August 28, 2010

Character Development: Red Sonja

I've recently been reading through Dynamite's reboot of Red Sonja (the chainmail bikini warrior). And as is generally the case with fantasy and sci-fi heroes I like, I start to wonder how I could adapt the character to D&D. And it seemed like writing out my build process could be informative, so here it goes. Note that this will be a build for a 4e version of Red Sonja, since that's the edition I'm actually playing. This is basically going to be long-form stream-of-conscious writing to try and work out what to do.

Character Aspects
Sonja is first and formost a melee warrior--she swings a sword and kills people (many people) all around her with ease. Definitely a striker. She doesn't use magic, though there is a bit of the supernatural in her relationship with her goddess--so while a Martial class would probably make the most sense, a Primal class could also fit. She's pretty tough (she can take out whole armies by herself, though she is in no way invulnerable), so she'll have to have some staying power.
She is lightly armored (if you even want to consider her outfit armor). She tends to use a longsword (in either one or two-hands), but will also make use of other weapons around her--in one of my favorite moments, she cuts off an enemy's arm and grabs the mace he was carrying in it to bash someone else. She's also able to shoot a bow and take people out at range--she's really a master of all weapons. In addition to her primary longsword, she also carries around a dagger, which she often uses in her off-hand (Sonja spends a surprising amount of time dual-wielding).

Aside from fighting, she's a very skilled hunter and tracker, with a definite connection to nature. She's extremely athletic, and rides a horse well (for what it matters). She's usually a loner, though can lead and inspire large groups--usually just by being willing to stand and fight.

I think that about covers the aspects that I'm interested in. So how can we put together this character?

Ability Scores
Sonja would be a Strength-primary character--she's built, and she swings a sword. She'll also want to have really high Dexterity: she's very agile, and Dex will help with not really wearing armor (it'll also enable her to be able to shoot a bow as a ranged basic without needing to put a ton of resources into it). We'll also want to give her decent Constitution, though it doesn't need to be a huge priority. While she's definitely beautiful, I don't think she's much of a people-person--her Charisma might be slightly above average, but doesn't need to be that high. Average Intelligence will be fine--she's good at tactics and well-traveled, but isn't especially well taught or anything (also, with a good Dex we don't need Int in 4e). I'm torn a bit on her Wisdom. she's good at tracking (which is usually Wisdom-based), but her will-power isn't particularly great--she often charges into battle without thinking too hard, and tends to make some less great decisions (getting drunk in bars, etc). So I'm thinking I might make Wisdom her dump stat--the other option would be Int, and I don't want to suggest that she's dumb. Dumping Wisdom also helps push her Charisma higher to shore up her Will Defense, and I'm fine with that.

So we end up with a character that would like have stats like: Str 18, Con 12-14, Dex 16-18, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 12-14. Those probably aren't a correct point-buy, but point to the general modifiers and ranges I'll be hoping for.

Just to get it out of the way: Sonja is most likely human. The extra skill, feat, and at-will help with the versatility (and Sonja is definitely versatile--indeed, I might say that's her primary trait: I want her to be able to pull of all kinds of neat maneuvers and stuff in melee). An Elf might work--the reroll is always welcome, and it would cover bow proficiency. But I have a feeling I'm going to want the extra at-will and feat more. Not much else fits with a quick glance through the Compendium--half-orcs have the right stats and abilities, but go against the beautiful warrior part (though heavy reflavoring to have her be human with half-orc stats might work). So I'll be thinking of human, but with Elf in the back of my mind, or half-orc with reflavoring.

Before I get to class, I want to think about what Skills Sonja has. I'm a big fan of skills, and enjoy being trained in stuff to use for random actions. Athletics is a big one--Sonja can jump and climb and be athletic. Acrobatics could also be appropriate, though not as necessary. Nature is very important, for tracking and for riding horses. Perception as well, particularly to counter-act a low Wisdom but having the character still seem observant. If I want a "social" skill, I'd probably get Intimidate, but otherwise I might just say she's untrained in social interactions. Endurance might also be appropriate if I have extra skills. Stealth is always useful, but I might get away with just having a good Dexterity. So it looks like I'll want likely 4-5 skills--since all classes get at least 3 and humans get a bonus, I should be good to go (particularly if I grab something else by multiclassing).

