Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Before we answer what a Gish is, it’s worth speaking about where the name comes from.
Back in earlier editions, when Githyanki were first introduced, a specific strata in their war caste were named “Gish.” They were warriors who were skilled both with arcane spellcraft and also with martial weapons.
The term “Gish” stuck around, and now we have Gish characters – someone who, with the use of weapons, spells, or a mixture of both, is proficient in making their enemies dead.
There are still Gish enemies that are described in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (Page 205 if you want to check them out too).
What Is a Gish in DnD 5e?
A Gish is a term that refers to characters with both spell and melee ability in battle. They can cast spells and wield swords and shields. The term comes from DnD’s Githyanki race who had warrior mages called Gish.
Let’s Build a Gish!
So, how do we build a Gish character? What classes, subclasses, and feats are particularly suited to this?
The first and most obvious choice is to make an Eldritch Knight Fighter. They gain access to the wizard’s spells list as well as being potent martial warriors.
Going down this path is certainly one of the most straightforward approaches.
Other options, such as the Arcane Trickers, Rogue subclass, and Blade Singing wizard, are also nicely linear paths to achieving this.
What options are there that exist outside of these for building our spell-slinging sword master?
The Bardic Option
Bards being full casters helps us out here from the get-go with a powerful array of abilities.
As we’re going to be focusing on spells rather than cantrips, their lack of high-damage level-zero spells is actually useful for us. This frees them up for things like message, mending, and other useful cantrips.
We’re going to focus on the types of spells that can disable large swathes of enemies and help us get around and into stabbing range!
A tiefling bard with spells like Longstrider, color spray, sleep, and hideous laughter can all help.
We can blind enemies, stopping them. We can gain opportunity attacks, lay low-level groups low with sleep, and move freely around with our longsword out to deal good damage!
We aren’t heavily armored, but if your enemy is rolling around laughing or just taking a quick battle nap, that’s not too big a concern!
Let’s pump ourselves up to level 5 total, taking a further 2 levels of bard for a total of 3 and 2 in fighter.
We are going to focus again on spells that disable our enemies: blindness/deafness and heat metal. Being able to blind an enemy and cook another is a powerful grouping of attacks.
If we begin to get hurt we can use our bonus action a little selfishly here by healing rather than handing out inspiration and gain either more AC with the defense fighting style or more damage with the dueling.
We’re quick on our feet and have given ourselves a lot of roads to travel down with fighter or bard levels, least of which is heavier armor and more attacks!
Rogues and Fighters
So, we made a rogue or fighter and chose battle master, assassin, or something similar. That’s ok! We can still make a Gish character here by adding in a few levels of wizard or even druid.
Druids certainly require more of that concentration resource spent on them, but spells such as flame blade really beef up the dice you roll.
As an example, a level 6 Rogue (3 Rogue 3 Druid) with the assassin subclass that gets the drop on an unsuspecting creature is going to deal 6d6 from flame blade and an additional 4d6 from their sneak attack by using their bonus action to create the blade first and then their action to attack.
There is perhaps the one caveat here: you must check that your DM agrees with the wording of flame blade that the weapon is “Scimitar like” enough that it counts as a finesse weapon.
Similarly a fighter with this same 3/3 build can use action surge to deal out the damage with their flame blade.
The added bonus here, of course, is that, for races such as humans, halflings, and others not blessed with darkvision, you are your own light!
Feats To Consider
- Artificer or Magic Initiate are useful feats if there are specific cantrips or a spell you want to make a build work. For example zephyr strike on a fighter or rogue will punish your enemies!
- War Caster – If you want to hold a shield and increase your armor class all while being able to do this, look no further than the War Caster Feat. The Advantage it grants to concentration checks also helps, especially with a Druid or Cleric based Gish!
- Mobile – Coupled with the Rogue or Bard, this Feat will allow you to move in and out of combat easily and avoid attacks against you.
- Mage Slayer – A great one to add flavor to your character. Perhaps you see other casters as beneath you, but this allows you to be the toughest wizard on the battlefield and resist a lot of magic when you are close to enemies!
- Dual Wielder – While this might not be immediately obvious, being able to pull out a second sword for free once you have cast a spell to gain that extra AC and put it back again for free on your next turn effectively gives you +1 to AC permanently and gives you more attack options once those slots run dry.
Types of Gish
As you can see, there are numerous ways to build a Gish character. Your best bet is to decide early what you want your character to be able to do with their abilities.
Dealing large amounts of damage to a creature with spells like flame blade? Controlling the enemies with sleep and color spray?
Or perhaps you just want to be useful once the spell slots run dry and be able to pull out a sword and take your place next to the barbarian up front!
With so many classes having spells or spell-like abilities and even those granted to you by your race, you can quickly build up a picture of your character in your head.
The swashbuckling rogue who restrains everyone but his target.
The Paladin with a flaming sword bringing their gods’ wrath to bear on the unjust.
Maybe simply the person with enough speed to strike swiftly and retreat without concern of reprisal attacks.
A Gish is a fun character to play.
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Rich is an avid D&D player and DM. He has been playing since the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st and 2nd editions. He has run campaigns of various editions with family and friends for over 20 years. Playing DnD 5th Edition in person at local game stores and online with VTT’s over the past 10 years has provided a consistent connection to how the game has grown. He strongly believes in understanding the source material, but catering the games to your individual players. Feel free to ask anything in the comments or drop him an email: [email protected].