Take the 2-minute tour ×
Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am arguing with my D&D group about the following:

I, as a halfling rogue, want to play stealth, but some member of my group are arguing that I should play as a tank (which doesn't make any sense) just because I have a high Reflex.

My question is: should I still play hiding in the shadows and attacking over a distance to cause high damage or should I tank to protect the rest of my group?

PS: My party is formed by a paladin, a ranger, a wizard, a shaman, and me, a rogue.

share|improve this question
Are they actually saying you should tank for the group, or that you shouldn't neglect defenses? Because I see a lot of non-defenders (and even a few defenders) neglect some of their defenses, and that tends to not work so good. Maybe you simply misunderstood what they meant? –  Mooing Duck Mar 29 at 18:31
I have occasionally seen "tank" used as a general term for melee characters rather than a damage sponge... or even as a verb "to tank" meaning "getting attacked in melee". Maybe that's what they meant? –  Hurkyl Mar 29 at 20:37
Do not answer in comments! –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Mar 31 at 10:06

5 Answers 5

up vote 38 down vote accepted

High Reflex Doth Not A Tank Make

Having a high reflex doesn't count for anything extraordinary. It's one of four defences beside armor, fortitude and will, and one quarter of attacks missing you more often doesn't make you a tank.

The magic of defenders, however, is not a matter of being unable to be hit. Defenders in D&D 4e take their denial abilities worlds beyond those of MC Hammer’s, and interpose themselves between their allies and anyone who wants to hit them.

A foreword: D&D 4e actually has roles to guide you here.

Contrast to previous editions where what a class should be doing was up to the players to work out, D&D 4e introduced the concept of roles: each class has one role, which marks something they naturally do very well due to the powers and class features made available to them.

  • Strikers are very good at dealing high damage to a low number of targets.
  • Controllers debuff enemies, or control where they stand by turning all the other places into clouds of knives or fields of fire, when they’re not just dropping explosive AOEs.
  • Leaders buff their allies, heal them, and let them do extra stuff they couldn't otherwise.
  • Defenders are good at keeping enemies away from their allies, punishing enemies who hurt them anyway, and generally keeping their allies alive.

These roles usually suck at the other stuff (short of extreme optimisation), simply because they aren't given much to let them do it. An ordinary controller or striker won't be able to buff or heal their allies much, and a defender won't be hitting as hard as the striker.

Rogues are strikers, not defenders. They're not equipped with the stuff that makes someone good at defending.

What makes defenders naturally better at tanking than other classes?

Let's take the PHB1's classic defender - the Paladin - and see what makes them so suited for the role of defence compared to a rogue.

There’s a few statistical things - Paladins have better defences and armor, more health, and more healing surges, but these aren’t the key. They also get powers to heal allies and make everything harder for enemies to hit, but this is only a contributor to the ultimate power of what makes a defender a defender. (By contrast, the rogues just hit things harder, and get to move around the battlefield safely in order to hit other things and stay alive.)

Defenders force enemies to make bad decisions.

This is the key thing defenders do better than anyone else. The key to defending is not being hard for the enemy to hit. Rather, it’s the interaction between the defender, their enemies and their allies which creates scenarios in which attacking the defender is the best option - but not a good option.

Enter the Paladin’s Divine Challenge.

The Paladin has an at-will power called Divine Challenge, and they can keep it applied to any one enemy so long as they focus on that enemy. For as long as that enemy's Challenged, any time it attacks anyone but the paladin, it has a penalty to its attack and automatically takes a reliable chunk of damage.

Thus, the enemy could either pay attention to the Paladin whilst being lit on fire by the Wizard, or they could try to take down the Wizard, but be bad at it and get hurt in the attempt, in addition to the fact the Paladin's still beating on them.

Or the Fighter and its Combat Challenge.

The Fighter, the other PHB1 Defender, fulfils its role through mark punishment: an enemy attacking not-them imposes attack penalties and invites retaliation from the fighter.

Fighters are specialists in close combat, and through target- and movement- denial, they’re the kings of lock-down. At level 1, a fighter with positional advantage can lock down a hallway by physically interposing himself between his enemies and allies. Anyone trying to shoulder past him gets stopped in their tracks.

BESW and trogdor, two of our regulars, together developed a build which combined the fighter's lock-down with its ability to push enemies around in order to lock creatures down way over there. It was frightening, and enemies targeted by this could do little more than cry in a corner until the party had dealt with everyone else.

Rogues don't really get to do this.

Rogues don’t have punishment for attacking not-them. They can pick up a couple of specific abilities which grant it, but it’s not baked into the class enough for them to be effective at it consistently for long periods of time.

If a fighter stands next to you, you’ll either attack him or get beaten to a pulp by him. If a rogue stands next to you, you’ll get shanked whether you attack him or not, and he can’t do much about you attacking his friends instead of him.

So, if you're a rogue, put pointy things in enemies. Get yourself a defender for the tanky stuff.

Class roles should be used to their strengths, not fought against to try to fulfil a different role the class won't do very well anyway. Rogues have their strengths - they’re going to shank or poke arrows in people better than anyone else might - and as a rogue, you should exploit this strength as much as possible.

If your party needs a tank, they should look into getting themselves a defender.

Bear in mind, Defenders can be stealthy too.

Since Stealth is a skill available to everyone, there’s nothing forcing you to choose between stealth and defending: you can do both! There are builds available for defenders who want to be sneaky, too.

