Dark Souls III PvP guide: builds for besting all comers

Guides
June 24, 2016 by Claris Cyarron

Want to get really, really good at Dark Souls III PvP? Here are three sample builds and boatloads of detail to get you kicking embered behind.

Read part 1 of our extensive PvP guide, which goes deep into the hows and whys of PvP play, here. In this segment, we're going to discuss three viable builds - and all the delicious details that went into making them.

The Builds

Below you will find the three builds I currently use for PvP. I can't guarantee that I won't continue to tweak them, but all of them are good enough to find success in competitive play.

Mugenmonkey.com has character planners for every one of the souls games, although as of this writing, the one for Dark Souls 3 is still incomplete. These are a great way to make sure you have enough VIT to equip everything you're wanting to carry, as well as making sure your build idea comes in at level 130 or lower. Since you can only respect at Rosaria 5 times per playthrough, I highly recommend that you take advantage of these calculators. I've included a link to each of my builds on Mugenmonkey below.

Every build must balance nine stats:

  • Vigor
    • This is where your health comes from. 27 VIG gets you 1000 HP but you will want more than that (more like 1200+ HP, for most PvP builds). Every point up to 27 VIG provides increasing returns, each point after 27 provides diminishing returns but up until 41 VIG, it's not that bad. Afterward, you'll be getting less than 11 HP per point, and it will quickly decrease from even that.
  • Attunement
    • This stat is responsible for your FP points and also how many spells you can equip. 10 ATN gives you 1 spell slot and 93 FP. You get a second slot at 14 ATN, a third at 18. After that, each point of ATN gives diminishing returns, granting a fourth spell slot at 24, and a fifth at 30 ATN. You really don't want to go over 30 ATN though, as the economy gets even harsher: 10 points per additional slot, and just ~3 FP per stat point.
  • Endurance
    • Endurance gives you your stamina, and as such, is very very important for any kind of build. You gain stamina at a fairly consistent rate (~2-3 per point of END) until you get to 40 END (which gives you 160 stamina). After 40 END, you gain just 1 point of stamina per 10 points of END; don't put a single point in END beyond 40, ever.
    • How much stamina do you actually need, though? Well 40 is nice but certainly not necessary. I'd say that while 160+ is needed to swing the big weapons around, builds that use smaller weapons or magic won't need that much; in those cases 140-150 is likely more than enough. The Ring of Favor will give you extra 8.5% stamina so factor that in as well, if you plan on wearing it.
  • Vitality
    • Vitality gives you defense and also governs how much stuff you can carry; that second bit is the important part. Remember, don't ever go out with 70% or more encumbrance. At the end of the day, how much VIT you need to carry anything you'd want and also look fabulous doing it is up to you -- experiment!
  • Strength
    • The soft cap for damage scaling is 40, after that you get diminishing but still decent scaling until you hit the hard cap at 60.
  • Dexterity
    • Dexterity works the same as STR, but also impacts casting speed for spells. Don't worry about it too much, though, as only the slow spells really gain much of a noticeable improvement but are still way too slow to be useful in most situations. Also, the max casting speed can be reached by having only 15 DEX and using the Sage Ring.
  • Intelligence
    • Unlike STR and DEX, things just start to get good for INT after 40, and they don't stop being awesome until 60. The increase in damage-per-point from 40 to 60 is exponential, so I strongly recommend that you get to 60 if you are looking to use sorcery as a main stat. This means that going the INT route on a build is expensive stat-wise, but at 60 INT, and with a combination of spell boosting rings, you can wreck anything very very quickly.
    • Pyromancy and Dark magic scale off both INT and FTH at the same time. How this works is very complicated and since I haven't experimented much with pyromancy yet, I don't fully understand it. What I do know is that most pyromancers/dark mages seem to be aiming for 30 INT/30 FTH if they plan on using melee as well and 40/40 if they are focusing just on magic.
  • Faith
    • Same as INT
  • Luck
    • Luck is somewhere in between STR/DEX and INT/FTH. Things continue to scale well until 60 but 40 is often all you need to make a build work. The closer you can get to 60, the better, but don't stress out about it.

Spells and stats make a huge difference, yes, but your weapons are what truly define what your build is capable of unless you are a pure mage (more on that below). More than anything else, you should consider what kinds of weapons you like to use when deciding what build to take into PvP.

Oh, and always have a sidearm! Sure, I've seen amazing PvP builds that only use one weapon, sometimes even really niche ones, but you can find yourself in a lot of different situations during competitive play, especially if you invade, and changing things up mid round can lead to some of the most spectacular upset victories. Generally speaking, if your main weapon is large and slow, use a small and fast sidearm; if your main weapon is small and fast, have a big and/or ranged, sidearm.

The Weaponmaster provides Quality Murder:

If you are looking for a good build to begin PvPing with, might I suggest you start here. No, it's not the tankiest build, nor does it do the absolute highest damage, but it is unmatched in versatility. Because The Weaponmaster enjoys a whopping 50 STR and 40 DEX, you can wield the vast majority of weapons in the game, and with nearly maximized damage output, too.

A versatile build is incredibly important for two reasons. First, having a ton of options will keep things interesting for much longer and will allow you to experiment more. Second, being familiar with as wide range of weapons as possible is the most important thing you can do to excel at Souls PvP. Knowing the moveset of your enemy's weapon, or better yet what you would do with it, helps immensely with your ability to predict and counter your enemy's actions. This is why you should make an effort to study not only the weapons you love to use, but also the ones you fare poorly against.

