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How Do You Choose a Character?

Within the framework of D&D 4E, “success” is achieved by having the appropriate mix of classes. Assuming the right number of players, you need at least one leader, one striker, one defender, and one controller, with additional characters expanding the striker or defender role. Leave out one of the roles, and an “appropriately constructed” encounter can become much more difficult than the math suggests. Very often, a campaign starts with players lobbying for their favorite role, with some having to settle for a second or third choice in order to maintain party balance.

But if you were given carte blanche with no concerns about balance, role, or power source, how would you decide what to play? Limits help us make decisions by removing options and conversely, expanding options paralyze some of us with indecision. I must confess I’m one of those people, staring endlessly at the 32 flavors of Baskin Robbins, unable to choose. I run through samples, mulling them over, trying to find one thing – anything – that catches my fancy, so I can narrow down my choices.

I need a character for my Monday night game, and the DM has removed all limits. I have ideas, of course, but the problem is I have too many. Because I mostly DM, I’m not overly attached to any one particular element of the game; I don’t always play spellcasters, or only create displaced elven nobles, or always monopolize the defender role. Different parts of all the elements appeal to me in some way, shape, or form, so I’ve decided to simply focus on the story first, and let the character develop from there.

Cuchulain
This gregarious bariaur grew up with a herd on Arborea and had a lot of exposure to both eladrin amd elven culture and the Society of Sensation. After demonstrating a talent with the harp and a flawless tenor voice, one of the eladrin houses sponsored his formal training in a bardic school, cementing his path as an entertainer. After several years performing at various house functions and eladrin gatherings, Cuchulain worked off his debt and decided to travel the planes. He joined the Sensates and set off for Sigil, hoping to capture fame and fortune with a more cosmopolitan audience, but also to expand his repertoire to include the musical stylings of other races. Still on good terms with his former masters, he often delivers messages or serves as an official envoy when the need arises.

Dagmara
Born on the Shadowfell, Dagmara grew up in Gloomwrought and fought a daily struggle against the soul-sucking forces of the plane. At the end of her rope and fearing a complete loss of self, she submitted to becoming a shade, hoping the relentless assault upon her spirit would lessen, if not cease. Of course, once the process was complete, the new Dagmara had no concerns about whether the old Dagmara was still intact. She joined a local coven and was initiated into its mysteries, wielding her natural charms and necrotic energy with deadly zeal. After a successful collaboration with a visiting Dustmen envoy, she was gifted with an undead familiar, a specter that now hovers disturbingly about her shoulders. Intrigued by the faction’s philosophy, Dagmara journeyed to Sigil and joined the Dustmen, hoping to establish a new coven in the City of Doors.

Fleabitten
Born on Bytopia, Fleabitten was a rat hengeyokai that scavenged on the outskirts of the city of Tatsukatsukai. Given his nature, he was always poking his nose into dark corners and hidden spaces, hoarding shiny objects and choice morsels of food. While rummaging around in a monastery of the Transcendent Order in human form, Fleabitten was caught. Rather than punishment, the monks offered membership, and Fleabitten concealed his true nature in exchange for what he considered a life of relative ease. He half-heartedly followed the training at first, but as time passed, he grew to embrace the philosophy and the peace it brought his restless spirit.

Sent with a delegation to the Great Gymnasium in Sigil, Fleabitten gave in to his animal nature and crept out one night to explore the Cage, promptly falling victim to a vampire. Fortunately his ability to transform into a rat allowed him to escape certain death. Unfortunately, the infection ensured he would not escape undeath. However, given that the City of Doors has no sun, Fleabitten had time to come to terms with his new thirst, strange powers, and the war between his animalistic mindset, undead nature, and philosophical leanings. No one at the faction headquarters treated him any differently, so he went back to being a monk, now with a penchant for licking his sparring partners clean.

Icespike
Born on Acheron but shunned because of his albino nature, Icespike fled to the Outlands at the first opportunity. He never knew any kindness or consideration; he was filled with rage due to the nature of his birth and his status as a pariah within bladeling society. He quelled that rage by indulging in bloodlust, tearing and chopping and gouging his opponents in the most violent ways he could imagine. Many people were willing to pay for his skills and didn’t care how he got the job done. There were even those who didn’t care that he was a bladeling with milky white skin and spikes that looked like ice. The more he traveled as a mercenary, the more he realized that the rules of one place didn’t apply everywhere else.

Of course, some people insisted their rules applied no matter where they were, and Icespike despised the Harmonium with such vehemence that he began siding against Hardheads whenever there was a fight, sometimes even when hired to fight alongside them. He earned a reputation as unpredictable and unreliable, except when it came to thwarting the Harmonium. People assumed he was a Xaositect because of his opposition to the Harmonium faction, and at some point the Xaositects considered him one as well, and soon he found he was one, without even trying.

