Save My Game 02/02/2007

Too Tough to Play

This column provides advice for DMs whose campaigns are in trouble. Do your players constantly bicker or complain about issues both inside and outside of the main campaign action? Do your best ideas fall flat? Have you set up a situation that you now wish you hadn't? Worry no more, because Jason Nelson-Brown has the answers to save your game!

Problem: Too Tough to Play

I've been trying to design my fighter as a tank, giving him special Interlocking plate (+2 adamantine) and some defensive feats like Combat Expertise, Heavy Armor Optimization, etc. So I have a base AC of 24, and when I move less then 10 feet, it's 25. If I use Combat Expertise, I can get it up to 30 or more. The real problem is I can't get any of the monsters to attack me! I can't possibly keep up with the fireballs and scorching rays of our sorcerer or the sonic lances of our favored soul, or even the 3d6 Sneak Attacks of our dual wielding rogue. What can I do to keep the monsters focused on me?
P.S. -- I'm a dwarf with Charisma 6, so I think Goad is out.

-- Charles, from

One of the biggest changes from earlier versions of D&D to 3rd Edition was the huge increase in the importance of speed and tactical movement. Yes, it's always been important, but 3rd Edition is more explicitly tied to miniatures, battle mats, and precise measurement of movement. In that environment, the difference between fast and slow is greatly emphasized. Your character, unfortunately, is on the wrong end of that design philosophy.

The Doctrine of DeterrenceIt's also a question of play style, because being a slow-moving tank is not so bad if your campaign is based around kicking in dungeon doors and bashing the inhabitants. You can serve as the party's meat shield, in that you can interpose yourself between your enemies and the softer, juicier party members behind you. Even though your enemies may be faster, you can cut the angle on their advance, especially if you have a reach weapon. Their movement advantage is neutralized by the terrain (in this case, dungeon walls and corridors) that forces them to come through your threatened space.

If you end up outdoors or in wide open spaces, quicker enemies (assuming they have even a modicum of tactical sense or survival instinct) can literally run circles around you, and there's nothing you can do about it but wait and hope that they come to you. This is why a prestige class such as the dwarven defender is useful only in limited circumstances. Sure, your defensive stance is great, but if you plant yourself on the ground and power up, and then your enemies just run around you, you've become the world's toughest tree stump rather than an effective combatant.

It's true that the Goad feat would be a good idea if you had the Charisma to pull it off. The Knight class from Player's Handbook II has similar abilities to challenge enemies and induce them to attack the knight in preference to others. Short of that, you could, in theory, have allies use magic to channel enemies your way (fear to make them flee through your area, or charm or suggestion to come close to you). Those either seem like overkill, a lucky coincidence of the main effect of the spell, or at best an inefficient use of resources.

Aside from these game design 'problems' getting in your way, it sounds like you have two issues. One is that this is tabletop D&D, not a computer game. In computer games, the monsters are pretty much irresistibly attracted to the characters. If you meet them, they will come to you. The tank works great in this situation, because the idea of monsters never rushing up to you doesn't happen, or not very often. You go out there, AC up, and suck up the attacks while the offensive characters bust out the killpower. Your own attacks are incidental -- you are mostly there just to get in the way and soak up damage.

D&D is a little more demanding. Part of that is because the DM running the game is apt to notice and counter PC strategies. You need a backup plan for when your primary strategy doesn't work. If this happens all the time, it is worth asking the DM if you have built a bad character for her style of game. You don't need to ask the DM to pile the monsters on you as if they are pouring out of a funnel, but if the monsters can (and do) always just run around your character and neutralize his strength, you have a bad fit for the game, just like a mounted combat specialist who's always stuck in some cave or dungeon or sewer without his horse. Talking to the DM may cause her to reconsider her strategy or at least to pay attention to whether she is singling out your character for neutering. If it seems that the character is a bad fit, you could ask to replace or redesign the character. There are plenty of folks who will tell you that the super-AC build is best when combined with a completely unarmored character with high Dexterity and AC bonuses, such as the monk or ninja class. Maybe a fast warrior is what will work in the campaign. That's kind of a bummer, though, if what you really want to play is a clanking dwarf fighter.

Although it sounds at first as if your problem arises from tactical issues in the game, it's possible that the real issue is frustration that your character doesn't mesh well with the other characters in your party,. You see the other players with characters that are successful and effective, and your character seems impotent by comparison. That makes the game less fun. I get that, and you have a point, but you sort of painted yourself into that corner with the attempt at a super-defense build.

If you want the monsters to attack you, you have two choices -- either make yourself a more inviting target, or else take the fight to them and force them to respond.

In the first case, a simple and relatively cheap option would be adding the glamered property to your armor. That way, while you will still clank loudly, you can look as if you are wearing no armor at all. An enemy seeing a dwarf encased head to toe in solid steel is likely to look for an easier target. An enemy seeing a dwarf wearing a dirty loincloth and a rough, hide cloak may think he's found an easy target. By the time he gets close enough to realize you are really hard to hit, you've locked him in melee.

In taking the fight to your foes, beg, borrow, or steal some boots of striding and springing or boots of speed , or a longstrider or haste spell, or something such as winged boots -- anything to enhance your mobility. You don't need to wait and hope that enemies will come to you when you can go to them. They can either fight back, or they can just suck it up and absorb the pain. You may look like a slow, lumbering dwarf, but you can run like a gazelle when you need to. Whether trying to attack or defend, you must be able to move.

You can also extend your effective combat range by arming yourself with a reach weapon. These are usually two-handed, meaning you can't use a shield. You can gain reach by finding or commissioning magic items that increase your size or with a feat such as Lunging Strike. You can also make sure you have missile weapons available -- f you can't reach them, you can still attack them. Weapons you can use in melee or at range are handy for this, though ranged attacks preclude using Combat Expertise.

Finally, adjust your playing style. Make sure your character always stays next to other characters, so if the bad guys want to attack them, they have to deal with you at the same time. You can't be everywhere at once, but you should be able to stay in the thick of the action.

Have a question for the Save My Game column? Head over to the message boards: What's a DM to Do or What's a Player to Do. Be sure to include "Save My Game" as part of your message's title. Or, send us a question directly, to Ask Wizards -- and again, be sure to include "Save My Game" in the subject line.

About the Author

Jason Nelson-Brown lives in Seattle with his wife Kelle, daughters Meshia and Indigo, and son Allen. He just finished his doctorate in education and is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981.

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