How To Be: Samus Aran (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.

Really gotta specify that ‘in 4e D&D’ on this one.

When we talk about How To Be, the point has always been to take characters that are interesting in some particular way then see how we can carry that vibe into the creative space of 4th Edition D&D. What we’ve seen, when we try and make things like a real-world-alike gangster or a robot dinosaur, is that there are some concepts that seem very easy to translate into the play space that really aren’t. Zelgadis is a D&D character and he was very challenging to translate to the game just because he’d already been filtered through another set of different game rules. Minfilia showed us that when a character leaves large parts of their method and ideology as blank slates, there’s a challenge creating something in the space that fulfills that character.

Extremely defined and extremely vague characters, in both directions, are hard.

Anyway, let’s look at Samus Aran.

Examining Samus aran

Samus Aran is a great big tough, heavily armoured lady walking around with basically a tank on her shoulders, a gun for an arm, and a basket of tricks that just happen to make exploring and moving really fun and engaging. She’s also one of the longstanding combat characters in the videogame Super Smash Bros, which adds a complication of being a game that’s already about translating Samus from one form to another and in the process present just the way the character feels.

Samus has a lot of different ways to apply her guns, with bolts, missiles, charged up beams, freezy beams, waves that travel through barriers, bombs, bigger bombs, bigger missiles, and probably some other stuff I forgot from one of the games or other. Essentially, ‘has and uses gun’ is a lot of what she does, which tends to look like ranged attacks. Ranged attacks and big dump-truck tough armour aren’t a common overlap in D&D.

In some iterations (mostly Smash Bros), she’s also got a whip or some form of lash ability that gives her short-ranged melee attacks that nonetheless let her huck people around. This iteration is also the Zero Suit look, which eschews the heavy armour in favour of jet boot high heels.

Across a huge number of games, though, Samus cooks down to being extremely mobile, with the ability to turn into a little ball and roll through tubes, jump very far and across chasms, and even eventually, kinda-fly with screw attacks.

All told, that gives us this list:

  • Highly mobile
  • Shoots things
  • Doesn’t die
  • Heavily armoured
  • Badass

The Unified Samus Theory

… Okay, we’re screwed on this one.

The list of Samus Aran traits we have is a little bit like one of those ‘pick two’ triangles, where you can have cheap, fast or strong. Heavy armour works against mobility. Mobility tends to be paired with melee damage, not ranged damage. Ranged damage tends to not work with heavy armour.

What this means is there’s no real overlap between all the options here. Instead, these Samus Arans are all going to be bespoke.

Samus The Snake

First up, let’s look at Samus Aran as a combination of infiltrator and damage dealer. Armoured or not, Samus can very much be a high-femme high-heels wearing run-and-gunner who has an armoured suit for most of the time, but without it, is still basically a stealth game protagonist who can best the space pirates with ingenuity and wits. In this context, the most important part of what Samus does is kill people in the face with her laser weapon, even if sometimes that laser weapon is letting her charge people shoulder-first or even sneak through their ductwork as a ball or a person.

This version of Samus goes where she wants and deals a lot of damage. This build also avoids a conversation about whether Samus is strong or charismatic by instead forwarding that her most important stat is her wisdom. Pick a target and chase it down, like a bounty hunter does.

Here’s the problem: Avengers don’t favour heavy armour. In fact they have a lot of things that benefit from not being armoured, including an armour bonus that makes your armour class almost as good as wearing heavy armour you’d have to spend feats on. This build definitely gets you the reliable, hostile and agile Samus Aran, but the armour, the power suit, lacks substance.

I think this build is only going to be satisfying if you’re looking at the Zero Suit Samus as a default, and want to play with that aesthetic. The lack of heavy, chunky armour feels like it’s a hard stop for the idea, and that’s okay! But it’s also the simplest version of the character and the version I’d recommend you pick up to start with. This blasty build would do things like pull enemies away from the tank to deal with them one-on-one, leaping away and keeping them chasing you. Very in keeping with how Samus plays, but it doesn’t play how she feels like she should play, right?

Samus The Tank

Gunna level with you, there’s a Samus from twenty years ago that the current Samus evolved out of and she’s a very different person. She’s big and strong and green haired and makes promo videos of herself. The personality of the quiet, introspective stoic Samus Aran we’re used to now, complete with the blonde hair, beauty spot and Zero Suit, is pretty much not evident here even if this character is also equally the work of fanfiction distributed by Nintendo Power.

