9
\$\begingroup\$

Is it possible to make a useful combatant who doesn't deal damage (at least not primarily) without relying on magic?

Glancing through the spell list, I can see a number of spells capable of indirect combat support (Earthquake, Enlarge, Entangle, Enthrall, Evard's Black Tentacles, Eyebite, to cover just a single letter). Is it possible to build a character who can similarly contribute indirectly to a fight without relying primarily on magic?

While there are some exceptions, most Battle Master Fighters would not qualify, as many of their maneuvers are tied to attacks. Being Fighters, these tend to be quite potent, hence the damage part of the attack is typically more valuable than the condition it inflicts (in my experience, anyway). I'm looking for builds which contribute to combat mostly/entirely in ways other than damage.

Is such a build possible which is at least roughly as useful as other, more typical builds? And would it remain viable at higher levels?

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is your issue the mechanics of spells or the story of spells? you could simply build a bard, cleric, or druid and refluff their spells as some other ability in terms of story. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Apr 15 '15 at 13:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ stphen, I am having a difficult time understanding what you are asking after: you have given a bunch of examples of what you do not want. Can you give examples, even non-mechanical examples, of what you do want? \$\endgroup\$ – Lexible Apr 15 '15 at 17:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ how big is your party? Depending upon the size of the PC party, there are indeed some interesting choices ... but to solve your particular problem, telling us who is already in the party (class/subclass/archetype) will provide an opening to recommend a particular class/subclass/archetype as a raw support non spell PC. I offer this belated comment because there are some new Barbarian and Fighter Archetypes now available since Xanathar's Guide To Everything has been published. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 10 '18 at 21:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ To be honest, your last paragraph detracts from your question, even though the question itself probably has some good answers available, particularly with the new XGtE class archetypes. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 10 '18 at 21:17
12
\$\begingroup\$

No, there is no non-damage, non-spellcaster build that will be as useful as a normal character. First and foremost, there is a support ability every character can use: The Help action. This takes your action to give an ally advantage on one attack. It can be useful, but it's not even close to being the equal of another character.

Going through the classes, we can see that only spells allow you to contribute significantly in combat without dealing damage. The few methods that would let you rely on highly limited resources.

  • Barbarian: Has almost no abilities that help you do anything except deal damage and take damage. The few they have are more out of combat utility than anything else.

  • Bard: Has Bardic Inspiration, a useful support ability...that they can use a maximum of five times between long rests. From level 5, this becomes a maximum of five times between long or short rests, making it a little more viable. This is one of the closest abilities to what you want. Obviously, the Bard still has spells, but you don't have to use them if you don't want to.

  • Cleric: Some of the Channel Divinity abilities available to certain domains are useful support abilities. However, these are even more limited than Bardic Inspiration, reaching a maximum of 3 times per day at level 18.

  • Druid: Other than spells, the Druid's only major ability is Wild Shape. Sadly, there's nothing you can Wild Shape into that would help you support.

  • Fighter: The Champion only gets better at hitting things, and the Eldritch Knight uses spells. The Battle Master has Commander's Strike and Rally, which are pretty good support abilities, but once again, a highly limited resource.

  • Monk: Is good at punching things. One of its paths makes it better at punching things, the other two give you spells.

  • Paladin: Probably your best option for non-spellcasting support. They have access to some useful auras and non-spellcasting healing. Again, they also have spells, but it's up to you whether you want to use them.

  • Ranger: Has some out of combat utility abilities, but in combat has attacks and spells, and possibly a beast that offers no non-damage support either.

  • Rogue: Again, some great utility outside the arena of combat, but in combat has attacks. (And spells, if you pick Arcane Trickster.)

  • Sorcerer: Spellcasting and almost nothing else.

  • Warlock: Has access to a wide variety of abilities, but very few of the non-spellcasting ones benefit anyone other than the Warlock themselves.

  • Wizard: Some of the school benefits are fantastic support abilities, like Portent or Transmuter's Stone, but these are (once again) extremely limited resources.

So if you want to make a non-damaging, non-spellcasting support character, your best bet is to go a Paladin and stand near as many of your allies as possible. You'll want to use the Help action most of the time, and Lay on Hands when appropriate. For Oaths, the Oath of the Ancients, with Nature's Wrath and the incredibly powerful Aura of Warding, is your best choice. If you take the Protection Fighting Style, you can use your reaction to protect an ally. The Healer feat will let you use healer's kits to heal each of your allies once per long rest, and Inspiring Leader gives your allies a nice boost to their HP.

