How To Be: Corvo Attano (In 4E D&D)

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.

This time, we’re going to try and capture the feeling of the Knight Protector of the Empress of Dunwall woops oh no it’s all gone wrong, Corvo Attano.

Examining Corvo

First of all when we put together a Corvo, there’s going to be a problem presented by what Corvo can’t do compared to his videogame incarnation. Dishonored is a stealth game (with a combat game attached, I guess) and in that capacity, Corvo spends a lot of time finding the best opportunities to ick targets with one extremely well-timed hit, or choke them out in a single moment.

In D&D, that’s not something that your character can generally do, since combat is much more of an exchange of attacks and attrition through hitpoints. It’s not that Corvo doesn’t have this kind of situation, though because there are things he can face that are very much not human and need special precautions and softening up before he can dismantle them in a puzzle kind of situation. A good way to think of it is that a lot of the things Corvo deals with are minions, and his time spent skulking around and hunting is trying to find the ways to deal with a world where there are enough minions to keep a beast like him contained. They can meaningfully threaten him after all!

With that in mind, what else do we have going on?

  • Corvo is a stealthy person who can fight people in melee
  • Corvo can have magical abilities that attack people at range
  • Corvo can wield melee and ranged weapons with equal skill
  • Corvo often wields two weapons at a time
  • When Corvo isn’t wielding two weapons, he’s wielding a weapon in one hand, magic in the other
  • Corvo can approach problems with direct violence, but doesn’t have to

There are lots of different ways to make your Corvo, but most of all:

  • Corvo blinks

There’s another extra bonus here, which is almost everything that we explore for Corvo here we’ll be able to replicate again for Emily Kaldwin, Daud, and Billie Lurk – the general suite of cool powers coupled with the way to build these characters means there’s a lot of room once you have the basic package down to create any one of these characters in your way.

What’s also worth adding to this list is some stuff that’s not very Corvo

  • Corvo, like others prior, doesn’t seem to wear a shield
  • Corvo’s armour situation looks a lot like clothes; maybe you could hide some hide or leather or chain under that coat, but there’s no way he’s clanking around in a full plate arrangement
  • Corvo can’t do everything all the time – he does need moments to relax and recover
  • Corvo doesn’t seem to heal other people much, nor is he inclined to support others except by clearing out targets.

With that in mind, what we’re looking at for now is some kind of melee character with utility abilities, some capacity to teleport, medium to light armour, some form of stealth or concealment power, and probably in a Striker, Defender or Controller role.

It is entirely possible to build a Corvo who does not teleport. In Dishonored and Dishonored 2 you might hear this called a flesh and steel run, where you reject the special powers and don’t upgrade the ones you get. At that point you’re looking at a character who probably is more about a collection of gear and your particular flavour of mundane designed Fighter or Rogue than anything this post is going to help you with.

Similarly, in the videogame, you can play a Corvo who never kills anyone and just chokes them out and puts them into torture machines (a clean hands run). Now, in 4th Edition D&D, it’s actually up to you, the player, to determine if the damage you dealt when the target drops was ‘lethal or not,’ which can make this remarkably easy to do – there’s no special punishment for knocking people out rather than making them hecking dead. You know, ‘I knife them, nonlethally.’

What I’m going to assume, going forward, is that you want someone who plays like a Corvo who does a mix of things. Some stealth, some combat, some magic nonsense. Things like springrazors and trap mines, that’s gear you need to talk to your DM about.

For now, though, we’re going to talk about Teleports.

Option 0 – Teleport Malarkey

Teleports are really good! They sit alongside flying as some of the best movement in the game – you don’t provoke attacks, you move through enemies, you don’t have to care about moving around things and you can attack enemies in angles they often don’t plan for. They’re also great for general utility, where you can do things like get out of prisons, get to hard-to-reach objects, put dangerous objects in places that are hard to get to.

They also tend to be paragonny. A lot of these builds will work out for some teleports with cooldowns in heroic tier, which is a bummer, but they should all work just fine. It’s when you get to Paragon that these options take off and you start doing extremely cool things on the regular. In heroic tier, teleporting is the reward of teleporting – in Paragon, your teleports start to trigger other things that are the rewards of teleporting. We’re only going to spread our focus to generally describe some Paragon stuff here, though.