Though this build is well-suited for all manner of weapons, I would suggest you bring at least one very large weapon with you if you plan to invade so you can take advantage of hyper-armor.

Here are the stats!

Start as a Knight, which has good initial stats in all the things you need and very low FTH, INT and LCK, which you won't be needing much of. Because this build is trying to do a lot, it uses the Prisoner's Chain, which grants +5 to VIG, VIT, and END in exchange for taking more damage; more information about the Prisoner's Chain and its downside can be found below under “Rings.”

39 VIG (34 + 5) gets you almost to the softcap, 14 ATN gets you two spell slots which will be needed for Tears of Denial. 37 END (32 + 5) and the Ring of Favor gives you enough stamina (165) to use any weapon's two-handed R1 attack at least three times in a row and then roll away afterwards. 23 VIT (18 + 5) and the Ring of Favor lets you carry the Fume Ultra Greatsword, caestus, shortbow, talisman, and some light armor. 50 STR and 40 DEX to meet any weapon's STR and DEX requirements (and will give great scaling with the refined infusion). FTH is at 15 so you can use Tears of Denial. INT and LCK are ignored -- these stats only shine with considerable investment; take a look at the other builds below.

Weapons

As I said above, this build can use most of the weapons in the game, so this list is far from exhaustive. There are tons of great weapons beyond those listed below, but these are my personal favorites:

  • Farron Greatsword
    • This weapon is one of my favorites. Not only is the moveset amazingly slick (breakdancing with a greatsword is a good look), it has more options than most weapons in the game, owing to its dual-wield qualities. It has a quick parry, two different rolling attacks (R1 & L1) for good mixup, and excellent hyper-armor. I know they are cool and have great coverage but don't get overzealous with the special L1 moves. The first L1 swing is easily parried because the move's running start and slide telegraph the swing; use it to chase down enemies more than you use it to start an engagement. The second L1, which can also be performed by pressing L1 after an R1 strike, is very difficult to parry, providing a safe and guaranteed follow-up hit.
  • Fume Ultra Greatsword
    • The Fume Ultra Greatsword was the first weapon in the game to have its damage nerfed, but it is still incredible (and you don't want to play with an unfair advantage, do you?). It weighs a TON and requires 50 STR just to wield, but it offers great hyper-armor that kicks in quickly, is buffable for even more damage, and has a fantastically versatile moveset. 1-handed, it offers wide slashes to control the area around you and powerful chops; 2-handed has a really cool and chainable vertical slice, a thrust with huge range and knockdown, and its weapon art, Stomp, lets you take an attack or two with reduced damage and without flinching.
  • Astora Greatsword
    • The Astora Greatsword has good hyper-armor, great scaling on both STR and DEX (if infused with a refined gem) and has very long range. Its attacks are a mix of wide, slow slashes for area control and powerful thrusts that can be charged to mess with your opponent's timing. Its weapon art is a charge attack that hits multiple times and can be extended by pressing R2. Pair this with the Leo Ring (see below), trade hits with a thrust attack, and laugh.
  • Dragonslayer Spear
    • I adore this weapon. It has great reach, fast pokes, can be used with a shield raised for a (relatively) safe strike, and has an awesome rushing-attack weapon art that fires a lightning bolt at the end if you press R2. The Lightning bolt is a great way to hit someone who is running away but ideally you should be trying to land the rush and the bolt all at once. Doing so will do a ton of damage -- usually ⅓ or more of your enemy's HP. Since every attack this weapon has is a thrust, it pairs very well with the Leo ring. The Dragonslayer Spear has no hyper armor, so you'll need to be careful, and focus on dipping in and out of range for quick interrupting strikes while remaining outside your opponent's reach. That said, I've had a ton of success using this weapon against gankers.
  • Rapier
    • The rapier is probably my favorite sidearm of the game. It has quick pokes with R1, bonus riposte and backstab damage, can be used with a shield up, and it pairs great with the Leo Ring. I even prefer it over the estoc, despite the latter's longer reach and fearsome reputation, because the rapier is 1.5 units lighter and has a more versatile weapon art which offers both a feint and a multi-stab blitz that are great for mindgames. Also, I've found that people will play much more cautiously if they see an estoc. The rapier elicits no such change. A more comfortable enemy is an easier enemy to fool.
  • Lothric Knight Sword
    • This is my second favorite straight sword in the game. The first is Anri's and I've got a whole build devoted to it below. The Lothric Knight Sword has nearly the longest reach of any straight sword, does ~10% more damage in backstabs and ripostes than most other straight swords, is buffable, and has great thrusting R2's and rolling attacks that work great with a Leo ring. The only downside is that it does slightly less damage than most other straight swords, but losing a few damage on a hit is worth it to be able to land hits more often and when you do they're boosted by counter or critical damage. I use this as my side-arm when my main weapon is focused on thrusting, like the Dragonslayer Spear or the Astora Greatsword.
  • Composite/Shortbow
    • The composite bow is straight-up better than the shortbow, since it has both STR and DEX scaling, but the shortbow is lighter. In my opinion, using the weaker bow is worth it if you can carry a second sidearm. Both bows have the same great moveset, which allows you to take very quick shots (at reduced damage) from a roll, run, or backstep. These extra moves (which only these two bows have) allow your bow to be viable even in small spaces.
    • Sometimes you want to take a step back, especially if you are using big weapons and fighting alongside an allied invader (you don't want to accidentally kill them and make things harder for yourself.) I'll admit that I still don't have the hang of using the bow to stop an enemy from drinking estus, but I know it can be done with proper timing. I almost always have this with me, even if that means leaving my rapier or Lothric Knight Sword behind. Being able to pop a few shots off at range is so useful, especially for safely landing that last hit.
  • Caestus
    • The Caestus are the lightest piece of equipment that parries, and it's parry is as good as a small shield's (but not as good as the buckler, target shield, small leather shield, and parrying dagger). It's also a better-than-decent weapon (unlike the parrying dagger), and has the bonus effect of making you look like your threw down your weapons in favor of manly fisticuffs.
  • Yhorm's Great Machete
    • This weapon has great range and massive damage. Most people you fight will be more squeamish than usual because they really don't want to get hit with this thing (similar to the Fume Ultra Greatsword). This means that you need to lure them into a false sense of security. Be predictable (but not unsafe) and when the enemy starts to understand your pattern, change-up and smash them into a pulp. Although the moveset is fairly limited, using the weapon art increases damage for a short time and also changes the L2 and R2 to feature a lot of close range chopping and rushing that can catch folks off guard and help keep the pressure on; it's a great way to make an already nervous enemy panic more.
  • Gundyr's Halberd
    • This weapon has a great and flexible moveset, like most polearms, and features good damage. The real reason you want to use this weapon though is that it's charging attack weapon art has tracking that is so good it's arguably broken. Your rush will find your opponent even if they dodge and the R2 follow-up will punish them. It makes for a great way to (almost) guarantee a killing-blow but please don't use it all the time; that's annoying and also predictable. The charge is definitely parriable.

