“Hope you got friends on the other side, ’cause no one’s gonna miss you here.”
Happy New Year Buildies! 2019 and we’re all gonna make it. The snow is still rollin’, and the weather is still icy. That’s great, because the cold makes it hard for the undead to move quickly. Didn’t you hear? Building Character HQ has a zombie problem, a regular infestation. The undead are crawling, shambling, and gnawing at the door…
But I’m feelin’ pretty good. Why? Because Special Agent Leon S. Kennedy is on his way! Spoilers for the core Resident Evil games (and a few of the CGI movies). Let’s take a look at the President’s right hand man!
At the age of 21, a wide-eyed and eager Leon graduated police academy, and was on his way to becoming a rookie police officer in the Raccoon City Police Department. What seemed like a run of bad luck involving a bad break up, getting blackout drunk and missing his first day of work actually saved Leon’s life; he arrived late to the apocalypse that turned Raccoon City from urban metropolis to an undead nightmare.
Along with the plucky Claire Redfield, Leon was instrumental in bringing to light the involvement of Umbrella Corporation in the release of the zombifying T-Virus. He survived the zombie apocalypse, and it was all uphill from there. Fast tracked into the Secret Service, Leon became a Special Agent, where he combined his natural talent and first-hand experience with the infected to become even more impressive.
From rescuing the President’s daughter from Spanish cultists to destroying armies of the undead in almost every environment, Leon has earned his reputation as his setting’s foremost expert at dealing with zombie outbreaks. If you’ve got an undead problem, make sure you get the best problem solver available!
One of the biggest themes of zombie fiction is what it means to be human, vs. a walking corpse. Leon’s got enough baggage to open his own Louis Vuitton outlet, which places him firmly in the human category. Variant Human, if we’re being picky. If you’ve been following the blog then you’re probably quite familiar with this race by now, but we’ll see what this nets our boy:
- Ability Score Increase: We get a +1 to 2x different Ability Scores. We want to put those in Dexterity and Constitution, which will make sense the more we move into this build. Leon is fast and tough, out-maneuvering and outliving many corporate overlords, mad scientists, and corrupt government officials who underestimated him.
- Language: An extra language is handy, but canonically we can’t go with Spanish. With a name like Leon, it stands to reason that he might know some French. And as we all know, Elvish is fantasy French.
- Extra Skill: A free skill is nothing to sneeze at! And if you are sneezing, maybe check and see if you’ve been infected with a zombie virus. Leon’s spent a lot of time on narrow ledges, falling off of tall heights, and doing parkour through laser beams. He’s gotta have proficiency in Acrobatics.
- Extra Feat: Living through as many zombie apocalypses and viral outbreaks as Leon has? Gotta have the Lucky feat.
Leon makes normal humans look puny by comparison with all of his feats in the games and movies, so it stands to reason he’s packing some nice stats to fuel those accomplishments. On a side note, I recently discovered a really good post on what Ability Scores actually represent in D&D, which you can find here. With 27 points to buy his Ability Scores, let’s get to building:
- STR: 10 While Leon is strong enough to carry heavy weapons around, he’s not Chris Redfield levels of brawny. Almost all of his weapons require Dexterity more, so
- DEX: 15(+1) This is the basis of all Leon’s combat viability! From using knives to “pistols and rifles” (varieties of crossbows if we’re in a regular D&D setting) to being too agile to pin down and infect, Leon stays evasive so he doesn’t get the big chomp. Boost this ASAP.
- CON: 13 (+1) Leon has taken some hard hits from giant bio-organic weapons, or BOWs. While he’d prefer to not get hit, it’s always good to have a little cushion of HP to fall back on if you get tagged by something big.
- INT: 10 While Leon isn’t an idiot, he’s not a scientist or a brainiac of any stripe. He’s about as well-educated as the average guy.
- WIS: 14 On the other hand, Leon has excellent instincts. From intuiting the solutions to countless trapped rooms, finding secret passages, and discovering the weak spots on BOWs, Leon has to rely on his sixth sense often. Boost this if you have spare ASIs.
