How To Be: Rock Howard (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 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.

It’s April, it’s Talen Month, and that means we’re going to talk about a character I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time, and a character who I have a deep appreciation for. There’s not a lot of characters that fit in that mould and work well with 4th Edition’s heightened adventure reality, but when I had the idea to tackle this character, I did so with full and wholehearted knowledge that damnit, I wanted to take care of this character in my month.

We’re going to talk about how you can become Rock Howard.

Examining Rock

Fight game characters are kinda easy to work with for this project. First, you have a nice, clear demonstration of how the characters fight, and second, the rest of the character’s needs are usually filled in with FUCKING NOTHING. I like Rock Howard a lot, but you know what I can’t reasonably tell you? Any of his tastes. His preferences. I can tell you pretty much everything about him from the story, but that’s a sequence of events and everything else is extrapolating.

In the context of the Garou universe Rock is from, we do see that nobody seems to be wearing armour or protective clothing. I think in the case of Rock, I’m going to need to push the definition of armour to its absolute limit to give him any armour setup that isn’t ‘cloth or nothing.’ At no point do we see Rock wielding something you can call a weapon, and we see him flinging around energy blasts. These blasts can be direct, targeted, timed in the middle of other things, and he even suggests he kind of uses them to throw himself forward.

Rock is also strong, and fast, and pretty. The last one doesn’t have a mechanical ramification, it doesn’t matter, but I’m going to mention it. We know that he can punish people who attack him, we know he can throw people around easily, and we know he can even launch himself skyward. Oh, and, even though he can throw ranged attacks that knock people down, he primarily attacks people in melee and hits them with his fists and feet.

Okay, that’s a pretty good set of parameters:

  • Rock is primarily a melee combatant.
  • Rock may wear some armour, if you want to be generous about his bike jacket
  • Rock can blast people from range, and attack everyone around him in melee with energy
  • Rock doesn’t visibly wield a weapon

The Essential Rock

Well now this is a tricky pickle, isn’t it? D&D 4e is a game with certain basic assumptions about combat. For example, it assumes, if you’re going to attack someone, you’re doing it with a weapon. That weapon is therefore probably a perfectly good vessel for magical nonsense, which means you get to have all sorts of violent outcomes from axes and swords and halberds and guisarmes, busting out that real French stuff, but there’s very little options for if you want to hit someone with your hands.

Now, you can trawl the garbage dump for options, but I think it’s best to admit we’re going to have a problem here. Small melee weapons like daggers may fit in other builds, and we’ll talk about those in the junk drawer, but for now, our best option for unarmed but armed as a weapon is the ridiculous tool the GAUNTLET AXE.

A Gauntlet Axe is a weapon from the Dark Sun Campaign Setting. By description, it’s axe blades out of your forearm, but crucially leaves your hands exposed – which means, mechanically speaking, if you’re wearing something that covers your arms, and you squint, it’s an upgrade to your unarmed attacks. Now, it does turn them into axes, so you don’t get to make grapples with them.

It is a weapon; it’s an axe, and it leaves your hand empty. It’s also a shield, and it can be enchanted as a weapon and a shield, and… that’s… nice? And that means your unarmed attacks are basically a +2 proficiency, 1d8 weapon that leave your hands free for the aesthetic of fighting unarmed and a shield that can be enchanted as (for example) a Tusk shield. Really, you pack a lot of stuff in the utility space of the gauntlet axe, except.

Except.

See, you need to be proficient in the Gauntlet Axe (which is a Superior weapon). That’s going to eat a feat, which is a bummer. Some of these builds need a fair bit of feat investment, which means spending another feat, up front, just for a weapon that isn’t actually better than a Longsword and which puts you, categorically speaking in the space of axes.

Still, there are some things that Rock does that we can definitely connect to items. One example is his counter. That’s an item ability, the Strikeback. If your build doesn’t need your Immediate Interrupt a lot, the Strikeback is a hand-slot item that lets you counterattack when someone hits you. That fits that. Later in the game, mind you, but bear it in mind for later on.

Also, it’s a minor thing, because it’s going to be a minor thing to every one of these options, but Rock kinda throws people around, so items that improve your push, pulls, and slides, and anything from the teleport collection we discussed in Corvo’s article is worth considering.

Alright, that’s our basics. On to the specifics.

Option 1 – Monk

With all that malarkey aside, good news: The Monk does not care or need any help at all to do unarmed combat just fine. Monks get splashy magical powers, they get mystical energies, they can throw enemies around, they can move around fast and clean. Honestly, the Monk gets to sit outside of this conversation on its own, in a little bubble. The monk can go without heavy armour, it can benefit from non-weapon implements so they don’t need to be held in hand, and they get to pick and choose the synergies they like.

Basically if that previous discussion made you go ‘uhhh…’ then just take a Monk. Just take a Monk. Want to make Rock Howard, Terry Bogard, Joe Higashi, Andy Bogard, Kain Heinlen, Abel Grant – you know, by default, the monk can become almost any fight game character who just punches stuff and moves around freely.

That’s pretty boring, to be honest? It’s not bad, or anything I dislike, it’s just that the Monk is a bit too easy and there’s nothing fun or creative about it. There’s no specific synergies that differentiate any given version of one of these characters from another monk. I don’t like it, because it feels overly simple, and it limits you to the striker role. If you want the simplest, what-it-says-on-the-tin version of a Rock Howard: Play a Monk.

