5E Best gish (PHB only)

krunchyfrogg

Explorer
In addition to only using the PHB, were using the standard array for stats (NOT point buy!).

This game will go to level 8.

Definition of a gish for this argument: someone who can decently cast some spells as well as hold their own in combat.
 

Esker

Explorer
Here is an option a bit out of left field, insofar as it's not what people usually mean by "gish". Because you're asking for a low level range I'm prioritizing being a martial/caster hybrid right from level 1.

Variant Human Nature Cleric with War Caster as their 1st level feat

STR 13+1
DEX 12
CON 14
INT 8
WIS 15+1
CHA 10

There are most definitely builds that do more damage than this. And there are builds that are tankier than this. But let's look at what you get.

* You're a full caster
* You can mix up front line-ness and spells right from level 1. Paladins, eldritch knights, arcane tricksters don't get spells until later, and valor bards are just fragile casters for levels 1 and 2.
* You don't get martial weapons, but you can get shillelagh, which is strictly better than any one-handed martial weapon for a caster (and the main consideration for cleric subclass at low levels). That means at level 1 you'll have an AC of 18, you've got a 1d8+3 magic weapon with a to-hit mod as high as any martial melee character, you can Bless yourself, and you have all the war caster goodies (including the possibility of inflict wounds on an OA), plus your focus is on your shield so you have no restrictions at all on hands-full casting
* Starting at level 3, you can cast spiritual weapon, and at level 5, spirit guardians, both of which work well when you're up close
* At level 6 you have at will resistance to one source of elemental damage per round using your reaction
* At later levels you have some interesting combos like plant growth and freedom of movement over your spirit guardians
* If you play at level 8, you get to pick the damage type of your divine strike, which is helpful in avoiding enemy resistance

Anyway I make no claims that this is the "best" PHB gish for levels 1-8 by any particular definition (there's a lot of room for variation in roles even in the definition you gave). But I do think it's better at damage than the valor bard (and goes online faster), and the other gishes in the PHB aren't full casters or have to spend feats or multiclass to be comfortable up close.
 

UngeheuerLich

Adventurer
A lot of possibilities actually.

I do like following variants:

Mountain dwarf wizard. Good weapons. Good armor. Str and Con and Int prioritized. Gives you a good feeling of melee and spells. Become abjurer and you won't miss a lot a fighter needs until level 5. You will be durable and able to shield your allies. At level 5 you need to work a bit for your damage, but with haste or some other bonus action activated spells you are good. Missing out on greenflame blade or booming blade hurts a bit but not a lot.


High elven fighter. Later become eldritch knight. You might prefer Dex over Str but you don't have to.
If you prefer Dex, use a bow and a rapier. Use your free hand to cast your free cantrip. A very useful cantrip is dancing lights. You can greatly increase your sight ability in darkness. Treantmonk has a good guide for that.

If you opt for a two handed weapon and strength over deterity, a nice attack cantrip help a lot.

A last useful choice might be bladeward. While it is often considered a week spell, it actually has a use for a low level fighter. If things go wrong you can use second wind and bladeward to tank some more hits.

Another oprion is variant human fighter with magic initiate feat. You can use heavy armor. High strength for a two handed or versatile weapon. Defense fighting and shield keeps you save. An attack cantrip and dancing lights will help with ranged threats.

A last option might be a forest gnome eldritch knight.
Minor illusion from the get go. Dex and int will be great stats. Your natural resistance against spells keep you save enough.
 

krunchyfrogg

Explorer
I guess my problem with EK, especially when being restricted to using the basic array for stats, is that I can never figure out how to prioritize INT enough that I’m not gimping the fighter.

I’ve played a basic array Eldritch Knight in the past, and he was awesome. But I never used an attack cantrips or anything like that.

IIRC, his INT was 8 or 10. Shield was (by far) his most used spell. I loved misty step and haste, but shield still got the most use.
 

UngeheuerLich

Adventurer
I guess my problem with EK, especially when being restricted to using the basic array for stats, is that I can never figure out how to prioritize INT enough that I’m not gimping the fighter.

I’ve played a basic array Eldritch Knight in the past, and he was awesome. But I never used an attack cantrips or anything like that.

IIRC, his INT was 8 or 10. Shield was (by far) his most used spell. I loved misty step and haste, but shield still got the most use.
Its a matter of taste. Yo either need dex or int for ranged attacks.

I personally favour focus on Str/Con/Int. Yes you might be a bit slow, but you can easily go with 8 Dex and use spells for ranged attacks.
I also think that it opens up the use of a versatile weapon like the long sword.

My array would be:
Str 15+1
Dex 9
Con 13+1
Int 14
Wis 12
Cha 10

Magic initiate:
Shield
Fire bolt
Dancing lights

Chain armor
Long sword
Shield on the back

Fighting style: defense because it is always useful (and duelling with a versatile weapon sucks).
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I guess my problem with EK, especially when being restricted to using the basic array for stats, is that I can never figure out how to prioritize INT enough that I’m not gimping the fighter.

I’ve played a basic array Eldritch Knight in the past, and he was awesome. But I never used an attack cantrips or anything like that.

IIRC, his INT was 8 or 10. Shield was (by far) his most used spell. I loved misty step and haste, but shield still got the most use.
But part of the classic definition of a gish is that you are buffing your attacks with magic, not attacking directly with magic. So your INT shouldn't be a big deal.

All of that said, EK doesn't really come into it's own until 7th, and you're only going to 8. Wouldn't recommend for a gish experience in the 1-8 range.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Thanks for including that you're only going to level 8. That's critical for what to play.

Some options:
Fighter 1 / Wizard (Abjuration) X - good armor (go medium with shield and finesse weapon). Your spells can defend you plus charge your Ward for mroe HPs soaked.

Bard (Valor) - wish the spells lined up better. This is supposed to be gishy, but ...

Paladin X - as long as you ignore that "gish" was normally associated with arcane magic, Paladins are great gishes. And they are fun 1-8.

Paladin / Sorcerer - adding back in more arcane. Problem is PHB only is no SCAG cantrips, and that means that multiclassing and slowing (or missing) Extra Attack hurts.

Warlock (Pact of the Blade) - Ha, just put this in to see if you were still reading. Without Hexblade, Warlocks as gish just never materialized as holding their own vs. a replacement character.
 

krunchyfrogg

Explorer
Thanks for including that you're only going to level 8. That's critical for what to play.

Some options:
Fighter 1 / Wizard (Abjuration) X - good armor (go medium with shield and finesse weapon). Your spells can defend you plus charge your Ward for mroe HPs soaked.

Bard (Valor) - wish the spells lined up better. This is supposed to be gishy, but ...

Paladin X - as long as you ignore that "gish" was normally associated with arcane magic, Paladins are great gishes. And they are fun 1-8.

Paladin / Sorcerer - adding back in more arcane. Problem is PHB only is no SCAG cantrips, and that means that multiclassing and slowing (or missing) Extra Attack hurts.

Warlock (Pact of the Blade) - Ha, just put this in to see if you were still reading. Without Hexblade, Warlocks as gish just never materialized as holding their own vs. a replacement character.
Hey Blue! Miss you dude, how are things in River Edge? Give my best to the gang!

I had thought about a paladin 2/bard or sorcerer. Heck, if we have a decent amount of playing time at level 8, paladin 2/ valor bard 6 has a nice capstone!

I had also thought about the old fashioned “hexblade” that actually works: fighter 1/bladelact warlock. It’s almost as nice as the hexblade (but not quite).

I’m probably going just paladin though.
 

Esker

Explorer
Could also consider Cleric (War or Tempest) 1 / Wizard X. Get the rapier proficiency, medium armor and shields same as starting fighter, but don't stunt your spell slots and can take Bless and Shield of Faith (obvs if there is a cleric in the party already this is less useful). You do lose out on the Fighting Style and CON saves though, which definitely hurts.

