In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:
- This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
- This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
- While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
- The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic
When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.
Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.
You know it’s not an intentional thing, but it seems that in the month of February, How To Be returns to the world of Ranma 1/2. Ah, what a wonderful world, the world where we have characters who fight with brooms or teleport or turn into gods and throw lightning bolts. Who are we going to visit here, in this mysterious world of creative martial arts?
Oh wait it’s in the subject you clicked on to go read this.
Examining Akane Tendo
Okay, okay, you may be going ‘like, why would I want to play Akane? Akane is the rescue Doll. Akane is the character who sucks and needs to be fought over by idiot boys like Ranma and Ryouga, or idiot girls, like Ranma and Mariko.’ And that’s how I know you’re a fake fan who liked the OAVs I bet.
Akane Tendo is in the Ranmaverse, our baseline. She is ground zero. She is the first martial artist who we see interact with actual, normal, everyday humans, and she is capable of fighting her way through a cloud of people, her own age, all of whom are larger than her, regularly, every morning, even when they are represented as being armed and armoured. It’s not until she encounters the nonsense martial arts represented by Ranma and his tier of martial artists — with the bottom end of that being Tatewaki Kuno from her school — that she’s even inconvenienced much.
Kuno is a dreadfully dangerous opponent and Akane fights him to a standstill.
In a world where complete nonsense martial arts don’t happen, in an ordinary girl-does-a-sports anime, Akane Tendo would be the ace of aces. It would be a story not about how she could possibly win The Tournament and Save The Day, but how a scheming set of conspiracies against her keep her from just walking through it. Akane Tendo is, by the standards of the form, a badass.
And then into her Rocky But A Girl movie waltzes Big Trouble from Not Really China.
How then do we go about representing being amazing at not total bullshit fighting?
The Essential Akane Tendo
This is a different one to what you expect, though. Because normally, when you’re trying to build a character you’re left with a question of ‘what class will give me the abilities I want.’ And the thing is, you don’t want anything challenging or difficult here. The simplest option here is to just check which roles are available to you and gun it. Striker? Rogue or Ranger. Defender? Fighter or Knight. Controller? Hunter. Leader? Behold the glory of the Warlord.
There’s nothing remarkable there, the class will sort itself out and you can don’t need to build anything remarkable there. You’re not going to pursue any odd, hard to represent effects, or create some absurd synergy. Akane is instead a connection of the ordinary.
That universal platform, though, is however, more than any other setup or combination of setups, reliant on weapons.
And this is the thing about Akane: She is a proficient weapon user. Akane grabs weapons (not hammers, haha), and she duels people. Thing is, weapon users in the Ranma 1/2 universe are inferior to People Who Use Goofy Ridiculousness. Ryouga fights with an umbrella, Shinnosuke with a broom, Tarou with tentacles, it’s a whole world for people who do nonsense. As you check the power levels, the more dangerous and powerful a character is the less likely they are to be a weapon user, with the real powerhouse threats like Happousai and Cologne using things that ‘look’ like weapons but never when they’re being truly serious.
Yep I said ‘powerhouse threats like Happousai’ in the year of our lord 2022. Epsilon didn’t die for this internet, god damn.
Look, in a sensible world of sensible combat, though, weapons are tools we designed to make us better at fighting things and Akane is very good at using them. What then, of weapons? If weapons are good and Akane is good with weapons, what do your weapon choices let you do?
Obviously. Akane is going to punch things if she can, she’s going to do throws and grabs and punches and smashes into people’s sternums with some big ole crunchers. We see her do a lot of this, throwing people around.
To get to fight with your fists, you have a few options; there’s spiked gauntlets, and the gauntlet axe. These are weapons that leave the hand free, so you can do grabs. Well, why would you want these? An obvious option is if you want to play a grappling fighter. Rogues don’t like using these weapons if they can help it – axes don’t work with a lot of rogue stuff – but there’s a whole category of fighter builds that can benefit from having their hand free. If you want to do damage, the punch gauntlets are pretty good on a ranger, and look, Twin Strike is a faerie godmother of a power: Almost every good thing you can do with axes, like Headsman’s Chop, twin strike makes better.
And surprisingly, we also get to see Akane wielding a sword. She’s often using a wooden practice sword, and I’m not going to get into the descriptive terminology for the specific type. Sometimes it’s got both her hands on it, sometimes it’s got just one – there’s room for both.
Anyway, the glory of 4e is that a completely blunt sword is still going to behave like a sword, for the most part. Swords give you reach and a way of extending force and often a way of narrowing it down, so while sharpening it makes it even more dangerous, there’s still no reason a wooden sword would be a ‘club’ and not a ‘sword.’
And oh boy, we’re going to talk about racism in weapon categories one day, let me tell you.
Swords have two major groupings, heavy and light blades. If you go ranger, you probably want light blades, but that’ll ask you to wield two, which we don’t see except when she picks up Shampoo’s bonbori (which does happen occasionally, but she doesn’t fight with them). Also I think bonbori might count as mace, and if you put a bonbori to my head I wouldn’t be able to tell you with 100% certainty if that’s what they’re actually called.
If you instead go for a single big weapon character, then you’re probably going to want to go for heavy blades. That’s probably going to push you towards the fighter or knight. An element here is that everyone wants an Expertise feat, to help sort out some of the math, and for some characters that’s really easy – like, you use flails? Flail expertise is probably fine for you. Heavy blades, though, big two handed crunchers, they’ve got a bunch of options which is good because heavy blades expertise gives you a secondary effect that you can replace with a good, cheap, reliable magic item.
Instead I’m going to recommend Two Handed Weapon expertise, which gives you an untyped bonus to damage, when you charge.
But wait, Akane’s not stuck in melee. We also see her using a yumi, which a wiki assures me is a traditional samurai form of bow. Well, if you wanted to focus on this, well, the hunter and ranger both have options and so does the Warlord. You can stand in the back and bellow people into health while you shoot at things.
Bows don’t let you take attacks of opportunity, of course. You can still take them – but you do so with your fist or unarmed weapons because you can always kick. Which brings me to a point from the axe gauntlets: It’s a good idea to have them anyway, because this way you’ve got a better attack, and one you can enhance magically, if you use a ranged weapon.
Something I wish it was easier to handle with a character like Akane was her lack of armour. While she wears a gi and those are not light fabric, and it’s usually good enough for a character wearing neck-to-knee to be considered ‘armoured’ in these kind of thematic spaces. The best lightly-armoured character I could imagine who could run around in a cloth gi and still be combat-melee capable was unfortunately, the Avenger – a class that really doesn’t fit with Akane’s down-to-earth made-of-dirt kind of punch-kick-slam style of fighting.
Look, sometimes a build needs to be complicated. And a lot of the time it doesn’t need to be.