In our second edition of Designer Diaries, co-designer Nicholas Yu walks us through the inspiration and theme behind the Harpers faction in Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught.
Anyone who’s even a little bit familiar with Dungeons & Dragons and its Forgotten Realms setting has probably heard of the Harpers. One of the most famous Forgotten Realms characters, Elminster, is a Harper. Played an old Baldur’s Gate video game? Gorion was a Harper. Jaheira and Khalid? Harpers. Chris Pine’s Bard in the upcoming movie has a Harper pin. “Those Who Harp” are dedicated to maintaining order in the Forgotten Realms. They’re a force for good. So how do we get that across in Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught? What makes The Harpers feel like Harpers in a tactical skirmish miniatures game?
In a word: Teamwork. The Harpers have more support abilities and buffs than any other faction in the game. They’re meant to work together and become more than the sum of their individual parts. As such, they also specialize in battlefield manipulation and positioning.
Let’s start with their iconic character, Chloe Amasnodel. Bards are the favored class of the Harpers, embodying both their playstyle and philosophy. Since the Harpers are all about that teamwork, we decided to give Chloe the Healer role of the faction in the core set of Onslaught. In addition to her Bonus Action, Healing Word, she also has the Inspiration ability, which buffs herself and all allies around her. We also wanted the Harpers buffs to feel a little different (and better) than just a basic plus to hit modifier, so the Harpers can modify the die roll itself, turning a natural 18 or 19 into a natural 20 (or critical success). It also increases the damage of every friendly character’s basic attack by 1 while they’re in range of Chloe’s sick riffs.
This is an incredibly impactful ability because the Inspired token lasts from the moment its applied until the end of Chloe’s next activation. This means that if you position your party and assign your initiative cards just right, they have the potential to benefit from two full rounds of increased attack rolls and bonus damage. Chloe is truly the ultimate support piece in a faction that embodies the concept of support.
Lightning-Dancer fills the Vanguard role and enjoys access to a number of highly impactful battlefield manipulation abilities. Charge and Challenge allow him to reach hot spots and pull enemies towards him, setting up Opportunity Attacks for others or just buying them some breathing room. He also has the unique ability to move his targets around every time he lands a critical success—which both Chloe and Sedonna Sparklebang make much easier to achieve. Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork!
Drakmau Rockbiter hits harder than any other character with her basic attack, especially if she’s raging. All that power comes with a price, however, as she has the lowest to hit bonus of any character in the core set. She can attack recklessly on her own, but she really shines when paired with Chloe and/or Sedonna for maximum effect.
Speaking of Sedonna, she also has quite the suite of battlefield manipulation and support. The so-called “blaster casters” felt more at home with other Factions, so we made her a specialist in Enchantment. Sedonna doesn’t have a lot of overt firepower, but she can regularly and subtly influence positions and trigger Opportunity Attacks with her Twitch ability. Twitch seems like a minor nuisance until you use it to push an enemy character off of a critical objective or cut them down with Lightning-Dancer’s Combat Reflexes! On top of this, a timely Hypnotic Gaze can completely turn the tides of battle, and Guided Strike ensures that her allies find their marks when attacking, often landing devastating critical hits in the process.
Abelio Mac Gabhann is an interesting study in how different players (and even designers) react to different characters. I love him, but my co-designer Travis Severance hates him with the burning passion of a thousand suns. He can get around the battlefield very quickly for a couple of turns with his Wild Shape ability, but his real value is in dropping a Spike Growth at a critical juncture. In our playtest pod, Abelio is known colloquially as “Wall Guy.” Spike Growth was originally a 1x5 wall, but that ended up feeling extremely oppressive in certain scenarios where he could just seal off an entire section of the map for a round. Consequentially, we shrank the wall to 1x3 and reduced its cooldown to compensate. Now he can still force the flow of action with his walls, but it’s a much smaller hindrance than it used to be. We expect him to be a low-floor, high-ceiling type of character.
Finally, that brings us to Grabbleshanks, the Ranged Damage-Dealer of the Harpers. He might not be the most exciting character in terms of exploring design space, but Grabbleshanks is the gold standard of what a simple-but-powerful ranged character can do. He has the best range on his attacks out of anyone in the core set, he can focus fire a character with his Mark, and sometimes he can shoot twice. Plus, his name is “Grabbleshanks.” He’s been a crowd favorite, and I expect his fame to continue to grow as Onslaught releases to the general public.
Overall, the Harpers are a faction that really rewards careful positioning and stacking multiple sets of bonuses for an overwhelming advantage. If you love the idea of teamwork, support abilities, and battlefield manipulation, give the Harpers a try!