Sunday, January 31, 2010

Martial Power 2 Excerpts: Skirmishing Warlord

The latest Martial Power 2 preview shows the much anticipated ranged Warlord build: the Skirmishing Warlord. This build may have been an obvious move, but it does represent the most drastic shift for a 4E class to date: adding ranged capabilities to a previously pure melee character.

The idea of a bow-using martial commander, shouting orders from the rear is actually a very intuitive one. Indeed, in the months leading to 4E release, when we had a general idea of what a warlord would do but hadn't the rules for them yet, many of us assumed that the use of ranged weapons would be one of the options for the class, if not the main one. That was not to be, though, as the final class had a strong emphasis on fighting on the front lines, to the point that it became one of its main differentiating points. Being on melee was what a Warlord was about, and the idea of giving them ranged powers looked a bit silly on hindsight, like a Fighter focusing on bows.

And here comes Martial Power 2 and reverses with trend with a ranged build. Was it necessary? Does it actually add something to the class, or is it taking away part of what made it special in order to fill the ever-growing option tree? We will reflect about that soon, but first we should take a look at how the Bowlord works.

The features

The Skirmishing Warlord build is supported by two new features, Archer Warlord and Skirmishing Presence. The first one provides the necessary weapon proficiencies, while the other is a new Commanding Presence option that greatly boosts party mobility. What's interesting here is that, while the recommended build has both of these features, you should be able to make a capable archer with just one of them, or maybe skip them altogether and have a character that switches fom melee to ranged depending on the situation.

The Archer Warlord feature doesn't replace any existing feature, but you can optionally take it to trade some proficiencies with others. In particular, it allows a warlord to give up heavy armor and shields in order to use military ranged weapons as well as making melee ranged basic attacks with strength.

I can see many bow warlords skipping on this one because it becomes pretty much redundant as soon as you get a superior weapon proficiency - basic attacks are only really significant when the leader in your party can grant you one, but having additional leaders in a party with a warlord is unlikely. Still, some warlord feats will require this feature, which is another factor to take into account.

On the other hand, a warlord who wouldn't use heavy armor or a shield to begin with (as many Intelligence-based Warlords do) doesn't really give up anything for this. Because of this, you can expect Tactical warlords to try this feature, and either use it for the ocassional basic ranged attack or to complement Commander's Strike with one of the new ranged at-wills.

I think that the new Comanding Presence, called Skirmishing Presence, has a cool effect but is sadly underpowered, compared to the excellent Presences we already have. It keys off either Intelligence or Wisdom, providing a very welcome flexibility, but it just serves to let an ally shift a bunch of squares when he spends action points. I find that a bit underwhelming, after the healing and offensive boosts we've become accustomed to, though I have to admit it has an interesting tactical potential. Maybe some feat will enhance this feature enough for me to take it with out feeling guilty.

The most important aspect of Skirmishing Presence is that it will likely be the only Warlord feature that boosts ranged encounter powers. This means that in order to fully use your archer capabilities you have to give up a good deal of raw power in a crucial Warlord feature. We will have to take a look at the full power list in order to decide whether this is worth it.

The powers

The excerpt showed just enough powers to build a level 1 PC: two at-wills, an encounter, and a daily. Like Skirmishing Presence, all of these powers gave a choice of either Intelligence or Wisdom as a secondary ability. Class feature choices (apart from the need for some kind of proficiency with ranged weapons) are only relevant for the encounter power - but they do make a great difference for that one.

The at-will powers complement each other very well: one is for the turns when your party can make a concentrated offensive on the target, whereas the other is a general-purpose damaging shot. The first one is called Paint the Bull's-Eye, and is the main reason anyone would want to make a ranged Warlord. It has a low base damage, but an insane effect that was previously reserved for encounter powers: add a secondary ability modifier as bonus damage to all ally attacks against the target, for a turn. It truly does justice to its name, as a hit from that will usually signal a party to blow up action points and overall unleash hell on the unfortunate target. As good as this is, the low base damage means that you don't really want to use the power when heavily focused fire isn't possible - with 2 or less allies attacking the same target, this isn't really worh it over a basic attack.

