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Is it possible to play an effective D&D 4e character who is thematically a pacifist, uses almost no damage-dealing abilities, but is still effective in combat?

Similarly, is it possible to build a 4e character who has extremely good out-of-combat abilities?

What are effective character builds for these types?

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You should ask your second question in another thread. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Sep 28 '11 at 3:06

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I like @Iain Anderson's idea of using a Warlord or Cleric and focusing on buffs / heals. However, another option is to "reskin" what is meant by certain damage types such as Radiant or Psychic. With your DM's permission, you could skin a Psionic or Divine character where the "damage" they do is really the influence of the gods to stop fighting, or a psychic urge to fall asleep. Morally, your character could view this as within the realm of non-violence, but it would still work mechanically. I'm sure there are other damage types that you could reskin in similar ways.

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Perfection pacifism comes with your party. You can never be effective if you have no defenders (tanks) and no strikers (hyper damagers).

The reason I have 'tanks' is because I mean actual defenders that are optimized defending an ally. I'm not talking a simple warden... I mean a warden with the Guardian theme, who's sole mision is to never let you take damage........ EVER!
When I talk 'hyper strikers' I'm not talking about an Avenger (I love these guys). I'm talking about a charging Barbarian who beats the enemy face in with 3d10+Str dmg minimum per round.

Once you have those things then you can make your pacifist. I suggest a Half-Elf Cleric and your Dilletent shall be from the Bard Skald the song that gives +Cha THP. Unfortunately you can not wear no armor. Your a pacifist remember! But wearing no armor serves a higher purpose.

Feat 1: shall be Skald Aura [Bard Multiclass]. Now you produce an aura 5. So now you technically have 4 Healing words per encounter. And every basic attack you do after you activate your Bard song, you heal one ally +Cha THP.

Feat 2: Power of Strength (not sure it applies to recovery strike). Hopefully this will turn your Recovery Strike into a melee basic attack. Also, recovery strike targets one creature! Some DMs may have a problem with you attacking yourself but one you show him that you take damage and you have the chance of missing... it's not that different of attacking an enemy.

Feat 3:* Power of Love (i'm sure this applies to recovery strike). After you've convinced your DM that you are a legal target for so long and he likes watching you stab yourself to heal 2 allies +Cha. Now you can continue to do that but any damage from Recovery Strike now becomes 0!

Don't forget to take the Hospitaler Theme (D#399)

Note: If your using the old Healer's lore then add +Wis to all healing powers. That's the ultimate pacifist.

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Do pacifists work: No, not really

To my great regret, I've had experience playing a pacifist. The problem with the pacifist is that it explicitly declines to engage meaningfully in the focal point of the game. D&D, fundamentally, is about interesting combats. While there are certainly groups that provide increased out of combat conflict, the empashsi of design and the rules is on combat.

A pacifist, to be true to character, must seek to decline combat. While in combat, they must not contribute. Therefore, they're kinda sitting around going "well, why am I here?" It is not particularly fun, in my experience. Acting as a negating influence also increases the irritation of other players: when a pacifist successfully negates the need for combat, the rest of the party is sitting around bored.

Furthermore, the concomitant increase in skill emphasis (I recommend the shaman's Speak with spirits) oddly leads to less spotlight time: being successful in all or almost all skill rolls means that no interesting failure occurs. Without interesting failure, scenes pass quickly without a hitch, tension, or drama.

A pacifist in most 4e parties, therefore, is someone who: avoids combat, cancels combat, and tries to minimize the consequences of the rest of the party's actions. They also produce an increased load on the rest of the party, as the lack of damage dealing intentions (much less capabilities) means the rest of the party either needs to do more damage or have combats drag on longer.

I regret that character quite a lot, really.

To be fair, pacifists can absolutely work in games where the central focus of the game isn't combat. But if the game isn't combat focused, 4e is not the right system for you.

Skill focused characters

It is extremely trivial to make absolute-skill-focused out of combat characters in fourth edition. It's just a bad idea. If you are engaging in a game with a significantly above average amount of skill use, it is better to be a jack of all trades than a master of all trades. As master, the DM will either increase skill DCs to compensate or you will never fail a roll. Both outcomes are poor for entertainment's sake.

By building a jack of all trades, you can engage in any skill challenge presented to the party without feeling like a useless character without feeling the inevitable ennui of god-moded success. A shaman is an absolutely fantastic skill-focused character with their Speak With Spirits power. If you take that power, however, try to make sure that most of your skill successes will hit hard DCs around 60% of the time.

Thieves also make fantastic skill-focused characters as they have a number of class features which provide additional skill successes on extremely good rolls and fascinating utility powers.

