Character Building Made Simple: Melee Combatants and Defensive Characters

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    Orion

    Image source: Pixabay

    This is two guides in one, but they go hand in hand, so I will discuss them together.

    Melee Combatants defeat enemies with melee attacks. They need to be able to:

    • Hit things with melee attacks
    • Deal damage with their melee attacks
    • Have enough defensive power to stay long enough in battle to deal their melee damage

    Defensive characters are focused on high defensive power, allowing them to stay a very long time in combat against melee attacks, ranged attacks, spells and potentially traps.

    This guide focuses on some tips to help new players build Melee Combatants and Defensive Characters.

    Melee Combatants

    As mentioned, melee combatants need to be able to hit enemies and deal damage with their attacks.

    Hit enemies in melee

    To hit enemies with melee attacks more often, the melee attack bonus (AB) should be high. This is determined by:

    • The Strength Score (or Dexterity Score if the character has the Weapon Finesse feat)
    • Feats which boost AB (such as Weapon Focus, Epic Prowess and Epic Weapon Focus)
    • Between levels 1-20, the amounts of Full BAB (or warrior) levels, Medium BAB levels and Low BAB levels taken. The more higher BAB classes between levels 1-20 generally the better, although this is not always a hard and fast rule.
    • Spells can boost AB (such as Bless/Aid).
    • Special abilities that can increase AB in certain situations (eg. Improved Disarm using a large weapon such as a greatsword against a tiny weapon such as a dagger, will grant the character +8 AB on that attempt).

    In addition:

    • Blind Fight is a valuable feat to hit concealed enemies as it allows the attack roll to be rerolled if the concealment roll is successful.

    Enemies can be hit more often if their AC is lower. Taunt and Curse Song can lower enemy’s Armor Class allowing them to be hit more often. Enemies who are knocked down or disabled by spells or abilities are ‘flat footed’. Flat footed opponents have a lower AC as their Tumble, Dodge and potentially Dexterity AC (if they don’t have uncanny dodge) are not counted, until they recover.

    There are more complexities to this (for example, understanding attack rolls) but to keep it simple, to hit more often characters will want:

    • High melee AB
    • Blind Fight
    • And consider some abilities which can lower enemy AC (ie Taunt, Knockdown)

    Deal melee damage

    There is limited value in being able to hit enemies if one doesn’t deal enough damage before they have to retreat.

    Damage output is determined by:

    • Damage / hit
    • Attacks / round

    Increasing one or both factors will increase damage output.

    Increasing melee damage / hit can be achieved by:

    • A high Strength score (possibly boosted by items and spells as well)
    • Feats which boost damage, such as Weapon Specialization, Epic Weapon Specialization, Divine Might, Power Attack, Improved Critical
    • Weapon choice (ie a dagger does less damage than a shortsword, for example)
    • Magic properties on the weapon (ie having a weapon with a +5 enchantment and +3 fire damage increases physical damage by 5 and fire damage by 3, per hit.
    • Sneak attack damage (from Rogue, Assassin or Blackguard levels)
    • Spells (such as Divine Favor, Divine Power, Flame Weapon, Keen Edge)

    Increasing the number of melee attacks / round is achieved by:

    • Having a BAB of 16+ at level 20 (for four attacks / round). This is achieved by having a high amount of full BAB class levels or medium BAB class levels, and a lesser amount of low BAB classes, between levels 1 to 20.
    • Using the Cleric’s Divine Power spell with a BAB of 15 or less at level 20, to gain at least one extra attack.
    • The Haste spell or Potions of Speed, which add one attack / round.
    • Dual wielding weapons, which add one to two attacks / round. For best effects you should also take the two weapon fighting, ambidexterity and improved two weapon fighting feats, or be a ranger with more than 9 levels wearing no more than light armor.
    • Being a monk and following their rules (wearing robes, using fists or kama, not using a shield.
    • Being a monk, following monk rules and using Flurry of Blows for an extra attack / round
    • Being a monk, dual wielding Kamas and having the improved two weapon fighting feat. Such a character, with a BAB of 16+ at level 20, can get up to 10 attacks / round with flurry and haste.
    • Extra attacks from feats such as Cleave and Circle Kick
    • Attacks of opportunity when in melee range with spellcasters and archers.

    It is valuable for characters with high melee damage output to have defensive capabilities, otherwise they cannot stay long in combat before they have to retreat to heal. Defensive capabilities are usually considered at the same time with any melee character, whether they are damage focused, or focused on defensive capabilities (also known as ‘tanking’). Some element of defensive capability is usually necessary for a melee character.