A minor modification, suggested by MrNattious: If you multiclass into Bard for at least 5 levels, you get Bardic Inspiration uses that recharge on a short or long rest. The bonus action support ability would make a nice addition to your character, and since you get all of the Paladin's support abilities at or before level 10, all it will cost you is the radius increase on your auras. As always, I strongly recommend taking multiclass levels in multiples of 4 so that you don't lose ability score increases.

Note that this build won't make you as useful as, for example, a Paladin who casts his spells and hits things with a greatsword, but it's about as close as you can come to what you want.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ in addition to Help and Lay on Hands, Pallys can make use of their multi-attack and use shove to push or prone enemies. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Apr 15 '15 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ May want to add for the Bard: "... When you reach 5th level, you regain all of your expended uses of Bardic Inspiration when you finish a short or long rest" (PHB, p.34) \$\endgroup\$ – MrNattious Apr 16 '15 at 3:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MrNattious Thanks, good call! At that point, it might actually be worth considering a Bard. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Apr 16 '15 at 3:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman That's true, was just thinking a Bard/Oath of Ancients Paladin might fit the bill myself. And if the OP is not completely averse to using spells, those spell slots would do wonders with some of the Paladin/Bard support-type spells \$\endgroup\$ – MrNattious Apr 16 '15 at 5:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MrNattious Yeah, when I've got some time I might edit in a build along those lines. From memory a lot of the best support features of Paladins come fairly early, so it should be reasonably practical. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Apr 16 '15 at 5:16
5
\$\begingroup\$

I think it depends on what you consider to be “support”. A lot of warrior types have non-explicit support options build into the system.

I think the main non-magical support role is a well equipped Thief Rogue. Use that cunning action to throw caltrops and ball bearings all over the battlefield. Take the Healer feat and become the party’s non magical backup Cleric while still getting sneak attacks in.

Tanking is technically a support role. In a recent session I played, two squishy Bards got pinned down by giant spiders. We have a Bear Totem Barbarian in the party, and he started just running around between Spiders, soaking up their opportunity attacks so the squishies could safely retreat. Between his decent AC, absurd HP, and resistance to all damage from Bear Totem, he could take those hits all day long and still come out of the battle with more HP left than the casters, AND still get in his two attacks.

A Monk can use their absurd number of attacks to force an enemy caster to make repeated Concentration checks.

Grapples can be used by a tank to keep a bruiser from moving.

And of course, there’s the ever popular Sentimel-Polearm Master for shutting down enemy movement.

It definitely takes some more creativity, and isn’t necessarily as powerful as some support spells, but you can do a lot with the right stats and some good positioning. A lot of these fighters might still be damage dealers, but you can get a lot out of focusing their builds on these support actions.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
2
\$\begingroup\$

Thesis: All support roles in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition rely on either attacks or magic.

There are 12 classes in 5e right now, and they all fall into one of two groups:

  • Magic
  • Martial

These are not well defined distinct groups, many if not most classes overlap them sufficiently. However, there is no class that can provide adequate combat support without either casting or attacking.

First, let's eliminate the casting classes, these clearly fall out of scope as they rely on magic:

  • Wizards
  • Bards
  • Rangers
  • Paladins
  • Warlocks
  • Clerics
  • Some Fighters
  • Some Rogues
  • Some Monks
  • Druids
  • Sorcerers

This leaves us

  • Barbarians
  • Some Fighters
  • Some Rogues
  • Some Monks

Unfortunately, the commonality in all of these classes is that in general they do not do support well, and those times where they do have abilities that allow for support, they almost always are triggered by an attack. They don't have abilities that allow them to be combat effective in a supporting role, their combat efficacy comes almost entirely from hitting things with other things.

That said, depending on the source of your objection to magic, you might, as Joshua suggests in the comments, reflavor spells to effectively not be magic, but to have a power source outside of a spell list. The Warlock is especially useful for this (As their flavor is that their powers are granted and can just as easily be drawn from something. The Sorcerer can also be good flavor for this. However, both of these classes are attack focused, Druid, Bard and Cleric are much better for support).

