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Image licensed from JordanKerbow.ArtStation.com
Blood hunters are the monsters who hunt monsters, these masters of hemocraft sacrifice of themselves to banish evil from this world. Matt Mercer of Critical Role fame added these resolute warriors to 5e D&D and they're now just shy of an official class. Made even more popular by Talisan's character Mollymauk of the Mighty Nein, these homebrew sanguine champions are finding their way into countless adventures. How do you play these stalwart pariahs in dungeons & dragons 5e? Make a secret blood oath so we can go through everything you need to know.
What Are Blood Hunters?
Blood hunters are practitioners of the art of hemocraft, a branch of arcane blood magic relegated to dark suspicion and taboo. To become a blood hunter, one must survive a blood ritual and be taught old rites by other blood hunters who are usually secreted away in some forgotten corner of the world. In a similar way that a warlock takes a risk for power through bargains with otherworldly powers, blood hunters instead take a risk through the inherent danger of the magic they learn itself and the dangerous, long-guarded ritual needed to acquire it.
Hemocraft is a primal rite uses one’s own blood and vital essence as an energy source and practicing blood magic is a delicate balance on a knife's edge. Mechanically, blood hunters have many unique features but mainly function as a combination of warlock and fighter. They gain a fighting style and have a high bank of hit points like a fighter, and gain access to a wide variety of optional features like a warlock, most of which revolve around using your hit points as a resource to fuel magical effects. They tend to serve a melee DPS role, but with a risk/reward element trading health for abilities for more raw damage or battlefield control.
It's also worth restating that blood hunters are not an official class. They're by far the most commonly accepted and used 3rd-party content class, but they're still custom content at the end of the day. You won't be able to play a blood hunter in AL, and you should check with your DM if they're ok to use before bringing one to the next dungeon. You can find the custom content rules for blood hunters freely available on both DMs guild and D&D Beyond.
Blood Hunter Class Features
Blood hunters aren't all that complex to play, but all their features are "blood this" and "blood that" and can easily get flipped around on each other. Let's take a moment and go through each blood hunter feature one at a time.
At level 1 you gain hunter's bane, which is really two independent abilities stapled together. The first half grants you advantage on Survival checks made for tracking fey fiends and undead, and Intelligence checks made about fey fiends and undead. Flat and permanent advantage is pretty hard to come by, so it's not too shabby, but unless your dungeon master is throwing these specific enemy types around it won't really get much use.
The second half of this feature is practically your blanket spellcasting ability feature. You don't have a spell list, but it just states that a lot of your abilities will use something called your "hemocraft DC", which is 8 + your proficiency modifier + your Intelligence modifier. This works exactly like the other spellcasting class spell DCs work just by another name.
At 1st level you gain your blood maledict feature, which has a whole lot of moving parts so let's go through it slowly.
Firstly, think of your blood maledict itself as the "ammo" you're going to be firing off. You start out with one maledict, and you get one more at 6th level, 13th level, and 17th level. You regain your uses of your blood maledict whenever you finish a short or long rest.
You can load your blood maledict "ammo" into different "blood curses". Blood curses are a lot like a warlock's invocations, in that you get to pick a few different ones from a long list, and they do a lot to specialize your build. Some of them work together well, and some have level or class archetype restrictions. We'll go through each blood curse later but for now think of these as like your special blood hunter "spells".
You start off knowing 1 blood curse, and you get just a few more as you advance in level. You learn your second blood curse at 6th level, a third at 10th level, a fourth at 14th level, and a final fifth blood curse at 18th level.
Next we need to talk about your "hemocraft die" which is used to "amplify" your blood curses and for crimson rite abilities. Your hemocraft die is essentially what you roll to hurt yourself, a lot of your abilities require some of that sweet sweet bloody goodness and you roll your hemocraft die to determine how much damage you take bleeding. It starts out as a d4, becomes a d6 at 5th level, then a d8 at 11th level, and finally a d10 at 17th level.
So why would you want to damage yourself? Well, there's more, but from the start you need your hemocraft magic to "amplify" your blood curses. Every blood curse has the "normal" effect, then a powered up amplified version if you're willing to bleed a bit for it. Considering how few uses of your blood curses you actually get; you'll usually be amplifying them every time unless you're in real dire straits healing-wise. Blood curses also normally have the stipulation that they only work on creatures with blood in them, and you ignore that stipulation if you amplify the curse, meaning against some enemies it's the only way to make your curses actually work.
