Bane is a ranged Intelligence hero whose roles are support, disabler, nuker, and durable. In battle, Bane is excellent at single-target lockdowns that take opponents out of the fight (and sometimes out of the realm of the living). The lore on Bane is pretty strange: Atropos, also known as Bane or the Bane Elemental, is essentially bad dreams in physical form. After stealing some of the goddess Nyctasha’s secret deity sauce, Bane came into physical form to spread terror… and then eat that terror. Bane basically eats fear for breakfast. Is there anything more chaotic evil than spreading sheer horror because you like how it tastes?
Bane’s abilities revolve around this “mmm nightmare tasty” philosophy. Let’s take a look at them now.
Bane’s first ability is called Nightmare. Briefly putting the target to sleep, Bane disables an enemy for a few seconds or until they are attacked by anyone other than Bane. This nightmare can transfer from one unit to its attacker, but this level of nuance is (to my knowledge) unobtainable in DnD 5e.
Bane’s next ability, Brain Sap, is Vampiric Touch but at a range, basically. It just steals health. Moving on.
His passive ability is Enfeeble, which makes any ability he uses also give lowered magic and status resistances to the target.
Finally, Bane’s ultimate is Fiend’s Grip. This attack keeps an enemy (and yourself) immobile, damages them heavily, and steals some of their mana. I can’t think of a single mana-stealing ability in DnD 5e, so don’t get your hopes up for that part specifically.
Luckily for us, these abilities are all fairly easy to replicate. The biggest difference between these abilities and the ones we will have for our own DnD 5e Bane is that our abilities will be mostly melee. But worry not! Using a mix of spells and class features, you won’t be far from taking on the twisted guise of Atropos himself!
Bane is an elemental of sorts, but no Genasi fits his type. Now, Bane does also have a vaguely centaur-ish appearance to him, but to call him “half-man-half-horse” seems inaccurate – as he is no parts man, and certainly no parts horse. In terms of race, we really don’t have a good choice. If you prefer looks, choose Centaur from Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica (official sourcebook, but not AL legal). For the sake of this guide, we will be choosing the unconventional choice of Duergar (or Dark Dwarf).
This race is the best for optimization, but also fits with the themes held by other “dark” races – sunlight sensitivity, gray (often depicted purple) skin, nighttime prowlers – generally dark fellows. The various bonuses to magic resistance provide the Duergar with mental fortitude as well, a feature that I’d imagine Atropos possesses in order to withstand the nightmares he spreads.
With a character like Atropos, you’re probably expecting Warlock, Death Cleric, maybe even some Shadow Sorcerer. These are all incorrect. Absurdly, this build I’ve devised creates Bane very closely and efficiently, but is a multi-class (big surprise there) of Battle Master Fighter 5 and Lore Bard 15. You can split these up how you want, but I’ll go ahead and warn you right now: this build does not fully flesh out until at least level seven, depending on how you break down the levels.
Another warning: this build makes use of feats. If your table (for some reason) doesn’t allow for feats, it’s best to sit this one out.
As a final note: technically, this build is possible if you only put levels into Lore Bard. Everything that you get from Battlemaster Fighter helps with this build as I would play it, but it isn’t the only way.
These five levels into Battle Master are for a few things. The level one proficiency with all armors and weapons is generally useful, and so is a fighting style. For fighting style, I recommend either Dueling or Defense. The level two action surge is a classic and also generally useful. To be honest, though, we’re in fighter for two things: multi-attack and fighting maneuvers.
As a level three Battle Master, you’ll get to choose three maneuvers. To truly be the best single-target-lockdown-machine that you can be, you’ll want to take Trip Attack and Disarming Attack. You’re third choice is up to you, really.
These few levels into fighter make no sense right now, I get that, but trust me: this is quite essential. It also provides Bane with a bit more optional tankiness, which is accurate to his “durable” role and helps while playing, as single-target-disables tend to make you a target yourself. If you decide to forgo these levels, you’ll be much more vulnerable and less effective as a single-target-lockdown machine, but more effective as a spellcaster, so the choice is yours.