If I were switching to a full caster after Paladin 2 I don't think it'd be bard if you don't have access to college of swords. The bard spell list is fantastic but it's doesn't help your combat ability, so you'd just end up playing as a paladin with more smites. If you go draconic sorcerer you'd get the same CHA-dependence, smite slots and hit points as bard, plus shield, mirror image, misty step and haste. If you were willing to spend level 1 as just a caster instead of just a fighter you could even get CON saves.
 

krunchyfrogg

Explorer
Could also consider Cleric (War or Tempest) 1 / Wizard X. Get the rapier proficiency, medium armor and shields same as starting fighter, but don't stunt your spell slots and can take Bless and Shield of Faith (obvs if there is a cleric in the party already this is less useful). You do lose out on the Fighting Style and CON saves though, which definitely hurts.

If I were switching to a full caster after Paladin 2 I don't think it'd be bard if you don't have access to college of swords. The bard spell list is fantastic but it's doesn't help your combat ability, so you'd just end up playing as a paladin with more smites. If you go draconic sorcerer you'd get the same CHA-dependence, smite slots and hit points as bard, plus shield, mirror image, misty step and haste. If you were willing to spend level 1 as just a caster instead of just a fighter you could even get CON saves.
Thank you for this suggestion.

Only thing is you get CON saves from both sorcerer and fighter.
 

Esker

Explorer
Thank you for this suggestion.

Only thing is you get CON saves from both sorcerer and fighter.
Yeah, definitely a downside of the Cleric / Wizard route as I said. If you're going vuman for war caster though (which seems pretty important when you're a wizard with a shield and a weapon, since without it you can't use the shield spell) the concentration problem is mitigated: you'll be rolling +4 with advantage at the lowest levels, where you're unlikely to take more than 20 damage from a single source (if you're taking that kind of damage at those levels you have bigger problems than losing concentration). That's gives you only a 1 in 16 chance of losing concentration even without proficiency. If your concentration spell at those levels is shield of faith (which you wouldn't have as a fighter), it helps even more.

I think Cleric vs Fighter largely comes down to whether you want more spell slots and magic buffs or whether you want the fighting style.
 

krunchyfrogg

Explorer
How is the nature cleric?

With the relatively low level cap, a hill dwarf could start with 16’s in CON and WIS and ditch STR, since dwarves have that heavy armor loophole.

With shillelagh, everything keys off of WIS, making this character concept very SAD.
 

UngeheuerLich

Adventurer
An elven dragon sorceror is also a respectable gish. You get good armor and saves from sorcerer, and a nice selection of weapons from the elf.
You can go dual short sword or longbow and have AC 16, more if you use the shield spell. A bit of Constitution and Charisma will make your spells good enough. I´d go wild elf for extra stealthyness and speed.

Dex 17
Con 14
Cha 12
Wis 14
Int 8
Str 10

If you want to multiclass, your first increase should go to dex and charisma. Otherwise dex and maybe wisdom for resilient wis later on. Maybe resilient dex if you think it might be useful. But you actually don´t have to worry too much since the game ends at level 8.
 
Best Gish = Paladin + College of Whispers Bard (of course that's not PHB only)

Best PHB only Gish = Tempest Cleric (Paladin is honorable mention but tempest cleric will give you the most traditional gish feel for the level 1-8 progression).
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Thanks for including that you're only going to level 8. That's critical for what to play.

Some options:
Fighter 1 / Wizard (Abjuration) X - good armor (go medium with shield and finesse weapon). Your spells can defend you plus charge your Ward for mroe HPs soaked.

Bard (Valor) - wish the spells lined up better. This is supposed to be gishy, but ...

Paladin X - as long as you ignore that "gish" was normally associated with arcane magic, Paladins are great gishes. And they are fun 1-8.

Paladin / Sorcerer - adding back in more arcane. Problem is PHB only is no SCAG cantrips, and that means that multiclassing and slowing (or missing) Extra Attack hurts.

Warlock (Pact of the Blade) - Ha, just put this in to see if you were still reading. Without Hexblade, Warlocks as gish just never materialized as holding their own vs. a replacement character.
Tome Warlock with a Familiar and Shillelagh does a great job in games that allow the scag options, but bladepact is pretty bad. Still, a good phb Bladelock just has to be careful. Variant human to still have shillelaghs from Magic Initiate. Shadow Armor invocation and Armor of Agythis spell gives decent AC and punishment for attacking you.

