How To Be: Kipo (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.

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is a Netflix TV series created by Radford Sechrist that started its life as a webcomic. The series is something I’ve praised in the past as being uncomplicatedly excellent. Set in a post-apocalyptic far future populated with anthropomorphic animals, it’s a story of a journey of adventure, beset on all sides by a dangerous villain with superpowers who, if he catches our heroes, may destroy their ability to ever defy him. It’s a great adventure structure, and one you should feel free to steal, and central to it all is the character of Kipo, a girl with pink skin whose position in the story is at the intersection of multiple sequences of events, set in motion before she was even born.

And like, I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to put a spoiler warning here. If you read these articles idly, and think you’d like to watch Kipo at some point, you should go do that before reading this article, because I’m going to talk about some stuff Kipo can do that isn’t obvious from the start of the story. I mean, oh okay, shock and horror, Kipo is special, obviously, you know that and I know that just looking at the fact the series is named after her, but nonetheless, I just want you to know, going on, that there be spoilers.

Good?

Good.

Okay, onwards.

Examining Kipo

Okay, are all the people who don’t know gone?

Let’s have a quick look at Kipo as a character. There’s a jaguar in the room, and we’re going to set that aside for now.

Kipo’s adventure covers a lot of time and a lot of ground, and we get to see her try and do a lot of things. Crucially, though, this is a series where what Kipo can do is kind of sensibly limited to a very specific grouping of abilities. She doesn’t sprout wings to fly, she doesn’t magic up a gun — Kipo is a character with one very standard, set, fixed type of power that makes sense and everything flows from that.

Kipo is made of meat. Her powers don’t really have a mystic energy element to them, no means to reach outside of her own body without direct contact. If she wants to fight at range she needs to throw things at people. No cosmic bolts or lasers, which means we’re almost certainly going to shut out a few class options.

Let’s do a look at the character and without getting hung up on what shows up in every individual episode, let’s instead look for the stuff that shows up in multiple episodes.

  • Kipo’s lightly armoured; while when she goes Mute form, she has ‘natural’ armour, but she tends to walk into hits, which implies armour. She uses her arms to block attacks, which is probably a good comparison to a shield.
  • Kipo fights without a weapons she wields. Mostly, she’d be easily expressed as an unarmed combatant.
  • Kipo protects her friends by standing between them and harm.
  • Kipo can see or hear things with her extraordinary senses.
  • Kipo extremely shapeshifts.
  • Kipo solves many problems through care and empathy.

That last one is a really interesting little complication for the typical structure we have so far. See, obviously, we’ve talked about shape-shifting characters a bunch this year — we started with Grimlock after all — and we’ve looked at unarmed characters — hi there, Rock Howard! — but those two characters present characters who fundamentally headass their way through their problems. I mean, c’mon, Rock won’t even talk to his dad about how he feels about his other dad.

Kipo, by contrast, is a character with a big heart who forgives and convinces, and doesn’t seem to do much in the way of deceiving or sneaking.

Okay, let’s see what that looks like.

The Essential Kipo


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.


Right, alright, so I’m not planning on tackling the way that Kipo can transform into a jaguar the size of a supertanker. That’s just off the table. We’re going to instead be thinking about what, mechanically, we can set up now that manages to capture the feeling of most of Kipo’s stories. We’re going to start with that challenge not of shapeshifting or mechanical violence, but rather the very important expression of how Kipo negotiates.

What we need, very importantly, is for Kipo to have the means to be good at Diplomacy. That doesn’t mean she has to be a Charisma-primary character (though it’s an option), but we need to make sure Diplomacy is always available, something she can be trained in. Also, bear in mind that Diplomacy is for negotiating in good faith. If you’re trying to convince someone of something you’re leaving out or lying about, that’s bluff, which means that Diplomacy is basically Bluff For Nicies.

Fortunately, we have an option here: the background Political Rebel. This adds Diplomacy and Streetwise to the list of class skills of whatever class you pick, which seems a good pairing for her, and you get a +1 to both. The name even fits — Kipo is looking to overthrow a kind of evil warlord that’s trying to control the world around her (once she’s gotten over her need to go home).