Most of the standard Bard features are direct upgrades of other features, so I’m going to skip covering all of them individually.
Practically, Lore Bard is going to be the avenue through which our Bane comes into being. Lore Bard provides all of the most essential features. Level three gives us expertise and our Lore Bard feature “Cutting Words.” Cutting Words is going to basically be Bane’s ability Enfeeble. Just as Enfeeble lowers resistances, by using your inspiration die to lower enemy ability checks and saving throws, you’ll be disabling quite well right off the bat.
The expertise we get is also important. See, Lore Bard gives us three skill proficiencies of our choice, and third level lets us turn one skill proficiency into expertise with that skill… Pick the Athletics skill for one of your Lore Bard proficiencies and then choose it for expertise. You might see where I’m going with this.
At sixth level, we get Additional Magic Secrets for being a Lore Bard. You’ll definitely want to pick up Vampiric Touch from this as it is exactly Brain Sap but melee. Theoretically, you could cut some levels, slip in Sorcerer metamagic, and cast it at a range, but that just isn’t worth it. Future Magical Secrets will be used for whatever spell you’d like.
The spells you take will really help fill out Atropos. I recommend for early game you take Sleep, which is a simple version of Nightmare but the closest we’ll get. I also recommend Bane (haha). In all seriousness, the Bane spell provides even further penalties to saving throws and ability checks, just like Enfeeble. Hold Person can function as your early-game Fiend’s Grip, seeing as how it just lacks the damaging component. There’s also the spell Catnap, but for the life of me I can’t think of a use for it because it only works on willing creatures.
Later on, you can pick other enchantment spells like Confusion and Dominate Person that fit with Bane’s theme. The spell Enervation works like Brain Sap, but you’ll need to take that as one of your magical secrets Bard spells. Of course, there are many, many more spells you can take that fit Bane (Ray of Enfeeblement, anyone?), but this list is just a small number. On their own, many of these spells already fill the role of single-target-lockdown abilities.
Though in DotA 2 Bane is wearing basically nothing, we won’t be so scantily clad for the purposes of DnD 5e. Heavy armor is nice for high defense and making your armor class less Dexterity-dependent. In terms of weapons, absolutely equip yourself with some kind of one-handed weapon. Technically, you could forgo a one-handed weapon and take a shield instead for this build. Regardless, you’ll need a free hand.
The most important feat for this build is Tavern Brawler. You absolutely need this feat. Anything else is up to you!
This build would be Multi-Ability Score-Dependent if it weren’t for the proficiencies provided by Fighter. With heavy armor proficiency, you can focus your two highest attributes to be Strength and Charisma, in that order. Constitution is a good third-highest score to have, like always. Dexterity will be completely useless to us, so don’t bother – that can even be your dump stat if you want.
What’s The Deal With Grappling?
Buckle up. This is a big one.
If you aren’t familiar with the various mechanics of DnD 5e, you might be confused at the way this build has escalated so far. Now I will make all intentions known plain as day: you will be grappling. A lot. And nobody will be able to do anything about it.
This build is an amazing grappler for so many reasons. Firstly, you cannot grapple someone two sizes larger than you. This means that because our Bane is Medium sized, we could grapple a large target but not a huge one… except we can, as a Duergar, grow in size. The Duergar’s innate spellcasting to enlarge makes their size Large, meaning that we can grapple creatures who are Huge or smaller! Have you ever wanted to grapple a Fire Giant?
Being Large also makes you deal an additional 1d4 damage with weapons and get advantage on Strength checks (including, for example, Athletics checks). Keep these bonuses in mind for the future. Side note: use of Duergar innate spellcasting still requires concentration, so you won’t be able to cast many spells while enlarged.
