Posted in Uncategorized, tagged D&D 4E, defenders on February 1, 2012 |
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I decided I couldn’t put things off any longer and needed to have the talk with one of my players. It is not what you think; he wasn’t being jettisoned from the group for jackassery, bad body odor, or an excessive and uncomfortable level of junk touching. I just couldn’t ignore the signs any longer, from the body language at the table to the constant tweaking of his character being emailed to me between sessions. After perusing his new build I finally just came out with it and said we need to talk because it seems like he is unhappy with his character. Perhaps I let it go to long? Maybe I was in a bit of denial? Perhaps I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing another one to the sweet sirens call of the striker.
I watched young Rhogar go from a stalwart paladin of Pelor who was a true blend of a sword and board defender/leader to a full blade wielding striker/defender. I saw the dice envy grew every time the twin blade ranger laid some smack on a bad guy. As I watched this unfold I tried to give some counsel on defenders and the role they played, often lovingly recounting the exploits of that rapscallion Drax. I tried to show him how awesome the tank could be. I tried to show him how miserable he could make my life and all the nasty things he could do to my monsters, and how he could thwart my plans and make me want to pull may hair out. Doesn’t that sound like fun I’d ask? All this was to no avail as I saw him firmly on the path to the dark side. I now know how Obi-Wan felt.
Here is what I wrote to him after being sent another tweaked version of his character:
“You need to play the character that you will be most happy with and I will make it work. With that in mind, it seems like you want to do a lot of damage. The problem is at its core the paladin is a defender, so even though you upped his damage he is still below a striker in damage, but in making him more damaging he becomes a sub par defender. This leaves you being meh on a couple of fronts, which is what I think you might be struggling with. So why don’t you look at the barbarian, the ranger or even the avenger and you can still be a knight of Pelor because that is just fluff. I can easily adjust things to accommodate the lack of a defender.”
So I lost another one to the lure of the sparkling damage dice.
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My friend Liam, hater of LFR, Defenders, puppies, your mother, and everything that is good in the world is holding a contest over at his lair The Shattered Sea. For those of you who don’t know, when not crushing the likes of the lovable Drax under his DM boot-heel, Liam is the creator of the most excellent campaign setting The Shattered Sea. Never content to rest on his laurels, Liam is looking to expand the Shattered Sea into new mediums and perhaps world domination. This is where you fit into his machinations, as he is holding a contest looking for a comic artist who would be interested in illustrating a series of comics based on The Shattered Sea. You can find out more details at his site as well as some interesting live play podcasts, musings, and of course the world of the Shattered Sea.
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In his recent article “Make D&D Better, Remove Fighters From the Game” Buxtehude took a massive dump on the 4th edition defender, and in particular Fighters, and to some extent those who make and play them. The gist of his diatribe was that the gimmicked-up/twinked-out fighters, which he calls “Conscore McSwordy”, can wreck the fun of the game by grinding down the fluidity of combat movement and fast passed action through their marking mechanics, rock like defenses and durability, low damage output, and tendency to be poorly role-played if even role-played at all. The response to this article has been slightly amusing, and poor Buxtehude has taken some heat from commenters essentially calling him an idiot, a bad DM, and then flaming the website for putting up such rubbish. I can assure you he is neither and idiot nor a bad DM nor was the article rubbish, although this does sort of shed some light on why the lovable Drax (my Dragonborn Paladin) from the first season of D&D encounters usually ended up unconscious and making death saves by the end of the first round.
While I of course disagree with his opinion, I do agree with a lot of the points he does make, as I have been his “Conscore McSwordy” in games as well as had my DM nads skewered by a “McSwordy”. All I can say is “don’t hate the playa, hate the game” son. One can make these kinds of arguments with almost any well built character of a certain role. D&D is a system that somewhat encourages and rewards well built characters these days, and these issues are a natural consequence of moving to a system where character classes and their abilities have been crafted to function in clearly defined roles. For example nothing neuters the threat of an encounter the way a well built or optimized healing cleric can. Alternatively, I have played in games where as “Conscore McSwordy” I couldn’t even make it to an enemy to lock it down before it was killed by a supremely twinked up ranger. As for his lack of role-playing gripes, I feel this is really player and game dependant rather than something to be heaped upon the fighter and those who love and play them.
In the end, D&D has always been a game that supports a wide range of play styles (even in these more tactical wargamey times), and problems can arise when styles clash, which underlies the importance in gaming with like-minded people who have a similar vision and play style, or at least close enough on the continuum to not drive someone nuts. If you haven’t already you should check out Buxtehude’s campaign and other musings at his base of operation in The Shattered Sea, where you will find that he knows his stuff and is a good DM. In the future if you sit down at the table to run a game and you look up and lock eyes with one of us “McSwordy’s”, remember artillery targeting reflex/will and monsters with auras if you want to try and teach us a little humility….”try” being the optimal word.
