Spellsword. Swordmage. Gish. The all-rounder warrior who’s competent at swinging a sword and slinging spells—and they’re probably up for some skulduggery, too! Many people want to play this character type in D&D. Animes are chock-full of magic swordsfolk, the Witcher series is super popular (longsword in one hand, magic in the other), and Gandalf himself is an early example of this type of character.
D&D 5e is the go-to fantasy tabletop RPG, and you can certainly mix and match magic and martial prowess with its vast array of player options, but I’m going to argue for—and use—a stricter definition of spellsword that narrows things to a particular playstyle.
A spellsword is more magically adept than a half-caster, better at melee than most full casters, and not as hardy as a martial character. They move quickly to make the most of good positioning, switching between weapons (often magically enhanced) and spellcasting as needed. A striker, not a tank.
First, they only get close to wielding powerful spells late in the game (and most campaigns don’t get anywhere near high-level play (source)). Second, they also lack the spell slots to make leveled spells an integral part of their fighting until the late game, especially rogues, who are expected to bring a lot of utility to the party.
Neither are the pure paladin, ranger, and artificer. A paladin’s slots are mostly for smiting if they’re playing efficiently. The ranger gets close, but not quite there, as it still skews too martial. A proper spellsword uses magic frequently and flexibly and can cast spells above 5th-level in their prime.
Also, traditionally, a spellsword’s magic doesn’t come from a divine source alone. That’s another strike against the paladin, and the cleric is also out.
A mix of divine and arcane, however, is acceptable. That’s the realm of some scary multiclassing we’ll get to shortly.
I won’t lie, the spellsword way is one of the most complicated playstyles out there, and I hesitate to recommend it to a beginner. It does feel incredibly badass, though, and, regardless of your experience level, I’m sure you’ll learn most of what you need right here in this article.
5e Spellsword Subclasses
I’ll spare you the trouble of looking up which subclasses make the cut without multiclassing:
But seriously, the way this subclass works is buffing the character’s Armor Class (AC) up past 20, so they can dart around the battlefield carving up their foes or blasting the hell out of them.
Hammertime? You can, but Strength weapons are inadvisable. Your Dexterity plays a big role in rocketing your AC, so deprioritizing it to dish out bonks is a significant blow to your survivability as a frail d6 hit die caster.
When you choose the Bladesinger subclass at your second wizard level, you get proficiency with one type of one-handed melee weapon and light armor.
More importantly, you get the bladesinger’s signature feature: Bladesong. You can use it—for up to a minute at a time—as many times as your proficiency modifier between long rests.
While Bladesong is active, you get:
- an additional 10 ft. of movement,
- an increase to your AC equal to your Intelligence modifier,
- Advantage on Dexterity (Acrobatics) checks,
- and a bonus to your Constitution saving throws to maintain concentration equal to your Intelligence modifier.
Super powerful feature! It’s why a two-level wizard dip is attractive to Dexterity-based eldritch knights and arcane tricksters. Naturally, there are restrictions: no shield, no medium or heavy armor, no two-handing weapons.
The Bladesinger also gets Extra Attack at 6th level, like the bards mentioned next, but the Bladesinger’s is better because one of them can be a cantrip.
This is especially good at lower levels when spell slots are more scarce. Speaking of, you’ll spend a good deal of your slots buffing yourself (hasted Bladesinger? Even more unhittable) or casting reaction spells.
On top of thriving in melee, you’re still a full wizard, so you also get the best spell list in the game and access to the highest level spells, if your campaign gets there—by which point you can also burn spell slots to reduce incoming damage and add your Intelligence modifier to your melee damage rolls on top of Dexterity (or Strength, sure…).
Your one weakness is your subpar hit dice, so you can go from seemingly invincible to KO’d in the blink of an eye, but your defensive spells should give you breathing room, and it’s in your party’s best interest to keep you up and running.
At 3rd level, they get a Fighting Style (either Dueling or Two-Weapon Fighting), proficiency with medium armor and a melee weapon of their choice (which works as an arcane focus), and the ability to spend Bardic Inspiration dice on Blade flourishes.
When the swords bard successfully hits a target with a melee attack on their turn, they can do a Blade Flourish to add their Inspiration die to the damage of this attack and get 10 ft. of additional movement speed for the same turn. But the flourishes do even more than that depending on the type:
- Mobile Flourish pushes the target away so you can move elsewhere without risking an attack of opportunity.
