Warforged – Creating an Identity for an Artificial Being

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 11, 2011

Warforged, and by extension constructs, are the most difficult races to play. But it’s this difficultly makes them extremely appealing to many gamers. The Warforged represents the best physical qualities that humanoids have to offer, yet they lack their fundamental weaknesses. They are, to put it bluntly, superior by design.

Today marks our 600th post. When we’ve hit significant milestones at Dungeon’s Master in the past we’ve tried to relate the number of that milestone into that article. Our 100th post was a list of 100 Great Things About D&D. For our 300th post Wimwick and I each created King Leonidas from the movie 300. Post 404 was all about Errors I’ve Made as a DM. With the 500th post looked at extreme wealth, the Fortune 500 of D&D.

Inspiration for 600 hit me when I was watching Terminator: Salvation on DVD. One of the Terminators they fought was the T-600 – an extremely powerful combat model. I’ve always believed that Keith Baker came up with his idea for Warforged after watching one of the Terminator movies. So with that in mind the 600th post seemed like the ideal time to take a closer look at Warforged in 4e D&D.

Ever since I first read the original Eberron Campaign Setting I fell in love with Warforged. I was fascinated by the idea of a race of artificial soldiers constructed for one purpose – to fight. Yet now they find themselves redundant in a world without war.. Living people already have an extremely difficult time establishing an identity for themselves, but imagine how much more difficult it must be for these constructed beings.

When it comes to role-playing a Warforged in search of his identity, I’ve always felt that they fall into two distinct groups. They either want to become more like their creators, more Human and life-like, or they want to forsake the idea that they are anything like their creators and seek meaning in their artificiality.

More Human Than Human

When most of us play Warforged characters we likely fall into this first category. The Warforged understands that he is an artificial being made to fit into the world of humanoids. Although many Warforged will strive to develop a sense of self-identity and independence they are still willing to work within the confines of the world that man have created.

The level and degree to which Warforged try to assimilate will vary depending on the character’s goals, history and class. Warforged with superior strength and size are more likely to find acceptance fulfilling roles where these advantages are more beneficial. However, the advantages provided by their physical design can also be problematic in other circumstances.

Take for example a Warforged soldier built for melee combat. His body resembles that of a man in heavy plate armor. As a soldier, body guard or labourer his size is a great advantage. However, this same Warforged may find social interaction more difficult because his size is intimidating. A humanoid soldier can remove his armor when not in battle, thereby fitting in during peacetime. The Warforged cannot do likewise. However, the Warforged does have options for changing.

A Warforged can make modification to their body given the proper resources. When they find that their physical appearance no longer suits their long-term goals, they can make drastic alterations.

Take for example a Warforged who strives for social acceptance. Since most Warforged were designed to excel in physical melee combat they have bulky, armored bodies. This can be disconcerting and off-putting to other living people when the Warforged tries to immerse himself in a social setting. Should a Warforged decide that his bulky exterior is no longer advantageous for his new goals he can have his body reconstructed and manipulated to better suit his needs.

Regardless of what the Warforged strives to accomplish with any outward changes, he is always conscious that he lives in the world of men. In order to establish himself within the Human community, he must take steps to ensure that his form still resembles the normal and acceptable form that all humanoids have. Even though adding two more arms may provide a significant combat advantage, this is not something that a Warforged with this mentality will opt to do if he hopes to blend in. Deep down he still realizes that it’s a Human world and that any place he hopes to carve out for himself needs to happen within the established social standards.

Sometimes Warforged searching for identity that fall into this first classification find it hard to understand their freedom. Many will look for a “master” to provide guidance. Some opt to remain in the military, taking comfort in the rigid hierarchy. Others may find direction through religion. Some still may end up as hired goons working for less savory individuals. I’ve seen a few great Warforged characters that join adventuring parties simply to have someone else make the decisions.

Steel is Strong, Flesh is Weak

On the other end of the Warforged identity spectrum are the radical and extreme thinkers. They want to embrace everything that their artificiality allows. Although they were created by men, resemble men and live in a world of men, they don’t feel that they have to fit into the definitions created by men. Why limit yourself to just two arms, two legs or even one head? Why even take a humanoid form at all?

This type of Warforged will not hesitate to replace limbs with weapons if they feel it will give them an edge in combat. They’ll make whatever physical alterations to their body that they want. Most will opt to retain the humanoid form simply to take advantage of the things Humans have created, but that’s likely the only reason for doing so.

Once these Warforged received the spark of life that granted them sentience there was no looking back. They often see themselves as superior to their creators. After all, flesh is weak. Men need to sleep, eat and breathe. Eventually a man will die form old age or disease. The Warforged represents only the best qualities of men and isn’t limited or restrained by men weaknesses.

