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 authoritive 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.
We have a bit of a special one this month: Not a character I know, or am familiar with, but who has been in my life and around me for some time. We’re going to look at the character Daryun from The Heroic Legend of Arslan, a novel series some thirty-five years old, which was reimagined and reinvigorated through the heroic work of Hiromu Arakawa. So, imagine a deep, long-running heroic fantasy war epic, which then had one of the greatest living manga-ka come through and give it a bit of a brush up.
We’re going to talk about a hot prince’s best friend, who he loves so much he was buried with him (but, in a not gay way, if you believe the fandom wiki): Daryun.
Alright, for those of you (us) not aware of this preposterous Battle Hunk, let’s have a look at Daryun, Just Daryan, No Surname, Weird. In the story he’s from, Daryun is this sort of violence elemental poured into the form of a Good Good boy, a gifted horseman and knight who, at the start of the story, suffers unfair punishment because he made a bad choice which, it turns out, was, in fact, a good choice, and the person he opposed was a traitor. As this is a story of empires, just because a decision was dumb doesn’t mean that it gets rescinded, especially because stuff went supremely sideways and kicked off the plot.
What we have to start with then is a disgraced knight who was disgraced for being too right and exiled with his prince who is too great, and how they are going to go be awesome at the rest of the empire.
I’m half kidding.
The first thing and most obvious thing about Daryun is that he’s an absolute nightmare of a combatant. In a setting full of Musou combat nonsense, Daryun is a boss monster. There are chapters of the manga dedicated to showing Daryun wrecking shop. There’s a major plot beat about the first time Arslan has to consider that Daryun can die, at least in the hypothetical. In a story full of people whose job it is to hurt people, Daryun is the Employee of the Month, Every Month, Montherfucker.
Daryun is a devoted retainer. Focal to his story is the importance he puts on protecting Arslan and enacting his aims. Fortunately for Daryun’s skillset, these aims are grotesque and overwhelming violence. Still, keep that one in mind: Daryun may be very violent and a very capable combatant, but he is also very much focused on protecting Arslan. That puts us pretty squarely towards ‘defender’ territory.
Daryun doesn’t really… do magic? It isn’t that the Arslan setting lacks for magic; there are sorcerers and wizards after all. But Daryun’s very much more about spears and swords and bows and other spears and good lord, there’s blood everywhere. That pushes us away from magical things. We might be able to squeeze in some things that are magical but don’t look like magic.
As far as abilities go, Daryun’s a bit of a risky one. See, he’s not just a combat juggernaut, but he also isn’t stupid, and he’s terrifying. Enemies that hear Daryun is coming to fight them sometimes desert. While there’s a certain greatness to him in general, it’s hard to argue he’s ‘bad’ at any particular ability score. The closest we can get is maybe the idea that he’s a little lacking in the wisdom department because of his intense dedication to Arslan, but since the ideology of how Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma work can be nebulous, it’s probably best to just assert ‘he’s fine’ in those stakes.
This can be a good thing, of course; it can mean that any of those three mental stats that needs to be good for a build fits. It’s not like your character has to have high stats to convey the right tone, it’s just it’s best to not be markedly bad at things. Have the stats you rely on be the stats that feel right for the character.
Okay, that gives us:
- Physical combat prowess
- Ability to protect someone
- Polearms, swords and bow, if necessary
- He is feared and fearsome
Oh, and, because it’s Pride month, Daryun can’t have a shield. It’s dodge rolls only.
- No shields
The Essential Daryun
First up: Daryun needs to be a combat beast. It’s funny this article was coming up while the current bubble of 4e Discourse is going on, where it’d be great to do an article about martial disciplines and rituals and all sorts of non-combat stuff characters can do. Instead, nope, we have a character who approaches every problem like it’s a tree made of meat that needs to be cut down and then he proceeds to do it.
Armour wise, Daryun wears heavy armour and while he’s zippy in it (because it’s a manga) you don’t have that luxury. Getting some gear to make yourself tougher and faster is fine, all the standard options for a defender are going to work here. You are going to have your boot slot taken though, for reasons we’ll get to.
