How To Be: Kaede Last Blade (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 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.

Hey, I left this introduction blank and nobody noticed. Anyway time to talk about a character I’ve already spent thousands of words describing in terms of the negative space created by fighting games that enable a lot of fun interpretation and also selling us the vast and valuable currency that is nothing.

Kaede is a character constructed out of Anime Main Character. On the one hand, he is humble, polite, modest about his opinions and giving to strangers. He speaks politely and expresses concern with the health and wellbeing of his opponents after he defeats them. Also, he is a cocky brash combat asshole who is proud of his ability to wreck people’s junk and boldly tells them they’re ten thousand years too early to defeat him. He hails from the Last Blade series (pair) of videogames from 1997 to 1998 (and 2001, and 2006 as funny little cameos or compilations but really, don’t worry about it), where he did the job of being that game’s version of Ryu or Ken, your starting place to get used to the game’s peculiarities. I’ve written about him before in the vein of him being kind of a negative space that I’ve projected my preferences on to.

Still, there’s good news here, because like many fight game characters, Kaede is a blank slate, just sheer breathtaking nothing filling in a roster made up of other nothing, but he does still stick in the mind, he does express some character because of that most important characterisation detail: Boy hot. And boy hot indeed, what with his loose flappy pirate style collar and his vest and all that.

What about that can we translate to game mechanics for 4th edition D&D?

First up, Kaede doesn’t wear heavy armour. You can claim that his gear is somehow padded or protected or maybe make some magical vibe reason if that makes sense to you. Still, c’mon, look at him. Dude is lightly armoured. He wields a weapon that is either a versatile one handed weapon like a bastard sword (eh) or a big honky sword that he needs to wield two handed to keep under control (which I like). He doesn’t have a shield. He can swap into a mode that gives him access to lightning powers… and that’s what you get.

As much as we get information about these things, we don’t get any strong indication that Kaede is remarkably strong at all, since combat in his game is largely based around timing the use of a weapon. Don’t get me wrong, katanas aren’t free to float in the air when you’re not holding them, but he’s not making big physical strikes, or sweeps and his kicks don’t seem to indicate a really powerful physique. Kaede appears to be strong (‘hard to defeat’) more than he is strong (‘able to lift a cow’).

The only other hint for ability scores I’d suggest is that Kaede doesn’t seem to be a guy with a very forceful personality. His mode switched version seems to be more forceful but he also seems to be an asshole, which I think serves as the distinction between ‘high charisma’ and ‘thinks he has a high charisma.’ Either way, whatever combat approach Kaede takes, it’s going to be something that relies on stats other than Strength or Charisma, probably.

The Fundamentals Of Kaede

Kaede is a lightning-using character with a strong focus on positioning opponents, so obviously this opens up the toolkit I’ve already written on. That’s great! That’s something that’s going to work for almost all the time you want to use the character — I mean, when you’re in ‘blonde mode’ for Kaede, the lightning powers are going to be there, and that’s the point of that vibe.

But how.

How, you may wonder, do you get the mode switch. How do you go from I am Kaede without the lightning powers and the being an asshole to I am Kaede with the lightning powers and I think my farts don’t stink? What mechanical way do you represent that shift, what’s the trigger that changes the play experience from one to the other?

This is where I planned to put an entry about access to mode-switching in 4e. The idea I thought, was that you could make a character who had some way to toggle into a mode for a particular scenario. There’s power-based shifting like the Werewolf and Werebear theme have, for example, or there are stances that let you turn on a power state that you can stick to. The ideal, really, would be that if there was some class that got an early-heroic stance power that gave your attacks lightning damage, and then the bulk of this article could be dedicated to setting up a set of multiclass feat routes to get access to that stance from everywhere.

But there isn’t one.

There just isn’t!

No, Mode Switching like that, in 4e, is kinda discouraged and it makes sense. Powers need to be available and reasonably consistent within a band of output so that players aren’t capable of big, weird swings in a way that disrupt play experiences for the DM, that monsters are reasonably consistent things to face. Instead, you get things that provide incremental advantage, or, more often, stances that show up later so they’re something you have to choose to toggle on or off when you have more than one stance to work with.

With that in mind then, I wish to recommend to you, a player, this mode switch: The tihng that toggles your Kaede from Nice Boy to Jesus Christ This Guy Is Scary is rolling initiative. The rest of the time? Your Kaede doesn’t really think of himself as a fighter. Sure he has the sword to defend himself, but he’s not dangerous, he’s just a disciple of the blade and doing his best. But when the dice rolls and suddenly you need a serious fight, that’s when it’s on and that’s when your Kaede’s hair goes gold and his ego gets swole. It’s best to not over-complicate builds. Remember, you want this beat in a story: Use the tools you have to tell it, don’t try and make it so you need a whole new mechanical artifice when you know you’ll probably just use it all the time anyway.

You’ll want the Mark of Lightning feat, but not before you can have a Lightning weapon. There’s a certain necessity for the two things to work together, right?

Venging with A Vengeance

Option one and the simplest, probably best, for Kaede, is an Avenger. With a big weapon like the Fullblade and the Avenger’s existing focus on slides and pushes, you can get a lot out of the Mark of Lightning too, slipping people around. I feel like a build with this starting spot might wind up trying to get Polearm Momentum or Flail Expertise, but it feels inappropriate given that Kaede is definitely a sword guy. Use your feats to instead make sure you can make attacks off-turn or punish people for them, then position yourself so enemies have the opportunity of bothering you or bothering the tank, and either solution is bad.

Battlemind The Step

I swear to god, Kaede wound up being weird.

See, the thing is, if I say ahead of time he’s probably not a strength or charisma based character, that suddenly limits his options as a character who can do the job of a defender to the Battlemind and the Swordmage. It’s a real rough space to wind up in, because it seems like it shouldn’t work that way?

Anyway, the Battlemind is a bit of a rough start for defenders; talk to your DM about maybe making Mind Spike an opportunity attack, rather than an immediate interrupt. And uh, the armour class problem persists but at least the Battlemind can have a good reason why they shouldn’t wear heavy armour, with a focus on keeping mobile for Lightning Rush, the power you get at level 7 that makes the class work really well.


But ahah, what if you want to go with the one-handed sword, a katana that is a longsword by any other name, and use the magical abilities of the Swordmage? That’s an intelligence-based character, and a defender with an Area effect attack! That works out of the box, and thank god it does, because otherwise, gosh, Kaede’s a weird bean.

What I would say when it comes to the Swordmage, is that if you’re going Mark of Lightning and taking lightning as your theme, you also want White Lotus Hindrance (for making their life hard) and White Lotus Riposte (for making them dead) and then to expand them. The thing with Hindrance I like a lot is that you can mark an opponent, then slide them, and the attack that slides them into a position where they’re standing in difficult terrain, so they can’t shift. When you upgrade it at paragon, you can shift them away from you, then leave them in difficult terrain where they can’t even charge at you. Combine this with slows, and you have enemies who waste their whole turn being thrown into a corner over and over.

junk drawer

I kept thinking about ways to use the Bard for Kaede, same as Paladin. I know, I said that he probably wasn’t a high-charisma build, but consider this: Kaede is really hot.

I thought this would be pretty easy! After all, big sword, lightning powers, there’s a lot to work with. But the problem that came up was that Kaede had things he definitely doesn’t do – there’s no pivot to flails or spears here!

I love this character a lot, and it was fun to consider how, to play with my own rules, I had to give up things that I would normally use to get the things about the character that felt really good.