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In D&D 4e is it feasible to have an effective lightly armored fighter? I'd like to do a rapier wielder for aesthetics but I want to make sure the character can still fill the role of defender.

Metrics for effective:

  • High AC (20+ at 5th level)
  • Good hitpoints (obviously taken care of by the class).
  • Good overall defenses
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Is it important to your conception of the character to either have a shield or not have a shield? – Bryant Aug 27 '10 at 17:41
It is hard to imagine a defender without a set of heavy armor. In real life, heavy armor did not go out of fashion until the advent of firearms made it obsolete. The swashbuckling sword wielder always struck me as being a striker. – Eric Weilnau Aug 27 '10 at 17:46
I find in 4e that defender is not synonymous with tank -- it feels equally valid to me to have a swashbuckling, wisecracking musketeer who deftly avoids blows and mocks his enemies to the degree where they'd prefer to attack him than anyone else. – Bryant Aug 27 '10 at 17:49
@Bryant "Avoid blows" being the operative phrase. – C. Ross Aug 29 '10 at 11:47
@Bryant It's not particularly important. There are forms in TRW that involve rapier and shield (though usually a light shield). – C. Ross Aug 29 '10 at 12:40
up vote 5 down vote accepted

My quick build of a light armor fighter with a rapier looks like this at level 5:

Str 19 (16 starting, +2 human, +1 at level 4) Con 11 Dex 14 (boosts both Reflex and AC) Int 10 Wis 16 (15 to start, +1 at level 4) Cha 8 (possibly swap this with Int, depending on which flavor you want)

I gave him hide armor +2, a +1 neck item, and a +1 rapier. His AC is 21, his Fort is 22, his Ref is 18, and his Will is 17. You could reverse Wis and Dex to get 22 AC, 19 Ref, but lose a point off Will; it's a matter of taste, I think. He is using a heavy shield. I chose One-Handed Weapon Talent instead of Tempest Technique because you were concerned about AC and defenses; shields add to both AC and Reflex. Also, I'd take Stout Shield to allow the shield bonus to apply to Fortitude as well.

A Tempest Technique fighter with a parrying dagger would have AC 20, Fort 20, Ref 17, and Will 17. The same notes about reversing Wis and Dex apply.

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This is an excellent place to note the remarkably readable dragon article on "Reflavouring powers"

With an understanding between you and your DM, you can call most any class "Swashbuckler" and, moreover, have an appropriate style on the battlefield.

The best light-armor defender is the Warden with abilities that allow her con or wis to be used instead of dex for AC. It's even quite effective to reflavour the class to be nautical and rapier based.

The rapier as a military light blade, is now part of the warden's default proficiencies. The best buckleswashers will be lifespirit or wildblood. Consider the following:

"Polly was on her knees, breathing heavily. A long gash marked her forearm, but she was smiling, for she knew something the enemy didn't know: where there's life... there's hope! With an inspiring shout of glee, she wrapped her torn shirt around her arm, and swept her rapier back off the deck. Her comrade in arms took heart from her indominable spirit and waded back into the fight"

Mechanically, that's a second wind, with a free surge use handed to someone else. Flavourfully, there aren't any spirits around.

Warden's Grasp, the ranged II of the warden:

"Polly grinned, and with a quick flick she looped a coil of rope around the dunce's arm and gave a tug. As he staggered backwards, another flick looped the coil back around her forearm: a rope was such a handy thing in a battle."

The daily forms would be a bit more difficult, but the same theme can easily be applied with some thought. The protection and difficult terrain of form of winter's herald could be a rope thing, or maybe she can call on the sea in times of need. Maybe it was some ancient bargain she struck with a rescued dolphin.

In summary: reflavouring is powerful, fascinating, and requires thought. Start with the mechanical requirements, see to what class they most easily apply, then reflavour to suit your needs in consultation with your DM.

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Very well written example text for reflavoring! You managed to make Poly a likeable swashbuckler in two paragraphs. – Jason White Oct 26 '11 at 18:02
+1 for an "ancient bargain with a rescued dolphin" – Pureferret Dec 30 '11 at 3:13

Several votes up for everyone who suggested Tempest Fighters!

Here's how I would do it:

Start with a Tempest style fighter with high dex. Starting feat is Unarmored Agility (which is +2 AC while wearing cloth or no armor). An 18 dex gets you to +4.

Strength I would leave at 15. Yeah, it's not great, but don't sweat it. Pick up Sure Strike as an At-Will if you are concnered. You need to start thinking about flanks and combat advantage if you want to play in the rogue sandbox anyhow.

Tempest Fighters get a +1 to AC while wielding two weapons. In effect, they get Two Weapon Defense as a bonus feat. make sure the weapons you choose are the +3 proficiency type (longswords, short swords, etc) to cover for that strength hit you took.

