Lacking Capstones

Today I talk about our capstones. A capstone is a feature you gain when you reached the level cap, in D&D more specific the level cap in one class (means 20th level for now). The only D&D edition which made great capstones were 4e, Pathfinder got it right and made at least decent, but often not too great, capstones. In 5e, most are lacking.

Here I categorized them to usefulness:

Great and useful anytime

  • Barbarian’s Primal Champion (+4 STR and CON and the cap get increased to 24 for these two abilities)
  • Paladin’s [Ancient] Elder Champion (regain 10 hit points per turn, 1 action casts can be reduced to bonus action, enemies within 10ft have disadvantage to saving throws vs. your paladin spells and Channel Divinity).
  • Rouge’s Stroke of Luck (turn a miss into a hit or make a failure in a ability check to a natural 20 once per short rest)
  • Wizard’s Signature Spells (have two 3rd level always prepared and cast them once per short rest for free at 3rd spell level)

Useful in most cases

  • Cleric’s Improved Divine Intervention (100% chance that your god will help you once a week)
  • Fighter’s 4th attack (great at combat, otherwise useless)
  • Paladin’s [Devotion] Holy Nimbus (10 radiant damage per round for enemies within 30ft, advantage on saving throws vs. undead and fiend spells)
  • Paladin’s [Vengeance] Avenging Angel (Fly speed 60ft and 30ft fear aura).
  • Warlock’s Eldritch Master (regain once per day after 1min all expended Pact Magic spell slots)

Rather lacking, even though useful sometimes (like builds and cases)

  • Druid’s Archdruid (unlimited Wildshape for moon druids and spellcasting with your mind alone unless the material components cost gold)
  • Ranger’s Foe Slayer (once per turn WIS-mod. to attack or damage vs. favored enemy after seeing the roll but before knowing the result)

Useful when running into a lot of encounters

  • Bard’s Superior Inspiration (get one inspiration back when having none when rolling initiative)
  • Monk’s Perfect Self (get 4 ki points back when having none when rolling initiative)
  • Sorcerer’s Sorcerous Restoration (regain 4 expended sorcery points after a short rest)

Some of them would definitely rank higher, if there were only one to two changed details. Like the warlock’s Eldritch Master, if it’d only cost an action. Pact Magic slots are regained after an hour rest, too, after all, even though a minute is much better in that regard, I wasn’t that whelmed.

So why aim for the capstones after all, if most of them are underwhelming? Maybe high level campaigns in planning have a lot of encounters one after another, so regaining resources with initiative roll will have that much impact. Maybe the 21th+ levels will bring some juicy bonuses when you stay in your class and the ‘not-capstones-anymores’ are just a milestone to real power.

I personally think after gaining so much levels in one class, you can simply go all the way. Why would a character even bother at that point to pursue another path?

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2 thoughts on “Lacking Capstones

  1. I feel the need to tell you that archdruid is by far the single most powerful capstone in the entire game. The ability to wild shape at will makes you a virtually immortal onion, regaining over a hundred HP worth of form shifting per turn if you want.
    If you don’t think that insanely bloated, indefatigable healing is better than, say, two extra low level spell slots as a super powerful wizard, you’re only fooling yourself.

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    • The capstone for druids can do what you say only for moon druids, so it’s hard to say, that the druid’s capstone is always useful (hence the categorization in “useful in some cases.” Of course, the lightning throwing squirrel is impressive, but I think it’d be wrong to say, that one capstone combined with a certain subclass makes the most powerful capstone in the game, especially if it’s easy enough to work around it.

      Problem still lies that Wild Shapes have fatal flaws imo (even as a moon druid). Using them as a melee to sponge damage at the capstone range only is a great excuse for enemy spellcaster’s to use things like power word kill to instantly kill the druid (easy enough to drop them to less than 100 hit points), same goes for disintegrate and similar spells. Those hit points are great against attacks, but neither AC, the Dex saves, nor own attacks are that impressive at this point, now with Xanathar’s Guide the moon druid got a neat self-buffs to make it better, but in most cases, the spells of a druid are more dangerous than the wildshape. Which makes it great to combine those two, but I don’t feel like that’s very impressive in itself.
      The “healing” you speak of is neat, no question, but it’s not that great as people tend to tell. D&D isn’t that of a straightforward game that one aspect automatically means a sure win. The higher the game gets, the more options PCs get, same goes for the DM who cares about giving the PCs some work.

      On the other hand, the signature spells for a wizard are something that benefits every wizard, can be chosen for utility, for a viable buff, a spell you like to use regularly (like catnap, dispel magic, counterspell, and fly), self-buffs, and more. For a 20th level wizard, it gives the possibility to use fewer spell-slots for spells which are viable in many cases or can simply cast more often it’s a relief, so that you can prepare other spells instead (as the spells are also always prepared) and can throw them more freely.
      A wizard who seeks only damage and battle-readiness ignores a lot of the potential of the class imo. Therefore I still think (despite these years) that the capstone is great and always useful.
      It’s important to look at what the class does to discern, how useful a capstone is. I mean, imagine the capstone for the sorcerer would be +6 STR, +6 INT, +6 WIS. It’d be like: “Ah, this is great in general… still, to get some out of it would mean a lot of work…”

      The question is, what exactly does the Archdruid to the druid, and it’s good in general, gives some mean options, and with creativity, it can be really useful. As a moon druid, it supports at what the character is supposed to be capable of. Would I call it the most powerful thing in the game because it gives you semi-hitpoints that aren’t worth much, and can still lead to instadeath? Does it so much for every druid that it clearly outshines any other class in the end?

      I just don’t think so. Feel free to think otherwise, but neither the archdruids in my campaigns, nor the things people like to boast about was able to change my mind so far. ^^

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