Published on 4/12/2011 Written by 28 comments

Why My Favourite D&D Class Sucks

I don't get to play D&D as a player very often. I usually end up on the DM side of the screen, which is cool because I generally enjoy it more anyway. But from time to time it's a nice change of pace to only have to worry about a single character instead of an entire world. It's also fun to throw down and beat the living daylights out of some monsters.

My current D&D of choice, for better or for worse, is 4th Edition. The first time I got to run my own character in this edition was at last season's D&D Encounters event (Keep on the Borderlands), and I made the damn fool mistake of playing the cleric. (See here for why Clerics, especially 4E Essentials clerics, suck. And while we're at it, here's a good argument for the suckiness of Monks). Next I tried a Gnome Bard for a high-level Living Forgotten Realms game, but that turned out almost as bad as the cleric.

Seriously, what was I thinking?

For the new Encounters season, I almost made a Slayer(Fighter build), until I realized that all they can do is hit stuff. Literally. Every turn your choice of options is either a) attack or b) attack really hard. Finally, I went with a Hunter (Ranger) because they seemed to have so many more options.

For you Grognards unfamiliar with the Hunter class (which is a variation on an archer ranger), imagine taking a wizard and all the neat things they can do (stunning spells, charms and enchantments, fireballs), and then have your archer make attacks that have the exact same effect. But with ARROWS.

The result is both awesome and incredibly stupid at the same time. On the awesome side, the Hunter has lots of neat tricks. Even at low level, you have choices every single turn. Observe the cool list of possible special attacks that a first-level Hunter can perform:

Aimed Shot: A highly accurate attack that ignores cover. Handy when you just absolutely have to hit certain monsters.

Clever Shot #1: Hit, do damage, and knock the opponent prone. Cool. I imagine shooting the guy in the knee or something.

Clever Shot #2: Hit, do damage, and slow the target. Also cool. Maybe you pin his cloak to a tree or something, so it takes him some movement to pull the arrow out.

This guy can actually stun you before he even fires the arrow.

Clever Shot #3: Hit, do damage, and fling the target 10 feet. In any direction. Um, okay. Maybe the force of the blow knocks him back? (Note: Not actually possible with an arrow) Or maybe there's a string tied to the arrow, and you pull him toward you? Or maybe he just stumbles around in pain from the wound, and just happens to move in exactly the direction you want him to?

Disruptive Shot: Daze or immobilize the victim. This one makes a bit more sense. Maybe you hit him in the head or some other vulnerable area to stun the guy, or you pin his foot to the ground with an arrow.

Rapid Shot: You hit every target in a 15x15 foot area with an arrow. Um, yeah.

They also gain an inherent bonus to sense of style.

These attacks from a gameplay point of view are great, and give you lots of options during combat. Way more fun that each turn just being, "I hit something."

The problem is that I have a hell of a time wrapping my head around how any of these things are actually even fucking possible.

One huge glaring problem is that these attacks do exactly what they say no matter what target you use them on. Shoot a 100-foot long dragon with a measly little wooden arrow? Sure, you can stun it or knock it back 10 feet or pin it to the ground. Why not?

Hey, if some random dude named Bard (who isn't actually a bard, by the way) can do it, why can't I?

That being said, Dragons aren't even the worst scenario. At least they have some kind of semi-natural anatomy. Some other things I've done with a Hunter, by shooting an arrow at it:

  • Knocked an undead beholder right out of the air (a creature that flies by magic, not through wings or other normal means).
  • Slid an 8-foot tall demon 10 feet across the floor perpendicular to me, while the thing was lying on his back.
  • Best one? I've knocked a jelly slime creature prone. A creature that doesn't even have an anatomy, let alone legs of which to be knocked off.

Don't believe how stupid this is? Try this at home: Go get a really big bowl. Then find an even bigger fridge. Make about 400lbs of Jell-O, and dump it in a big mound on the floor. Now shoot an arrow at it. Did the Jell-O fall prone? Would you even be able to tell?

