Buff is the Stuff for D&D Support Characters
I figured it out, y’all. The secret to a satisfying session of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, especially a live stream D&D game, and more especially still a live stream D&D game with people you’ve never played with before. Fair warning, it’s not a scientifically proven method or meticulously playtested concept. And it’s definitely not a fully-realized comprehensive guide. But it is based on observations from a non-zero number of live stream roleplaying games I’ve been involved with as a player, Dungeon Master and engaged viewer. So, pretty cerebral, thinktank-level stuff on playing D&D support characters and options to buff the party. Indulge me while I attempt to take the Help action to aid your next game.
Buff the party
It stinks when your attack misses. The reckless attack swings wide, the arrow doesn’t find the mark, the eldritch blast doesn’t quite get there or the ogre succeeds on the Intelligence (!!) saving throw against your totally awesome enemies abound. You sat there waiting patiently until your next turn came around, dice in hand — for the attack and damage roll together, you know all the tricks — character sheet and reference material close at hand. You even have a Plan B in case circumstances change before you’re called on.
And then you whiff.
Yeah, sure, maybe you can do something with your bonus action. And you can still move, yay! But the oomph, the Thing that Would Turn the Tide, the action that would become a cherished gaming memory fell flat. The spell slot wasted, an enemy still on their feet, an ogre bringing its greatclub down on your friend Georg instead of its own goblin allies.
There is a solution for bad rolling! Maybe the dice are cold for the session, or maybe you’re Wil Wheaton. For whatever reason, you can’t roll a successful anything the whole time. Lucky for you there’s a slew of spells and abilities guaranteed to succeed every time. Give your allies a boost through support and buff the party. Everyone likes to be the hero, to deal the final strike, to glibly talk their way past the guards or whatever situation characters have gotten themselves into. Keep in mind though, every hit dealt by a greatsword imbued with magic weapon or success Charisma (Persuasion) check from a character with eagle’s splendor is a success you had a hand in.
Granted, it would be difficult if every character in the party was built to buff. And even for an optimized support type character it’s still fun to cut loose yourself once in a while. But it’s a good bit of business no matter what sort of character you’re playing to keep in mind the options available to you to give your allies a boost. The most obvious one, available to every single character, is the Help action.
Getting by with a little Help action from your friends
“You can lend your aid to another creature in the completion of a task. When you take the Help action, the creature you aid gains advantage on the next ability check it makes to perform the task you are helping with, provided that it makes the check before the start of your next turn.
Alternatively, you can aid a friendly creature in attacking a creature within 5 feet of you. You feint, distract the target, or in some other way team up to make your ally’s attack more effective. If your ally attacks the target before your next turn, the first attack roll is made with advantage.” – the Help Action as described in the fifth edition Basic Rules
You could do nothing but Help fellow party members every chance you get and remain a useful, effective part of the team. Even a Battle Master fighter could use their action to Help and the Rally maneuver as a bonus action. Spellcasters have lots of options too, from handing out magic stones to uttering divine words to unleashing a hail of thorns. Party rogues will certainly appreciate advantage on their attacks every turn, doubling their chances to land a critical hit and a cascade of sneak attack damage dice.
Whenever you’re unsure what to do on your turn, or the dice aren’t rolling in your favor, consider the ol’ Help action. It works every time.
Now let’s take a look at each class and see what they can do to buff the party. We’re looking for traits and abilities that function without a chance for failure, whether that means a target making a saving throw or relying on a successful attack roll, and give another character or creature a boost. We’ll look at spells separately, focusing only on innate class abilities and traits here.
Class options for D&D support characters
Admittedly, there’s not a lot here — barbarians are built to hit hard. There’s nothing in the basic class chassis to assist companions other than fiercely pounding away on enemies in combat. So it will fall on the Primal Paths for finding options to buff the party without a chance for failure.
First up, the Path of the Ancestral Guardian brings the Spirit Shield ability. As long as you’re raging, you can reduce damage to nearby allies as a reaction. There’s zero chance for this ability to fail, so it gets a gold star for being an excellent party support ability.
Path of the Storm Herald’s desert Storm Aura deals damage to everything in a 10 foot radius, while the tundra Storm Aura grants temporary hit points to creatures of your choice in the same area of effect. The former might be a little tricky to work around with allies, since they would also take damage while near you, but it wouldn’t be impossible to play a support Path of the Storm Herald barbarian. Flank a creature with the party rogue, turn on your desert heat and soak up damage while your stabby friend goes to town with your Help. It could happen. At higher levels you can extend your elemental damage resistance to allies too.
