An old friend of mine who had to leave our gaming group for various reasons recently returned. He created a new character since we had gone a long way since he had left and he wanted to try a defender. He put together a Warden and joined our group. He optimized the character's health and healing surges so that the character could survive, and he did a fantastic job at this. The character is insanely durable and I won't ever kill him without him doing something overwhelmingly stupid.

The problem is that his character has basically no role in combat. Wardens struggle to remain sticky and he has done nothing to make up for this. His OA is so weak that enemies can simply walk past him to get to the rest of the party. He hasn't added anything to his mark punishment, so enemies freely attack other party members with only a -2 attack penalty to deal with. As a side note, the character does roughly 9 damage per round at level 15 (effectively nothing, for those of you who don't play 4e.)

I tried subtly noting that his character wasn't the stickiest, and he responded with something along the lines of that being the warlock's job (that's our party's controller because no one in our group ever plays a controller) and then read off his healing surge nonsense for the umpteenth time. I think he doesn't understand the defender role and that's the root of the issue. This is his first "power-gamed" character and he's quite proud of it, so how can I tell him that the character isn't filling the defender role in any real capacity without causing any conflict?

  • \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like he's exactly the guy to wade through the orcs to get to what they hold most dear. If attacking their sacred idol / queen / favorite pig doesn't pull their attention away from the party, I don't know what does. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 18:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Joe Except he can't hurt their sacred idol/pig/etc, and probably can't actually make it there as provoking all those OAs, not to mention then being completely isolated and surrounded, is "something really dumb". \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 7:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't seem like your responsibility. He will figure it out or he won't. Right? \$\endgroup\$
    – Preston
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 8:46

5 Answers 5


Since you said he is an old friend, maybe he just doesn't know exactly what a defender is supposed to do (Put the monsters on a hard choice between attacking someone who has better defenses, or take a harsh punishment), and instead tried to make a "tank" as defined by the previous editions (Have a huge AC, have a ton of HP) and expects the monsters to attack him because he is the toughest guy in the group.

If that is the case, I recommend you to ask him to read an old article in the WotC forums, The Art of Defending. It is NOT up to date with the final state of 4e/Essentials, but gives great insight on what a Defender is supposed to be doing.

Player expectation is also a major factor. Check out if he actually likes to be the toughest mobile rock in the field while you make all the monsters ignore his character as if he is not there. Maybe he gets angry because he has all the HP and surges, but no one hits him. Maybe he will glee with joy because he can set up easy flanks and "survive" as he desired. In any case, as long as he notices that you are not hitting him, he might end up doing one of two things: Raising his punishment because he hates to be ignored; or raising his damage because he knows he can focus on offense.

But never, EVER, bluntly say that he is playing wrong. If he is being detrimental to the party tactics, the other players should be the ones asking him to be worth his salt. If he is not playing as you expect a defender to play, but the party doesn't have major issues with that, keep going. One of the best defenders I ever played was a hybrid paladin|sorcerer that dipped in control and striking, and the DM was worried that I would not be able to work as a defender.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, making the difference between a tank and a defender clear might help \$\endgroup\$
    – DCShannon
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 4:27

This isn't your problem. You see him doing something “wrong,” but it's not causing you a problem.

The people who get to decide if this is a problem or not are the other players in the group, who are coordinating their characters with his. It's their right and responsibility to judge whether this warden is dead weight or just fine. If there's a problem, you can bet they'll let him know, either directly or by implications.

So let it drop. There's nothing here for you to fix, and if there was, it wouldn't be your business to fix anyway, since he's not your teammate. Attempting — contrary to the player's wishes — to fix what looks to you like a suboptimal character is meddling outside the GM's business. As a friend, it's also overbearingly intrusive. Let your friend and the group handle their characters and party dynamic as they see fit.

  • \$\begingroup\$ My experience supports this answer. I have even played characters that were not designed for combat, though I will admit the character in questions sounds like it's meant for combat but does not do it well. In 3rd edition, I played a character who was all about knowledge and soft skills. This character rarely had the spotlight, but having another warm body is rarely dead weight. Even a level 1 commoner as a PC would bring more ideas, a pair of hands to lend and carry some gear. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 18:54

There are two questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Are his actions negatively influencing the party?
  • Is the player having fun?

For the first: is the party capable of dealing enough damage to enemies they are not in constant danger of a total party kill? And is this a problem in the long run, on higher levels? If in both cases the answer is no, then there is no problem. Next, are there any other healers whose job the Warden is usurping? If this is the case, point this out to them and have them decide on their own what to do about this. If not, then there's no problem.

Next up, from what I read you consider the player to mechanically play his character wrong. Yet you state that the character is "insanely durable", and is a capable healer. When building a character you have to make choices, and from the looks of it the player chose durability and healing power over damage output.