I think the Hunter gains this power at level 14.

But do you want to know the one that annoys me the most? The rapid shot ability. Nevermind whether or not you can effectively fire up to 9 arrows in less than six seconds, whether all at the same time or in rapid succession (even stupider, you can actually do the same thing with a goddamn crossbow), but the power actually forces you to roll an attack against any creature in the area of the effect. Yes, that includes your allies. Yes, that even includes you.

(Try this at home part 2: Go get a longbow. Now shoot yourself with it. Seriously. I'll wait.)

I know it is designed this way so it works like a fireball-type effect, where you have to be careful where you aim, and to make it fair, yada yada, but explain the logic to me: You see two goblins standing next to your buddy. You load three arrows into your bow. WHY? Doesn't even matter if your buddy is unconscious on the ground, you still have to shoot at him. Are we supposed to believe that you're just shooting wildly to blanket the area with arrows? Are you using your bow, literally, like a machinegun? In that case, shouldn't you actually be firing more than three arrows at a time? And then wouldn't you have a chance of hitting some targets more than once? Your ranger is going to have to hire a half dozen caddies to follow him around, carrying all his extra quivers.

Okay, that should be enough arrows for the first encounter.

I know 4th Edition is supposed to be over-the-top, fantastically heroic. I know it tried to simplify some rules at the expense of realism. But come on. At least pretend to offer some explanation as to how I can immobilize an insubstantial ghost with an arrow.

All that aside, I love my hunter. I would still rather play him than most other classes. It's frakkin' awesome and I'm not giving him up.

Anyone else have a class that's a guilty pleasure? Or a other examples of throwing realism and logic out the window for the sake of cool game effects? Go ahead and chime in. What else is the Internet for, if not for ranting?

Like this?


  1. I played an archer in AD&D back in the day from a class gleaned from Dragon. He had a bunch of trick arrows of various sorts like Green Arrow or Hawkeye.

    I'm playing an artificer in a current Pathfinder Eberron game. In retrospect that was a poor choice. He's essentially just the cleric for the party's warforged.

  2. This was laugh out loud funny! Great stuff.

    I am cooling the Jell-o now.


  3. Oh my - this pretty much underlines why 4e fell out of favour with my group. I had a rogue who could blind (I believe) someone with a shuriken - cool rogue power, but only once a day...

    "Aha! I'll blind the guard by throwing this in his eye - then we can... ah crap, I've already done that today. Anyone else got a plan?"

    And yet we had too many conversations along these lines too:

    Player: "I use my Blade of Eternal Bluish Flame on the skeleton!"
    DM: "Cool. Would you like to describe what it does?"
    DM: "Not what I meant. Let's say your sword ignites with fire as you strike..?"
    Player: "OK." (beat) "Can I roll my MILLIONS OF DICE now?"

    ... that's the rant bit over. Ooops.

    The Hunter as a concept sounds great - it's just a shame we have to suspend our disbelief to play it.

    Mind you, I was having similar thoughts about DARPG's stunts - i.e. "Could you do that with a bow?" - so maybe I'm just a stickler...

    Great post, thanks!

  4. If you can't imagine why your arrow causes the dragon (or demon or jelly or ghost) to end up 10 feet away, perhaps you should try a different game. Scrabble, perhaps?

    I don't mean to be an ass but if your biggest complaint is that it's unrealistic? Really? Were you being sarcastic, ironic, or sardonic? And, seriously, if I was your DM and you complained to me about how unrealistic your attacks were I'd agree with you and unless you could explain to me how your arrows actually caused the effect (which would, you know, cause you to have to use your imagination) I'd just ignore any damage/effect you couldn't explain.

    1. And at that point, Almuric, I'd just get up out of my chair, walk out of your game, and go watch a fantasy film or spend time with my family.

  5. Kewl BeansApril 12, 2011

    Tip: if you need to preface your comment with: "I don't mean to be an ass"... you're being an ass.

