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How to be INVINCIBLE in D&D

Have you ever wanted to look at your party tank and call them squishy?


In this blog, we’re going to take tanking to the extreme and make a D&D character that’s almost invincible – a Walking Fortress.


Disclaimer: Everyone has different preferences when playing roleplaying games. Personally, I absolutely LOVE researching character options to find the perfect combination of features to make strong characters. That's right. I'm a min/maxer / power gamer / optimizer, and I know those are dirty words to some, but it's just how I roll. Please be kind to me and players like me.


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I don’t know about you, but I love playing tanks. There’s just something magical about walking into a battle knowing that you’ll be the last one standing. This build takes that to the next level. It can get up to 30 AC and a lowest saving throw of +10 with no magic items, so just imagine what it can do with some extra bonuses.


When we’re set up for the battle, an Adult Red Dragon will need to roll a 16 to hit our Walking Fortress, and will do a puny 27 damage on its breath attack if it rolls max damage.

You might be asking how we can possibly create such an epitome of tankiness? Let’s find out!


Quick links

 

Priorities

First up, our priorities.


So we need fear no blow and we can tank for days, we’re going to prioritize:

  • High AC so we rarely get hit by attacks

  • High saves so we don’t get incapacitated and mitigate damage from area spells

  • Damage resistances and immunities so we can weather any storm, and

  • Area denial and “taunt” effects

Our focus with this build is firmly on our tankiness. We’re going to prioritize this at the expense of our damage output, but the damage output remains pretty decent for the build.

 

Maximizing AC

As AC is our top priority, we need to maximize that first. That means we’ll need to take heavy armor and use a shield, and have proficiencies in both, and we’ll need 15 strength to be able to use Plate armor. Both light and medium armor cap at 17 AC, and while you can get higher than this with no armor as a Barbarian or Monk, you lose out on potential armor class bonuses from using magical or infused armor.  


A level of Fighter will give us all of the proficiencies we’re looking for, so that goes on our wish list. We’ll round out the typical high AC build by taking the Defense Fighting Style for a +1 to AC.


Plate armor and a shield with the Defense Fighting Style will give us a nice 21 base AC, but that’s pretty standard stuff and we can do much better. Here’s where we get to one of the most important parts of our build – we’re going to take the War Magic subclass for the Wizard. This adds 13 Intelligence as a requirement, and gives us a few really important things.


First up, we get access to the Shield spell to improve our AC by 5 until our next round as a reaction, not to mention lots of other spells that can help our defenses, including Absorb Elements, but we’ll get to those later.


When we pick up the subclass at level 2 Wizard, we’ll get the Arcane Deflection feature, which lets us spend our reaction to increase our AC by 2 when we get hit, or increase a failed saving throw by 4, at the expense of not being able to cast spells other than cantrips on our next turn. While the Armor Class bonus part of this is decent, the Saving Throw bonus is excellent, and this will help us make our “weaker” saves – you know, the ones where we end up with just a +6 or +7 bonus. As we’ll see later, not being able to cast spells other than cantrips on our turn isn’t much of a detriment either.  


Where the War Magic Wizard really shines, though, and what will make our build come together, is the Durable Magic feature we get at level 10 Wizard, which will give us a +2 bonus to both AC and all saving throws so long as we’re concentrating on a spell. That’s a great bonus, so let’s make sure we keep it. If we take our first level in Fighter, we’ll already get proficiency in constitution saves, but let’s get advantage on our concentration checks too by picking up the War Caster feat. Aside from the advantage, this gets us some other great benefits, such as letting us cast spells when we have a weapon and shield in hand, and letting us cast a spell instead of making an opportunity attack.


It’s worth noting that Arcane Deflection and Durable Magic work well together, as we can use the +4 to pass a concentration save we would otherwise fail and keep hold of the +2 bonus to AC and saves.


If we’re going to take 10 levels in Wizard, we may as well turn it up to 11 so we get access to level 6 spells, including Fizban’s Platinum Shield, which is excellent for our build. We’ll see why later.


 

Maximizing Saving throws

Our next priority is saving throws. We’ll get a nice semi-permanent +2 boost from Durable Magic so long as we’re concentrating on our spell, but we can do much better.


