Guide The Brand of Cloakwood Coast: A Druid Striker Build for Baldur's Gate 3
“So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”
This is a high sustained DPR striker build for the druid class in BG3. It relies on the unique interaction that the spell Flame Blade has as an off-hand weapon, when paired with the Circlet of Fire that you can get as a quest reward in Waukeen’s Rest very early in your runs. This is the first of what I hope will be several detailed build write-ups that are powerful and rely on an interesting or easy to miss mechanical interactions. I will begin by outlining the mechanics of the build – how it functions and how I recommend playing it in combat. After that I outline a character for the build, usually with an emphasis on giving the build a place in the Baldur’s Gate Lore. I hope you like it!
In an archaic form of English, the word “brand” was a poetic name for a sword, and, of course, the same word in other contexts denotes a red-hot instrument, like a branding iron or a torch. The Brand build works in both senses of the word, since it depends on casting and wielding the Flame Blade, a fiery scimitar available to the druid class. Flame Blade is a 2nd level druid spell that summons a flaming scimitar which stays in your inventory either until you finish a long rest or you lose concentration. The sword uses your spell casting attribute modifier (wisdom for druids) and does 3d6 fire damage per hit. Since it is a light weapon you can wield it in your off-hand, averaging 10.5 damage per hit on your bonus action (double that on crits). For reference, an attack with a greataxe made with 18 str averages 10.5 damage per hit, so using Flame Blade in your off-hand is like you are attacking with a greataxe on your bonus action, and this is just the start of what we can do with this spell.
The Circlet of Fire is a magic helmet that gives you one extra bonus action per turn whenever you deal fire damage with a spell that is first level or higher. It is a tantalizing item that is actually difficult to get consistent value out of. The problem with it is that the classes that get the most use out of their bonus action are classes like fighter and ranger who can take two-weapon fighting style, but these classes do not have many fire spells to cast. Of course, you could go Eldritch Knight, use scrolls, or depend on racial spell bonuses (Branding Smite on zariel tieflings), but none of those will proc the circlet consistently every turn, and/or rely on you to spend your main action sub-optimally to get the extra bonus action. On the other hand, caster classes have fire spells in abundance, but typically do not have efficient uses for their bonus action. The sorcerer can Quicken Spell a Chromatic Orb, but it would take 6 sorc points to cast that on both bonus actions, so, again, not a consistent option. The druid’s Flame Blade solves this puzzle. Right now, the game counts a successful hit with the Flame Blade as fire damage with a spell, and it procs the extra bonus attack. Because the spell stays up for as long as you maintain concentration you can use this every single turn. If you are wielding the Flame Blade in your off-hand you also have an efficient use of your bonus action: attacking with your flame blade.
So, with a shillelagh club in your main hand and the flaming scimitar in your off, you can attack three times per round, using your wisdom modifier for attack roles. Of course, your damage greatly depends on hitting with your flame sword and procing that extra bonus attack.
Race: when selecting your race you typically want to think ahead to which attributes are the most important. In this build constitution and wisdom are the highest priority. Constitution because it is essential to your damage that you maintain concentration, and wisdom because your attack bonus with Flame Sword is modified by wisdom and you need to be hitting that first attack to access the second. With these attributes in mind we can narrow down the list of racial options to gold dwarf and half wood elf.
The half wood elf is an interesting choice because it offers an extra 3m of movement (compared to dwarves) and fey ancestry. Fey ancestry makes you immune to the sleep condition, which is the most reliable way to break concentration. Movement is very important for melee strikers who need to be able to stick to their targets and close the distance on priority targets.
In contrast to the half wood elf’s mobility, gold dwarves offer increased durability. Gold dwarves will effectively gain an extra 2 hit points per level (8 total) assuming you max constitution and use the hags hair to boost it to 18. The 18 constitution also increases their chance of making concentration saves. And they get resistant to poison damage, which is by no means uncommon.
Ultimately, I chose to go with the gold dwarf, however, I expect that either choice is equally as potent. As we will see, this build is overloaded on durability and mobility anyways, it doesn’t strictly speaking need either, so choose whichever flavor you prefer.
Str: 8 Dex:14 Con: 17 Int: 8 Wis: 16 Cha: 10
If you decided to go with half-elf you’ll have 16 constitution and 12 charisma instead. Normally I would prioritize strength over charisma, but we will be getting a nifty item which boosts our strength to 15, so no use investing in it.
