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So, per my previous question, I am taking Miniman’s advice and making a mountain dwarf necromancer with Heavily Armored and a focus on vampiric touch. I have come to dub this concept a “vampire” build, because it amuses me to do so.

Anyway, I’m trying to sort out what I’m doing with my ability score bonuses and/or feats. My DM has given us very generous ability scores, so (after racial bonuses and the +1 Str from Heavily Armored) I have the following:

  • Str 12
  • Dex 14
  • Con 18
  • Int 18
  • Wis 16
  • Cha 12

Proficiencies are in Int and Wis saving throws, and in Strength (Athletics), Intelligence (History), Wisdom (Insight), and Wisdom (Survival).

We are level 8, so that means I have two iterations of Ability Score Improvement. As a houserule, everyone starts at level 1 with a feat, so my Heavily Armored does not count towards those two.

My thoughts:

  • I use Intelligence for a lot of things, so bumping that up to 20 seems like probably a good idea

  • Since the whole point of the build is fighting in close quarters, War Caster might be choice, though I am using an arcane focus as my weapon so I do not need its benefit that allows using a weapon and shield with spellcasting

  • Heavy Armor Master would make me a fair bit more resilient, though the Strength bonus is mostly negligible.

  • Keen Mind gives me +1 to Intelligence, rather than +2, and gives me a smattering of useful survival/navigation options. My background is Outlander, so that might be fitting? But I’m also just not sure how often those features will actually get used.

  • Linguist is another +1 to Intelligence (could take along with Keen Mind to get that 20 Int), but the benefits are even more random. I do not think my DM will make heavy use of languages.

  • Lucky just seems really useful. Three rerolls per day is potent, at least in my experience with previous editions. Is that borne out in 5e?

  • Observant seems like by-far the best of the options for +1 Intelligence. The passive bonuses seem large and relevant, and I can see the lip-reading thing actually coming up in a game.

  • Resilient gets me proficiency with Constitution saving throws, which I may need to make often to maintain concentration.

  • Ritual Caster allows me to cast a few spells from outside my usual repertoire, for out of combat purposes. Not really sure what’s valuable from these options though.

I suppose most of the question is, just how much should I worry about concentration, and which feats are best for handling the concern? War Caster, Heavy Armor Master, and Resilient would all improve my odds of taking hits without losing concentration, but I don’t know if I need all of them – and in which order I should rank them.

Aside from that, is Int 20 worth prioritizing? It does seem like a pretty big deal, considering how much I use it, but I want to ensure that.

And finally, just how useful are rituals?

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman No worries, definitely not going to accept an answer, even if there is one, for several days. Like to give my questions time. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 7 '15 at 0:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman Waxeagle strikes from the shadows without war-URK..... \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Jan 7 '15 at 3:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @sadaqah Feat or just ability score increases. I tend to view the ability score increases as just a generic feat and the Ability Score Improvement entries in the table as just "Feat". Because feats-are-totally-optional is just about the dumbest thing ever. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 7 '15 at 3:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman I don’t mean to say that the option is a bad option – it’s literally the first option I have for myself. I mean to say that the design here was really stupid. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 7 '15 at 4:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Any chance you have access to a 6th-level or higher Transmuter? If you could get a Transmuter's Stone, it can grant proficiency to the CON saving throw. You're giving up the +1 to CON, but you're not using a feat so you could choose something other than Resilient. \$\endgroup\$ – sadaqah Jan 8 '15 at 0:53
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Tl;dr: Bringing Intelligence up to 20 is necessary at some point, but doesn't have to be immediately. War Caster and Resilient are both great options and will help you maintain concentration. Heavy Armour Master and Lucky are also great options but won't have much impact on concentration. None of the other feats seem particularly worthwhile for you. Personally, I'd probably take War Caster and then decide between Heavy Armour Master and bringing my Int up to 20.

I'll address your points one by one, starting with:

Bringing Intelligence up to 20

You definitely want to bring your Int to max at some point, because it controls your primary means of attack. The question is whether you want to get it now, or leave it till later. With that in mind, consider what 2 more points of Int actually provide:

  • +1 to hit with your spell attack
  • +1 to DCs for your spell saves
  • +1 to Int saves
  • +1 to Int checks
  • +1 to number of spells you can prepare

None of these are huge benefits in the short-term. Long-term, this makes you 5% more effective at most of the things you specialise in. (Warning: gross over-generalisation.)

War Caster

You don't intend to have both hands full, so this only gives you advantage on Con saving throws to maintain concentration, and spells for opportunity attacks. However, both of these are strong benefits. Advantage to maintain concentration needs no explanation, but spell opportunity attacks might not be as clear.

To start with, you're planning to be in the thick of the melee, so you should be getting opportunity attacks often enough to want to use them. Unfortunately, you aren't planning on using a weapon, and your signature spell Vampiric Touch won't work with opportunity attacks. (It specifically requires an action on your turn to make an attack with it.) So in your present state, you have no use for opportunity attacks. Giving yourself an option could pay off.

On the other hand, opportunity attacks aren't the only reaction, and you might want to save your reaction for spells like Shield or Counterspell. That said, these require resources, whereas with War Caster you can always use your opportunity attack to cast a cantrip.

Heavy Armour Master

As you say, the Strength is negligible where you're concerned, so the question is the damage reduction. This is a great option for someone planning to be in melee - 3 damage off every non-magical weapon attack adds up to be a lot of damage very quickly.