The second at-will, Risky Shot, doesn't really have any leader qualities, but is quite good nevertheless. A ranged version of Brash Strike (minus the insane accuracy bonus), it gets a secondary ability modifier to damage for the small sacrifice of granting combat advantage for a turn. This is usually much less of a drawback for a ranged attack than for a melee one. One very remarkable aspect of this power is that, to my knowledge, it is the very first warlord at-will that beats a basic attack in any situation when you don't have allies nearby.

The encounter power isn't noteworthy for its mechanics, but it more than makes for it with awesome flavor. It's called Race the Arrow and does just that, granting one ally a charge attack on a hit. Though merely passable on its own, it does gain a tremendous boost from the Skirmishing Presence feature.

The daily is as bland as its name (Inspiring Shot) would suggest, consisting on a reliable ranged attack dealing 3[W] and granting a small boost to subsequent healing powers. The best that can be said about it is that it isn't as terrible as Brute Strike.


I'm still not sold on the prospect of a purely ranged Warlord, so I reserve my judgement on the matter until I read the whole book. That said, I could live with a traditional melee warlord build splashing for a few ranged attacks, either through the Archer Warlord feature or by taking one of the at-wills (most likely, Paint the Bull's-Eye). The Bullseye is strong enough to consider adding in conventional builds, to use in appropiate moments with a throwing axe or, more likely, a dagger.

How are the class' theme and personality affected by this new variety of shooting commanders? Again, it may be too soon to say, but it doesn't feel completely right, to me. It's a bit weird, since other martial classes like Rogues and Rangers can already go both ways (melee and ranged) just fine, so it might just be a problem of prejudices. I'll have to wait and see if the powers they have come up with are warlord'y enough.
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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Superior Implements sneak preview!

Edit: Mike Donais has confirmed, at the forums, that "The Dark Sun preview was just one option from many". What surprises await us?

Edit 2: An early spoiler of PHB3 in clarifies that each superior implement will have one or two special abilities (like 'brutal' in weapons). I have added a new section at the end commenting on this.

The D&D Experience convention this weekend is bringing lots and lots of interesting D&D news. Some of them I will comment in detail in the following days. For now, I'd like to talk about the first glimpse at one of the most solicited new mechanics in Player's Handbook 3. This is a day of joy for casters everywhere, for superior implements have been revealed, and they are good!

Well, kind of. I am not questioning their goodness, but even I have to admit that this revelation hasn't been very... revealing. See, in the premade Dark sun character sheets from DDxP (which are featured on Critical Hits!) there are two level 1 PCs with some superior implements listed in their equipment list. Of course, these sheets come with all the numbers precalculated, and we can only guess at where each bonus comes from. To complicate the matters, we know that the sheets are not 100% accurate, as a handful of bugs can easily be spotted. So we have to extrapolate, and some of our assumptions could be based on erroneous data. That said, I think I have worked out what the implements do, so let me share my theories.

1 - Feat cost.

No feats are listed for the characters, but the two characters with superior implements are humans (which should have 2 feats total) and their stats suggest Implement Expertise as the first feat. So I think it's safe to assume that superior implements will be accessed through a feat called 'Superior Implement Proficiency'.

2 - Specific items.

By substracting the known bonuses to the characters' attacks and damage values, we find that they sometimes get a +1 to attack, and sometimes have a +2 to damage. I think it breaks down as follows:

* Crystal orb (superior implement)

+1 to hit on attacks vs. will / +2 damage on psychic attack rolls

* Deathbone rod (superior implement)

+1 to hit on attacks vs. will/ +2 damage on necrotic attack rolls

3 - A general formula?

From this, we can expect at least one general category of superior implements, where each one grants a +1 to attack against a specific defense and a +2 to damage (potentially more at higher levels) with specific energy types. It remains to be seen whether there are other types of implements, and if there will be a huge table of defense-energy type pairs or you will be able to pick combinations at-will. One thing is for sure, though - these are well worth a feat, and the bonus may just be good enough for most players to forget about weapon-as-implement nonsense. I particularly like the way they encourage themed power selections, but some classes might have a rough time using them unless there are more generally useful versions.