Spells and Cantrips: The only essential cantrip is Shillelagh. After that you can either take Produce Flame or Thorn Whip. DO NOT TAKE GUIDANCE. Obviously Guidance is one of the best cantrips, but it takes concentration, and we will need that for Flame Blade. I took Guidance and several times I absentmindedly used it for skill checks in dialogue, breaking my concentration and wasting a 2nd level spell slot. Its best to just avoid that by not even taking it. You should have Shadowheart in your party, so use her for Guidance.
For 1st level spells you don’t have a lot of options. The best spells in the druid list are probably Create Water, Fog Cloud, Healing Word, and Faerie Fire, but two of those cost concentration (Fog Cloud and Faerie Fire), Healing Word costs your valuable bonus action, and Create Water gives resistance to your main source of damage… To be honest, in my playthrough I spent three 1st level spell slots just casting Longstrider on my party and I would save the last one for Thunderwave or Healing Word if the opportunity presented itself to use those efficiently.
Background and Skills:
If you aren’t soloing then skills are not that essential. Our wisdom will be high, so I figured use this character for the wisdom skills. I took Guild Artisan for the flavor then medicine and perception for my class skills. If you do want to try soloing with this build, take the Urchin background.
Here is where we select our subclass. We will take the Circle of the Land option. You could run this same build as a Circle of the Moon, but the bonus to wild shaping will not really help us. Until Larian adds a wild shape with opposable thumbs you won’t be able to wield your Flame Blade in animal form (pandas Larian! Screw dinosaurs… for the love of Silvanus give us Pandas on full release!). That doesn’t mean we won’t be using our wild shape (I will be discussing that below), but we won’t need any of the moon circle wild shaping features.
So, we will be choosing the Circle of the Land. This will give us some features at level 3 that will really benefit us. At level 2 it isn’t giving us very much, sadly.
Now everything clicks! At level 3 we get access to 2nd level spells. We also get to choose our land type for our subclass. The far and away best option for us is Coast, because it offers two A-tier spells that do not require concentration. Mirror Image in particular is important for us, because we can use it to avoid aggro and thus maintain our concentration for longer.
Of course, we also get Flame Blade at this level! If you haven’t already got it, rush to
Waukeen’s Rest and get the Circlet of Fire (as of Patch 7 the Circlet can be found below the apothecary in the Blighted Village. Enjoy roasting your enemies!
Here is my Tav posing next to a minotaur he killed so fast the poor thing didn’t even have time to fall over when it died. Just turned him into a statue of ash.
The only really big choice at this level is your feat, and even that isn’t much of a choice. We want all the accuracy we can get so that we hit that first attack and proc the second, so the best choice is to take the ASI and bump your wisdom up to 18. Around this point you should also have gotten the hag’s hair, and I recommend using it to get your constitution to 18 as well. Constitution and wisdom are two of the most important saving throws in the game, so having and 18 in both makes you very durable, and your damage is still great! Just for the sake of exploring every option, you could opt to take Defensive Dualist instead of the ASI. It is an underrated feat to be honest, and this build has an efficient use of every major action slot except reaction, so taking this checks that last box. The problem is that wisdom is just too valuable for this build, so save Defensive Dualist for later levels once we get full release.
You also get to choose another cantrip at level 4. Take Produce Flame or Thorn Whip (whichever you didn’t choose at level 1).
Finally, there are a few last piece of equipment left to discuss. The first is the Club of Hill Giant Strength. You can get this by sitting on and then breaking the stool at the top of the abandoned tower. Wield this in your main hand and now you have 15 strength! Your final stats should be:
Str: 15 Dex: 14 Con: 18 Int: 8 Wis: 18 Cha: 10
Two other items that will boost our DPR are the Ring of Fire and the Gloves of Flint and Steel. You can get the former by completing the Avenge the Sovereign quest in the Myconid Colony. It adds +1 to all fire damage that you deal, which is nice for us. The latter can be acquired by completing the Find the Mushroom Picker quest (again in the Myconid Colony). It will set enemies that you hit with you Flame Blade alight if they fail a constitution save.
Notes on Tactics
In this section I want to discuss some interesting features of this build and how to get the most out of it.
One interesting consequence of the build is how it reverses the typical power dynamic between bonus actions and standard actions. Most of the DPR of this build comes from its bonus actions, which means you are free to do things with your action besides just attacking all the time. One thing you can do is dash. You can dash up to a priority target and still get off most of your damage all in one turn, something that typically only Rogues can do. I also always begin my adventuring day by casting Longstrider, which increases both my movement and my dash distance. Even as a dwarf this build is just as mobile as a typical rogue.
Once or twice I managed to pull my enemies into attack range by using Thorn Whip as my action.