Heritage-wise, our options are going to tie much more into the character classes chosen, but we’re going to be aiming for heritages that tie into the needs of that same ‘made of meat’ need. Less mystical, more mashable.

Each of our options is going to handle its own shapeshifting and its own melee attacks, going from simplest to most complicated.

Option 1 — Warden

The Warden is a simple place to start because the powersets and choices you get are very simple and very standard, and the character is still heavily focused on strength and hitting things. It’s a weapon based build, and to get that unarmed attack element we’ll get back to the Gauntlet Axe. This is extremely basic, and it doesn’t give you a lot of cool interactions, but it’s a very simple kind of ‘starter kit’ character compared to the others where you’re going to need to do a bit of finagling.

Option 2 — Druid

Oh look it’s the druid option hey it’s Talen recommending the druid again hey everyone look it’s the druid.

My reasoning behind wanting druid is, well, okay, one, it’s easy, and two it’s really easy. At level 1 a druid can shapeshift into a leopard form and just sit on an opponent, smacking them around with basic attacks, slowing them, sliding them, and just playing around with all those tools that are meant to keep an opponent under control. The biggest problem with the druid for Kipo is all the stuff that you can do when you’re not a monster form. Even the most dedicated beast-form druid is going to have some powers that aren’t beast-form, and those powers are all very much flavoured as not ‘made of meat.’

My suggestion, if you want to keep to the feeling that Kipo is the beast and the other powers aren’t very Kipo, is to consider those forms being animals and mutes from the surrounding area that follow your Kipo around and do things to help her.

Option 3 — Knight

This is where the build gets ‘complex’ in that you want a few different things to make it work.

The first is we’re going to return to that familiar shapeshifter option, the Knight Werebear. The Knight, if you’re not familiar, is an Essentials variant of the Fighter. Knights get a defender aura and stances that trigger on making basic attacks. The Werebear lets you shapeshift into a bear form once an encounter (and stay there as long as you like). While you’re a bear, your melee attacks basically become longswords you don’t have to pay for, and they mark everything you hit. This means you can spend your time in beast form, and get beast mode keywords on things, for things like our beloved Claw Gloves.

While in beast form as a werebear, you can’t use conventional fighter powers that have a weapon power, because it excludes you from accessing weapon or implement attack powers that lack the Beast keyword. For the Knight, this doesn’t lock you out of your Defender Aura’s punishment power or your stances – they’re not like that. You are excluded from using your Power Strike as a bear until level 10, which can be a problem, and you may have to decide how important that striker element of your character matters to you compared to the power of having two marks when you’re normally limited to one.

This build does mature a lot once you get to Paragon and start doing fun things with multiclassing, like with the Druid so you can use Wild Shape Power feats.

What I like about this build is that you have access to a lot of powerful class options from the Fighter, and your build doesn’t require you to use many slots that are normally occupied by ‘other needs’ — you’re a shapeshifting fighter at level 1 and your powers work just fine within that space. It’s every encounter, and it’s constant, and you don’t need complicated choices to make it work. It’s not an ideal build, but when I have my goal of making a build work as quickly as possible in Heroic levels, this one hits the mark immediately.

Junk Drawer

I did approach this thinking that Kipo was pretty much a tank or melee controller. This meant that if you instead saw her as a melee damage dealer, your options get a little more difficult; you can definitely use the Pack Outcast to turn a Ranger into a shapeshifter type, or a Barbarian if you want.

One thing I really like, if your DM is okay with it, is to take the Cavalier, and treat the mount, and getting on board that, as your shapeshift. It lets you get the ability to become massive, gives you the feelings of bestial special abilities with feats like Improved Steed. This requires a lot of fluffing of your special ability – where opponents are going to be able to ‘knock you out’ of shapeshifting by teleporting you or sliding you off your mount – but it’s still a really cool thematic shift.

Kipo is a really cool series, and part of what I like about it is that it’s got that feeling of adventure. The characters feel like a party with different, complementary abilities and it’s not as simple as ‘Kipo wins all the fights.’ It’s more complicated than that and the characters have very different skillsets. When I watch Kipo, I think as a DM of the kind of things I want sessions to have and include, stories and fights and combat encounters, and that stuff excites and engages me and I recommend you look to it to for ideas of how to make a game feel good.

And Kipo is cool.

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