Dungeons & Dragons is a great game of battles and adventure, where noble heroes and wicked villains can sow their legendary deeds into the tapestry of fantasy history. We have all heard tales of powerful wizards banishing extra-planer threats back to their realms of origin, gallant fighters slaying evil dragons with ruthless efficiency, and bards charming tyrannical kings into changing their ways. These tales are what make us all want to grab our wizard hats and start our own adventure in hopes of too achieving greatness.
The trouble is most of this is done at pretty high levels of play after several sessions, when the player characters have grown in power and ability. When you start out on your travels to become a hero of legend, you are more than likely going to be weaker than a wet paper bag, finding yourself clobbered to death by a single bugbear who was just minding their own business. Only after grinding your way through a bunch of lower-level threats and completing a bunch of miscellaneous quest will you even get access to some of the most iconic abilities, such as your sub-class features and high-level spells.
Now for myself and many others, this is all part of the fun. Battling your way up from lowly beginnings up to world ending threats plays into that good old heroes’ journey, that makes the overall outcome of the adventure all the more satisfying. But for others (especially those that haven’t played a long run RPG campaign before) it can be a real shock to the system as the hero they have spent days writing backstories for, gets their head kicked in during the first encounter of the adventure.
Now sure, if you want to skip the first few steps on your heroes’ journey then you could just start of the campaign at level 3 or higher. But for the most part I think that has you missing out on some of the best parts of the story, as you really get to let the character grow and evolve into a more fleshed out protagonist. After all, the origin story is what makes us fall in love with a lot of our most beloved fictional characters, and it would be a shame to rob you of that experience.
Luckily, there are a few different ways of build level 1 characters that are not only fun to play, but also quite powerful. So today I am going to share with you some of my favourite starting character builds that will allow you to have a bit more of a chance when you kick off your life as a famous adventurer. All these builds will be Adventurers League legal, so no matter where you aim to get your D&D fix, you will be able to jump right in and go nuts. So, with that lengthy pre-amble out of the way, let us begin.
1. The War Tortle.
If you are the kind of player who wants to be on the front lines, holding back the endless sea of evil minions while to more vulnerable members of your party strike from a distance (or if you are just a TMNT fan) then this is the build for you. Tortles (a race of turtle-folk) are a great class for those looking for something very different to the usual fantasy races. They have a bunch of neat features such as been able to hold their breath for an hour and a natural claw attack, but it’s their signature shell that makes them one of the best tanks in the game.
Tortles start the game with natural Armour Class of 17, which is pretty much the same as wearing half-plate. They can also retreat into their shell as an action, sacrificing their ability to attack but gaining another +4 to their AC. They can’t wear any other armour (but they really don’t need to) nor does their AC increase with your Dexterity modifier (meaning you can “dump” it as a stat). But they can however wield a shield, which is where things start to get fun. Choose Cleric as your class, picking the War Domain so you get Shield of Faith as a bonus spell. Now stand in the doorway of a dungeon, then cast Shield of Faith as a bonus action, before retreating into your shell as your action. You now have an AC of 25 (17+2+4+2) meaning that most early level threats will need to roll a nat 20 to deal you any damage, all while your allies pelt the enemy with range spells and attacks.
Then, when they are suitably weakened down, pop out of your shell and start laying into then with your own melee attacks to finish them off. And don’t worry about them moving you, because while you are in your shell you have advantage on strength and constitution saving throws. Just be prepared to make an enemy out of your DM, as they throw more and more busted threats at you as the game progress.
2. The Anime Monk.
If dealing damage is more your speed, then this next build will be more up your alley. Most players will tell you to go for a Fighter or Barbarian and take the Variant Human of Custom Lineage are your race, to get access to the Great Weapon Master feat for some broken damage totals. While these builds have the potential for busted hitting power, they can be rather hit and miss (pun very much intended) as at lower levels the -5 to hit can be a real issue. Instead, consider taking the often-overlooked Monk out for a spin.
The butt of many a joke, the Monk can deliver a ton of attacks at early levels, but often lacks the raw damage output of the other melee classes. But if you don’t mind been a little edgy, there are ways to pump that damage up quite a bit.
First up take the Variant Human of Custom Lineage as your race, in order to get access to the Magic Initiate feat. Choose Warlock, then pick up the Eldritch Blast cantrip and Hex spell (the other cantrip can be whatever you think will work best for you). Then choose a Quarterstaff or Spear as your monk weapon. On the first turn of combat you can stay in the back while casting Hex on your enemy, before hitting them with a kame ha me ha shaped Eldritch Blast (d10+d6 damage). Then charge in on the next round of combat to make a two-handed weapon attack as your attack action, and a martial arts attack as a bonus, both still affect by the Hex (d8+3+d6+d4+3+d6).
That is an average of around 26-30 damage over the course of two turns. That will wreck most low-level monsters (and even a few higher-level threats) all while mostly staying out of harms way. All you need now is a monkey tail and an orange gi and you will be all set to live out your best anime fantasies.
3. Father/Sister Goodberry.
But what if you are more the kind of player that wants to support your team with healing spells? Well then first off let me say thank you for being awesome (the world needs more people like you) and secondly don’t worry, we got you covered. Keeping the party alive can be a real challenge during those early days, especially after a gruelling combat encounter when a long rest is not guaranteed. That’s when “Father/Sister Goodberry” has their time to shine.
First off, choose Variant Human of Custom Lineage as your race, again choosing the Magic Initiate feat. This time however, we are going to pick druid to get access to the spell Goodberry. Next, choose Cleric as your class, selecting Life Domain. Normal, Goodberry gives you 10 berries that can magically heal you 1 hit point each. But because of your Disciple of Life ability, that is increased by +3 hit point per berry. That gives you a total of 40 hit points worth of healing outside of combat, which should be more than enough to heal the whole party at level 1.
Sure, it’s only a once per day ability. But even then, it should be more than enough to keep your party fighting fit and dungeon crawling with the best of them. Just say your Cleric of Lathander really likes trees when your DM starts to give you the stink eye.
And there you have it. Three fun, yet powerful build for level one characters in Dungeons & Dragons 5e. Do you know any others builds that are a joy to play? Tell us about them in the comments below, and while you are there if you could like and subscribe that would be awesome. I’m hoping to do more of these build articles in the near future, and subscribing makes sure you won’t miss them.
If you want to support us directly then we also have a Patreon, and for just a $1 a month you would do so much to help us create more of the content you enjoy. If you have any ideas for new and exciting D&D builds/articles you want me to look at you can contact me directly @TenguPlaysGames over on Twitter, and maybe I’ll talk about it next time. But until then remember to look after yourselves, and each other.