One of my favorite characters from Shonen Jump’s Naruto series is Gaara. His skillset involves the manipulation of sand with specialized telekinesis. Gaara is a character whose skills are unique and devastating. He can attack, defend, travel, and scout. His personality is gruff and dark because of a tragic past and a loveless upbringing. Still, his character develops over time as he interacts with people who care about him and finds purpose among his people instead of fear.
Early in D&D 5e, I imagined playing as a Druid of the Land who comes from the desert. I wanted to make a character with powers similar to Gaara, but nothing fit the concept I imagined. That changed when Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything arrived in the mail…
Gaara Is a Swarmkeeper Ranger
Naruto fans might be thinking, “Flutes, Swarmkeepers are for bugs. Shino is more of a Swarmkeeper Ranger than Gaara.” Yes, Shino would make a cool Swarmkeeper, but hear me out why Gaara is an amazing fit with the Swarmkeeper Ranger.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything’s text encourages players to customize the descriptions of their spells and abilities. I’m leaning heavily into this creative agency for my Gaara concept. There are other ways to build a character who resembles Gaara. This is merely one of many ways to bring Gaara to life in D&D 5e.
The gist of the Swarmkeeper Ranger is that it has bonded with “nature spirits.” These spirits take the form of a swarm that lives in a symbiotic relationship with the character. The swarm defends the Ranger like one of its own and attacks the Ranger’s enemies.
This subclass ability specifically encourages players to determine the form of the Ranger’s swarm. I invite you to envision the swarm as a cloud of sand controlled by the Ranger. Due to the spirit of the One-tailed Beast and the love of his mother, Gaara’s sand has been known to have a sentience of its own. He carries most of his weaponized sand in a gourd on his back.
The swarm of sand will allow Gaara to perform a few basic techniques. He can use one of these benefits once per turn and only on his own turn. You can only use these benefits if Gaara hits a creature with an attack. These benefits are manifestations of the swarm. Any attack can benefit from Gathered Swarm’s options:
- Deal an extra 1d6 piercing damage.
- Force the target to make a Strength saving throw. On a failure, the swarm can move the target up to fifteen feet horizontally.
- Move Gaara five feet horizontally in the direction of choice.
Gaara learns bonus spells at level three and higher levels. We’re going to re-flavor these spells to reflect the sandy nature of the swarm that Gaara utilizes. I’ve suggested how to re-flavor and describe each spell with the desert theme.
- Mage Hand (level 3): Your sand floats and carries small objects.
- Faerie Fire (level 3): The shining minerals of your sand shine and surround enemies like an aura to reveal positions and compromise defenses.
- Web (level 5): Your sand disperses over an area to hinder movement. Fire causes the sand to become loose in this form.
- Gaseous Form (level 9): Your body turns to sand. You can float about as part of your swarm until you reform.
- Arcane Eye (level 13): Gaara is widely known to possess a unique scouting ability. His sand can form into an eyeball. Covering one of his own eyes with his hand, Gaara shares vision with the floating eye.
- Insect Plague (level 17): Desert sands rise to bombard and cut. The gritty tumult slows movement and hinders eyesight.
Flying is one of Gaara’s iconic, unexpected tricks. He flies and floats in the air on a disc of sand. Gaara can use a bonus action to gain a relatively slow flying speed of ten feet. His flight lasts for one minute or until he’s incapacitated.
Gaining flight without concentration is amazing. You can keep your distance from enemies without worrying about falling. Your flight is based on hovering, so knocking you prone while flying won’t cause you to fall. This will come in handy for Gaara!
Your ability to control sand has amplified with training and experience. This ability augments the level-three ability, Gathered Swarm.
- Your damage option increases from 1d6 to 1d8 as your granular control (pun intended) becomes more deadly.
- A failed Strength saving throw will also knock the target prone. Your sand truly overwhelms the target, pushing the target to the ground.
- Being moved by the swarm gives you half cover until your next turn begins. You effectively have a sand shield that floats around you and has a will of its own to protect you.
Shadow Clones aren’t your thing, but every Naruto character seems to have a decoy or dispersal effect. Gaara has gained the ability to resist damage from any source as a reaction. His body then disperses into the sand, teleporting up to thirty feet away to reform himself. Gaara can use “teleportation” to reach a better position or even get out of reach. I like to think he could use this teleportation outside of combat, too.
You can disperse fairly often, too. Your chakra eventually runs out and leaves your defenses weakened. You can also describe the damage resistance as the sand armor that coats Gaara’s skin like a clay pot. Resisting damage and teleporting with the same reaction is awesome.
We shouldn’t neglect the Ranger spell list for this concept. The Swarmkeeper receives several spells that we already discussed repurposing for the sand theme. I’ll now explore the Ranger spell list to identify spells that fit Gaara’s skillset. Let me know if you think I missed an opportunity with any of the Ranger spells. Several of the spells could be flavored to be sandy, but I’m focusing on the ones that seem to match Gaara’s skillset.
- Barkskin: Coat your skin in hardened sand to boost your Armor Class.
- Commune with Nature: Put your ear and hands to the ground to sense what’s around.
- Conjure Barrage: Describe the barrage as sand globs.
- Ensnaring Strike: Your attack that was already augmented by your swarm can also bind and restrain a target where it stands. Gaara often anchors foes to the ground and uses his Sand Coffin technique to crush them further, just like Ensnaring Strikes continuous damage.
- Fog Cloud: Create a minor, harmless dust storm instead of a mist.
- Freedom of Movement: The sand has a mind of its own as it blocks any who would seek to grapple or otherwise slow you down.
- Grasping Vine: It’s a sandy tentacle lashing out to give foes whiplash.
- Guardian of Nature: Gaara has been known to create humanoid shapes with his sand to defend him.
