As both a player and Dungeon Master, I’ve seen 4e D&D grow and mature since it was first released. It started out locked hard into its mold of a four role, five player party, with its very linear progression and development. There were some parts of it that worked, and some parts that did not. In the years that have passed, 4e D&D has changed significantly, and there is a wealth of options for any given character at this point. Not all options are even, but that is a given when dealing with any robust and mature game.
Today the Dungeon’s Master team welcomes our newest contributor, Sndwurks (David Buresh). Sndwurks started playing Dungeons & Dragons nearly 20 years ago, and took up the mantle of Dungeon Master one year into the hobby. He is an avid gamer and enjoying gaming across all its various mediums. He is also an author of horror and historical fiction, and a semi-professional storyteller. We welcome him to the team and hope you enjoy his first contribution. – Ameron
Within the four role mold, there are simply some characters who do not fit. Some are classes being played across role, such as a defender being built as a controller, or a controller who hands out party buffs more than enemy debuffs. Others are more complex, and are managing to exist in a nebulous place between two roles, fulfilling each without sacrificing the other. One of these types of characters is the role referred to in my gaming circle as the Offender.
Building an Offender
The primary purpose of the Offender is to hold the attention of one or two enemies on the field through a combination of marking and damage. Marking is optional, but often present. Offenders typically have hit points and defenses comparable to a defender, and deal damage comparable to a striker. The Offender often also has a high amount of effect negation, in order to resist the soft control placed by monsters. The Offender is a highly survivable, melee and close damage dealing beast who can operate at times without party support.
The most common Offender is built using a melee striker class who favours good defenses and hit points. Blackguards and Slayers are typically Offenders, but Sorcerers and Barbarians can often also move into this role. The second most common is a defender class which uses its marking feature against no more than two enemies at a time, and uses its feats and powers to improve their damage output. These Offenders often will force the enemy to break the mark, in order to further increase their damage output. These Offenders are typically built using either a Swordmage or Weaponmaster class as their chassis.
The third and most complicated Offender is built using the hybrid class rules. These Offenders have a tendency to be more fragile than either of their parent classes in the same sub-role, but are capable of inflicting a more sustainable impact on the battlefield. Utilizing their ability to pick and choose AEDU powers (At-wills, Encounter, Daily and Utility powers), the hybrids often use the Assault Swordmage as one of their classes, with a striker class that grants an at-will melee basic attack as their other class. Usually, this is either a Constitution based Warlock using Eldritch Strike, though a Power of Skill Avenger or the new hybrid Vampire using Vampire Slam can be just as effective. The character plays by marking a creature with their Aegis, then attempting to not engage that creature if at all possible on their turn in order to use their immediate action to perform a melee basic attack against the target.
The Offender challenges the traditional roles of 4e D&D by being at times both a defender and a striker. They are often only mildly less durable than a devoted defender, and may only lack the abundance of interrupts and out of turn attacks of a striker. They can take the heat off of a primary defender by engaging one or two enemies at a time, allowing the controller and defender to neutralize the other threats on the board. Starting in upper heroic, and moving into low epic, Offenders can compete with the other strikers for the necessary 3-round kill. In lower heroic, Offenders lag behind in damage with other strikers, and beyond mid epic, Offenders often do not have the damage mitigation necessary to adequately handle the higher damaging monsters.
Playing an Offender
The Offender favours a play style that operates somewhat independently of the typical party support roles. While they still significantly benefit from the presence of a leader or a controller, they are typically in the position where the support role is better applying its effects elsewhere. Offenders are rarely sticky, and are generally only focused on by monsters they are attacking or have marked through their effects. Other monsters will attack them only when they are the best target available and thus playing an Offender requires an understanding of how to make oneself the best target available for a given attack. Typically, the easiest and safest way to be the best target available is for the Offender to be within the monster’s speed while the other characters are not. The other way is to have the lowest relevant defense out of available targets. Maintaining one or two enemies’ attention in an encounter is key for an Offender, and often they have the defensive powers and attributes sufficient to survive this.
Like any character whose focus is damage, the Offender should place artillery as their top priority of targets. However, if that artillery is outside their engagement radius (in this case engagement radius being the distance the PC can move and charge on their first turn), the Offender should focus on Controllers and Lurkers next. If the party has a defender, the Offender should be leaving the Skirmishers to them, while Brutes are better handled by the PC controller. Soldiers occupy an interesting niche in regards to engagement. If as an Offender, you have a comparably good attack scores for your level, you may be the best choice to engage an enemy soldier. Their marking effects will encourage you to attack them, while your own defensive abilities should shield you from their wrath. Offender builds utilizing the Barbarian class or multi-class can even pick up Targeted Assault to better their chances of hitting the soldier. This is a good feat for any melee character to consider if your DM favours Soldiers who mark.
Regarding defensive abilities, an Offender must be adaptable and learn what monster types a DM favours the most. If a DM favours Brutes and Skirmishers, higher defenses and encounter powers that increase defense are necessary to avoid consuming too many healing surges in an encounter. If a DM favours Soldiers and artillery, methods of self-healing and temporary hit point generation become a stronger Defensive measure, as well as resistances. If the DM favours Lurkers and Controllers, then a blend of the two methods of protection can be used, with an emphasis on immediate and free actions that protect you and shake off effects.
Dungeon Mastering an Offender
As a DM, when one of your players chooses to play an Offender, they are telling you that they enjoy playing the hard-line, in the fray sort of character. They want something that is intimidating to fight against, and more than capable of handling themselves without the full support of the rest of the party. They are not playing the most durable character who can stand against wave after wave of enemy assault, nor are they playing the cool and calm character who can kill anything you put against them. They are choosing to play the sort of character who can challenge the hardest, meanest thing in the battle to a one on one fight, and stand a reasonable chance of winning.
Build your encounters accordingly. When laying out an encounter, be keenly aware of the Offender’s engagement radius, and place the monsters you think they will have the most fun fighting based on the order of operation. If you place an artillery monster within an Offender’s engagement radius, they will go for it above all other targets. If you wish to place traps or the like, keep that in mind. Also, do not place a soldier within the Offender’s common attack path, as that will defeat the purpose of the soldier in the fight. Allow the soldier to threaten the less durable characters, such as a striker or PC controller. A good Offender will choose to aggress on the enemy soldier once their primary target is dead.
The main challenge to DMing for an Offender is avoiding letting the Offender hog the spotlight. Like a striker, the Offender gets to have the glory of being most likely to kill a monster. Often, players who favour Offenders also have a tendency to jump for recognition and attention. A DM must make sure that there is a challenge for all players in the game, and to not allow any one player to dominate a combat or social encounter. Be aware of the Offender, and make sure they are provided ways to improve the game experience for everyone.