I remember the day I rolled my first werewolf in D&D.
It was in the early days of 3E. I was young, impressionable, Wolf’s Rain was a thing, and there was something to be said about roleplaying an edgy anime wolf boy with ridiculous AC, a move speed in the 200s, the ability to run up walls, and leap whole buildings in defiance of gravity.
Fast forward to the best edition of D&D ever. Stacking monster templates is no longer possible, and Adventurers League rules means that playing a werewolf is a big no-no. Still, porting Crimson (yes, the name kinda stuck among the RPG groups I frequented, and I decided to use it for my internet handle) to 5E is on my long (and probably busted) list of things to do, and since some shiny Midnight Hunt boxes arrived in our office recently, it’s a great time to revisit this again.
As always, we’re looking to make this an #AL_legal build, because that’s how we roll.
1. Build Concept
To simulate the beast within, we’ll be using the Path of the Beast Barbarian in Tasha’s Cauldron. Season 11’s rules changes also mean that you’re eligible to use the additional class features presented in the book, and of course we’ll be liberally abusing these features to build a better barbarian.
We’re also going to focus mainly on the Claws feature in Form of the Beast, which lets you make an extra claw attack if you hit a target with a claw once per turn. The classic werewolf’s defenses can be simulated by the inbuilt resistances granted by rage, and speedy hijinks by the barbarian’s base move speed increase and advantage on Strength based checks (typically Athletics).
If all you’re going for is furry flavor, and you’re not too fussed about the number of rages you have per long rest, then you’re all set with 3 levels in Barbarian. Consider Primal Knowledge (3rd, optional feature) here, especially if you’re feeling skill starved.
Committing at least 7 levels gets you an extra ASI (at 4th), Extra Attack and Fast Movement (both at 5th), Bestial Soul (taking the Jump option of course), as well as Instinctive Pounce (7th, optional feature) and Feral Instinct Going all in for at least 10 levels also opens up your second ASI (at 8th), Brutal Critical (9th), a second Primal Knowledge skill option (10th) and Infectious Fury (which isn’t fantastic, but certainly isn’t the worst since it deals Psychic damage, even if it targets a common save).
Going all in for the capstone at 14th is debatable. The extra ASI at 12th is kinda sweet, and the spare Brutal Critical die at 13th might be useful in some circumstances, but Call the Hunt is a bit too reliant on you beefing up your Constitution score, and having friends who can make effective use of the extra 1d6 damage that comes with it.
Naturally, we’ll also be multiclassing to make the most of our not-3E werewolf. There are a few classes with great synergies that come to mind, and we’ll be exploring them in a later section.
2. Race & Ability Scores
You can’t go wrong with Vuman (variant human) or Numan (i.e. the generic Feat + Darkvision Custom Lineage, and totally not a sneaky Phantasy Star reference). You can also get away with most any other race with a +2 bonus to one attribute and +1 to another and some perks on the side, like Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Tiefling (clearly the superior, winged variant), Yuan-ti Pureblood (for better defenses against spells), or even a Bugbear.
If you’re playing the Eberron campaign for AL, Shifters of the Longtooth variety are great for the bonus action filler, on top of being thematically appropriate.
For this build, you’ll want to start fairly beefy with a 16 in Strength and at least 14 in Constitution. We also want at least a 13 in Dex and/or Wis so we can open up some multiclassing options. Int and Cha are going to be dump stats, even if you think you’ve got animal magnetism.
As an example, we’re going with Vuman, the Slasher feat from Tasha’s, and putting the +1 bonus to ability scores in Dexterity and Constitution. This gets us something like 15+1 Str, 13+1 Dex, 15+1 Con, 8 Int, 12 Wis, 8 Cha, which also opens up multiclassing options for Fighter and Rogue.