Option 2 – Battlemind

The Battlemind is one of the most anime classes available if you want to be a defender. The class doesn’t need a lot of refinement out of the box to do ‘Rock Howard things’ – check out the level 1 power Concussive Spike, which lets you throw a blast that knocks everyone in it over. You can make some of your melee single-target hits into explosive bursts around you too, with the augment system.

Now, there is a little bit of time before the Battlemind can truly blossom. It’s a class that lacks for what we call ‘mark punishment,’ or good mark punishment, before level 7, when you get access to Lightning Rush.

And Lightning Rush is the most anime tank power ever.

When you Lightning Rush, someone attacks one of your friends. You respond by teleporting adjacent to them, suddenly face to face with them, and punch them in the face. Then you take on the attack for yourself. How cool is that?

The Battlemind can also get a power called Forceful Reversal. Someone attacks you while you have this power? You interrupt it and punch them in the face and knock them down. That creates a true fight game conundrum: if you have both of these powers, when someone attacks you, you can punish them. When they attack your ally, you can punish them.

That seems like a nice case of outthink me, you fools, you can’t.

Option 3 – Bard

I am already a big fan of the melee bard. If you want to go with our gauntlet-axe melee support bard, you may have to adjust your vision of Rock a little. This will involve looking at Rock as one of many, like, say, a wolf in a pack, where he fights alongside his friends, as opposed to how in the games he mostly spends his time fighting his friends. It’s a fight game, it’s in the genre name.

The base template of the bard, however, can work out really well for a brawly fight game character in light armour. Take the valorous bard, and charge in. It adds in some social benefits too, like how Rock is attractive and capable of fighting with his burning blood, something that I understand is something of a turn on for the right kind of audience.

There’s a little wiggle here too; you could go with a standard valorous bard, which are great. But maybe you want the bulk of your time to be spent actually hitting people, in which case you might opt for the Skald. Skalds are easy to make tick, out of the box – just take the class, and the class gives you everything you need. Your first level feat can be spent on proficiency with the gauntlet axe, and away you go. You have abilities that let you teleport and daze on attacks, and the rest is just power choices.

There’s also the option of starting as a ‘default’ bard, and spending feats to take the Skald’s virtues. This can be really desireable for again, the Valorous bard who wants to stock up on temporary hit points while punching your enemies in the face, and lets you turn on an aura so that your allies can heal themselves by just being near you. Makes you kinda into the ‘team pet’ rather than necessarily into the team’s ‘leader.’

What you need for that is Skald Training, and some way to get a melee basic attack that works for the bard. How can we get a charisma-based basic melee attack, reasonably early? The half-elf can just get it by waking up in paragon and taking one feat – ho hum, nothing special there. But if you’re interested in doing this early, before you need to get to Paragon, an option I like is to make a Tiefling, and take a multiclass paladin feat. Whichever gives you a utility you like better – Walker of the Dark Path is the one with the least requirements, and gives you a once-a-day burst of temporary hit points, but I like Squire of Righteousness – it gives you a debuff aura (if you want it) and even lets you punish people who ignore you. Then, you take the feat Wrath of the Crimson Legion.

God, look at that name.

Wrath of the Crimson Legion lets you make basic attacks with full Charisma, which is what a bard would be building towards. Now, this has been both of your early feats, so you might have to use spiked gauntlets for a little bit – lesser version of the gauntlet axe – but your next feat can be weapon proficiency and away you go. Also, the Tiefling opens you up for some silly powerful feats like Secrets of Belial in the late game.

Junk Drawer Options

As far as the class that feels the most like Rock, I actually don’t think the Monk is your best place. I think the best place to look is the Avenger. The problem with the Avenger is that it’s something that needs to either focus on big chunky crits with a big weapon (which is kind of the opposite of what Rock’s been outlined as doing), or you get to try and multiattack with other class tools and aim to make lots of crits with small weapons to aim for critical effects. That kind of build is known as a ‘critfisher’ and while it is very cool and can give you the same kind of jousting, positioning ‘is this the breakthrough moment or not?’ attack that works for a fight game, it’s very complicated to get rewards.

There’s also a build of the cleric that gets melee implement attacks – but not many, and the result is kind of a patchy mix of powers, and it has the added problem that the cleric is a heavy armour class. It doesn’t have a lot of mobility to it. There’s a bladesinger, which is a melee wizard, but it does heavily rely on using a sword. I could even see a use for the druid, because Rock has an aesthetic that ties him to both birds (hey look, angel wings) and wolves (the game he’s from is called GAROU: MARK OF THE WOLVES) and use silhouettes and spell effects to evoke that, with his ‘beast’ mode being his ‘melee’ mode, not necessarily a full blown animal.

And there are also more builds that get weird with the monk, but they involve rules like hybrid rules. And hybrid rules are a dark place to look for expert builders, not an approachable, easy-breezy guide.

This is obviously a big one. I love it in part because Rock is such an interesting character that, when you’re presented with primarily an aesthetic space, rather than a hard mechanical one, you’re given a lot of different, interesting ways to express it.

I love Rock as a character, I am fairly sure I had a crush on him growing up, and he was my personal example of the Wife-Or-Life problem. So now you know that about my tastes, I guess, that as a teenager, I thought it’d be rad as hell to be Rock Howard, or to do a kiss on him.

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