Spells

  • Tears of Denial
    • Holy crap, this is a good spell. It's probably the best spell in the game, in fact. For two spell slots, 100 FP, and 15 FTH you get a buff that will prevent a killing blow from doing exactly that -- killing you. Instead the spell will dissipate in a burst of light and you will be left standing with 1 HP. Get hit at 57 HP by a riposte that will do 1000 damage? Surprise, you're still alive! It has no time limit either, lasting until you die or teleport. I cannot tell you how many times I've won a match because I burst out of what should have been a defeat with a flurry of strikes with an offhand rapier, cutting down a surprised opponent. The spell is fairly obvious when it's active -- it makes your character's heart glow, but that visual effect is masked by eating a green blossom. Because my goal isn't trickery, I try to remember to eat the blossom before casting the spell. If you are wondering if using such magic is fair, I'd say absolutely yes. First of all, this build is only wearing the Prisoner's Chain (and therefore taking extra damage) so it can use Tears of Denial. Second, anyone who is seriously upset at the idea of someone using this spell should just put on one piece of Thorn armor; when you think you've killed your enemy, simply roll over them once before bowing/gloating and you'll make sure they are dead, spell or no.
  • Force
    • You'll need to forgo Tears of Denial (not recommended) or shift some stats around to get 18 ATN to use this spell but it's actually pretty great in certain situations. Force is a short-range burst that will knock nearby foes back a few feet and anyone who is standing further away but still in the burst will be staggered for a moment. If you are going to be fighting near high ledges this spell offers a quick and efficient way to dispatch your enemy. It's especially great for invasions, as it can both get a group of phantoms off of you, and potentially kill some of them as well. Just make sure you are casting it with a talisman's weapon art (which lets you cast it without being interrupted).

Rings

It's best to think of rings not as equipment, but as four slots to augment your build with special abilities and attributes. The rings you choose will have a very strong impact on how your character plays and what its greatest strengths are. Since The Weaponmaster's strength is in its versatility at melee combat, the rings this build uses are all in service to that.

  • The prisoner's chain is an important, and somewhat controversial, ring. It gives +5 to vitality, endurance, and vigor in exchange for increased damage received. Tons of folks, including myself, wondered: “is it worth it?” I'm going to go into some basic maths below to explain how it all works, but the TL;DR is: the Prisoner's Chain puts you at a very slight disadvantage in exchange for giving you 15 free levels on stats pretty much everyone needs, thus making it possible to diversify your stats more. Because the extra damage is actually not such a big deal unless you let your absorptions go into the negative, the biggest downside to this ring is losing a ring slot that could have gone to something else, so make sure whatever stat-diversity you get out of this ring is worth passing on one of the many great ring effects.
  • Still with me? Ok, now it's time to explain how exactly this ring's downside works. Putting it on drops all of your damage absorption rates by 10 and can push them into the negative if they were low to begin with. But are you actually going to take 10% more damage if you wear the ring, and would the fact that all of your absorptions are being dropped by 10 mean that getting hit by split-damage amplifies the effect? So I did some tests to see what the real cost of that extra damage taken would be and it turns out that it's not even an extra 10% in most cases.
  • Being hit by the Drakeblood Greatsword (which deals physical, lightning, and magic damage) while wearing the Prisoner's Chain only increased the damage of each hit by 6.5% -- 14 more damage. Considering that the chain gives you 5 VIG, it also gives you 79 HP (from 34 VIG to 39); the extra damage from the first five hits taken in this scenario are more than compensated for by the extra HP. Both with the ring and without, it took six strikes from the sword to drop my HP to 0 (without Tears of Denial), so basically, it made no practical difference. Obviously, it can make a difference on a really close match because I did end up taking slightly more damage than I had extra HP, but it wasn‘t a huge deal. Additional tests with other weapons backed up these findings.
  • It's worth noting that the extra damage grows as the damage from the hit grows, so the chain certainly does put you at greater risk of being killed in one hit if you get parried and riposted by an enemy with a massive weapon and the hornet ring, but this build generally has enough HP to (barely) survive any such attack. And then you also have Tears of Denial, providing a second layer of protection; so actually, you're still able to take 2 hits at least before you're done.
  • So yes, the Prisoner's Chain is definitely worth it if you need it, as it only puts you at a slight disadvantage, but if you can get the stats you need naturally, you should absolutely be using this ring slot for something else.
  • Ring of Favor
    • Everyone's favorite ring from Dark Souls is back again! The Ring of Favor gives small bonuses to HP (3%), stamina (8.5%), and max equipment load (5%). The bonuses are certainly slight, but are you really going to tell me that you don't want more of all three of those things on a melee build? There are no downsides, unlike the Prisoner's Chain, and it boosts by a percentage, not a certain amount of stat points, so while the chain gets weaker the closer you are to the softcap for each affected stat, the Ring of Favor gets stronger!
  • Chloranthy Ring
    • I like the chloranthy ring quite a bit. Stamina is very important in the souls games and while this ring is far from mandatory, the +7 stamina regen per second means getting back in the fight a half-second faster, which like the Ring of Favor, might not seem like much, but it is -- especially you're swinging around a massive weapon. Anything you can do to make your build even more relentless, the better. Giving your enemy time to breathe means giving them time to think of a way to turn the tables.