There’s a bunch of things in the game that grant teleports, but most of the stuff on items is bad – often on narrow, specific dailies. The best way to teleport wants to be on your powers. While your base teleport options out of items may be bad, other things can provide you with a lot of teleport improvements.

When it comes to improving teleports, the Mark of Passage from the Eberron Player’s Guide is a pretty easy one; it makes your teleports all 1 square bigger, and it does other stuff as well. There’s also Eladrin Armour (which is pretty cheap), and Eladrin Boots (which are Paragon), which between them add to your teleport distances. If you have a humble Teleport 1 at that point, with those three options, it becomes a teleport 4, which is a huge difference.

There are other options that make teleports even better, but I want to make sure you think of yourself as having as many slots as possible open for other gear. Telling you to fill every slot with teleport improving options is a bit of a jerk move.

Also, what race to play? You can either turn to your class for Teleporting powers (and we’ll get there), but if you get your blink from your race, you can stick other character classes on top of it. Every option should work pretty fine (and Corvo is a pretty good choice for just a human), but there are three notable options here for playing a blinking character with racial options.

The Eladrin get a racial teleport that is well supported (and we’ll look at it in one of our builds). The Revenant get the ability to pick and choose from another race, so they can juke the Eladrin’s thing. These give you some thinky-smart kind of characters to work with for your Corvo base, which I feel jives pretty well with him. The guy is tough sure, but when you watch him fight it’s often about perfectly putting a knife someplace when the opportunity presents itself, not brute-forcing his way through someone’s guard. Finally, there’s the Tiefling who can use the racial feat Secrets of Belial to get a Utility from another class, which is to say, the Tiefling can take Ethereal Sidestep, a Warlock power that is just an at-will teleport.

Finally, there is special mention of a weapon called the staff of the traveler. This is a great thing for people who can use staffs as a weapon (and there are lots of options there). The problem with it is that it’s a staff – and not a knife. If your DM is willing to give you the staff of the traveller as a one-handed knife, or maybe make it so you can keep your hand empty, that’d be great? Because the Staff of the Traveller suddenly makes all your shifts into teleports, and shifts becoming teleports means that a whole range of character classes can be come more Corvo-ish, like the Ranger.

Option 0.5 – The Everything Stuff

Oh wait, dang there’s also one other simple thing everyone wants. Okay, for Stealth, not every class I’ve mentioned gets it. It seems pretty obvious that a Corvo should have a good Stealth roll, but the good news is that you can get that from backgrounds. Particularly, the Silent Hunter background gives you Stealth and Perception as class skills, and a +1 to each of those skills, so you probably want that to make choosing your skills a little easier.

If you want to play with the lighter armor, check out the Elven Chain Shirt, an item that makes all light armor characters more surviable, because I dunno, who cares about the armour system really.

Option 1 – The (Swordmage) Knight

Hey, remember out friend the Knight? Well, turns out that if you build a Knight there are some options involving teleporting and the Knight. Particularly, there’s the power Glimmering Blade, and the power Feywild Guardian. If you take those, your knight can teleport every time they hit someone with a basic attack, and any time someone shifts away from you, or attacks an ally of yours, you can teleport to them and make a basic attack.

If you couple this with sliding weaponry (like that Mark of Thunder nonsense from last time), if someone near you attacks an ally, you can teleport to them, hit them, kick them a few squares away, then teleport to where they’ve landed. that’s pretty sweet!

Note that this option works at level 1. If you want to pick this up, check out Dragon 395 where all these options live. Since you have to be an Eladrin (or Revenant being an Eladrin) for this, you can pick up the theme Iliyanbruen Guardian, and then when you ues your fey step, you can teleport an ally as well.

But we’re not done yet. The Knight wants good basic attacks, right? And Eladrin (and Revenants) don’t get good Strength? Well, while still in heroic, you can pick up Blade Initiate. This means you’re now also a Swordmage. And Swordmages can take the feat Intelligent Blademaster, which means at level 2, your Knight can be making intelligence-based, basic attacks!