Path of the Totem Warrior brings along non-fail abilities too. The bear Totem Spirit famously grants resistance to all damage types except psychic, so staying on your feet longer is a major plus to friends and allies. The eagle Totem Spirit’s bonus action Dash and disadvantage on attack rolls against you means you can swiftly maneuver around the battlefield to Help allies much more easily. And of course the wolf Totem Spirit gives nearby allies advantage on their attack rolls. Through Totemic Attunement, that bear Totem Spirit is going to make you the center of attention, lessening the danger to all other creatures.
Lastly, there’s the Path of the Zealot. At 10th level their Zealous Presence gives up to 10 creatures advantage on attack rolls and saving throws until the start of your next turn.
Between spells and Bardic Inspiration alone, a bard can easily focus entirely on buffing and supporting party members. In earlier editions of D&D when a bard’s music added to damage dealt by allies, it was not uncommon for a go-to action to simply Perform, round after round, to boost party damage output.
In fifth edition, bards are incredibly versatile. Let’s see what a bard can do to buff the party without any chance of failure.
Bardic Inspiration, Song of Rest and Countercharm all provide bonuses and boons to allies. Bardic Inspiration is the most useful of the three, being widely applicable to just about any situation. But it is a finite resource, unlike Song of Rest and Countercharm. Giving allies extra hit points and advantage against being charmed or frightened are a little more situational. Against the right enemy, Countercharm in particular can be much more useful than a spell or weapon attack too. Those have a chance of failure. An ally suddenly under enemy control or fleeing the battlefield in terror can be devastating. Dramatically decreasing the odds of this happening is not a wasted action.
The College of Glamour leads off with an alternate use for Bardic Inspiration — giving temporary hit points to allies and a free move without provoking attacks of opportunity. That’s huge. Repositioning the entire party without fear of reprisal can completely turn the tide of a combat.
From the College of Lore, bards can use Cutting Words to make enemy attacks, checks and damage rolls less impactful and they get no chance to save against this effect.
The College of Valor expands the scope of Bardic Inspiration, allowing inspired creatures to add to their damage rolls or their AC against an attack.
Nothing in the core cleric class works to buff the party without fail, so it’s up to the Divine Domains to provide some options.
Spell Breaker from the Arcana Domain is going to let you remove harmful spell effects on creatures whenever you cast a healing spell on them. Like the bard’s Countercharm, this is far from universally useful, but also like Countercharm it uses no resources (other than the healing spell, which itself is a buff with zero chance of failure so yay!).The Forge Domain leads off with an incredible buff ability: Blessing of the Forge. Once per long rest, you can imbue any weapon or armor with a +1 bonus lasting until the end of your next long rest (or your death). At higher levels, when characters might already have magical weapons and armor, this might not be as useful. But I’m sure one character or another has a nonmagical target for a Blessing of the Forge.
In the Grave Domain, clerics can keep creatures from the grave much more effectively, maximizing healing on targets at 0 hp. Granted, at that point things have already taken a turn for the worse but still, it’s a nice buff. These clerics can also automatically detect nearby undead, and since knowing is half the battle this can be considered a party buff. Their Channel Divinity: Path to the Grave feature is another automatically successful party buff too, cursing a creature with vulnerability to all of the damage from the next attack upon it. In addition, Sentinel at Death’s Door turns critical hits to you or nearby allies in to regular hits and lastly, Keeper of Souls lets you steal a dying creature’s life energy and heal with it. All in all, Grave Domain cleric looks like a great choice for a class with a lot of potential to buff the party without any chance of failure.
In the Knowledge Domain, another example of the power of knowledge comes through Visions of the Past, granted detailed information about an object or area without requiring any sort of roll or saving throw for success.
Life Domain is all about buffing the party. Almost every feature keys off healing, which itself is an always-successful endeavor. Healing them more, healing more often and healing yourself when you heal another all get a bump. A Life cleric with sanctuary up could pretty safely navigate the battlefield, throwing out buffed healing words while using their action to Help allies. Life needs things to live, after all. Or life finds a way. Whichever you prefer. (I lean towards Percy’s insights though, we’re talking D&D at the end of the day here.)