The Paladin is the undisputed GOAT of saving throws with their Aura of Protection feature, so let’s add that to our wish list, along with max Charisma so we can get an extra +5 to all saving throws, giving us a massive +7 to all saves so long as we’re concentrating on a spell. 6 levels in Paladin will also give us other goodies including Lay on Hands so we can stick around for longer, and both Divine Smite and Extra Attack to bring the pain train.   

 

Damage resistances and immunities

That’s two of our priorities sorted – next up is damage resistances and immunities. As this is third on our priorities and we don’t have room for it in our build, we won’t be taking Bear totem Barbarian here, but we can get access to some great Wizard spells that can help here, namely Blade Ward, Absorb Elements, Protection from Elements, Intellect Fortress, and Fizban’s Platinum Shield. We can also use Shield for immunity against Magic Missile, and Counterspell to deny damage in the first place.

 

Area denial and taunt EFFECTS

Now, coming to our final priority, we want to hold the front line and “taunt” our enemies.


The most important thing that lets us do this and matches our wish list is the Booming Blade cantrip, which threatens enemies from running away from us with a nice dose of Thunder damage. The Paladin spell Compelled Duel is also an option here, but we’ll likely have better things to do with our Concentration. A more obscure option that could help is to take level 3 Cavalier Fighter, which gives us the Unwavering Mark feature. This means that when we hit an adjacent enemy with a melee weapon attack, we can mark them so they get disadvantage on attacking our allies while they remain within 5 ft of us. This works with opportunity attacks we make, and with Booming Blade too. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t, if we hit the enemy and they want to attack anyone other than us, they either choose to run anyway and take the Thunder damage, or stay put and have disadvantage on their attacks. This will help us protect fellow front-line characters – you know the ones that can’t get to 30 AC.


This feature lets us mark any number of enemies, and lasts until the end of our next turn, so if there are multiple enemies within 5ft of us, we can split our attacks to spread more disadvantage.


The Build – Level 1

Okay, now we’ve got the pieces, so let’s put the build together.


We start with a level of Fighter, which gives us all of our proficiencies, including our Constitution save proficiency, a nice bunch of hit points, the Defense Fighting Style, and Second Wind for a bit of healing.


Let’s assume we’re using point buy and Tasha’s rules and talk race later. 


We need to start with 15 strength, 13 intelligence, and 16 Charisma because we’ll only get 3 Ability Score Improvements, and we’re going to use one for the War Caster feat. We also want 10 Dexterity so we don’t lose armor class.


We apply our +2 racial bonus to our highest stat, Charisma, and our +1 bonus to our second highest, Strength.


That’s most of our stats. We leave Wisdom at 8, take Con up to 12, and that leaves us with two choices for the remaining points – we can either have 16 strength or 14 intelligence. We aren’t going to need to prepare many spells, and we won’t be using spells with saves in this build, so let’s pump strength to 16.


With 16 Charisma and no use for it, we’re going to have to cope with a pretty suboptimal stat allocation for a while, and we’ll have a relatively low Con, but by level 2 we’ll be more durable than most dedicated tanks, and Arcane Deflection will help us make our Concentration saves. 


Edit: so it turns out you don't apply Dexterity bonuses, either positive or negative, to Armor Class when wearing Plate Armor in D&D 5E. Based on that, it's likely better to leave Dex at 8 and start with 10 Wis and 16 Str.

 

Race

When choosing a race, we want anything that gives us more durability.


I like the Earth Genasi for this build, because it gives us the Blade Ward cantrip, but more importantly it lets us cast it as a Bonus action a number of times per day equal to our proficiency bonus. This is a really strong option for the build, because we hope to be attracting as many attacks as possible, and even with our ridiculous armor class, some attacks will inevitably get through. Resistance on physical weapon attacks is huge for us, and it’s much better to get it with a bonus action. The Earth Genasi gets Darkvision, too, which is always something to look out for.


Background

For background, anything goes. When I played this build with my character Thunderstone, I took folk hero, because it fit the idea of a guy that likes to take a hit for others well. If your DM allows it, you could take one of the backgrounds from books like Spelljammer or Sigil and the Outlands that let you take the Tough feat for an extra 20 HP by level 20.

