Move Over Character Builder

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on May 3, 2011

Can you recall the first Dungeons & Dragons character you ever created? Mine, like many others, was a Fighter from the Red Box set. I remember running him through the adventure contained in the box. I was hooked. The process was so creative, so imaginative.

Through the evolution of editions character creation has changed. We’ve gone from one book to many. During 3.5e I remember having multiple books open in front of me as I created my character sheet in excel. With the release of 4e we were given the gift of the character builder. I was in heaven, this is how character creation should be in our day and age. Everything I needed was available at my fingertips.

However, as 4e has continued to evolve and grow I realize that character builder is not the ultimate tool for designing your character. That role now falls to the Compendium. You are still building the character in the character builder, but all the research is occurring ahead of time with the Compendium.

However, the Compendium itself is only a tool. To use it effectively we need to incorporate keywords into our research. Using keywords with the Compendium allows us to sift through the vast amount of data that is available to us. Fortunately for us 4e D&D powers all have keywords associated with them.

Let’s use a case study to demonstrate what this process might look like. The concept for our case study will be a character that can control and manipulate enemies. Through trickery the character can turn foes into allies and manipulate the battlefield. Out of combat the character will follow up with this theme, a master of infiltration.

A Question Of Class

Based on how the character is to operate we will need to determine what keywords fit closest with our concept. Based on the concept for the case study most powers will likely be centered on the charm or dominate keywords. Our first task is to see exactly what options are available to us based on our anticipated keyword usage. To begin the process we start with a very high level view. We want to know how many classes use these two keywords. The Compendium provides the following information:

  • Charm – 12 classes: Artificer, Bard, Blackguard, Hexblade, Hybrid Bard, Hybrid Rogue, Mage, Rogue, Sorcerer, Vampire, Warlock and Wizard
  • Dominate – 1 class: Psion

What we end up with are 13 possible classes between our two keywords. A lot of choice and the classes cover three of the four roles available. The defender is the only one absent based on our keywords, this isn’t overly surprising given the type of character our case study is trying to build.

From this list three options immediately jump out as strong possibilities: the Bard, Psion and Wizard. All seem to fit within our criteria of a character that can control the battle, turning foes into friends.

However, just having our keyword in the class description doesn’t make our decision easier. If we are going to focus on our build, we need to know how much choice we have when it comes to power selection. We need to dig a little bit deeper in the Compendium. Using our two keywords we instead view the amount of powers that are available using each keyword. The Compendium provides the following information:

  • Charm – 192 powers
  • Dominate – 3 powers

Based on this information it is starting to look like a build that focuses on charm powers may be the strongest option. But with 192 powers, which classes benefit the most? Sorting the list by class we learn that the following classes have the highest number of charm powers:

  • Ardent – 10 powers
  • Bard – 22 powers
  • Psion – 9 powers
  • Warlock – 18 powers
  • Wizard – 27 powers

Our original list of thirteen classes had been reduced to five. How do we now bring our list of five classes down to one? In order to do this some forward thinking is required. What Paragon Path would best suit our build? Once again we adjust the search parameters on the Compendium to show us which Paragon Paths feature the charm keyword. Our list is long, however we are able to sort it based on the five classes we have listed above. Only Paragon Paths that require one of these classes or that are open via another route are options for us. The following five Paragon Paths are options:

  • Deadstalker
  • Entrancing Mystic
  • Phiarlan Phantasmist
  • Shiere Knight
  • Strovakal

Of these five classes only the Entrancing Mystic has a prerequisite based on class, in this case the Warlock. The other four options are based on race or feat selection. In examining the five Paragon Paths only the Entrancing Mystic has attack powers based on the charm keyword.

The next major decision we make during character creation is the race we select. Based on the charm keyword three races are available.

  • Eladrin
  • Githyanki
  • Revnant

However, based on our idea of a manipulator and spy a Changeling seems like the most suitable choice.

The Right Feats

After looking at class, power and race options the next step is to figure out what feats might work best with our build. Once again we return to the Compendium and adjust the search criteria to look at what feats have the charm keyword. With twenty options many won’t work due to either racial or class requirements.

Many of these feats are designed to give the character a bonus to saves versus charm effects. In the end only one of these charm feats worked, but there were others that aren’t so specific that also fit our concept.

Beguiling Enchantment

As we are building a character based on the charm keyword having opponents take a penalty because of our strength fits the bill perfectly.

Other feats that use the charm keyword that might be considered for this build are:

  • Fearless Mind
  • Fey Senses
  • Sturdy Mind

The Correct Tools For The Job

We have examined our class, powers, race and feats. The final stage is ensuring that our character is properly equipped for the job. Again, we adjust the search parameters of the Compendium to display the items that feature the charm keyword. A total of 227 items are available across all the tiers. To make the job easier, I sorted by equipment slot. The following three items listed below fit our build the best.

Amulet of Seduction

This item is first available at level five. It provides a +2 to Bluff and Diplomacy and imposes a penalty to the first saving throw a target makes based on a charm power that we have subjected them to. It also has a daily power that fits perfectly into our concept of manipulating our foes into aiding us.

Black Cave Pearl

This reagent has a level 14 and 24 version. The level 14 version allows you to roll two attack rolls on a charm power up to level 7 and use the better of the two results. At 800gp, that’s money well spent. The level 24 version works on powers up to level 17.

