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 month, I felt it was time to approach the challenge from a different angle, of taking something with an obvious, easy, simple solution and then exploring around that. And for that, we’re going to look at a classic character, a character who’s so well known we don’t even remember we’re referencing him when we reference him. A folk hero, a hero who defined a generation and set thousands of people on their path that would determine the kind of person they’d be.
We’re going to look at Robin Hood.
Specifically, the 1973 Disney’s Robin Hood.
Examining Robin Hood
If we looked at Robin Hood, the character from the folklore, we’d be talking about a lot of different ideas. That character is shown fighting with a host of weapons, usually not doing anything particularly tricksy in a chemical sense (no potions and poisons), sometimes he’s a wonderful singer and he’s usually an excellent archer. That’s fine, but in the Disney movie, we don’t get nearly as much variety.
In the Disney version, Robin Hood is an archer. It’s very, very clear – when he has to ‘fight’ it’s by shooting arrows at things, and he’s very good at it. It’s not the whole of what he does, but when you look at the things this character can do, ‘archer’ is definitely an important component. High dexterity builds, for example.
Robin Hood’s also a wily lad. There’s a cunning to what he does, and even if he’s strong he’s not shown as strength being most important. In fact, he’s probably least strong of all the things he is – he survives a terrible fall, he can disguise himself well, fool people, see enemies coming well, and of course, he’s smart. All of this pulls together suggesting that whatever this Robin Hood does, it’s going to be relying on something other than strength.
There’s a lot of skills we can reasonably point to for Robin Hood. He’s able to lie, cheat, sneak past guards, survive in the wilderness, fool people, scare opponents and make makeshift devices. He can even dance. Any version of him is going to want to at least hit the goals of being able to train in one or more of those skills.
You don’t see him wearing much armour. I’m not going to go full ‘well he must be in cloth armour’ with that, but I think it’s reasonable to assume this is a lightly armoured character.
That gives us:
- He’s an archer
- He’s smart and cunning, not necessarily strong
- Light armour
- No clear magical abilities
Then there’s also that he’s a sexy fox.
Don’t give me that look, you know a lot of people who think that, even if they haven’t told you.
The Essential Robin Hood
Glossary Note: Conventionally, the term used in D&D for this mechanical package is race. This is the typical term, and in most conversations about this game system, the term you’re going to wind up using is race. For backwards compatability and searchability, I am including this passage here. The term I use for this player option is heritage.
The sexy fox is a little tricky to get in the default book, just because, well, it’s weirdly something missing from the 4e panoply of furries. There are four different versions of ‘an elf, sorta,’ but if you want to play a furry, your options are Gnolls (hyena-humans), Bugbears (kinda bear-people?), Bullywugs (toads first? Really?), Kenku (birds!?) and Thri-Kreen (praying mantis people). The closest you’ll be able to manage with the base heritages available in the standard compendium are the Hengeyokai from Dragon Magazine 404 (which are a dreadful heritage and you shouldn’t), or creative visual interpretation of the Eberron Shifters (who are pretty good).
If we go that route, we get the Razorclaw Shifter, which, while a little first-drafty, gets bonuses to Dexterity and Wisdom, two stats we’re probably going to want going forward.
Second, when it comes to bows, there is a merciful amount of Basic Binchness here: there’s only three ‘bow’ options that work; Shortbow, Longbow, and Greatbow. Greatbow requires a feat, but the Longbow is a military weapon, meaning most classes get it for free. It’s a 1d10 weapon with a +2 proficiency bonus, and manages to crest the lofty heights of fine.
Skill-wise, we also have an option that every build can use to make sure that this character can be trained in Stealth and Nature. There’s the Dalelands background (Dragon Magazine 394). That adds those two skills to your class skill list, no matter what you’re doing. That gives us the standard package that applies to all other build options:
- Razorclaw Shifter
- Wield a Longbow
- Dalelands background
Now we need to explore our role.
We’re not doing what we normally do here. If you just wanted to ‘make’ Robin Hood, that’s dead easy. The Ranger is based in part on ‘Robin Hood stuff.’ Bam, you got that, you can just go, but that’s what you get when you choose to be Robin Hood. What if you want to use Robin Hood as your inspiration to look at other options? What if the party doesn’t need a ranger, but you still wanna be a sexy fox with a stick?
