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.
Smooch month has rolled around and that means it’s time to, once again, break out the rulebooks and try to find a way to make another Ranma 1/2 character in 4th edition D&D.
You know, considering that the guy’s a dog half-demon, there’d be all sorts of powers or complicated special abilities to cover. Funny thing is, not really! Inu-Yasha is a character whose powers can almost all be summarised as ‘stuff a human can do, but way better.’ He can run, but faster than a human. He can jump, but further than a human. He can bite, fight, heal, and punch, and all of those things he can do more than a human. The one distinctive special ability he has that’s obviously not a human thing is the way he can turn his blood into projectiles to fling at people.
The funny thing is, essentially, Inu-Yasha is a character who is monstrous and demonic in things he is not in things he does. It isn’t like he has the ability to like, eat people, or has to turn the stars into constellations to blast people, he is just a Human, but Moreso, and, you may not be surprised, that’s a thing the game already represents pretty well!
Inu-Yasha has a single distinctive weakness, which plays into his monstrous aspect. See, once a month, on the night of the New Moon, Inu-Yasha becomes wholly human, and loses access to all of the special physical prowess he has. No claws, no funky blood, no fangs, he’s just a normal human. Believe it or not, this is not a thing to just discard, you can use this for something, depending on your GM.
- He’s very physically adept — he can leap, jump, and climb so he’s very mobile, and he hits things with his hands and weapons.
- There’s not a lot (I said not a lot) of stuff he does that looks like ‘magic’ or spells.
- He can attack at range by throwing blood at people, which is a theme you can attach to a lot of ranged attacks.
- He’s extremely tough and can recover from being beaten up or falling over very easily.
- His magical clothing is tough enough to be either heavy armour or light armour, depending on how you want to theme it.
- Inu-Yasha is kind of monstery; he has a fine sense of smell and humans can obviously tell that he’s not a human.
More than other characters I consider here, Inu-Yasha feels like a collection of packages. Normally when I build a character from a piece of media, I look for things that the character does that are necessary for the fantasy of that character, and then I find build options that can deliver on that. That typically works out where there’s a single central thing that all the builds use, then each specific build that develops those central ideas.
Inu-Yasha, on the other hand, is made up of some really basic components, and then the question isn’t so much ‘how do I make sure I can do the specific thing he does’ and it’s instead ‘what are my goals with this character, and which do I think is important?’ Just as an example we’ll get to later, Inu-Yasha fights with his claws, his blood, and his sword, but I don’t think I’d consider any one of them as ‘the important’ way he fights than the others. That’s not to say that any of the specific weapons or special abilities he uses them for are ‘unimportant,’ it’s just that if you ran around fighting with claws, it wouldn’t be the kind of jarring problem that makes people go ‘wait, why, that’s not how Inu-Yasha fights.’ With that in mind, what I’m going to do is instead address the broad strokes of what choices I’d make to hit the targets for Inu-Yasha’s general build.
There is one thing that unifies all the builds, which is the weakness, based on the phases of the moon. This is a great narrative weakness, something that can come up exactly when the author needs it to and never when she doesn’t, but it doesn’t really work in the tactical, turn-based space of moment-to-moment weakness of Dungeons & Dragons.
What I’d recommend doing is talking to your GM about this as a thing to bring up when they want to ensure you engage with a skill challenge or negotiation as something other than combat. This kind of thing can be a useful tool for helping players do what they want when the character wouldn’t; when the GM has a sequence set up where they don’t want you to just fight through it, talk to them and say ‘oh, it’s the New Moon tonight,’ and you can just use that as your excuse for why you’re not kicking in faces.
Don’t try and force it! You want this to come up so it’s part of your story, but again, think of it in terms of playing along with the story with the GM. And you might think ‘but me being unable to use my powers just makes me sit out of combat, not my friends, and that just makes me waste my time.’ But remember! You’re suddenly a normal human and your friends aren’t complete assholes, so they might avoid combat too, because you’re not able to fight and that puts you in danger. This can be a real tension point for the story while the other characters protect you (in a way you might not want to discuss).