4 - (Updated) Implement keywords

Recently revealed spoilers suggest that each superior implement will have a combination of two keyworded special abilities, taken from the following:
  • Deadly: +1/+2/+3 damage
  • Unstoppable/Unerring/Undeniable: +1 to hit vs For/Ref/Wil
  • Energized [Energy type]: +2/+3/+4 damage with powers of chosen type
  • Empowered Critical: Like High Crit, rolling d10s
  • Distant: Extra range
  • Accurate: +1 to hit, counts as two abilities
  • Shielding: +1 AC and reflex on a hit
  • Forceful: Increases forced movement
With this model, the Crystal Orb would have Energyzed (Psychic) and Undeniable, whereas the Deathbone Rod would be Energyzed (Necrotic) and Undeniable. These abilities allow for great flexibility and variety, so I think the choice of implement, post PHB3, will be an even more interesting decision than picking a weapon currently is. Also, the existence of the plain "accurate" ability means every caster will have at least one strong superior implement to take.
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Art of Binding: Warlock Vestiges

Of all the classes in 4E, the Warlock is probably among the best supported ones (second only to the Fighter, in my opinion). With a new class build in a campaign setting (the Dark Warlock from Forgotten Realms Player's Guide) and an impressive selection of Dragon articles, both in quantity and quality, it would be easy for any new material to fall in repetition and familiar ideas. Thankfully, this is not the case with "The Art of Binding", an awesome piece featured in this month's Dragon magazine.

Signed by Russell Jones and Jeramy Pappas, two debuting authors I'd really like to read again, this short article expands on Arcane Power's Vestige Pact by adding seven build-specific daily powers and two paragon paths. I think the result is a complete success, both from a mechanical and a flavor standpoint. There are many fresh and interesting ideas in power concepts, as well as game effects.

To name a few, there's the vestige of a Water Archon that can drown enemies, leaving them unconscious (save ends) after failing a saving throw. This is just a level 5 daily, and I can bet it will become a favourite of many Warlock players, even those without access to the vestige pact. The same can be said of the medusa queen vestige, which petrifies (save ends) enemies within a blast. I didn't even know you could do that! Again, at level 9, this is a complete bargain, vestige or no.

The great options for controlling warlocks don't end there, though. The vestige of the Unknown Arcanist vanishes foes, and one from a volcano god turns your pact boon into a area damage machine. There are a few leader powers, too, perhaps less impressive, but definitely solid.

As for the new paragon paths, they are extremely well-rounded packages. Lacking continuous bonus to damage, they will probably not be at the top of an optimizer's list, but every single power and feature is useful, and a few are really tempting. The path of the Umbral Cabalist tells the story of a group of demon binders, allowing you to restrain with action points (!), stun with an encounter attack, and gain a demons's variable resistance, among other nifty things. The Astral Ascendant is slightly less flashy, but it has a remarkable amount of healing effects, and lets you turn into a flying angel once a day!

A must read, and a boon to any Warlock character with a good Constitution score.
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fixing the math: Fortitude, Reflex, Will (II)

After the lengthy explanation of current issues with Fortitude, Reflex, and Will progression, I think we are ready to look at the crunchy bits. The house rule I propose for the non-AC defenses is not, in fact, a single rule, but a set of three different modifications: the introduction of masterwork neck slot items, the creation of a new type of magic item that ensures a minimum ability modifier to defenses without costing any additional item slot, and the ban of a series of feats.

1- The masterwork necks

The first step of the patch is to allow the use of masterwork neck slot items. Following the same principle as masterwork armor (see PHB, p.212), a masterwork neck grants a higher bonus to Fortitude, Reflex and Will than a non-masterwork neck. The type and level of a magic neck item determines if it can be masterwork, as detailed in the table below. The cost of a masterwork neck is included in the cost of the magic item, so higher-level characters should seek out masterwork necks instead of normal magic necks.