Another interesting use of your action is to wild shape. I often wild shape into a wolf after landing my Flame Sword attacks. On the next turn I will begin my attack combo by using the wolf’s special attack, which guarantees a crit on the next attack that hits the target. I can then shift back into a dwarf and use my two bonus action attacks. The first one will automatically hit and crit, which, of course, procs the second! If you are in a dicey situation you can also wild shape just for the extra hit points. Be careful though, some wild shapes will lower your constitution, making it more likely you will drop your concentration.
Speaking of concentration, lets discuss how important the spell Bless can be for this build. We’ve noted a few times that the two most important objectives for the build are maintaining concentration and accuracy for landing off-hand attacks. The Bless spell will boost both of these! You cannot cast it yourself, because Druids do not have access to it, and even if they did you couldn’t spare the concentration, so I recommend teaming up with Shadowheart or some other cleric.
As a final note let’s discuss what you should do if you do lose concentration, because it will happen a few times. The best thing to do is to resummon the Flame Sword (costing a bonus action) and then attack with it on your main hand to try to get that other off-hand attack. On your next turn use your action to swap it to you off hand, then attack with it twice. Altogether you lose one Flame Sword attack and one club attack from your optimal DPR sequence, which really isn’t that bad. You will still do a lot of damage.
This is a striker build, which is to say its main job in a party composition is to do damage (if you want to know more about how I think about party roles check out my Class Tier List and Guide). This is the first of what will be many other BG3 striker builds, so I want to set a pattern for how we analyze striker builds moving forward.
First, we need to note that damage isn’t a simple thing. The ways that damage can be dealt are hard to quantify. For example, consider the tactical difference between doing damage sustainably every round or doing most of your damage in a single round. Doing it in a single round will eliminate priority targets sooner, mitigating their damage. However, sustainable damage will be more valuable in long drawn out fights against more durable opponents. That is just one factor. There are more, like single target vs. AoE damage, consistent damage vs. situational, melee damage vs. ranged, etc.
Now this build is about sustained damage per round (or DPR). Sustained DPR is damage that you can deal more or less at will, like with weapon attacks. Sustained damaged strikers are, I believe, essential to a party composition. They are typically built with classes like fighter, ranger and rogue. Luckily for us, sustained DPR is easy to calculate and graph, so we will begin our analysis with that. I find that most people have played or played with a dual-wielding colossus slayer Ranger, so let’s use that as our benchmark to compare to. Here is how the two builds compare at level 4:
So the Brand does better against the lowest AC targets, but falls off against higher ones. This is because, as we have noted, the Brand NEEDS to hit that first flame sword attack. In situations where they hit both, their damage is very high. By contrast the Hunter can miss an attack here or there and still put out decent damage. Bear in mind though that this graph does not factor in common buffs like Bless, attacking with advantage, or guaranteed crits with Sleep. The Brand benefits more from those, because, as we see, the Brand does more damage when they are reliably hitting.
As an aside, if you read my first reddit post about this build you may remember that I said that it was the highest sustain DPR that I knew of. That was, obviously, incorrect. I thought it was true when I wrote it, but that was because of a mistake I made in comparison. We can see now that this builds damage is good, but not great.
Still, overall, I would rate this build around an “A” for effectiveness. It excels in all areas that a striker should. It does reasonably high DPR. It is mobile, due to the combination of dash, Longstrider, and Misty Step. It is extremely durable, due to maxing wisdom and constitution, the two most defensive attributes, wild shape for extra hit points, medium armor proficiency, and Mirror Image. It also brings some support elements to your team with spells like Longstrider, Jump, and Healing Word. This is the first build I have published, so there is nothing to compare it to, but I think it sets the bar high, and it is extremely fun!
Enough about numbers, lets make this build into a character.
When the Orothiar ancestral mine flooded the dejected clan dispersed. You can imagine the spirit of those wretches. The mine represented their forefathers, their labor, their traditional way of life, now drowned by the overwhelming flood of their own incompetence. The surviving families of that clan wanted nothing to do with each other. Whatever spirit of love or loyalty which bound them drowned along with their homes and, for some of them, their children. This was all unspoken, it would not suit words which are memories to gold dwarves who respect the old ways. Instead they each silently struck out in their own directions, abandoning all surviving clan property and memory. But is a dwarf who forgets their ancestors a dwarf at all?
Thus it was for Khayan and Oti, who left for Baldur’s Gate with their one surviving son, the infant Porphory.
