Saturday, July 4, 2020

Villainous Cookbook: The Superb Exemplar

I have to admit something. I'm afraid I've set the bar too high for myself with the first article. Memento Necromancer is a beautiful character that interweaves the mechanics with a theme. And that theme is to give the edgelords whose backstory says everyone they ever cared for is dead someone who they'd love to hate. I don't know if I can do that sort of thing again, especially since these days I have a hard time keeping up with homebrews people produce. With all that being said though, I have some ideas for at least two more villains, who I can publish here as soon as I figure out their themes. At the moment, I can only tell you that their dominant stats are Charisma and Intelligence, and they both revolve around staying hidden, in their own ways.


The purpose of the Villainous Cookbook is to offer cool villain ideas for DMs. It uses homebrew player options sometimes mixed with the official ones, but it bends the rules a little to work better. While sometimes restrictions breed creativity, other times it's nice to push the boundary a little to make the villain more interesting.

The stats are left completely up to the reader. You can make those anything you want, as long as it's within some boundaries, and you don't need to spend any ASIs or consider the stat bonuses provided by the feats unless you want to complicate things for yourself.

Each of the builds is split into 4 Tiers, to show how the villain grows in power over time. At any moment, the villain should be at least on the same tier as your players if not higher, since you want them to be challenging. Unless noteworthy, I won't mention the specific spells, ability scores, backgrounds, or skills. All that I leave up to you so that the villain is more customized.

One last word of caution - while these builds might seem overpowered, making the homebrews seem overpowered, bear in mind two things.

  1. We're adjusting the rules a little to make the character builds work better. If this demands an in-world explanation, say that this is an exceptional person who figured out something others don't know, or has special bloodline/destiny.
  2. We're crossing the homebrew streams. And that can oftentimes go wrong. I'm doing my best to use homebrews that I consider balanced and that I would actually allow my players to use in the games.

Alright! Let's get to the villain - the Superb Exemplar!

The Superb Exemplar

"After what you've done to me, I decided to train. To become better. While you raided the dungeons and crypts, I prayed to the divinities for knowledge. While you fought the wolves and goblins that ambushed you on your way, I was taught the way of being one with nature. And while you saved the king from the assassination, I served the one true Queen who sees all. All of this done to become better, the best I could ever be. And unlike you, I've managed to succeed."

I've always pictured this guy as a Sherlock Holmes type, who'd be a noble of some sorts. Extremely competent, popular, and studied.
Sherlock Holmes, by RadoJavor

Ingredients list

Tier 1

We begin our journey by starting with two levels of rogue, one level of warlock, and one level of cleric. Including the skill proficiencies from a background, this means that the exemplar has 10 skill proficiencies (2 from background, 4 from rogue level 1, 2 from cleric, 2 from warlock), and expertise in 6 of them: Insight, Perception, 2 Intelligence skills other than Investigation, and any 2 skills you're proficient in by now. For Intelligence, I would make sure to pick Arcana - it's not an important part of our build, just a matter of personal preference.

With all of this, we have a halfling who has an average amount of hit points, ability to bonus action Dash, Disengage, and Hide, and some spellcasting. Make sure to pick up the guidance cantrip if you want to add that extra bit of oomph.

So far so good! At the moment our exemplar sounds fairly average, let's get a bit more crazy.

Tier 2

We start by getting 3 levels in barbarian, as well as 3 levels in rogue. Say, since we're already proficient in Dexterity saving throws, and we'll soon get to reduce damage from them by half, why not swap that out for something more useful? Survival Instinct is a feature that replaces the Danger Sense, and gives us two skills, as well as expertise in them, out of a small selection. My recommended picks would be Animal Handling and Survival. Oh yes, and we also get to rage, and get to resist all damage except for psychic while raging.

This stacks nicely with rogues, who by now get Uncanny Dodge, as well as some other boons. At 3rd level, you get to pick an archetype. And, ... I'll be honest with you, I don't know what archetype to tell you to pick here. While Scout could be cheesed for 2 extra skills and expertises in them, we could also go with something more interesting. Inquisitive, Arcane Trickster, and Mastermind are very interesting picks, and there's definitely plethora of cool roguish archetypes out there that you could pick too. For example, the Maxim Master made by yours truly revolves around casting spells at their most ground level, and develops theoretical knowledge which could be used for arcane programming.