Najila Al-Siq
As a sandsoul genasi born on the Elemental Plane of Earth, Najila knew only of the power of stone and the constancy of earth. She drew upon the arcane power of her home plane, learning the mysteries of earth magic and how it interacted with the other elements. Spared during a raid by dao because of her arcane talent, Najila was wisked away as a slave to attend the whims of her dao master as he journeyed to the Material Plane and throughout the outer planes. She was traded to a human merchant in the Outlands, who in turn gave her to a madam in Sigil to pay off an old debt. As an exotic and beautiful entertainer, Najila commanded praise and was showered with gifts, all the while despising the creatures that lusted after her. One of her clients, a member of the Sign of One, “expired” during a session, and a clause in his will bought her freedom, as well as sparking in her a curiosity about the Signers. The self-centered philosophy appealed to her, and she vowed that no one would ever be more important to her than herself.

Ribbit
Ribbit was just a tadpole when he was inadvertently summoned to Oerth, where he was kept on display by a bizarre cult that worshipped Wastri the Hopping Prophet. Isolated from his fellow slaadi and the chaotic forces of Limbo, Ribbit didn’t develop as one would expect. The strange rituals performed by the cult invested him with divine power, and their teachings brainwashed him to forsake his race and champion the human demigod. When the cult was discovered and destroyed, magic used during the battle banished him back to Limbo, and from there he set about spreading the word of Wastri the Hopping Prophet throughout the planes, using Sigil as a base of operations.

Zaulgrym
This goliath’s tribe suffered hard times on Ysgard, sandwiched as it was between gates that allowed the Blood War to spill onto their plane. The gods of Ysgard ignored the conflict, and the goliaths’ prayers fell on deaf ears. The baatezu were triumphant, and they took the surviving goliaths as captives. Zaulgrym quickly learned that absolute obedience and a merciless nature earned him favor, and he moved up the ranks from slave to guard to (somewhat) trusted envoy. His hatred of the Norse gods never subsided, and he personally brokered a deal with the Athar that fortified supply lines through Ysgard, using firsthand knowledge of his former home to further advance his position with both his devil masters and the Athar faction.

Based on these backgrounds, which one would you choose and why? I’ve made my decision (with the help of my group), but I’m curious about what other people think, especially without knowledge of what the other party members may be. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, please.
 

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KDLadage

Explorer
Would the idea that you must have each of the roles described to have encounter work properly (what-ever that means) be a tell-tale sign of huge flaw in the game design?
 

Argyle King

Legend
I would choose Cuchulain. Of the stories presented, his seems to give me the most freedom to go forth and explore the world. It also sounds as though he's a bard, and Bard is my second favorite 4th Edition class to play (behind Warlord.) If I'm right in my guess that he's a Bard, then it's also my opinion that having the Leader characteristics of the class would help the party the most -even if they already have a Leader.

Neither Dagmara nor Najila appealed to me. The stories weren't bad, but neither really grabbed my interest. I wouldn't choose Ribbit because I've found that I usually don't enjoy playing clerics in D&D. Icespike seems like he could be interesting, but I'm not familiar enough with some of the terms used in the background story for the background to mean anything to me. Zaulgrym seems better suited to being a villain. Fleabitten sounds pretty interesting, and would be my second choice.

In theory, all of the roles are needed, but I haven't found that to be true in actual play. For me, I've found controller to be the easier role to do without. The other roles usually have enough access to powers that have some amount of control that you can cover it during times when having a controller would be helpful. Having an extra leader -especially a bard or warlord- offers extra healing, more flexibility, powers which make the rest of the party better, and powers which make the enemy potentially weaker.
 

MetaVoid

Adventurer
This "must have all roles" is nonsense. Each class can do more then one thing...fighter or warden can work as very effective controllers, limiting optinos for their marks...

Warlocks can be controllers or strikers, mage can be controller striker, priest or runepriest may be defender or leader etc...


I'm currently playing in a party with
hybrid warlock/mage
pacifist priest
controller warlock
invoker
necromancer
illusionist

which is to say, no dedicated defender, no dedicated striker - and we're finishing up two higher level brutes and 1 higher level soldier on their turf. It takes a bit of work as the damage is low(er), but they don't really have much options with bunch of controllers stopping them from attacking round after round. True, six is above average party, but still...






As for what you would play - if you cannot decide on any particular character roll 1d6 with only decision being that you'll play what the die shows and immediately discard all others (so you don't second guess yourself anymore) - if you find yourself chanting "roll 2, roll 2, roll 2" while the dice is rolling, immediately stop what you're doing and take the character under 2 :)

Easy.
 


gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Would the idea that you must have each of the roles described to have encounter work properly (what-ever that means) be a tell-tale sign of huge flaw in the game design?