Another option is to develop your own support subclass using the rules in the DMG and the advice outlined in the most recent Unearthed Arcana article. This may well be your best option, I'd build it on a cleric of wizard and convert most of their spells to support abilities that can be used a set number of times per rest period or day.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even from a spellcaster's standpoint once you are out of spells/abilities it becomes really hard to remain useful without dealing damage. None of the support cantrips really shine inside of combat excluding special situations. \$\endgroup\$ – Patrick Apr 15 '15 at 14:49
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @wax eagle: Thanks for answering, however I've accepted Miniman's answer as it provides a little more detail on the support capabilities of each class. \$\endgroup\$ – stphven Apr 16 '15 at 6:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @stphven great! it's a better answer :) \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Apr 16 '15 at 13:31
2
\$\begingroup\$

Yes: a non-magic Barbarian that focuses on support is in XGtE

I am going to ignore the least useful part of your question in offering this answer.

Is such a build possible which is at least roughly as useful as other, more typical builds? And would it remain viable at higher levels?

Viable in particular as a criterion is a red herring in D&D 5e, given bounded accuracy, given that this is a team based game at its root, and given that you provided zero measurable criteria from which to discern viability. What follows is a useful support Barbarian build, from Xanathar's Guide to Everything, in the form of the Ancestral Guardian Barbarian. (XGtE, p. 9-10)

There is an inherent contradiction in your problem definition, but we can work with it

a useful combatant who doesn't deal damage (at least not primarily)

While that criterion is nebuluous it gives us something to work with since the edges aren't well defined. In a party with at least one other martial character, and better with two, the Ancestral Guardian Barbarian support character can be very useful.

At entry levels

Since you do not forbid combat, but are not emphasizing DPR for this character, at levels 1 and 2 make sure that the barbarian has javelins or hand axes, which have the thrown property, so that our barbarian can attack, trigger rage, and then be in a position to shove/grapple various opponents so that the other PC's can kill them.

Once in a rage, this barbarian enters into melee with the intention to grapple (or on certain occasions shove or knock prone) their opponents. This holds the enemy in place while the other martial characters, and even spell casters, do damage to them. With rage's resistance to melee attack forms, this support character can wield a shield, use the "free hand" to grapple, and keep the enemy from fleeing while not taking too much damage since such melee damage as is received is halved. (Slashing, bludgeoning, piercing) Now and again a "help" will be a more useful way to help your allies lay the lumber on the enemy.

Stat and PC Race advice:

  1. Go seriously min-max on this: Con>Str>Dex>Wis>Cha>Int.

  2. Since Half Orc is the best racial choice for Barbarian, followed by Goliath and variant Human, pick one of those three. The variat Human allows you that feat at level 1.

    While you need some Dexterity for increasing your unarmored armor class, and it's a commonly needed saving throw stat, I'd boost Constitution first, and then bump up Dex. The Barbarians second level feature (Danger Sense) mitigates some of the cases where you rely on Dexterity by giving you advantage versus traps and spells that you can see and that require Dexterity saves.

    Mountain Dwarf won't be a bad racial pick, due to resistance to poison and advantage on saving throws. A variety of monsters throughout the game do poison damage. With +2 to both Str and Con at level 1, your two most important stats are already blessed with bonuses.

    In almost any situation, this Barbarian can "help" rather than attack and provide other melee attackers with advantage on their. While so doing, the initial rage may expire if you have not taken damage, but the other party members should have been able to build some momentum for that encounter.

At level 3 Ancestral Protectors.

The point of this feature is to, when you rage, make all attacks on others be attempted at disadvantage by the creature that you have chosen. You still have to attack (javelin, ax, battle ax) and you have to keep the rage going for this support skill to stay alive, but this makes all of your other front line characters less likely to be hit. You de-buff a selected enemy. (Pick the hardest hitting one, eh? You go after the ogre, not the goblins).

Pick Con for the ASI at 4 (or the Grappler Feat)

You want to benefit from unarmored defense, and get more HP, and make your Con saves. (See below)

Embrace the second attack at level 5

Make an attack with one (to keep your rages up) and grapple with the other. You hold the enemy in place, and your allies kill it. Rinse and repeat. You'll lay a little lumber while you are at it.