  6. Your rant applies nearly equally to all of 4E, not just the Ranger / Hunter.

    You want to know how to potentially hit a group of people with arrows? Fire a bunch in a volley at a high arc. To hit yourself fire a bunch it straight up. Go ahead, i'll wait too.

    You problem with words like Prone or Blinded can be solved by not literally using one blanket definition. A jelly or ooze is prone because it can't defend itself effectively or move well. "off balance", "distracted" or "intimidated" could equally be flavour texted. All of this was worked out (years ago) when 4e was introduced.

  7. My favorite is still the bard's ability to taunt people TO DEATH!!1! ;p

  8. CDGallant_KingApril 12, 2011

    Anything remotely like a Cleric is a bad idea.

    Trick arrows are about the only thing that makes sense to me. I picture arrows with heads shaped like giant boxing gloves.

  9. CDGallant_KingApril 12, 2011

    Thank you. I aim to please.

    Aim? Get it? Ugh, sorry.

  10. PROTIP: D&D is just a game. How is proning a jelly slime any less realistic than shooting a fireball form your hands?

    If you can't get into as aspect of D&D because it seems unrealistic then you're playing the game wrong.

  11. Tequila SunriseApril 12, 2011

    Yeah, I love 4e but it doesn't even attempt plausibility like earlier editions do. It's an honest fantasy rpg, self-aware enough to drop any pretense of reality. It's utterly silly at every second turn, and that's why I love it.

    Last year we had a warlord in the party who favored Paint the Bull's Eye. (An awesome power, btw.) The power's fluff text says something like "You fire a red-fletched arrow into your enemy, making it an easy target for your allies." So me, being the ranger, told the DM "I'm buying a quiver of red-fletched arrows so I can do that too." He hit me with the DMG, and we had a good laugh.

    You'd never know it, but I'm one of those dreaded simulationists. I can't stand having unexplainable shit in a game, which is why I have my own simple explanation for all the crazy logic-defying stuff that happens in D&D: it's MAGIC! This actually applies to all D&D editions, but 4e really jelled this idea in my head. How do I explain storms of arrows, "martial" daily powers, taunting people to death, non-magical healing and hit points?

    Screw all that invent-a-creative-explanation micromanagement crap. It's magic! It might come from a weapon rather than a wand, and it might look all Li Mu Bai-y rather than Tim the Sorcerer-y, but it's some kind of magic all the same. No non-magical person can defeat dragons, survive Hell or do half the awesome stuff that D&D characters can do. So bring on the absurdity, I say!

  12. NeuroglyphApril 12, 2011

    Great post! There was definite LOL'ing involved. And I am totally in agreement with your assessment of the Essentials Slayer - most boring thing they could have done with a fighter! - and I get your points about the bizarre controller powers on the Hunter, when taken at face-value.

    But as others have pointed out, D&D is a fantasy game not a simulation, and sometimes you have to just have to ignore the flavor text, and dive in yourself and describe the attack in a way that makes sense to you - just like we used to back in good ole AD&D days. :)

  13. CDGallant_KingApril 13, 2011

    You're welcome. :)

    Some people just want to show up and roll dice. I'm okay with that. Personally I find it fun to tell a story and describe the world a bit more, but I'm not going to tell you that YOU'RE WRONG just because you QUESTION THE RULES or TRY TO HAVE A LITTLE FUN.

    That throw-shit-in-the-eyes-to-blind-someone is actually a very cool power and has great flavour in its description. I like it, too. Why does it work but once a day? The obvious answer is for power balance, but maybe it's for narrative reasons? The hero can only use his best attack at the most dramatic moment? Who knows? It annoys me way more that you can probably also use that power to blind creatures without eyes.

  14. CDGallant_KingApril 13, 2011

    I imagine a bard could have a similar effect by using the music of Justin Bieber as a weapon.

  15. CDGallant_KingApril 13, 2011

    I'm okay with magic. If you hit something with a fireball, yeah, they're going to get hurt. I could see Bigby's Forceful Hand or even magic missile pushing or sliding a target. But an arrow? Fired by a guy, that according to the same page that describes his ridiculous attacks, isn't magical?

