If you are interested in the most powerful, yet fair combat builds in D&D 5e, you are in the right place.
These archetypes are laid out by the earliest minimum level required to use them. I will go over the core requirements for each build, what each build does, their weaknesses, and options for further supplemental additions as applicable. Most importantly, none of these builds rely on exploits or break the game unfairly.
Without further ado, let’s get into some of the most powerful (but fair) combat builds available in D&D 5e!
1. Can’t Touch This (Requires Fighter, Level 4+)
The ‘Can’t Touch This’ build is meant to keep away a single enemy. If you are facing a single foe such as a boss or tough monster that is melee, this is possibly the most powerful build that you could ever hope for when tanking for your group.
You need to be a level 4 Fighter, human variant. At level 1, take either Sentinel or Polearm Master. At level 4, take the other. To maximize this build’s potential, I advise that you choose Battlemaster and gain Precision Attack to make sure your attacks of opportunity land. Lastly, you will need to use a Glaive, Pike, or Halberd as a weapon (preferably Halberd or Glaive for the bonus attack option).
What This Build Does
Polearm Master lets you make an attack of opportunity on an enemy when they enter your reach. With reach weapons, that means an enemy enters your threat range 2 squares (10 feet) away from you, instead of 1 square (5 feet) away . Sentinel causes a creature’s speed to be reduced to 0 when you hit them with an attack of opportunity. As long as you successfully hit the enemy, their movement speed is reduced to 0 and they can’t reach you.
This build works great against creatures or bosses who only use melee, but if the monster or boss has reach, range, allies, or goes after another party member, the build isn’t as effective. Even with this weakness, you can still make good use of the build. Staying next to an enemy locks them into place, forcing them to only attack you or have their movement speed reduced to 0.
In order to maximize the power of this build, you could take 1 level in Barbarian for the Rage ability. This allows you to be a good tank when you need to lock down an enemy. Additionally, allies can help you succeed in your attacks of opportunity with abilities like bardic inspiration. If you are worried about multiple enemies, make sure a spellcaster can take care of many threats with area of effect abilities such as Fireball.
If you are worried about your attack of opportunity landing on important enemies, you can also do 4 levels of Paladin instead for Oath of Vengeance, which gives advantage against a creature.
Lastly, try to fight in narrow choke points. This forces only one enemy to fight you at a time, and if you can keep backing up, the enemies that you can fight is endless.
2. Always First (Requires Rogue, Level 4)
Have you ever wanted to be always first in combat and gain an advantage for going first?
You must be a harengon with 4 levels in Rogue. You must take the Assassin archetype and the Alert feat.
What This Build Does
The harengon race adds your proficiency to your initiative and Alert gives +2 to initiative. With an 18 dexterity (which you should aim for as a Rogue), this gives you +11 to your initiative making you almost always go first. Assassin gives you an advantage on attack rolls against any creature that hasn’t taken a turn in the combat before you. You will now go first and always have advantage.
This build is great right out the gate. If you don’t plan for an encounter to go past the first round, this is a fun build that lets you still be a traditional rogue with a bit more kick. Now most combats do go past the first round, and this is where the build falls off.
Keep pumping levels into rogue. As you keep leveling, the build just become more powerful as sneak attack and your initiative modifier keep increasing. At higher levels, an option for you is to take 3 levels in Fighter for Action Surge and Champion Criticals on 19s, but this is only a viable option when you are at level 12 or higher. Otherwise, keep going pure rogue.
If you multiclass into Fighter, I suggest the item of Sentinel Shield for advantage on initiative. Also get the Luck Stone to increase your initiative score further.
3. Nope Bard (Requires Wizard and Bard, Level 5)
The ‘Nope Bard’ is meant to be the ultimate buff and debuff character. With this build, you will be able to dictate the course of the game through spells and abilities without ever needing to roll a die.
You need to be a level 2 human Divination Wizard and a level 3 College of Lore Bard. If your DM allows it, take the Lucky feat at 1st level.
What This Build Does
You now have access to the Shield spell, Absorb Elements, Mage Armor, and the Lucky feat just incase you are targeted. For enemies attacking your allies or trying to save versus your spell DC, you have Cutting Words, Portents, and Silvery Barbs. You have access to Hold Person, and other control spells that will succeed with Silvery Barbs/Cutting Words. As an alternative, you can use either of these spells to save allies.
You are not the damage dealer with this build. You will not receive the thrill of killing everything, but you will be potentially the most powerful in the group. This is all based on the premise that you have spell slots and Bardic Inspirations. If you are completely out of these resources, you are less than worthless.
