Factotum for 5E D&D Far From an Absurd Character
Over on Nerdarchy the YouTube channel, Nerdarchists Dave and Ted discuss a character concept shared by fellow YouTuber and player in my first and only live stream D&D campaign, Puffin Forest. In his D&D Story: A Most Abserd Character video, Ben (the talented animator behind Puffin Forest) shares the tale of Abserd, a fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons character with one level is every character class. The video is hilarious of course, as Ben’s videos tend to be, and it has millions of views. In our video Dave and Ted talk about how to go about creating this sort of absurd character for 5E D&D and the implications — mechanically and narratively — of doing so in the first place. But for my money I’m reminded of one of my favorite character classes from D&D history and maybe this Abserd character isn’t so absurd?
Creating an absurd character as a factotum in 5E D&D
I’m going to preface this by telling you the 5E D&D games I run and play in tend not to be heavily focused on combat, and the narrative of our games emerges through the characters’ interactions with the world around them. Because of those factors an absurd character like the one Ben and Dave and Ted talk about in their videos could be as viable as a mechanically streamlined character. For context an absurd character takes one level in each character class. In Ben’s video he tells the story of his character Abserd’s journey to becoming such a character.
When I first saw Ben’s video and again while helping Dave and Ted plan theirs I came around to the same thought, a reminder of a character class from D&D 3.5 Dungeonscape — the factotum.
“As a factotum, you are a jack of all trades. For short periods of time, you can stand in for almost any other member of the party. Your intellect, training, and experiences allow you to bolster your efforts in almost any situation. But your magical abilities are at best limited. You can master potent spells, but your lack of formal training makes it difficult for you to use them more than once each day. Furthermore, your understanding of magic is broad rather than deep.” — Dungeonscape, Making a Factotum
Except for the “master potent spells” part, sounds an awful lot like an absurd 5E D&D character, right? According to the book, humans are a natural fit because of their inquisitive nature, personal drive and clever solutions to tough problems. Factotums fill any role a party needs on a very limited basis. Playing a factotum means recognizing the best place to apply a particular ability at a moment’s notice. You might maneuver your way to a downed cleric, get them back on their feet, hold the line while they revive the fighter, assist the rogue in disabling a trap then acid splash the troll after the storm sorcerer’s shocking grasp drops the troll. Do you need to be the absolute best at any or all of those things to be effective? I don’t think so at all. Knowing a clutch trick to pull out at any given moment doesn’t sound like an absurd character to me.
You can mitigate some of this absurd character’s drawbacks through some key choices. The biggest of these are the subclasses you choose when the character gains a level in cleric, sorcerer and warlock. Chosen at 1st level these are a powerful opportunity. Divine Domains with solid features are Forge, Grave, Knowledge, Life, Light, Order and my personal favorite Twilight (Unearthed Arcana playstest content at this time). For sorcerer, Divine Soul is the clear choice and for warlock, The Celestial appeals most. Keep in mind, this character’s ability scores will all be only slightly above average, so anything DC based becomes a liability. Healing, buffing and supporting allies never becomes a wasted spell slot, so focusing on abilities like this improves the usefulness of the absurd character.
To experiment I created a character in D&D Beyond and gave them a level in each class, and if I’m honest it was not very difficult at all. At the end of the day the character has a variety of skill proficiencies, lots of cantrips and 1st level spells, and perhaps too many options for all their actions, bonus actions and reactions. In the name of serving to fill in any gap a party needs though, I feel like this absurd character brings something to the table.
Before wrapping up it is worth mentioning two other ways this character could be a more effective adventurer. Both things are unofficial content, so make sure to check with your Dungeon Master if these options are allowed in your game. First is perhaps one of the most controversial concepts in all of 5E D&D — a healing cantrip. It states flat out in the 5E Dungeon Master’s Guide a cantrip shouldn’t offer healing. But close wounds comes with an important limiting factor that makes it okay in my book. The second way by using your Hit Dice for more than healing after a short rest. More than any other character — literally! — this absurd character would get the most mileage out of From Hit Dice to Heroics. One of our earliest products, this book gives players new ways to use your characters’ Hit Dice with different options based on their class. As our absurd character comes closer to being a legit factotum with every level they gain, they’ll add whole new options to use their Hit Dice, and it doesn’t matter how many particular class levels they’ve got.