These next three rings all belong to the same slot, so you will be choosing between them based on what weapons you have equipped and your playstyle preferences.

  • Hornet Ring
    • This ring boosts critical attack damage by 30% -- that means backstabs and ripostes. It's a great choice, as it's rare you'll get the opportunity to backstab/riposte a foe more than once or twice and you should make those attacks count (unless all you are doing is fishing for a backstab/parry, which you shouldn't be because that's very predictable and also annoying). The deciding factor for this ring really comes down to how comfortable you are killing an enemy in one hit, because landing a riposte with this ring on and wielding something as large as the Fume Ultra Greatsword will absolutely kill most player's outright. I tend to use this weapon when I'm invading, and not when I'm dueling. When invading against a group of enemies, this ring is incredible, because during the backstab/riposte animations you are invulnerable to anyone's attacks, and efficiency of one strike, one kill will quickly turn the tides in your favor. Because backstabs are much more situational in this game, you really have to be comfortable with parrying for this ring to be worth it.
  • Leo Ring
    • This is my favorite ring of the bunch, and what I use most of the time. It boosts thrusting counter attacks by 15%. What's a counter attack you ask? It's when you damage an enemy during their own attack animation. It doesn't have to mean trading hits, especially because it is so easy to interrupt your opponent in this game, but trading hits is certainly one way to do this. When you land a counter attack, you already do an extra 40% damage. The Leo ring further increases this by another 15%, which means your counter attacks ends up being a massive 61% stronger. Any weapon can inflict counter attacks (even throwing weapons and bows) but only weapons that deal “thrust damage” will have their counter attack damage boosted by the Leo Ring. To find out if your weapon deals thrust damage, just look it up in your inventory; below the weapon's name should be the category and then below that should be the type of damage. If it says thrust at all on there, then it works with this ring. Spears, swords, bows, and certain halberd are the most common kinds of weapons to do thrusting damage.
  • Red Tearstone Ring
    • This ring is situational, but also a ton of fun in PvP. When your health is at or below 20% of its maximum, all of your attacks will be 20% stronger. This calculation seems to happen at the very end of any in-game maths too, so that's 120% of any other nasty combos or boosts you have going on. The downside is that this ring does nothing until you are at very low health and also, being at very low health is generally a very bad idea in PvP. Unless you have Tears of Denial on, that is! No only will you be safe from being killed in one hit at such low health, you'll be getting the damage boost after Tears of Denial has popped. Basically, this ring plus Tears gives you a hyper mode you can use to suddenly burst out of the jaws of defeat DBZ-style and turn the tables.

Consumables:

This build only needs a few consumable items to shine.

  • Undead Hunter Charms
    • These things prevent estus use for a short time. You can tell when the effect is active because those affected will have a while steam/mist rising from them. These can be used to interrupt an estus sip but since the timing to do so is very tight, more often you'll just be able to stop them from doing it again.
  • Green Blossom
    • +5 stamina regeneration per second. Stacks with Cloranthy Ring. Good source of dietary fiber. Will really help with swinging those massive weapons around.
  • Pale/Gold/Charcoal Pine Resin
    • These resins add elemental damage (95, 90, 85 respectively) to your weapon for one minute. It doesn't work for some weapons, like the Farron Greatsword, but for most it does, and extra damage is always nice. The difference between them is negligible; use whatever you think looks the coolest. If you really have to min-max, use pale resin because players are more likely to have low magic resistance.
  • Estus
    • Ah, estus. Refreshing beverage and corner stone of souls PvP morality. Proper decorum dictates that a fight should be sip-free, especially duels,  but that's definitely not unanimous. Use your discretion. My general rule of thumb is that I'll take a sip only after my opponent does, unless it's a gank/trap.