We’re going to look at each role, and what classes can play with that role, and how doing that presents problems. Note that because we know we’re not dealing with a heavily magical character, I’m going to primarily look at Martial classes, but we’re going to have a little room to branch out.
Look, this is your free space. Not only is the Ranger an easy gimme, you also have the Rogue who can happily plink away at people with a (short)bow and arrow.
Available Options: Ranger (recommended), Rogue
Problems: A little boring? The Ranger is one of the strongest strikers in the game, and you’re playing the less overpowered version of it in this case, so like, go for it.
The role of a martial controller was covered, in the tail end of 4th edition by the Hunter, a variant of the Ranger. This is a pretty cool class that relies on making basic attacks and adding negative drawbacks to them. I’ve played alongside a really strong Hunter, and while he doesn’t tend to have a lot of different options every turn, any time someone tries to stop him doing his job of dazing, moving, and slowing people in big blocks, he can skitter away and get safe.
Available Options: Hunter (recommended), Seeker
Problems: Well, you’re kind of a Ranger+. You lose some of the basic damage of the Ranger, but you get in return, a lot of control and utility, and you still have access to all the Ranger’s utility powers.
Ah hah! This is where we get to do some stuff that isn’t a Ranger!
Ranged Leaders are kind of common? I just don’t tend to deal with them, because I personally like hitting people with swords and axes in melee, like some kind of goon. Martially, the Warlord is right there, and we’ll probably start there, but there’s also two arcane options (the Artificer and Bard) and a primal one (Shaman). The Shaman Robin Hood introduces a lot of curious questions, because it relies on the importance of its spirit companion – which you could use as a sort of strange eerie bird or bear or even a haunted patch of ground if you like. Definitely something to explore.
But the Warlord is still the go-to. Warlords can lead their friends from the back, and they get an archery build that pushes you into light armour.
Available Options: Warlord (recommended), Artificer, Bard and Shaman
Problems: The Archery Warlord, rather than say ‘you can use dexterity for Warlord powers,’ annoyingly, says you can use Strength for archery attacks. Booo!
Here’s where the concept needs to strain the hardest. Look, I have done some digging and I have found some interesting interactions but I am pretty confident that there’s almost no way, in heroic tier, to play a character who uses a bow to do the job of a conventional defender.
Now, I think that’s actually a hole in the game’s design. It’s not a concept that should be particularly pushed, but there’s nothing overpowered (at a glance) of a defender type character who uses a bow to guard in melee, but can still take ranged shots on their own turn. I can imagine ways to use that, but as a designer, my impulse is to ask at what cost? Would I give up a feat to use a two-handed 1d10 weapon with a +2 proficiency feat, that let me do some on-turn ranged attacking? I guess, maybe? But it’s the question of demands.
This is where we have to push sideways a little. It’s not like Robin doesn’t fight in melee. We know he can do it – he’s famous for fighting Little John with a stick over a river. And there are defenders who can use a staff – and even better, they’re not a magical type.
Available Options: Knight, Fighter
Problems: Well, this one relies on you needing to make basic attacks, and your options there is uh, getting a good Strength score or taking Melee Training, or somehow picking up a melee basic from another source. Which, of course, is an option, but the easiest and best option for that is uhm, the Werebear again. Which I keep mentioning. I feel a bit bad about that, and it’s especially a problem when you consider that Robin hood doesn’t transform.
Still, it’s not like Robin Hood doesn’t have a big bear that hits things real hard.
Junk Drawer Options
There are some options if you just ask your DM about alternative versions of heritages. Back when I wrote the article on Gardervoir, I talked about how if there were heritages underserved by your setting, you could usually just ask for one of them to retheme as a Gardevoir – in this case, instead, I’m going to recommend doing the same for a Sexy Fox.
I’m still going to think about how to do this ranged defender quandrary, though.
This was an interesting one. Tricks month presents a challenge for me where I don’t just want to say ‘take a character who is tricksy or secretive’ because there are a lot of those – I want to play with ideas that are a little more challenging, and show a different mindset on how to approach character building problems.