In Baldur’s Gate Porphory’s earliest memories are of an alcoholic father and an angry, bitter mother. His father succeeded in nothing besides drinking himself to death. His mother died a decade after of a combination of illness, due to their poverty, and spite, due to her own failure of character. Porphory was thereby orphaned at the age of 32 – adolescence for dwarves. He survived by finding work as a craftsmen’s assistant.
Survival is not flourishing, however. Life in the city was for him, as it so often is for the helpless and poor, dehumanizing and cruel. His thoughts lived more and more in memory: “A dwarf who forgets his ancestors is no dwarf at all” his father said, “what kind of life is it when you’ve rejected who you are? Is it not better to be dead?…” Porphory knew where the Orothian mine was, north of the cloakwood. It would be a dangerous journey, he would likely die, but at least he would die a dwarf and die where he belonged, on the earth of his forefathers, not the stained cobble of this blasted city. He set out then, to die a dwarf.
And die he would had not the druids of Cloakwood found him, helpless in a cave, fevered and dying from a wyvern sting. They healed him and gave him a place to safely recover till he was ready to try again for the mine, but he never did. With the druids Prophory had found what he was searching for: a community. With them he was more than just a dwarf, he was a creature of Nature – an organism - functionally no different from a tree, though now he was as a tree rooted on the bank of a river: flourishing.
He became one of their faith, and in his season he became useful to them too. His time among the craftsmen of Baldur’s Gates suited him for travel and trade. This was a controversial vocation for a druid. The elders of Cloakwood believed that commerce and even civilization was not blasphemous to Nature. Are the intelligent races not a part of nature? And is it not their nature to live in civil community, building, forging, and trading? But in the shadowed corners of the council there were those who whispered that this ruling was heresy. Civilization is a filth; commerce an abandonment of faith in Mother Earth’s provision.
For a century Prophory was unaware of this turmoil. His position kept him away from the grove for years at a time. He would travel and patrol the sea line of the Cloakwood, trading with and occasionally assisting the merchants sailing to and from Baldur’s Gate. However, he could not remain neutral forever. Strife was simmering in the grove, and a time was coming when all must take a side.
Once every thousand seasons the ancient Haskap Tree of Cloakwood bears a blessed fruit. The fruit it bore in this season was a sacred gift of nature, the gift of life itself. It was the role of the elder council to see to its just distribution. Its season was approaching, and they ruled that a portion of its bounty would go to the city of Baldur’s Gate, now overwhelmed with refugees. Porphory was to be the council’s agent in the city. He celebrated the honor, but he did not understand that he was now a critical piece in a deadly game.
“There are some of us who serve the Mother still, Porphory” a raven divulged to him in the secret of a shadow. “She demands your obedience! Will you desert her who has given you so much? Do you remember the degradation of the city? Go as an agent of the false council and witness it again and you will know that it is a cancer to Nature. Baldur’s Gate must be blasted to ruin so that the Earth may reclaim her. When you’ve decided, feed a mouse by the Helm and Cloak and then return again that night after the sun has set. Meet a woman there, you will know her by a mark of a red hand on a skull. She will explain what you must do.”
Porphoy’s mind raged against itself during the journey till, as he strode through Wyrm’s Crossing, he saw a lad toiling in a hot forge, as he once had. He watched him and knew whose vision of Nature was the truth. He slept that night peacufully outside the city’s outer walls. He awoke inside a nautiloid.
Notes for the Player
My goals in writing this character were to (1) explain our build decisions in a narrative, (2) connect that narrative to the original Baldur’s Gate series, and (3) find a central tension for the character which we can act out in our run.
Porphory is connected to the original series as a member of the Orothiar clan (Yeslick’s clan from BG1) and through the Cloakwood grove, a location you could visit in BG1 (you can also visit the Cloakwood Mine). His central tension is also a connection to the original series, it’s the conflict between the traditional druids and the shadow druids led by Faldorn. In BG 1 and 2 this same tension played out between Faldorn and Jaheira. Jaheira tolerates civilization, to Faldorn it is an abomination to Mother Earth. This conflict has since become a staple of the Forgotten Realms setting. If you play Prophory in BG3 you will get to weigh in on this conflict yourself if you decide to investigate Kagha. What did Porphory decide when he saw the boy laboring in the forge? Did he see his life in Baldur’s Gate with the new perspective of age? A trial that ultimately led to an enlightenment that he would have never found any other way, and that he wouldn’t trade, even for an easier life? Or was he reminded of the indignity and injustice of poverty; the inevitably preying of the rich on the poor? I leave that up to you!
I hope you like this build! I enjoyed making it! If you want to discuss it with me or others you can do so here.