Get Lucky (We're up all night to get bloody):

As soon as I heard that the Luck stat was making a return to the series (back from the good old Demon's Souls days), I wondered if it would be a useful investment or a gimmick. Back in Demon's Souls, there was one (very good) weapon that scaled with luck and the stat was basically there to provide a specialized route for it.

In Dark Souls III, Luck has become a versatile and viable stat. It is connected to bleed and poison build-up rates (increasing them by ~10 at 40 luck). Like Demon's Souls, luck is a damage scaling stat for a few unique and powerful weapons but now any infusible weapon can be given luck scaling with a hollow gem (and the Profaned Coal). Add to that the fact the the hollow infusion gives luck scaling to any weapon and grants a bonus to LCK based on how hollow you are (up to +5). You'll look like a piece of beef jerky, but you'll be squeezing extra damage and bleed out of your weapons. Oh and of course luck also increases item discovery; bonus! So yeah, luck is actually a pretty cool stat this time around.

Since poison is pretty much useless in PvP at the moment, I decided to mess around with bleed. There seems to be a lot of confusion re: how bleed works so let me break it down for you. When you hit an enemy with an attack that causes bleed, it adds a certain number of points to their bleed meter. How much bleed it adds is dependant on the weapon/attack and how much bleed is needed to fill an enemy's meter is dependant on their resistances. When the bleed meter gets filled up, your enemy will “bleed out,” losing 18% of their health instantly and resetting their bleed meter to zero. 18% might not seem like enough to make a build around but this set up is capable of causing your opponent to bleed out multiple times in a match, in quick succession, while also doing a good amount of physical damage as well. Bleed dissipates slowly over time and your enemy's meter can be cleared instantly with a few different consumable items, but don't worry too much because nobody bothers to keep them handy. Most people don't even pay attention to their bleed meter, which is great news for you.

In Dark Souls III, I strongly prefer bleed over the other ultra-high DPS school of thought: the magical buff build. Getting good magical buff damage on a weapon requires a heavy (50+) stay investment to make it worthwhile (50 FTH = 199 extra damage per hit), and your physical damage stats will suffer as a result. Oh, that damage is split between multiple resistances, so much less than what's on the label will get through, your buff has a time limit, players will play far more conservatively against you while it's on, and it can even be dispelled with the use of a duel charm. PvPers are far more likely to carry Duel Charms than bleed-healing items.

On the other hand, this build tacks on massive chunks of damage (36%+ of your opponent's HP) while also doing excellent physical damage that scales with LCK too. If bleed is healed, you just have to hit them a few times to build it back up again.

Here are the stats!

This build's stats are pretty straight-forward. Start as a warrior, which has good initial stats in all the things you need and very low FTH, INT and ATN, which you'll need exactly none of.

40 VIG gets you to the softcap. 33 END and the Ring of Favor gives you 152 stamina. This build is super aggressive but since its weapons are fairly light, 152 is more than enough to mount two assaults and run/roll around a ton in between without letting up Warriors start with 11 VIT which is plenty for our purposes. 22 STR is as much as we can dump into it while getting everything else we need; more would be nice, but not at the expense of anything else. If you really want to do more damage, wear the Prisoner's Chain (see previous build), and pump STR up. You'll want 40 DEX because bleed weapons are pretty much all have good DEX-scaling and 40 is the damage-scaling softcap. 40 is the LCK softcap too, so that's how much we have. More LCK would be nice, as the damage-scaling is still quite good until 60, but getting STR closer to 40 is a slightly better investment than taking LCK higher, so if you want more damage, do that. INT, FTH, and ATN are outside the scope of this build.

Weapons:

  • Warden Twinblades
    • These are probably the best weapons for causing bleed. Each blade adds 43 bleed build-up per hit (Hollow infusion +10, 40 LCK) and they strike quickly. The sequence of dual-wielding L1 strikes look very cool and cover a fairly wide area in front of you, but overall these curved swords have much less range than you'd think. Try to get right on top of an enemy before you start swinging if you want to catch them in a combo of strikes. The real reason these are great for bleed is the weapon art. It can't be parried as long as you have FP, and if you see it connect, you can press R2 to extend it into another spinning strike that is pretty much guaranteed to cause your opponent to bleed out. Land just a few of these and the fight's done. I like to use these in my left-hand slot because you can perform a parry with L2 when you aren't dual-wielding them. The parry is a bit slow, but can definitely catch a running, rolling, or charging attack.
  • Anri's Straight Sword
  • This thing is a beast! It's buffable, and also has the blessed infusion for mild health regen, and it scales with strength, dex, and massively with luck. Although impractical for a pvp build, if one were to wield it with 40 strength and dexterity along with 60 luck, it would have an attack rating of 563, which is just 7 damage shy of the Fume Ultra Greatsword! Add to that the fact that it has an excellent moveset (same as the longsword) and you have what is arguably the best sword in the game. A perfect sidearm for when you need to change-up and finish off an opponent fast. Also an excellent main weapon.
  • Onikiri and Ubadachi
    • These aren't nearly as good for building up bleed as the Warden Twinblades, and yet I still might like them more. Why? Because their moveset is way more versatile, and they have that tried-and-true katana running attack; it's just so good for chasing down enemies! Running L1 is just as fast as a normal katana running attack but you also get a second poke from the other blade (and extra bleed to go along with it) -- score! The leaping attack weapon art is unique, cool, and surprisingly safe to use. You can even use it quite close up; you'll stun your enemy when you leap into them before you land and strike. It's best to try to work the weapon art into combos; stun them with another strike, and then leap while they are recovering.
  • Washing Pole
    • Great range, good damage, powerful moveset, and bleed, too. Unfortunately, the super-fast bleed build-up of a dual wield weapon means you're still going to want something else for your primary, butt he Washing Pole makes a great sidearm. This katana's running R1 is even better than most because it comes with spear-like range. Just try not to abuse that running attack when your opponent isn't distressed, though. You'll only be encouraging your enemy to parry you.
  • Notched Whip
    • To round out Get Lucky's assorted torture devices, we have a thorn-laden whip, because she's a fun girl who knows how to party. Whips in Dark Souls III took a turn for the worse, mainly because they no longer parry when held in the off-hand, but they're still quite useful. Their main utility comes from the fact that they have long reach, weird timing, and weirder hitboxes, making them hard to dodge unless you're familiar with them. These qualities make a whip a strong way to finish a match if your opponent has suddenly lost their nerve upon reaching low health.
    • Infusing with bleed stones (which have very cool and grotesque flavour text) will significantly drop the whip's damage, which isn't that big of a deal to us because the whip isn't meant to be a primary source of damage anyway. What you get in exchange is a higher bleed rate (40, instead of 33, both before any LCK scaling), as well as higher damage when your enemy actually bleeds out. Infusing with bleed is in fact the only way to increase the damage done on bleed-out. In addition to the normal bleed out damage (18% of the enemy's max HP) bleed infused weapons do a flat 50 more damage on bleed-out, and 10 more damage per level of reinforcement the infused weapon has on top of that. So our bleed infused notched whip +10 will do 150 extra damage on bleed out. Not amazing, and certainly not worth infusing our twinblades with, but a nice way to increase the chance of the whip filling our enemy's already almost full bleed meter, and to get a bit of extra damage in when it does.