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 compatibility and searchability, I am including this passage here. The term I use for this player option is heritage.
At a baseline, Inu-Yasha needs to feel monstery but not inhuman, and whatever class he takes is probably going to be strength-based, melee based, and physical. There’s a lot of choices there, for heritages that are monstery, with examples like the classic Tiefling (the second best heritage at everything), but that’s not going to feed well into a lot of strength-based classes. Still, keep it in mind and talk to your GM about the specific flavours of monstery heritages you like.
What I’d recommend is a heritage that doesn’t make demands of you for support. Eladrin, for example, are really strong, but when you make an Eladrin you need to build on the teleport power and its feats to make the most of them. Particularly, I’d recommend considering the Vryloka, which benefit from very obviously being like humans, and benefit from good stat modifiers for something like Inu-Yasha, the Longtooth Shifter, which again, benefits from being like a human and getting into physical fights, and the Mul, which can claim a human heritage to get access to human powers, but also just brings a useful, general positive package of inhuman toughness.
The good news here is that Inu-Yasha probably doesn’t do anything with serious magic, and the game has a lot of options for if your primary approach to things is get close and hit things. It’s easier here to instead start by knocking out what things probably don’t match with Inu-Yasha’s special abilities. I don’t think, for example, that Inu-Yasha feels very divine, but that’s because the magical powers presented to divine characters, with the idea of an external power source, doesn’t quite work for me for his character. I can definitely see him working with Martial and Arcane power sources, maybe Psionic, and … I dunno, Primal doesn’t quite feel right!
The other thing to look for is role. If you want to make a defender (like, say, a great big hitter with a big powerful weapon), you might wind up deciding the divine magic works out well! I know that if I had to think of defender options that work well for Inu-Yasha, my first two thoughts are the Paladin (which can have a great big weapon and hit very hard) or the Fighter (which can grab people with clawed gloves). But that’s just one role — I might even try use the Vampire for a Striker Inu-Yasha, because of its strange relationship to monster behaviour and its ability to make ranged attacks and melee attacks with hands and blood. The Ardent gets to feel its feelings very hard and loud, but it’s not as physically powerful, so there’s another point to make a choice.
It’s the question of what Inu-Yasha definitely isn’t. I don’t think you’d ever pick a wizard for Inu-Yasha. You wouldn’t want to be an Artificer. If you had to push him into a support role, like a Warlord, you would naturally gravitate away from healers like Clerics, because even though they can be strength-based, there’s a radiant, light-based aesthetic, and a reliance on wisdom, an ability that seems inappropriate for Inu-Yasha. The Warden has big chunky nature effects like roots and barbs. The druid shapeshifts. When you’re working for a character like this, look at what definitely doesn’t work for what you want to do.
And this is one where I found myself challenged, because to my surprise, it wasn’t an easy simple one.
The obvious options of Werewolf and Werebear need to work with specific classes to be good. They work well with a class that care about making basic attacks, like the Skald or Knight, but by default on their own, you wouldn’t want to attach them to another class because they stop those classes’ powers from working. Still, if you find yourself favouring the Knight or Cavalier, you might just want the Werebear to add to your marking options.
The Guardian is another good option – even if you’re a striker – because it lets you do more attacks and that means more damage, and Inu-Yasha absolutely eats dirt in a lot of stories. Getting in the way of an attack whether or not you can take that hit is entirely appropriate to this kind of character.
Also, third place is the Fey Beast Tamer. And now you may think I’m just going ‘well, what of the two best themes works,’ but this is important, because the Fey Beast Tamer lets Inu-Yasha run around with his own little Shippou. You could make a blink dog or baby owlbear play the role of Shippou – a smaller character who hangs around you, doesn’t talk well to other people, and lets you do tricky things in combat while mostly just being opportunistic!
Inu-Yasha is a really interesting character to build, because of how he’s not complicated. When the character you’re aiming at is defined mostly by what he doesn’t do, not what he can’t do, you’re left looking at a lot of possibility space. In that case, you have to make sure you’re making choices between things that work reasonably well and don’t present problems with one another, rather than trying to refine a single, excellent thread through them.