How To Be: Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist (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 for this kind of project 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.

This time, we’re going to try and capture the feeling of Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist: A Lot Of Different Things.

Examining Ed

Thanks to the popularity of the series and the subsequent commercialisation of what was seemingly a pretty tight monthly manga series, there are about four different Eds and they’re all different enough that someone who cares a lot about the text is going to point them out. I guess to get the bonafides out of the way, I’ve watched all of Brotherhood, I’ve read significant chunks of the manga, I watched all of the first anime but didn’t like it enough to internalise it much and I’ve refreshed myself with a few wiki reads. The good news for a project like this is that different metaphysics don’t actually make a meaningful difference.

What we can tell about Ed that we can try and replicate through game rules:

  • Ed has a really flexible, creative power set that lets him create explosions, change the battlefield and attack people from a lot of different angles.
  • Ed is willing to attack people in melee, and indeed, that’s where he seems to be most effective.
  • Ed’s powers seem to relate strongly to intelligence, in terms of knowing things and creatively applying learned knowledge.
  • Ed is also ripped.

That said, some things that are part of Ed that I don’t want to replicate in game rules:

  • He’s short. Hypothetically, one could choose a smaller race for him, or a race that gets a movement penalty. That feels like a kind of jab against the whole point of those choices, and it feels a lot like it verges on the ‘well, white males exist between these standard deviations,’ and I’m not here for that.
  • He has some pretty substantial psychological damage making him behave at times foolishly. This seems like something for you to tune and play out in your own ways and doesn’t need rules.
  • Ed has a metal arm that is instrumental to his powers. And I feel I should explain a bit more on this front.

I think that whatever choices I make for Ed the biggest problem is going to be that arm. It’s the kind of thing that some players are going to look at and demand a mechanical justification for, while just as many players will have the exact opposite energy and demand that it not have mechanical justification.

My take on it is that I’m not going to dedicate a lot of time trying to justify the arm mechanically. First of all, when a character has a material disability, I find that giving a player a mechanical drawback for it enforces the idea that disabled heroes are lesser heroes. Now, you can negotiate what makes you comfortable there, but my default assumption is that if someone wants to play a character who’s (for example) missing limbs, then it’s not up to me to define how much that hurts their ability to swing a sword. I don’t know what life is like for someone with one hand, because I have two hands and I live in a society that has been massively manufactured for someone with two hands. I bet someone with one hand has a much better idea of how badass they can be with only one hand, and I wouldn’t want to lay down rules on that.

Also, while there is stuff that relates to artificial limbs in 4th edition D&D, that requires you to delve into the spaces of the Warforged and the Self-Forged, which sounds cool, until you find out these effects just aren’t that great and rarely worth having. It feels a bit like creating a sort of creativity ghetto, where players can represent heroes with disabilities, as long as those disabilities don’t mind getting their own, special, crap version of things that everyone else gets to play with.

The arm is therefore just going to be treated as something for you to flavour; as far as disabilities go, the fact Ed’s arm can be messed up and that Ed can’t feel texture in one of his hands isn’t really very important, and that puts it more on you to roleplay and make choices as it relates to the drama you enjoy.

With that in mind, I can see 3 options for making an Edward Elric.

Option 0 – The Basic Requirements

While Hilda was a character who was good at stuff, and I could show her being good at that stuff in a bunch of different ways, Ed kind of needs to be created the opposite way, a character crafted by occlusion. I can’t say for sure what Ed is, given the different ways he uses his powers, but I can say confidently what Ed is not: He’s definitely not something divine in power source like a Paladin or a Priest. Not just because he has a disdain for those, but because those are characters who do things in ways he doesn’t do them; Ed doesn’t create beams of light, he doesn’t have holy symbols that work without his handling them and he doesn’t wear a lot of heavy armour.

Ed’s pretty likely going to be a build that relies heavily on a mental stat – probably Intelligence. I even did an unscientific twitter poll about this and the trend was pretty sharp. That means that any class we pick for Ed, it’s going to want to be something that feeds off his Intelligence. Also, when Ed actually wants to fight someone, he seems to consistently make a bladed weapon to do it with. Sometimes that blade is on the end of his arm like a big punchy dagger, and sometimes it’s a great big spear. This suggests he’s going to be some variety of weapon user.

Also he should absolutely be a class that gets ritual caster of some variety. Ritual caster is where we put a lot of useful utility powers, things like being able to open doors, create or change food, repairing complex objects, and just generally a lot of things that you can’t do in combat. Like a ritual. Like Ed does.

Beyond all those things, and gosh, this has gotten long at this point, but beyond all that, there’s two more things that are probably going to apply to multiple versions of Ed.

First, weapon wise, he probably wants a Glaive. That’s useful because it’s a Heavy Blade, and it’s a Polearm, which in addition to allowing lots of fun garbage in paragon, is also important because those are the two forms he tends to make his weapon – big chunky long weapons and a blade that’s so heavy it’s basically his entire forearm. This is a good weapon in general; it has a good proficiency bonus, it ties into a lot of different groups of abilities (like Heavy Blade Opportunity and Polearm Momentum) and you’re only giving up a bit of damage on each hit for that flexibility.