Sixth level gives you Spirit Shield

One of your allies that you can see gets 2d6 damage reduction. This goes up to 3d6 and 4d6 at 10 and 14th level. You have to be raging, so you still have to be either attacking or taking damage, but this is a very nice support function for your party. Someone else takes much less damage: support function.

Consider Grappler Feat at 8 (If you didn't take it at 4)

You'll get advantage on attacks of grappled opponents. You can make a second attempt to restrain the creature, so that your allies get better attacks/damage against them.

Possible 1 level of MC in Rogue

Get athletics Expertise. Get another skill. Your grappling just got better. Your shoves got better. You knocked prone got better. If you knock an enemy prone, and your paladin ally attacks twice with advantage, Divine Smites can get pretty nice nova damage, particularly on a critical hit.

  • @mattdm suggests (if the build is going to 20) consider fitting in three levels of Rogue and take the archetype Mastermind: this provides Help as a bonus action and at range. This will depend on your party's composition, but might be a good it.

Vengeful Ancestors

This adds damage of a hard to resist type, force, but at level 14/15 when you get it, your allies have a lot of different ways to exploit the support you are already offering.

But sometimes the best defense is a good offense

Now and again, you need to be supportive by whittling down that big bag of HP that a given monster has. So let's take a look at generic Barbarian Features.

  1. Reckless attack helps with that, above and beyond support.
  2. Extra Attack helps with that;
  3. Brutal Critical helps with that;
  4. Relentless Rage helps in keeping you up, keeping that rage bonus damage going, and supporting round after round, until you miss that Constitution save (See above for why ASI in Constitution is a good thing)
  5. Persistent Rage aids in the entire Ancestral Guardian approach, since rage fires those abilities.
  6. Indomitable Might: better grappling, better shoving, better Help actions ...
  7. Primal Champion (If you don't choose that one level MC in Rogue): Strength and Constitution go up by 4. All of what you are doing above are improved.

The Ancestral Guardian Barbarian fulfills your needs.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ How about three levels of Rogue Mastermind, for Help as a bonus action and at range? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jun 10 '18 at 22:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm what does that cost, in terms of other Barb features? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 11 '18 at 1:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I think that your comment that it depends on the party's composition is about right. You're basically trading barbarianish (barbaric?) things for roguey things. I might try making a "hide and help!" rogue character for Adventurer's League sometime and to see how it goes. Hmmmm... ghostwise halfing — super-awesome if the DM lets me get away with telepathy replacing the need to be heard to help from a distance. Firbolg or duergar, if casting invisibility on myself isn't cheating the magic restriction of this question. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jun 11 '18 at 20:04
1
\$\begingroup\$

Someone already mentioned the Help action, but I think they downplayed its usefulness.

Help when applicable grants advantage on a skill check or attack roll.

I'm a situation where scoring a few hits or skill checks more consistently is better than lots of people inconsistently succeeding and failing, the Help action can mean the difference between a successful encounter and a failed encounter.

Additionally, anyone can grapple, and grappling can be a great supporting action.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
1
\$\begingroup\$

Depending on what you mean by viable...

Yes, building a Grappler

The link is to a Grappler Guide in ENWorld. Sadly, the actual builds were not included (yet, but as it was published 3 years ago, it probably won't ever be included).

I will copy-paste the Pros and Cons, then make some analysis on what you are losing for not having spells (spoiler: not thaaat much) and then explain the basics for the build from my perspective.

I have played grappling-focused characters in a few campaigns. They are most useful in early levels. Specially in later levels, the non-spell restriction will make your life even harder. So, answering your body questions: they can be roughly as useful as other classes, depending on the campaign, or completely useless if the DM keeps throwing creatures that shut the build down. In higher levels, its utility decreases considerably, from my experience, and you should probably start focusing more in damaging later on. As a note, my experience is mostly with using EK or multiclassing into a spellcasting class (I love spellcasters, my most played class is Wizard, welp), but I think I have enough experience to understand the implications of not using spells.