- Slashing Flourish allows the bard to deal the damage from their Inspiration die to another creature within 5 ft. of them.
- Defensive Flourish adds the roll of the Inspiration die to their AC until the start of their next turn.
The swords bard also gets Extra Attack at 6th level, and at 14th they can use Blade Flourishes nonstop with a d6 instead of their inspiration dice.
While they are not a damage powerhouse, they get versatility from combining everything with being a full caster. Also, their hit dice aren’t d6s.
They also multiclass impressively with rogue, as the skirmishers they are. I have a swords bard with a rogue dip in my Curse of Strahd campaign, and he holds his own beside a blood cleric, a lycan bloodhunter, and a shadow sorcerer.
While the swords bard is a more egoistic take on the class with a skirmishing focus, the valor bard plays a frontline support role. They, too, get proficiency with medium armor, plus they can use shields and martial weapons.
At first glance, the shield means a better base AC, but there’s a problem: the valor bard can’t use their weapon as a focus, so they need at least one free hand to cast spells with a somatic component.
They also can’t use two-handed weapons and cast spells at the same time. The Warcaster Feat solves this, but being a frontline caster who hits people makes them a bit Multi Ability score Dependant (MAD), which gets in the way of acquiring Feats.
The MADness can be dealt with by dipping a single level into Hexblade, but it may not fit your character idea and also increases the distance between the bard and their next Ability Score Improvement (ASI).
Back to the bard stuff: the valor bard’s Inspiration dice can be added to damage rolls or to the AC of whoever’s inspired when they’re attacked. They get Extra Attack at 6th level, and at level 14 they can use their bonus action to make a weapon attack after casting a spell.
Hexblade is an edgy synonym of spellsword, to begin with. The warlock has some of the best offensive spells in the game, and combining their subclass features with the right invocations and cantrips makes for a great melee combatant.
Hexblade’s Curse allows you to deal extra damage to a cursed target, doubles your chance to get a critical hit on them, and even restores some of your hit points (HP) when the cursed target dies.
The warlock has to deal with a small number of maximally powerful spell slots that they need to save up for clutch moments or use to buff themselves for long stretches of time. This makes Eldritch Invocations the cornerstones of their build. The ones that go best with a melee play style are:
- Thirsting Blade: Absolutely essential; it gives you an extra attack with your pact weapon.
- Devil’s Sight: Cast magical Darkness only you can see in. Booming Blade your foes in it with advantage and the certainty that they’ll try to get away. The opportunity attack you get from it is also with advantage.
- Eldritch Smite: 1d8 per spell slot level that you burn to do it, but the kicker is that it makes the target automatically Prone. Your rogue friend will thank you for it.
- Improved Pact Weapon: +1 magic weapon on demand is very nice in the early game. You can also use it as an arcane focus, so a shield doesn’t interfere with your spellcasting.
- Lifedrinker: Deal additional necrotic damage equal to your Charisma modifier on melee hits. This comes late but with the likely maxed-out Charisma (SAD build)
- Relentless Hex: You can bonus action teleport up to 30 ft. to an unoccupied space adjacent to someone you have cursed (Hex, Hexblade’s Curse).
The sorcerer class doesn’t get as much love from Wizards of The Coast as most of the other ones. As such, they have the least amount of official subclasses (seven total) from all the original Player’s Handbook (PHB) classes (the artificer has four, but it only came out in Eberron: Rising From The Last War). It’s almost as if they have “wizard” in the company name.
Still, there is an Unearthed Arcana (meaning not playtested) subclass that lets sorcerers fight in the frontlines: the stone sorcerer. Here’s what’s cool about them:
They are a tad beefier than the average sorcerer, with one extra hit point per sorcerer level. They get proficiency with simple weapons, martial weapons, and shields. No armor, but that’s because, as an action, they can make their skin stone-like, making their AC temporarily equal to 13 + their Constitution modifier. They can dismiss this as a bonus action, and it doesn’t work with armor on (other than shields).
Stone sorcerers also have the smite spells added to the sorcerer spell list (Listed in the class description) for them due to their affinity with metal.