The Lord of Blades certainly falls into this end of the spectrum. He believes he’s a god, chosen by divine right to lead the Warforged race. The Lord of Blades has made radical alterations to his appearance by adding blades all over hit body.

Playing a Warforged

Obviously some of the examples I’ve presented above are quite radical and deliberately extreme. From the point of view of your PC, some of these concepts just aren’t going to work at most gaming tables. If you’re a Warforged extremist who feels superior to all living creatures and strives to make the world a better place for your brethren at the expense and sacrifice of breathers, you’re going to find it difficult to maintain any kind of positive relationship with the other non-Warforged members of the party. In fact you’re going to need a pretty good reason to explain why they’d even accept you into the party in the first place.

But that’s not to say that less extreme versions of these characters won’t work. In fact some of the best role-playing I’ve experienced has been between Warforged and breathers. Some of the best Eberron novels include this kind of identity struggle at the heart of the story. I strongly recommend you pick up James Wyatt’s Draconic Prophecies trilogy for an excellent example of a Warforged who does some serious soul-searching.

The thing that I find most challenging when playing a Warforged is that they’re not alive as we understand it. They are sentient, but their perspective of the world is bound to be different from living races. Although Humans, Elves and Dwarves are all different races, they are all still living creatures and share basic similarities. No matter what kind of background characters from these races may have experienced they still share some common understandings as living beings. Warforged can try to emulate and imitate these characteristics, but they are still artificial.

Any discussion about the identity of an artificial creature is bound to be lengthy and complicated. I’ve admittedly only touched the surface. For most players, this is about as much of a philosophical debate as they’re interested in having when it comes to fleshing out their character. After all D&D is just a game. As long as you, the player running the Warforged, have an idea of who he is and at least a general idea of his ambitions and goals that should be enough. For some of the more hardcore gamers running Warforged character, this kind of debate just helps you get into the character better.

Despite my own opinions of Warforged characters, the final call on how to play him is yours to make. If you’re playing a Warforged, run him as you see fit for your game. If my look at the Warforged identity helps you better define your character then I’ve done my job.

Where do you stand on Warforged? Do you think that they are (or can be) as radically different as I’ve described? Or do you think that they are more like their creators than I’ve given them credit for? What interesting character quarks have players at your table come up with for their Warforged?

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1 Geek Fu March 11, 2011 at 11:57 am

The barbarian in my group is a warforged. His character idea:

“I’m looking to play him as a free-thinker with not much past experience to draw on. He’ll have a child-like innocence and trust and will not understand that his hits are so devastating. He’ll most likely honestly believe he didn’t hit them that hard.”

Out of all 6 players, he gets into his character the most. In several situations, when the party is discussing complex strategies and ideas to solve a problem, he tries to think like his character and usually comes up with a brilliantly simply idea (to the embarrassment of the other players).

2 Liam Gallagher March 11, 2011 at 11:58 am

I really like the D&D robot, but I wish there would be better support for them as a race. The idea of component parts offers a lot of really cool character options that have simply not been explored.

I think one of the really compelling aspects of having construct characters is the way in which NPCs would deal with your character’s presence. The idea of a robot character is compelling because of our own relationships with artificial intelligence today, and all our concerns about how their introduction is going to effect our society, the trust issues with the mechanical (which have existed in human societies since there was humanity but in a major way since the industrial revolution), and then of course the cult of the machine. It depends on the level of fantasy that your D&D game takes the form of, but there could be precedent for nearly all strangers to be reviled by your character’s presence.

I like robots and think they are good. I think if I were to play one I would have it not understand the whole sleeping and eating thing. It would think that food is a really stupid idea.

3 Shaitan Pyrik March 11, 2011 at 7:57 pm

One of my favorite characters to play was my ‘forged monk, Fist. His story was simple: after the Last War, he swore he would never take up arms again, to be nothing more than a tool of destruction and war. Unfortunately, he quickly learned that being unarmed in a dangerous world was foolhardy, that humans still saw him as a walking weapon, so he sought out a monastery to train in unarmed self-defense. He ended up traveling with a bard with a broad sense of multiculturalism, who always called him “Mr. Fist.”
That’s right – Fist and the Mouser…
Exploring that character was one of the best RP experiences of my gaming life.

4 Sunyaku March 12, 2011 at 12:31 am

I think it’s easiest to approach this topic with the mindset that the Warforged is created with a sort of “programming” from his creator. From that point on, however, the Warforged can learns to change his ways.

