Character optimization, colloquially known as “CharOp,” is usually attributed to the Third (and Fourth) editions of Dungeons & Dragons. In particular, the monstrosity known as Pun-Pun stands as an example of twisting the game rules to create the most brokenly unplayable character imaginable.
But what about for earlier editions of the game? I’ve mentioned before that, while I started with Basic D&D, AD&D 2E is the form of the game that I’m most nostalgic for (though Third Edition, with its unified mechanics, remains a close second). So I can’t help but wonder just what a truly tricked-out AD&D 2E character would look like.
So I decided to give it a shot.
The Breakdown (Basics)
For this build, I’ll be outlining each aspect of the character separately; that helps to clarify how various mechanics are being used, and is much more clear than simply putting a stat block together.
As a restriction, I’m sticking purely to first-party AD&D 2E materials. Moreover, I’m tacitly setting this within the AD&D 2E “Great Wheel” setting. That makes for some rather odd explanations, since we’re cherry-picking rules from across myriad campaign-specific supplements, but since they’re all technically in the same continuity we’ll go with it (and not worry too much about explaining these in-character). We’ll also say that all “optional” rules are in play.
So without further ado, here’s each step in the process:
Ability Scores: The Player’s Handbook lists six different methods of generating ability scores. These are reproduced in Player’s Option: Skills & Powers, along with four new methods of generation.
Of these, method VII is probably the best for an overpowered character. This allows a player to divide 75 points among his six ability scores (points are spent on a 1:1 basis). No score can be below 3 or above 18.
The actual scores we’re going to place with this method don’t really matter very much. Besides putting an 18 in Intelligence, this character is going to be more than capable of using wish spells (whether on his own, bargaining for them from powerful planar creatures, etc.) to pump up all of his ability scores. Also, his gear (see below) will help in that regard.
We’re going to ignore the “subability” scores that were debuted in Skills & Powers. While those might have added some versatility – and some complexity – to a character build, they didn’t add any overall power.
What About Dark Sun?
Given that characters from the Dark Sun campaign setting use much more generous methods of determining ability scores, why not use one of those methods instead? Well, leaving aside that Dark Sun characters don’t get the spell immunity benefits of high Intelligence and Wisdom scores, The Age of Heroes: Rules for Conquering the Savage Land booklet in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting Expanded and Revised boxed set says “if an Athasian character ever finds a way to travel to another campaign world […] the rules of that world apply. Thus, ability scores are reduced to the highest number allowed for PC races in that world.” As such, there’s no real advantage to using the Dark Sun methods of generating ability scores.
Race: The character’s race needs to be human. Demihuman, humanoid, and monstrous characters all have level limits and class restrictions that we don’t want to have to deal with. While there are a few non-human races that can advance without limits (at least in certain classes), these rare exceptions still won’t have the same freedom that humans do with regards to classes and levels.
Classes: This is where we start to get crazy.
First, since we’re trying to make the most powerful character we can, we’re going to give them 30 levels; the most that a character can have as per Dungeon Master Option: High-Level Campaigns.
As for what classes will be taken with those levels, our human is going to be a dual-class wizard 20/psionicist 20 (using the revised psionics rules from Skills & Powers), with his last ten levels being in avangion (from Dragon Kings and later reprinted in Defilers and Preservers: The Wizards of Athas). This is a fairly obvious move, since Dark Sun tended towards the top of the power curve for AD&D 2E.
On top of this, we’re also going to add the spellfire wielder “phantom class” from Volo’s Guide to All Things Magical. That class only has 16 levels’ worth of powers defined – just over half of the total levels that our character has – but it still grants a ridiculously-gratuitous level of abilities.
There are quite a few characters in Second Edition who break the 30-level cap, but these exceptions are taken to be either unique or the product of special circumstances. Likewise, there are some books that do outline progressions above level 30 – such as Chapter Seven of The Complete Wizard’s Handbook – but I’m presuming that these are superseded by the prohibition on levels above 30 in the High-Level Campaigns book.
The sole exception to this is in Arcane Age: Netheril: Empire of Magic, which outlines several 45-level class progressions. However, given that this is set in the distant past and has extremely stringent restrictions on time travel to and from there, that’s not really something that we can put to good use in this article.
Proficiencies: Although they’re oft-overlooked, it’s worth paying attention to this character’s proficiencies.
