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I am building a Duegar Alchemist with a Folk Hero background who's inspired by the support/utility role builds I have been hearing and reading about. In other words, a character who focuses more on using their abilities, skills, spells and tools to buff up and round out the party rather than dealing direct damage, controlling the battlefield, or taking up a more specific role. I am hoping to accomplish this by:

  • Using his skills from Cooking tools to make sure the party's well-fed, from Mason tools to analyze the buildings they might find themselves in while skills from his Thieves' tools assures them a way to escape, from Smith and Tinker tools to keep the party's gear up to snuff, and Vehicle (land) proficiency to assure that the party makes it from one place to another safely (Mason from his race, Cooking and Vehicle from his background, and the rest from the Artificer).

  • Using a combination of Magical Tinkering and Alchemist tools to prepare spells like Guidance, Mage Hand, Alarm, and Grease, as well as distractions and deterrents like alchemist fire or a throwable box that either shakes to attract purple worms or smells to attract werewolves... perhaps even other grenade-like traps...

  • Using his Infusions on party members, such as to beef up the Barbarian's axe or buff out the Fighter's armour.

In actual combat, I plan to focus primarily on buffing my allies or doing ancillary actions around the encounter, but directly attacking is not my primary goal.


Now that I hopefully painted a picture of the character type I'm trying to build, my current issue at hand is to figure out how to manage his ability scores effectively. I was thinking of painting an homage to his upbringing as a pack mule by making him robust, resilient, and resourceful (using a stat array of 15 Strength, 8 Dexterity, 15 Constitution, 15 Intelligence, 8 Wisdom, and 8 Charisma), but wonder if the low dexterity of this point-buy system would get in the way of playing him as a "supporting character."

For instance, I know that the low Charisma will make him struggle at social interactions, and his lack of Wisdom would make him rather gullible or cynical (which I am willing to play into), but I am wondering if the lack of acrobatics, stealth, and other Dexterity-based abilities would be as detrimental to his role as it might for, say, a scouting Rogue, or nimble Monk? As there are weapons like slings that he can use for a strength-based ranged attacks (if needed), would it affect his ability to help the party in battle? Are there ways to use my Strength to overcome some of these disadvantages, or would it be better to use more of a standard array to achieve my build goals?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you add that you don’t intend to participate directly in combat? And have you talked with the DM and other players about your build plan? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 26, 2023 at 13:18

3 Answers 3

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You need Wisdom more than you need Strength.

So the obvious shortcomings here are that low Dexterity and Wisdom make you vulnerable to attacks and saving throws targeting Dexterity and Wisdom (Artificers are proficient in Intelligence and Constitution saves).

Fixing the Wisdom is easy: swap your Wisdom and Strength scores. Wisdom and Dexterity are the most often targeted abilities for saving throw-based spells, and the value of not failing against hostile Wisdom-based spells cannot be understated. Now, setting your Strength to 8 means Strength-based weapons are no longer a viable option, so to maintain some offensive utility, I recommend dropping mage hand in favor of an offensive cantrip such as fire bolt. This would allow fire bolt to synergize with the Alchemist's 5th level feature:

You've developed masterful command of magical chemicals, enhancing the healing and damage you create through them. Whenever you cast a spell using your alchemist’s supplies as the spellcasting focus, you gain a bonus to one roll of the spell. That roll must restore hit points or be a damage roll that deals acid, fire, necrotic, or poison damage, and the bonus equals your Intelligence modifier (minimum of +1).

As NautArch explains in his answer, there is no such thing as pure support. Having a viable offensive option is a necessity, and a boosted fire bolt is a good one.

Living with 8 Dexterity: half-plate, a shield, and the Resilient feat.

Dealing with low Dexterity requires a little more investment than dealing with Wisdom. There are two things you need to acquire to make your abysmal Dexterity score less of a problem:

  • Armor, ideally half-plate, but scale mail and breastplate are suitable, cheaper alternatives
  • A Shield

Our Dexterity modifier is negative, so we need one of the higher tier medium armors to offset it, and you might even consider taking the Enhanced Defense infusion to boost it further:

A creature gains a +1 bonus to Armor Class while wearing (armor) or wielding (shield) the infused item.

The bonus increases to +2 when you reach 10th level in this class.

Half-plate infused with this infusion would set your AC at 15, and adding a shield to that boosts it to 17. The folk hero can start with scale mail, so your starting AC with scale mail and a shield would be 15, and adding Enhanced Defense to it gets you to 16. But even a single point increase to AC can have huge benefits, so getting half-plate should be a priority. At 6th level, you can even boost your shield with the Repulsion Shield infusion:

A creature gains a +1 bonus to Armor Class while wielding this shield.

So Enhanced Defense half-plate and a Repulsion Shield shield would give you an AC of 18 at 6th level, with only 8 Dexterity.