To determine what the programming would be, I would approach this by considering what the aspirations and flaws of the creator were, and what the purpose of this model of warforged were. For example, if the creator was concerned about assassins, he might create a warforged bodyguard who is suspicious of everyone, and able to detect lies of dangers through insight, perception, etc.

Or, if the creator were near the end of a cruel life, he might try to do a little good in the world, making a warforged who was kind/benevolent. Or… even another idea I just had… a dying creator might have tried to transfer his very consciousness into the warforged, and whether or not he succeeded might cause the warforged to have a variety of ‘quirks’.

5 Erik March 13, 2011 at 12:02 pm

I have played several Warforged and they have been some of my favorite characters.

My first was in 3.5, a ‘forged artificer named Query. He was so named because he awoke in the Mournlands with no memory. As he began to re-explore his world, he questioned everything. He questioned why the fleshy races were so distrustful of Warforged (and each other). He questioned why living constructs were still called “war-forged” if the war was over. He even questioned gender-roles (he was a male-personality ‘forged that liked women’s clothing :P)

I played a few others in one-shot adventures or short campaigns. I liked being able to explore the philosophical questions of what it means to be alive, whether constructs have souls, the meaning and reality of emotions, etc.

My current character is a Warforged battlemind who was created by House Cannith as a psychic super-soldier. He was also an experiment in artificial Dragonmarks, and bears the Mark of Storm. However, he never saw combat in the Last War, and escaped from House Cannith in the confusion following the Day of Mourning. It has been a lot of fun to play a character who is basically unique in the world, and is on the run from not one but two houses (Cannith and Lyrandar). His personality was intentionally modeled on Optimus Prime, and spouting quotes like “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings,” and “One shall stand, one shall fall,” has been a hoot.

In summary, magic robots are awesome and fun to play.

6 Ameron March 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm

@Geek Fu
I’ve seen similar takes on Warforged characters played as the innocent child. It can be a lot of fun and very rewarding. Just remember to keep track of the things that these innocent and often naïve characters experience so that the next time it comes around they draw on the correct framework to determine their action.

If the first few times they meet a new race, for example, and that race is evil or duplicitous, then the Warforged may draw the conclusion that all members of that race are like that.

@Liam Gallagher
I agree that there should really be more support. After all the Warforged is a staple of the Eberron setting. The races new to 4e (Dragonborn and Tiefling) both have a race-specific book full of new powers and feats. A little love in this same vein would be nice to see for the Warforged.

In my home game (in which we’ve had quite a few PC Warforged over the years) we’ve explored the different opinions of local folk when they encounter these artificial beings. Some people hold them in high regard and respect for what they did during the war, others still see them as property and won’t recognize that they’re individuals. It’s something that adds a lot of rich role-playing opportunities.

When a Warforged PC recently manifested the Mark of Making things really got interesting. Now some of his closest friends and supporters looked at him very, very differently (Cannith Artificer, I’m talking about you).

@Shaitan Pyrik
I really, really like the concept of the Warforged Monk. In Rich Wulf’s “Heirs of Ash” Eberron trilogy there is a Warforged Monk among the party who was an incredibly complex and interesting character. The idea that an artificial being finds meaning in divinity really seemed appealing to me.

This is another one of the other routes I’ve seen played a lot. The Warforged created for a specific purpose is given vast knowledge and understanding required to complete that task effectively. When it comes to that area (say combat tactics for a body guard) he’s extremely well informed. But in the other areas (emotional involvement between humanoids, for example) he’s completely naïve. This is also a great approach to playing a Warforged. I like the twist you’re suggesting that the creator’s own prejudices and biases might be part of the basic programming. That has a lot of great role-playing potential.

Human – “Why do you hate Elves so much?”
Warforged – “I don’t like or dislike those filthy, stinking, tree-hugging, pointy-eared freaks any more than the next guy. Why do you ask?”

One thing that people often forget when playing a character with no memory is that they aren’t necessarily stupid, just empty. This makes the role-playing that much more exciting. And it leads to very intelligent questions, like the one’s you’ve shared.
We too have had a lot of fun in the Eberron world when our friendly Warforged manifested a Dragonmark. It’s made the political intrigue quite exciting not to mention creating conflict within the party between those with “true” Dragonmarks (who feel that the Warforged is some kind of aberration) and the ever-curious Warforged who is starting to get delusions of grandeur.

