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D&D 5E Mythological Figures: Francis Drake

Mythological Figures is traveling all around the world again but this time with the first man in history to accomplish the feat within a single expedition: the one and only Sir Francis Drake!

Mythological Figures is traveling all around the world again but this time with the first man in history to accomplish the feat within a single expedition: the one and only Sir Francis Drake!

francis drake banner dnd 5e.jpg

Born sometime around 1540 in the English town of Tavistock in Devon (now West Devon), before becoming the first human to lead an expedition that circumnavigated the planet Francis Drake was a seafaring merchant and then privateer for the British Navy. Throughout the waters around South America he plagued the forces of Spain, leading a series of successful raids and burying plenty of treasure along the way to return home as a hero (unrecognized by the crown because of a treaty made in his absence). Not all of his exploits are lauded as heroic acts of piracy however. Drake played a part in the brutal Rathlin Island massacre of 1575 (holding back any Gaelic Irish or Scottish reinforcements that might have otherwise prevented the slaughter of 200 surrendered soldiers and more than 400 civilians of Clan MacDonnell) and the execution of his co-commander Thomas Doughty (ostensibly for mutiny) three years later. Upon returning from a four year voyage where he committed more piracy against Spaniards (bringing home more gold for the royal coffer than any other source that year) and declared a part of modern day California as Nova Albion for England, he was showered with praise and the favor of Queen Elizabeth who dubbed him Sir Francis Drake aboard his flagship the Golden Hind on April 4th 1581.

Sir Francis Drake’s political deeds—being mayor of Plymouth, taking part in two parliaments—are of little note in comparison to his last great journey. His military career is a different matter. Drake was vice admiral of the British Navy and repelled the Spanish Armada when they attacked England in 1588, leading a counterattack on Spain the next year to disastrous effect (razing the town of Vigo in an unjustified act of war that got him demoted from command for over half a decade). When he returned to service it went just as poorly, his defeat at the Battle of San Juan after a campaign of failure in the Spanish Americas until it ended with his death from dysentery on January 28th in 1596.

Design Notes: This man was a pirate for the crown. Make no mistake about it. He buried treasure a lot, was very cavalier about who he’d accept in his crew (including freed slaves—though he was no saint on that front and at best seems to have been ambivalent towards slavery), and definitely had some mastery over nautical warfare. That sounded like some rogue skill-trickery so that’s where his build starts, working into the swashbuckler archetype to pick up Mobility Jr. and then fighter to grab the movement-friendly fighting style, and then the scout archetype for more skills and some apropos terrain love from Natural Explorer. The acumen and intellect I think many of the requests for him are looking for are couched inside his feats, carefully selected for a man who clearly knew how to remember the spot he’d buried a cache of coins.

Let’s do the numbers! With all his defensive abilities it’s a little tricky to easily pin a CR down on Sir Francis Drake here. The DMG came in at 6.25 and the Blog of Holding at 7.2 which averages out to a 6.725. This fellow is getting rounded up though because he’s so damn mobile, and between that and using reactions to pop his AC up against close hits he’s likely to survive escaping regardless of locale to become a recurring NPC, so his final challenge rating is getting rounded up to 7.

Francis Drake

Medium humanoid (human), neutral rogue (swashbuckler) 6/fighter (scout) 6
Armor Class 17 (breastplate, sealegs)
Hit Points 84 (6d8+6d10+24)
Speed 30 ft., climb 30 ft., swim 30 ft.
14 (+2)​
14 (+2)​
14 (+2)​
14 (+2)​
13 (+1)​
14 (+2)​
Saving Throws Dex +6, Int +6
Skills Athletics +10, Insight +5, Investigation +6, Medicine +5, Nature +6, Perception +5, Persuasion +6, Stealth +6, Survival +9; navigator’s tools +10, thieves’ tools +6, vehicles (water) +10
Senses passive Investigation 21, passive Perception 20
Languages English, Thieves’ Cant
Challenge 7 (2,900 XP)

Background: Sailor. Drake is able to acquire passage on a sailing ship for him and his allies free of charge. He has no control over the ship’s route, departure, or return, and although no coin is required he and his companions do have to help crew the vessel.

Action Surge (1/Short Rest). On his turn, Drake can take an additional action on top of his regular action and a possible bonus action.

Combat Footing. Whenever he makes a melee attack against a creature on his turn, Drake doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks from that creature until the end of his turn.

Cunning Action (1/Turn). Drake can use a bonus action to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action.

Feat: Brilliant. Drake always knows how long it will be before the next sunset or sunrise, the northerly direction, and can perfectly remember anything he’s experienced within the last 31 days.

Feat: Perceptive. Drake is able to read lips.

Feat: Soldier Tactics. A creature hit by Drake’s opportunity attack reduces its speed to 0 until the beginning of the next round and disengaging from Drake still provokes opportunity attacks. In addition, Drake can use his reaction to make a melee weapon attack against a creature within 5 feet when it makes an attack against a target other than him.