Rings:

  • Ring of Favor
    • Everyone's favorite ring from Dark Souls is back again! The Ring of Favor gives small bonuses to HP (3%), stamina (8.5%), and max equipment load (5%). The bonuses are certainly slight, but are you really going to tell me that you don't want more of all three of those things on a melee build? There are no downsides, unlike the Prisoner's Chain, and it boosts by a percentage, not a certain amount of stat points, so while the chain gets weaker the closer you are to the softcap for each affected stat, the Ring of Favor gets stronger!
  • Chloranthy Ring
    • I like the chloranthy ring quite a bit. Stamina is very important in the souls games and while this ring is far from mandatory, the +7 stamina regen per second means getting back in the fight a half-second faster, which like the Ring of Favor, might not seem like much, but it is -- especially you're swinging around a massive weapon. Anything you can do to make your build even more relentless, the better. Giving your enemy time to breathe means giving them time to think of a way to turn the tables.
  • Ring of Steel Protection
    • If you want to take less damage, this is a good place to start. The majority of damage you will take in PvP is of the physical variety, and this effectively reduces that damage by an additional 10%. My general philosophy is “don't get hit” but this build needs to be pretty aggressive, which often means getting smacked around a bit while looking for a good opening. This ring is just the thing to complete the look.

The final ring slot on this build is up to you. I made a case for the Prisoner's Ring, above. Other good candidates include:

  • Obscuring Ring
    • Your best bet if you are going to invade. This ring makes you disappear when you are further than ten meters away from your target. It only works against players and won't help you if you're the host of a world. Arrows that are drawn back to fire, and status effects with any visual components (like poison) will still appear normally, giving your position away. Even with those drawbacks, this ring is incredibly useful for invasions, allowing you to disengage, reposition, heal, scout, and then plan another attack.
  • Life Ring
    • Extra health is always nice, right? Well, this ring gives you 7% extra health, so… yay! Like the Obscuring Ring, it's not the best for honor dueling, since you only get to enjoy that extra HP until you take your first hit. That said, it can still make all the difference.
  • Knight's Ring
    • How'd you like an extra five strength? If you've avoided the Prisoner's Chain but still want to do a bit more damage, this is a good compromise.

Consumables:

  • Carthus Rouge
    • This is an absolute must if you're going for bleed. This item adds 45 extra bleed build up to whatever weapon you have in your right hand for one minute, which in practice means you can get your opponent to bleed out in just 3-4 hits; ouch. If you have your bleed weapons in your left-hand slot like me, just make sure you are dual-wielding them before you use the item. You can then pull your right-hand weapon back out and the buff will still be active on the remaining twinblade; switching away completely from the buffed weapon will remove the rouge though.
  • Kukri
    • It's important to have some form of ranged attack on any character. These knives fire off a lot slower than standard throwing knives, but they hit almost as hard as a shortbow, and also cause bleed build-up.
  • Green Blossom
    • +5 stamina regeneration per second. Stacks with Cloranthy Ring. Good source of dietary fiber. Nice but not necessary.
  • Estus
    • If your opponent takes a sip of their estus, stay calm and take a sip of your own estus if you want/need. Then, decide how you are going to prevent them from doing it again. Understand that despite your best efforts, your enemy might take a sip of estus again. If they do, stay calm and take a sip of your own estus if you want/need.
  • Undead Hunter Charms
    • These prevent estus use for a short time. You can tell when the effect is active because those affected will have a while steam/mist rising from them. They throw quite slowly, though.. Some enemies will just let you hit them with it, not understanding what it does, or confident they won't need estus; for the vast majority, you will need to anticipate where they are going and throw the charm there. This means dropping your lock-on, and also getting familiar with the strange way the souls games let you control throwing direction. It's hard, and I often just decide to trade getting hit with a poke for hitting someone with a charm to make sure I land it. If you want to practice, I'd recommend using firebombs.