As a 20th-level wizard has four weapon proficiencies and ten nonweapon proficiencies (the latter of which can be spent on the Wizard and General groups without penalty). Likewise, a 20th-level psionicist has (according to Skills & Powers) six weapon proficiencies and nine nonweapon proficiencies (the latter of which can be spent on the Psionicist and General groups without penalty). Note that, under the Skills & Powers rules, the character receives the Contact proficiency, and all of the psionic attack and defense proficiencies, for free.
Neither Dragon Kings nor Defilers and Preservers mentions anything about proficiencies with regards to advanced beings, and I couldn’t find any errata to suggest that this is an oversight. Likewise, the listing for the spellfire wielder in Volo’s Guide to All Things Magical says that the class is treated as a wizard only for the purposes of calculating its experience; the implication is that they don’t gain proficiency slots (or anything else) either. (Shandrill Shessair, from the Heroes’ Lorebook, is an exception, but she seems to be dual-classing as a spellfire wielder, rather than treating it as a “phantom class”).
Finally, if we presume that our character starts with an 18 Intelligence, that’s an additional seven proficiency slots. But if they can raise their Intelligence all the way to 25 (the maximum score possible), that will increase to an astonishing twenty bonus proficiency slots! According to Player’s Option: Combat & Tactics, these extra slots may only be spent on nonweapon proficiencies (unless a character is a fighter, paladin, or ranger, which this character isn’t).
So having determined all of that, what proficiencies should this uber-character take?
Being focused on spellcasting and psionic powers, the weapon proficiencies don’t matter very much. For the nonweapon proficiencies, however, consider several of the following (thanks to their maximum ability scores, all of this character’s proficiency checks will be successful on anything short of a natural 20):
- Aleph I (4 slots) – From College of Wizardry, this proficiency is a must, as it allows the character to improve his spells on a successful proficiency check.
- Power Manipulation (2 slots) – From The Will and the Way, this proficiency allows the character to spend 5 PSPs and make a proficiency check, and on a success treat a manifested psionic power as though it had made a “power score.” Now, the revised psionics rules in Skills & Powers did away with power scores, but as an optional rule they allowed them to be kept if an MTHAC0 roll equals the MAC it’s trying to beat (and if the MTHAC0 roll is a natural 1, then you use the old psionic system’s “natural 20” listing for how a power can backfire). Overall, this is a net gain for this character, especially in conjunction with the next proficiency.
- Harness Subconscious (2 slots) – From Skills and Powers, a successful proficiency check and two days of meditation allow for a 20% increase in the character’s PSP total. It only lasts for three days, after which he loses an amount of PSPs equal to the number that he gained (though not below 0), but it’s still a huge boost in the meantime.
- Spellweaving (1 slot) – From Defilers and Preservers, this allows a wizard’s spellbook to be written as something else, disguising it. I’d recommend full-body tattoos for this, written on this avangion’s myriad wings.
- Portal Feel (2 slots) – From The Planewalker’s Handbook, is taken solely as a requirement for the kit we’re taking (see below). It’s still somewhat useful, in that it allows you to determine the general destination of magic portals, but not so much so that it’d otherwise be considered here.
There are several other nonweapon proficiencies that are worth considering, including Somatic Concealment (1 slot) from the Dark Sun Campaign Setting Expanded and Revised and Psionic Mimicry (1 slot) from Defilers and Preservers, both of which make it difficult to tell when a spell is being cast; Necrology (1 slot) and Netherworld Knowledge (1 slot), both from The Complete Book of Necromancers, which respectively allow for the identification (particularly of their powers and weaknesses) of undead and planar beings; Concentration (2 slots), from Player’s Option: Spells & Magic, allows for a spell to be cast under some conditions that would normally disrupt it, while Tactics of Magic (1 slot), from the same book, allows for strategic use of spells in combat.
Spells and Psionic Powers: Exactly what spells this character should take warrants considerable attention. The single best resource for this is the four-volume Wizard’s Spell Compendium, though there were still some spells published in AD&D 2E products produced after this series but before Third Edition.
Putting aside what spells should be chosen, it’s worth underlining exactly how many spells this character gets. According to the Player’s Handbook, a wizard with an Intelligence of 19 or above has no limit to the number of spells per spell level that can be learned. Unfortunately, the Wizard’s Spell Compendium revises this rule, stating that a non-divine character with an Intelligence of 20 (or above) can know thirty spells per spell level, and that this number is the absolute maximum (though it does mention a process whereby a learned spell can be “unlearned” and replaced with another spell).
In terms of the number of spells that can be memorized, both Dragon Kings and Dungeon Master Option: High-Level Campaigns are in agreement – a 30th-level wizard (including an avangion) can memorize seven spells of 1st through 7th level each, six spells of 8th and 9th level each, and four 10th-level spells.
