My Favorite Role: Matthew, What Is Best In Life?

Last night, my character died.

Loq, a shapeshifting spellcaster enlisted in the service of the military of The Mullier Empire, was discorporated in the process of trying to disarm an arcane shielding device. He shoved his clockwork implement into it and attempted to set it off from twenty-five feet away via his mage hand, but the energy unleashed caused a rebound effect that proceeded to disassemble his physical form. His last words? “Oh, fuck.”

This was not an unplanned death. It was a deliberate decision made to give me the opportunity to play a new character in place of one I wasn’t entirely happy with playing. In this campaign, we gave the newbies first choice over the pregens I created. They chose to play a swordmage and a ranger. That left me to play the wizard because magic is important to the premise of the setting that Girlfriend DM created.

I’ve played wizards before, but I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the class. In 3rd Edition, the wizard is a highly strategic class that requires a player to anticipate the challenges of the day in order to determine the spells he or she chooses to memorize. In 4th Edition, the wizard no longer suffers from a ‘15 minute adventuring day,’ which forces him or her to resort to a crossbow (and firing poorly with it).

Dwarven Fighter Girl, illustrated by Drew Baker

I knew very well that in order to change characters, I would have to get rid of my existing character. I made my arrangements with Girlfriend DM ahead of time. I have to tell you though, it’s tough to fake drama for your fellow players when you know what’s going to happen. I made sure that Loq didn’t just throw his hands up and die. All manner of effort was made by him to keep himself from unnecessary danger, much to Girlfriend DM’s chagrin.

That said, my new character is a defender: a mordenkrad-wielding dragonborn warrior. In this world, the dragonborn are long thought to be extinct, wiped out with the empire that predates the current empire. In effect, I’m returning to my favorite class role EVAR. For some reason, playing as a controller doesn’t work for me. Not only do I get antsy trying to apply my bursts and blasts, but my d20 rolls turn out lower (before modifier) almost as if the d20 is trying to tell me something.

For me, the defender is the best role. A striker is the deadly arm of the party — self-centered (in a good way) living weapons moving around and hoping the rest of the party can clear out the path to her target and keep enemies from smacking out the few hit points he has. A controller ensures that whatever backup the big bad of an encounter is rendered ineffective as he keeps them in line. A leader keeps the party going by allowing them to stay on their feet as she heals them, protects them and jolts them with encounter caffeine.

Scion of Arkhosia, illustrated by Matias Tapia

Defenders are for players who ask for trouble in ways they can’t do in real life. Ever since I started playing role-playing games on a regular basis, I’ve relished in how many hit points I can lose in a given session — even when I’m an 11 hit point wizard or a barely armored gunslinger. My most frequent complaint in the previous 4e campaign under Girlfriend DM was the lack of punishment I suffered. Everytime I saw the kalashtar artificer get smacked around, I wept and thought, “That’s damage I could be taking!”

The other joy I get from defenders is the ability to act out of turn. When you’re the kind of person who can plan his actions long before the rest of the players and monsters can take their turn, that matters a lot, especially if you’re as impatient as I am. Spanking marks during someone else’s turn is one of my favorite things and it’s something that squishy controllers and leaders don’t get to do since being in a position to give opportunity attacks means being in the center of the fray.

Furthermore, there’s a tactical joy that comes from trying to manage all the decisions that need to be made to keep monsters locked away from your friends and find ways to make them turn their eyes towards you. I’ll leave the out of combat thinking to the ritual-wielding controllers and the tense social negotiation to the charisma-dependent leaders.

I enjoy role-playing, but when someone else is behind the DM screen, I don’t pretend to have the combination of poker-faced negotiations and theatrical drama that comes with interacting with NPCs or the ability to outwit my DM. Instead, I like to portray my character in broad strokes with simple but appealing personalities that let others lead the way while I shield them from harm.

What’s your favorite role in 4th Edition?

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7 Responses to “My Favorite Role: Matthew, What Is Best In Life?”
  1. OnlineDM says:

    In my most recent campaign (in which my own Wizard, Zod, just died), I was happy enough with the controller role. It was my first 4e campaign, and slinging spells suited me well for the most part. I played a session of Living Forgotten Realms at my friendly local game store last week in which I ran a defender – a half-elf Paladin – and while I think I was very effective as a defender at locking down the bad guys and protecting my compatriots, it was kind of boring standing there in one place as a wall.

    So, my next character is going to be a striker – a githzerai Avenger with a comically oversized fullblade. If we can get a spot at the LFR table tonight, my wife and I are going to try running our new characters there (hers is a dragonborn Runepriest). If not, we’ll be running these new characters with our regular campaigning group in a week or two.

  2. Patrick says:

    For me, it’s controllers. Maybe it’s because, no matter how many forum games I join, my “real” character has been a wizard since the launch of 4e. But I don’t like how much defenders look like they’re “losing” in order to do their job right. My party laughs at the fighter for the beating he constantly subjects himself to, and the poor guy is just doing his job. As a wizard, I get to attack everything that dares enter the battlefield with my huge area attacks and long range. Sometimes my turn is mostly a waste as I ping some enemy with ray of frost, but that’s just because I’m saving my ranged burst of ongoing damage for another round or two. I get to dictate who can take what actions, and most of the time nobody even realizes.

    • @Patrick: That sounds really thrilling. On paper, I really like the idea of the controller, but in practice it never works out for me thrill-wise. What else do you enjoy about being a wizard? I hear problem solving via rituals is one of its big points of appeal.

  3. shyDM says:

    I’m definitely a leader person, especially those builds that get down and dirty with the defenders. For the game I’m in now, I was playing a wizard, but it’s just not as much fun for me to hang out in the back doing my own thing. I rolled up a warforged runepriest, and it was like coming home again. I just love punching guys and then saying, “Okay, who wants a +2 to their next attack?”

    • That’s great.

      I can almost see that in webcomic form. “WHO WANTS A +2 TO THEIR ATTACK?”


      *All hands rise*

      That said, I’ve always thought of leaders as the guys who get the most number of high fives in the party as they basically sit around and choose who they want in the party to be awesome, and the recipient of that bonus can never EVER fully hate the player or the character because of it.

  4. Dr. Janberry says:

    Sorry, Matthew. We didn’t pick the characters based on stats or roles or anything like that– if you recall we were the noobiest noobs that ever noobed, and pretty much based our choices on what they looked like. Now that we’ve a slightly less vague idea about what we’re supposed to be doing, though, we’re having fun rebuilding the characters you gave us.

    And hey, when Loq died, Awesome wanted to cry. And said “Vamanos.” Which is better than all the puking she’s done this campaign.

    Looking forward to the dragonborn fighter, though. Santana thinks dragonborns are cuddly.

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