Action Surge (and potentially Improved Critical from Champion) can help make this build shine since you’ll almost always be rolling your attacks with advantage (i.e. pseudo-fishing). Rogue is also a fine addition on the side, since it gives you extra skills, expertise, and other utility options. The Soulknife subclass can be pretty amazing in this (not to mention anime-esque) since it gives you that bonus action filler you lack and bumps up your number of attacks overall when you get to higher levels.
If you’re willing to invest a point or two in Wisdom (so you hit minimum 13), going Ranger can really expand your repertoire. Gloomstalker is the most obvious choice here for the burst potential, though Monster Slayer and Swarmkeeper (reflavored with wolfy goodness) can be fun too.
There’s also something to be said about the Monk and the ability to weave in a flurry of
misses blows with your bonus action. This synergizes with the Fighter’s Unarmed Fighting style, getting you some decent unarmed strikes out the gate.
We’ve talked a lot about the theory behind building a viable werewolf for AL play using the Barbarian chassis, and now it’s time to put everything together.
a) Barbarian (Path of the Beast) 14/Fighter (Champion) 6
Let’s start by looking at the most vanilla option. This build relies on actually wielding a reliable weapon (in this case, you’re going for Polearm Master and a glaive or halberd), taking your first swing, relaxing your grip so you can slap your enemy with 2 claw attacks, before finishing the combo with the Polearm Master bonus action filler.
Werewolves wielding weapons. Who woulda thunk? Guess those 5 ASIs aren’t for show.
b) Barbarian (Path of the Beast) 14/Fighter (Champion) 3/Rogue (Soulknife) 3
This makes you a bruiser rather than any sort of heavy hitter. You get all the goodies up to 14 on the Barbarian side of things (including 5 rages/day and +3 rage bonus to damage), the Improved Critical from Fighter, and the bonus action fillers from the Rogue side of things. You only get 3 ASIs out of this, but there’s gotta be a tradeoff somewhere.
With 1 base attack using Psychic Blades + 2 claw attacks + 1 bonus action Psychic Blade as your default rotation, you can still put out a reasonable chunk of damage, provided you’ve maxed out your Strength (or are wearing a Giant Strength belt).
If you ever land a crit, you’ll rip a decent chunk out of a target’s hit points thanks to Brutal Critical and the extra die from Call the Pack. You might also be able to faux smite with Infectious Fury, but the 2d12 doesn’t double because of the way it’s worded.
c) Barbarian (Path of the Beast) 8/Fighter 2/Ranger (Gloomstalker 3)/Rogue (Soulknife) 7
You lose 1 rage/day and your rage bonus per hit is only +2, but it’s a nominal amount considering the perks you get from being a 7th level Rogue, such as Uncanny Dodge, more Expertise, Evasion, and a better Sneak Attack dice pool.
The addition of Gloomstalker adds some utility by way of non-concentration spells and out of combat magic. The Umbral Sight and Dread Ambusher are nothing to sniff at either. Like the previous configuration, you lose out in the ASI department. Still, it’s not a terrible trade, considering all the class features you’re loading.
If you’re considering this build, remember that the Rogue and Ranger levels are interchangeable. Gloomstalker 7 isn’t bad, especially since Iron Will can help beef up one of your weak saves. At the end of it, this really comes down to whether you prefer to play it a little safer, or to go all in.
d) Barbarian (Path of the Beast) 8/Fighter (Champion) 3/Monk (Way of the Drunken Master) 6/Ranger (Gloomstalker) 3
Monk is in a bit of a weird spot here, since you’re essentially replacing those Sneak Attack dice and the Psychic Blades bonus action filler with 2 unarmed strikes and some middling kungfu powers. Your Wisdom isn’t going to be anything to write home about, so most other monk features that scale off Wisdom are going to be terrible.
I suggested Way of the Drunken Master here since it’s features aren’t Wisdom dependent (the other being Way of Shadow) and are actually decent in a brawl, but if you want to pick another monk subclass, you’re more than welcome.
4) Gearing and ASIs
While your claws count as magical after 6th level, they don’t get any significant bonuses to hit or damage. This makes getting a belt of giant strength incredibly valuable.
