Treantmonk’s assessment: The Bladesinger
(From the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide)
Edit November 4, 2017: I recently read a Bladesinger guide I found very compelling: Inquisitor Lim's Bladesinger and Wizard Guide. You can find a link to his guide HERE
I think this is a very useful tool for someone who wishes to play a straight-bladesinger wizard. It also is one of the most complete and thorough guides I’ve ever read.
The elven bladesinger is an iconic concept for D&D. We first saw the bladesinger in 2e as a kit for Fighter/Wizard multiclassed elves, but we had seen interpretations of fighting/casting/armor wearing elves before, such as with the Basic D&D elf.
For me, the bladesinger is an elf with a sword in one hand, spells casting from the other, all while wearing some cool elven chain. The closest 5e interpretation I had seen was the Eldritch Knight, but with Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide did we get the Bladesinger we remember?
Sadly not. Not to say that the Bladesinger is a bad arcane tradition, to the contrary, I think it’s pretty good, but unfortunately the abilities gained with Bladesinger really don’t turn your Wizard into the Bladesinger that I at least remember. The Bladesinger can’t even wear elven chain (WTF?) and one weapon fighting isn’t really a good option for them.
Let’s go through the abilities one by one and evaluate, afterwards, I’ll give my evaluation as to what kinds of character builds benefit most from this tradition:
If you are reading this, you are probably already aware of my color guide, but just in case:
Blue: Great ability or option
Green: Good ability or option
Orange: So-So or circumstantial. Not bad
Red: Bad or nearly useless
Brown: Embarrassingly bad
Armor and weapon proficiency: You gain proficiency in one one-handed melee weapon and light armor. In most cases, light armor is worse than mage armor, however, light armor doesn’t require a spell slot nor does it have a duration, so it’s good as a backup at least. Since you are working off light armor and racial restrictions, good chance you want that weapon to be a finesse weapon (Rapier). Unfortunately, longsword bladesingers really aren’t going to be optimal. That Rapier will provide you the best damage option, though not a great one unless you multiclass, which is going to get you rapier proficiency anyways.
Bladesong: Gained at 2nd level, this is the bright star of this tradition. You can activate bladesong as a bonus action and it lasts for 10 rounds. You can do this twice (regained after short or long rests) so you can expect to be able to use this ability quite a bit. It requires that you use one-handed weapons (you can dual-wield though, but you would definitely want the warcaster feat if you go that route), and no medium/heavy armor or shield. It provides several advantages, which is why it’s so tasty:
Bonus to AC equal to Int modifier: This is really fantastic. For most Wizards, this is going to be at least +3, and +5 by higher levels. With a decent Dex score and studded leather armor, you can expect to rock a 19 AC at 2nd level (24 with shield spell), which for a character wearing light armor and no shield is pretty great.
Speed increases by 10ft: Mobility is always useful in tactical combat, great for closing distance, keeping distance, or positioning for spells.
Advantage on acrobatics checks: More flavor than substance, but if you get grappled, this will be handy to free yourself.
Bonus to concentration checks equal to Int: Astoundingly good. I don’t think I need to explain why
I want to add one thing right now. If you look at the abilities of Bladesong, do you see any ability on that list that a “god-style” wizard wouldn’t want as much as a melee wizard? Neither do I. In other words, this is a decent tradition for Wizards who have no intention of ever using a weapon.
Extra Attack: Gained at level 6. Obviously this is only useful for a Wizard that uses weapons.
Song of Defense: More defensive abilities? Yep, now you can spend spell slots to block damage. Take that abjurer. You get this ability at level 10. It is only usable when bladesong is active.
Song of Victory: This ability, gained at 14th level, allows you to add your Int modifier to melee weapon attacks while bladesong is active. If you are playing a weapon-wielding bladesinger, this is going to provide a sorely-needed offensive boost, though it comes pretty late in the game.