What’s more, once you open this combo up you get some really sweet synergies when you hit Paragon. Particularly, there’s the feat Fey Charge, in Paragon; when you use that, you can charge people and turn distance in the charge into your fey wild teleport. That’s pretty cool. Since you have that Iliyanbruen Guardian theme, you can bring someone with you (which isn’t super Corvo, but is still nice). If you hit, you don’t use up the teleport! And then there’s the feat Eladrin Swordmage Advance, which means that when you Fey Step next to someone, you get a basic attack.

Which means, for a knight, in Paragon, you can see an enemy across a ravine, go ‘oi, you,’ charge them across the gap, when you come out of the teleport, you smack ’em twice, and then teleport to the worst possible space for that enemy to have you. That’s pretty spicy, and that’s an ‘always on’ kind of effect.

Oh and one final weird thing: The Knight can wield the Staff of the Traveler?

That’s all pretty stuffed, but if you want to play your Corvo as someone who teleports to get into an enemy’s face and mash theirs in, this is the place to go.

Option 2 –The Striker

Woo, that was a lot wasn’t it? Well, if you want to play a Corvo who’s more about teleporting to someone and delivering devastating attacks with some magic on hand, may I suggest you check out The Avenger?

The Avenger is really good for capturing that feeling of an assassin or hunter, and you almost don’t need to do anything to make this build feel Corvo-ish, because the class with the most teleport powers in the game is already the Avenger. You can teleport on your own power starting at level 2, and the powers keep adding more options later on. When you take feats like the Mark of Passage, you just make these existing powers you have even better.

(And uh, if you’re an Eladrin, and multiclass Swordmage, and take Power of Skill and Eladrin Swordmage Advance and I know that’s a lot, but bear with me here, you can teleport to someone, Overwhelming Strike them, reposition yourself and kick them to where you want to be. Anyway.)

Option 3 – The Warlock

If your flavour of Corvo is knife in one hand, magic in the other, and teleporting around to mess with people, the Warlock is really your best place to go.

If you break down the list of things that Corvo and Emily can do across both games in terms of supernatural nonsense, you get a list that looks like this, and the corresponding warlock power that can do that job at as low a level as possible:

  • Devouring Swarm (Void Blast 3)
  • Possession (Command Insanity 9)
  • Bend Time (Otherwind Stride, complete with teleport 3)
  • Windblast (Echoing Dirge, at will, level 1)
  • Semblence (Stealth check to disguise yourself)
  • Shadow Form (Shadow Form, literally, the same name, level 10)

Would I pick all these powers? No. I think that Ethereal Sidestep is too cool a power to pass up at level 10. But flavouring area blasts and attacks from a Warlock as being swarms of rats or flies is pretty easy, and the Warlock toybox is full of teleports of both yourself and others that are very easy to slide into the concept space of Corvo As The Boogeyman.

You also get to summon a weirdo friend if you go Hexblade Warlock, a demon that will hang around and fight things for you, but you could have them around in non-combat situations to pester you if the DM likes that kind of character dynamic, ala the whispering voices of the beating heart!

Junk Drawer Options

I’ve really focused on the ‘melee character who blinks’ element of Corvo, but if you wanted to, you could go for the melee combatant element of a druid. I seem to keep mentioning the Druid, but still. The masked, bone-and-rat lord kind of character can work really well for the druid’s existing skill set, and if you’re angling to play a melee controller, the Druid really is the large and in charge boss of that house.

This one’s already bigger than the others, and that’s in part because teleportation is a reasonably available skill set, and when you want to bolt that package onto someone else, you can find connected packages. You could make a Tiefling Rogue and teleport around the battlefield to make high-impact basics against enemy after enemy and the build functions in all other ways as just a rogue. You could multiclass into assassin for an encounter teleport, then use gear to make that one teleport even better.

Teleporting is really powerful and I’ve kind of just scraped the surface of what I think makes it great. I’m going to recommend if you do look into it, think in terms of renewable resources. At-Will teleports are good, and effects that trigger on teleports that give you an extra action (like an attack or heal) are great.