Fighting Style: Sealegs. As long as he is not wearing heavy armor or using a shield, Drake gains a +1 bonus to AC (included above), and he gains both climbing and swimming speeds equal to his speed.

Mastery Dice 1d8 (4/Short Rest). Drake can spend a mastery die to fuel one of the following effects. Each effect activates after the results of a roll are revealed.
  • Roll a mastery die and add half the result to a Strength (Athletics), Dexterity (Stealth), Intelligence (Nature), Wisdom (Perception or Survival) check.
  • Roll a mastery die and add the result to a weapon attack roll made against a creature.
  • Use his reaction when hit by an attack to roll a mastery die and add the result to his armor class, possibly turning a hit into a miss. An attack that still hits deals half damage.

Natural Explorer: Coasts. When Drake makes an Intelligence or Wisdom check related to the coast, his proficiency bonus (+4) is doubled if he is using a skill that he’s proficient in. While traveling for an hour or more in his favored terrain, Drake gains the following benefits:
  • Difficult terrain doesn’t slow his group’s travel.
  • Drake’s group can’t become lost except by magical means.
  • Even when he is engaged in another activity while traveling (such as foraging, navigating, or tracking), Drake remains alert to danger.
  • If Drake is traveling alone, he can move stealthily at a normal pace.
  • When he forages, Drake finds twice as much food as he normally would.
  • While tracking other creatures, Drake also learns their exact number, their sizes, and how long ago they passed through the area.

Second Wind (1/Short Rest). On his turn, Drake can use a bonus action to regain 1d10+6 hit points.

Sneak Attack (1/Turn). Drake deals an extra 10 (3d6) damage when he hits a target with a weapon attack and has advantage on the attack roll, when the target is within 5 feet of an ally of Drake that isn’t incapacitated and he doesn’t have disadvantage on the attack roll, or when the only creature within 5 feet of Drake is his target.

Swashbuckling. Drake adds his Charisma modifier (+2) when rolling for initiative.

Extra Attack. Drake attacks twice when he takes the Attack action.

Rapier. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d8+2) piercing damage.

Heavy Crossbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, range 100/400 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d10+2) piercing damage.

Pistol (2). Ranged Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, range 30/90 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d10+2) piercing damage.

Uncanny Dodge. When an attacker Drake can see hits him with an attack, he can use his reaction to halve the attack’s damage against him.

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Mike Myler

Mike Myler

Any reason why he's Neutral?

He did some downright despicable acts in his time. NE for mine.

Considering the current zeitgeist, I'd be careful with historical figures. Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortez are contemporaries of Drake, and both would also have Evil alignments.

Francis Drake should be NE because he was a slave trade.

But we should wonder about the sources what tell Columbus and Cortez as the bad guys. We have to remember in that age the propaganda war was very hard and maybe we should doubt about some sources.

By the way, Maria Pita asked about Drake's family, she listened his brother was shot for a visit to Spanish coasts.

Mike Myler

Have you been to LevelUp5E.com yet?
Francis Drake was definitely not a "good" guy—he transported slaves more than once and seems to have straight up murdered a colleague he disagreed with. Given his accomplishments (mayor-ing, fighting on behalf of his country, giving a ton of gold to the crown) and that he was known to sail beside freed slaves, I went with just neutral.

It is a tricky thing to weigh all of the things a person did in their lives and slap a sticker on it, considering the standards of the time in which they lived and the nuances of their individual stories (many of which are clouded by propaganda both then and later), so just like with every other entry in this column I encourage people to comment with their thoughts on what he ought to be in all respects (alignment, class, the whole thing). Please avoid using any language or statements that might provoke others though lest the well of discourse be poisoned. Keep it civil! :)

(Also +1 for @LuisCarlos17f for sharing a resource!)


A suffusion of yellow
Francis Drake should be NE because he was a slave trade.

But we should wonder about the sources what tell Columbus and Cortez as the bad guys. We have to remember in that age the propaganda war was very hard and maybe we should doubt about some sources.

No, Columbus was definitely a bad guy who introduced slavery to the Americas and ordered genocide against the Caribs because they chose to fight back - by his own writing Columbus states that “the timid natives should make good servants.” and he uses the term “cabezas de mugeres“ when ordering his crew to kidnap natives to be sent back to Spain.


A suffusion of yellow
I like the write up, it works for me. I do however wonder if his Drum should be incorporated somewhere

My introduction to Francis Drake was via Sir Hendry Newbolts poem Drakes Drum - Drake took the Drum with him when on his circumnavigation of the globe and in his bequest before he died he asked that the Drum be kept and that if ever England was again threatened by a foreign Armada that it should be played and he would return from Heaven to defend his homeland - perfect set up for Ghost Ships and Undead pirates!

Also have you read Soloman Kanes “One Black Stain”?

And just a question you have given him Natural Explorer Forest - but why Forest? Is that a CAPs oversight?

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