How To Be: Ranma Saotome from Ranma 1/2 (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 for this kind of project 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 time, we’re going to try and capture the feeling of gender-flipping Martial Arts Death Machine Ranma Saotome from Ranma 1/2.

Examining Ranma

Oh hey, this isn’t going to fly well, but hey, uh, trans girl audience! I apologise ahead of time for your headcanons but I’m going to spend my time in this article referring to Ranma as ‘he.’ You can absolutely take all the advice I’m giving here and just apply it to your version of Ranma (and trust me, we’re going to end up somewhere weird). We’re going to wind up decoupling from “Ranma As Is” pretty quickly, especially since I seem to have a micro Master’s degree in the manga of Ranma 1/2, but that’s meaningless considering how many people got into the series from fanon, fanfic and the anime (but I repeat myself).

Alright, what do we know about Ranma ahead of time that seems attainable in D&D?

  • Gender changing! This is easier than it looks. Ranma changes gender, and while he can control it, it is often not under his control.
  • Ranma is a martial artist who primarily is shown fighting unarmed, but also has been shown fighting with a wide variety of weapons and items. The style he practices is often translated as ‘anything goes’ so if swords are at hand, he’ll use swords.
  • Ranma has reach but not range. Ranma regularly is shown being able to close with opponents and dart back at high speed, he uses improvised weaponry and techniques to expand his reach and some of his martial arts techniques like the Moko Takabisha, Hiryu Shoten Ha and possible Yamasenken suggest that Ranma controls the area around him even if he doesn’t necessarily have the means to ‘shoot’ people at range.
  • Ranma is tough. Even in the whacky martial arts comedy he’s set, Ranma takes poundings on the regular. He’s also very strong, as represented by being able to deadlift large boulders and break through large objects, but he’s often shown as being ‘less strong’ than other characters in the setting who are ‘very’ strong, like Ryouga and Lime.
  • Ranma learns fast and improvises quickly, meaning that sometimes he does lots of weird things with moves that isn’t normally seen as how they ‘should’ be done.
  • Ranma has a deep basket of nonsense that you can build them from

Well, the gender thing is pretty much going to need addressing head on. I can see three basic takes on the gender change for your table, and you’ll need to talk to your DM about it.

  • Don’t Matter, Don’t Care. Outside of disguise check, your gender is extremely unimportant to all mechanics in 4th Edition D&D. You could ask your DM for a straight-up copy of the Ranma 1/2 curse, where you could be ‘changed’ involuntarily by a common occurence, and you can change back with a slightly less common occurrence. This opens up room for mistaken identity stuff, and like I said, disguise checks, but the overall impact seems so rules-light to me that a DM might be willing to just let it be a thing the player mostly controls. If you approached me as a player and asked for this, I would just be okay with it. If you wanted to play a ‘Well I don’t see why Ranma doesn’t just stay a girl all the time’ style Ranma, this is your easiest option because after a little fuss of changing back, you can just let it stick.
  • Changeling Race. Changelings are great, I like them a lot, they’re fun and funny and if you want to play someone who plays with their appearance (including gender), they’re great to play. They have a lot of control over it, which means you might not find the experience quite ‘clicks’ to Ranma for you.
  • Martial Discipline Example. There’s a Martial Discipline (like a ritual but not magic) called Alter Ego that lets you change details about your race and gender for disguise checks, and it costs a healing surge to fire off. If you wanted to play a character who could more freely and with more game impact make these swaps into something you can consciously do, in exchange for a very easy skill check and a surge. This seems great if you want to play a deliberately genderfluid Ranma character.

Any of these options work under the rules, so you can pick the one you like the best. Now, with that in mind, I can see three basic options for making a Ranma, and one… kinda off the wall one.

Option 0 – The Basic Requirements

Thanks to being a complete doofus, there isn’t a lot to Ranma as a person than his martial arts. An immature, bratty kid, you can bolt almost any other stuff you want to, mechanically, to the character as long as you keep the core of ‘gender heckery and martial arts.’ Skill-wise, we know he can dress himself up pretty (so disguise is good), he can’t cook, he can survive on his own in the wild for a bit and he’s pretty clueless about most modern conveniences. The Umi-sen ken training suggests he’s probably a skilled thief (but doesn’t have to be) and he’s otherwise mostly just athletic and acrobatic.

Ranma overwhelmingly fights unarmed, though he doesn’t have to, and … that’s our baseline. He’s a real cipher when it comes to ‘not fighty!’

Option 1 – Monk

Well this was going to be obvious, wasn’t it? The monk benefits from Dexterity and Wisdom, letting you play a ‘fast, intuitive’ martial artist Ranma, or you could go Dex and Strength, and go for a ‘buff himbo’ Ranma. Monks move a lot, they punch a lot, they attack in melee and range. If you pick a Changeling, you do get an unnecessary Charisma bonus, but the Dexterity bonus will be handy for the Monk primary attack powers.