Continue as a Bard to recover Bardics on short rests at level 7 (so 5 levels in Bard) and get Counterspell, Polymorph, and Banish along with any other control spells that you can find.
4. Bearbarian (Requires Druid and Barbarian, Level 5)
If you want a character that has a lot of hit points and is resistant to every type of damage out there, this is the build for you.
You must be a Kalashtar with 2 levels of Circle of the Moon Druid and 3 levels of Bear Totem Barbarian .
What This Build Does
Bear Totem gives your resistance to all damage (except psychic) when raging. Kalashtar gives you resistance to psychic damage, which in combination makes your resistant to all damage. Circle of the Moon gives you extra health by letting you turn into a CR 1 creature. If you rage before you transform into a creature, then you take half damage from all sources. Additionally, Kalashtar lets you communicate telepathically with others, circumventing a big problem with beast forms.
You cannot cast spells while raging, but you will always be raging into an animal form. This may take your entire turn to rage and transform, but you are a beastly tank. You will never be using everything at your disposal, and as you continue to level others may outperform you in damage, but never in their ability to take damage.
Continue as Druid to gain increased access to stronger forms and have backup spells for when you are not in a beast shape.
5. Kobold Sharpshooter (Requires Fighter, Level 6)
If you want to hit like a truck and have versatility on the battlefield, this is the build for you.
You must be a Kobold and take 6 levels in Fighter. With these levels, you will take the feats Sharpshooter and Crossbow Expert. For best results, choose either Rune Knight or Battlemaster for your Fighter subclasses. Lastly, your fighting style must be Archery.
What This Build Does
Sharpshooter adds +10 damage (with a -5 to hit) while also ignoring cover. Crossbow Expert gives you another attack with a bonus action, lets you fire in melee without disadvantage, and ignores the loading penalty.
With Action Surge, you can have 5 attacks at +4 to hit (with an 18 dexterity) dealing 1d6+14 damage per hit. This is potentially 5d6+70 damage in one round, and 3d6+42 damage every other round. This damage is insane, and you are likely to achieve your hits with Kobold Pack Tactics giving advantage.
Rune Knight gives you out-of-combat bonuses with runes, and lets you help allies, tank, or control the battlefield dependent upon what runes you pick. Battlemaster can aid your allies in battle or just give you the ability to hit with precision attacks, which is all you need. The amount of damage and versatility in this build is mind boggling, and reason enough to take it.
Kobolds have disadvantage when attacking an enemy in sunlight and do not gain Pack Tactics if an ally isn’t adjacent to an enemy. This can be problematic in a ranged party or in a campaign that is primarily outdoors in the daytime.
From here, you can continue to level as Fighter to get more attacks quicker, or take 3 levels in Ranger. Ranger will give you Hunters Mark to add another 1d6 damage, or Favored Foe for1d4 extra damage. In addition, the Ranger subclass Hunter, with Colossus Slayer, will let you deal another 1d8 to a target that isn’t at full health. Or you could take the subclass Gloom Stalker to gain another attack in the first round of combat that deals an extra 1d8 damage.
6. Unkillable Paladin (Requires Paladin, Level 13)
Do you want to never die? This build takes that to the extreme, although it is very hard to achieve.
You will need to take 7 levels in Paladin of the Ancients and 6 levels of Lore Bard. Take Defense as your fighting style and the Shield Master feat. Your Magical Secrets spells should be Shield and Counterspell.
What This Build Does
You will never die. With extremely high AC from plate and a shield (21 base), you shouldn’t be hit much, but what about not at all? You have access to the Shield spell with Magical Secrets, great saves from your Paladin aura along with half damage from spells, effective evasion with Shield Master also adding +2 or more to the save, and Counterspell against any nasty magics that scare you. In addition to all this, you have Cutting Words against any attacks that may hit you along with Silvery Barbs. If played right, it should be almost impossible to kill you.
This build doesn’t do a lot of damage. You are not using your spell slots for Smite and are saving them to keep you alive. This build is unkillable, but also very niche. You have to be at least level 13 (which is hard to attain) to make this build truly shine.
Luck Stones will help with Counterspell and saving throws. If you can get a cloak and Ring of Protection with a +1 shield, you are looking at +3 from items, +5 from a 20 charisma to all saves, which gives you a +8 total. This also raises AC to 24, making you have potentially a 29 AC with Shield. If you are able to acquire a +1 plate, you now have 25/30 AC which is absolutely monstrous.
With these 6 powerful, but fair combat builds, you can have fun any way you want in D&D 5e! From support, to tanks, to damage dealers; or even weird niche builds, you can have it all. I hope that you found a build that is to your liking. I tried to give a variety of builds from lower levels to higher levels to increase the amount of options and power you can muster in your game.