“Traditional” Bladesinger (Wizard X): So with this build you would follow the traditional route and play a high elf with a rapier I guess (other hand empty for spellcasting). Unfortunately, you will find the cantrips that are included in the book are actually a terrible choice for Bladesingers 6th level or higher as they eliminate your extra attack (which means that pre-level 14 you are sacrificing the only offensive boost a Bladesinger gets to that point). Offense is going to be a serious problem with this build as there just aren’t many good damage boosts for weapons on the Wizard spell list. (Magic Weapon is probably going to be your best bet). Defensively you will be strong enough, and Wizard spellcasting will give you lots of tricks and options, but when it comes to your weapon, which is supposed to be your primary attack form, unfortunately there just isn’t much here until 14th level, at which point you won’t be embarrassing yourself as badly. Until level 14, you will look at Valor Bards with envy for their fighting prowess. That’s not good.
God Wizard (Wizard X): In this build you just take the bladesinger tradition but simply don’t use a weapon. Activate your bladesong and get tasty treats like Concentration save boosts and AC boosts and Movement rate boosts, all granted at low levels. This becomes primarily a defensive wizard build, filling a similar niche to Abjurer. It’s a perversion of the “Bladesinger” concept, but I’m not recommending this as much as recognizing that from an optimization standpoint, the Bladesinger is better for this than the traditional build.
Bladesinger (kind of) (Fighter 1/Wizard X): So with this build we use Fighter to access the two weapon fighting style, and then pick up Warcaster at level 5. By adding the dex bonus (and eventually Int bonus) to the off-hand attack, the offense gets a bit of a boost. Note you will not be able to do an off-hand attack on the round you activate bladesong (as each require your bonus action), and two weapon fighting is generally seen as a weaker option than other fighting styles, but considering that other fighting styles aren’t really an option, this is better than no fighting style at all. Again, there are some advantages to this build over other fighting/spellcasting combos, since you are nearly a full wizard in regards to casting. Edit: A strategy for this build pointed out to me by Reddit user “lordzygos” is that if you use Haste with the attack cantrips below, and you use the Haste action for an attack, you will then qualify for your off hand attack as well, providing you with 3 attacks per round plus added cantrip damage (of either booming blade or green flame blade). This brings damage up to a respectable level, and in my opinion is a reasonable workaround to the offensive limitations of a Bladesinger, so I’ve increased my rating of this option to Green)
Bladesinger as a 2 level dip: (Wizard 2/Fighter X or Wizard 2/Rogue X). I think this tradition makes Wizard an amazing 2 level dip for either an Eldritch Knight or Arcane Trickster. An Eldritch Knight can actually use his war casting to apply the new cantrips to attacks without foregoing his extra attacks. Arcane Tricksters will also benefit nicely from the cantrips, turning their single attack per round tougher. Both classes benefit greatly from the defensive bonuses gained from Bladesong, and both work well with an Int/Dex build. Eldritch Knights and Arcane Tricksters may have just become the most powerful options for the Fighter and Rogue classes, and with a 2 level Wizard dip, just wow.
Edit: I’ve been cornered on which is the better option. In my opinion, Arcane Trickster makes the better combo with Bladesinger than Eldritch Knight, though I think both are pretty good.
Paladin as a 2 level dip: (Paladin 2/Bladesinger X). I need to give Mellowred on the Enworld site full credit for this idea. Mellowred points out that 2 levels of Paladin not only allow a combat style (Dueling makes a lot of sense, Defense isn’t a bad option either), but also access to Smite, which provides what in my opinion is an effective solution to the offensive challenge of a Bladesinger. Even the one weapon/one empty hand bladesinger I imagine can work effectively with this build. Access to spells like Bless and/or Divine Favor are pretty potent at low levels as well.