Serious Moonlight (Let's Dance):

Want to out-think your opponent while you also outplay them? Want to carry around enough nasty tricks to fill a bag of holding? Want to give your enemies three simultaneous ways to eat massive damage and no option but to take it? Want to be a big magical jerk? This build has got you covered.

This build is unpredictable and 100% focused on pumping out as much magical damage via sorcery as possible. Pyromancy is probably a bit more viable in PvP than sorcery is at the moment, but sorcery is still far more flexible, and combined with INT scaling weapons like the Moonlight Greatsword, this build has a ton of options. Mixing it up is the name of the game.All that said, this build is definitely harder to use well than the previous two, but it's plays very differently from them so it's not necessary to master the others first. You can absolutely start your PvP journey here -- just understand that you're not taking the easiest path (that would be the Weaponmaster).

Here are the stats!

Start as a sorcerer (duh).

39 VIG gets you very close to the softcap. 24 ATN gives you 4 spell slots and 181 FP, which is “enough.” More is better, but to get another spell slot costs 6 more ATN points and to any more after that takes 10 more points per slot; it's not worth it. If you want more spell slots, get the Darkmoon Ring. 33 END gives you 141 stamina, which is enough considering that you'll want to be mid-range or further for half the fight (most builds don't get that luxury which is why they need more stamina and stamina regen). Sorcerers start with 7 VIT which isn't a lot but it's not worth dumping points into it to get more. 16 STR is all you need to wield the Moonlight Greatsword. 18 DEX so we can use the Astora Greatsword. INT is 60 because this build is all about sorcery and magic damage. Unlike previous souls games, 40 INT is not where magic scaling starts to diminish; instead, between 40 and 60 INT (or FTH) is where the bulk of your damage comes from, so it's really worth it to go all in. LCK and FTH are outside the scope of this build.

Weapons:

  • Moonlight Greatsword
    • This build was constructed specifically around this weapon. It has massive scaling from INT (up to 60 INT) and also benefits from the Magic Clutch ring. The sword itself has decent reach but thanks to the ability to shoot projectiles (fully charged R2s unleash waves of light) it has one of the longest ranges of any weapon in the game. These projectiles can be parried, so watch out. The best strategy, though, isn't to shoot lasers at your enemy (pew-pew). Instead, try to hit your foe with both the projectile and the swing; each will do its own damage and combine it's a ton. The Moonlight Greatsword's weapon-art is also fantastic, providing a short-range thrust that does big damage. The weapon-art is especially good for catching and punishing an opponent who dodged toward you to avoid one of your spells.
  • Astora Greatsword
    • The Astora Greatsword is back (you can read more about it in the Weaponmaster's section). This time you'll want to infuse it with a Crystal gem; that gives it surprisingly excellent INT scaling. If you want a way to trade hits with this build (and win the trade), this is it. That charging weapon-art is great, and is especially good at running folks off of a ledge.
  • Thrall Axe
    • This little weapon is fantastic and also incredibly annoying to fight against. Remember those horrible hollow slaves that drop down on you? Yeah, you get to be like them. Put simply, the Thrall Axe is a slightly weaker version of the Hand Axe that has the quickstep weapon art. It's the only weapon outside of daggers and claws that gets quickstep and the combination of a somewhat slow striking weapon with rapid dodges means you can play mindgames with your foes for days, making it incredibly hard for your foe to predict when exactly a strike will come. As long as you have 1 FP, every single frame of a quick-dodge is an invincibility frame; that's right, every attack against you will miss while you're quick-stepping. Equip at least one piece of thorn armor to be an extra big jerk (the tiny amount of damage from thorns won't do much besides counter Tears of Denial, but it does make many enemies panic all the same). Infuse it sharp and buff it with Crystal Magic Weapon. The Thrall Axe is a nasty little thing (it is basically Dark Souls 3's ninja flip ring). Expect folks to play as ruthlessly as they can against you, and also expect hate mail.
  • Court Sorcerer's Staff
    • This is going to be your catalyst. It starts scaling very well with INT from 40 onward and doesn't stop until you get over 60 INT. Yes, the Crystal Staff does a bit more damage but makes every spell cost way more FP so generally I don't think it's worth it; there are easier ways to boost your spell damage (see the next weapon)
  • Scholar's Candlestick
    • This dagger is a shitty weapon, even as far as daggers go. It's weapon art is horrible, maybe the worst in the game (more soapstone hints). It requires FTH to wield properly. Why is this garbage on this list? Because just having it equipped boosts all spell damage by 25%. Yes you read that correctly; 25% extra spell damage, applied at the very end and on top of every other boosting artifact you have (and you'll have a lot of them). You don't have to meet this weapon's stat requirements to get the bonus, either. All you have to do to get the bonus is have it in one of your hands (or on your belt, if you're two-handing your catalyst).

