Or: “how not to build a wizard in Dungeons and Dragons, fifth edition.”
Update: I have brought Qisandoral back from retirement after the 2021 rules changes.
My first character in Dungeons and Dragons, Adventurers League, was a high-elf wizard (Abjuration school) named Qisandoral Ariesstanus. He was a side-kick I originally made for my kids in their home campaign, with his deadpan, humorous personality reminiscent of Mr Spock from Star Trek. Because of his stodgy, stoic nature, Abjuration as a school of magic seemed like a sensible move.
Later, when I first “imported” this character to Adventurers League (i.e. made a new, AL-legal version of him), I didn’t really know how to do a proper build for wizards, so I prioritized sub-optimal stat choices such as Charisma, which didn’t actually make sense with his role-playing style. I probably could have role-played him different, but the group dynamics in Adventurers League helped influence my choices in role-playing.
The bigger problem though was learning how to manage spells for Qisandoral. Abjurers activate (or recharge) their primary ability, Arcane Ward, whenever they cast a spell from the Abjuration school. I thought this was great, so with my limited monetary resources, I spent everything I had to purchase and copy Abjuration school spells in my spellbook. The trouble was was that most Abjuration spells are pretty situational, particularly in the sort of one-shot adventures you often find in Adventurers League. Arcane Lock is a pretty neat utility spell in some situations, but I practically never used it in Adventurers League. Even mighty spells like Counterspell and Dispel Magic, staples of the Abjuration school, didn’t come up very often due to the nature of combat and adventures. Things would probably be different in a longer-term home campaign, but this version of Qisandoral was meant for Adventurers League only.
Further, I didn’t take advantage of Adventurers League rules for copying spells from another wizard player character enough, instead buying scrolls on my own. Thus, I spent too much money on spells that were often not worth it. Such spells are great in right situation, but rarely enough to be worth spending hundreds of gold pieces on for a scroll (nevermind the costs to copy).
Conversely, because I leaned so heavily in Abjuration, Qisandoral wasn’t very effective in most combat situations. Using Chromatic Orb helped to some degree because of its versatility, but by tier-3 (levels 10 through 15), a wizard usually is a pretty powerful class, and Qisandoral had excellent defenses, but not much else to offer. Even for an Abjuration wizard, I might have built him too conservatively.
In a recent article by the awesome James Haeck,1 he points out that wizards work best when they have a solution to every situation. They may have their fallback specialty, but the sheer diversity in spellcasting is what makes wizards stand apart from every other D&D spell class.
When I saw this article, I realized that for building an Abjuration wizard, the key to success is to have a certain number of core spells to trigger Arcane Ward, but also diversify to cover every other situation. For core Abjuration spells:
- Mage Armor – cast it first thing in the day to bolster your armor class, and activate Arcane Ward in one shot. Yay.
- Shield – in a pinch it will not only deflect potential damage but recharge your Arcane Ward a little bit, too. Double yay.
- Alarm – since you can cast this as a ritual, a common trick by players is to cast over and over during a long break to recharge Arcane Ward. Kind of silly, but people do it. Plus, it’s handy for situations where you need to rest overnight in a hostile environment.
- Counterspell – there are many situations where this isn’t useful, but when it is…
- Dispel Magic – same as above… Abjuration wizards should always have these two prepared.
- Banishment – personally one of my favorite Abjuration spells. Reduce the battlefield thread instantly by taking one or more creatures out of rotation, possibly for good! Sometimes you can send the big boss packing instantly.
Beyond these six core abjuration spells, you probably should diversify as much as you can.
Sadly, I didn’t do this, and after trying to belatedly fix Qisandoral’s build, it became too little too late in tier-3 adventures so I decided to retire him.
Retiring my first AL character wasn’t easy. Even though he wasn’t mechanically great, I still liked him as a role-playing character because he was a fun, distinctive, memorable character. What made me finally decide to retire him was that the original side-kick version still existed in my home campaign with my kids, and if I wanted to, I could probably make a new version from scratch in Adventurer’s League if I really wanted to. The “new” Qisandoral wouldn’t have the same character history, so no reliving the Liberation of Phlan again, nor any of the rewards from before, but it would be a chance to “make him right”.
On the other hand, I like to think that boring, old Qisandoral really did retire from adventuring and went back to his studies having learned all he needed to from the wider world, and having made his mark. With all that he accomplished in his adventuring life, he probably earned a long sabbatical anyway.
1 Mr Haeck also has a nice article on Abjuration wizards, but it was published after I made my character, so 🤷🏽♂️