Next, I suspect that you might focus too much on the various roles as defined in 4e. These are not exactly hard roles, and you are not absolutely REQUIRED to have all of these in the party. They're more of a guideline or a system to advice a balanced party, but they are not a hard requirement.

So in short, two things to consider:

Will this player's lack of damage output negatively affect tha party in the long run? Do some math, figure out if the player is capable of keeping up with the rest of the party when it comes to healing and surviving attackers. If this is good, then no problem! If not, go with issue two:

Is the player having fun? Approach the player out of the game and say "Hey, I noticed that your character is doing next to no damage in combat. Is that a problem for you, or are you having fun as you play your character right now?" If they say yes, then everything's fine! If they say no, then you can help them. If you have calculated that they might run into problems in the long run, talk to them about this and suggest how they can counteract this. Don't enforce anything and CERTAINLY don't tell them they're playing their character wrong: just point this out and allow the player to choose.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wardens are not healers, and OP has not stated that the character is a capable healer as you suggest. Healing surges = durability, not ability to heal anyone else. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 15:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know why this answer is upvoted, but it's super wrong. Have you read the 4e rules? This is like the "Monk is a good defender cause high AC" guy in 3.5. Even if he did optimize well, so that his character is very resistant to damage, he can't help the party at all because he can neither deal damage nor in any way force enemies to target him and he has literally no other useful skills. This isn't a healer. This isn't a useful party member. This is a drain on the party's resources that thinks he's the most useful member of the team. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 7:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer is upvoted because it's the only one that recognizes people play characters to have fun, not to fit into a defined role someone else wants them to. While there may be some weaknesses to that, most people don't like the implications of the opposite approach that tell people "they're doing it wrong" when they don't hit some book or Internet Community (tm) definition of what "their class" is supposed to be. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 16:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's good to recognize that players play characters to have fun, but they are also playing a game with combat and consequences. This answer fails to understand how little the character is contributing by thinking it is a healer, and therefore wrongly reacts as if the DM is out of line to criticize it for not being in line with expectations. In reality, the DM is recognizing a character that does nothing. Whether that's the DM's problem or not is another issue. \$\endgroup\$
    – DCShannon
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 4:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer could be great, if all of the bits about healing were removed. This character can do one thing and one thing only, which is survive longer than most characters. It cannot protect its allies, heal them, or damage enemies in a meaningful fashion. Even if this warden is the one variety of warden which can (poorly) heal (one) ally, that ally is only taking damage because the warden is unable to provide enemies with a reason to attack the warden instead of that ally. You're right that it's important to help your players have fun and not to interrupt that. Focus the answer on that. \$\endgroup\$
    – webbcode
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 16:29

"how can I tell him that the character isn't filling the defender role in any real capacity without causing any conflict?"

You can't. He thinks a thing, and he wants to think it, and you want to tell him he's wrong. That's necessarily a conflict, and there isn't really anything good you can do about that if you want him to change his behavior/change his opinion without at least some level of conflict.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't do this, and it doesn't mean either of you should be aggressive. You just need to be aware that his feelings are going to be a little hurt, at least, because of the nature of what's happening. What you can/should do about that depends on who your friend is and the nature of your relationship and how important this is to you and a bunch of stuff.

In my experience, people are often oddly attached to their ideas about what is and isn't power-optimized in RPGs, so I'd be slightly more careful about the topic than you ordinarily would be because people tend to react more strongly than really makes sense. Talking to your friend is still almost definitely the right option, it just isn't, unfortunately, likely to be easy or painless.


As stated in a different answere, there is no way to completely avoid conflict. But you could do a pair of things that might help him understand your point of view.

First, don't be confrontational. Wait for a good moment to speak to him, like outside sessions (otherwise you'd spend everyone's valuable game time) and ask him: "Ok, you've made this character you're clearly proud of, and it's really great at doing what he does, I must admit. Now, what would happen if enemies just started ignoring him and going for your allies?"

Keep in mind that:

  1. Defenders should defend. If he tells you it's the controller's role, show him the description of the defender role in the manual.
  2. If he argues everyone should care for themselves, remind him this is supposed to be a party game. Most strikers are frail on purpose, just to make defenders and controllers meaningful.
  3. "But I have great healing surges!". Yes, yes, nobody is saying the character is bad at what it's doing. Why people in his party would want him around? What his he doing to be useful? Being alive, per se, isn't really helping.
  4. If any other player used to play a defender before him, remind him how he used to save the game by being sticky.
  5. If an enemy marked him and gave him -2 to hit, would that be enough for him to stop and hit him instead of going for the artillery or controller?

I think the key here is not letting him overdefinsive over his character building capabilities, which he seems to be really proud of. I've been optimizing the wrong things in D&D 3.5e characters for ages and I still am.


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