On the other hand, in terms of play experience, it’s hard to look at a seven foot tall woman wearing heavy metal armour and not think of her as being tough by definition. Samus can be seen as a deadly opponent (because of all the killing) but she can just as much be seen as someone who endures enormously difficult circumstances to protect other people from the threat she’s in a position to stop. Basically, there’s a tankiness to the idea of Samus Aran. With Metroid: Dread adding more blatant melee combat finishers, and Smash Bros presenting us with more of Samus’ physicality, it’s very possible you have a long history of thinking of Samus in terms of who she can beat up.

(And then the Zero Suit version gets involved there too and it’s complicated all of a sudden.)

If you want to do this kind of Samus, you have options that can range from the simple to the weird, but I’d start with the Paladin as my baseline. Talk to your GM about it, since she by definition doesn’t have a hand free (because of the gun) and this is just a question of how it looks. Treat the armoured fists of the suit as a hammer, and play a melee Paladin who smashes things very hard. There is of course, one little wrinkle here, because uh…

It’s kind of hard to neglect the gun. The question becomes ‘how do you make a mostly-melee character who still wants a ranged attack?’ And how do you make that ranged attack good? Ranged attacks can open you up to attacks of opportunity, and that’s bad.

The solution gets a little ugly. The two best options I found for getting a shooty beam on the melee paladin Samus are both multiclass-like:

  • Use the half-elf to pick up a Warlock blast like Eldritch Blast that uses your constitution or Charisma, depending on your type of Paladin. Eventually, you can use Razordark Bracers to protect yourself from the attacks of opportunity.
  • Multiclass Battlemind with the feat Awakened Potential. Then, power swap one of your at-will powers for Concussive Strike, which is a blast 3 that provides meaningful utility and provokes no attacks of opportunity.

Another option, which means you shoot less often but do shoot well is to take a Cavalier, and to treat her Righteous Radiance as blasting people who get close. This build can also spend powers choices to pick up the big splashy daily beam powers, like Radiant Delirium. This kind of split attacking does mean you’ll need to improve her Charisma as well as her strength, but it’s the best way to do it all if your thinking of Samus is as a physically impressive, tough shooter.

Samus The Samusn’t

In Metroid Fusion, we’re treated to the presence of the SA-X, a pile of goo made out of a shapeshifting monster that wants to be Samus Aran. It stomps around after you for most of the game, stalking the original Samus in the look of her original design, and eventually, after being fought and defeated, winds up teaming up with you (and sacrificing itself) to fight the most dreadful of Metroids you’ve met(roid) so far. This Samus Aran has ranged attacking powers, a dreadful melee threat, and can shapeshift into a monstrous form that controls the space around her by slapping you around and shooting you.

That’s right.

This is a druid build.

I’m not just doing this because I want to talk about a druid build. I’m also doing this because I love character who are the monster that wants to be a person. The fountain of blood in the shape of a girl. The Samus Aran that is trying very hard to be Samus Aran because being Samus Aran feels good. I love that stuff!

First up, the druid. Druids can wear bulky armour (hide, but you know, it’s not bad), and make ranged attacks in a humanoid form. Then they can shapeshift into a beast form that makes melee attacks to control enemies. By default, they start out pretty tough (12 hit points, 5 hp a level, 7 healing surges, the top standard for controllers), and their ability to corral a single target makes them pretty safe from day 1. They also get elemental blast powers, like Chill Wind, that lets you shove enemies around and pick where they stand (and allies too, really).

Druids can benefit from picking up powersets that care about distributing slows, or about forced movement, which tend to blossom as you advance in the levels. The Alfsair spear, available very cheaply, lets you use spear feats on your attacks in both beast and human form, which can include polearm feats and oh look who put Polearm Momentum in here? Even if you don’t want to multiclass fighter for the Most Stolen Feat Chain, you could look into using Savage Rend and proning tools to make ‘sitting on the enemy’ your job.

Basically, a druid build can be a single opponent’s boss monster.

Junk Drawer

The challenge of needing ranged attacks, heavy armour and high mobility are very much in your ‘pick two’ category of character building. I did look at and reject a lot of almosts and not-quites, with the Warlock lacking the toughness, Sorcerer/Paladin hybrids lacking coherence, and the elegance of the Battlemind crashing into the limits of a class that doesn’t quite work at range despite having powers that want to keep you there.

Samus is a really awkward character to love because almost everyone who loves her tends to love different versions of her, different ideas of her, and most of them are doing so without any want to diminish other people’s (but…). She’s iconic, but like all icons, she’s been reduced at scale and distance to make sure that whatever she is, it doesn’t hurt your imagination of what she is or should be.

Because we did that once and it sucked.