How To Be: Kyo Kusanagi (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.

Buckle up Dweebenheimer it’s time to KING THE FIGHTERS!

Examining Kyo

I’m gunning for a lot of semi-blank slates, aren’t I?

Kyo Kusanagi is a character from the SNK game franchise King of Fighters which has been going more or less yearly since 1994. During that time, Kyo has had his father kidnapped, fought his deadly rival, changed a gender (maybe?), gained a protege-slash-fan, been cloned at least twice, saved the world from at least two different world-ending threats, fought a Cartel, got sponsored by that Cartel, swore that he Wanted To See That Twink Obliterated, saw that Twink Obliterated, gone to Hungary, and at least six times, concluded his story by fighting with Iori, where nobody could watch them.

Anyway, during this, his personality has been largely unchanged: He’s a high school delinquent turned street fighter who has nothing going on in his life beyond fighting and training for fighting. But he’s not that Japanese guy who has nothing going on in his life beyond fighting and training for fighting, because that guy doesn’t have a surname.

Any given Kyo incarnation has specific changes that make him play a little bit different but also a lot the same to other versions. In 94 and 95, Kyo had more ranged projectiles, while since then he’s been more about heavy melee strings, which means more of his animations focus on short and close-ranged attacks since then. Kyo is someone who closes in on people and then beats them up and hits them with attacks that Also Do Fire.

Generally speaking, King of Fighters games are seen as ‘more offensive’ than other fighting games; it’s partially because of movement, and as a knock-on from that, defending against this offense can be really difficult. In most King of Fighters games, you can think of bouts being faster-seeming and more prone to big, decisive incidents. We can build off this idea, with the idea of punching through defenses, and attacking on multiple different axes. Basically, a Kyo should probably not be bothered by minions.

We don’t see Kyo wearing even light armour, which is going to limit our options somewhat, unless we do the usual hey, let’s pretend this normal clothing is a lot like some kind of armour.

The most obvious thing is that Kyo uses his fists and does fire stuff. He’s a melee combatant, he hits things and he closes in and messes you up. Kyo’s primary defensive solution is an offensive one, with perhaps the idea of ‘death as the ultimate debuff.’

Something that’s normally present in these conversations is the stat layout for the character. Often a character who’s a dumbass or insightful or charismatic will give hints of that and it gives a direction for the build. I don’t get that in Kyo’s case. He’s a bit of a cipher on that front. Sure, people say he’s strong, but they could mean it in a generic ‘wins a fight by fireballing your face’ way. He jumps easily his height off the ground in a hyperjump but that’s not a giveaway either. I guess at least we can point out that he’s mobile.

We don’t have a lot of heavy armoured options for Kyo; we’re going to want to look for characters who are lightly armoured, or ways to get the ‘feel’ of how Kyo looks. Like, maybe a heavy duster with plates in it could be ‘scale’ mail, but fullplate armour and a shield is probably not going to work.

Kyo isn’t shown really healing people, but that’s not to say he’s completely out of the Leader slot. In his type of game, when you win a match, you can sometimes get a small recovery of your health – sure, that can be seen as something that just works that way, but you can also view it as the team exhorting you. Less ‘Kyo heals people’ and more ‘Kyo gives you the inspiration to heal yourself.’

Our bulleted list then, of what we’ll make is:

  • A melee ranged character
  • Probably highly mobile
  • Probably lightly armoured, maybe medium armoured
  • Fighting with ‘unarmed’ attacks
  • Attacks with fire damage
  • Offensive priority rather than heavy defense

With that, let’s unpack what we’re going to need.

The Essential Kyo

I’ve already covered what it means to be a ‘fire character,’ with Chandra Nalaar, and once again we’re hitting an awkward wall. See, while Chandra’s problem was that she wasn’t really a melee character, meaning all those melee fire weapons weren’t really useful for her, Kyo is a melee character who doesn’t use weapons. Same problem. Kyo does at least get to glean from our friend Rock Howard, where we found some cute ways to get around the unarmed combat restriction.

Anyway, point is we’re aiming at being able to rock up with a dude in pants and gloves and beat people to death. There’s still some good feat support for fire attacks, but again, it’s tied to Wizards (and we’ll get to that).

Going back to our boy Rock, we can look at the Gauntlet Axe and Spiked Gauntlet as our starting point for weapon attacks. We’ll look for specific fire options per class. And uh…

That’s kinda it?

This isn’t like Hilda, there’s no single thing that’s going to be obviously necessary for all the possible builds. That’s a bit of a bummer!

Option 1: Fire Fighter

I Can’t Believe I’m Finally Not Suggesting The Knight And Werebear For Something Odd. Okay, but seriously, the Grappling Fighter is really good for this; it doesn’t need a shield, it puts people in the clinch and it makes their life miserable, and if you pick up flaming spiked gauntlets, you can grab people with hands that are on fire.

That’s it, that’s the build. Grab scale mail, maybe imagine it as a longer form of the jacket, and you have a Kyo-like; you can flick your fingers and fire dances. You’re tough, as any fighter, and you control people’s actions just by swinging at them. That’s pretty Fighting Games.

Option 2: Harm Sway

King of Fighters is, in a purely textual way, a team game. Everyone goes to the tournament in a team, and you’re meant to work with your team to do things and succeed together and stand together. It did briefly dabble in the idea of assists, where some characters would leap in and do things when your character called on them, and one character had a priority level of power over the others. That character was called the ‘leader.’

They also ditched on that idea, but still let’s pretend they didn’t.