The Stone Aegis (6th level)—later Earth Master Aegis (18th level)—feature lets them protect their allies with an aura that absorbs bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage. This aura also lets them teleport right next to whoever hits a friend protected by this feature and attack them with added force damage.
At 14th level, the stone sorcerer can deal additional force damage equal to half their sorcerer level with a spell. The force damage from their features is extra sweet because few creatures are resistant to it.
On top of all this, consider that, as a sorcerer, you are proficient in Constitution saving throws, so you can have buffs on yourself in most combat situations (and keep them up) and survive more hits than a Bladesinger.
Maybe you don’t want to do a single class build. I get it: multiclassing is fun, and sometimes the game’s narrative provides wonderful reasons to do it.
On the minmaxer side, sometimes a little multiclassing can get rid of a MAD problem, beef up your hit points, or give rise to a cool combo.
As mentioned earlier, a hexblade dip makes sense for any Charisma caster who wants to get up close and personal with their foes without spreading their ASIs too thin.
Paladin and hexblade also mix well. Those big warlock spell slots? You can Smite with them and have a higher chance of crit-smiting whoever you put your curse on. Having some spell slots regenerate over short rests is also nice for a half-caster. The proportions are up to you. If your goal is creating a spellsword as I defined them earlier, you should favor warlock in the mix.
Another suitable spellsword build is the infamous sorcadin (sorcerer + paladin). Notice the ongoing theme of mixing up the Charisma classes. This one’s all about spending a bunch of resources in one go to deal insane single target damage. Smites, Metamagic, more spell slots than a paladin normally has… this makes quite the explosive brew.
Suppose you went paladin 3/sorcerer 5, you’re in a boss fight, and the DM said the big bad looks hurt. You could Quicken a Fireball in their face, then run in and burn your other 3rd level slot to Smite them.
Best case scenario: 8d6 from Fireball + 6d8 + 2d10 from a critical hit longsword Smite + 5 from maxed out Charisma. And yes, you might want to take that juicy hexblade dip later on (a “dip” is usually a single level unless otherwise stated).
The swordy bards that want to get swordier can multiclass with rogue to great effect, even fighter. I’m partial to swashbuckler rogue + swords bard for both flavor and minmaxing reasons since the swashbuckler has subclass features that rely on Charisma. You can get an archetype without missing out on most of your spellcasting.
Bladesingers are stronger as a single class build, but if you must multiclass, rogue and fighter are your best options. Conversely, a bladesinger dip of just two levels goes well with arcane trickster rogue. Bladesong on top of the rogue’s defensive arsenal can make a character super durable.
As a druid jumping into melee, you won’t find a better build than moon druidbarian, and not focusing on Wildshape is a waste.
5e Spellsword Spell Selection
A spellsword’s spells give them the ability to fight well at various ranges by enhancing their melee capabilities, straight up blasting their enemies, controlling the battlefield, and so on. Smart spell selection is a necessity to make this playstyle work.
First things first, good melee cantrips are paramount. The best ones are from the Swordcoast Adventurer’s Guide, seemingly made for the bladesinger.
- Booming Blade: A little extra damage on top of a melee attack, and it punishes enemies for trying to get away!
- Green Flame Blade: Also a little extra damage on top of a melee attack, and this extra damage is dealt to an additional target within 5 ft.
- Lightning Lure: Nice if you find yourself without the movement speed to get to whoever you want to cut up, or if the need arises to get a friend out of a grapple (by forcefully moving the grappler (More here on grapplers)).
It’s also good to have one ranged attack cantrip for the flexibility it brings. The best one in the wizard and sorcerer toolkit is Firebolt. Warlocks get Eldritch Blast. Bards have Vicious Mockery, which is not great damage but comes with a neat debuff.
There are too many spells to go over in detail, so this is going to be a bunch of bullet-point lists by level with the classes that get the spells in parentheticals next to them.
We’re looking for survivability, mobility, battlefield control, and damage. The bolded ones are what I consider the choicest picks. Mix and match as you see fit.