Pros:

  • Very hard to interact with. Most monsters are about as good at Athletics/Acrobatics as a first level character.
  • Negates mobility. It's amazing how many opponents rely on movement and how many can't do anything once that speed hits 0.
  • Makes monsters easier for your party to hit. Grapple them, knock them prone, don't let them stand up, don't let the run around: it's "I hold, you punch" at its finest.
  • Cripples offensive capabilities. Grappled monsters already don't get free reign to choose targets or use their weapons. Now give them disadvantage on top of that, or even take their weapons away.
  • Combo potential; Grapple a spellcaster in a zone of Silence and no one will hear him tap. Hold two guys in place while your Wizard rains Fireball on their heads. Plant the badguy on the ground as your rogue stabs away. Jump out of a window while holding your targets. The possibilities are endless!

So, you can see from all the pros that it fits a "supportive" character.

Cons:

  • Weak against large numbers of opponents. As in real life (for those martial artists in the audience), grappling is not particularly effective against multiple attackers. You can only meaningfully engage with as many attackers as you have hands, which is often just going to be two.
  • Relatively low damage. Most grappling builds don't deal too much damage on their own, and will have to rely on either allies for massive damage output.
  • Low mobility. You will often find yourself in situations where you can't dart around the battlefield without releasing your grappled targets back into the fight. This can be a problem in chaotic battles.
  • When you get shut down, you get shut down HARD. Come up against a monster that's immune to shove and grapple? Have fun poking him for the rest of the encounter. Run into that one spellcaster who pre-cast Freedom of Movement? Better hope someone has Dispel Magic. Dragon won't land from the sky? Grow wings or throw insults at him.
  • Not for the faint of heart: Don't all guides have some ridiculous weakness like this? Seriously though; if you don't want to get in the face of something two size categories larger than you, a frenzied enemy with a greatsword, or a wizard casting damage-maximized evocation spells, this isn't the class for you.

Note that the "low damage by himself" is actually what you want, it seems from your question. The weaknesses number 1 and 4 are the most relevant and harmful ones.

What do you lose for not using spells as a Grappler?

While not becoming inviable by not using spells, Enlarge/Reduce greatly increases your utility by letting you grapple Larger than Large creatures, as well as advantage in the grappling Strength contests.

Other than that, some other utility spells that increase the scenarios where you are actually useful are

  • Longstrider gives +10 MS. Not a very huge loss.
  • Shield gives you +5 AC as a reaction for one turn. It has somatic components, so if you are grappling two guys, you don't have free hands anyway. Not a huge loss.
  • Silence would help you a lot against Spellcasters. Welp. How common are you facing spellcasters and how useful do you want to be? Mage Slayer will help, but it would be better to have some spells together.
  • Dispel Magic and Counterspell also would help against spellcasters (check Con #4 above - better than hoping someone has dispel magic, you could have). Also, see above.

I am also not sure on what do you mean by "not relying on magic". This build does not rely on magic, but if you could grab some spells, it would help.

The Basics

Your main goal is to Grapple + Shove, i.e., grapple the target to 0 MS and then shove him prone. They won't be able to stand up while being grappled.

As you are not getting spells to give you advantage in the Str contests, you should probably go with barbarian to get Rage, which will give you that advantage. The Extra Attack will allow you to Grapple+Shove.

A Fighter also works. Instead of going for EK as I usually do, Battle Master will be your option for nonmagical grappler.

Dipping 1 level into rogue for the Expertise is worth, as you don't have magic support for your grappling.

So, from my experience, this is how you help: you are the tank. If you have lots of Ranged PCs in your party, you will be the one tanking the damage while everyone else is hitting for free. If you have melee PCs, shoving the enemy down will give advantage to everyone in your team and disadvantage for the enemy to hit your party. If he tries to escape from your grapple, he used his action and won't be attacking anyone. You can then grapple him again in the next turn.

I also play a lot of Support Wizard for control. For AoE, the Wizard simply outmatches the Grappler by a large gap. For single target or two targets, the grappler shuts down the foes harder. I had encounters supposed to be Deadly that went easily because the enemy was down and kept failing the contests.

Eventually you will be hitting the enemies, as when you are already grappling someone, there aren't many actions you can take. Instead of hitting, you can Help. Note that Help does not require a free hand.

Overall, sadly, the spellcasters are more useful, specially because they are way more versatile, but that doesn't make this build inviable. As I've mentioned, there are scenarios (single target, sometimes PvP or Party vs NPC Party) where this one outmaches the spellcasters.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.