The Warlord! You can go back to your blazing knuckles wait wrong King of Fighters character, axe guantlets or spiked gauntlets or even unarmed (the game does let you enchant ‘any melee’ weapon with flaming, and your hands are a weapon). I wouldn’t recommend going pure unarmed, but it’s up to you how deep you are in on this concept. Personally, I’d stick with axe gauntlets and claim that’s what the fingerless gloves are.

And if someone gave me grief over it, I would stare at them

And I would keep staring

until they felt uncomfortable.

Anyway, the Warlord lets you play with positioning and punishment. You can set up with classic powers like Lamb to the Slaughter, which is about setting someone up in a position to be attacked. Hell, if you want one of my classic, all-purpose tricks, you could also take Fey Beast Tamer and get a baby owlbear to make one of your charging options.

You could call it Shingo.

Option 3: The Bladesinger, I Guess

How much of what a character does do you want to ignore?

Does it bother you when a character has access to stuff that you just leave at the bottom of the character sheet and never bother to think about it, and hopefully it never winds up hosing you when there was something you could do but never did do, because it doesn’t fit with the character and you’re kind of more focused on expressing them in one particular way?

Alright, so here’s the high-concept version of Kyo. Fighting game characters are, by default, meant to be engaging in meaningful street fights, but if someone pulls out a gun, they’re probably not just walking it off. They’re part of a tradition of violence that does suggest that there are characters or things that are clearly dangerous to them in a way that ties them to being pretty human. The important thing is their offensive capabilities, not their defensive ones, and they use that offense to maintain control over their opponents’ options.

Unless they have command throws, goddamn you Ramona.

Anyway, point is, if Kyo is meant to be more fragile than girls wearing tanks on their sleeves, and his primary purpose is to assert control over people, well, why not look at a melee controller build? There is one — the somewhat rarely seen Bladesinger.

Now, immediately, some of the more min-max types just shut off. They’re right. The Bladesinger is basically a Wizard that trades in some of their more phenomenal upper-end power for some lower-end stuff you don’t need — the ability to brawl in melee and fling fire in people’s faces. There’s a lot of choosing to do here, and it will involve making choices for your powers as you level that focus on fire powers over necessarily the most powerful powers of each level.

Bladesingers need to have a light or heavy blade, and for it to be one-handed. One of the options for an ‘unarmed’ light blade is here, the Wrist Razors, so you’re not stuck with a wielded weapon now. There is a small problem in that the Wrist Razoris a light blade, not a heavy one, so you can’t get that Firewind Weapon enchantment we talked about with Chandra. You also get a bunch of small cantrips – some of which can be rethemed for Kyo pretty easily. Light? You hold up a flame, easy. But between Prestidigitation, Light, Ghost Sound and Mage Hand, something there is not ‘very Kyo’ and you’re going to probably be stuck with it.

Still: This option makes you very much a controller, with access to ranged blasts and area zone powers, which can be very right for this kind of character. It doesn’t require you to buy particularly impressive equipment to make it work. And, if you’re curious about wizards, it lets you play something that uses wizard powers, and explores wizard feats, without requiring you to get your arms around the entire force of the wizard proper. You can then take feats like the White Lotus chain, and Burn Everything to keep up the pressure of your ‘fire attacks’ with your Bladespells triggering on people, I suppose.

Plus I kind of wanted to put down some thoughts about the Bladesinger in these lists, and why I don’t use it for much. It’s really rough!

Junk Drawer

You might be surprised to see the Monk here, but that’s mostly out of convenience. Making a character from almost any fighting game is easy if you just start with ‘a Monk.’ Monks are mobile, their ki focuses are starter weapons that usually let you ‘set’ an elemental damage type, and they fill the role of striker pretty well. The reason I didn’t put the Monk option up there is because it explains itself, and also, because it will fulfill almost any version of ‘a fighting game character,’ without any need for a description. It’s here not because it’s bad, but because it’s, to me, boring.

One other option that I couldn’t meaningfully justify was a druid. I’ve considered a complex Hybrid Druid/Battlemind build, where you take the Werewolf theme, and at around level 10 you start being able to use all your powers ‘in beast’ mode and use this to create a tough melee character who relies on two overlapping stats (Wisdom and Constitution)… but it’s so complicated and feels really clunky until level 11. This is one of my biases: I like the druid a lot. It’s a powerful class, it gets a cool mode switch, but…


If I said ‘oh yeah, you can do Kyo Kusanagi, easy, he’s just also a furry werewolf boy and also a tank,’ you’d,

well you’d be a very specific little corner of my potential audience.

Kyo Kusanagi is one of my favourite kind of characters to treat in How To Be because he’s either very simple and you immediately get it, or you need to do some arcane nonsense to get close to what you really want. There’s depth to the problem he presents, and there’s a simple solution and complex solutions and you really get to pick where on that you fall.

None of these are ever going to be as Kyo as just Monk Plus Fire Totem. But they’re all going to give you someplace to be with that idea that lets you get a character who can have similar gestures, similar behaviour, similar vibe to Kyo and not being stuck doing damage.

BREAKING NEWS, aka, LAST MINUTE EDIT: Oh yeah, wait, hell, you can take any melee combat class, take the Master Of The Fist feat, which lets you use your unarmed strikes as a longsword-calibre weapon, and then you can use a fire weapon ki focus, which means congratulations, now your fire unarmed attacks are all sorted and you can pick any dang class to work with it.

UGH, I can’t believe I didn’t know about that.

Thanks to Fox for that, not the Fox I normally mean when I say that, another Fox.

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