I am running a D&D Next playtest (which is its own ball of awkwardness in a pleasant way) and none of my PC's have wanted to play the quintessential "Meat-Shield." I have a monk, 2 rangers, a rogue that thinks he's James Bond (yet level 3, currently), a cleric and with our next session: a battle-mage, effectively. The two rangers went different routes: one is a ranged fighter (longbow) and the other went the two-weapon route.

I hesitate to put this conclave up against anything daunting yet, because, well, they'd get blasted. I have made this more of a political intrigue since it is set in 11th Century Central Europe with all the different peoples as races (Germans = Dwarves, Slavs = Elves, etc) so I have ample wiggle room in that regard.

Basically, I have never in 15 years of gaming run into the problem of no Fighter/Barbarian. Someone always is excited to "bash 'em up."

How can I challenge them without killing them?


4 Answers 4


Eh, a dedicated meat shield isn't necessary anyway.

If you're fighting in an open area, and there's someone behind the guy with the armor shooting spells at you, why wouldn't you go take him out? Ranged attackers could just shoot over the meat shield directly of course, but a group of melee folks could simply run around. One meat shield can't stop that unless they're given MMO style "every single thing on the battlefield MUST attack me" powers.

In a confined space a meat shield can do their job more effectively simply because enemies have to go through him to get at anybody else.

Really, not having one isn't the end of the world. What the party has instead is more of something else. There's a lot of offense in that group. Properly supported, someone else (like the Cleric) can do the "tough guy" role well enough. Lure stuff in to the Cleric, and then let all that firepower you have cut it to pieces.

Yes, that will require more planning and proper positioning, but there's no reason why it can't work just fine. If I were you, I'd ramp up the difficulty slowly. Part of the reason why they'd get blasted is just because it's a new game and nobody is overly experienced with it yet. Given a chance to learn it, I'm sure they'll find a way around the lack of a Fighter type. Players are nothing if not infinitely creative.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also in Next the advantages of the two classes he lists, Fighter and Barbarian, have nothing to do with taking damage (although they are very durable) but with either dealing lots of damage (barb) or having high accuracy and adding additional effects on hit (fighter). To truly build a defender who punishes or locks down enemies (like 4e) you need to pick feats to for that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ “Players are nothing if not infinitely creative.” - Which constantly annoyed our GM. I think players who haven't played before tend to do stranger things, since they haven't settled in on their style yet. We tended to solve problems thrown at us in ways he didn't expect at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – Izkata
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 16:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ A player in a group of mine once crit on multiple seduction roles to advance through a hostile area. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 23:14

To be honest, this shouldn't matter much in Next.

My impression of Next from running a couple of fairly early playtest packets was that by the time the design was fairly mature, they had made combat very costly.

Generally what you'll want to do is let this party focus on skulking and intrigue, as you've done. Combat should be the skirmish sort and this party needs to focus on making sure they get into unfair fights.

If and when it comes time to fight the boss, this is a party of over-preppers, they've got two rangers, a rogue and monk, that to me spells traps, back stabbing, shadow play. Anything they can do to make sure the fight is not only unfair, but is decided before the big bad walks in the room.

That said, I believe this party will be rather effective, they just have to be careful.

In conclusion, keep in mind that this is not a playstyle that everyone finds enjoyable. Give the players an opportunity to change roles if they find this style unsuitable.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I've mostly had skirmishes thus far and it has been OK but I put them up against the campaign-arc villan which would have been fine either in 3.5e, I guess, or with a meat-shield (or assume so) and I had to fudge the numbers not to have total destruction of the company. \$\endgroup\$
    – ExpatPaul
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 12:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PaulFlowers I'd encourage them to over prepare, lay a trap, or otherwise fight unfair. The other option is them hiring a meat shield, but I find the idea of them leveraging their collective whiles more intriguing \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 12:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Obligatory link to Combat as War vs Combat as Sport. I believe Next is aiming for the strategic, only-fight-unfairly style of Combat as War. Fights being costly definitely fits the paradigm. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 16:59

I ran a short 3.5 campaign once with a warlock, a halfling paladin with a sling, and a ranger with the archer build. The party wasn't just lacking a "meat-shield"... it had no melee characters at all! This created some harrowing battles. I had never seen so much movement in 3.5 combat before. Eventually I gave the Paladin an NPC gnomish squire to be her "shield bearer" to soak up some hits, but honestly? All this did was make battles less interesting.

You phrase this as a "dilemma" but I honestly see it as an "opportunity"! Combats with this party will be brief. Protracted battles will almost invariable favor their opponents. It's been mentioned that reconnaissance and planning will be your player's best friends. Give them the ability to set the terms of engagement most of the time. They'll get to feel awesome, striking from the shadows quickly. It seems like your players are pretty down with intrigue, so it's hard to imagine them not being cool with this style of gameplay.

This also has the added benefit to you, the DM, in terms of creating challenging encounters. You don't have to mess too much with the fiddly mechanical bits like giving enemies more HP or higher attack numbers to make a fight more difficult. You just have to take away their advantages. If planning is their biggest asset, have the enemies catch them unaware. Or let them plan, but make it more difficult for them. This party will like wide-open spaces for manevourability. Make them plan to take someone down in a narrow space. They like combat that can be done quickly. Put them in a position of defense; where you can dictate the length of the encounter.

You've got a big enough party with enough of an emphasis in manevourability that you can also play around with the scope and size of battles. Your party can't be tethered to a "Defender" character if they don't have one in the party. Think about how to split apart objectives, and how your party might split themselves up to tackle them accordingly. Add in some sort of ticking bomb (literal or metaphorical) and you've got a recipe for an intense encounter regardless of how personally threatened the PCs might get.

This is an opportunity for you as a DM to make the terms of combat almost if not more interesting than the baddies you're throwing at them. Where they're fighting and how they're fighting get to take the spotlight over what they're fighting. Throw off the tyranny of the "stand still and hide behind/hack away at the meat shield" paradigm. Go crazy! They aren't always going to be slam dunks, but you have a golden opportunity for experimenting with your encounter design here. Embrace it!


I think that if a group needs a particular specialist and they don't have one, then an NPC is the answer. He can be a volunteer, or a hired mercenary, or an animal pet.

I don't know when Rangers get animals in D&D Next or if they even do, but a Dire Wolf or a Bear or a Boar is an excellent fighter. Or maybe a Panther, but that may be too Drizzt'ish. :-)

The party may also meet animals in the areas they travel and since Rangers should be good with nature perhaps they can convince them to assist in fights. Willingly or not. For example, perhaps they use food or other scents to attract wolves to the Orc camp and attack while the Orcs are distracted. Or maybe they learn of a way to decoy a Gelatinus Cube or other dungeon monster so that it runs over the goblins.


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