When I started developing the world for my current D&D campaigns, I had an idea for an NPC that, even though they haven’t shown up in the story yet, I have grown increasingly fond of. Eventually, I started building the character as a PC, just for laughs, and now that I’m done I’m so intrigued by the build that I can’t wait to play as her; Her Serene Highness Sha Reshi, child of the Golden Heart of Sohir, descendant of the djinn, future duchess of Rakhir.
Why do I want to share this? Is it just an excuse for a lore dump? Well, maybe – but more importantly, I think the build’s technically interesting. And I at least haven’t seen it done before.
Before we get into the technical details, let me outline the surroundings that gave birth to the idea of Sha Reshi: There’s a land in my world called Sohir. It’s special in that, whilst most its neighbors are monarchies, it is ruled by a council comprised of nine dukes and one clerical ambassador from a tiny neighboring island nation. The capitol of Sohir is the city of Riordosh, known as the “Golden Heart”, since a good portion of the city is coated in actual gold. Riordosh lies in the duchy of Rakhir, which Sha’s mother is the duchess of.
I’m aware that when I actually do get to play as Sha, I will have to adapt her backstory to fit into whatever world we will find ourselves in for that campaign.* Still, it’s fair to assume that she will have grown up at court. The noble background is the natural choice.
As for Sha’s race, her family is mostly human, but someone a number of generations back had affairs with a djinn, the results of which have shown up here and there in the bloodline and – as Sohir is a very magically affine country – have always been regarded as signs of power and strong leadership. Sha has inherited the gift, making her an air genasi.
So far, so standard. The class is the interesting part. Sha wasn’t into history or diplomacy lessons as much as she was into fighting. And it is important for a duchess of Sohir to be able to defend herself properly,** so her parents pulled a classic Syrio Forel and hired the finest swordsman they could find to teach her. They found an elf – kind of a rarity in Sohir – who trained young Sha in the art of Bladesinging. It was either that or make her a monk of the Astral Self,*** since I also liked the idea of Sha as a Tsunade-type ninja princess.**** In fact, I liked it so much that I decided she had undergone training under a second master, even earlier on, making her a monk who then multiclassed into bladesinger (wizard).
Now, at first glance, the monk and bladesinger classes seem to overlap and conflict quite a bit. But at a closer look, I found them to synergize surprisingly well, especially at higher levels. Speaking of levels, I built Sha at 4th (monk 2 / bladesinger 2), since we start most campaigns somewhere around that at my regular table. The level I dream of eventually playing her at however is 8th (monk 2 / bladesinger 6). But we’ll get to that. You should also know that I built Sha using the point buy system,***** as I still partly think of her as this super powerful NPC, and I didn’t want to ruin her with my rolls. Point buy made fulfilling the multiclassing requirements easier than it may have been had I rolled the abilities like a true adventurer. But to the point.
Starting out on the monk side, Sha got proficiency in strength and dexterity saves as well as two skills in addition to the History and Persuasion proficiencies from the noble background. I went with Athletics and Acrobatics to balance out the brainy stuff. The monk’s basic equipment provides Sha with her primary weapon, a shortsword (named Firefly). What’s technically missing here is an arcane focus and a spellbook, but I assumed it would be alright to turn the signet ring she got from her background into a fancy focus and just give her a spellbook for free (they can be rewritten anyway). If my future DM demands any compensation for that, her noble money will hopefully be enough to cover the costs.
What we want from the monk beyond this basic setup and a few more hit points than a regular wizard is the 1st-level Unarmored Defense and Martial Arts features as well as the 2nd-level Ki and Unarmored Movement. This means that we get faster, harder to hit, can attack using dexterity, and can use a bonus action to make an unarmed strike dealing 1d4 damage. We also have two ki points per short rest we can spend to dodge, dash, disengage or, perhaps most favorably, make two unarmed strikes instead of one as a bonus action. On to the bladesinger part.
What hurts a little is that the bladesinger’s Training In War And Song is mostly wasted, since monks shouldn’t use armor or anything other than monk weapons, i.e. “shortswords and any simple melee weapons that don’t have the two-handed or heavy property”. In other words, we get proficiency in Performance and one one-handed melee weapon – lance, in my case – that we’re probably never gonna use.