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I have often written in the past about my typical default character in 4th edition (when I actually get to play) is either a defender or a leader given that there is rarely a shortage of strikers at the game table. This is understandable as the strikers have become the glitterati of the D&D world, where massive damage and eviscerating enemies in one shot has driven the rogue and ranger to Brangelina status. That’s fine; let them have their sparkling mountains of damage dice. If the strikers are the glitterati, then the defenders are the everyman, and as John Lennon once sang “a working class hero is something to be”. I thought I would make this post about how I embrace the defender role, so “if you want to be a hero, well just follow me”.
The mindset I have gotten into when I create and play a defender is that I will be the rock that my enemies break themselves against. For this I favor the straight up sword and board fighter. As for race, I have dabbled with a few, but have settled on the Dwarf for a few reasons. Firstly, there are few things as iconic and rock like as a Dwarven fighter, and secondly being able to use your second wind as a minor action is sublime for a guy that is planning on getting kicked in the nads a lot. Oh and being able to resist a square of forced movement is uber rock like as well. When I craft the rock I take a three prong approach of jacked up defenses, self-healing (let the leaders save their healing for the squishy prima donna strikers), and punishing those that disobey my mark. There is nothing like seeing the look of frustration bordering on madness in the DM’s eyes when he can’t hit me, and he has to try cause god knows I’ve marked just about everyone I can see; and if he does hit me he can’t drop me because I soak up the damage like a sponge; and then he can’t move his bad guys around the field like he wants to because they are stuck to me like glue. That look of madness in his eyes makes me as giddy as a school girl.
My current defender incarnation is Markus Laggerbelly, a Craghammer wielding Dwarven fighter. I play him as a sarcastic and wise-cracking (it’s funny how art imitates life ) nut job that launches himself maniacally into the fray with reckless abandon. He constantly taunts the enemies to come get a taste. His response to getting pummeled is a lot of 3 Stooges dialogue. For me, in 4th edition, I think the key to playing a defender is embracing the masochism.
How about you guys, how do you play the working class hero?
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So I have been playing in the D&D Encounters at my FLGS. The Encounters program is a 12 part adventure played one encounter each week and sponsored by Wizards of the Coast. The adventure is set in the Forgotten Realms in a massive dungeon called Undermountain. The goal of the program is to get people to play D&D, particularly new players, and to promote the FLGS. I have really enjoyed the Encounters program as it gives me a chance to roll the dice on the other side of the screen. I have been playing Drax, a dragonborn paladin of Tempus. I play him as very over the top, not that bright (dump stat is Int), and compelled to challenge whoever he perceives as the toughest opponent, which he sees as his duty being a paladin of Tempus. Playing a defender in 4th Edition isn’t easy, especially at the early levels of the heroic tier. The term “meat shield” is an understatement, and one has to get used to doing less damage than in previous editions. This in particular can be tuff when you see some leather clad sissy roll all those sparkling dice. Being a defender is all about battlefield control and drawing fire. Drax is particularly good at this. The encounter doesn’t seem complete if he hasn’t made at least one death save. He has literally left bits and pieces of himself strewn throughout Undermountain. The group I have been playing with has been fairly consistent week to week; we have 2 other defenders (Warden and Fighter) and 2 strikers (Monk and Sorcerer). We typically struggle thru the encounters without a leader, especially if the strikers don’t roll well. I feel our tactics are generally good but there is either something in the encounter design or our DM (who is awesome) has been rolling better than average, as we tend to have our teeth kicked in with some frequency. It is hard to feel like you’re really defending comrades or controlling the battlefield when you are unconscious by the end of the first round, unless “controlling” means forcing the enemy to move around your limp body to get at your allies. I think it takes perseverance to play a defender in 4th edition as it takes several levels for your hit points to significantly outdistance the other roles and for you to get access to cool feats, powers, and magic items that will make you a more effective tank. One such task is to get your defences sorted out. Seriously, there is only a 3 point difference in AC between our monk who is wearing cloth and Drax who is in full plate and heavy shield. As a side note, nothing in Undermountain seems to attack AC, which is unfortunate as this is Drax’s highest defence. All in all though I love playing Drax, and am proud that he has made it to 2nd level. I can already see the change from first level, as he only got dropped once this week. So this is a shout out to all of you out there who choose to step into the breach and hold the line against the faceless hordes in your own games so some fancy pants monk or rogue can get all the glory.
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