Now here's the biggest decision. Sonja almost screams Barbarian--she is a female version of Conan in some way. Barbarian would make her a Striker (check), lightly-armored (check), and does a lot of damage with a big sword. Except she's not using THAT big a sword--a barbarian two-handing a long-sword might not be great. Of course, I could make her a Whirling Barbarian and play up the two-weapon fighting. Indeed, mixing between two-weapon and two-handed swings could fit the character well. Of course, two-weapon barbarians are designed to be using big weapons in their off-hand (to get the extra 1[W] with Whirling Rend. Then again, even an extra 1d4 from an off-hand dagger would be enough to take out a minion--and Sonja is all about taking on hordes of minions. [It's worth noting here that I tend to consider abilities in terms of at-will attacks. Most of my play is at lower levels when at-wills are used a lot.] I could still get some flexibility out of switching between Whirling Rend and Howling Strike (with a two-handed longsword), but it might seem kind of weak compared to using a Fullblade or a big axe. Barbarians are also super tough, can be hard to hit (particularly when Dex-based), and can get lots of attacks (which is great for taking out an army of bad guys). The skill list is also almost perfect: Nature and Perception are there, as is Athletics and Acrobatics, and even Intimidate.

What Barbarian's don't get is ranged attacks--no bow proficiency. Of course, proficiency is only a +2 to attacks for bows; with a decent Dex, I could still make ranged attacks with a reasonable chance of hitting. [I'm going to ignore magic equipment bonuses--magic items aren't a thing in Red Sonja, so an inherent bonus system would be appropriate and will help with using whatever weapon is at hand]. I'm also still wavering on how my ability to use a big weapon off-hand will mostly be wasted if I'm using a dagger. Of course, I could just make her a Rageblood and take two-weapon attacks anyway--I'd have to pump her Con more (and I might not have points for that).

So what other options are there for strikers? Ranger would give me bow proficiency, a larger and amazing skill list, and the almighty Twin Strike (though Twin Strike with an off-hand dagger will be a little weak at low levels). Getting Toughness from two-weapon style even means I'll have equivalent HP to the Barbarian for levels 1-3. Rangers also get a number of minor-action attacks that are great for filling the "kills lots of people" aspect. Even Quarry seems appropriate for how she takes people out. For other strikers... Rogue isn't right. Monk could maybe be made to work with some reflavoring (using a ki-focus and then "wielding" whatever weapon I want), but I don't care about the emphasis on movement all that much (this is actually an issue with the Whirling Barbarian as well).

Here's an idea: how about we hybrid Barbarian and Ranger. Then I could get Twin Strike, bow proficiency, and an extra skill, but still have some of the toughness of Barbarian. I could even hybrid talent for the big off-hand weapon if that became appropriate, otherwise I could grab Prime Punisher (if this character is played at Paragon) for extra damage. I also can mix the minor-action attacks of Ranger with some of the big-damage encounters from Barbarian. This has promise.

The other option that might be perfect is the new Slayer build from the Essentials fighter. Strength/Dex primary, and can deal lots of damage even with a small weapon because they get to add Dex to damage. What I might do with this is to just have Sonja normally use a longsword two-handed, but occasionally pull out a parrying dagger to use as a shield. I could flavor some kills as her stabbing people with the dagger, but I wouldn't be gaining offensive advantage from the off-hand. I think I could be happy with that. The skill list isn't great, but with a background and multi-classing (Ranger or Barbarian likely) I could get it to be what I want. Of course, I'll have to see how the whole class works before deciding. But that's definitely an option.

As I've been saying, I kind of want Sonja to use a longsword and an off-hand parrying dagger. What is kind of interesting is how a "sword and dagger" build doesn't seem to be well supported by 4e at the moment. Standard damage-boost feats like Weapon Focus would only apply to one or the other (heavy blade or light blade). Using a Drow Long Knife as a "dagger" would solve that problem (and give me an extra damage point for the Barbarian and Ranger builds). But then I don't get the defensive benefits of the parrying dagger (which can be boosted by the Rhythm Blade enchantment).

Final Decision: None yet. This character will remain under development--probably indefinitely, since I'm not sure my group would let with me playing a hot red-head wearing a bikini without any weirdness. I'm also waiting to see what Essentials look like--I'll probably read through the Slayer with an eye towards seeing how well it fits Sonja. And how Essentials will affect multiclassing, hybrids, feats, etc. all seems to be up in the air. And of course, an exact build will depend on the game level (heroic? paragon?) the setting (Sonja would fit in well in Dark Sun), the group composition, etc. A Barbarian|Ranger hybrid is probably my current favorite, followed by a Slayer, then a straight Barbarian or Ranger. But it's something to continue thinking about.

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