Masterwork necks are a functional replacement for defense-enhancing feats, providing equivalent bonuses without any cost for the PCs. As such, they fix, by themselves the problems associated with good defenses (as defined in the previous article). However, an additional measure is needed in order to patch bad defenses.

2- The Lucky Badges

A player's bad defenses suffer from lack of progression in ability modifiers. In order to compensate for that, you can allow players the use of the Badge of the Lucky Hero magic item.

If you are using this house rule, a level-appropiate Badge of the Lucky Hero is an item that every Player Character needs and is assumed to have, much like PCs in the basic rules need and are assumed to have level-appropiate magic Weapons/Implements, Armor, and Neck items. DMs will have to assign additional treasure parcels to account for that: for a normal 5-player party, an additional magic item of the PCs' level for each level would be enough.

Alternately, you can have all characters in a party earn a Badge of an appropiate level upon completion of a major quest, instead of granting additional parcels.

Lucky Badges ensure that a character's defenses don't fall below a minimum threshold regardless of having low ability scores. This threshold is set so that monsters of the same level will hit these defenses roughly 70% of the times - a value noticeably worse than that of any defense affected by primary or secondary abilities, but high enough for enemies to occasionally miss.

3- The ban

While using this rules patch, the following feats should be disallowed, since their bonus is effectively given for free:
The following feats are still permited, since they allow players to customize their defenses through modest bonuses, and are neither dangerously strong nor required for most builds:
4- Changing your defense values in Character Builder

Unlike attack bonuses, your defenses can be modified in a Character Builder sheet. In order to do that, you only need to double click on the defense score in the character sheet, and type the desired value.
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Fixing the math: Fortitude, Reflex, Will

They start out all right, neither too easy nor too difficult to hit. But as the levels increase, they lag behind and never recover. Fortitude, Reflex and Will, also known in certain circles as NADs (non-AC defenses), are broken. Heroic characters barely notice it, Paragons start to suffer, and Epic heroes just have to assume that certain attacks will always hit them. Today I will talk about why this happens, just how bad it is, and how the official "feat patch" fails to solve the problem - and in the following post I will suggest a way to fix it!

The issue with NADs is similar to the one with attack bonuses and expertise, only worse. Essentially, attacks and defenses in 4E are assumed to increase at a rate of 1 point per level, but they don't quite. Over the course of 30 levels, a character's attacks fall behind by 4 points, compared to their expected values. (hence expertise). In the case of NADs, they also fall behind, but at different rates, depending on whether they are 'good' or 'bad' defenses:
  • A good defense is affected by a primary or secondary ability modifier. Since this ability is increased whenever possible (for a maximum of an additional +4 modifier at maximum level), the defense follows the same progression as attack bonuses, sharing the same 4 point gap . This is annoying, but not catastrophic.
  • A bad defense, on the other hand, depends on tertiary abilities, which only get increases at levels 11 and 21. As a consequence, the gap for these defenses reaches a whopping 7 points at level 30. This means that, at Epic Tier, a monster making an attack against a bad defense can hit a player character with a roll of 2 or more. Hit rates at Paragon aren't that extreme, but can easily be higher than 80%, which is also problematic. Every character in the game suffers from at least one bad defense (or two, if both primary and secondary abilities affect the same defense), so this is a critical problem.

Example 1: Basic scenario

I have built two sample characters to illustrate defense progression across levels. The first one, PC1 is an extreme (but still relatively common) worst-case scenario of a character with two bad defenses. Assuming that the character uses an ability score array of 18, 14, 11 (pre-racial modifiers), that he has a racial bonus to his primary ability and a +2 class bonus to his best defense, his starting NAD scores would be 17 for the best defense, and 11 and 10, respectively, for the second and third best. 1 point in the second-best defense comes either from a racial bonus to a tertiary ability, or from a racial bonus to a defense. This character could be a Battlerager Fighter, a Wand Wizard, or a Devoted Cleric, among others.

The second sample character, PC2, has well-balanced NADs, with only one bad defense and a starting ability array of 16, 16, 12, 12 (pre-racials). This character would have racial bonuses to both primary and secondary abilities, and a +2 class bonus to the best defense, for starting NAD scores of 16, 14, and 11 (from best to worst defense). This character could be a Whirling Barbarian or a Chaos Sorcerer, among others.