At 2nd level you gain a fighting style just like a fighter would, albeit with a pretty limited selection. Basically, do you want to focus on ranged weapons, sword and board, big weapons, or dual weapons? You have proficiency with each simple weapon and each martial weapon just like a fighter, so you've got a lot of potential options.
It's worth noting that a lot of the blood hunter abilities really revolve around melee combat, but archery is still a viable build.
Also, if you're planning on doing the whole werewolf thing with order of the lycan be aware that none of these deal with unarmed strikes so they won't really help you out there. Archery is a strangely good option if you're going for the werewolf, as it gives you decent ranged options if diving into melee as a werewolf isn't a good idea.
At 2nd level you learn the forbidden blood magic of the rite of hemocraft and gain what is probably the most attractive aspect of this class with the ability to just dish out extra damage. As a bonus action you can roll your hemocraft die and take that much damage to apply some of your own blood to one of your weapons. Once you've bloodied up with your rite, your weapon attack will do your hemocraft die in extra damage until you rest, starting at 1d4 damage when you first gain the feature.
What type of extra damage you make your weapon deal depends on your chosen rite, which is basically either fire, cold, or lightning damage. These elemental energy rites are called "primal rites."
Once you hit 7th level, you get to pick another rite from fire damage, cold damage or lighting damage, and switch between them whenever you activate it.
Once you hit 14th level, you get to pick from the spooky damage types of necrotic damage, psychic damage, or thunder damage. These spooky damage type rites are called "esoteric rites".
Overall, this feature is insanely powerful, and really rewards you for builds that deal as many attacks as possible as the bonus damage applies to each attack roll. However, you only get to apply crimson rite damage to a single weapon, so you'll have to do it again for an additional weapon on those dual wielding builds.
Ability Score Improvement
At 4th level and again at 8th level, 12th level, 16th level, and 19th level, you get to choose between adding 2 points to an ability score, 1 point to two different ability scores, or taking a feat. For the most part you're going to want to focus on improving your ability scores as much as possible, think long and hard before sacrificing any for a feat.
At 5th level like all the other martial classes you get an extra attack whenever you take the attack action, which is especially useful for you in conjunction with your crimson rites.
Brand of Castigation
At 6th level you gain the ability to mark somebody when you hit them with your crimson rites, sort of in a similar way to a ranger's hunter's mark.
It doesn't take an action, you can just choose to apply it after hitting somebody using your crimson rite, and you get the following benefits:
You know the direction of the guy you marked.
Whenever your marked target hits you or your allies within 5 feet, they take psychic damage equal to your Intelligence modifier.
Beyond this it also counts as a "spell" for people who try to dispel it, but otherwise it just lasts indefinitely until you dismiss it, the target dies, or you use it again.
Once you brand somebody, you can't do so again until you finish a short or long rest.
Fundamentally this whole feature seems a lot more useful than it actually is, and it's a somewhat bad ability until it's later upgrade at 13th level. The tracking feature is neat but rarely comes up, so it's mostly about that extra psychic damage. It's only 1 per rest, so try to prioritize it on single boss monsters with a lot of melee attacks to work in a lot of bonus damage.
At 9th level you gain this feature that basically gives you advantage on Intelligence (History) checks if they're "spooky". If the place, thing, or evil creature you're making the check about has a dark and mysterious past, you're all about it and gain advantage on the check.
It's a very thematic feature that helps flesh out your utility with this specific type of ability check, but it's a bit underwhelming at 9th level.
At 10th level you embrace your spooky side and get a major boost to your defenses with the following features:
Your speed increases by 5 feet.
You get to add your Intelligence modifier on top of Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution saving throws.
Assuming your Intelligence modifier is up to a +3 or +4 at this point, you're going to become a king on physical saves. The speed is a nice extra as well.
Brand of Tethering
At 13th level your kind of meh brand of castigation feature ramps up into a serious power.
Your brand does twice your Intelligence modifier in psychic damage now.
Your branded target can't take the dash action.
If your branded target tries to teleport in any way, they take 4d6 psychic damage and make a Wisdom save, and if they fail the teleport fails.
For recurring boss fights and enemies trying to escape this can be a final trump card. The wording covers practically anything the DM can come up with and this feature can just shut them down from teleporting or plane shifts and keep them anchored in their current place on the current plane. This changes the brand from a minor nuisance to a real problem until the branded creature deals with it.