Laurel Circlet

This head item is first available at level 10. It provides a +2 bonus to Diplomacy and Insight. The Diplomacy bonus won’t stack with the Amulet of Seduction, however the item is sufficiently useful that this overlap is worth it. The item provides a +1 item bonus to attack rolls on powers that have the charm or illusion keyword. The daily power provides a +2 power bonus to the next Charisma attack that you make this turn.

What Does Our Case Study Look Like?

We have a list of classes and their corresponding powers that work with our concept. We have a race that fits hand in glove with the concept. We also have two feats that provide interesting synergies. Finally, we have identified several items that will work.

How do we put it all together? Part of that answer depends on whether you would rather play a controller, leader or striker? Each of these roles and corresponding powers approaches the build in a slightly different manner.

My approach was to create a hybrid Warlock/Wizard. This provided me with a wide assortment of powers to select from. I felt that this build provided me the best of both worlds. The Wizard has the most powers that use the charm keyword. The Warlock gave me access to the Entrancing Mystic Paragon Path. This Paragon Path and the items we discovered also have synergies.

My reason for this choice can be summarized as follows:

  • Mystic Rapture: Enemies moving or starting their turn within 3 of me take a -2 to saving throws, or -5 against charm powers. The Amulet of Seduction provides a synergy to this penalty, providing a total penalty for the first saving throw against a charm power of -7.
  • Mystery Given Form: +1 attack with charm powers; if you miss all targets with an encounter charm power, it isn’t expended. The Laurel Circlet provides a +1 bonus to hit with charm powers, again another synergy.
  • Hypnotism (Wizard at-will): An at-will attack that can I fall back on failing all else. Choose one of the following effects: The target uses a free action to make a melee basic attack against a creature of your choice or you slide the target up to 3 squares.
  • Instant Friends (Wizard Utility): An out of combat power that provides a quick and friendly ally to assist with all types of things.
  • Warlock’s Curse & Eldrict Blast: The build I created has weaknesses and in some situations is not a good controller at all. This is especially true against foes that can teleport. The default Warlock attack power allows me to provide some damage output if the situation calls for it.

Attached are a .pdf copy and the character builder file for the character I created. I have introduce the character in an active campaign, thus the reason the character is level 18. So far I’m enjoying the character and the build.

Building characters this way tends to provide you with a highly specialized character. It is possible that you will end up with at least one noticeable weakness. However, you will ideally have built a character that excels in one given area. If you are able to find opportunities to exploit this inside and outside of combat other players will soon take notice.

There a definitely other options that you could reach with this method. A Psion who takes the Thrallherd Paragon Path would be an interesting twist on the concept of our case study. However, without doing the research ahead of time many of the possibilities for a strong and specific build remain unknown.

Do you use the Compendium to research your character choices? What kind of success have you had in doing this? Do you prefer this method of designing and researching a character over traditional methods?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sully May 3, 2011 at 10:48 am

I do a big chunk of character creation research on WotC’s Character Optimization forum, even more so than the Compendium. My players don’t have all the books or even D&D Insider accounts; they’re more casual gamers at the moment, so it fell on me to handle a lot of the legwork with character creation, and the CharOp forums have been a HUGE help in that regard. Finding synergy with powers and feats can be a huge time-sink and there are a lot of people who have figured out a lot of that stuff. Two of my players are playing builds taken straight from the forum, and the other three are heavily influenced by them, and they all seem to be enjoying their characters immensely.
Sully´s last blog post ..Islands in the Sky- Session 3- An Arkhosian Plot Foiled

2 Timothy Brannan May 3, 2011 at 10:52 am

This is very cool and something I do as well.

I am going back over your post with sheet in hand since I have also wanted to do a Wizard/Warlock hybrid or even Warlock multiclass wizard.

I posted something similar a bit ago only about a Warlock/Bard hybrid.
Timothy Brannan´s last blog post ..Question for the Regular Readers

3 Alton May 3, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I use the Compendium quite often also in the creation of my characters. The thing that drives my use between the CB to create a character or the compendium is time. Once Class and race are chosen the CB tends to filter out the non eligible feats.

If I have time, I use the Compendium. Both are great.
Alton´s last blog post ..D&ampD Encounters- Dark Legacy of Evard Sneak Peek

4 Arcade May 4, 2011 at 10:26 am

I agree. The compendium is one of the few ways to make characters now given the myriad of options. It’s the only way to track down the powers and feats to support a given theme. (like charm and dominion) The character builder will only show you options for what you can take now, not what you can take later. The only way to know about the higher tiers of bloodlines, powers, paragon paths and fighting styles is to find them on the compendium.

Character Op forums provide a sanity check against any powers taken to make sure you don’t end up with any bad powers, and for an occasional inspiration or tweak. But mostly, I find the most compelling characters to be ones that have a focus and stick to it, which is why the compendiium search works so well.

5 Wimwick May 4, 2011 at 10:46 am

@ Sully
The character optimization forum is a great resource. When I’m investigating a new idea that is usually a place I will visit to see what options others have explored.

@ Timothy Brannan
With the sheer number of powers, feats and items I find this type of a search almost mandatory to ensure I don’t overlook something.

@ Alton
The CB is good at filtering out the non eligible feats, however I don’t find it is as good at sorting. Perhaps some link between the Compendium and the CB is in order.

@ Arcarde
As much as like my character to grow with the story, I also enjoy having an idea of where I want them to go. I don’t want to just take powers or feats because they will give me a one off advantage at one point during a campaign.

6 Amradorn June 2, 2011 at 9:40 am

My biggest issue with the CB and the Compendium is that I can’t use it while I’m at my FLGS due to not having an wifi connection there.

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