Artifacts of Thassilon by 000Fesbra000, Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
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To my personal trepidation, very few adventures are exclusively maritime. When a Dungeon Master embeds their campaign in a nautical setting, my heart blooms! Immediately I can taste the thick, warm, salty air heralded in by seagulls’ heartening caws and sailors’ shanty melodies.
A proper aquatic theme establishes a defining tone, which affects player choices, especially character builds. Though there is a myriad of magnificent maritime archetypes already available canonically, I’ve compiled a few multiclass builds that I believe would abet excitement in this theme.
Note: After this article, take a look at our comprehensive module on nautical adventures: Sea Exploration in 5e, which includes all that a Dungeon Master would need to build a sea-faring campaign.
By the way, you can read more about multiclassing combinations here to learn the basics and find more guides.
Triassic Kraken by 000Fesbra000, CC License
Typically, we recommend dipping only one to three levels in a multiclass. However, for this build, we are going to utilize the choicest features of each archetype, synergized by spellcasting and love for the sea.
Also known as “the Lurker in the Deep,” the Kraken Warlock patron never found its way into a manual. We’ll utilize Warlock to gain Light Armor and Simple Weapons proficiencies. Start as a Warlock for armor equipment and the Wisdom saving throw proficiency, or start as a Sorcerer for the Constitution Saving throw proficiency and find armor another way.
This build will utilize Charisma-based spellcasting over weaponry, but a Warlock is given versatility in this realm with proficiencies in simple weapons. Note that armor rules are unclear underwater, but light armor is typically the same in or out of the sea.
As a pupil of this patron, you’ll gain access to the Kraken’s tendril grasp, a reaction to escape in magical darkness, and several weather-related spells to shift winds or summon storms.
We recommend choosing the Pact of Chain in order to gain an Octopus familiar if underwater or a Pseudodragon if on land. Both creatures have excellent skills: stealth, darkvision, and obscurity for the Octopus; and perception, blindsight, and darkvision for the Pseudodragon.
As a Sea Sorcerer, you’ll gain abilities to breathe underwater, swim with ease, cast a curse with your cantrips, and reduce damage. You’ll also gain fire resistance and, most importantly, Metamagic.
Here is the sum of your magical abilities:
11 Sorcery Points, 6 Sorcerer cantrips, 12 Sorcerer spells known up to level 6 spell slots, 3 Warlock cantrips, 10 Warlock spells known, 2 Warlock spell slots at 5th level, and 5 Invocations known.
Plus, you can sacrifice your level 5 Warlock spell slots to gain 7 additional Sorcery Points each to use for Metamagic, while using your Sorcerer spell slots to cast Warlock spells. You can short rest to regain Warlock Pact Magic spell slots and convert them to Sorcery Points (fun tip)!
THE MONSTER HUNTER
Monster Slayer Ranger 17 | Scout Rogue 3
Rangers and Rogues share many similarities: their focus on Dexterity, nimbleness in armor and weaponry, and vastness in skills, to name a few. Whether you begin as a Ranger or a Rogue in this build, you’ll eventually gain access to light and medium armor, thieve’s tools, and martial weapon proficiencies, as well as four skill proficiencies.
Monster Slayers can quickly assess a target’s greatest weaknesses and strengths, including damage immunities, resistances, or vulnerabilities. They also receive extra damage, an Extra Attack, supernatural resilience against saving throws and grapples, spellcasting foil-abilities, and counterattack reactions.
Undaunted like Captain Ahab, you’ll use your skills to track, attack, and defeat the wily sea monster that perfectly ties into your backstory. As you multiclass into a Scout Rogue, you will gain double proficiency in Nature, Survival, and expertise in two additional skills of your choice. You’ll also gain Cunning Action (dash, disengage, or hide as a reaction), a reaction to move away from a foe without provoking an opportunity attack, and negligible Sneak Attack.
This build begs the question: is it worth multiclassing into a Rogue? I think so. By trading three levels of Ranger, you aren’t missing out on incredible high-level abilities. A Ranger’s abilities from levels 18 through 20 are uninspiring. By taking three levels of Rogue early on, you’ll gain scalable bonuses in multiple skills and useful in-battle reactions.