    In this party, there are three heavily armored melee warriors (including my fear and disease immune paladin Edgar) with strong defensive capabilities to protect and draw attention away from the elven and halfling archers. (Source: NWN EE, WoG PW)

    Defensive Characters

    Defensive characters can withstand physical melee attacks, physical ranged attacks, spells and potentially traps. How this is achieved can be broken down into three parts.

    Hitpoints

    Fundamentally you need ‘enough’. What enough means depends on:

    • The environment (for example, is the difficulty setting DnD hardcore and enemies can critical hit you?)
    • The play style of the player. For example, an intensely focused player can manage with less hitpoints, whereas a more relaxed player (who might not notice their health bar go down that fast) or one playing with lag on a server will want more, to give the player time to drink healing potions, retreat, etc etc.

    These are my own hitpoint strategies, I’m not saying you should follow them, but these are my own and one can try it out and adjust it to what they prefer:

    • For level 20 characters, I usually want 150-250 hit points.
    • For level 30 characters, 225-375 hit points.
    • For level 40 characters, 300-500 hit points.

    The exact number of hit points depends on the role of the character and how much tanking I expect them to do. A caster tends to sit at the lower range, a damage dealing meleer mid range and a dedicated defensive character at the higher range.

    Wizards and sorcerers are special in that they only have d4 hit die but they have very powerful spells to compensate. I believe they can manage with 250hp (or even less) at level 40. However it will require very careful strategy going than that especially playing solo, because a character can die to a few Issac Greater Missile Storms (IGMS), or even a single Maximized IGMS (which does 240 magic damage with no save). This could include use of the Darkness spell, Bigby’s Hand Spells, Greater Sanctuary and Time Stop. If you make an error or run out of spells, you might very well expect to die very fast.

    Withstanding physical (melee and ranged) attacks

    These are grouped together because they have common features:

    • A high armor class (AC), if higher than the enemy’s attack roll, will lead to the enemy missing
    • High concealment, (from Improved Invisibility or Self-Concealment feats) can lead to the enemy missing
    • Blinding enemies (with Word of Faith, Sunburst or other spells) or fighting enemies who do not have ultravision in a Darkness spell increases the chance for enemies to miss.
    • Damage resistance (from Epic Damage Reduction, Dwarven Defender Damage Reduction or Barbarian Damage Reduction, or items) can reduce damage
    • Damage reduction or soak (from Monk’s Perfect Self, Spells such as Ghostly Visage, Stoneskin, Shadow Shield, Epic Warding or Items) can reduce damage in addition to damage resistance
    • Epic Dodge and Deflect Arrows (Monk feat, ranged only) can make the first successful attack each round miss.
    • Critical hit and sneak attack immunity (eg. from Palemaster 10, Shapechange Spell into Iron Golem, or Druid’s Elemental Forms) can reduce damage

    Apart from armor class, all these features can be obtained by what is described.

    Armor class is a little more complex, because it has a few components:

    • The base armor class is 10 for all characters.
    • A small character (ie Halfling or Gnome) has a +1 AC bonus, for being small and harder to hit.
    • The Dexterity modifier (which can be boosted with spells or items)
    • The Tumble AC bonus (+1 Tumble AC with every 5 ranks of Tumble, to a maximum of 8 with Tumble 40)
    • Equipment. This adds AC however certain body armor can limit the Dexterity AC bonus (as well as skill checks).
    • Using a single handed weapon and shield can add AC.
    • The Armor Skin feat (which adds +2 AC)
    • Expertise and Improved Expertise, which can add +5 and +10 AC at the expense of 5/10 AB
    • Epic Mage Armor and other spells such as Barkskin, Shield of Faith, Magic Vestment

    In more detail, certain equipment limits the maximum dexterity AC bonus. A non-magical full plate adds 8 AC but limits the maximum Dexterity AC bonus to 1, while a non-magical padded armor adds only 1 AC but the maximum AC bonus is up to 8. Therefore lower dexterity characters will want to use heavy armor, while higher dexterity characters will want to equip robes or light armor.

    A high armor class also protects the character against critical hits, if one is playing in DnD Hardcore mode or higher.