 

The build – Levels 2-5

We want to get our AC to ridiculous proportions as early as possible, so we next take 4 levels of Wizard, choosing the War Magic subclass.


We want the first level for access to Shield and Absorb Elements, and the second for Arcane Deflection for that nice +2 to AC or +4 to saving throws. The +2 to AC is like a mini Shield that doesn’t cost a spell slot, but we’ll mostly be using the bonus to saves when we need it.


For Cantrips, we take Blade Ward if we don’t already have it, Booming Blade, and Shocking Touch. Do what you like with your other spell picks, but it’s always helpful to add ritual spells to your book as Wizards can cast spells with the ritual tag in their spellbook as Rituals without preparing them.   


At this point we could switch to Paladin, but level 3 Wizard gives us Blur, making us that much more durable, and level 4 gives us War Caster, which means we don’t need to worry about spell components, helps us keep Blur up, and lets us use Booming Blade in place of an opportunity attack.  


If we need to worry about spell components, then we use Shocking Grasp as our main attack until level 5 when we get War Caster. If we don’t need to worry about them, we can use our melee weapon of choice and use Booming Blade instead. Either way, from level 5 we’ll be using Booming Blade for a few levels. As for weapon selection, any d8 martial weapon is great. I went for a Warhammer.


At level 5, assuming we took 16 strength, then our accuracy and damage output is almost on par with a level 5 Fighter. While we only get to make a single attack, Booming Blade adds an extra D8 Thunder damage on the main hit at this level.


Our durability, however, far exceeds that of most tanks in heavy armor. Blur gives enemies disadvantage on attacks against us, and we can get to 26 AC with the Shield spell if 21 isn’t enough.

 

The build – choice point: Wizard or Paladin

Our build is firmly in place, and now we get to make a choice on which aspect of being the ultimate tank we want to explore next. We can either keep taking Wizard levels to get some nice concentration spells, Counterspell, and Durable Magic earlier, or start taking Paladin levels for higher hit points, more damage potential with Divine Smite and Extra attack, and to get a bigger bonus to all saves earlier with Aura of Protection.


Wizard route

If you go the Wizard route, take Wizard levels up to at least Wizard level 10, and use your Ability Score Improvement for +2 Charisma. For spells, take Counterspell and either Protection from Energy or Intellect Fortress at level 5. Intellect Fortress is probably the best first pick, because you already have Absorb Elements. Pick up the spell you didn’t pick at level 6, and from then on take anything you want.


At level 10 Wizard, we get Durable Magic, setting our base AC to 23 and giving us +2 to all saves while we’re concentrating on a spell.


We can then either take the final Wizard level to get Fizban’s Platinum Shield, or leave it for later.


Paladin route

If you go the Paladin route, you may want to consider taking Wizard to 5 along the way anyway to get Counterspell. Countering a fireball will leave you, and your party, in a better position than if you just use Absorb Elements to resist half of the damage, or a quarter if you make the save.


Either way, take Paladin to level 6 to get Lay on Hands, a second Fighting Style, Divine Smite, Extra Attack and most importantly, Aura of Protection. You’ll get Paladin Spellcasting and more spell slots as you level, too. I’d take healing spells with your Paladin slots, making you even tankier if you need them, but remember that you’ll want to save spell slots for your defensive shenanigans. While you could use Shield of Faith as your Concentration spell, if we’re focusing on our durability, Blur is better.


For your Paladin subclass, I couldn’t find any that particularly stood out for the build. With my character, Thunderstone, I took Oath of the Crown, as it felt the most appropriate for his personality.


You get to select a second Fighting Style at level 2 Paladin. I’d recommend one of two choices here.


If your DM lets you, choose Tunnel Fighter from Unearthed Arcana: Light, Dark, Underdark! If they let you take it, your DM will probably regret it immediately. At the cost of spending your Bonus action to enter a defensive stance, this will let you make opportunity attacks with Booming Blade without spending your reaction, and will let you make those free opportunity attacks when an adjacent enemy moves, even if they don’t leave your reach. That will nicely leave your reaction available to cast Shield, Absorb Elements or Counterspell if you need to, and will make sure enemies stick to you like flies on a fly trap. 