Either way, we end up with a total of 12 skills now, and 2 new skills to have an expertise in. Time to move on into the next tier where we really see what makes this build special, other than soaking damage.

Tier 3

All six levels we gain in this tier go into rogue. We get two new expertises, two feats, and the most important part of our build - Reliable Talent. Now, whatever skills is our exemplar proficient in, they can't roll less than 10 on a die for. This basically means that, for example, if our exemplar has a +3 in Charisma and expertise in Persuasion, the least they can roll at level 16 is 23. Let's not omit the fact that they can reroll 1's due to their race. I suppose there's also other benefits, like sneak attack or evasion, but... we're not really building a warrior here. Sure they can hold up decently in a fight, but their power is focused on situations outside of a fight.

Tier 4

Our exemplar becomes a cultural icon at this point. They gain 3 levels in bard, and 1 level in warlock. With the bard levels, they get 4 extra skill proficiencies in any skills they want, and 2 extra expertises. With the extra warlock level, they get 2 new skills thanks to an eldritch invocation. We'll turn a blind eye to this and assume that it says we can pick different skills if we have Persuasion and/or Deception. Let's also pick up Devil's Sight while we're here. So we get a total of 6 new skills, on top of the 12 skills we had up until now. And... that means we have ourselves a proficiency in every single skill. Plus, expertise in 4 skills from rogue, 2 from bard, 2 from barbarian, 2 from warlock, and 2 from cleric. Total of 12 skills, in which we get to double our proficiency bonus. On top of Reliable Talent. And guidance.

Remember though, even if they have 6d6 Sneak Attack, Rage, and Uncanny Dodge, they're still not built for just face-to-face battle. Make them sneaky and tricky. Always out of reach of the players - since they have such a high Insight roll, they'll always stay out of players' sight. Planning, scheming, hiding.


This section will talk about what skills to pick an expertise in for each of the levels. I won't discuss the skills themselves, I feel like anyone could decide those on their own for themselves depending on the exemplar they wish to run.

  • Tier 1 gives us Arcana, History/Nature/Religion, Insight, Perception, Stealth\*, and Investigation*.
  • Tier 2 grants us Animal Handling and Survival.
  • For Tier 3, you can pick 2 out of Athletics*, Sleight of Hand*, Deception*, and Persuasion*.
  • Finally, at Tier 4 you can pick the last two picks from the selection above.
* These skills can be exchanged for anything.


This build gets one feat at Tier 2, and two feats at Tier 3. I highly recommend picking up Observant, since it gives their passive Perception an even better boost and makes it thus harder to sneak upon them. Other picks to consider are Lucky, Keen Mind, Alert, and Squat Nimbleness, though you can really pick anything here.

Story Background

The Superb Exemplar is a character fairly low on magic. 6 of its levels are invested into spellcasters, but that doesn't mean much since their highest level of a spell slot is 2. Seeing how many things they are competent at, I'd have them in an environment you would expect to meet a polymath: A noble court, an inventor's workshop, a gallery, a library, sky's the limit. Listed below are just some of the possible plot hooks to make the players' and exemplar's stories meet:

  • One of the player characters has humiliated the exemplar publicly. Ever since, the exemplar took on a new name, holding a grudge against this person.
  • The exemplar seeks the approval or acceptance from someone who's already party's enemy.
  • The exemplar lost someone close to them because of a player character, but they blame themselves. They seek perfection so that this could never again happen.

The exemplar's greatest motivation is perfection of self, but this could be their ultimate downfall. While they are amazing at anything they can do, they're still a mere mortal, barely capable of magic of 2nd level. Their saving throws and Armor Class do not get any better than those of a 1st level character, unless you were to improve their stats.

Thank you for reading, and have a nice day!

P.S.: If you want to use this as a player character in a party, please don't. Everyone at the table wants to feel useful, and being good at everything hogs all of the spotlight. I'm not doing this to give players ideas for cool builds, I'm doing this to give players cool villains to pursue.
However, you have my permission to try to play this in a solo game. All the spotlight is on you if you're the only player, and honestly I feel like this would be one of the best ways to play solo, other than playing a Charisma caster or a pure rogue. Which doesn't mean that any other classes are invalid, you do what you want!

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