    I love trying to explain game effects into the real world. (A fighter can only use X power once a day because it causes him to pull a groin muscle, and it takes a few hours to heal.) I just have a hell of time doing it with this class. You're right though, it makes your head hurt less if you just say "it's magic" and move on.

  16. CDGallant_KingApril 13, 2011

    Good points. I think the flavour text and even names of the powers really try to force you into a simulation-type-scenario. It tries to describe specifically how things happen, but wants to be vague enough to allow it to cover all eventualities. You're right, just chuck it and make it up yourself.

    Thanks for the comment!

  17. Here's where I tend to disagree,magic is one aspect of the game,yes,but moves like these shouldn't be encouraged to a degree that it completely ruins the sense of imagining the game as it's being played out.
    This form of 'bastardization"of the rules has only become popularized by the likes of Diablo and World of Warcraft to the extent of assuming that the player is a complete and total moron and only feeds into the power gaming niche of those who aren't intelligent enough to accurately memorize more than a few extra rules in the player's handbook....this is why 4e sucks and yet it's the same reason it's popularly has risen.

  18. Joe NelsonApril 14, 2011

    Ugh, right there you have given another reason why my group is rapidly becoming disenchanted with 4E. At first, we loved the balanced combat, the cool powers, and the sense of utter carnage as our little murder squad trampled the hordes of evil. But eventually, it became tedious to have to try and shoehorn in explanations for why our characters were able to do this or that.

    I don't need realism in my gaming. But as we've played, my group likes to be verbose and descriptive with our turns, and 4E makes it a little more challenging to describe individual actions. We've had to ignore the names and descriptions of Powers just as Neuroglyph said and just make up our own reasons for things to happen. That made play more enjoyable, but it's still not as much fun as playing an earlier version and just allowing more freedom in battles.

  19. JsalvatoriApril 16, 2011

    I have to agree with the blogger on this one. I can easily imagine a fireball from someone's hand. It's ingrained in our minds from sci-fi, movies, and video games, plus even though fantastical, it can make sense. An arrow, specifically said to be a normal, non-magical arrow, knocking someone sideways 10 feet, or knocking a ball of slime prone... well I just can't make that work. When I'm playing an RPG, I see it happening in my mind - using my imagination. If I can't justify something working, it pulls me out of the game and becomes just quoting rules and powers to win, not roleplaying any more.
    Picture reading a book where the author describes "Alan knocks an arrow, draws and fires at the retreating wolf. The arrow lodges in its flank and the wolf that was running away is knocked back by the force of it, landing 10 feet closer to Alan."
    You would stop reading and say "WTF???" It breaks the flow when something that doesn't make sense happens, and pulls you from the story because you can't see how it works.

    I love the fantastic (magic, psychic powers, elves, monsters) but hate unrealistic effects that are brought in to the games by overly specific rule sets.

  20. As others have said, proning an ooze is a general 4E problem.

    Nevertheless, I have the same realism complaints as you about Rapid Shot. In my game I houseruled it to party-friendly targeting, but the attack penalty scales with the number of shots.

  21. Don't blame the system if you have a group not into roleplaying.  It's not the system's fault the dude just wanted to roll dice and beat up monsters.

  22. Actually the rapid shot is not as absurd as it sounds...take the English longbow men for example. They were expected to fire at least 5 arrows before the first one landed. 9 arrows in 6 seconds would not be a problem for them. The only problem I have with it is the accuracy of the shots. Although Lonbow men could fire extremely fast, they relied on firing as one and making a cloud of arrows. They didn't actually aim for a single target; instead they aimed to pepper an area with arrows killing as much as they could. One person firing with the accuracy to hit everyone in the area along with himself is very hard to believe...especially hitting himself.

    1. sorry, but 9 arrows in 6 seconds is absurd. think closer to 6 arrows a minute for a decent rate of fire with a war bow. Also, english longbow men trained nearly their entire lives to be excellent shots, they were professionals and could, and did, pick off targets when they were close.

