Dungeons and DotA: Creating Axe

Axe is a melee Strength hero whose roles are Initiator/Durable/Disabler/Jungler. Despite this range of roles, his abilities are simple: kill things, bring more things to kill, and then kill them more. Mogul Khan is more than an axe-wielding maniac: he’s the axe-wielding maniac. When his superiors said he wasn’t axe-wieldy enough, he killed them and took their place. Over and over again. Now, Mogul Khan is the only member left in his army, meaning it’ll finally be a somewhat fair fight for whatever army he decides to take on next. Axe respects honor and authority, but only if someone is strong enough to maintain either (his previous leaders clearly weren’t). For this reason, Axe falls into Lawful Evil (or Neutral Evil, considering willingness to kill authorities).

Before I continue praising the power of Axe, let’s see how he does what he does.

Axe’s first ability is Berserker’s Call. This shout forces nearby creeps to attack him and gives him bonus armor, allowing for great crowd management.

Axe’s next ability is Battle Hunger. Axe’s bloodthirst is contagious, and marked enemies are slowed and take damage until they kill another unit. For every unit suffering from Battle Hunger, Axe gains movement speed.

The third ability is Counter Helix. Axe has a chance to retaliate when hit, dealing damage to nearby units.

Axe’s ultimate ability is Culling Blade. With this single blow, Axe insta-kills targets below a certain HP threshold or deals massive damage assuming they survive. The cooldown for this is reset if it kills.

These skills have a certain level of nuance unobtainable in DnD 5e. However, the bulk of them are not only replicable, but easily so. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the most straight forward Dungeons and DotA guide yet: Axe.

Race

Technically it seems that Axe is an Oglodi, along with Disruptor and Warlock, but for DnD Axe is a hobgoblin. Just look at him. The Saving Face feature that Hobgoblins get will also help us later. Finally, an easy selection for race!

Hobgoblin from DnD (left) and Oglodi from DotA 2 (right)

Class

We’re going to go 3 levels into Champion Fighter and 17 levels into Berserker Barbarian for this build. As always, break these up however you see fit. Personally, I take the fighter levels early on because every bonus we’ll get from these will be a lasting help.

It is important to mention that you could theoretically just go all levels into Barbarian for the same effect (kind of). In my mind, this choice just doesn’t make the cut. While Primal Champion is one of the best capstone abilities, going this route gets us further from a mechanically accurate recreation than I’d like.

Fighter

Fighter is a great choice for Axe in many ways, mostly mechanically speaking. At fighter level 1, we get a fighting style, which is already a great opportunity to maximize ourselves to un-axe-ceptable levels. You’re going to want to select the Great Weapon Fighting fighting style. With this, you can reroll 1s and 2s made on the damage dice for a two handed or versatile weapon. Another bonus at level one is Second Wind for a little extra tankiness.

Level 2 gives the infamous Action Surge (no, DM, that is not the end of my turn) and level 3 gives our subclass bonus. By going Champion Fighter, we get Improved Critical, making our attacks crit on a 19 or 20. Some of you might see where this ends up…

Barbarian

We’re sticking in Barbarian for a long time, so I’ll only cover some of the features. Barbarian level 1 gives us Rage and Unarmored Defense. Both of these are going to be important parts of recreating Mogul Khan. Rage provides us with physical damage resistance (like the bonus armor received from Berserker’s Call). Unarmored Defense, on the other hand, is just a lore-friendly depiction of Axe.

Axe’s anger is par for the course when it comes to Barbarians.

We choose the Berserker subclass at Barbarian level 3 for obvious lore reasons. Truth be told, the greatest benefit this gives us isn’t seen until level 14. While Frenzy is a cool ability, Intimidating Presence at 10th level is literally the opposite of Berserker’s Call. We endure such disappointments for the 14th level feature Retaliation, allowing our Axe to perform a melee attack against creatures that hit us while within 5 feet of us. This lacks the AOE of DotA 2’s Counter Helix for now, but is otherwise a good fit.

By Barbarian level 5, we also get Fast Movement. This small buff to non-heavy-armored move speed is going to be our replacement for Battle Hunger. Sadly, there’s no class feature or spell that is within easy access to emulate all the effects of Battle Hunger.

The recreation of Culling Blade, Mogul Khan’s signature ultimate ability, comes in multiple stages (just like in DotA 2!). If you haven’t already guessed, instead of a class feature being Axe’s ultimate, it will just be a critical melee attack. With 3 levels for Champion Fighter, we currently crit on a 19 or 20; a 10% chance for our attack to deal double damage (by way of rolling another damage dice).

Once we hit level 9 Barbarian, we deal an additional damage die with our weapon when we crit, so two initial damage dice plus another die. This increases again at 13th level and 17th level. If you want to see the theoretical single-attack damage output from rolling a 19 or 20, skip down to the section after Abilities Scores titled ‘The Culling Blade.’