For concentration, it's a bit weird. It won't affect the vast majority of Con saving throws you make to maintain concentration, since the damage has to be at least 22 for it to have an impact. (Many high-damage attacks are magical, and it won't affect those either.) When it does affect the DC, it will only reduce it by 1-2. So as an option to help you maintain concentration it's a bit of a bust. It's still a great defensive option though.

Keen Mind

I can't say any of these features have ever come up in a game I've played. They're all highly situational and I can't find anything to redeem this feat other than "it's kind of cool, I guess".

Linguist

3 languages is pretty good, but there are spells that take care of this sort of thing for you. I've never seen a situation in game where a cipher would've been handy. If you're looking for a way to send messages to someone that no one can intercept, there are a variety of spells to achieve that.

Lucky

3 rerolls a day that you can choose to spend once you've seen the result? This is huge. You can spend them on an attacker's roll against you? That is just nuts. If you get critted, you can just wipe it away. Note that its benefits aren't nearly as potent on rolls that you make with advantage, but they're even more helpful on rolls you make with disadvantage. As far as concentration is concerned, you can fix a failed concentration roll 3 times a day, but you're likely to be making a lot of them, so something that isn't a scare resource and benefits all of them is probably worth getting.

Observant

This feat is frighteningly good. Just not for you. For a character who's maxing Wisdom and has proficiency in Perception, this makes them a portable radar station. (One of my players, the cleric, took Observant and has been making my life hell spotting every stealthed enemy and trap a mile away.) For you, it will make you almost as good as they were without it. If your party lacks a "sensor" character, it could be worth considering. Assuming you have one, I don't recommend this.

Everything in the above paragraph is based on Perception, without considering Investigation. That's because Perception is used far more often than Investigation, and passive Perception is used almost constantly whereas passive Investigation rarely sees the light of day. This can vary from campaign to campaign, obviously, but in general Perception is better.

Lip-reading is a cool little feature that I have seen used several times in intrigue situations, but I don't think it's worth spending a feat on.

Resilient

For maintaining concentration, this is pretty strong. More reliable than the advantage provided by War Caster, and scales better as you level. As well as that, though, there are a lot of effects that trigger Con saving throws. Most diseases, poisons, many spells, and a lot of monster effects. There's a saving throw for every stat, but Con, Dex, and Wis are still the most common, so this is definitely worth your consideration.

Ritual Caster

First and foremost, you have every benefit of Ritual Caster (as far as spells on the Wizard list are concerned.) Second, the benefits of this particular feat are highly dependent on what scrolls the DM feels like tossing your way. So the only quantifiable benefit of this spell for you is learning 2 1st-level spells from another class's spell list. Unless you can see something you really want (I can't), I can't recommend this.

Besides that, most rituals are either available to the Wizard or can be effectively duplicated by the Wizard. The only one I can see that you can't produce for yourself (barring a Wish, obviously), is Silence, which I can't quite see how you would use as a ritual. (It's more of a combat spell, and the 10-minute casting time is inconvenient in combat.)

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In many games NPC's and monsters may regularly target a spell caster that is close to melee range to stop him from maintaining spells. That said, your vampiric talents may make up for Heavy Armor Master in terms of hit point loss mitigation vs life gain, but you do start lower in hit points and are likely to draw attention quickly.

Resilient and War Caster are solid choices. Although you don't need the weapon it would keep the advantage of making it less likely that you would be recognized as a caster when you enter combat. As soon as you start casting, it becomes glaringly obvious, of course. I would say that Resilient and War Caster should be enough to maintain your spells pretty well. Resilient to give that bonus for your proficiency mod, and War Caster for advantage on concentration checks. You should almost never fail at that point.

Overall this means my recommendation is slightly different than Miniman. I suggest your first two feats being Resilient and War Caster. Decide how you want to balance this with raising your Int, and don't worry about the Heavy Armor Master until later, if at all.

If you do take Ritual Caster, talk to your DM first. Spell scrolls outside the wizard class are generally hard to find. The utility of having another classes ritual spells isn't bad, but if you don't have DM support for your concept, you are basically wasting your time.

Observant is definitely worth it if you don't have someone else in your party that is extremely proficient as a spotter. Even if this is the case, you should not grab Linguist or Keen Mind unless your DM makes them useful feats, and instead you should take one of your stat increases and split it between Int and some other stat that would be helpful. Con is a good choice if it isn't maxed.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Any opinion on using Observant and one of the other +1 Int feats to raise Int, rather than taking the +2 Int option? \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 7 '15 at 16:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll have to look at all the int related feats, since all I see on your list is Observant, Linguist, and Keen Mind (don't have my books right now). Observant is universally useful, so it definitely makes the mark on that one. The other choice will likely depend on the DM and the story as to how useful they are. \$\endgroup\$ – Aviose Jan 7 '15 at 16:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, pretty sure Keen Mind and Linguist are the only other +1 Int feats (well, aside from Resilient but I already have Int save proficiency). Their bonuses are really minor and fairly unlikely to come up, so it’s mostly a question of whether or not Observant’s non-Int features are good enough to warrant spending two feats getting Int 20. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 7 '15 at 17:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with @Miniman on that one. If your party does not have a spotter in the group that is extremely proficient, then you would be well served picking Observant up. If you do this, you'll have a +1 to Int from Observant and a +1 Con from Resilient, so taking a level upgrade to get +1 Int/+1 Con will put you at 20/20 on them. \$\endgroup\$ – Aviose Jan 7 '15 at 17:45

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