Playing a Warforged in D&D

Front cover art for Eberron: Rising from the Last War, adapted from free wallpaper art (see link), all rights reserved

My kids and I have been playing a longer D&D campaign in the world of Eberron, a noir steam-punk magic setting for almost a year now, and the kids consistently seem to enjoy this setting more than other D&D campaigns we’ve run. Since we have only two players (my daughter and my son), the party consists of:

  • Daughter: Swiftstride shifter fighter / ranger, Latisse
  • Son: Halfling bard, Kirby1
  • Sidekick: Hobgoblin cleric (knowledge) / wizard, Borsheg
  • Sidekick: Warforged fighter (samurai), Malbus 414
  • Sidekick: Valenar (wood) elf fighter, Tantalus

I run the sidekick characters myself, and some have come in and others rotated out.2 The hobgoblin and warforged sidekicks have been with the party since the beginning and have been a pretty integral part of the story.

Our hobgoblin cleric’s backstory is that he secretly wanted to be a wizard instead and only did the cleric role out of familial obligation. However, since Borsheg was rejected by the wizards guild, he has since gotten private tutorship on the side with a shady teacher named “Dak” who, currently unknown to the party, is a Rakshasa.

Our Warforged has become the most central character to the party though. Originally, Malbus 414’s backstory was that he had, like all Warforged, fought in the Last War, particularly as part of the 523rd Battalion in East Breland. However, it became clear that his entire platoon had been secretly conditioned by their gnomish creator, Dr Vilnius Volrani Vishkik, to attack any gnomes from a certain rival house on sight. Eventually, the kids were able to find an artificer who could remove Malbus’s conditioning, and scrape up enough money to pay for it, but at the cost of partial memory loss. The kids really got choked up when they realized that Malbus wasn’t going to be quite the same.

Out of all the stories that I’ve teased in front of kids, including demonic cults, Borsheg’s evil tutor, smuggling jobs, etc, the kids have really attached themselves to Malbus’s and have since pursued Dr Vishkik (who unknown to the kids, is now a glorified brain-in-a-jar) across continent only to discover that he has reconstituted most of the old 523rd platoon, and means to take on the Lord of Blades in Cyre in order to become a new ruler there, assert dominance over all Warforged at large. Malbus is torn between his loyalties to his old platoon, but also his new purpose in stopping Dr Vishkik, especially where violence is required.

Mechanically speaking, a Warforged is an interesting character race since it’s fully artificial, yet is also a living being. According to the 5e guide, if you play a Warforged, you (among other things):

  • Gain a +1 bonus to Armor Class.
  • Have advantage on saving throws against being poisoned, and you have resistance to poison damage, and are immune to disease
  • Do not require sleep, but when you take a long rest, you must spend at least six hours in an inactive, motionless state, rather than sleeping. In this state, you appear inert, but it doesn’t render you unconscious, and you can see and hear as normal. Further, you don’t need to sleep, and magic can’t put you to sleep.

These things all come from the Warforged’s artificial nature. However, as a living sentient being, you can still benefit from things like healing magic, potions, etc., so you are not a construct either. It’s not entirely clear to what degree a Warforged is a machine vs. a living being, but I’ve mostly leaned toward the artificial, and focused on the “power core” as a source of their sentience and humanity.

The mechanics of a Warforged are fun, but the role-playing side of the Warforged is what I find most compelling. Because the Last War is over, Warforged are kind of superfluous now. Society doesn’t need them anymore, and they are no longer manufactured (at least in mass-production), so they have been tossed out on the street with no clear picture of what to do with themselves. This leaves plenty of room to decide how you would want to play a Warforged. Malbus 414 initially took mercenary jobs because war was the only thing he knew, but once he met the party during the initial session, he gradually took his life in a new direction with them.

The official interview with creator Keith Baker helps clarify this and is worth a watch:

I tend to roleplay Malbus 414 similar to Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, in that he is searching for his humanity, and trying to forge a new identity for himself bit by bit as something more than just a war machine. One could conceivably do the opposite and play a Warforged who never really left the Last War. The noir, brooding atmosphere of Eberron really lends itself to this, because of the heavier emphasis on character backstory, personal challenges, etc, but if you play a Warforged within the larger universe, such as Planescape or even the Forgotten Realms somehow, the brooding war backstory can still come into play and create a good starting point for the character.

Or you could just make a character like this one:

Comment posted in linked video above

I wish Warforged were more available in other settings, not just for its useful mechanical reasons, especially in Adventurer’s League, but I am happy to play one when the opportunity comes up. Its nature lends itself to good role-playing, and its mechanics allow for all kinds of interesting character / class options.

1 My son is a huge Kirby fan.

2 Our half-orc rouge-scout sidekick died a few weeks back in a random encounter, and the elf fighter replaced him since the party was near Valenar anyway. I keep a pool of sidekicks in the backlog in case I need to replace one. Still, the half-orc scout was a good character in his own right, and the kid and I kind of miss him already, even as we enjoy the new character.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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