Not everyone is known for their strength and fighting prowess – sometimes you need brilliance from behind the scenes to orchestrate something bigger into motion in order to ensure victory. Such is the role of a tactician. One of my favourite video game references of this is from Dragon Age: Inquisition – your council of Commander Cullen, Josephine, and Leliana are all tacticians, with different strengths. Together they devise a strategy to lead the Inquisition to victory, utilizing the forces they have available. And that kind of character is definitely one that you can choose to play in D&D.
For the record – this is just a recipe, and like most recipes, there’s no one way to really create the dish. So take this with a grain of salt and add your own flair to it, especially taking into consideration how you like to play.
Similarly to how the three characters together in Dragon Age create an excellent tactician, there are three classes you should look at to create this role. With that in mind, I’m going to recommend 3 levels of Rogue (Mastermind subclass), 5 levels in College of Valor Bard, and 12 levels in Fighter (Battlemaster subclass). You’ll get everything you really need by level 13 (wherein you’ve hit 7th level in fighter, and 3 levels in the other two), but additional superiority dice and having 3rd level spell slots can be quite useful.
Being a Battlemaster allows you access to Combat Superiority – this pushes you to excel on the battlefield, granting superiority dice that you can spend on maneuvers. While you can only take up to three to start, by level 7 you can add the fourth one out of my recommended list below. All of them work with your allies in one way or another in order to gain the upper hand – think through them carefully as you use them, but this is one of the main ways to showcase your strategic prowess in battle.
Gaining knowledge on your enemy is key for any great tactician – and the best part about the Know Your Enemy skill is with Battlemaster, you get it at 7th level (as opposed to 9th level as a Mastermind). While it’s not useful for combat, it can help you gain insight in a couple of categories, depending on the strategy you’re hoping to take.
Being able to communicate your plan is half the battle, which is why I recommend having levels in Bard at all. With the Combat Inspiration trick that you gain from the College of Valor, though your Bardic Inspiration will only be a d6 (or d8 if you take this up to 5th level like I suggest), this allows whoever you’ve inspired to use that bonus to be added to their damage roll or to their AC when they’ve been attacked. Being able to bolster your allies, especially from a distance, can make or break a battle.
Being a Mastermind rogue, you’re able to access Master of Tactics, which allows you to use help as a bonus action, and extends the reach to 30’ – another useful tactic when approaching from a distance and utilizing the tanks to do the heavy lifting. If you’re anything like me, you might opt for more levels in rogue than bard or fighter at the end of the day, if not purely for better sneak attack damage, but even just obtaining this one skill for this subclass is worthwhile for a tactician.
Now, these traits alone does not a successful tactician make. Here’s some feats that would be worthwhile picking up to improve your tactics:
Martial Adept – Taking this lets you get more maneuvers and an additional superiority die to use. This basically supercharges your Combat Superiority.
Observant – Increasing your intelligence or wisdom overall, as well as a bonus to perception and investigation? Sounds right up a tactician’s alley. Being able to analyze the situation prior to jumping in is what the job is all about. As well, there’s a fun lip reading ability that comes along with this – great for reconnaissance missions.
Sentinel – When opportunity strikes, roll with it! Opportunity attacks that hit bring down your enemy’s speed to nothing, and prevents those in your reach from disengaging. And when someone within reach is attacking one of your allies, you can use a reaction to fight back. Keep your friends close and enemies closer.
War Room Planning
With Combat Superiority, there’s a number of maneuvers that can help you execute your plan. The ones best suited for tactician include (in no particular order):
Commander’s Strike – This allows you to forgo your attack so a comrade within visual/audible range can attack instead. Great for when you don’t really want to get your hands dirty.
Distracting Strike – You can distract an enemy, allowing one of your allies to get advantage on their next attack.
Maneuvering Attack – As you attack a creature, you can create an opening for one of your allies, allowing someone within visual/audible range to move up to half their speed as a reaction, without taking an opportunity attack. This is ideal if you need to get someone out of a really bad situation.
Rally – Rally to me! You can help bolster one of your teammates by providing them with additional HP, equal to the roll on the superiority die and your CHA modifier.
Other maneuvers can be selected based on your style of play, or flavour of tactician you’re going for. Being able to move around and help your allies is all a part of the strategy, and lends itself well to the role of a tactician.
As a bard, you also have a variety of spells at your disposal. If you choose to go ahead with all 5 levels in Bard, you’ll get access to third level spells as well. Here are some excellent options to aid your allies and ensure your plan is executed:
Message (cantrip) – Plans always change. Always. Make sure you can communicate the new plan to the right people, at the right time.
Bane (1st level) – Become the bane of your enemies’ existence. Or at least 3 of them – when successful, this spell can help reduce their attack rolls and saving throws, giving your allies the edge in battle.
Enhance Ability (2nd level) – Give one of your teammates an added advantage in a specific attribute. And if you imbue them with the strength of a bear, they get additional HP
Beyond the Battlefield
Still hungry for more? Here’s a couple of suggestions to consider as additional feats to help refine your skills even further.
Diplomat – Tactics aren’t only for battle – they apply in social situations as well. This improves your charisma score as well as improves your proficiency in persuasion. As well, you’re able to charm someone outside of combat against an insight check instead of a saving throw – helps smooth over any potentially troubling social situations!
Synchronized Combatant – From the Mage College’s own character folio of Anja, being able to be one with your allies on the battlefield can prove to be advantageous. This allows you to forgo your advantage, if you have it, for an attack to allow an ally within 5’ to take a reaction to attack the same foe. As well, when an ally within 5’ makes a critical hit, you get to attack as a reaction. Being in sync was never so good.
And that’s it! Again, this is a suggested build, set out to entice those who like to plan and strategize, so feel free to add your own flair. But I hope you have fun with it and channel your inner tactician.
Art: Tandem Tactics – David Gaillet, Wizards of the Coast