From the Light Domain, Warding Flare imposes disadvantage on attacks against you and, later, nearby allies as a reaction — never a bad thing. Much later, Corona of Light makes fire and radiant damage spells more effective.
Nature clerics have Dampen Elements to grant nearby allies resistance to elemental damage as a reaction.
In the Order Domain from Unearthed Arcana, Voice of Authority lets an ally who was targeted by one of your spells make a weapon attack on a target of your choice as a reaction. And Order’s Dominion gives you a spell slot back when you cast an enchantment spell, so you will have to land a successful spell from a limited selection of calm emotions, hold person, zone of truth, geas, compulsion or dominate person unless you have access to other enchantment spells that don’t require saving throws from the target.
Clerics from the Trickery Domain can grant advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) check ad nauseum, and Invoke Duplicity to significantly expand the area for delivering your buffs and heals.
Lastly, the War Domain’s Channel Divinity: War God’s Blessing gives a nearby ally an incredible +10 bonus to an attack roll.
Nothing in the core class abilities to buff the party without fail. I guess it’ll be up to the Circles, so let’s get into it.
Circle of Dreams has one of the best class abilities out there with Balm of the Summer Court. This pool of fey energy provides long range healing as a bonus action without using a spell slot. ‘Nuff said. Your party will always be able to rest a little more safely too, getting a variety of benefits from Hearth of Moonlight and Shadow without expending any resources. And finally, with Hidden Paths you can teleport a willing creature to a more advantageous position as an action.
In the Circle of Spores from Unearthed Arcana, impromptu allies join the fight under your command through Fungal Infestation whenever you slay a humanoid with your Halo of Spores (which itself is a nice attack using your reaction and hitting automatically for flat poison damage). Later on, Spreading Spores creates an area of fungoid damage with no saving throw or attack roll necessary.
Last but not least, Circle of the Shepherd starts off with a bang through bear, hawk and unicorn Spirit Totems. These are all about buffing the party with temporary hp, advantage on Strength checks and saving throws, advantage on attack rolls and Wisdom (Perception) checks, advantage on ability checks to detect creatures, and extra healing. Next up, Mighty Summoner provides a buff to your conjured creatures, enhanced further through the Guardian Spirit feature later on. And if you should fall in battle once you have Faithful Summons, you and your allies gain a bevy of beasts immediately to protect you from harm.
FightersIn the core class, the Protection Fighting Style is the first thing we come across to buff an ally without a chance for failure. The protected creature’s attacker might still hit despite having disadvantage on the attack roll, but they will have disadvantage, so there’s no chance the ability itself won’t work. One of the juiciest abilities in the game, Action Surge gives the fighter an extra action on their turn. You could Help twice!
Battle Masters have a few nice tricks up their sleeves to buff the party. Commander’s Strike let’s an ally make an attack at the cost of your own, and add your superiority die to the damage. Maneuvering Attack, while relying on you successfully hitting a creature with a weapon attack, gives an ally free movement and Rally grants temporary hit points to a friendly creature. We’ve already established the buff quality knowledge brings to a party, and Know Your Enemy provides useful intel for everyone in the group.
A Cavalier can make it very difficult for enemy creatures to hit foes other than you through the Unwavering Mark ability, so it’s kind of a buff, but it does depend on you successfully hitting a creature with a melee weapon attack so it’s right on the line. Warding Maneuver on the other hand works without fail as a reaction to help protect nearby creatures.
Purple Dragon Knights, or Bannerets in the generic form, are predicated on buffing the party. Rallying Cry shares your Second Wind healing with nearby allies and likewise Inspiring Surge shares the benefits of Action Surge, and Bulwark does the same with Indomitable. Purple Dragon Knights/Bannerets take the fighter’s core class abilities and sprinkle them around to allies. Now that’s buff.
The ki to monk party buffs begins with Patient Defense. Taking the Dodge action as a bonus action frees up your action for, you guessed it, Help. Melee fighting allies will be happy to make their attacks with advantage while you nimbly dip, duck, dive and dodge around harm. With Deflect Missiles you might even get an opportunity to deal some damage yourself while your Dodge Helping friends.
Following the Way of Shadow starts you off with some buff-style spells like pass without trace and silence.