    Devastating critical deserves a special mention here. Devastating critical, which a warrior can instantly kill an enemy on a critical hit unless they pass a very high Fortitude save check (usually DC 40 or higher) can be managed in the following ways:

    • Not getting in melee range of such opponents (with a Bigby’s Grasping Hand spell, for example)
    • Being Critical Hit Immune (from Palemaster 10, for example or Shapechange spell – Iron Golem)
    • Having such a high AC that the Threat Roll will rarely or never succeed, and the character will not get critically hit
    • Having a very high Fortitude save (40+)

    Shapechange: Iron Golem, a level 9 wizard/sorcerer spell. Iron Golems are Critical Hit immune, hence one way to manage an NPC with devastating critical, albeit at the cost of spellcasting. They also have +3 soak 30 damage, are mind and sneak immune. They do have 50% electrical damage vulnerability. Also all magical items that are equipped on the character do not transfer to the Iron Golem form. I have also added Epic Spell: Epic Warding, Epic Spell: Epic Mage Armor, Mestil’s Acid Shealth, Elemental Shield and Death Armor. (Screenshot is my own, from NWN EE, Pretty Good Character Creator Module)

    Withstanding Spells

    Withstanding spells depends on a number of different factors:

    • Hitpoints are valuable. There are a number of spells which will always damage the character, unless they are some high level spell resistant monk or have some ultra powerful equipment.
    • High saves. These are valuable to reduce damage and spell effects, as a number of spells have Difficulty Class (DC) rolls for a spell to affect the player maximally, deal half damage, or have no effect. This can be achieved with feats (such as Great Fortitude), classes (such as Paladin, Champion of Torm), spells (such as Endurance or Protection against Spells) and statistics (for example a high Dexterity score will lead to a high Reflex save).
    • Evasion. This means passing a reflex save can lead to no damage being dealt (instead of half).
    • Immunities, such as Paladin’s Fear Immunity, and Monk’s Mind Affecting Spell Immunity, equipment such as a Belt of Guiding Light (death immunity), or spells such as Lesser Mind Blank (Mind Immunity).
    • Elemental damage reduction (from spells such as Endure Elements, Protection versus Elements and Energy Buffer, and equipment)
    • Negative damage immunity from Negative Energy Protection and Shadow Shield (which will protect against Negative Energy Damage from Harm, for example)
    • Immunity to Necromancy Spells from Shadow Shield (which will protect against Horrid Wilting, for example)
    • Magic damage resistance or immunity (usually only available on items, which will protect against Issac’s Greater Missile Storm and Horrid Wilting)
    • High AC protects against touch attacks such as Harm and Bigby’s Grasping Hand
    • Spell resistance, from items, from Monk’s Diamond Soul, or the Spell Resistance spell available to Druids and Clerics.

    This cleric opponent is very intimidating. However, my monk was able to disarm his weapon with the improved disarm feat which is on the ground. My monk also had the Diamond Soul feat and a high amount of spell resistance, meaning his spells, apart from summons, would not affect me. I also had +1 soak 20 from Perfect Self, meaning his fists without using monk gloves, could not damage me. I also had Empty body, which provided me 50% concealment in addition, which was undispellable. (Source: NWN EE, WoG PW)

    In terms of spell resistance, the most reliable is Monk’s Diamond Soul, but it requires significant investment and usually some improved spell resistance feats being taken. The Spell Resistance spell can be easily removed with the Lesser Spell Breach (or other breach spells), and the characters total spell resistance can be lowered by up to 10 with Mordenkainen’s Disjunction, unless the character has Monk’s Diamond Soul.

    Or just don’t get hit

    This is one final option, just don’t get targeted.

    This can be achieved with:

    • Stealth, especially in conjunction with Hide in Plain Sight
    • Invisibility
    • Greater Sanctuary
    • High movement speed with Expeditious Retreat, Haste, Mass Haste, Haste on items, Monk Speed or Barbarian Fast Movement (only against melee characters).
    • Disabling opponents with Knockdown/Improved Knockdown, Daze, Sleep, Grease, Entangle, Web, Stinking Cloud, Hammer of the Gods, Bigby’s Spells, Stonehold and Storm of Vengeance (just to name a few).
    • Summons and companions to draw attention away from you.
    • Controlling time, with the Time Stop spell.

    Some of these strategies work better in a solo situation than others. Obviously this doesn’t make one able to withstand physical attacks or spells, so these factors will not make a character a party tank, but these provide defensive capabilities that allow a solo character to avoid being damaged.

    A summary: Melee Combatants and Defensive Characters 

    • Have enough Melee AB
    • Ensure you can deal damage
    • Ensure you have enough hitpoints, AC
    • Think about other features which are all listed in this article

    I hope you enjoyed reading this guide to Melee Combatants and Defensive Characters and I hope this helps!

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