First, my rant: So there are certain classes that we consider primarily spellcasters, and not really meant for melee combat, but some of these classes have options that are intended to make melee combat a viable option for these characters (essentially creating a “hybrid” between spellcasting and melee combat. The old school term is “gish”). Such options include the Valor Bard, the Blade Pact Warlock and, now, the Bladesinger.
Each of these options gets “extra attack” (either as a set ability, or as an invocation option) as the primary source of offensive enhancement to melee attacks at lower levels (at higher levels, other offensive boosts exist). The primary “melee” cantrips below (Booming Blade and Green Flame Blade) take away that offensive enhancement by limiting the character to one attack as part of the casting of the spell.
The seriously discouraging thing is that this means the “non-melee” versions of these classes actually benefit MORE from these cantrips than the melee versions. With the addition of these cantrips, for example, there is a very compelling argument that Lore Bards may actually be better as melee combat casters than Valor bards. This stacks with the better skill use, the better spell selection, the greater number of spells known, and the superior use of Inspiration with cutting words. Similar issues occur with Bladesingers and Blade Pact Warlocks.
Furthermore, other classes with access to spells (like Arcane Tricksters for example), gain far more from these Cantrips, extending the gap between them and the hybrid classes in melee capability. I don’t think that was the intention of the designers, but I think it’s the way it works out.
As mentioned above, there are certain “workarounds” that can get greater use of these cantrips (for Bladesingers anyway), but I abhor needing to use “tricks” to gain advantage from things that don’t seem to work the way they were intended without said tricks.
Maybe “Hybrid” classes should be gaining offensive boosts other than “extra attack”, or maybe the cantrips shouldn’t restrict that particular offensive capability. Regardless, what is below is what we’ve got, and although, by and large, I think these are decent to good cantrips, I don’t think the bladesinger necessarily gets the greatest mileage from them, which is unfortunate.
As I’ve eluded earlier, I think these cantrips work, at least to some extent, counterproductively for a full Bladesinger once extra attack is achieved, but for Wizard/Rogues or Wizard/Fighters (specifically Eldritch Knights and Arcane Tricksters) I think they are quite good. A Cleric might also find these quite handy if they achieve them through a feat or multiclass.
Note: I do not recommend ANY of these cantrips for “God” style wizards, I’m evaluating them from the perspective of melee builds. For a “God wizard”, consider all the below to have a “red” rating.
Booming Blade: I’ve recently revised the rating as I originally misread (embarrassed) the spell description. This spell eventually will add 3d8 damage to your melee attack, and potentially another 4d8 if the target moves afterwards. That’s a potential 7d8 additional damage to a melee attack with a cantrip, which is pretty impressive (though 4d8 of it is avoidable). My biggest criticism is that the base weapon damage boost does not come into effect until 5th level (the spell adds damage only if the subject moves from level 1-4), I think the spell gets progressively more impressive at each damage boost afterwards. In other words, from levels 1-4 I don’t recommend this spell, at level 17+, it’s terrific.
Green Flame Blade (Orange for Bladesingers though): As I’ve mentioned before, God Wizard’s don’t do melee, and I think this spell works poorly with Bladesingers (which is a disappointment) since it prevents the level 1-13th bladesingers ONLY offensive boost. It still may provide a damage boost for Bladesingers, but not as much as some other class options, and potentially not at all unless the secondary effect is triggered. However, for a character that either makes a single attack in a round (like an Arcane trickster) or can make extra attacks after casting a cantrip (Like an Eldritch Knight) this spell is pure gold. The damage increases nicely with level as well.
Lighting Lure: This is similar to the Druid Thorn Whip cantrip in that it moves an enemy closer to you while doing some cantrip damage. For a melee/caster combo, I think this is a pretty good option, and might be a decent choice for a Bladesinger as well.
Sword Burst: Do cantrip damage to everyone within 5’ of you. Again, absolutely not a “God Wizard” cantrip, but for a bladesinger, that has massive melee damage challenges, this could give them a decent option when fighting hordes of enemies.