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25May/110

D&D Character Themes – The Mighty Thor-Guy!

Thor (Marvel Comics)

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So I went to see Thor Sunday, and while I was watching it, I started to think about how I could make everyone's favorite hammer-chucker in D&D. The key problem was that Thor is primarily a melee beast, but he also has an awesome ranged attack, and his fighting style alternates between the two rather seamlessly.

If it's in his face, he swings his hammer at it, if it's not, he hurls Mjolnir while he advances. I have seen a lot of melee classes acquire a secondary ranged weapon (Dwarven Thrower weapons are very popular), but in this case, it's really a gimmick- something to do when you can't reach an enemy.

I wanted to build a Thor-style character who uses the ranged attack as an integral part of what he does as a matter of course, allowing for that seamless switch in tactics. To date, only a few classes really pull this off:

The Ranger

The Ranger was designed to be able to use melee and ranged attacks equally. While you can (and many Rangers do) specialize in one tactic over another, it's not hard to build a Str/Dex Ranger who is equally at home in and out of melee, especially when Dwarven Thrower and Hungry Spear enchantments come into play.

But Thor is no Ranger- the Ranger's job is Striker, and while Thor is a damage-dealer, he seems a bit more “in-your-face” to me. He's a guy with a high AC who presents a problem to the Bad Guys, protecting his allies. That screams Defender to me.

The Slayer

This is a little more like it- the Slayer is plenty tough, and there are ways to make him a credible semi-Defender thanks to his Fighter chassis. He can be built to use Ranged attacks rather effectively as well. So this is a class I kept my eye on.

As an aside, the Slayer is actually better at switching between melee and ranged tactics than the Essentials Scout-Ranger, and a lot tougher as well.

The Hexblade

Another Striker, the Hexblade has both a very nice melee weapon (in some cases, one of the best melee weapons in existence), as well as ranged powers. While one could describe the powers differently to achieve the same effect, again, this is a Striker class better suited to skirmishing than Thor's general disdain for personal safety.

The Rogue

The Rogue, and his twin brother, the Thief, are very good classes for switching between melee and ranged tactics. Unfortunately, the Rogue classes are a bit squishy and better suited for skirmishing than everyone's favorite Thunder-Guy.

The Seeker

The Spiritbond build powers are designed to allow you to use a heavy thrown weapon in either melee or ranged combat. There's some nice stuff here, and one could imagine Thor as a Spiritbond Seeker very easily. That having been said, being able to smack stuff in melee is an afterthought, and most Spiritbond Seekers would be much happier staying out of melee combat.

Ultimately, what I wanted as a tough, Defender-style character, who innately uses ranged powers as part of his arsenal without skipping a beat. This is what I ended up doing:

The Mighty Thor-Guy”

Human Knight
Knight Option: Shield Finesse
Human Power Selection Option: Bonus At-Will Power
Auspicious Birth (Auspicious Birth Benefit)

Str 16 (18), Con 10, Dex 13, Int 9, Wis 16, Cha 10

Trained Skills: Athletics, Diplomacy, Heal, Nature, Streetwise

Stances: Battle Wrath, Poised Assault

Bonus At-Will Power: Cleave

Feats: Shield Finesse (bonus), Deft Hurler Style, Primal Sharpshooter (Multiclass Seeker)

As you can see, I had to give up some aspects of the original character to make this work. As a God/Alien/Superhero, Thor himself has more character points to work with! The low Constitution is where this is really apparent, and I'm forced to rely on a Background to make up for the hit point deficit, which means I could only use this character in a game that allowed them (such as Living Forgotten Realms). The investment in Dexterity is required for Deft Hurler, one of the linchpins of the build, and the unusually high Wisdom is there to support his Multiclass.

Deft Hurler allows the character to, when using Cleave, replace the normal benefit (Strength damage to an adjacent enemy) with something truly awesome: you can make a ranged basic attack (that does not provoke opportunity attacks) against any enemy in range other than the one you just hit with Cleave!

Thus every turn, Thor-Guy can smack someone in melee, and simultaneously throw his mighty hammer at some other enemy who isn't necessarily anywhere near him! The Seeker multiclass makes this even better, allowing him to use Guardian Harrier once per encounter. Guardian Harrier is a ranged basic attack, so he can Cleave one enemy, and then Guardian Harrier in the same action!

So why Guardian Harrier? Mostly because it's special effect scales with Strength, an attribute Thor-Guy will have in spades. Specifically, it causes the target to take Strength damage if they don't move at least two squares away from their starting position on their turn. This is especially nasty if used on an enemy already in Thor-Guy's Defender aura, but it can also be used to force a brute to move away from one of your squishier comrades. Most enemies will suck up the bonus damage, but that's not a bad thing either.