- CHA: 10 While he’s a good lookin’ guy, Leon isn’t a leader. He works best either alone or with a trusted partner, not leading a squadron. Let Rick Grimes have this one.
From police rookie to Secret Service agent, Leon’s adult life has been marked by military training and preparedness. He’s well-respected by his handlers, who give him a wide operational reach when he’s on an assignment. We’ll be going with the Soldier background for Agent Kennedy, to represent all of the above.
- Skill Proficiency: Athletics is a given for someone in Leon’s line of work. Out-running, out-climbing, and out-swimming BOWs and zombies is vital, and Leon has the training to stay ahead of his enemies. Intimidation is another trained skill for Leon; I wouldn’t call his verbal sparring with enemies Persuasion or Deception, but he is good at delivering zingers. The proficiency in land vehicles is useful, as any motor vehicle (or wagons in your setting) can be handy in an escape.
- Tool Proficiency: On long assignments, it helps to have a deck of playing cards on hand. Plus, with all of the chess and card suite based puzzles in his game series, he has more than a passing familiarity.
- Military Rank: Where other members of his faction gather, Leon can expect aid and a place to stay. Just don’t expect any helicopter support to be long-lived…
Leon is an expert at not just using his body, but his instincts against the undead hordes. Hunting zombies and being able to keep up with their sheer numbers is a dangerous game, especially in D&D 5th edition. Bounded accuracy is a concept crucial to 5e’s game design, meaning the more enemies on the field, the more exponentially difficult the encounter becomes. We’ll be building Leon as an expert in fighting when he’s surrounded, making him a multiclass of Ranger and Monk.
As a Ranger, the Hunter archetype works well for Leon. Not a gung-ho heavy weapons specialist, nor a stealthy ninja, Leon is a skirmisher, at home when he’s going after his favored prey. When we cross over into Monk, we’ll be making an unorthodox choice and select the Xanathar’s Guide subclass of Drunken Master.
Drunken Master emphasizes being able to defend against many targets when you’re in their midst. Apart from Leon’s own struggles with drink, it’s a fitting choice for someone whose fighting method involves avoiding being pinned down. We’ll be mostly going with Ranger, so build in levels of Monk when you see fit; personally I’d do so after hitting Ranger 5, to represent Leon’s additional training in martial arts like Systema and his boost to physical prowess between Resident Evil 2 & 4. This build will eventually be Ranger 15/Monk 5. Again, you feel free to customize, and we can see what this does for Leon below!
- Weapons/Armor Proficiency- Being trained in light/medium armor/ shields will only be helpful while we’re not using the Monk’s Unarmored Defense feature. For the first few levels, your DEX is high enough to take advantage of light armor, so I suggest going with that. Martial weapons proficiency will be useful for getting use out of ranged weapons and shortswords (to represent Leon’s giant combat knife), so you can make the most of your skirmishing.
- Saving Throw Proficiency- Proficiency in Dexterity is highly useful, whereas Strength isn’t terrific, but occasionally handy. What comes to mind for STR saves is against spells that bind, and enemies that try to pin. Valuable in a pinch.
- Skill Proficiency: In addition to the skills we get from our race and background, we’ll be taking Perception, Survival, and Stealth as our starting skills. Perception is obvious, Leon has to be perceptive to survive in the environments he often finds himself. Survival is useful for tracking down those green healing herbs, as well as for determining direction when he needs to make a getaway. And if you can’t Stealth around noise-sensitive monsters like Lickers… you’re in trouble.
- Favored Enemy- Over the course of our 15 levels in Ranger, we’ll be selecting 3 of these. We’ll be picking an enemy type and language for each of these benchmarks; the languages aren’t terribly important, so select whatever would be best for your campaign. But for Leon, iconic enemy types would be Undead, Aberrations, and Monstrosities. These are the kinds of baddies that Agent Kennedy faces on the regular!
- Natural Explorer- With all of the situations Leon has been thrust into, he’s had to find ways to escape from many different environments and terrains. Since Urban isn’t a listed environment, I’d beg your game master for it to be a custom one if you want Leon to be more true-to-character. If you’re going Rules As Written (RAW), then at the 3 levels you get Natural Explorer, I would choose Underdark, Forest, and Coast. Or whatever environment your campaign will take place in.