Finally, boosting your AC doesn't help with Dexterity saving throws. However, at 4th level, we can take the Resilient feat:

Choose one ability score. You gain the following benefits:

  • Increase the chosen ability score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • You gain proficiency in saving throws using the chosen ability.

This gives us proficiency in Dexterity saves, which is a huge boost to our resilience against hostile effects that target our Dexterity save, as well as setting us up to take (+1 Dex, +1 Con) with out 8th level ASI, and the Durable feat at 12th. These things will make you quite the tank, despite having only 8 Dexterity, which means you can focus on filling your support role with your spells without worrying about getting killed.

This build allows you to cover your weaknesses without needing to lean on spell preparation choices at all, and only takes up one or two of your infusions, allowing you to use the other two to give cool items to a couple of your allies.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think there may be another option here. With the boost in Wisdom, I could take 1-2 levels in Forge Cleric to gain another +1 Armour/Weapon offering and Heavy Armour to forgo the Dex dip. I can also see your point about Resilliant, but wouldn't I also need Elemental adept as Firebolt won't do much in later game otherwise.... \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jan 26, 2023 at 16:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB Cantrip damage scales with your character level. At 5th fire bolt does 2d10, and at 11th it does 3d10. Personally, I don't think multiclassing is a good idea, it's too great a cost for too little gain. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2023 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ But the scale doesn't do much when so many monsters will be resistant/immune to the attacks... How is a 1-2 level dip such a great cost? I am honestly not seeing where it would bring disadvantage \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jan 26, 2023 at 16:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB Why are they resistant or immune to attacks? There's a reason fireball/firebolt are so commonly picked - they're commonly useful. Yes, sometimes you'll fight monsters with resistance, but if your DM is always picking resistant, then that's another issue to ask about :P \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 26, 2023 at 16:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB Either way, it doesn't really matter. Percentages of monsters is in no way equivalent to what you'll actually face. As I said, people pick firebolt and fireball pretty consistently for good reason. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 26, 2023 at 16:50
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Support only will hobble your party in combat

5e is massively driven in combat by the action economy. The more actions one side has, the more likely they are to overcome the other.

You can see this clearly when you've got a party of PCs against a single enemy. It doesn't really matter how strong the attacks of the enemy are, it matters how many of those attacks they get - which is why with many high CR monsters, you start to see legendary and lair actions. It's to increase the action economy of the monster and let a 1 vs many fight work more equally.

That makes the idea of a pure 'support' character non-viable in combat. The 'support' type classes really just have more 'support' type actions. Your artificer can do all of those things you list above, and having low dexterity doesn't change the efficacy of those things.

As an artificer, you're still able to participate in combat while still doing all of the things you want to primarily do above.But focusing on a support-only role will either create problems for the rest of your party, or force your DM to constantly design encounters that have something for you to do in them - and while that's not impossible, it is a lot to ask of a DM to always have to design something for a single character.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer is almost a carbon copy of my thoughts. With this caveat: unless the party has six players \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2023 at 14:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I ran the Doomvault with more than six and they all needed to be attacking. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 26, 2023 at 14:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB I saw your change, but given your narrative description I still hope this answer is valuable for you. 5e really isn't like crpgs or mmos where you really can be a 'support' character. Here, every character is primary, they just all do different things as primary. You can still buff and do all that - that's why those options are there - but you'll find that even doing so, you'll be spending actions attacking and want that to be meaningful. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 26, 2023 at 16:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ It was helpful, thanks. I believe the mindset would be the same as a Cleric: Smash, Bash, and heal when allies fall down else you waste your spell slots. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jan 26, 2023 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB Bingo! Although you'll find clerics in 5e are Cast, Smash, Bash, and heal. THey've got great buff options and a lot of incredibly powerful offensive options. Our Light Cleric was one of our biggest combat threats. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 26, 2023 at 16:56
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Initiative

The big concern is initiative. You can ignore Dexterity-based skills, you can just hang back to limit the risks associated with any shortage in AC, but initiative is non-optional, and often crucial.

Any time there is a short-duration or situational buff that your party needs, but you didn’t use ahead of time, your initiative may easily be the most important roll in the game. Sometimes, the difference between the buff being there before the enemy goes and after can be the difference between success and failure. (Admittedly, it rarely gets that dire, but it still may often be quite painful for enemies to get a turn to attack your unbuffed allies.)

How significant this is depends a lot on how well you can buff between fights—which depends on your ability to predict what you’ll need and the duration of your buffs. You can build around supplying only long-duration buffs that are almost-always useful, and your initiative won’t matter. The alchemist is in a pretty good place here, because a lot of its buffs fit the bill. So dumping Dexterity is possible.

The more you are interested in niche buffs tailored to particular enemies—especially if the enemies you are facing often require these—the more important your initiative becomes. But even then, with good scouting from your party, you might not need it—ultimately, buffing in combat is making corrections for anything you failed to plan for. Plan well enough, and you won’t have to correct anything.

All that said, at least if it’s me, I want to get that first turn to be ready for anything.

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