The other benefit you get from Primal Sharpshooter is Inevitable Shot. Granted, it's only once per day, but it can be quite amusing to see. You Cleave, and make a ranged basic against another enemy. You miss, so you Inevitable Shot the missed attack...right back at the guy you just hit with Cleave!*

*This is legal as far as I can tell, but your DM may raise an eyebrow at such shenanigans, so, as always, YMMV.

At level 1, Thor-Guy probably won't be using his build to maximum advantage, since it involves disarming himself, not generally a good move. Plus, there aren't many good heavy thrown weapons that are also decent melee weapons. Thor-Guy may actually be forced to carry a Trident around, of all things (and more than one, at that!).

Still, the character remains a functional Knight- you can still use Cleave in it's normal configuration, dealing damage to an adjacent foe, so that's still a plus. Your stances were chosen because they work with both ranged and melee basic attacks, so you don't have the control of Defend The Line either. And there's the fact that you only have 9 healing surges, so you may have to take less risks.

Still, level 1 Thor-Guy is a competent Defender, if not a top-tier one. Once he gets his hands on a magic Trident (or, by Odin, a Dwarven Thrower Warhammer!), he'll come into his own, hopefully by (or even before) level 2!

The only real issue with this build is that you cannot use Power Strike with any of your other abilities, meaning you won't get much use out of it until there's only a single enemy. And when fighting a solo, you won't be making many ranged attacks either (although remember that Guardian Harrier can be used in melee, if you happen to be wielding something with the Heavy Thrown property!).

While the real Thor scoffs at using a Shield, there's no reason for Thor-Guy not to use one. One of the big advantages of this build is the high defenses you can get. Let's take a look at Paragon Thor-Guy:

Human, Knight, Crimson Hunter
Knight Weapon Specialization Option: Staggering Hammer

Str 21, Con 11, Dex 14, Int 10, Wis 19, Cha 11

AC: 30 Fort: 30 Ref: 22 Will: 27
HP: 96 Surges: 9 Surge Value: 24

Powers: Battle Wrath, Poised Assault, Defend The Line, Inevitable Shot, Cleave, Guardian Harrier, Secrets of the City*, Healer's Gift*, Shield Block*, Fighter's Grit*, Ravaging Shot

Feats: Shield Finess (bonus), Deft Hurler Style, Primal Sharpshooter, Master at Arms, Superior Will, Superior Fortitude, Encouraging Shield, Stout Shield, Primal Eye

*The Utility Powers are personal preference, and you can switch them out for anything you like. I didn't take Intimidate, despite it having some very nice Defender Utilities, again, from personal preference. Secrets of the City is really only good for Skill Challenges, and Thor-Guy sadly doesn't have the kind of Charisma the real Thor possesses. Intimidate would probably be a better choice to get things like Glowering Threat.

I went with Crimson Hunter as my Paragon Path, to bolster Thor-Guy's ranged attacks. The Path grants, among other things, a +1 bonus to hit with ranged attacks, and another ranged basic Encounter Power in Ravaging Shot.

Equipment is fairly standard, using the quick-start rules, I was able to get the following with money to spare:

Eagle Eye Goggles (Heroic Tier)
Badge of the Berserker +2
Dwarven Throwers (Heroic Tier)
Heavy Shield of Deflection
Dwarven Thrower Warhammer +3*
Summoned Gith Plate Armor +3

*I could have spent a Feat for a Craghammer here, Brutal 2 is nothing to sneeze at, but I wanted to get all the Defense-boosting Feats out of the way to show what you could have by level 11.

Our Mighty Thor-Guy has, at this point, +18 to hit with Cleave, and +20 to hit with his ranged basic attack. He can increase this by +1 with Poised Assault, but most likely he'll be increasing his damage with basic attacks by +3 with Battle Wrath. His melee damage is only 1d10+11, but his ranged damage is much more considerable, at 1d10+16, and, of course, don't forget that he can attack twice per turn.

There's some room for improvement, but I really like the way this build turned out, and I think it has a lot of potential. Maybe I'll even get to try it out someday...

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11Nov/100

Fun Stuff: Essentials Thief Build


Meet Mad Jack, the Brigand. A conversation I had with Tim regarding the Thief inspired me to create this bizarre build; a tough-as-nails melee Thief.

While the Thief can use their Dexterity to make melee basic attacks due to their Weapon Finess feature, they don't have to use Dexterity, but could use regular old Strength instead. With the exception of the bow, all of the Thief weapons are one-handed, and the class has no restrictions on what armor they wear to use their powers.