On the psionic side of things, this character will have access to all five psionic disciplines, allowing them to choose up to ten sciences and twenty-five devotions. Unfortunately, the Deck of Psionic Powers is the closest thing AD&D 2E has to a single source for psionic abilities, combining the powers from the Complete Psionics Handbook, Dragon Kings, and The Will and the Way. The Deck came about before Skills & Powers revised psionics, so these cards will (helpfully, in this case) still have listings for power scores.
In terms of psionic strength points, taking into account that this character will get a 25 in all ability scores, and presuming average results (3.5 on a d6) when making die rolls for PSPs, then this character will have a grand total of 580 psionic strength points (rising to 696 PSPs if they use the Harness Subconscious proficiency, above). They’ll also have an MTHAC0 of 2 and a MAC of -10.
Kit: Of course, this character needs a kit. But which one? Or more aptly, which kit grants the best benefits while having comparatively minor hindrances? (It’s also worth noting that virtually every book that talks about how kits are used reiterates that a character can’t have more than one.)
There are a lot of be said about several different kits, but one of the top contenders – at least for this character – is probably going to be “planewalker wizard,” from The Planewalker’s Handbook. That’s because this kit grants the ability to treat a foe’s magic resistance as being lowered by an amount equal to 5% + the character’s level, so that’s a 35% reduction for this character’s enemies! Given that the only drawback is that there’s one plane where this character can’t get spell keys to work correctly (just pick someplace like the Seven Heavens or Elysium), that’s a fairly major benefit.
Patron Deity: Normally, a character’s patron deity is just flavor text unless you’re playing a character with some sort of special connection to their god (e.g. a divine spellcaster), which this character is not. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no mechanical benefit to having a patron deity; it just depends on which patron deity is chosen.
Specifically, let’s look at the deities from Lankhmar: City of Adventure (Second Edition). In an alternate presentation from how they’re presented in Legends & Lore, Lankhmar: City of Adventure says that “priests” of the gods don’t require levels in special character classes per se. Instead, presuming that a character meets the class and alignment restrictions – and follows the outlined “duties of the priesthood” – in a particular god’s entry, they can gain the listed powers outlined for the faithful.
Given this character’s rather outre class combinations, and their alignment restrictions (see below), there are only two deities that this character can gain power by worshipping: Aarth and Issek of the Jug. Aarth only grants the power to use know alignment once per day, which is superfluous for this character since avangions have that power permanently active anyway. So we’ll go with Issek of the Jug, which not only allows this character to break free from any torture device in 1d4 rounds, but may also produce a gallon of any liquid once per day (this is more beneficial than it sounds, considering how many magic potions – and other magical liquids – are outlined in the Encyclopedia Magica).
Alignment: This character’s alignment is notably constrained due to the classes chosen. Psionicist characters must be non-chaotic. Avangions must be good, which is also true for Issek of the Jug’s faithful. Finally, members of the Fated (see below) cannot be Lawful Good. As such, this character is Neutral Good in alignment.
Gear: For the final consideration of the “basic” aspects of building our character, let’s consider what gear they’ll have. There’s really no guidelines here, as AD&D 2E didn’t have Wealth By Level tables or similar guidelines for how much treasure or magical gear a particular character should have. Given that this character is a paragon even among 30th-level characters, it should probably be pretty sick though.
For one thing, this character will absolutely need a fortified charm of the Zodiac. This is made from the magic item tables in Diablo II: The Awakening. Specifically, because it’s fortified this item makes it so that when a spell is cast there’s a 1-in-4 chance that it remains in the caster’s memory. Because it’s a charm the character simply needs to have it on their person to gain its effects. And because it’s of the Zodiac it increases all of the wielder’s ability scores by +5.
The other item that we can take as a given is a Johydee’s Mask. To be clear, this is not the major artifact presented in the Book of Artifacts, but rather the ordinary magic item found in the AD&D 1E Dungeon Master’s Guide. That might seem like a meaningless distinction, as the First Edition DMG does list the Mask under the “Artifacts & Relics” section of the magic items in the book. However, the Encyclopedia Magic (specifically volume II), lists the two types of Johydee’s Mask as being separate, and denotes that the latter is not an artifact but a regular magic item; it even has an XP value of 8,000 and a GP value of 40,000. To top it off, the index in the final volume of Encyclopedia Magica lists the latter Mask as being under Table K: Girdles and Helmets, whereas the former is under Table T: Artifacts.