At 14th level you gain immunity to the charmed and frightened conditions. Not exciting or particularly strong for this high of a blood hunter level, but still nice to have.
At 20th level you get your final capstone ability which does two things:
Once per turn you can reroll your hemocraft die.
Whenever you get a critical hit, you restore a spent blood maledict.
The first hemocraft ability is nice but very meh for a capstone ability, the second one is far more powerful considering how good the late game curses are, but it's still completely luck reliant unless you go for a crit fishing build.
Building a Better Blood Hunter
Blood hunters are a strange class, and since they use their own hit points as a resource, they're one of the more punishing classes for weaker builds. They've got several strategies to work with but ultimately blood hunters fit nicely into the striker role in dnd 5e, dealing damage along with the odd debilitating blood curse. However, you want to build your blood hunter, we'll need to start with the ability scores.
Blood Hunter Ability Scores
Blood hunters are mostly a martial class, and while you'll want a high Intelligence score to make the most of your abilities, you'll also need to keep a primary damage score high (either Strength or Dexterity) and you need to keep a high Constitution score even more than most other martials.
CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON! Blood hunters are quasi-fighters and can take fighting styles just like fighters can. So, if you plan on making use of archery or two-weapon fighting, make Dexterity your highest ability score. If you plan on making use of dueling style or great weapon fighting, make Strength your highest ability score.
Next, while the official text recommends making Intelligence your next highest score, but honestly, you're going to need more hit points over a bump to your save DC. Blood hunters are going to take just as many hits as other martial classes, and you'll need to sacrifice your hit points for a lot of your abilities (more on that later). Make Constitution your second highest ability score.
Finally, you'll want to make Intelligence your 3rd highest score, you'll want to get it to at least a +2 or a +3-ability modifier to make your save DC decent.
That is, a lot of spread. Unlike many classes that have a primary score and a secondary score, blood hunters basically have 3 ability scores they care a whole lot about and spend each ability score improvement on. My advice, try to use each new ability score increase to get those 3 scores up to a 16 as early as possible, and the other three (Wisdom, Charisma, and whichever of Strength or Dexterity you aren't using) need to be truly full dump stats.
Blood Hunter Races
Blood hunters are really starved for ability points, so your best choices are going to be those that give you a bonus to two of your important stats. Normally I'd recommend just playing whatever race you'd feel like, but blood hunters really hurt without those ability bonuses.
Genasi (Air, Earth, or Fire)
The elemental-born genasi all come ready with a +2 Constitution bonus, and 3 of their 4 elemental types come with a handy +1 in another vital blood hunter stat. +1 to Dexterity for air genasi, +1 to Strength for earth genasi, or +1 Intelligence for fire genasi. I have a bias towards the fire genasi (I just think they're cool) but any of them would work wonders. Each one comes with a few bonus features and you can pick whichever elemental flavor you like best.
Halflings gain a +2 bonus to Dexterity (huge) and the old stout lads gain a vital point of Constitution. It also can't be understated how amazingly good the halfling lucky ability is, never fumbling in combat goes a long way. You lose some mobility due to the halfling's slow speed but it's still a very strong option.
Base human (not variant human) gets a +1 to every stat. This means at 1st level using point buy you can min/max to get a 16 in Constitution, Intelligence, and your choice of Strength or Dexterity, leaving a 9 in the remaining 3 scores. Blood hunters are starved for ability points and getting your 3 needed stats up to a +3 is HUGE. It's a tad boring, but I strongly think base human is the best way to play your blood hunter character.
Blood Hunter Orders
At 3rd level, blood hunters get to choose their class archetype or "blood hunter order". You essentially get to choose from extra blood curses and ghost walking (Ghostslayer), werewolf mode (Lycan), Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde (Mutant) and half-warlock (Profane Soul). These archetypes will grant you features when you first pick them at 3rd level, and further features at 7th level, 11th level, 15th level, and 18th level.
Order of the Ghostslayer
Themed around exorcists and ghost hunting, you get some great ghost themed powers and extra goodies against the undead. You gain a special crimson rite that deals radiant damage and literal double damage to undead creatures. You also gain an additional blood curse use (basically an extra spell per short rest), which is pretty tempting considering how few you really get.
At 7th level you get an extremely strong ethereal step ability that will let you walk right through walls for a few rounds.
