 48 extra total hp is not to be sneezed at, but it's not for that reason. Inspiring Leader gives you a nice out of game reason to talk to all your party members in-character in a way that can easily be finagled into injecting some strategy or tactics into the characters' actions. You need to go talk to people for ten minutes to give them a significant buff. That's a great excuse to take up some table time suggesting maybe scout a bit, or a party order, or a trap-checking regimen involving a long stick.

Oldschool dungeoncrashing tactics are likely to be rewarded by most oldschool DMs and require zero feats to be used. However, to avoid being seen as overcautious play or holding up the game, an excuse for your character to be the one putting this into motion (especially as a 'non charismatic' character or whatever - personally I hate that 'only the bard can speak to anyone' attitude, but it's endemic) can be very useful, and expending an ASI to 'be a leader' is a great excuse to... be a leader.

That option will likely save your wizard from hp loss more than any other (by ensuring he's ambushed less, mostly, and better battle tactics meaning he's more rarely in harm's way), but is by far the least related to which feat you choose.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, very useful considerations. Upon checking, Inspiring leader also works for up to 6 friendly creatures, which may even help bolster other tag-alongs like familiar, animate dead skeletons and the like. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 7, 2022 at 7:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. I came here to answer "Inspiring Leader." In all seriousness, the thing most likely to boost the wizard's survival is "the rest of the party." Anything that makes the party more resilient directly assists a wizard. Note: they get upset if you use terms like "meat shield" and "minion", so make sure you call them "valued comrades." :-) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 8, 2022 at 22:30
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Note: This answer was put up with the original version of the question

Over time, the question morphed into something else, making this answer no longer "correct". But before that point it had already gained more than a dozen up votes so I thought it should remain for historical reasons.


Most feats can help, it just depends on what you mean by "survival"

How are you judging "survival"? More spells? Concentration? Hit points? Defense? Speed?

Feat Category Reason
Alert Speed Better chance to be quicker in initiative. Get powerful spells out quickly.
Dungeon Delver Hit points Useful in any indoor situation with reducing damage from traps
Durable Hit points Adds to your Constitution and since Wizards have the smallest Hit Dice, you'll get more bang for your buck regaining them
Elemental Adept Damage If you focus on a single damaging element, you can now use them even on creatures that would normally be resistant widening your repertoire
Inspiring Leader Hit points If you have the Charisma, this is 14 (level 12 + Cha bonus 2) free Temp Hit Points to you AND most of your team every short rest
Lightly Armored Defense/More spells Instead of relying on mage armor, get +1 studded leather. You can now use that spell slot for something more useful
Lucky Misc We all know what Luck does
Magic Initiate More spells More cantrips means you can get more utility options; plus, getting a wizard spell means it's freeing up room for a better spell
Mobile Range Best way to avoid being hit is to not be where the action is happening. Poke someone with a dagger and run away farther with an opportunity attack
Observant Hit points Depending on the DM, having a high Passive Perception can be the difference between seeing a deadly trap and being caught in it
Resilient Concentration If you take Constitution, you'll be able to maintain concentration when you get hit
Spell Sniper Range/More spells Better range, and hitting targets that are behind cover means you're farther away and less of a target
Tough Hit points More hit points are never a bad thing
War Caster Concentration You'll have advantage to maintain concentration when you get hit

Everything can help a Wizard survive, but which is best depends on how you define "survival", your sub-class, and your play style.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Jun 8, 2022 at 20:43
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There is no "most likely" but options

This is an extremely subjective question, D&D does not have black or white answers for what is "best" or "most likely" as it's extremely reliant on player and DM styles, even with all the parameters you used to narrow it down. That being said, adding to the list of feats already suggested, if going out of the PHB is allowed, I'd include Aberrant Dragonmark (Eberron: Rising from the Last War). It grants:

  • +1 Constitution (for potentially more HP and better Concentration saves if that evens the number, or when you eventually even it out).
  • 1 extra cantrip (Sorcerer list)
  • 1 extra level 1 spell (Sorcerer list), that you can cast once per short rest through the mark itself without burning a slot.
  • The possibility of expending a hit die when you cast it for temp HP or some damage (random target)
  • An extra flaw inherent to the Dragonmark that can boost RP

But most importantly, at the DMs discretion, starting at 10th level you get the possibility of earning an Epic Boon (DMG chapter 7)

Other nice option is Gift of the Metallic Dragon (Fizban's Treasury of Dragons)

  • Free Cure Wounds once per long rest
  • Extra AC (equal to your PB) as a reaction (as many times as PB per long rest)
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Here is the breakdown of contenders

  • Alert: This will will get you into the fight faster so you can start casting control spells before the other side gets a chance to act; or at least at the same time if they surprize the rest of your party. But that sets you up to be a prime target for their first round of attacks. And Alert does nothing to help defend you, make you stronger, or last longer in battle. And without luck and a good starting Constitution score, you're likely to be hit hard and enough times to lose concentration on that control spell you got off so quick.

  • Tough: You get more hit points, so you'll be standing a little bit longer. It's twice your level so that will be 24 extra hit points. That's not too shabby. At level 12, you're capable of casting level 6 spells, which means your enemies probably can too. Like, disintegrate; which does 10d6+40 points of damage, or about 75 points of damage. But with tough, your hp is 12d6 + 12*Con bonus + 24. So those hp may keep you standing, but only if you're in perfect health at the start, and no one else picks on you.

  • Resilient: You get a +1 to your Constitution (which may or may not bump up your hp slightly) and you'll have better luck maintaining concentration on your control spells. However, concentration won't really help if you're knocked unconscious. If the +1 brought your Constitution to an even number, you Con bonus goes up so you'll get more hp. If not, you are only improving your chance to maintain one spell. And that is only because you can now add +4 (your PB at level 12) to your one roll.

  • Inspiring Leader: This is on par with resilient, except it doesn't help your concentration, but will give you more hit points (1 or more, based on your Charisma). And bonus, it would give hit points to all of your friends so they can help you survive.

  • Lucky: This is a very hit and miss feat. It will help offensively if your spell requires an attack roll. It will do nothing for Area of Effect spells, or any other spell that uses a saving throw. Consider a typical scenario--if a heavy attacker gets a crit on your Wizard, you'd most likely use a luck point to hopefully not be critted. But you're still a squishy wizard so even a low roll hits you. Now you need to roll a concentration saving throw to maintain a spell. You roll low, and have to use luck to try again. In a single turn, you've used two out of three luck points. It will help defensively, but you might burn through those 3 luck points quick and then the feat is useless until the next day.

So for pure staying alive power, you're best off with tough

But if you have an odd numbered Constitution score, then taking resilient will give you hit points AND a better chance to maintain spells. On the same level, inspiring leader will give you and your party hit points. And the longer they stand, the better your chances are. So if you have a decent Charisma, this might be the way to go. But you'll need to do this before any battle, where as tough and resilient are always "on".

Lucky is too random; it may or may not be useful in any given battle. And with (statistically) multiple battles per day, you will run out quick.

Alert, in this case, is a one trick pony. It helps you in the first round of combat.. and that's it. No bonus to hit points, defense, offense, concentration, or any other survivability factor.

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