    2. Nine shots in six seconds is absurd, in reality, but so is six shots in sixty seconds. Think 4 seconds for a nocked and aimed shot. That's about the standard for my SCA archer buddies and my HACA power shooters. The average is 100% hits on a man-target out to 100ft, 90% to 150ft, 80% to 200ft...it falls off rapidly after that for all but the best shooters, though. And that puts 15 arrows a minute into the air. Which is more feasible.

      Yes, the 9-in-6 is a little retarded for "historical/realistic" accuracy. Although I loathe the movies personally, watch the elven archers, particularly Legolas, in the Lord of the Rings movies, for a fantastireal visualization of how D&D rangers shoot, particularly the higher leveled ones in the older editions (I hate 4e, btw.) Trick shots become the norm at "higher" levels; to use the 3.5e feats, Rapid Shot was a single second attack - okay, so you whip out a second arrow and pump it at a target in that same 6 seconds. Very doable, particularly given that it made a penalty to hit (think of it as taking an accuracy hit because you were rushing the shot). Precise shot - hitting a target in melee without the friendly-fire penalty - okay, that's easy - you held the shot the full 6 seconds, perhaps, and made it more accurate. Far shot - 150% range - easy also, you judge the angle and distance more accurately and POW.

      Almost all of the D&D stuff has a logical "basis" that is then compounded by fantasy to achieve a heroic effect. Just roleplay it. If you can't roleplay it, play a video game instead.

    3. I've done SCA archery as well, there's some real experts out there. I've personally had the fortune (misfortune?) of competing with a Crossbow user who could put 14-17 bolts in the target in 30 seconds, yes on average it took him 1 second to load a Crossbow and another to aim and fire it (nothing outside the second ring (counting from center)).
      So there's the realism baseline... then like you said, add on the heroic effect on top and you go from his 3 well-aimed shots to a number of shots potentially represented by 9 scattered into an area (but not actually limited to 9 (can have up to 4 tiny creatures in a square for a possible 36 instead), however if your DM is leaving 9 enemies clustered up like that, he needs to rethink tactics a bit).
      I think that 9 is part of what so many people get fixated on, or the "loaded 3 arrows to shoot 2 goblins and his friend", these attacks are representative, you are firing almost indiscriminately into the designated area like a 1-man volley, unless you are swapping out specialized ammo, the attack rolls are representative not simulationist a miss could be narrow or wide, the hit on your friend wasn't targeting him with the evil 3rd arrow but one of several arrows that was in the General direction of the goblins and well so was your friend, a sad accident.
      Similarly with the clever shot slide, I normally see it as targeted injury/pain... hit the leg and watch them stagger, arc a shot on a running wolf to make it leap away from the sudden pain from nearly right in front of it, etc.
      But like the one I'm replying to said... once you have that basis, then you use that go into the Storytelling, even gritty tales are full of nearly-impossible or outright impossible feats by heroes and villains (8-bullet 6-shooters in westerns, all the greek heroes, norse heroes, gilgamesh, it's a very long tradition)

  23. The thing I think that is the real problem is that people are expecting martial characters to be 'merely' 'dudes'. These characters are far beyond most real world examples of what a person can accomplish. Knocking a guy back with a mighty arrow? Why the hell not? Monster can fly by magic? My mythic levels of skill can knock that mother out of the air. DnD after the LBB and prior to 4th ed always suffered by trying to make 'martial characters' as limited to 'just dudes' when instead they should be the Conans, Scorpion Kings, Fianas, Zatoichis, and Cu Chulainns of the world.
    And Dan has the right of it, Longbows were fired in an arc to create a cloud of arrows. So if the archer wanted to fire at a bunch of people around him, he would be risking hitting himself.

  24. Well, that's because 4ED sucks balls, and that's why i stopped playing D&D and went Pathfinder, for good ole' 3.5ED action.
    And Pathfinder isn't even realistic, there's plenty of other RPGs that handle archery (and many other things) more realistically.


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