If your DM doesn’t let you take Tunnel Fighter, then Blessed Warrior is a great pick. You can take the Guidance and Resistance cantrips to make sure you always have a concentration spell available for Durable Magic later, and for some extra help with skill checks and saving throws for you or your party.


As soon as you hit level 5 Paladin and gain Extra Attack, you get an option in your primary attacks – you can either use Booming Blade, which continues to scale nicely as you level up, or make two regular attacks to maximize your chances to hit. The best to use is going to depend on the situation.

 

THE BUILD – TAKING choice #2

When you have either taken Wizard to level 10 or 11 or Paladin to level 6, take the levels you didn’t pick, and use the extra ability score improvement you get to take your Charisma at 20.

When you have at least level 10 Wizard and level 6 Paladin, you’ll have 23 base armor class and a +7 bonus to all of your saving throws while you’re concentrating on a spell. Huge!

 

THE BUILD - final levels

For your final levels, take Wizard level 11 for Fizban’s Platinum Shield if you haven’t already, then take Fighter up to 3 to get Action Surge and the Cavalier subclass.


This gives you Unwavering Mark, which you can use to protect adjacent allies from adjacent enemies. At this point, if you’re within 5ft of both an ally and at least two enemies, you may want to make normal weapon attacks rather than using Booming Blade, as you’ll have more chance to apply Unwavering Mark to more enemies and protect your ally.


Congratulations, you’re now the tankiest character around.


Spells and when to use them


Now let’s talk about some of the spells we’ve chosen and see how the build fares up against a worthy foe, the Adult Red Dragon.

 

Spells – BOOMING BLADE

I love this spell, and it’s bonkers in this build. It lets us make a melee attack and deals an extra d8 Thunder damage to an enemy if they try to move away from us. What’s more, when we get War Caster, we can use it instead of an opportunity attack if an enemy tries to run. If we hit, our foe either accepts the thunder damage, or cancels their move. Until we get extra attack, Booming Blade gives us a decent damage option, and it scales much better than most Cantrips. At level 5, the attack we make gets an extra d8 thunder damage, and the penalty for moving away increases by d8. Both the extra main attack damage and the penalty damage increase by d8 at levels 11 and 17, making the spell solid at every level.


Spells – Blade Ward

If you didn’t take Earth Genasi, it can be good to cast Blade Ward if you expect to take a huge number of attacks, especially if you already have Blur up so there’s no need to use Dodge. It costs your Action though, so you’ll lose out on one or two attacks, but this build is about defense anyway.


If you took Earth Genasi, then you can use this as a Bonus action a few times, which is huge. We don’t have many uses for our bonus action, other than Second Wind to restore some HP.


Spells – Shield and Absorb Elements

Shield and Absorb Elements are crucial to the build. We don’t have a high Con bonus, and we’re taking a lot of Wizard levels with only 5 HP per level if we take the average, so we’re relying on not getting hit, and mitigating damage, rather than soaking it. We might have to choose between leaving our reaction open for Shield, Absorb Elements, or Counterspell on occasion, depending on the foes we’re facing.   


Spells – BLUR

Blur is amazing when we first pick it up and only have 21 base AC, and it gets better as our AC gets higher. The lower the chances that an enemy hits you, the better applying disadvantage is. A crit will always hurt, and there’s only a 1 in 400 chance of a us taking a crit while Blur is up.   


Spells – COUNTERSPELL

The best way to mitigate damage is to avoid it completely. We get up to level 7 spell slots with this build, and unlike most Wizards, we use spells for defense when they’re needed, rather than for offence every turn, so we typically end up with a lot of spell slots to spare. Save your high level spell slots to counter nasty spells. When I played Thunderstone at level 20, I countered the BBEG casting disintegrate at me by using a level 7 spell slot. Great waste of your action, evil Santa.


