Glass Cannon
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Basic Information

The Glass Cannon is a combat role of someone who can really dish it out, but can't take it. As the name suggests, devestating offensive power, but vulnerable and sometimes impractical to bring to the battlefield. Often, the Glass Cannon is a souped version of The Nuker or The Mezzer, but with no defense at all. A lot of games have spellcasters fall into the Glass Cannon role by default. They lack armor, they don't dodge well, they go down in one or two hits, …but until then they can hurl fireballs and destruction like it's the end of the world.

The existence of a Glass Cannon has a lot of impact on the strategy and tactics employed by the group they belong to. Which of the following options works best is largely determined by the game mechanics of the system you're using.

  • You probably need some version of The Tank to act as Body Guard to the Glass Cannon. Of course, if there's just one bodyguard, they can be immobilized, eliminated, or outmaneuvered. Depending on the system, the guard might just be ignored in favor of the more fragile target.
  • So, sometimes it's better to go with mooks to screen the glass cannon. Mooks go down fast, but they block line-of-sight and impede movement towards the Glass Cannon (who, hopefully has some form of Indirect Fire to shoot over the heads of his own troops).
  • Another option is to keep the Glass Cannon away from the action. If they've got range approaching that of real-world artillery, they can sit back and unload from a fortified area well to the rear of the main conflict. Of course, that's a lot more valid in mass combat and war than in the sort of impromptu melees and gun fights that tend to spring up in RPGs.

Related Combat Roles:

Technically a good combat specialisation for mooks as well1 - leaving real world examples aside for reasons of taste, quite a lot of fantasy and sci-fi enemy forces include at least one creature that explodes, or otherwise delivers a one off attack but is extremely easy to kill (assuming it survives delivering the attack in the first place).



Game and Story Use

  • A Glass Cannon with proper support and defenders is devastating on the battlefield, as it's vulnerabilities are completely shored up. But a glass cannon in a poorly coordinated warband ends up crushed into powder long before it can do any real harm.
    • This allows the same basic build to be more or less potent depending on how well organized the enemy is.
    • It also makes it easy to reward player cleverness - if the PCs ambush the enemy, snipe the big bad, or do something to disrupt the foe's formations, then the battle gets much easier.
  • If your PC is a Glass Cannon, you should be aware of it, and make sure the other players know how vulnerable you are, too. They only need to screw up once, and you're out of the fight.
    • Consequently, it's often a suboptimal character choice if the group is just learning the system, or has no in-character reason to band together and protect each other.
    • For the GM, some thought is in order for why the Glass Cannon is so easy to take out. Say you've got a system where wizards can't wear armor. Why is that? Does armor interfere with their spellcasting? Does some metaphysical property of metal stop magical energy from accumulating, or does the mass and bulk merely restrict their movements too much for the fine gestures magic requires? The characters and players are going to be looking for ways to buff up the defense of their Glass Cannons, so you might want to be prepared with answers for what they can and can't get away with.
  • Got a big war happening in your setting, and not sure how to give the PCs something to do that impacts the epic conflict with it's million-strong armies? One option is to equip the enemy with a number of Glass Cannons, and then send the PCs on commando raids and deep strikes against them. They don't have to kill a million foes, just the half dozen that really matter.
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