An insignia of claws (from Hoard of the Dragon Queen) can add a nominal increase to your damage and accuracy pre-Level 6, and you can’t go wrong with items that confer additional movement modes like boots of flying or cape of the mountebank.
This build also benefits from wearing armor and donning a shield (since there’s nothing about your claw attacks that says you can’t) and those can help bump your AC right up. Items that help boost your defenses (e.g. bracers of defense, mantle of spell resistance, ring of protection) are also selectively useful.
Finally, a Ring of Air Elemental Command (which combines a movement enhancer and some utility) can be really strong at the highest tiers of play.
As for ASIs and feats, you can’t go wrong with increases to your Strength and Constitution. Feats like Resilient (picking a mental stat) can help mitigate terrible conditions like being perma-stunned in late game, and Sentinel can be surprisingly good for locking down someone and keeping them in place so you can keep wailing on them.
If you want to capitalize on your mobility to massacre enemy spellcasters in the backline, mage slayer can be flavorful and effective.
5) Other Considerations
a) Using the Longtooth Shifter Race
Having your bonus action filler as a racial feature means you not only save on an ASI, but also on class levels that may dilute your build. TL;DR you can ditch those Monk and Rogue levels if you don’t want them.
b) How many attacks do I have anyway?
Short answer? Probably 4 if you also have a bonus action filler.
You’ll always have at least 2 attacks because of the Extra Attack feature. You’ll get an extra claw attack once per turn if you attack with a claw at least once during the turn, and if you have it, a bonus action filler attack (or two if you’re a Monk). You also get another attack if you are a Gloomstalker using Dread Ambusher in the first round of combat.
So let’s say you’ve somehow decided to go wild and take those Monk levels i.e. Build D above. This means you’ll get at least 2 base weapon or claw + 1 claw + 2 Flurry of Blows + 1 Dread Ambusher in a white room setting against a target dummy.
If you choose to Action Surge, you get another 2 base + 1 Dread Ambusher, which will take your total number of attacks to 9.
You can get another attack if you quaff a potion of speed (because you know, you can’t concentrate on spells if you’re raging) or if someone actually cares about you enough to cast haste.
c) What else can I do with this build?
You can definitely grapple, jump and slam people into the floor. It’s like those scenes in anime where you smash someone through obstacles or something. With the right combination of classes, combined with a ridiculous Athletics score (that also benefits from Expertise and advantage), you’ll almost always be able to drag and drop at least one enemy if you want to. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the grappling rules for D&D if this is something you want to attempt.
d) What can I do outside of combat?
You’ve still got a healthy suite of exploration related skills. Also, consider 11 levels in Rogue (Soulknife) for Reliable Talent (which makes your obscene Athletics checks even stupider), 3 levels in Barbarian (Path of the Beast), 2 levels in Fighter and 4 levels in Ranger (Gloomstalker). Being Rogue primary changes your playstyle a little bit, but it’s still fairly dependable all told.
e) Other Build Options
Most of the class combinations above are interchangeable. There’s nothing stopping you from taking more Fighter (Champion) levels and hitting 11 (for the third extra attack).
Also, by strict interpretation, you can dip into Paladin and smite with your claws (though claws don’t appear in Chapter 5 of the PHB, so some might consider this iffy AL-wise). This MIGHT be viable if you went Strength > Charisma > Con and skipped out on the Ranger, Rogue and Monk levels. A 7th level Paladin (Ancients, Glory or Watchers) mixed in with some levels of Fighter (Champion) can be pretty thematic for a werewolf themed avenger or protector of the wilds. The paladin’s aura buff also helps fix some weaknesses in the save department, assuming you have a high enough Charisma modifier.
6. Parting Shot
And that’s it for our CharOp article this week. If you ever decide to use our optimization tips to build your very own werewolf character, be sure to let us know how you do at the table.
Maybe one day we’ll be able to get an entire wolf pack playing together, and that would be incredibly cool!
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