Spells – PROTECTION FROM ENERGY

We have Absorb Elements, but that takes a Reaction, which we could also use to cast Shield or Counterspell, make a Booming Blade opportunity attack, or use Arcane Deflection to pass a failed save. Protection from Energy gives you the same resistances while you maintain concentration on it, but doesn’t require the Reaction, so if you’re going to enter a combat with a lot of elemental damage, you may want to consider using this as your concentration spell.


Spells – INTELLECT FORTRESS

Wisdom will be your weakest save at +6, and it’s an important one. If an enemy successfully casts Hold Person or Polymorph on you, then all bets are off.


This is where Intellect Fortress comes in, to get advantage on your Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma saves if you think you’ll need it.


A character with 20 Wisdom and proficiency in Wisdom saves gets a base +11 to Wisdom saves. We get +6, but we can use Arcane Deflection to make it a +10, so if we have Intellect Fortress up and get advantage on the roll, we have a much better chance of making a save than other characters with high Wisdom saves.


When I played Thunderstone at level 20, I cast Contact Other Plane, which requires a DC 15 check or you go insane. I cast Intellect Fortress before making contact, to give me advantage on the save. Advantage averages at around a +5 bonus to your roll, so I felt much more comfortable casting the spell. +8 to int and +12 with Arcane Deflection, and rolling with advantage seems pretty safe, so feel free to call up a demigod whenever you feel like it with your Walking Fortress. As an added bonus, Intellect Fortress gives resistance to psychic damage, so even if you fail your save, it won’t hurt too much.   


Spells – FIZBAN'S Platinum shield and a red dragon attacks!

Fizban’s Platinum Shield is an outstanding spell for this build. It gives you half cover for a +2 to armor class, resistance to elemental damage, and evasion.


Let’s say that you’re fighting an Adult Red Dragon and it uses its breath weapon on you. Let’s say it got lucky and rolled the maximum damage on 18d6, 108. By level 18, you have a Dex save of +7 without magic items, and +9 with partial cover from Fizban's Platinum Shield. If you pass the DC 21 Dex save, you’d take no damage because of Evasion. With a +9 to the save, you need to roll a 12 to pass the check. If you have your Reaction available, you could spend it to add 4 to your failed check with Arcane Deflection and pass on an 8 or higher. That’s pretty decent odds considering your opponent.


Let’s say you fail anyway. On a failed save, Evasion from Fizban's Platinum Shield reduces the damage to 54, while fire resistance from the same spell reduces it again to 27. As you have a +14 to your Constitution saves, you don’t even need to make a concentration check, and Fizban’s stays up.


While we’re at it, let’s see how we fare against an Adult Red Dragon’s other attacks at level 18.


If the challenge rating 17 Dragon really doesn’t like us and decides to use all of its Multiattack attacks and Legendary Actions to attack us, it can make a total of 6 melee attacks against us, each with a +14 to hit. While concentrating on Fizban’s Platinum Shield and with the cover bonus, our base AC is effectively 25 without magical items, and we can raise it to 30 with Shield. That means the Dragon will need to roll a 16 to hit us, giving it a 25% chance to hit and 5% chance to crit with each attack. That means we’ll take on average around one and a half hits per round, and one crit every couple of rounds or so. This assumes that we don’t have any magical items, but by level 18, we’ll probably have at least a +3 to AC, so good luck, Dragon. 


If a normal hit does get through, the maximum damage roll is 20 piercing plus 12 fire. As we have Fizban’s up, we half the fire damage, leaving us with 26 damage on a very lucky damage roll. We don’t even have to roll concentration for that, and Fizban’s stays up. If the Dragon gets a crit, the maximum damage is 40 piercing plus 24 fire. With Fizban’s fire resistance, that’s 52 damage, and a DC 26 concentration check. Without magic items, we have a +14 to concentration checks, and roll them with advantage, so there’s a chance we lose concentration here, even if we have a reaction available for Arcane Deflection.


Of course, if we took Earth Genasi, we could have just applied Blade Ward as a Bonus action before the Dragon attacked, giving us resistance to the physical damage too, and ensuring that the worst the dragon can leave us with is just a flesh wound.      

 

Conclusion

I had a lot of fun putting this build together, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Have you come across a build that’s tankier than this? If so, let me know in the comments.


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Until next time, happy adventuring!


~Dan



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