7 4649matt March 16, 2011 at 9:53 am

I share your fascination with Warforged.
I am playing a character that is re-fluffed to be a warforged with the DM’s permission. Tick-Tock is a re-fluffed tiefling paladin that instead is a war-forged clockwork defender that uses clockwork bots in addition to conventional swords and sorcery (divine challenge and divine sanction are now clockwork challenge and clockwork sanction with radiant damage being fluffed as laser damage).
Tick-tock (as named by his former unit commander) strives to better understand humans in order to surpass them. Despite this increasing superiority, he defends his friends fiercely. The satisfaction of being useful and his illogical sentimental reactions though are profoundly puzzling.
His clockwork bots are disguised as conventional gear, plating and components when not active. He supposes this is an element of deliberate design from his human creators to make them less unnerving. However, in motion the bots are unmistakable and their “bug-like” chittering, ticking, and crawling has unnerved more than a few.
This is the kind of unique concept that war-forged make possible in play and why I keep coming back to them for PC and NPC alike.

8 Jordan October 9, 2011 at 3:50 am

The best warforged I every played was actually a human cannith duskblade who loved to make things (max ranks in 3 craft skills). Then he died and was reincarnated as a half elf, upon which he became so afraid of ever dying again he started to make himself into a machine. But as he transitioned father away from humanity and closer to machine he found himself reveling in the power of his new form; using his battlefist to the exclusion of all other weapons and beginning to hold disdain for non-constructs. When he began abusing his access to cannith resources to finish his now mithril body he drew the ire of many other notable scions, but none could unseat him, and his absolute crafting skill meant that he would really have to misstep to become exorciate. A trip to the mournland to recover some cannith artifacts lead to an encounter with the lord of blades who was surprisingly agreeable; and before long he was working secretly to recreate the mournland trigger scenario in every cannith house.

The rest of the party (all non-warforged) were surprisingly okay with all of this. I guess being the party’s face has some advantages 😀

9 Yoruhoshi January 21, 2012 at 5:53 pm

I actually recently developed a new ‘forged character that I’ve named Songblade, owing to his background: he was forged to be an assassin, specifically, and therefore still carries a bloodstone blade, but owing to amnesia that remains unexplained to his traveling companion (my half-elf rogue,) he cannot recall anything that happened to him beyond waking in a creation forge until he awoke on the streets of Sharn and was taken in by a half-blind, eccentric bard.
Essentially, Song is capable of singing minor spells (much like the hobgoblin duur’kala, though my DM and my dad both insist this makes him a magic swordsman like some characters they used to play in AD&D 1st edition in college.) I’ve yet to use him in an Eberron campaign, but I’m still excited for the opportunities! I would love to have any suggestions for his character that you guys are willing to throw me, and if you want to get a basis for what I’ve written him like thus far, check out my dA page!

10 Icthenue March 22, 2012 at 4:32 pm

My first D&D character was a warforged Barbarian named Bucket. The backstory I made for him was that he was built for a dwarf merchant, but mistakenly sent to the front lines of the war. Even though his intelligence was average, I was determined to play him as an “act, then think” character, and made him overly defensive of his teammates. He wore anything he killed, including elf and dwarf bones from tombs. Funnily enough, just this past Tuesday he died defending the team from crystal golems. The cleric, who had the strongest connection with Bucket, has removed his head and intends to build it into a flail. For Bucket, thats the best honor he could have hoped for and I feel he succeeded as a character and left his mark.

My new warforged Bastion is a fighter, who I am going to build into a Juggernaut. I want to make him all military, no nonsense, but I want to have some sort of missing friend from the war (probably a female warforged scout) that he is duty bound to find again. Due to his distance from living beings (once he is a Juggernaut) I am going to make him a supporter of the Lord of Blades, but not due to superiority, but rather the need to find a place of autonomy for all Warforged.

11 SamMordred April 14, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Made a Warforged Paladin named Steadfast, both in 3.5e and 4e.
He was crafted on the tail end of the war, but saw enough to last a lifetime. When he received freedom, he wandered around a while: he was purposeless, a weapon of war with no one to fight. Eventually, he signed up with the Church of the Silver Flame, finding purpose in religion. It was discovered that he had the spark of divinity necessary for divine casting, and was trained as a paladin, an enforcer for the church.
He’s a defender through and through, the toughest of the tough. AC and HP are his bread and butter, although he still packs a mean punch. He rigidly obeys the tenants of the Church, and protects his allies, no matter how much punishment he takes in the process.

12 Smeagleeagle May 5, 2015 at 3:12 pm

I’m making a warforged druid. They feel like they’ll never be fully accepted as humans, and going back to their original programming of being soldiers will just lead them down a road of death and destruction, but they find peace in nature, so they go adventuring to spread this idea of a third option. The only paths aren’t assimilating to human society, or going back to their robotic roots, One can also become a part of nature.

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