Spells:

  • Farron Flashsword
    • How would you like your offhand catalyst to also be a pure magic damage straight sword that's actually a bit faster than a straight sword? Always use this spell.
  • Soul Greatsword
    • This spell is fairly slow, especially considering it's for mid to close-range use, but mixing up timings is a good thing. Once cast, this spell quickly slices horizontally, covering a 270 degree cone in front of you (catching enemies that are trying to flank you in the process). It does a ton of damage, has very good reach, and is great against groups. It cuts through walls, too. Always use this spell.
  • Great Farron Dart
    • It doesn't do much damage but it's super fast. Great for chipping away at an opponent or finishing them off when they are at low health.   
  • Crystal Homing Soulmass
    • This spell is one of the most useful spells you have in your repertoire, but only if you use it well. Many players use this spell to take a free shot at their adversary that, while it will rarely hit, is nonetheless an opportunity for them to make a mistake and leave themselves open. Such use makes this spell mediocre at best. But if you cast it with your back turned, you can control when the spell fires. Now you can combine it with other attacks. Cast it, start to cast Crystal Soul Spear, then turn around as your foe approaches and hit them with a face full of everything you've got. Try to slightly stagger the spells, too, to further confound any attempt your enemy makes at evasion.
  • Crystal Soul Spear
    • Lots of damage, pierces through enemies and keeps going (good against ganks), but also very slow and with a high FP cost. Don't waste your time trying to get this to hit by spamming it. Use faster spells like Farron Dart and Soul Arrow and save this for when you've got your enemy right where you want them. Combine with Crystal Homing Soulmass to give your enemy more shit to dodge all at once.
  • Great Heavy Soul Arrow
    • Lots of damage and a low FP cost. Great for PvE (don't use soul spear for PvE it costs too much FP and doesn't do THAT much more damage). For PvP it's generally better to use Crystal Soul Spear, but it is slightly faster so keep that in mind if you're having trouble with casting speed.
  • Great Soul Arrow
    • Does a respectable amount of damage. Faster than Great Heavy Soul Arrow/Crystal Soul Spear and slower than Great Farron Dart. Remember to change between spells of different speeds to mess with your enemy's timing.
  • Crystal Magic Weapon
    • The best buff you've got. Won't work with Crystal infused weapons or boss weapons like the Moonlight Greatsword. I advise you to decide before you duel/invade if you want buff or not. It's best not to waste a spell slot if you aren't going to start with a buff (you'll likely not have time mid-fight to buff).
  • Hidden Body + Spook
    • Be a sneaky bastard. Fun but situational at best.

Rings:

  • Bellowing Dragoncrest Ring
    • 20% extra spell damage. Wear this.
  • Young Dragoncrest Ring
    • 12% extra spell damage. Stacks with Bellowing Dragoncrest ring. Wear this.
  • The Magic Clutch Ring
  • If you are a mage then these rings are great, borderline essential. Yes, you will be taking ~10% more physical damage (only physical, unlike The Prisoner's Chain), but trust me it's worth it to boost not only your spells' but also your buffs' and weapons' magic damage. Stacks with both the Young and Bellowing Dragoncrest rings. Wear this.
  • Lingering Dragoncrest Ring
    • 30% longer buff times. Hooray! If you want to buff, then switch out the Young Dragoncrest Ring for this one.

The final ring slot is up to you. Here's a list to choose from:

  • Darkmoon Ring
    • I am so so sorry, but this ring, which gives not one but two extra spell slots, is my top vote for your final ring slot. ATN after 24 has such diminishing returns and 4 spells is enough but far from plenty. Why am I sorry? Because this ring is an absolutely horrible pain in the ass to get. I'm not even going to go into the details, but it involves doing a complicated NPC quest (Sirris'), and also participating in the badly broken counter-invasion covenants (it's a Darkmoon Blade covenant reward). But 2 spell slots on one ring is super good!!! I'm sorry!
  • Obscuring ring:
  • This ring makes you disappear when you are further than ten meters away from your target. It only works against players and won't help you if you're the host of a world. Spells and status effects with any visual components (like poison or Homing Soul Arrow) will still appear normally, giving your position away. It does NOT give your position away while you are casting, though (as long as you're 10 meters away). You are a sneaky bastard; you are a magical trickster. This ring was made for you!
  • The Stoneplate Rings:
    • These are nice but wearing one all the time isn't really viable for PvP. There are certainly some exceptions -- you are looking to protect that rad dragon beach-bod from lightning, or want to wear the Crown of Dusk and not cry bitter tears vs magic damage -- but generally speaking the Stoneplate rings are best for PvE when you know what kind of element is prevalent in the area you are currently in. If, however, you are a ring-switching master (see pro-strats below) then switching one of these on if you notice your opponent favoring a single element isn't a bad idea at all, but also isn't anything approaching necessary.
  • Sage ring:
    • If you're having a hard time getting your spells off before getting smacked, this ring will increase your casting speed. The slower the spell, the more powerful the impact this ring will have, and since Sorcery is already the fastest school of magic, you're only going to a handful of frames faster, but it can still make a difference. Remember that DEX also increases your casting speed so don't stacks DEX and waste a ring slot too, as there is still a hard cap to how fast you can cast. The sweet spot is 15 DEX and this ring; that will give you max speed. The only way to cast faster is to use the Witchtree Branch catalyst, which will hugely speed up your spells in exchange greatly reducing your damage (not worth it, in my opinion).

Now get out there, and get hunting!

Claris Cyarron is a Dark Souls PvP grandmaster. You may remember her from such hits as Screaming about Architecture for Hours Online, Reviewing scary altgames on Zam, Writing a Dating Sim about Casual Sex with Buildings or That “Game” about Driving at Night.