The damage output falls off a bit in later tiers unless you're frequently fighting undead and radiant damage is important. However, if you plan on focusing on the blood curses this order is essentially a prerequisite, that bonus curse doubles your spell output in the early levels.
Order of the Lycan
Flavor-wise, this order lets you turn into a werewolf or the lycanthrope form of the animal of your choice. Gameplay-wise this order shifts your playstyle closer to a barbarian. Your 3rd level feature lets you transform with a nice list of melee abilities. When you line everything up (bonus to attacks, resistance to physical damage) turning into your hybrid form functions a whole lot like going into a barbarian rage. You only get the one use until you get the 11th level benefit of your advanced transformation for a 2nd use and bonus hit points to heal up to half. If you're going for a Strength build and want to be the party tank, I highly recommend going for this order, that resistance in combat will let you save your hit points for blood curses and rites. Just be aware that it's quite unlikely that the townsfolk will take kindly to your type, and anticipate some conflicts arising from your bestial nature if people see through your normal form.
Be aware though that this order works using unarmed strikes, which don't really mesh well with your fighting styles. Consider taking archery as a ranged backup option and focusing on your unarmed strike damage for melee.
Order of the Mutant
Extremely reminiscent of the mutagens from the Alchemist class in Pathfinder (which I highly suspect Matt Mercer borrowed from), and extensively varied. You learn a handful of different mutagen formulas and you get to mix one up every short rest (2 once you hit 7th level). Each mutagen gives you a huge boost at the cost of nerfing something else, like gaining 3 Dexterity for a while in exchange for disadvantage on your Wisdom saving throws.
I love this order, simply because it gives you so many more options to play with. Most of the negatives are easily mitigated and you can just go nuts with stat boosts.
Order of the Profane Soul
Profane soul is odd to me, since it almost exactly makes you half a warlock with pact magic spell slots and access to the warlock spell list, along with an otherworldly patron. You gain half as many warlock spells at half the rate, and all your bonus abilities are tied to your choice of warlock patron. The appeal here is that while you gain a good chunk of warlock abilities, you still have the hit points and survivability of a blood hunter. You're not going to be a full caster though and your spell level never gets very high.
Think of this option as "blood hunter with eldritch blast".
Blood curses are almost like your spells and invocations wrapped up into one. You don't get all that many of them, but they're powerful and can have a major impact on how you play. You start out with 1 at first level, and pick up another one at 6th, 10th, 14th, and 18th levels. Let's go through each option and how they'll impact your playstyle and effectiveness:
Blood Curse of the Anxious
As a bonus action, until the end of your next turn you make all Intimidation checks against a target creature with advantage. If you amplify it, they make their next Wisdom saving throw at disadvantage as well, it's also becomes a once per long rest curse when amplified.
I've got to say I'm not a fan of this one. It has a bit of the "true strike problem" in that you're spending time and resources to do your next thing better rather than just taking two chances at doing the thing. The only way I'd run this one is if you've got an ally with some really powerful save or suck spells using Wisdom saves.
Blood Curse of Binding
Curse of binding basically get to shout "freeze" as a bonus action and if the target fails a Strength save, they can't move until the end of your next turn. If you amplify it the curse lasts for a minute or until they break it by passing the saving throw again.
I really like this one for the odd ranged blood hunter build. Attacking from range and freezing anybody that gets close seems like a strong strategy.
Blood Curse of Bloated Agony
One of the best options because it doesn't allow for a saving throw, you point at a target and they swell up like a balloon. While inflated your target has disadvantage on Strength and Dexterity saving throws and takes 1d8 necrotic damage each time it tries to attack. When you amplify it, the bloating lasts for a minute rather than a round but lets them make Constitution saves each turn to try and end it.
Because it doesn't allow a save to start with, popping this on an enemy with a lot of attacks can be absolutely punishing, though I'll admit it doesn't scale well. Try pairing it with an ally's spells that use Strength or Dexterity like the ole' reliable fireball.
Blood Curse of Corrosion
Curse of corrosion is one of the late game curses and you can't take it until you're 15th level and are specifically an order of the mutant blood hunter.
As a bonus action you point at a target and they instantly gain the poisoned condition, but can try to save out of it at the end of each of their turns. If you amplify it they also take 4d6 necrotic damage when you first pop it and again every time they fail to save against it.
This is nasty and an automatic pick if you're in the late game as an order of the mutant blood hunter. You'll also basically always use the amplified curse for essentially free damage.