Secondly, grappling in DnD 5e doesn’t make use of saving throws (which many enemies often have proficiencies in or legendary actions to immediately succeed on). Instead, grappling requires a free hand and a contested roll. This means that the target has to roll either Athletics or Acrobatics against your Athletics skill (with our Atropos having Athletics expertise) and try and get a higher result. Just to restate what I’ve already said: because grappling is a contested roll and not a saving throw, creatures cannot pass the check via legendary resistance.
But we aren’t even near being done. If you have a free hand, you won’t be attacking with your one-handed weapon, you’ll be attacking with your empty hand for unarmed damage. Now, remember, the Tavern Brawler feat makes your unarmed attacks deal 1d4 damage, but that isn’t all. When you make this attack, you will also use the Battle Master maneuver Trip Attack.
Thanks to the maneuver, our Bane will add a superiority die (1d8) to the damage of the attack, so our unarmed attack deals 1d4+1d8 damage (plus your Strength modifier). Because we used Trip Attack, our target must pass a Strength saving throw or is made prone. If the target is under the effects of the Bane spell, they’ll subtract 1d4 from this result. If you choose to use your Lore Bard feature Cutting Words, they’ll subtract an additional die up to 1d12. Sadly, knocking targets prone with this maneuver only works on targets who are Large or smaller regardless of your size. With multi-attack, if you miss the first attack, you can try again!
Now that you’ve made an unarmed attack (and hopefully made the target prone), you can use your Bonus Action to grapple them thanks to Tavern Brawler. As I’ve already mentioned, with expertise in Athletics you’re already at a stark advantage over your opponent. Though Bane (the spell) doesn’t work on ability checks made, you can use your Cutting Words (if you haven’t already) to reduce your opponent’s roll. Basically, once you move in for the grapple, you’ve got this under control.
Fiends Grip: The Ultimate Grapple Combo
Let’s stop right here: at level seven (at the minimum), you’re able to make an unarmed tripping attack as a Large creature for 1d4+1d8 damage plus your Strength modifier, then force the target into contested rolls for grappling while you have expertise in Athletics, and you can subtract their roll by 1d6. We’re not done.
Assuming everything has gone off without a hitch, you’ve made one Trip Attack maneuver and made your target prone, and now you’ve successfully grappled the target. Because the target is prone, it must spend half of its movement to stand up. Because the target is grappled, it has 0 speed. The target cannot stand up, has disadvantage on all attack rolls, and you have advantage on all attack rolls against it. You can also drag the target.
On the next turn you can choose to hit it with that one-handed melee weapon (for +2 damage if you took dueling!) or you can use Vampiric Touch. If you choose to use Vampiric Touch, you have advantage on the attack roll. Because it requires you to touch the creature, you can use the hand you are grappling the creature with to cast the spell. Oh, also, the Grappled condition isn’t a spell so you don’t have to worry about losing concentration.
If the target you’re grappling happens to be Huge, you’ll need to use one attack action to make the “shove” attack instead, which again is a contested roll between your Athletics skill and their Athletics or Acrobatics. Because you have multi-attack, this attack action only uses one of your attacks. Without considering action surge, any spells cast beforehand (except Enlarge from Duergar), any help from allies, and any magic items, you have a combo that can completely shut down almost any creature (Huge or smaller). There is no escape from Atropos and his fiendish grip.
I’m terribly sorry that this article is getting out so late, but hopefully it was worth it! I am beyond thrilled with how this build turned out. Initially, I expected it to be another generic, fairly boring guide about which spells you should use, but the unconventional twist has made this build flat-out terrifying for single targets. So, next time you want to play a Bard who isn’t some string-strumming wet noodle, give this build a try. And as always, I wake from dark dreaming.
I’ve recently finished up all Heroes whose names start with the letter A! You can find all of them here:
Additionally, consider dropping by our podcast at 2:00pm EST every Friday on twitch.tv/heavyshelf for a conversation on what’s big each week in gaming.