- Hail of Thorns: Sandstorms are brutal. Describe this spell as a brief sandstorm instead of a thorny barrage.
- Jump: Gaara has been trained in ninjutsu. This grants him a degree of physical prowess that includes jumping much higher than a human normally could.
- Plant Growth: Don’t focus on the plant part of this spell. Describe how you have loosened the earth to come to life with your sand to slow your enemies. You may have also dispersed your gourd’s sand instead of using native sand.
- Snare: Like Grasping Vine, your sand pulls together as a desert appendage to capture an enemy.
- Spike Growth: Coat the land in the sand that lashes out to pierce trespassers.
- Stoneskin: Similar to Barkskin but granting you damage resistance against nonmagical weapons. Gaara famously coats his body in hardened sand. It cracks when he endures too many powerful blows.
- Summon Elemental: You can choose Earth or Air for your option, but you’ll describe an Air Elemental as a flurry of sand to be more of a Sand Elemental. Earth can function as Gaara’s Shikaku shield as the elemental guards you from harm.
- Water Walk: Every ninja can run on water. Gaara must remain dry to utilize his sand properly.
- Wrath of Nature: This one might need slight mechanical tweaks to make it sing with the desert theme, but it’ll work! You make the land come to life as sand lashes out at your enemies. Your sand rips apart the landscape and anyone caught in the carnage.
- Entangle: This will be similar to other terrain spells we’ve covered. Instead of spectral vines, describe your sand covering an area and reaching up to bing foes.
- Aid: Gaara’s allies are important to him. He can use his sand to protect allies, though not as well as it protects him. This protective sand can be described as additional hitpoints.
- Meld into Stone: Chakra manipulation can once again alter Gaara’s body. Stone is just sand that hasn’t left its parents’ house yet. Gaara can use it to hide when he needs to ambush or escape. It lasts eight hours, allowing Gaara to rest unseen and safe.
I’m disappointed that Wall of Sand and Wall of Stone are not Ranger spells. Maybe you can bargain with your DM to learn them anyway. I would’ve also liked to get Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere for Gaara, as well. These would all work well for Gaara’s spell selection.
Core Ranger Features
TCoE gives new Fighting Styles to the Ranger, and two of them seem like fits for Gaara: Thrown Weapon Fighting and Druidic Warrior. The former will allow you to play Gaara as a dart and shuriken slinger, but you can describe the projectiles as sandstone weapons. Druidic Warrior will allow you to learn the cantrips Mold Earth and Thorn Whip. You’ll describe Thorn Whip as a whip of sand instead. You could also choose Shillelagh if you prefer it and want to invest in your Wisdom stat, but it won’t compliment your flight that you gain at level seven. It will compliment your Mighty Swarm at level eleven as you could gain advantage on melee attacks against a prone enemy. Fighting Styles from the PHB are useful, but I don’t think they suit Gaara. I suppose you could choose Defense to increase your Armor Class by one since you have your sand protecting you. Archery would help your ranged accuracy, too.
As for other Ranger features, none of them are super related to Gaara. I won’t cover them with great depth. You’ll generally gain awareness of natural environments, enhance your ability to survive in the wilds, and make yourself disappear. These skills are critical to a shinobi’s survival, though Gaara isn’t famous for any of these features.
The Swarmkeeper’s final ability is gained at level fifteen, leaving us five levels to play with. We’ll miss out on some Ranger spells, including the Swarmkeeper’s Insect Plague at the seventeenth level, but let’s see if we can gain something better. Maybe we don’t need to use all five levels for multiclassing.
As with most pop-culture character concepts, these suggestions aren’t ‘optimal’ for a character. These suggestions are meant to be fun while evoking a concept that is unique and interesting. If you understand the rules well enough to know what you’re missing out on by playing a unique character concept like this, I recommend giving these multiclass dips a try with your Gaara character.
Beast Barbarian Multiclass
I include this to give Gaara an option to play up his partial Jinchuriki Shikaku transformation. The Beast Barbarian can grow a tail used for defensive purposes that resembles the one-tailed beast, Shikaku. You can alternatively grow razor-sharp claws or predatorial teeth. Rage will increase your durability if you don’t need to focus on spells for a while.
Unarmored Defense sounds a lot like Gaara’s sand shell. Ninjas are adept at spotting and dodging threats, so Danger Sense makes… sense.
Your stats will need to be carefully considered, so you’re not dividing yourself too thin between Strength, Dexterity, and Wisdom. Learning to Rage as a Barbarian will enhance your durability regardless of stats, but your attacks will benefit more from Rage and Barbarian features if you attack with your Strength.
Dao Genie Warlock Multiclass
The Genie Warlock can play into Gaara’s abilities with Invocations. Choosing the Dao will further play into Gaara’s theme.
You can grab spells and Invocations that fit Gaara’s persona. Invocations like Tomb of Levistus and Cloak of Flies (both from XGtE) can easily be reskinned as tombs and cloaks of sand. Eldritch Blasts can be described as sand projectiles, and the Invocations make a lot of sense as they knock creatures around and slow them down (depending on the Invocations you choose).
The Genie abilities are fitting too. Gaara can encase himself in hardened sand like the Dao’s Sanctuary spell or the Bottled Respite. Dealing more damage with attacks with Genie’s Wrath is an excellent way to empower your sand-themed damage.
The Swarmkeeper makes an excellent Kage. Gaara’s sand powers truly come to life with this subclass. Spells add to the desert sand theme when described so. Several multiclass dips can play further into his powers. Focus on Wisdom and Dexterity, but you don’t have to sweat the optimizations.
What do you think? Let me know if this concept sounds fun. I’d also be interested in alternative ways to build Gaara if you have alternative ideas. Cast Sending in the comments below to share your thoughts.