Daryun is an archer and a equestrian in the original story (there’s even a funny bit where Arslan tries to use his bow and can’t draw it), but we’re going to focus on the spear build this time. Particularly beacuse the kind of polearm he uses in the manga looks like a Ji, a really cool type of thing that westerners might go ‘kinda a spear’ or ‘kinda a halberd.’ I’m told – by the Wikipedia page I just linked that it’s not really either of those things, but it’s cool and let’s go with that.
It opens the door to one of those odd little strangles of balance in 4th edition, where there is actually one of those points where a DM might go ‘huh, that might be a problem.’ It’s not that the effect is overwhelming, it’s that over time, with enough 4e players, you’re going to notice players gravitating towards it. It was a comment on the character optimisation boards that for a time there, this grouping of feats was the most commonly obtained thing, and it involved multiclassing fighter.
Which is wild.
You hear that? 4e D&D’s most commonly multiclassed option according to the character optimisation nerds was people wanting to be like the fighter.
Fucking beat that with a stick.
Anyway, Polearm Momentum is a feat from Martial Power. What it does is say that whenever you push pull or slide an enemy 2 or more squares, they’re prone at the end of that. When you look at this agnostically, that’s good. Any of your encounter powers that come with a push or a slide will throw your enemies onto their butts, and deprive them of an action on the next turn where they have to get back up from prone. Great. Then you start to think about it more, and you notice it doesn’t care about encounter powers. Or daily powers. It cares about any time you use an attack to push pull or slide.
Like your at will powers.
Like a not-insignificant number of basic attacks.
Like you can do as an opportunity action.
What happens, you may wonder, if you interrupt someone’s turn with forced movement? Well, it can interrupt their actions. Opportunity attacks happen before the thing that triggered them resolved. If an opponent provokes an attack of opportunity from you while moving past you, and your attack knocks them prone, their movement ends and they have to decide what to do after that point. Most of the time, they want to just get up, but then that’s a whole action. They can attack from prone – if they want – at a penalty. That’s pretty good – it means enemies trying to get around or past you are going to risk being knocked over and forced to fight just you.
Tacking that onto a push however, or a slide, means that you can hit someone, knock them two squares away from you and knock them over. You can use this to position opponents where literally nobody is in reach of their attacks, effectively turning off an entire turn from an opponent. That’s pretty strong! Most of the time, their best option is to get up on their own turn and, without many other options, charge someone. If you position yourself right, they might only be able to charge you. This is a lot of battlefield control, and on your own turn, odds are good you can just huck ’em backwards again. It also starts to mitigate combat damage when you throw in the feat Polearm Gamble.
Polearm Gamble lets you make opportunity attacks against someone when they enter a square next to you.
That means if they do get up and charge you, you attack them and throw them backwards again, and prone them again. Their entire turn is spent doing nothing, and you got to attack them.
This is how a single soldier can kill an army – one at a time.
Now, in order to get this kind of effect you do need to draw some pieces together. Particularly, you want a polearm weapon. While there are a lot of options, they can require more feats; the Greatspear gives a +3 proficiency bonus but needs a feat, while the Halberd can stand in for the Ji (I know, I know). If you want to get axe benefits, the halberd will do the trick. Oh and they’re Reach weapons, so you can whack people at range to throw them around and prone them. That’s cool.
You’re also going to want a way to push or slide things for 2 squares with a melee attack that uses a weapon. That’s easy for some classes, tricky for others. Pushing one square is doable (and we’ll talk about it), and then you can augment that push with the magic item Rushing Cleats. These are a pair of boots that increase your pushes and slides by 1 square. That’s the core:
- Polearm Momentum feat
- Basic-attack power that can push or slide 1 square
- Rushing cleats
From there you unlock a lot of other possible things that make this better; for example, if you’re fighting lots of prone enemies thanks to the Polearm Momentum, and you’re using an axe-polearm like a Halberd, you may want to get Headsman’s Chop. You may want Polearm Gamble in Paragon. You may focus on proning, or forced movement, or on polearm stuff.
Also, for all these builds I’m recommending Daryun take the Guardian theme. You just need to ask someone else to provide the slender willowy prettyboy prince for you to always want to protect (happy Pride).
Representing Fear Of Complexity: Knight
This is the simplest possible build. I’m never that wild about the Knight, because while it gives you a lot of simple, straightforward power, it does so by giving you a set of player choices at level 1 that sort of just… last for the rest of the game. The Knight gains basically no benefit, at base, from Dexterity or Wisdom, but that does mean you can focus on the straightforward ‘hit things good’ stats and abilities.