Also there’s the White Lotus family of feats. For any arcane character who has good At Will powers, White Lotus feats are great. They’re presented in Dragon Magazine 374 and any downloadable resources you can google up, no doubt, completely legally. White Lotus Hindrance is great for keeping opponents from getting away from you, and White Lotus Riposte is good for punishing people who attack you. They, too, upgrade in the paragon tier.

I’m not using the Alchemist theme, though.

Because it’s bad.

Option 1 – Shortmage

Uh yeah, make a Swordmage.

What, this guide is so long so far, jesus christ.

Okay okay, the Swordmage. This is a defender from the Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide (page 24). It’s an intelligence-based defender, and you get to pick a different mark ability for each one. You can choose to teleport to your marked target when they attack someone else; you can choose to teleport them to you when they attack someone else, or you can choose to reduce the damage dealt to the target by your constitution mod, like you’re interposing a wall of dirt and earth. The teleport can be seen as flinging yourself through the space (and vice versa) if you’re willing to be a little soft on the theme and mechanics.

Swordmage is just a great starter option for Ed because it’s a core class that’s just designed to work, no shenanigans required, and it has a bunch of area attack powers because it’s designed to be a tank that punishes people. It doesn’t really need much of anything to do Ed-ish things right out of the box, particularly the very special Sword Burst.

If you go this way, I’d also recommend playing into the way Ed is sometimes shown dealing with crackling lightning on his powers, and make the character for the feat Mark of Storm, get a lightning weapon and try to use your melee and implement powers to slide everyone around.

Option 2 – Pactlet

Hey, while we’re talking about being a melee character, how about the Warlock?

Warlocks are arcane, they can get Ritual Caster easily, and they’re one of a rare kind of early-game caster that have two primary stats. You can build a Warlock that casts entirely off their constitution, and even get a melee weapon attack that feeds off their constitution and stacks on a slide. If you build your Ed to emphasise that slide (and boy can you) you wind up with an Ed whose attacks fling people around the room, as if you’re doing things to melt the ground underneath them.

Note that one option for increasing slides is the yikesy theme ‘The Misshapen’ which I’d avoid, but it’s certainly an option.

The Warlock has a range of special oddball choices, but particularly of note is the curse mechanic. See, conventionally this gets treated as something the warlock can do that just comes from the warlock and has nothing at all to do with the enemy. But if you think of your curse as your character looking at each unique enemy and going hey, I can see a way to alchemise something on that person, the curse suddenly becomes about an Ed who can make a range of individual, specific, targeted alchemical reactions.

Option 3 – Bear With Me

The druid.

Okay, okay, hold up, hold up, hold up, I know this is an odd choice. After all, druids are not particularly inclined towards the stats I already laid out. They want Wisdom and I described Ed as being about Intelligence, and I made Intelligence important to him in the other versions. What does the Druid offer that feels Ed?

What it offers is mode switching.

More than any other anime hero you’re likely to encounter, thanks to his ability to transmute the environment around him, Ed shifts gears. Sometimes he is at range, changing the battlefield, moving people around, transforming things and setting up traps and determining the way the battlefield ‘should’ look. But then sometimes he’s in your face punching and kicking you, and the shift between those modes is very quick but not instantaneous. He has to take a moment, has to have a chance to breathe. There aren’t that many mixed combatants in the game.

And the druid does this with its Beast Form mechanic. You can fire off Beast Form and suddenly you lose access to a lot of ranged abilities, but now you’re highly mobile and deal a lot of damage. You can just as quickly shift back, but now you’re unable to defend yourself as proactively in melee, and you’re tied to a space a bit more. That’s very much like how Ed works and he does indicate this shift by transmuting his own hand.

When you set aside the Primal rather than Arcane element of the character (rip White Lotus), you’re presented with a character who can:

  • take an action to transform their own abilities
  • create constructs that change the battlefield but don’t last
  • do funky rituals out of combat
  • fill areas with clouds of gas, or shards of matter
  • use spears and get involved in all that polearm junk

The druid’s a little off the wall, but if you can set aside the ‘arcane’ feeling of the character, this is a really solid choice.

Junk Drawer Options

There is an option that almost seems a little obvious, but you could opt to make an Artificer. I’m not wild about this! An inability to heal people is kind of one of Ed’s things in the series. The artificer also has some problems in that it wants to be near allies and not particularly interested in moving around enemies, and it doesn’t do as much altering of the terrain. You can absolutely get an Ed feeling out of an Artificer, it’s just the two things don’t line up the way I like, and I simply don’t think Ed should be a character who has the ability to actually extract life from one person and put it in another.

I mean

He can do that

but in his setting, he shouldn’t.

Another option that I don’t really understand is the Bladesinger, a wizard variant that uses a melee weapon and has a whole bunch of Essentials stuff to it, and gets a bunch of wizard encounter powers attached to it. This doesn’t sound bad to me, but this class is so alien to me I literally didn’t realise it existed when I started on this.

Also, if you’re building for a later game version of the character, and more seasoned with fourth edition than I’m assuming for this post, you could see what a Hybrid Wizard/Swordmage gets you – the wizard offering some zones of control and the swordmage offering you the smart melee combat element.

Finally, just because it’s an intelligence-based melee combatant with a tricksy power, you could consider the Knight multiclassing into Swordmage, using Eladrin Swordmage Advance and Intelligent Blademaster. This idea takes some time (Paragon, really) to mature, but the build you get at the end can teleport around the battlefield and hit people very hard, giving you a tank that feels very Ed.