Blood Curse of the Exorcist
This is one of the late game curses and you can't take it until you're 15th level and are specifically an order of the ghostslayer blood hunter.
As a bonus action you can cure an ally within 30 feet of being charmed, frightened, or possessed. If you amplify it, whatever creature inflicted the condition you cured takes 3d6 psychic damage and makes a Wisdom save or gets stunned until the end of your next turn.
I'm really torn on this one, because it is very strong but only in a very specific situation and only for ghostslayers. It's probably worth taking, just cross your fingers and hope it ends up being relevant.
Blood Curse of Exposure
When you see something getting hit, you can use your reaction to make the target lose resistances to damage for that hit. If you amplify it, they instead downgrade their immunity to just resistance.
The key here is that it only works on the single attack or spell, which makes it pretty bad if you're just using it to overcome resistance on a single swing with your crimson rite. Where it does shine though is eliminating resistances to powerful damage spells cast as the order of the profane soul, making this a strong option if you plan on slinging some fireballs around.
Blood Curse of the Eyeless
When something makes an attack near you, you can roll your hemocraft die and reduce their attack roll by the result. If you amplify it, you do this for all their attacks this turn instead of just the one.
I find this isn't great early on when you're only reducing a roll by 1d4, but when you're up at 1d8 or 1d10 this can make a monster just whiff a whole turn. I recommend it but not as your first curse.
Blood Curse of the Fallen Puppet
When something dies, you can use your reaction to puppet their body and make a single melee weapon attack at a target within range. If you amplify it, you can also move the puppet corpse up to half its speed first, and it gets a bonus equal to your Intelligence modifier on the attack roll.
I adore this ability not only for the morbid flavor but against some enemies a single attack can be huge. There's no size or CR limitation, so anything from a chump goblin to a dragon could be lurching forward as a corpse and attacking at your command.
Blood Curse of the Howl
This is one of the late game curses and you can't take it until you're 18th level and are specifically an order of the lycan blood hunter.
As an action you howl and every enemy within 30 feet has to make a Wisdom saving throw or become frightened until the end of your next turn, and if they fail hard enough, they become stunned instead. If you amplify it the range increases to 60 feet.
I really wish you could take this earlier, as it's fantastic crowd control, but at 18th level you're usually fighting a single impressive boss rather than a mob. Still an auto pick for lycans though as a potential AOE stun isn't something you should pass up.
Blood Curse of the Marked
As a bonus action you pick a target within 30 feet and until the end of your turn all your attacks deal an additional hemocraft damage die with your active rite. If you amplify it, those attacks also have advantage.
This is a perfect damage multiplier for most blood hunters and it's usually a first pick. However, I wouldn't take it if you're going the dual weapon route. This takes up your bonus action, which means your off-hand attack is unavailable for the turn, so you just end up wasting damage.
Blood Curse of the Muddled Mind
As a bonus action you pick a target within 30 feet that's concentrating on a spell, and the next concentration check they make this turn is made with disadvantage. If you amplify it they make all concentration checks until the end of your next turn with disadvantage instead.
Obviously situational, but it's an effective mage hunting tool. Give it a shot if your DM seems to like throwing enemy wizards your way.
Blood Curse of the Souleater
This is one of the late game curses and you can't take it until you're 18th level and are specifically an order of the profane soul blood hunter.
As a reaction when something alive (not a construct or undead) dies, you can throw its soul your patron's way and gain advantage on all your weapon attacks until the end of your next turn. If you amplify it, you also regain a spent warlock spell slot, though once you do you can't again until you finish a long rest.
Advantage is nice, but the big draw here is the ability to restore a warlock spell slot. It sucks that you can't take it until 18th, but it should be a snap auto pick if you're in late tier 4 and are a profane soul blood hunter.
Blood Hunter Feats
I'm almost tempted to say "none", blood hunters are very spread between multiple ability scores and you'll likely need every point. However, as with all martial builds there are some situations where the feat just makes your concept work. Specifically, there's one common build of blood hunter that really benefits from the following feat:
Crossbow Expert - Crimson Rites deal extra damage with every hit from the same weapon, using a crossbow and getting multiple shots off can really stack that damage up. With this feat and your extra attack at 5th level, you'll be able to dish out 3 shots a turn, each one packing a bonus d6 of crimson rite damage, that's potentially 6d6 every round!
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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