…And that’s pretty much it. What’s up, monk? You’re self-sufficient, sure. But you could use a few more abilities to buff the party with.
Are paladins simply smite machines, or do they have features and abilities to buff the party with zero chance of failure? Oh, yes.
Divine Sense starts things off with knowledge for the party. Lay on Hands heals damage and cures poison and disease. The Protection Fighting Style is the same as the fighter’s. Aura of Protection buffs friendly creature saving throws. Aura of Courage makes friendly creatures immune to the frightened condition. Cleansing Touch ends spells on you or willing creatures. And those are just from the core class.
The Oath of Conquest’s Aura of Conquest immobilizes creatures frightened of you. This is one of those borderline abilities to fit our examination, since getting the creature frightened in the first place isn’t automatic. But paralyzing them for the rest of the party once they are is certainly advantageous for your allies.
The Oath of Devotion’s Aura of Devotion adds to the already impressive paladin aura, making you and friendly creatures immune to the charmed condition. At 20th level, Holy Nimbus deals automatic radiant damage to enemy creatures among other things.
In the Oath of Redemption, Aura of the Guardian allows you to take damage from another creature onto yourself.
From Oath of the Ancients, Aura of Warding (sensing a pattern here yet?) gives you and nearby friendly creatures resistance to damage from spells, perhaps one of the best class abilities of them all.
Oath of the Crown breaks that pattern by offering no aura. Instead, these paladins can Channel Divinity to Turn the Tide, giving hit points to each creature of your choice nearby. Divine Allegiance works sort of like Aura of the Guardian, letting you take the damage meant for another creature. At 20th level, Exalt Champion gives allies advantage on death saving throws and Wisdom saving throws. Potent, indeed.
Lastly, Oathbreakers add to the legacy of aura’s with their Aura of Hate to benefit nearby fiends and undead with a melee weapon damage bonus, so they can buff the party…if the party consists of these sorts of creatures. At 20th level, as a Dread Lord these paladins shroud chosen creatures in a gloom that causes disadvantage on attack rolls against them from creatures that rely on sight.
For all the text loaded into the ranger core class abilities, only a single feature grants a party boon and even then indirectly. Primeval Awareness provides intel on potential nearby creatures within a mile.
For the Beast Master’s beast companion can Help another character for you, later on doing so in addition to your own attack through Exceptional Training.
Horizon Walkers add to a ranger’s knowledge gathering abilities with Detect Portal.
Monster Slayers do the same with Hunter’s Sense.
But that’s it. Rangers and monks don’t seem too keen on buffing their allies, huh?
Off to a bad start. There are zero core class features that buff other creatures or otherwise assist the party in any direct way, with or without a chance for failure.
Not until we get down to the Inquisitive do we come across a rogue class feature with a benefit to an ally, and only then it’s Unerring Eye’s indirect benefit of providing knowledge to the rogue they can share with others.
On the flip side, the Mastermind leverages the awesome power of the Help action, making it a bonus action and extending the range to 30 feet with Master of Tactics. This is probably the No. 1 ability a character focused on buffing the party can bring to bear. Using a bonus action to give any ally within 30 feet advantage for free is amazing. And yes, they get some intel gathering capabilities to share with allies through Insightful Manipulator.
Core class abilities got nothing.
Divine Soul sorcerers with an affinity for good get bless on their known spells list for free, or protection from evil and good for those with an affinity for neutrality. They can also use Empowered Healing to boost healing spells cast around them.
Giant Soul sorcerers from Unearthed Arcana get special spells on their list for free too, some of which fit the mold of our buff the party theme. Invisibility, heroism, enlarge/reduce, and resistance are among the possibilities. Giant Soul sorcerers of the Storm Giant variety can also deal lightning damage to up to three nearby creatures whenever they cast one of their special spells, without a chance of failure via saving throw or attack roll.
Lastly, Storm Sorcery sorcerers get Heart of the Storm which, like the Storm Giant feature, unerringly deals damage to nearby creatures. They can also make it stop raining or change the direction of the wind, so technically these could benefit the party without failure. Eventually, Wind Soul allows you and several other creatures to fly for 1 hour.
Then there’s Wild Magic. I guess you could consider some of the Wild Magic Surge effects potentially useful? Bend Luck is a much more reliable Wild Magic sorcerer buff for the party though.