- Absorb Elements (artificer, druid, ranger, sorcerer, wizard)
- Armor of Agathys (warlock)
- Compelled Duel (paladin)
- Dissonant Whispers (bard)
- Expeditious Retreat (artificer, warlock, sorcerer, wizard)
- False Life (Sorcerer, Wizard)
- Hellish Rebuke (warlock)
- Hex (warlock)
- Mage Armor (sorcerer, wizard)
- Magic Missile (sorcerer, wizard)
- Searing Smite (paladin, ranger)
- Shield (artificer, druid, ranger, sorcerer, wizard)
- Tasha’s Hideous Laughter (bard, wizard)
- Thunderous Smite (paladin)
- Thunderwave (bard, druid, sorcerer, wizard)
- Wrathful Smite (paladin)
- Zephyr Strike (ranger, but accessible via the Magic Initiate Feat, the bard’s Magical Secrets, and possibly training if your DM is flexible)
- Aganazzar’s Scorcher (sorcerer, wizard)
- Blindness/Deafness (bard, cleric, sorcerer, wizard)
- Blur (artificer, sorcerer, wizard)
- Branding Smite (paladin)
- Darkness (sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Earthbind (druid, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Flame Blade (druid, sorcerer)
- Flaming Sphere (druid, sorcerer, warlock)
- Heat Metal (artificer, bard, druid)
- Hold Person (bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Invisibility (artificer, bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Maximillian’s Earthen Grasp (sorcerer, wizard)
- Mirror Image (bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Misty Step (sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Phantasmal Force (bard, sorcerer, wizard)
- Scorching Ray (sorcerer, wizard)
- Shadow Blade (sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Shatter (bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Spiritual Weapon (cleric, but accessible via the bard’s Magical Secrets, or training if your DM is flexible)
- Tasha’s Mind Whip (sorcerer, wizard)
- Blinding Smite (paladin)
- Counterspell (sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Dispel Magic (artificer, bard, cleric, druid, paladin, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Enemies Abound (bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Fireball (sorcerer, wizard)
- Fly (artificer, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Haste (artificer, sorcerer, wizard)
- Hunger of Hadar (warlock)
- Hypnotic Pattern (bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Lightning Bolt (sorcerer, wizard)
- Slow (bard, sorcerer, wizard)
- Spirit Shroud (cleric, paladin, warlock, wizard)
- Spirit Guardians (cleric, but accessible via the bard’s Magical Secrets, and possibly training if your DM is flexible)
- Thunder Step (sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Vampiric Touch (sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Banishment (cleric, paladin, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Blight (druid, sorcerer, warlock)
- Death Ward (cleric, paladin)
- Dimension Door (bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Evard’s Black Tentacles (wizard)
- Freedom of Movement (artificer, bard, cleric, druid, ranger)
- Greater Invisibility (bard, sorcerer, wizard)
- Guardian of Faith (cleric, but accessible via the bard’s Magical Secrets, and possibly training if your DM is flexible)
- Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere (artificer, wizard)
- Phantasmal Killer (bard, wizard)
- Polymorph (bard, druid, sorcerer, wizard)
- Shadow of Moil (warlock)
- Sickening Radiance (sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Staggering Smite (paladin)
- Wall of Fire (druid, sorcerer, wizard)
- Animate Objects (artificer, bard, sorcerer, wizard)
- Banishing Smite (paladin)
- Bigby’s Hand (artificer, sorcerer, wizard)
- Cloudkill (sorcerer, wizard)
- Cone of Cold (druid, sorcerer, wizard)
- Dominate Person (bard, sorcerer, wizard)
- Far Step (sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Flame Strike (cleric, but accessible via the bard’s Magical Secrets, and possibly training if your DM is flexible)
- Insect Plague (cleric, druid, sorcerer)
- Immolation (sorcerer, wizard)
- Hold Monster (bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Holy Weapon (cleric, paladin)
- Maelstrom (druid, but accessible via the bard’s Magical Secrets, and possibly training if your DM is flexible)
- Steel Wind Strike (ranger, wizard)
- Synaptic Static (bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Wall of Force (wizard)
- Contingency (wizard)
- Chain Lightning (sorcerer, wizard)
- Disintegrate (sorcerer, wizard)
- Fizban’s Platinum Shield (sorcerer, wizard)
- Freezing Sphere (wizard)
- Globe of Invulnerability (sorcerer, wizard)
- Mental Prison (sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Sunbeam (cleric, druid, sorcerer, wizard)
- True Seeing (bard, cleric, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Etherealness (bard, cleric, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Forcecage (bard, warlock, wizard)
- Plane Shift (cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Reverse Gravity (druid, sorcerer, wizard)
- Teleport (bard, sorcerer, wizard)
- Clone (Wizard)
- Dominate Monster (bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Feeblemind (bard, druid, warlock, wizard)
- Incendiary Cloud (druid, sorcerer, wizard)
- Maze (wizard)
- Maddening Darkness (warlock, wizard)
- Sunburst (cleric, druid, sorcerer, wizard)
- Blade of Disaster (sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Invulnerability (wizard)
- Foresight (bard, druid, warlock, wizard)
- Meteor Swarm (sorcerer, wizard)
- Power Word: Kill (bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
- Time Stop (sorcerer, wizard)
- Wish (sorcerer, wizard)
5e Spellsword Feats
Feats are a great way to tailor your build and get the character in sync with your vision. Oftentimes, it’s better to max out relevant ability scores or at least shore up weak points depending on how MAD or SAD the character is, but when you have the ASIs to spare or pick variant human, feats can be powerful additions.