So this gets you to 17.

2nd Level Feat: Parrying Dagger. Parrying Dagger is a defensive weapon, so it gets you another +1. (If you choose human, this is what you want as your bonus feat at 1st level). That gets you to 19 AC by level 2 (or 20 if you are human). At level 4 you hit 20 AC with no items.

I would highly recommend rapier as a level 4 feat for style purposes. Well, not just for style. You want Nimble Blade by level 6. Rapiers are light blades!

(also, since we are going to 5th, I would recommend Armor Piercing thrust (Encounter 3) and Nimble Bladestorm (Daily 5)- they chain off of light blades and dex bonuses.

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I just statted this up while I was thinking about it and it looks fun as heck to play. The At Wills of Sure Strike (which don't do a lot of damage, but hit fairly reliably) and Footwork Lure feel very swashbuckler to me. Sure Strike is "just toying with you" and Footwork Lure is for controlling the battlefield. I picked all lunges (lunging strike and the 'full extension' utility power) for flavor as well. – Peter Seckler Sep 3 '10 at 14:55

If you're not opposed to Essentials fighter variants, you could try an Essentials Knight. Since they only use melee basic attacks (which you can modify with stances and whatnot), you could drop Str and focus entirely on Dexterity as your primary stat using Melee Training.

You would lose out slightly on damage (as you'd only get to add half your Dex bonus to your attacks, but that usually amounts to at most ~4 damage by level 30). The upside is, you'd be able to focus on Con as a secondary instead of Str so you'd have good all-round defenses (primarily Reflex/Fort) as well as more surges than you would otherwise have as a Str/Dex fighter.

eg. a Level 5 Halfling Knight could look something like this with +2 hide, +1 neck slot and a heavy shield (prior to any feats to boost other defenses):

FINAL ABILITY SCORES Str 10, Con 17, Dex 20, Int 10, Wis 14, Cha 8.

STARTING ABILITY SCORES Str 10, Con 14, Dex 17, Int 10, Wis 14, Cha 8.

AC: 23 Fort: 18 Reflex: 20 Will: 15 HP: 56 Surges: 12 Surge Value: 14

There's also a fun write-up of someone playtesting a halfling knight that dumps strength in favour of dex here:

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Swordmage also fits the bill if you don't mind the arcane flavor. Heck, it wouldn't be too hard to reflavor the class to remove the arcane all together. Teleports to shifts, elemental damage to mundane, etc.

That being said, I to have always though of a swashbuckler as a striker and not a defender. The rogue has many duelist style powers that feel very swashbuckler-y, so maybe a hybrid fighter/rogue with a dex/str build.

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Is it really important that you choose Fighter for your class? In D&D 4e the rapier-wielding swashbuckler is best represented as a Rogue (I'd say the Rogue is exactly that). If you want to be an unarmored defender, though, a Swordmage is probably your best bet.

But if you need to make a sub-par character build work, you should probably ask the eggheads at the official Character Optimization board. Really.

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Another vote for rogue as the lightly armoured fighter here – Logos7 Aug 30 '10 at 13:22

If you'd like to have a defender with light armor, I'd suggest playing a swordmage. Granted, they are an arcane class, but they do wear leather armor (and since their attack stat is INT, they have really high AC) and they do wield a single sword (they get a bonus to AC if their off-hand is free). My swordmage started out with 19 AC (18 intelligence) at first level, so it's easy to build a decent defender. Good feat for swordmages is Intelligent Blademaster, which allows them to use INT instead of STR for melee. Depending on the powers you pick, you can flavour the character so that they seem more martial than arcane, and if you're playing in a home campaign, you can always ask the DM if you can alter the flavour.

If you're trying to avoid being hit on secondary defenses, the Superior Defenses (Superior Fortitude, Superior Reflexes, Superior Will) are really good to take. They scale when you level to paragon or epic tier and provide an additional effect, as well as the bonus to the defense. The only catch is that you have to have a 15 in one of the two stats that contributes to that defense (for Superior Fort, you'd have to either have a 15 strength or a 15 constitution).

Also, defenders have proficiency with armor and leather armor provides the same bonuses as the unarmored agility feat, so it's not necessary to spend a feat to provide an additional +2 to AC, unless you really want them to be wearing cloth.

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A boring but very effective answer is to play a Knight from heroes of the fallen lands, and take melee training: DEX. You would then be able to have a significant dexterity focus, without it detracting from your attacking methodologies. It would require far less reflavouring effort and be far more easy to play.

Only you can decide if the simplicity fits your needs or not.

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DEX, DEX, DEX. The higher the score, the better the dodge bonus to AC.

If you really want to get into it, both elves and halflings have a DEX racial bonus, plus their RP demeanors (generally speaking) favor the agile, duelist fighter archetype you want to portray.

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