So why such a fuss over this character having a Johydee’s Mask? Well, a 30th-level avangion is basically just a giant cluster of flapping wings. But the Mask lets them “assume the likeness of any human or humanlike creature,” apparently without any time limit. So that’ll be useful for getting along, as well as being able to engage in tactile manipulation (if there’s a question of how the avangion is able to don the mask to begin with, have them use a spell such as shapechange to take on a human form first). That the mask also prevents “mind contact detection, or attack” is a bonus. And it’s “rumored” to protect against all forms of gaze attacks (presumably it’s up to the DM if the rumor is true or not).
These are just the bare necessities, however. You should definitely trick out this character with a great deal more gear as you like.
The Breakdown (Extras)
Everything up to now dealt with the basic parts of building a character. Every character has a class, proficiencies, gear, etc. Here’s where we throw on a few perks that most characters wouldn’t otherwise get.
Character Gift: The Celts Campaign Sourcebook allows for new characters to check for an ancestral gift. In this case, we’ll say that our character was born to Celtic heritage and so has “mixed blood,” specifically “Part Sidhe, infravision 60 ft.” While other results can add a point or two to an ability score, and infravision is an overall minor boost for this character, it’s still patching a minor hole in their list of abilities.
Were this character one that was going to be played from 1st-level, then it’d be far and away more worthwhile to have this character’s gift be one of the two (“magic affinity” or a different “Part Sidhe” result) that would let them multiclass – as a human! – as a wizard with one other class, except druid. Being able to multiclass as a human is a huge benefit, and this would make becoming a 20th-level wizard-psionicist much easier.
Faction: Since this character is quite clearly a planeswalker (hence the kit, if nothing else) we’ll say that they belong to a faction, with powers outlined as per The Factol’s Manifesto. Now, we’re going to throw some restrictions on this; as mentioned at the start of this article, this character is living in the AD&D 2E multiverse, which means that – due to the events of the Faction War – which ends with (among other things) all members of the Believers of the Source, the Mercykillers, and the Sign of One losing their faction abilities. So we won’t choose those. We also won’t choose the Athar, as we’ve established that this character has a patron deity.
Instead, we’ll make this character one of the Fated. This doubles his nonweapon proficiencies (albeit his starting NWPs only), and eliminates any increase in choosing proficiencies outside of his normal group. That’s a major benefit! Moreover, this character gains 5% off when haggling for cheaper goods, and 10% off when haggling for more expensive ones; they also can pick pockets as a thief with a 10% chance of success. Finally, they gain access to the Plane Knowledge nonweapon proficiency as described in The Factol’s Manifesto. However, they cannot give nor receive any kind of charity whatsoever.
Template: Finally, for the cherry on this min-maxed sundae, we’ll say that this character has the Chosen of Mystra template, as outlined in the Heroes’ Lorebook. Perhaps he received it from the pre-Time of Troubles Mystra, and left Realmspace before her new incarnation ascended and thereby escaping her notice? Either way, this gives him a slew of powers, more than can be easily listed here (much like with spellfire).
What about Birthright?
Given how focused we’ve been on giving this character as many powers as possible, why haven’t they also been given blood abilities, the signature powers of the Birthright Campaign Setting (with some expansion in The Book of Regency)?
The major reason is because of a parenthetical note on p. 147 of The Planewalker’s Handbook that says “DMs are warned, however, that the bloodline ties to Cerilia are severed should a blooded Cerilian prime stay on the planes, and that any blood abilities should wane accordingly.” This would seem to clash with the entry for “The Abomination’s Lair” in the Liber Malevolentiae booklet in the Planes of Conflict boxed set, which has an awnsheghlien devouring proxies to increase its powers…but then again, maybe that’s how it’s maintaining its blood abilities.
While not at Pun-Pun’s level, this character is still quite the overpowered abomination of a character. It’s entirely possible to outline a stat block for them, though giving it as much detail as possible would mean allocating all of their proficiencies, spells, psionic powers, and gear, not to mention all of their other powers and abilities, which is going quite a bit further than what was outlined here (though if there’s enough enthusiasm, I may go ahead and give it a shot).
One major omission in terms of the products referenced was the myriad new rules and options given over the AD&D 2E run of Dragon magazine. That wasn’t purposeful, but was done largely because I couldn’t recall anything particularly germane that would be a major contributor to an overpowered character build. If there’s something that I’ve overlooked in that regard, please let me know in the comments!
Otherwise, here’s hoping that – if you’re running an AD&D 2E game – you never have a character like this brought to your table!