Below are some favorites for spellswords (bold is emphasis of importance):
- Elven Accuracy: This allows characters with some elven heritage to maximize the benefit of advantage when attacking, which should come up often if your party coordinates well—especially if the group uses flanking rules. The +1 to Charisma, Dexterity, Intelligence, or Wisdom is also neat.
- Great Weapon Master (not for bladesingers and bards): Hexblades, paladin multiclass builds, and stone sorcerers can benefit a lot from this one. The penalty to hit is equivalent to disadvantage, so attacking with advantage evens things out, and the extra damage is worth it.
- Magic Initiate: Extra cantrips can come in super handy, and the extra spell can be a real ace up your sleeve. Zephyr Strike could save your bladesinger’s life.
- Mobile: The ultimate melee skirmisher feat. As long as you’re performing melee attacks, you’re impervious to attacks of opportunity. This includes melee spell attacks. It can make your spellsword a nigh-unstoppable whirlwind of destruction.
- Polearm Master (not for bladesingers and bards): More opportunities to dish out opportunity attacks, which you can smite with or combo with Sentinel to be a real munchkin bastard.
- War Caster: The help with concentration is just massive, and so is the ability to cast spells with your hands full (think of the juicy AC increase from a shield or the extra Smiting range with a polearm). Being able to use melee spell attacks on opportunity attacks is brutal, too.
5e Spellsword Magic Items
Your access to magic items depends a lot on the DM’s goodwill and what type of campaign you’re playing in. There are some stellar options for spellswords out there, and they’re worth your gold and downtime to get or make (bold is emphasis of importance):
- Amulet of Health: Saves you the ASIs that would normally go to Constitution because of your puny hit dice. More Constitution makes you beefier and better able to concentrate on spells.
- Cloak of Displacement: Disadvantage on incoming attacks is super strong. It synergizes amazingly with the “can’t touch this” types, like bladesingers.
- Cloak of Protection: +1 to AC and saving throws is great for anyone, but especially to those on the squishier side.
- Ring of Spell Storing: Fill it with defensive options or the odd surprise-nuke. You may well never have to worry about taking full damage from a big blast again.
- Wand of The Warmage: Empowered spell to-hits and DCs is amazing on any caster.
Naturally, getting +X weapons and armor is also good.
Sorry, that was the hasted bladesinger whizzing by. And you know how to build one yourself now! Or any other spellsword character that you’d like! Let’s recap the key takeaways, shall we?
- Spellsword: someone who casts better than a half-caster, fights better than a full-caster, is less hardy than a martial character, and works best as a skirmisher. Mainly wielders of arcane magic.
- The pure class builds that work as spellswords are: bladesingers, valor bards, swords bards, hexblade warlocks, and UA stone sorcerers.
- The best multiclass spellsword builds are Charisma-based. A Hexblade dip is incredibly strong and fixes MAD problems. Hexadins (Hexblade + Paladin) and sorcadins (Sorcerer + Paladin) are great.
- A bit of rogue or fighter goes well with a swordy bard base.
- Wisdom-based spellsword builds aren’t great, because they detract from their component classes instead of synergizing.
- The best Feats for this are Elven Accuracy, Great Weapon Master, Mobile, Polearm Master, War Caster.
- Magic items that confer extra protection or optimize spellcasting are great for spellswords.