At the really low levels, you can use your stance for a little advantage in damage. Now, you can start out with a race/heritage option that gives you +2 Dex and Wis, and pick up Polearm Momentum at level 1… and do nothing with it. My advice is instead, focus on getting that strength you want as high as possible, use some stat levelling up to push your Dexterity or Wisdom up high enough to qualify for the feat, and wait until level 6 to get Polearm Momentum. As mentioned above, you really want your Rushing Cleats, which you’re unlikely to have access to at level 4.
Okay, out of the box, the knight starts doing the push-people-around garbage at level 1, and it just gets worse. Next!
Representing Fear Of Flexibility: Fighter
The Fighter gives you a lot more choices and a lot more flexibility. It also has to do some chicanery to have a basic attack with a push or slide on it. Now, you can chase up the old standby from the Thor article, with Mark of Storm and a Lightning weapon. That’ll do a fighter (and anyone else really). But even simpler than that is the Fighter Weapon Talent (which gives you a bonus to hit), and then throw in Forceful Weapon Opportunist (which means you push on all opportunity attacks, regardless of the power used to get them).
But the fighter gets to make more with its shifts and slides when it gets rushing cleats, too, because of a lot of different push-pull-slide powers you can pick up as you go. As a reliable At Will, I’d recommend Tide Of Iron, which lets you drag a thing multiple squares – and two or more squares of slide can be the difference between being flanked or not, and it lets you make choke points for your enemies.
Representing Fear Of Fights With Daryun: Battlemind
Alright, so here’s the awkward one. See, the Battlemind doesn’t get an opportunity attack with a push; but it does get a lot of at-wills with pushes. The one I recommend up front is Bull’s Strength, which is both thematically cogniscant with Daryun but also just can turn into an immense whoah that knocks people down in a great big group.
What’s more, the Battlemind gets to build around Constitution, and can get benefits from Wisdom and Dexterity. You will need to multiclass as a fighter. Wrathful Warrior will cover you there, and it also only cares about having a good Constitution. Great stuff!
Now this build is pretty stuffed in Heroic, and it doesn’t get to do the opportunity control until you hit paragon – but once you do, suddenly you just become something terrifying. You’ll want Heavy Blade Opportunity and a Polearm that counts as a polearm and a heavy blade (hiya, Glaive!), but once you do that, you’ll be Bulls Strengthing people around off-turn, teleport around with Lightning Rush and hey, maybe even Brutal Barraging people, as a treat.
Also the Battlemind is just one of the most anime fighters in the game. Melee attacks, barrages of attacks, teleporting to take hits before your ally does, striking someone before they strike you – it’s just such a great class for representing an ‘anime fighter’ character. It’s going to work just fine levelling up, but it’ll really get that Daryun-style Who The Fuck Is Better Than Me coherent violence ball once you start opening up at Paragon.
Junk Drawer Options
Now, if you set aside our idea that he has to be a defender you open up a little. The trick is what it opens up. See, Daryun could be a Ranger (you see him fighting with a sword-and-spear at times) and those are generally strong. Warlord, that works too, if you build for a lot of personal attacks and putting yourself at risk. For me, the vibe i get off Daryun is overwhelmingly tough to go with being threatening, so classes like the Rogue and Skald don’t feel like good fits. You can also make the case that a love for his lord, Arslan could be seen as an article of faith, and take him as a Crusader or Paladin, but those classes have a harder time making Polearm Momentum work in Heroic.
The Berserker, if you can handle the theme of Daryun losing his poop over something and flying into a rage, is going to do great with a polearm too. It even has a baseline at-will power for that, Savage Reach.
If you go into Paragon, though, suddenly you open up a lot of options; the Half Elf can take Versatile Master with a power borrowed from another class (like Eldritch Strike). I like that a lot, but it isn’t going to work before Paragon and that’s not how we do here.
This is a long one, I know! And part of why it’s long is because the Polearm Fighter is so powerful that I wanted to present a meaningful, useful way to access it. But I think it deserves special mention that part of how this works is about people wanting to be a fighter who could reliably knock people back and knock them down, whenever they want – which is interesting, isn’t it? 4th edition giving fighters things to do that include reliable combat abilities they can do at will?
Oh well I’m sure it’s nothing.