Yes it would be, but it is not in fact the case.
 

Jhaelen

First Post
Cuchulain seems to be the one who could be integrated into a group with the least hassle.
My favorite would be Fleabitten, though, since he seems to have the most intriguing background.
Ribbit might also be a cool character, but it would probably be quite hard to make friends with a group of adventurers.

I don't particularly care about Dagmara and Zaulgrym. Both backstories sound a bit too generic for my taste.
Regarding Najila, I don't quite know what to think. It might go either way but the Signers are a tricky faction.

I like Icespike the least - Albinos are so cliché!
 

Lord_Blacksteel

Adventurer
Within the framework of D&D 4E, “success” is achieved by having the appropriate mix of classes.

Wait, what? I do not see how this is "success" - success comes from playing the game, not from setting up the party.


Assuming the right number of players, you need at least one leader, one striker, one defender, and one controller, with additional characters expanding the striker or defender role.

As mentioned above this is guidance, not a hard formula. People have been playing with all kinds of mixed up parties since the game came out. It can certainly change the flavor of the game, but it has nothing to do with success/failure.


Leave out one of the roles, and an “appropriately constructed” encounter can become much more difficult than the math suggests.

Well I suppose it "can" but I don't know about "much more difficult". It can also become easier. The "double solo" encounter that might be a serious challenge for a party with a single defender and no controller could be a cakewalk for the party with two controllers and extra strikers.

Very often, a campaign starts with players lobbying for their favorite role, with some having to settle for a second or third choice in order to maintain party balance.

Why? Who are they lobbying? Why would they settle for a second or third choice? If a party ends up with some odd mix of roles it is not a gamebreaker! Who does this?

As a fellow mostly-DMs-rarely-plays guy, let me share this thought if you need something to push against:
1) Pick something you have never seen played in your own campaign. New can be fun.
2) Pick something you thought was played poorly but had a lot of potential if they just did this one thing different. Do that one thing. See if it makes for a "better" character than what you saw.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Would the idea that you must have each of the roles described to have encounter work properly (what-ever that means) be a tell-tale sign of huge flaw in the game design?


Ladies and gents, reading the OP, I am pretty sure this is not intended as a "criticize the game rules" thread. The OP wants to talk about choosing characters and concepts, not flaws in 4e game design, as such. There are *plenty* of other threads in which you can engage in criticism, or you may create your own thread. Please don't insert it where it runs rather orthogonal to the OP, please. Thanks, all!
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
But if you were given carte blanche with no concerns about balance, role, or power source, how would you decide what to play? Limits help us make decisions by removing options and conversely, expanding options paralyze some of us with indecision. I must confess I’m one of those people, staring endlessly at the 32 flavors of Baskin Robbins, unable to choose. I run through samples, mulling them over, trying to find one thing – anything – that catches my fancy, so I can narrow down my choices.

I understand this conundrum. I understand some folks feel that, at least in theory, removing restrictions opens possibilities for creativity. However, I find that I get inspirations from the restrictions, where a fully blue and open sky does not really inspire me much.

My standard way to decide is to ask, "what are other folks playing?" The that GM is not imposing restrictions does not mean you cannot impose them on yourself!
 

KDLadage

Explorer
...reading the OP, I am pretty sure this is not intended as a "criticize the game rules" thread.
Agreed. Sorry if I was misunderstood. My point was not to be critical of D&D4e (which is a fine system, only not my style of role-play); my intent was to challenge the thesis statement of the OP -- Is this how success is truly measured? Should character creation for a game or campaign be strongly influenced (or even dictated) by the need of a party that is comprised of the whole host of archetypes? But this, also, seems counter to the intent of the OP. Thus, I will back out of this conversation.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Move along.
 

Shayuri

First Post
I see a lot of myself in this post. My biggest challenge in making characters is narrowing the field. Working off of what other people make helps...I normally try to get down to three options, then throw them all out to the group and see what people seem to like the most.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Ribbit appeals the most to me. I'd like to play up an 'eccentric prophet/mouthpiece' - especially if he didn't quite understand (i.e., constantly misinterprets) the religion, just kinda making it up as he goes. "Yes young one. To give honor to Wastri and heal your wounds you must paint yourself purple and stand one foot in the fountain singing this hymn backwards (begins singing "O gods, o gods - why me? What have I done to deserve this?"). Do not question it, I saw the high priest perform this ritual on midsummer after three flagons of the holy wine ... and the urgings (catfight) of the twin females he brought along that night."

And I'd never let anyone else tell me what class, race or whatnot to play, regardless what others thought the group needed. I won't make a character to negate or harrass other players, but I'm not going to make a cleric just because the group bawls they don't have a healer. I'll play a cleric - in this case - because I think the character is a neat idea.
 

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