Effective "pacifists"

The only item needed to make someone an effective "pacifist" in 4e is gloves of the bounty hunter:

When your attack causes a target to be reduced to 0 hit points or below, and you choose to knock out rather than kill it, the target is restored to 1 hit point after an extended rest (normally this occurs after a short rest.

With these gloves, there is no penalty for KOing enemies instead of killing them, as they won't be joining the next fight after a short rest. You can then engage in "combat" as normal, flavouring all your attacks as "non-lethal" (a concept that doesn't exist in fourth edition) and indicating that you knock enemies out and take them prisoner. You will, therefore, continue to participate in the entertaining activity of the game and assist your party in the idiom to which they have been accustomed. By phrasing your requirements to "never take a life" rather than "not engage in combat" you can still fundamentally play 4e without the cognitive dissonance or doublethink necessary to rationalize a "pacifist cleric" accompanying a genocidal bunch of standard adventurers.

If your character concept goes through this route, ask your GM to grant you the magic item as a class feature at the expense of being able to land a lethal blow. It doesn't fundamentally change the dynamics of the game and it's a fantastic and flavourful element of a character.

An effective out of combat character will have their feats focus more on upping their bad skills and increasing options (like cheaper rituals through the vistani feat line) and the skill power feat. This sort of character then becomes useful in any situation.

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Presumably you could play in a D&D game that doesn't have any combat period but that would mean the majority of your powers and stats would be unneeded. –  mirv120 Oct 6 '11 at 21:31
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Oh, absolutely. If you're playing in a pacifistic campaign, you're fine. But there are better systems for that. A pacifist engaging in combat requires willful doublethink to rationalize their presence. It's kinda odd feeling the "wait, why am I here?" for the first time. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Oct 7 '11 at 0:12

It can be hard to play a pacifist in 4e because the combat encounters encompass so much of the game (that's obviously where the bulk of the design went). If you have a group willing to set aside a lot of combat in favor of a more RP heavy game, then it's less difficult. If the game you wish to play in is going to be a run of the mill DnD game then here are my suggestions:

Play a leader-type. Leaders give buffs and debuffs, or direct allies to make attacks or take actions. Depending on your character's outlook on pacifism, I don't know how they would view directing others to act violently. My first instinct, looking at pure mechanics and nothing else, is to build a Warlord who either multiclasses or hybrids with Cleric. Your roll would be giving your heavy hitters additional attacks and keeping your team healed. There is also a Pacifist Cleric build that used to be amazing until recent errata. Now it's just pretty solid. Go here for more info on that build: http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/23376709/The_White_Mage_-_the_healic_guide

The downside to these builds is that you will be relying more heavily on your team for damage-output and if someone goes down in a fight it will hurt your group a whole heck of a lot more than if you were dealing standard leader damage.

Another option that might seem weird is to build a net wielding brawler type fighter. There are actually several abilities in the heroic tier of the fighter, including at least 1 at-will, that do little to no damage, but impede opponents with effects like restrained and knock-down. Using the net as your weapon of choice will allow you to focus on disabling rather than slaying your targets as well.

One more option. Talk to your DM about using something like subdual damage from 3.5e. You would have a character who purposefully does not strike to kill, leaving enemies concussed, battered and unconscious, but ultimately alive. This would allow you to play any class so long as you came up with a good excuse (i.e. A bow-ranger who uses blunted arrows, a monk who uses an open-hand style that stuns, a wizard whose illusions are so powerful the enemies think they got hit by a fireball even when they didn't).

As for your second questions, out of combat abilities, these are harder to gather in 4e than they were in 3.5e. Generally you would focus on two things:

  • Skills are the most obvious. Getting any feats and utility powers that buffed these would be a big focus for you.
  • Rituals are the less obvious. These are generally what you are going to be using outside of combat to give your character an advantage over an obstacle when not using a skill and they are skill based.

A final word of advice. Make sure your DM and fellow players know what it is you want out of your character. Make sure you are able to strongly articulate what you want and listen to whether or not it will fit with the overall game. You don't want a game where combat happens and you are mostly ineffective and then a non-combat encounter occurs and everyone else sits around while you handle the problem. And you certainly don't want your character to be at odds with the other PCs all the time.

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+1 for Pacifist Cleric. I play it, and you can easily go through a combat without dealing a single point of damage. You buff, heal, and attack enemies by debuffing them (so your allies can hit easily and do extra damage hopefully). The two concerns are: you are shorting the party a damage-dealer, so the party has to make up that aspect. And it's not the flashy style of play, so some players find it very boring. –  Allen Gould Sep 27 '11 at 22:07
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I played a pacifist cleric from 1-13. Once I got into paragon tier and everyone around me started to be able to do all this neat stuff, I started to get bored. The healing is great, but it gets old fast (Astral Seal over and over again) and combats take a really long time. –  dpatchery Sep 28 '11 at 16:12

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