Friday, June 13, 2008

A character creation example for D&D 4E

I'm going to go through the process of creating character in the latest iteration of Dungeons & Dragons. I'll do my best to explain this in the most generic terms possible, though it still might be a bit unfathomable if you don't know what the letters RPG stand for, but even a little experience with WoW or some other video-game RPG should be enough to get the concepts.

This report won't be anal in explaining all of my decisions and their consequences, partly because I don't think people would be all that interested, but also because I only got the book on Wednesday and the rules have changed a lot... so many of my decisions were based on speculation of how the game will play, which I haven't tested yet. I did work through a rather exhaustive build to make sure everything works the way I want it, but for the most part, I will spare you the gory details.

The first thing to do is come up with a character concept. Just paging through the Player's Handbook, a race jumped out at me immediately as something I wanted to try: the Dragonborn. They're one of the races that are new to me, as I haven't played "pen and paper" (PnP) since second edition. As the name suggests, they're humanoids that look kinda like dragons and they get a breath weapon(i.e. breathe fire or acid or something), which sounds pretty handy. They're the scattered remnants of a once mighty empire that vied for control of the realm, but now they're basically just honorable soldiers for hire who love to fight. Works for me. They also get bonuses to stats(Strength and Charisma) that are important to Paladins; a character class that was heavily revamped in this edition, and one that I really wanted to check out. So pretty quickly I had settled on a Dragonborn Paladin... but the next big question for a Paladin, who is basically the sword arm of some deity, is who exactly this Dragonborn will worship. The obvious choice would be Bahamut, who in the D&D mythology of Eberron is THE dragon who started all dragons and is the patron of honor and justice and all that jazz... however, that's a little boring, because one of the nice things about 4E Paladins is that they don't have to be goody-goodies(basically they had to be your stereotypical knight-in-shining armor) and can worship any god now... even the not nice ones. So, since there are no longer any restrictions, who to choose? Well, there is Kord who is a god of warfare which would obviously work well with a Dragonborn, but once again that's a little too obvious... ahhhh... The Raven Queen. God of death, spinner of fate, patron of winter. Her tenets are:

1. Do not fear death or mourn it.
2. Punish hubris, and those who try to escape fate.
3. Smash cults of Orcus and their undead minions.

So not only will he kill zombies, but it's his sacred mission. Excellent. My Dragonborn Paladin of the Raven Queen is thus some sort of Angel of Death, which I like... and checking the Raven Queen's Blessing (power you don't get for free, but you can select later), you get to heal your buddies when you kill somebody. Nice. I should note that the Raven Queen is not an evil goddess... she is, in fact, "unaligned"... which is sort of motivated self interest. She's more of a force of nature than anything else.

OK, so now I have my concept down, though at some point I'll have figure out more of his motivations for adventuring and what kind of person he is... it's enough of an idea to move onto the numbers... i.e. his ability scores. In D&D you've got 6 stats that define your character: Strength (STR), Constitution (CON), Dexterity (DEX), Intelligence (INT), Wisdom (WIS), and Charisma (CHA)... which all pretty much do what they say. For a Paladin, Strength, Wisdom, and Charisma are all important... however, I plan on playing a Paladin that is focused on Strength and Wisdom at the expense of Charisma... he'll still be one inspiring/intimidating dude, but not OHMYGAWD hot. The nature of the new system is that there are basically two flavors of every class that you can either go with exclusively or mix and match. My inclination is try to focus on one thing and not dabble, and while a Dragonborn gets bonuses to both Strength and Charisma, I think their nature as fighters and the fact that he worships a death goddess is more suggestive of the Avenging(STR based) Paladin build. Oh, remember that breath weapon I mentioned? It does damage based on Constitution, so that's another stat I want to be pretty good.

It used to be that we'd roll a bunch of dice to determine our ability scores (and you still can), but most of us find that a little too random. Generally players these days do a "point buy" where you customize your scores, with it costing more to have a higher score. I won't go into the details of it, but it's fairly straight forward. I chose an array of 15, 15, 15, 11, 10, and 8. I should explain that a score of 10 is average... no bonus or penalty, and a score of 18 is the highest you can buy at the start (though bonuses can push you beyond it). With my Dragonborn bonuses to Strength(+2) and Charisma(+2), this is how my scores worked out (with the bonus/penalty in parenthesis):

STR: 17(+3)
CON: 15(+2)
DEX: 8(-1)
INT: 10(0)
WIS: 15(+2)
CHA: 13(+1)

An experienced player might look askance at that DEX score, but there are two justifications: I will be wearing plate armor, so that won't affect my armor class, and my reflex save is based on the best of DEX or INT, so while it will still be bad, it won't be terrible. I also don't feel like playing a stupid character, which is just as important. Another thing that may surprise that "experienced player" is the number of odd values in that array. In D&D, you most often want even numbers in your stats because that's when the bonuses increase (i.e. that 17 in Strength is as good as a 16 for determining a bonus). Now, you get to increase your ability scores as you gain levels via adventuring, but having 4 odd numbers in key stats means I'm spreading where I need to put those increases a little thin, right? Not in 4E. We get 2 ability increases every 4 levels, instead of 1 (no, you can't put both increases into the same stat). So I can still increase my main stat (STR) every time and yet even out those odd numbers.