Player’s Handbook Multiclass
Wizard School of Evocation 17 | Cleric Tempest Domain 3
Taking only three levels of Cleric, your powerful Wizard will gain light/medium/heavy armor and martial weapon proficiencies. Recall that heavy armor is not ideal for swimming, but these armor proficiencies will greatly improve the life expectancy of your Wizard. By multiclassing into the Tempest Domain, your spellcasting character will also gain retributive damage against foes and additional lightning and thunder damage.
As an Evocation Wizard, you can learn Evocation spells at half cost and time. Add your lightning and thunder damage bonuses to spells such as the cantrips Lightning Lure (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide), Shocking Grasp, and Thunderclap; first-level Thunderous Smite (Player’s Handbook), Thunderwave, Witch Bolt; second-level Shatter; third-level Lightning Bolt; and so forth. You can also cause allies within your evocation spell range to automatically succeed on saving throws caused by your spells, and cause foes who would take no damage from your cantrips to take half.
By level 10, you can add your Intelligence modifier to one damage roll, and at level 14, you can deal maximum damage in simpler spells.
Not only is the synergy in this multiclass build admirable, the lore of doing work for a god while studying magic independently can create some unique character development.
Realistically, we tend to argue that a player should only take one to three levels of a secondary class to gain armor and skill proficiencies, with maybe a few top-class features. However, sometimes it is exceptionally more fun to build a multiclass for the gimmick and utility. This is one of those builds.
Start as a Rogue Swashbuckler for an initial four skills and weapon proficiencies that indulge Sneak Attack. With the Artificer multiclass, this build focuses less on spellcasting and more on accentuating the Swashbuckler abilities through buffs, utility spells, and an arcane cannon.
At level 9, Artificers can cast Water Walk, even as a ritual, which would preserve their spell slot. Take the battle away from your precious ship, or sabotage the vessels of your enemies stealthily. Combine this with damage from one’s own personal cannon on-board, and you’ve got yourself a savvy, tinkering (and repairing!) pirate with unexpected utility.
With skills in woodcarver’s and other artisan tools, the Artificer addition brings a myriad of magic items (of which you can attune to four and craft in a quarter the time and half the cost) and powerful complimentary infusions. See our articles on crafting magic items for more inspiration.
To really milk this multiclass, a player should focus on high Dexterity and Charisma, even though Artificers shine with Intelligence. Be more of a Swashbuckler in heart than a tinkerer.
Barbarian Path of the Storm Herald 17 | Fighter Battle Master 3
Barbarian Path of the Storm Herald is a sea-worthy build alone, but by adding in just three levels of Fighter, we can expand our abilities to make a more potent persona.
Building primarily a Barbarian, we will have access to all of this warrior’s best abilities: Rage, Unarmored Defense, Reckless Attack, Extra Attack, and so forth. The Storm Herald Path will grant us additional lightning damage while maintaining a Storm Aura, available during a rage, extended as a bonus action. At level 6, this path will give us water-breathing abilities and a worthwhile swim speed. The Storm Aura will also grant resistance to lightning for you and your allies under its radius.
Though armor proficiencies added when multiclassing into a Fighter matter little with our Barbarian core class, we will gain a Fighting Style, Second Wind, Action Surge, and Battle Master Maneuvers.
Choose the Fighting Style Defense to add +1 to your armor class; Great Weapon Fighting to reroll 1’s and 2’s on damage dice; or Mariner (UA) to gain a swimming and climbing speed early on in addition to +1 AC.
Second Wind will extend self-healing once per short/long rest, and Action Surge will allow you to take an additional action. Though your storm aura damage will not be added to the Action Surge or Extra Attack damages, you will still add your Rage Damage and possible Battle Maneuver damage (one per attack available).
Choose three maneuvers that are most helpful in your campaign: Evasive Footwork will add 1d8 to your AC until you stop moving; Disarming Attack will assist in causing your foe to drop their weapon while adding additional damage; Goading Attack will entice an enemy to attack you, helping you keep your Rage active; Lunging Attack will extend your reach and add damage; and so forth. Avoid maneuvers that require a bonus action, as you will be using that to deal your Storm Aura damage.
Forego an Ability Score Improvement to gain the Martial Adept feat, gaining two additional maneuvers and one extra superiority die.
Whether you’re sailing new seas, delving in deep waters, or adventuring in oceanic territory, choosing to build a multiclassed character can provide unique skills and rich character development that elevates the game to the next level.
What multiclasses have you played in seaworthy campaigns?
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