A variant human Arcane Trickster, OTOH, can be a perfectly lethal gish, and is no less durable than any other rogue. And with magic initiate, you can have magic from level 1!
 

krunchyfrogg

Explorer
Tome Warlock with a Familiar and Shillelagh does a great job in games that allow the scag options, but bladepact is pretty bad. Still, a good phb Bladelock just has to be careful. Variant human to still have shillelaghs from Magic Initiate. Shadow Armor invocation and Armor of Agythis spell gives decent AC and punishment for attacking you.

A variant human Arcane Trickster, OTOH, can be a perfectly lethal gish, and is no less durable than any other rogue. And with magic initiate, you can have magic from level 1!
Shillelagh from magic initiate is considered a druid spell, and therefore keys off of wisdom. That’s not too useful for a warlock.

I think the best pre-hexblade blade pact warlock is still fighter 1/warlock X.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Shillelagh from magic initiate is considered a druid spell, and therefore keys off of wisdom. That’s not too useful for a warlock.

I think the best pre-hexblade blade pact warlock is still fighter 1/warlock X.
Forgot about the magic initiate deal. Gotta keep house rules straight!

I’d MC rogue over fighter for a Hexblade, tbh, but I don’t value added durability as much as a lot of gish thread posters do.
 

Esker

Explorer
How is the nature cleric?

With the relatively low level cap, a hill dwarf could start with 16’s in CON and WIS and ditch STR, since dwarves have that heavy armor loophole.
What are you looking to gain by ditching STR? Your DEX could be 13 instead of 12, opening up some multiclass options that you probably don't care about, and you could get your INT and CHA modifiers up a bit, but is that worth it? You'd become completely dependent on shillelagh to use a weapon, since you don't get any finesse weapons beyond a dagger.

As far as choosing hill dwarf in general, yes, you can wear the heavy armor with no speed penalty, but your speed is still lower than a human (that doesn't dump STR), and the same as a wood elf that does (and they at least can get 14 DEX and CON, 13 INT (in case you wanted a level of wizard at some point for rituals, arcane recovery, and the shield spell) and access to some ranged and finesse weapons). You do get more HP as a dwarf, but your concentration saves will be worse than a vuman with war caster, or even a vuman with resilient CON who also gets their CON up to 16 (at the expense of STR going down to 13 instead of 14).

Edit: Realized a hill dwarf can get 13 INT for a potential wizard dip just as easily as a wood elf can so disregard that as a distinguishing factor.
 
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Esker

Explorer
Best PHB only Gish = Tempest Cleric (Paladin is honorable mention but tempest cleric will give you the most traditional gish feel for the level 1-8 progression).
The tempest cleric is a nice alternative to nature cleric. The domain spells are definitely gishier, and wrath of the storm is fun; you don't otherwise have a lot of uses for a reaction outside the odd opportunity attack. It's a less weapon-focused option than nature cleric since you don't get to use WIS when attacking with a weapon (though you could forego a shield and wield the maul of Thor or something, which admittedly is a cool image), but you didn't specifically say you wanted your magic to directly support your weapon attacks, and you do get some combat magic perks (thunderwave or shatter+destructive wrath). There is a tempest cleric at my table and she has attacked with a weapon maybe once since level 5, since toll the dead or sacred flame has better average damage than a single one-handed weapon attack by then, but since you don't have toll the dead available, the weapon could be better against high DEX monsters.
 

Esker

Explorer
A variant human Arcane Trickster, OTOH, can be a perfectly lethal gish, and is no less durable than any other rogue. And with magic initiate, you can have magic from level 1!
I play an arcane trickster at my table, and she is a lethal gish, but she multiclassed into bladesinger, and uses booming blade and shadow blade heavily. Without any of those things on the table she'd basically just be a rogue in combat who gets advantage more often from an owl, and can choose to cast a debuff or fog cloud occasionally (very occasionally since she'd have hardly any spell slots) instead of attacking. I still love a single class arcane trickster, because rogues are really fun to play and some casting is lovely gravy, but I don't think it would feel so much like a gish, especially before level 7 when you're limited to 4 spells, all 1st level, and have to choose between shield and find familiar. I guess with vuman for magic initiate you can get find familiar there, and even more utility cantrips, but then you don't have darkvision, which is especially rough for a rogue.
 

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