Monk Ranma lets you flurry people, it lets you do a whirlwind striking above and around you – this is a really good, basic option for someone who doesn’t want to have to manage complicated nonsense in a build, and where any power you like the look of is going to be good enough to take.

Option 2 –Brawling Fighter

It’s quite reasonable to view Ranma as a meathead with a very disciplined body, meaning that the fighter can do most of what you need, letting you push stats into physical strength, con, and dexterity, and rely on the fact that Ranma is bad at convincing people of things and worse at remembering things to express your terrible mental stats.

There’s an option though for a fighter that feels more like a martial artist, from Martial Power, the Brawling fighter. Brawling fighters can hold a weapon in their main hand, then keep their offhand free, which gives you all the fighter tank goodness (you might have to aesthetic your heavier armour options away) along with the debuffing and control that comes with being a brawly fighter. You can pick up and put down weapons as you like them, as long as you keep one hand free.

The fighter’s really solid in general, so if you just want to get started, put some gauntlets on that are totally wraps and just pick general goodstuff, this build asks the least weird stuff of you and lets you control the area around you really well, which is one thing Ranma gets to do. Nice!

Fighter cons are that you do have to take armour, and Ranma tends to fight as well naked as he does clad and we see that, but lightly armoured fighters are an option, or you can flavour plate mail as a robe of dragonscale like Tarou wears.

Option 3 – Battlemind

Now here’s where things start to get weird. The Battlemind is a solid class, but it has some problems, not the least of which being it matures slower than most other classes. A level 2 or 3 Battlemind is not going to be as good at the Battlemind’s job (controlling damage) as a level 2 or 3 fighter.

The Battlemind is built around Constitution, which is interesting and lets you play with how much of an indestructible meathead Ranma is, and it’s incredibly mobile with teleports that can be flavoured as ‘flash step’ style movement. It also knocks people down a lot, and it has the genuinely fantastic tank power Lightning Rush, which you can combine with a lot of different weapons including quarterstaffs, spears, glaives and so on to huck people onto the ground and throw them around the battlefield.

Now, the Battlemind’s unarmed options aren’t amazing – you do care about a good weapon that makes you better at hitting, and your best option to look brawly is to take gauntlets or spiked gauntlets. On the other hand, Ranma is definitely shown fighting with a staff, and you can easily flavour a special martial arts staff as a glaive or the like to get those synergies.

Option 4 – The Nekoken Master

This is going to involve the druid.

Hey! Hey, hey, now, stop throwing things.

Okay, so one thing Ranma has going on is that he’s been traumatised by cats; he’s very afraid of them, as part of his dad’s attempts to teach him a special martial art called the Neko-Ken (‘Cat Fist’). This is one of many ways in which Genma sucks ass.

But what if you wanted to play a catboy/catgirl/catenby martial artist? I have some good news for you.

First of all, you need to multiclass druid with the feat Initiate of the Old Faith. This lets you take on a beast form any time you want (which is also a minor action shift). Neat, but not fantastically exciting except for RP purposes. You could flavour your beast form as you ‘being catlike’ – maybe some kicat ears and a tail. Whatever.

This also opens up the extremely strong melee combat paragon path – I know, I know, the other builds don’t need paragon junk, bear with me here – Blood Moon Stalker.  This class gets to make more attacks, makes its attacks in beast form really scary and it’s all meant to make a druid’s beast form extremely strong.

Then for your theme you take one of Wererat, Werewolf, or Werebear. I recommend Werewolf. This lets all your attacks at level 10+ be done ‘in beast form’ even if they’re not druid beast form attacks. Grab some Claw Gloves.

All these things stack together, so now your monk runs around striking things with their hands doing a lot of damage, kicking people around when they do it, reroll bad combat rolls, and just able to turn into a feral cat form like Ranma does.

Junk Drawer Options

Look, the fact is, the basics of what makes Martial Arts Martial Arts in the Ranmaverse is straight-up nonsense. There’s martial arts that are beam lasers, there’s martial arts that make you good at eating, there’s martial arts that pilot a robot. You can basically pick and choose almost any class and stick them together with these effects because the real thing about Ranma people latch onto is the curse.

The Curse absolutely is something a character, in my opinion, can just have – at its absolute best, it translates to a +5 to disguise checks, and if your DM wants to be really twitchy about it, you could set up a special disadvantage where if splashed by your curse counter-agent (hot water in Ranma’s case) you now have a -5 to disguise checks.

If your DM’s a dinghole about letting your character hop around gender-wise, send them my way and I’ll call them a dinghole for you.

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