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I'm currently playing a Level 4 Fighter with a longsword and shield - the idea being I wanted to create a reliable standard warrior to stay at the front lines and soak damage with high AC to make things a little easier for the two less experienced players. Currently, we're at a party of 3 (Cleric, Rogue, Druid).

My concern is that as a sword-and-board warrior in a group that isn't afraid to stretch their role-playing over their roll-playing, I'm being a little too bread-and-butter. I want my character to stand out a little more in combat, but I'm not sure how to do so without putting myself at a disadvantage.

So, how can I make a rather basic, defense-focused Fighter like this stand out a little bit more in battle?

Update: He is an Elven Champion, no Feats (though I am considering it).

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Up the narration, even for "boring" actions

Just because you are only "running up and taking the Attack action" doesn't mean that's how you have to explain it. When you score your hit and roll damage, you know how much piercing damage you did, so just change the narration to explain the results in a more interesting way.

Here's an example of what I mean:

I run forward and duck under the arrow, raising my shield up to block the morningstar the orc bears down at me (two attacks that missed you earlier that round/later that round). I use the opportunity before his next swing to strike his leg with my shortsword. Though it doesn't break through his armor, it does put him off balance. Noticing this, I ram my body into his pushing him into a sharp rock jutting out of the cave wall behind for 8 points of piercing damage.

As long as the outcome is the same, there is no reason the narrative can't be changed to diversify the roleplay. This is apparently coined "stunting" (Thanks @BenBarden in the comments). While you don't get bonuses for this practice like you do in some systems, it is still a great way to make narration more interesting.


In some of my games, we figure out everything that happens in a round (with the dice) before the narration so we can include things like the orc's morningstar even though it happens afterwards in initiative order. Since everything in a round happens virtually simultaneously in the same 6 seconds, this form of narration can offer more immersion.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is called "stunting", and is good practice in general. There are other games that will reward you for it. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Apr 27 '18 at 21:06
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Find a Greater Purpose.

In our group, our sword-and-board fighter built up a backstory in tandem with another character. The other was a young female warlock with a noble background - a rebellious teen, as it were. His backstory was that she found him in a jail, used her money and contacts to get him out, and in gratitude he swore to protect her forever. He took all the defensive feats and features as they came available, of course.

The warlock generally acted as though her hit dice were much larger than they actually were. Every combat was a little more fun as the two played out their roles - the warlock spending too much time on the front line, the fighter shielding her as the enemies tried to take advantage. By having a secondary goal besides just dishing damage to the baddies, the fighter had more to think about and many more opportunities to shine. He saved her life many times - and when she saved his it was one of the more memorable moments of the campaign.

There are lots of other possible secondary goals. Your fighter might live for dueling, and always seek to fight one-on-one with the enemy leader. He might be a show-off, and he adds every possible flourish to his attacks. Perhaps he has a rival in the party and every combat is also a contest between them. Look to movies and books for inspiration - most of our favorite martial characters have some quirk like this. Good writers know that it's the quirks that make characters bearable to be with over the length of a novel or movie.

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Take Shield Master

This feat will improve your ability to protect your allies, enable the Rogue to use Sneak attack more reliably, increase your DPR, and make it harder for monsters to run away.
All this as a bonus action.

How it works

Shield Master (PHB p170):

If you take the Attack action on your turn, you can use a bonus action to try to shove a creature within 5 feet of you with your shield.

A shove can be turned into proning (PHB p195):

...shove a creature, either to knock it prone or push it away from you.

Costs

Fighters usually can't use bonus actions except for Second Wind once per short rest, so the Athletics contest is almost free for you. If you succeed1, the enemy is prone2.

Benefits

  • It must spend half its move to stand up, so can't flee that easily, or get close to the easier targets
  • Provides advantage until it stands up, to your attacks following your bonus action, and to your allies who are adjacent. The Rogue will love it

1) mostly you will, very few monsters are proficient in Athletics
2) unless it is two size categories larger than you

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Make defending a success.

In my longest running 5e campaign, the permanent characters have become quite idiosyncratic. This is in part because our party spent the vast majority of their time bouncing off of and interacting with each other, and at least as much because our DM de-emphasized the rules in favor of clever roleplay. This resulted, for example, in my gnome warlock falling in love with (and playing meat shield for) the dark elf paladin.

I mention this because, at least initially, the player of the paladin struggled to find a way to make her PC stand out. She had never played a paladin before (she favors rogues) and couldn't figure out what to do in a fight beyond stand in the fray and swing, basically playing as a slightly shiny sword-and-board.

Her solution was to embrace her inner tank. Her character, long an enemy of bad guys with bows, started collecting each and every arrowhead that hit her. When she had enough, she made a necklace of the arrowheads, a symbol of defiance that dared others to shoot her- she would only add to her collection.

She began tracking the number of hits she took in a fight, marking a running total on her plate mail until she got a magical set that would do it for her. Again, this told her enemies that their best efforts to stop her would amount to nothing more than an extra tally.

She got so into this aspect of her character (she borrowed this quote from Planescape as her personal motto: "Endure. In enduring, grow strong.") that she occasionally had to be reminded that she was a paladin and could cast spells too.

Flash and spectacle in your abilities is great, but your character can be equally great by taking the brunt of the flash and spectacle with a grim chuckle and a stout shield.

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    \$\begingroup\$ All I remember from "grim chuckle and a stout shield" was my "toaster" (cyber-enhanced Troll street samurai in Shadowrun) who soaked all damage from one of the most powerful weapons of the game (that laser packs a PUNCH), giggling and laughing (me as a player was terrified, I burned all my dice pools to make this a success). The enemy just ran away, while I was roaring threateningly in the background. Amazing moment, still recalled somewhat often with my usual gaming group, years later. I didn't do anything flashy. Just soaked a massive sh*tton of damage. \$\endgroup\$ – Patrice Apr 28 '18 at 15:07

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