The Bladesong feature is where the synergies start. In order to use it, we mustn’t be wearing medium or heavy armor, using a shield, or attacking two-handed. As long as they’re not using a quarterstaff, monks check all these boxes automatically. And while Bladesong is certainly a powerful feature on its own, its AC and speed bonuses matter even more when stacked on top of the monk’s Unarmored Defense and Movement. In Sha’s case, it increases her movement from 40 to 50 feet and her AC from 15 (10 + 3 DEX + 2 WIS) to 17 (15 + 2 INT). That’s not bad for a spellcaster.
And we’re talking a full-fledged spellcaster with all sorts of useful magicks. Sure, we’re starting with only three 1st-level slots, four with Arcane Recovery, but since wizard is the class we want to level up, that’s only the beginning. I wanted Sha to be cautious and agile and tactical, so I chose Shield (have fun beating 20 / 22 AC), Feather Fall, Expeditious Retreat (saves ki points), and Color Spray as her prepared spells. I also took Alarm and Comprehend Languages (communication is crucial for diplomacy, and diplomacy is key at court), since those can be cast as rituals, meaning that they’re not going to waste despite not being prepared. A decently well-rounded arsenal and exactly what you’d expect to learn in a high-society magical self-defense class.
In the cantrip department, I went with Fire Bolt, Gust, and Lightning Lure. For one, they give Sha’s magic more of an elemental touch; especially Gust makes sense for an air genasi. For another, Fire Bolt is simply the best damage cantrip there is, and I hope that combining the push and pull effects of Gust and Lightning Lure with Sha’s high movement and agility will enable some nice tactical shenanigans. Admittedly, a spell save DC of 12 is not super impressive, which is one of the weakest points of the build. Good thing no other spells use it.
But hold on, you will say, when exactly do you plan on casting all that? The spells I get, you’ll say; Shield and Feather Fall are reactions, Expeditious Retreat a bonus action, Color Spray is situational and the rituals aren’t relevant for combat anyway – but those cantrips all take an action to cast! That doesn’t sound dynamic at all. Well, I’ll reply, you’re a keen observer. To be honest, I don’t expect to use them a lot, except if I need to stay at range. Not until that glorious 8th level hits. See, at 8th level, the bladesinger gains their strongest feature; an Extra Attack that allows them to cast a cantrip instead of one of their attacks.
Yup. This is where this was going the whole time. Imagine her. There she is, white hair, pale blue skin, running across the battlefield like lightning itself, leaping off a rock and plucking an attacking harpy from the air with magical electricity, impaling it with a sword, then stomping its head into the ground as she twists her sword back out of its guts. All in one turn, without expending any resources. It’s a game to her, and she’s got plenty up her sleeve; a range of spells, three bladesongs at this level, two ki points.****** Say what you will, but that’s pretty cool. I mean, sure, you need to think (and calculate) fast not to slow down combat, but that’s exactly how I want to play her. Impulsive yet elegant. And versatile. And deadly.
Oh, one last thing: At 6th level, i.e. at 4th wizard level, Sha gets a fourth cantrip. And I’m picking Blade Ward.
* I will also have to adhere to the subset of rules the DM for that campaign will allow, which is why I preventively avoided homebrew or Wild Magic content.
** Like, for real. The other eight dukes and duchesses are pretty op. Two of them are dragons.
*** Both the bladesinger wizard and the Way of the Astral Self monk are introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. I’ve only leafed through it once or twice but I can tell that it’s well-made, a major addition to the rules, and thus will probably continue to be relevant. I don’t think there’s been a book since the PHB that has awakened such an appetite in me to just sit down and play the game.
**** I even considered giving her a giant snail familiar with special healing skills. I ended up scrapping that idea as it wasn’t intuitively related to any of Sha’s other features, and I would’ve needed to homebrew it to do it well, making the build less general-purpose. One day tho…
***** Which was, by the way, my first time using it. I’ve now officially tried all three ability score generation methods. Does that unlock some kind of achievement?
****** If she gives it her all, meaning a sword attack, two unarmed strikes, and a Fire Bolt (which deals 2d10 damage by 8th level), the expectancy value for her damage – assuming that all four attacks hit – is 19.5 + 3*DEX, i.e. either 28.5 or 31.5 points of damage, depending on what ability score I choose to increase at 6th level.