- Fighting Style- I’d go Archery if you plan on using hand crossbows, or daggers for throwing.
- Spellcasting- We’ll be flavoring it more as technology and skills, but you can find this in the spellcasting section.
- Hunter’s Prey- We’ll be selecting Horde Breaker, for the opportunity to hit multiple zombies in a single hit. You’ll see this theme developed further in this build too!
- Primeval Awareness- Think of it as a tactical radar scan, if we’re using the magic-to-technology analogue.
- Extra Attack- Put even more bolts downrange!
- Defensive Tactics- Again, we’ll go with Escape the Horde. When things get nasty and Leon is surrounded, it’s harder for his enemies to cut off his escape if their opportunity attacks are made at disadvantage.
- Land’s Stride- Hazardous environments are common to Leon, and moving quickly through rubble and undergrowth is second nature by now.
- Hide in Plain Sight- Take advantage of the mindless nature of the undead to hide where other enemies might notice you.
- Multiattack- Selecting Volley will turn Leon into a machine gunning nightmare for zombies that cluster closely together. Honestly, this is turning into one of the best crowd control builds I’ve ever done.
- Vanish- More on the theme of being able to tuck away from the infected when they’re tracking you, and moving fast enough that your undead buddies can’t keep up.
- Superior Hunter’s Defense- The big capstone to this Ranger build, we’ll be going with the Stand Against the Tide feature. This will make up for the relatively few levels of Monk we’ll be taking so we can force our enemies to attack their friends if they miss us with a wide swing. Very thematic!
- Unarmored Defense- Just slap on a stylish jacket, no need for much more than that. Style will see you through!
- Martial Arts- If you’re going into melee, grab your shortsword and start throwing out roundhouse kicks like they’re goin’ out of style!
- Ki- The only explanation for half of the crazy stuff that Leon is able to pull off. Moving incredibly fast, striking over and over, or slipping blows like a pro boxer, Leon’s combat reflexes are on point.
- Unarmored Movement- Leon is fast as a matter of survival, as there’s a lot of monsters that can move faster than 30′ per round.
- Bonus Proficiency- Kinda useless, but proficiency with Performance can be re-flavored as better banter. Proficiency with Brewer’s Supplies is just funny.
- Drunken Technique- Hit ’em and run, making it incredibly hard to pin you down. Thematic and efficient!
- Defect Missiles- When crazy cultists start firing flaming crossbow bolts at you, it’s handy to be able to deflect them with a quick knife slash.
- Slow Fall- After all of the times Leon’s been pitched over a cliff, off a bridge, or below trapdoors into spiked pits, it’s a handy trick to react fast and limit damage.
- Stunning Strike- I’d like to imagine this as Leon’s suplex from Resident Evil 4, or at least his spinning back kick.
If you can get your DEX, WIS, and CON boosts elsewhere, consider the following feats to give Leon an edge.
- Crossbow Expert- Ignore reload quality, means you can fire twice if you’re looking for somewhere to spend that bonus action.
- Sharpshooter- If you wanna post up with a heavy crossbow and cover your allies, this will make you a better sniper. If you can find a thermal scope lyin’ around, even better.
- Resilient (Constitution)- When you’re dealing with infectious diseases all the time, it’s useful to have a better chance at fending off illness.
- Defensive Duelist- Wanna have a knife (read: scimitar) fight? Grab this feat and go to town!
Let’s use tech as a stand-in for magic, as well as a way to explain Leon’s crazy accomplishments. Consider the following, or improve on this list yourself:
- Cure Wounds- Drop some green herbs or a first aid spray.
- Hunter’s Mark- Laser pointer locked on target.
- Longstrider- Move fast and you might survive.
- Flame Ammo- Otherwise known as incendiary rounds.
- Cordon of Arrows- Sounds like C4 to me!
The zombies are just about mopped up here at Building Character HQ, and all is well! Click HERE for the D&D Beyond character sheet, and let me know what you think. Tune in next time where we’ll be building…
The Hero of Hyrule, Link from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild! Seeya next time!