Aside from these, of course there are many spells sorcerers can employ to buff party members and otherwise aid companions without a chance for failure.
Warlocks have a lot going on in terms of spells, Eldritch Invocations, Pact Boons and yadda yadda yadda. None of the core class features fit the bill.
Of the Eldritch Invocations, choices for automatically successful abilities start with Cloak of Flies, which deals poison damage to any creature that starts its turn within 5 feet of you. Gift of the Depths gives you a free casting of water breathing so up to 10 friendlies can take a deep dive along with you. Shroud of Shadow lets you spam invisibility at will.
Celestial warlocks, like Circle of Dreams druids, get a special pool of dice to heal creatures with, so that’s cool.
Whatever buffs for the party a wizard offers will be found in their Arcane Traditions, except for spells of course.
Abjurers can use their Projected Ward to absorb damage taken by nearby creatures.
Conjurers can swap places with willing creatures via Benign Transposition, hopefully putting both participants in more advantageous positions. Creatures they summon or create also get temporary hit points.
Diviners get the fantastic Portent and Greater Portent features, one of the best ways to buff the party either directly by bestowing a great Portent roll on an ally or forcing an enemy to use a poor Portent.
Necromancers get to buff their Undead Thralls with extra hit points and weapon damage, a pretty specific and narrow buff but a buff nonetheless. Paired up with an Oathbreaker though…
And finally, a powerful transmuter can user their transmuter’s stone as a Panacea to remove all curses, diseases, and poisons on a creature plus heal it completely, or Restore Life with raise dead, or Restore Youth to an aged creature.
Buff is the stuff
As you can see, every class has at least some option for helping without any chance of failure. Whether through gathering vital knowledge to share with allies, granting bonuses and advantages in and out of combat or helping friends and friendly creatures do what they do with better chances for success, these failsafe options are never a wasted turn.
The core of bolstering the party is the Help action, available to all creatures. In combat, the Help action is a great way to buff the party by giving advantage to another character on their attack rolls. This is super useful to the party rogues, but it’s a great option in any fight where the enemy isn’t something you’re good at fighting against too.
Of course, we didn’t even touch the huge number of spells available to spellcasters. For every missed eldritch blast, the warlock could have cast…okay bad example. Warlocks as a whole look to be the worst D&D support characters, with very few ways to buff the party even including their spell list. But they can always Help!
At the end of the day, the point here is that under any circumstances, all characters have at least one surefire way to use their actions to benefit fellow party members in a way that will succeed every time. There’s no saving throw to fail or attack roll to miss.
Keeping these options in mind is a great way to strengthen party bonds and engage with fellow players too, especially if you’re playing with people for the first time. For every Melf’s acid arrow, an enhance ability can grant all sorts of bonuses and there’s zero chance of missing, resulting in a lost spell slot.
Likewise, if your monk doesn’t have Ki Empowered Strikes yet and the fighter is the only one with a magic weapon, take up a Patient Defense and Help them land those strikes.
For fun, here’s an example of a character built to buff the party. Buffy Helpmaster is a multiclass Mastermind rogue/Banneret fighter/Oath of Ancients paladin. (Here’s a link to a character sheet if you can’t access the D&D Beyond version.) She’s a tabaxi courtier who can potentially Help four times in a turn while her paladin aura grants a bonus to saving throws and resistance to damage from spells. She can also use her Protection Fighting Style to further add to defenses of allies. She can heal companions with Lay on Hands and Rallying Cry too.
But what about you? Do you enjoy playing D&D support characters? What’s your go-to move to buff the party? I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories of helping your companions in the comments below.
Did you enjoy this post? Nerdarchy’s awesome volunteer staff of writers and editors do their best to create engaging, useful and fun content to share. If you like what you find here on our site, consider patronizing us in a good way through Patreon.
On top of reaching our goal of paying our writers, pledging gets you exclusive monthly content for your D&D game, opportunities to game with Nerdarchy, access to patron-only channels on our Discord and more.
With your generous support we’ll continue to create quality content between our YouTube channel and blog, invest in equipment to increase recording quality, and keep creating original publications and products to enhance your tabletop roleplaying and gaming experience.
Thank you for your consideration and as always, until next time stay nerdy!
[amazon_link asins=’0786966114,0399580948,0786966254′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’nerdarchy-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’19367381-7d98-11e8-a0ea-4ff7feea4dd2′]