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Defensive type characters have long been considered suboptimal. There's a good reason for this. Often these builds don't deal the necessary damage to be viable and often end up barely mobile bricks who find out there hyper focused defensive strategy isn't enough to keep them alive.
Or, in the case of Crane Wing builds you get nerfed. Sorry. :/
But, I put some thought into this. Is there still a good tactical advantage to playing a good high defensive character?
Well let's see.
1. Survivability - Survivable characters can do more. They can take more hits, eat more spells and good survivable characters can get through more fights. Endurance isn't often a problems as much as simple fight ending capacity.
2. Efficiency - It's weird but as a character that takes little damage you should expend very few resources. The trick, I think, is that people go overboard on one form of defense and fail to consider layering defenses atop one another so the investment is low enough for good offense to be added in.
3. Enemy Resource/Action Sink - An interesting thing about defenses is that when an enemy fails to penetrate them they produce an action advantage in that they completely negate the action in question. So, if you pass a save on a targeted spell, fail to take damage from an attack, or otherwise cause an opponents action to do nothing.
So there is a tactical incentive to go heavy on the defense. I just think actual thought needs to be put into it rather than relying on gimmicks.
With that being said let's get to work.
What good defensive character needs.
~Solid Saves. Two of the three saves need to be high enough to make most saves reasonably. The third can be weaker but still fair enough. Good saves make good survivability and in many cases can negate spells used on you. So the bestiary chart does give a fair number to base it off of so let's get a run down:
CR Minimum Saves
~ High AC. Ac represents the most common and useful line of defense against physical attacks. It's actually fairly easy to get really high. So not too much effort should be put into getting it high, but we do want to have at least around 50% miss chance on attacks against AC. We shouldn't need much more as we should have other means of covering defense.
CR Minimum AC
~Layered Defenses: Having passive defenses are great but we need more. If an enemy can bust our AC, he needs to deal with miss chances, if saves are not a problem for them they need to deal with immunities, if ranged enemies have true seeing to bust through the invisibility they need to get through Deflect Arrows. If we get hit we should be able to knock the damage off with DR or swift healing. That kind of stuff.
~Damage: Look, even if we become literally invulnerable it doesn't mean spit if we can't end the fight. It's unlikely we'll do support and while control is a possibility it might be best left to casters. I also don't expect Falchion Fred levels of consistent, constant damage. But, given the tools available there's no reason we can't get close. Arcane strike is easy to get, power attack works just fine on a one handed weapon, slashing grace allows us to make dex based builds more easily.
So let's get to it shall we. Based on the minimums above let's try to make defensive characters that can meet these standards.
~lvl is up to you.
~Be practical: The build should avoid too much silliness. i.e. I shouldn't hurt myself picking up all the books this one character takes. It shouldn't require GM approval (like a custom race out of the ARG). And shouldn't make people scratch their heads trying to visualize it.
~Multiclassing is okay but don't get crazy and again be practical. It shouldn't be a stretch for one class to progress into another. A barbarian segueing into fighter is reasonable. A wizard segueing neatly into brawler isn't a particularly natural occurrence.
~Don't rely on a magic item. If I can sunder one piece of equipment and ruin everything than the build was flimsy from the start. A defensive kind of character shouldn't come apart at the seams in terms of defense or damage if you do something as silly as lose your agile weapon.
~Be consistent. It's great that you can get a 25 AC and 50% miss chance at level 2. But if you can't maintain that through out the adventuring day it's all but useless. Active defenses either need to be plentiful or need only be used in situations where the extra defense is needed.
~Layer defenses. Just having high AC isn't enough as I discussed above. So have multiple ways to defend yourself. Miss chances, parries, etc. etc.
~Be useful. I think it shouldn't need to be said but pure defense is not the goal. Practical defense is what we need. A solid front from where we can safely do things like deal damage.
I'll start posting builds of what I've come up with later. Feel free to comment, post, or throw out your own ideas in the meantime.