Monday, 7 May 2012

The Ultimate Zombie Hunter Part 1: Class and Race

Dominic Matte
If you know you're going to be facing a lot of zombies, or if you just hate them, the idea of creating a character who hunts the undead may have crossed your mind. In D&D, the cleric is typically seen as the undead-killer, with its ability to turn undead. But in 4th edition, the Paladin, ordinarily a tough defender, is really the best equipped for fighting zombies, and can actually exceed the damage output of a typical striker against the undead. And if you're playing a paladin, you'll want to choose the race that best complements its abilities.

Follow along as I provide some tips on how to build the best zombie-hunter, using my oddly-named human paladin Posse McToes as an example. But do keep in mind that overspecializing in zombie slaying will leave you a bit weak against other creatures.

Original sketch of Posse McToes
In a game I played, the DM informed us beforehand that zombies and undead would feature heavily in the campaign, so I decided to build a zombie hunter. Typically a divine character already has a strong motivation to battle the undead, since they're evil soulless abominations and everything, but I wanted a stronger motivation that bordered on zealotry - so I used Batman as an example. Posse McToes' parents were killed by zombies when he was 8, so he dedicated his life to eradicating the undead plague by any means necessary. It turned out that the best means was to pledge himself to Heironeus, the god of battle (or Kord, his 4e parallel), in exchange for the power to smite every zombie Posse encountered.

As has already been stated, Posse McToes is a paladin. Clerics seem more effective against the undead on the surface, with the ability to turn undead and force them to flee - but the paladin is more battle-oriented. Like the cleric, the paladin has an excellent selection of powers that deal radiant damage, which typically deal extra damage to undead creatures. Also like the cleric, the paladin has the ability to heal himself and others with the Lay on Hands ability.

Unlike the cleric, however, the 4e paladin has the ability to deal radiant damage out of turn with its marking ability, Divine Challenge. If a marked creature attacks someone other than the marking paladin, it takes a little bit of radiant damage (3+Cha mod). There are two important things to note here. First is that this damage is automatic - you don't need to make an attack roll. In other words, you can either take out a minion a turn with a minor action, or prevent them from attacking allies. Second, it's radiant damage, so if the target is undead, they'll likely be taking an extra 5 or 10 points of damage, which really builds up over an encounter. Unintelligent undead might ignore the mark, meaning you'll be dealing 10 or more points of damage per turn with your minor action (which is huge). Intelligent undead, or ones being run tactically by the DM, have extra motivation to attack the paladin, because they'll take a significant chunk of damage if they don't. The only weakness of divine challenge is that you must engage the target by ending your turn adjacent to it or attacking - but that's not exactly a problem when you plan on slaughtering the undead.

On top of that, some powers apply divine sanction, which works exactly the same as divine challenge, except that you don't have to engage the enemy. It's a little more powerful and flexible, but usually requires you to hit with an attack to apply it.

And of course, if you choose paladin over cleric, you have more armour and hit points, so you can press the fight much longer.

In terms of race, there are two main ones to look at: human and dragonborn. 

The dragonborn is probably the better choice in the long run, as its racial bonuses to Str and Cha are the paladin's primary attributes. You'll miss out on Wisdom, but with the racial bonuses you might be able to afford to boost your Wisdom score a little higher. Plus, the Draconic Heritage attribute boosts your surge value based on your Con score, which is an important consideration for some of your future feat selections. Dragon Breath is always useful as a minion-killer, and due to some strong feat support specifically for dragonborn paladins, you should choose this over dragonfear. The dragonborn doesn't have any real weaknesses for a zombie-hunting paladin, but despite all these advantages, human is still tempting.

The human doesn't get as many statistical bonuses, but the extra feat and at-will can give you a huge advantage out of the gate. There are a couple of really essential feats for a zombie hunter to take, and playing a human lets you pick those early. Your extra at-will mitigates the weakness of selecting those powers for zombie hunting and sacrificing versatility. The main weakness of choosing human is that you only get one attribute bonus, so you'll likely be dealing a little less secondary damage than the dragonborn. Your choice of feats and undead vulnerability to radiant damage don't make that a huge flaw, but if you're looking for the absolute optimal numbers, dragonborn might be the better choice.

Other races whose stat bonuses align well with your build paladin are dwarf, half-elf, tiefling, longtooth shifter, and minotaur, although the other abilities of those races don't mesh as well with the type of paladin we're building.

With the basics down, you'll next want to consider powers. Tune in to Part 2 for a look at your options.


  1. I'm enjoying this so far.
    Will you discuss Ardent Vow vs Lay on Hands during part 3?

    1. I will now, because I completely forgot about those options until you reminded me.