  • The Pocket Protector, a sneaky pixie Knight build with a whopping +42 to stealth by the time it finally reaches level 30. That's the Fighter (Knight) from D&D 4e Essentials.
  • The Trolladin, aka Troll-lock: Play a Warlocked multiclassed into Paladin, or vice versa. Pick the Fey Pact to gain Eyebite. Use Divine Challenge on an enemy, so that they'll be punished for hitting anyone except you. Then use Eyebite on them to make yourself invisible and your ability to teleport to put yourself out of reach. The result: they can't hit anyone else, and they can't hit you, either. (This was discovered and handily employed by trogdor, who I mentioned earlier)

(And there's probably many more than that.)

share|improve this answer
Show of hands: who had to think for a moment to get the MC Hammer reference? –  SevenSidedDie Mar 29 at 8:33
@SevenSidedDie I didn't even realize that. I tought there was an answer by MC_Hambone that Jonathan was referencing ^^" –  Zachiel Mar 29 at 10:23
Upvoted just for the MC Hammer comment. –  Ryan Reich Mar 30 at 0:58
I'm ashamed to admit I got the reference right away. By the way, do you have a link to that build by @BESW and @trogdor? –  mcv Mar 31 at 9:33
In fact, ridiculous defenses may not necessarily be the ideal choice for a defender. If it's considerably harder to hit the defender (even after the penalty from the Marked condition), the monsters may go after the other players regardless. My own defender (Warden) has high-but-reasonable defenses... but his health goes up and down like a yo-yo thanks to his self-heals. :) –  Brian S Mar 31 at 13:51

You should play the character you want to play. If you want to be a stealthy archer, be a stealthy archer.

Even if your group believe they need someone to tank, rogues are strikers, not defenders. They have poor hit dice and, more importantly, have no way to mark targets. Even if you had a rogue with arbitrarily high defenses, enemies could ignore them and kill softer party members first.

The paladin, on the other hand, is a defender. He has heavy armor, defensive skills and, most importantly, can mark enemies so they are punished for not attacking him. If anyone should tank, it should be him.

share|improve this answer
Hit dice is not a 4e term. –  wax eagle Mar 31 at 12:22
@waxeagle Poor hit points per level or whatever you want to call them then. –  Studoku Mar 31 at 12:40
In fact, Rogues can get Not It at level 9, which makes one of the Rogue's allies mark a target, instead of the Rogue! Of course, anyone trained in Intimidate could potentially get Ominous Threat at level 2 to mark targets. –  Brian S Mar 31 at 13:56

Your question is incorrect, as "stealth" and "tank" are not the right operationalizations of roles. They represent MMO jargon that if applied to its fullest extent, result in the characters being played against their strengths.

While it's seductive to import roles from other games into D&D, the cognitive shortcuts enabled by that jargon may make people miss important concepts.

In D&D, "stealth" is a "how". Specifically, it's a question of how the character expresses herself within the environment of combat.

In D&D, "tank" is an absolute trap of a term. Rogues have adequate defenses. They're not fantastic, but they're not a speedbump. The way the math works out, if a defender is engaging more than two or three people (depending on build) the defender dies. You're a (nominally) front-line melee fighter. There are two very squishy characters in your group, and the ranger may either be in combat with you (yay) or deciding to not pull her weight and firing a bow from the next county over. Either way, it's not the defender's job to defend you (most of the time.)

Everyone must pull their weight in combat. Overloading the shaman's capability for healing the paladin means that the group is less effective. The way the math works, it really helps things if there's a slight majority of melee characters (as a generalisation. If you're experienced enough to point out flaws in this due to specific party composition, this answer is not for you.)

So, be stealthy, use the stealth to engage enemies "in the rear." But you will be taking hits, and it's better for everyone if you do. Just make sure to try to take hits from, on average, one enemy at a time.

share|improve this answer
+1 for recognizing that the OP is probably not using tank in the D&D jargon sense (defender). –  Bradd Szonye Mar 31 at 9:57

Ultimately, you should choose the path that suits the character and that you will enjoy. There is no reason in DnD4e that you need to fill specific 'roles' - groups of 4 strikers or 4 leaders or 4 tanks do perfectly fine.

If you want to be sneaky and in the shadows - by all means. Be sneaky and in the shadows.

share|improve this answer
Do not argue in comments. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Apr 10 at 11:58

You should not try to play tank, as you are not capable. You do not have the tools like the paladin has.

That aside, a high Reflex is a really bad reason to do so, it is the least important defense. AC is targeted most, nasty conditions like stun and dominate usually come from Fort or Will attacks. Reflex attacks mostly just cause damage, and this becomes almost trivial after level 4 or 5.

It is a valid question however if you should work in melee, or with ranged attacks. This mostly comes down to party composition.
Melee: If the Ranger uses ranged attacks, your place is probably in the front line. The Paladin alone will not be able to lock down all the enemies trying to get to the squishies. Also gaining combat advantage is easier this way. Get a decent Melee Basic Attack.
Ranged: A melee Ranger and the Paladin are usually enough as a defensive line. And if the Wizard is a Close Blast specialist, you might even have a hard time getting adjacent to an enemy. Get the Distant Advantage feat.

Special situations might arise, once our party's tiefling Wizard was actually tanking the Big Bad Guy, as it was attacking Ref with fire, and had a fire aura too. Noone else would have lasted as long as the Wizard, but again, this was the exception, not the norm.
That said, do not build a generalist. If you try to be good at ranged and melee attacks as well, you will end up being bad at both.

TL;DR: almost never tank, but usually stay in the front line.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.