For people who didn't understand a word of that, I apologize for the uber nerd digression... but I felt I had to preemptively defend myself.

Anyway, onto class features. These are the things that every Paladin can do, regardless of their build. It's part of what defines a Paladin. First up is Channel Divinity, which allows me to give a blessing to another character at the expense of a minor action (i.e. I can still move and attack in the same round). I can only do it once an encounter/fight, but allows me to add my Strength bonus to my next attack or give a player a chance to resist some effect (like being dazed or something) with my Charisma bonus added on. Also, if I chose to take it later, the Raven Queen's Blessing would fall in this category. The second class feature is Divine Challenge, which allows me to "mark" an opponent... if they don't attack me after being marked, then they suffer a -2 penalty to hit and 3 points of damage plus my Charisma modifier. You can see already that I'm taking a bit of a hit for my choice of having a lower Charisma score, but 'dems da breaks. However, the last class feature of the Paladin, Lay on Hands, shows where the trade-off for having a higher Wisdom score benefits. Lay on Hands is an ability that lets you, with a minor action, heal another player by touching them... it's one of the few healing powers in the game, and thus very useful... and the number of times a day you can do it is determined by your Wisdom bonus (so two times a day for my guy).

Now we've arrived at the point where you have to make some tough choices... the powers. This is a completely new concept for D&D, so I should probably explain it a little first. There are three types of powers: At-Will, Encounter, and Daily Powers. At-Will Powers can be used anytime I want, Encounter Powers can be used once per fight, and Daily Powers can only be used (you guessed it!) once per day. As you may suspect, their uberness relates to how often you can use them. You start with 2 At-Will Powers(out of 4 possible) and never get anymore... these are your basic attacks, but are a little more flavorful and unique than "swing sword", though that's what they amount to. You only get 1 Encounter Power(out of 4) and 1 Daily Power(out of 3) to start, but you get access to more as you level up. By 10th level you'll have 4 Encounter Powers and 3 Daily Powers to round out your combat options. There are also "Utility Powers", but since you don't get any of those at 1st level I won't say anything other than that they are powers that aren't attacks (like blessings on teammates).

So here is what I picked... all STR based powers naturally:

At-Will
  • Holy Strike: My basic STR based attack that does weapon damage plus my STR bonus plus my WIS bonus (see why I wanted that high now?) if I have the enemy marked with Divine Challenge before I hit it.
  • Valiant Strike: You get a +1 to hit for every enemy that surrounds you, but it just does weapon damage plus STR bonus.

Encounter
  • Radiant Smite: STR based again. Does 2 times weapon damage plus STR bonus plus WIS bonus to one enemy.

Daily
  • Paladin's Judgment: 3 times weapon damage plus STR bonus, and an ally within 5 squares can get healed.

So that pretty much lays out what this first level character can do in combat... a little bit of a departure from the good ole' days for the D&D veterans, eh?

The next step... and I promise we're almost done... is to pick my trained skills and my feat. Skills just give you an idea of what your character is good at besides bashing skulls or hurling fireballs... and they are important in game terms of finding out whether your character knows something about a subject or whether he can jump across a chasm or something. I won't go into detail, but my character is trained in Endurance(resisting the effects of extreme temperatures and the like), History(Dragonborn are obsessed with the fall of their empire), Intimidation(they're also scary), and Religion(kind of mandatory for a Holy Warrior). The feat I chose was Toughness, which grants a bonus hit points(how much damage you can take before collapsing)... something that's pretty key for the guys standing on the front lines and bashing away... which my character most certainly is.

The last thing is my starting equipment... you get 100 gold pieces to outfit your character, which is enough to buy some plate armor, a halberd (I wanted a great axe but couldn't afford it), a holy symbol of the Raven Queen, and a "standard adventurer's kit"... which, as the name suggests, has everything the aspiring adventurer could want... from rope to trail rations to a bedroll and a belt pouch to put my non-existent money in (think positive!). Hmmm... I guess I'll have to use my intimidation skill to get somebody to buy me a beer at the inn.

Oh, there is one more thing... a name. I'm not a terribly creative person and don't know anything about Dragonborn naming conventions... but luckily the Handbook does supply some. Hmmm... combing two likely candidates together... Rhoghesh.

So there you have it: Rhoghesh, Dragonborn Paladin of The Raven Queen.