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More 4e druid thoughts: Roleplaying

Guys Turn Into Lions, by David RapozaLast month's post about the D&D 4e druid covered its surprising level of coolness, in spite of -- or because of -- the class' quirks. That is, the druid isn't an ideal controller, yet with the proper choice of evocations, he can excel in a secondary role as a striker, leader, or defender while still imposing controller-style penalties on opponents.

The last two issues of the now-online-only magazine Dragon have given us druid articles that, while offering some tasty crunch, together stir up a lot of "fluffy" thought about something that I didn't cover in December's post: roleplaying the druid.

For instance, I slightly pooh-poohed the Patient Hunter feat in Dragon #382's Class Acts: Druid by Aidyn Newman, saying that expanding Pounce's Combat Advantage still doesn't make Pounce as effective as Swarming Locusts. However, Robert J. Schwalb's "Devotees of the Gibbous Moon" in the new Dragon #382 made me rethink this. By prompting questions about a druid PC's background, motivation, and attitude toward his beast form, it reminded me that concern about what a particular power does is not as important as what I want the character to be. Sure, Swarming Locusts kicks major ass as a ranged controller attack ... but if my druid wants to have significant oomph as a striker, then there's value in making Pounce or Grasping Claws as devastating as possible, even if that means taking a feat. Further, if my initiative roll is low and the bad guys close distance quickly with my allies, then area of effect powers (AoEs) lose some luster. I'll be leaning heavily on my secondary role in that situation.

"Devotees of the Gibbous Moon" asks druid players to ponder their characters' relationship with the druid's beast form: Is there a favorite animal shape? Why that one? Do you like being in your beast form, or is it merely a tool or a trick for you? Are you worried about losing control of your rationality to the beast within? Good questions, all of which should be considered in conjunction with the druid's evocations.

My druid in the RPGA's Living Forgotten Realms campaign is a longtooth shifter, Hawthorne. I created him before Primal Power came out, and while he hasn't seen much action lately, I had planned to "retrain" at the earliest opportunity and swap Pounce for Swarming Locusts. After reading these articles, however, I realized that I hadn't put together any sort of background for Hawthorne -- understandable, since it is a sporadically played PC, not one that sees action on a regular basis in a home campaign. But that means that I'm not bringing my "A-game" to the RPGA events when I do play him, and that's not right. Maybe I don't have to write the typical Ken Hart 5-page origin story, yet Hawthorne still requires a proper past and an established druidic philosophy. That'll make him a better character, and me a better player.

Since he's a longtooth shifter, wolf originally seemed like a natural "default" beast form. But I didn't have a decent wolf mini for the first RPGA game a few months back, so I used a hyena. After reading this month's article on druids and background, the odd choice of mini actually seemed to fit Hawthorne better. Sure, wolf seemed "standard" for a longtooth shifter druid, but it's an uninspired choice; the patient sneakiness of the hyena, walking around his pack's prey, waiting for a sign of weakness ... that, to me, seemed right for Hawthorne's personality. And after all, as a druid, he has chosen a life destined to set him apart from others of his race, so why should he do the "standard" thing? He's a rebel, a loner, just like Pee Wee Herman. With fangs instead of a bowtie.

With this in mind, the Heroic Tier feats in Class Acts: Druid are not merely enhancing the three Beast Form at-will evocations in PHB2 -- Patient Hunter for Pounce, Ruthless Killer for Grasping Claws, and Unstoppable Beast for Savage Rend -- they're offering suggestions on roleplaying, too. When Hawthorne attacks with Pounce in his default hyena form, he is a patient hunter. Choosing that feat would reinforce that image and help fuel my roleplaying of the character in combat and out. Would Swarming Locusts do more damage and expose more enemies to Combat Advantage penalties? Possibly. But that's not the kind of druid that Hawthorne is. I look forward to playing him again.

Excuse the stream of RPG consciousness in this post -- it simply feels good to reexamine the sheer fun of digging into a character's motivations instead of min/maxing damage results! After more than 20 years of playing, I'm still delighted when RPG characters take on "life" and, like any good creation of a writer, make some choices for you.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 15th, 2010 03:14 pm (UTC)
One of the reasons I haven't gotten into 4e was because I thought its mechanics limited characterization, rather than enhancing it. It's nice to get an alternate perspective on that.
Jan. 21st, 2010 09:04 pm (UTC)
Believe me, I understand that opinion, and I even agreed with it in the weeks after 4e's release. While I enjoyed the way that powers/spells were handled, I was annoyed at the severe changes to skills. I had always felt that v3.0/v3.5's skill points were a great way to establish a "feel" for your PC. For instance, my "sneaky" rogue could be very different from someone else's "lockpicking" rogue, depending on the way we distributed skill points.

In retrospect, I think that became a roleplaying crutch. A convenient crutch, but a crutch nonetheless. After all, it's not as though earlier editions of D&D had skill points like that, and we did just fine with roleplaying anyway.

And as more "___ Power" books come out for 4e, providing new builds and powers, the greater variety of characters we're getting.

Essentially, roleplaying and characterization are limited in 4e only if the player allows them to be limited. A good roleplayer will still easily find a way for his character to stand out, and in that regard, it's still the game that we've grown up with.

Granted, the focus of squares/minis/movement in 4e has created a big audience of min/maxing discussions and character optimization. To get back to my druid, any druid optimization thread on the D&D site or elsewhere will tell you that my choice of Pounce as my Beast Form at-will power is terrible, primarily because Grasping Claws and Savage Rend can be used as basic melee attacks; therefore, they can be used to make Opportunity attacks, whereas a druid with Pounce in his animal form can only growl if his foe provokes an Opportunity attack. And well... that's true! But I don't care. My druid is going to be charging foes as often as possible. He wants Pounce. Maybe he won't be as effective at pinning an attacker to a wall as, say, a druid who chose Savage Rend, but that's a tactical choice which both reflects and influences the way that I'll play the character.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )