How To Be: Goliath from Gargoyles (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 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 month, we’re going to look at a challenging build; we’re going to be looking at a powerhouse of muscle and stone, in the form of Goliath from the Disney series Gargoyles.

Examining Goliath

Goliath is either extremely simple or extremely challenging.

If what you think of as ‘Goliath’ when you think of the character is the big, hulking, muscular, clawed, winged monster man who can punch things and wield weapons and fights to protect his people, then that’s very easy.

If what you think of as ‘Goliath’ is someone cursed to turn to stone every night? Then we hit a problem. Because that particular aspect of Goliath is the kind of thing that the game rules in 4e don’t have by default (heck, most games don’t). If this is your drive, then you need to talk to your DM about ways to make this kind of story beat work without it disrupting the story. It isn’t that you can’t do it – it’s that you need to make sure that all the players are on board for this element, that part of the story being based around your personal timer is a story element characters care about diegetically rather than just ‘well, I have this whacky drawback.’

You can do this kind of thing in a game – indeed, having limited time to act is really interesting as an operational requirement for a game. Consider a game built around trying to overthrow a corrupt government in a city, where the only time players can meaningfully move around outside of guards’ attention is at night. That kind of game is one where players are already paying attention to a ‘timer’ that limits their freedom of movement. A game where one of the heroes is going to turn to stone if they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time for a few hours brings in similar challenges. The important thing is talk to your DM.

Setting that aside and focusing on just the raw physicality of Goliath:

  • He’s very physically strong
  • He can fly, though not necessarily super well
  • He very obviously doesn’t wear armour

That last one is tricky. Armour is one of those essential options for characters in 4e D&D, where the whole system is, largely, balanced around the idea that characters do wear armour and protect themselves with physical objects.

There are ways to get around armour. The first is thematic – just say ‘don’t care’ and wear armour and say it’s your skin. That’s okay. But if that doesn’t quite work for you, there are some classes that want to run around with light armour. Okay, with that priority setup, let’s look at our Essentials.

The Essential Goliath

Heritage/Race is easy. Bozak Draconian. That covers the need to fly, dead easy, which would otherwise be one of the hardest things for a build to achieve. The needs of the build can be built out of that. Since a Draconian is a type of Dragonborn, and gets the same stats as them, that gives us a lot of great options with feat support no matter where we go. This is also important because it pushes you towards light armour to keep your flight. The gap between full plate and hide armour is five points. That means you’re always going to be significantly behind a heavy armoured character in some other way, and that means if you’re aiming to be tough which…

like, look at Goliath…

… then you’re going to want to find some alternate means to be tough.

Good news is that you can add your dexterity modifier to that score when you’re in light armour. That means you can get a +2 to defense out of that, if you build for it, and that decreases the gap by a bit.

We have a contentious item in this space though. The Elven Chain Shirt is an item that doesn’t take occupy an item slot, and gives you an increase to your Armour class. It is a slotless item that gives you +1 per tier to your armour, and it’s very cheap. This has been the source of some balance conversations at our table, where a (my) heavily armoured paladin has an AC equalled by a lightly armoured ranger.

Still, this can definitely make up for some of the defense problems, if your table allows this item. I can understand why a DM may think the item is a bit of a mistake.

Weapon wise, we have a challenge. The good news is that while Goliath does use his fists and claws a lot, we see him also using weapons like swords, maces, and uh, guns, which I think is a sign that you could wield any weapon you want with this big hulk. Still, you do need one of those weapon options that you can use that looks like an unarmed attack – and well, that gives you the Spiked Gauntlets option. Good news: There are some builds that make a good use of those.

That’s the only stuff that’s going to apply to everything. That’s okay, sometimes what you’re trying to make has a lot of common stuff, and sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, the only central element to all builds is the Bozak Draconian, but that also covers lots of stuff. If we made this build so it had different heritage/race options, then we’d have to find a way for all of them to fly, in Heroic, as quickly as possible, which is really difficult to do without committing a lot of budget.

Grappling Fighter

A grappling fighter covers the ‘melee combatant’ style of build for Goliath, and it also wants Strength, a stat that the Bozak Draconian offers a boost to. You don’t get much out of the charisma boost, but it doesn’t matter that mcuh – you can leave it as a dump stat and point out that Goliath is kinda a poutypuss.

The Grappling fighter doesn’t address the armour problem necessarily, though. You get to cover your shield through the bonuses of the class. This is where you have to make that decision:

  • Either say ‘my skin is my armour’ and treat your armour you’re wearing as your skin
  • Wear no armour and take the Unarmored Agility feat and accept a lower AC.

Personally, I think the unarmoured option is simply unacceptable for a defender, but there are situations where I can imagine a player makes some use of it. If your party you’re looking at has another defender in it, you could treat your fighter as a melee controller who’s there to assist and supplement that other defender, for example.

I know what I’d do – theme my armour as my skin – but I don’t fault anyone who chooses otherwise.

Bear Knight

I’m sure I’ve suggested this before for other builds. The werebear is a theme that lets you, once an encounter, transform into a bear, and lets you ‘continue to gain the benefit of equipment you’re wearing’ – which includes armour. The knight is a class that’s rewarded for making basic attacks, and the bear shapeshift lets you make a basic attack that’s a beast keyworded attack with a +3 tohit.

This gives you a sort of ‘transformation’ effect going on. That’s good enough, and it also ‘hides’ the armour as part of your body. If you want the full equipment feal of a character, and make lots of clawed, unarmed attacks without feeling like you have to compromise with item descriptions, this will take care of it.

Paladin

Alright, what does the paladin bring that the other two classes don’t? Well, it synergises with your stats, for one – charisma and strength are both important to a melee paladin, and there are a number of special abilities the paladin has access to that like that. There’s a lot of feat support for dragonborn that fit here, too, including letting you use your breath weapon as an AOE mark, which can be really handy.

But the big thing you can get out of a Paladin is a combination of the power Virtue and the Amulet of Life, a cheap neck item that you can get and upgrade your whole life. This combo, for those not familiar, and answered in the rules FAQ at one point means that you can fire Virtue off, then use the item, to give yourself twice as many temporary hit points.

This tends to work out pretty balanced – spending two healing surges every fight is a big payment, but having all the alpha strikes blunted by a temporary pad of hit points means your support doesn’t tend to be under pressure. It’s pretty strong.

Junk Drawer Options

These are just interrogations of Goliath as a defender, and they are all a little limited. If you want to treat Goliath as a striker, your options do open up. A ranger who attacks with a clawed glove on each hand is still going to be pretty good just because Dual Strike is that good. You could also go for a Barbarian rager (who get good strength and charisma based abilities).

This was a strange one to write. Particularly, what struck me as strange was how Goliath’s design is mostly informed by ways he doesn’t match well with the existing mechanics. Getting around armour restrictions, or finding interesting ways to thematically own them, can be part of the challenge of this system, but it’s worth remembering and respecting that 4e is a game which gives you a lot of flexibility with your thematics.

It’s one of the great virtues of the system: Because the mechanics are clearly defined, you’re allowed to flavour them however you like, as long as the mechanics function.

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