Equipment

Mogul Khan does not need armor (though you could pick it up, it isn’t quite lore-accurate: choose medium armor if you choose any at all). He does not need potions. All he needs is a great axe. While it is not recommended, you technically don’t even need friends to use this build. There is no team in Axe.

Feats

As is usual, melee builds make great use of feats to keep up with magic users. Axe is no exception, really. By splitting our levels 17/3, we only get 4 Ability Score Improvements to make use of feats. Additionally, if you put 3 levels into fighter first, you get your first Ability Score Improvement at character level 7. So, there is a trade off that makes this build shine later than others.

The first feat I recommend for making Axe is Martial Adept. This feat allows us to choose a two Battle Master maneuvers with a d6 superiority die. The first Battle Master maneuver we’ll be choosing is Goading Attack. Successful use of this maneuver gives disadvantage to a single target attempting to attack anyone other than you. This is our Berserker’s Call. While it doesn’t allow for taunting multiple units, creeps aren’t much of a thing in DnD 5e. The additional once-per-short-rest limitation is expected of DnD features.

The second maneuver we will take is Sweeping Attack. This allows us to, when we hit a creature with a melee weapon attack, attempt to hit another creature within 5 feet of the first. The beauty of this is that Berserker Barbarian’s Retaliation allows us to make a melee weapon attack. This means that, when hit, you can choose to do a sweeping Retaliation attack – just like Axe!

Is it dangerous to 360-spin an axe? Yes. Does Axe care? No.

The second and final feat I recommend is Great Weapon Master. The option to take -5 to hit for +10 damage is pretty great, if I do say so myself. And if this -5 makes you miss, you can use Hobgoblin’s Saving Face feature to add up to 5 to your roll. The additional synergy it provides with allowing for a bonus attack after kills and crits is also helpful. This allows us to not have to Frenzy every time we rage without losing the Frenzy benefit. Additionally, this attack-after-crit can be seen as Culling Blade’s cooldown reduction.

Ability Scores

As a Barbarian, you really need just high Strength and high Constitution. If you are going for unarmored defense, consider Dexterity as your next highest score.

The Culling Blade

For this example, let us assume that our Axe is a level 20 Barbarian/Fighter multiclass, as is discussed above. With 20 Strength and the above feats, here’s what our Culling Blade looks like.

Combat begins and, like usual, you rage. You don’t, however, choose to go into a frenzy. On your turn, you make your way over to some foolishly confident warrior and decide to attack using Great Weapon Master to deal +10 damage. You can choose make this a reckless attack for advantage.

If you attack twice and hit twice, you’ll deal 1d12 + 19 damage per attack, rerolling 1s and 2s once. If you attack twice and only hit once, but that hit is a crit, you’re damage is still very high. It doesn’t matter that you chose a -5 to hit, a 19 or 20 is a critical hit and always hits, regardless of modifiers.

For the critical hit, you’ll deal 1d12 + 19 damage from the initial attack, then an additional 3d12 damage from the crit. Every one of these d12 can be rerolled if they land on a one or a two. That’s 4d12 + 19 damage – and you get to attack again as a bonus action for landing a critical hit. The average damage of this single attack, without considering rerolls, is 45 damage. 10% of the time when you attack, this is your average damage.

If you were to get absurdly lucky and attack 3 times, critically hitting twice (a 1% chance), you’d get an average of 90 damage in a single round of attacks, again, not counting rerolled 1s and 2s. After this, you can use Action Surge.

Culling Blade when it insta-kills (left) compared to when it injures (right)

It isn’t that dealing this much damage is unreasonable or even unusual, but that it is reliable. By using Frenzy and Reckless Attack, you can seriously increase your chances of landing a critical hit over the course of a battle: no spell slots, no components, just Axe.

I really enjoyed the relative simplicity of this build and it’s definitely one of my favorite character conversions. Finally we have a DnDotA build that can recreate a hero without extensive reflavoring – how nice! If you found any glaring issues in this article or had any ideas for recreating Axe of your own, put them down in the comments below. And as always, from the Red Mist, Axe returns!

This concludes all the heroes whose names start with A! Find the rest here:

Abaddon
Alchemist
Ancient Apparition
Anti-Mage
Arc Warden

Additionally, consider dropping by for our podcast at 2:00pm EST every Friday on twitch.tv/heavyshelf for a conversation on what’s big each week in gaming.

One Reply to “Dungeons and DotA: Creating Axe”

  1. For the true Axe experience, ask the DM to delay damage from your crit(s) until they would be the finishing blow. And play the sound effect every time.

    Really digging this series. Looking forward to the Bs! I imagine Beastmaster and Bounty Hunter will be fairly simple, but I’m interested in how Brewmaster and Bloodseeker will be handled.

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