Which brings us to Jack.

Mad Jack, Human Rogue (Thief) 1

Str 20 (18+2)
Con 14
Dex 10
Int 8
Wis 10
Cha 11

Jack's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, which probably explains his bizarre lifestyle. As a Human, he gets two Feats, and we'll use them both to pick up better armor; Chainmail and Light Shields. For weapons, he'll use a trusty Short Sword.

25Oct/101

Having Fun with Character Concepts: Wizard of Readiness

Welcome to Fun Stuff!, where I don't so much as build a character, as talk about neat, high-concept builds that you might be inspired to actually play!

(Warning! This article is largely theory-craft; I make no claims as to how it will actually function in your game. Further, the build presented may seem lackluster til higher level play.)

This is a concept I'd been kicking around with Tim, and it's pretty wild, to say the least. You start with a Deva Wizard, choosing the Tome of Readiness Mastery. I've talked about Tome of Readiness in my Getting Started: Eladrin Wizard article, but let's take a second look:

21Oct/100

Getting Started: Eladrin Wizard – Part 1

When we last talked character building, I showed you how to make an effective low-level Fighter. I was originally going to talk about optimizing for mid-to-high Heroic games, but that proved to be a bit more challenging than I'd first thought.

So from here on out, I've decided to stick to two formats for optimization; Getting Started, which talks about low-level character building, and Fun Stuff!, which will focus on more...high-concept builds. More on that later.

I recently played Encounters, where I chose the Eladrin Wizard. It was a fun experience, but a few things about how the character had been made bothered me. Everyone was quick to point out that the Encounters characters weren't meant to be optimized, but the problem wasn't one of optimization; that Wizard was designed to be a powerhouse, with Int 20 and 16 Charisma.

No, the problem was, whoever designed the character had made some faulty assumptions about what makes a good Controller. Which brings us to today, as I talk about how to build a better mousetrap.

7Oct/100

Character Optimization Part 3: Heroic Medium

Dragonborn Paladin of Bahamet

When we last left our Dragonborn Fighter, he was mixing it up at level 1 fairly well. Let's assume he survives til level 2. Since this is a thought experiment, I can't really say what magic items, if any he may have found, so let's focus on things we can plan for. The first thing our Fighter (who I'm going to call 'Kriv' from here on out) had to do was get a better weapon. There were three basic choices:

Longsword for +1 to hit.

Battleaxe for d10 damage.

Khopesh for Brutal 1.

Statistically speaking, the average damage of the Battleaxe is 5.5, compared to 4.5 for the longsword. The Khopesh is a weird case because it simply cannot inflict 1 damage, making it's average damage 5 even.

6Oct/101

Character Optimization Part 2: Heroic Low

Dice for various games, especially for rolepla...
Image via Wikipedia

A lot of players like to plot out their progression all the way to Epic tier. But let's be honest. Optimization is more about knowing your game than anything else. Different choices have different values based on the game's power level. A Heroic-tier game that won't even hit level 10 requires a different mindset than a game that starts at level 15!

Retraining can cover for a lot of sins, but there are a few things you can't retrain for. Today we'll start with Low-level Heroic gaming.

When starting from first or second level, you have to be optimized right out of the gate. Forget Paragon Paths, you just want to survive, and kick butt now, not in five or six levels!

In low-level games, having a high primary stat is most important. You want the best chance to hit, and to have your powers pack the biggest punch possible. This means, however, that the rider benefits of your secondary stat won't be so hot, so don't set yourself up to rely on them!

At low-levels, forget versatility, you want to be focused and specialized. You have a job to do, so make sure you can do it! For our example of low-level building, let's focus on The Fighter.

DISCLAIMER: The views presented here are not based on in-game experience, but a logical examination of possible playstyles and environments. If you have found that an option presented here isn't as good as I think it is, or that something I discount is much better, that's great! Let me know, and I'll certainly re-evaluate my builds. This is an exercise in one possible way to approach Character building, and is far from the only way!

5Oct/100

Character Optimization Part 1: Unreasonable Expectations

Cover of

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I'll just start out with a caveat; I am capable of making false assumptions about the 4.0 playstyle.

The D&D rules set is modular. Think of it as a bunch of Legos ™; you have Legos of all different shapes and sizes, but each piece has definite 'rules' for how it connects to other pieces. Most Legos follow the same basic rules, but there are always exceptions!

So optimization is all about using your Legos to build something. That's great, but what looks good on paper can fail in practice. For example, let's look at the Fighting-Man of Chainmail.