The following graphs show the NAD progression for PC1 and PC2 in the basic scenario (no defense-boosting feats). These values have been normalized (i.e. they are substracted the PC's level) for clarity. Two additional lines, "cap" and "auto-hit", are shown, representing the defense values where a skirmisher monster of equal level would hit on a 20+, or on a 2+, respectively. For more information on normalization, you can read this article. Enhancenment bonus from Neck slot items are added at levels 2, 7, 12, 17, 22 and 27. The detailed calculations can be followed on this spreadsheet.

We can calculate the average hit rates for monsters of equal level against these defenses, using the method described in the normalization article. They are the following:

As we can see, for PC 1 the worst defense moves into auto-hit territory at level 15. PC1's second defense and PC2's worst one, on the other hand, don't get that bad until level 23. Nevertheless, their values are worryingly low even before reaching this cap, with hit rates of 90% starting at levels 13 and 17, respectively.

As for the good defenses, they are acceptable but noticeably lower at epic tier, compared to their starting values.

Example 2 - NAD-boosting feats

Since the examples above assumed that no NAD-boosting feats were taken, now we are going to analyze how these feats mitigate the problem. There are eight feats in the game whose sole purpose is to provide a bonus to Fortitude, Reflex, and Will. Half of them are Paragon-Tier feats: Paragon Defenses, Great Fortitude, Lightning Reflexes, and Iron Will. The rest are Epic clones of the former, but with better bonuses: Robust Defenses, Epic Fortitude, Epic Will, and Epic Reflexes. It is unfortunate that they chose to duplicate feats, rather than having less of them, but with scaling bonuses, a la Weapon Focus.

A player who wants to close the NAD gap by taking these feats is presented two options: the cheap solution, and the expensive one. The cheap solution consist in taking Paragon Defenses at Paragon tier, and retraining to Robust defenses at Epic. This costs the player a single feat, but has a reduced effect - good defenses become a bit lower than they should, whereas the auto-hit cap in bad defenses is delayed a few levels but eventually appears again. For this reason, we will focus on the expensive solution: taking the full set of 3 feats for fortitude, reflex and will at paragon, and retraining them at epic.

For that hefty cost, one would assume that you could forget about NAD problems, but it turns out that you can't. The figures below show defenses for PC1 and PC2, assuming that they somehow take the three appropiate feats at level 11, and retrain at 21. (Actual PCs would have to wait until levels 11 and 22 for the third of these feats, but the graphs ignore this for simplicity).

And the corresponding hit rates:

This progression is definitely better, and the dreaded bugbear of auto-hit is gone. However, upon close examination, we can see that bad defenses are still terrible at Epic tier, with hit rates of 80% or worse. At such low values, the feat bonuses are underutilized: 80% is only a 15% improvement above the cap, instead of the theoretical 20% that a +4 bonus should net you. And this diminished improvement practically disappears when facing a higher-level monster or a soldier. For this reason, players might be better off giving up on bad defenses altogether. Clearly, this expensive solution is unsatisfactory.

Example 3 - The house rule.

Since this is already quite long, I will leave my suggestion for house rules for the following post. However, I'd like to show the graphs for these revised rules here, so that they can easily be compared with the current ones. Here they are:

Although some oscillations are inevitable, this is a very regular progression across tiers. A mechanism to ensure that bad defenses don't fall below a certain threshold has been added, so that they remain weak but can actually be missed at epic levels.

Next: The Fix!
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Martial Power 2 class builds: Enter the Matrix

(Edit: Table updated with Cunning Sneak feature for rogues, mentioned here.)
(Edit 2: Updated again with Archer Warlord and Skirmishing presence for Warlords, which are suddenly the most customizable class in the game, by a mile!)

Debut Content from Player's Handbook 3 this month consists on the final version of Hybrid Character rules, offering minimal updates to the previous versions, which have already been discussed in detail in this site. On the other hand, they come with very insightful developer comments, so we can forgive the relative lack of new material. Most importantly, though, the list of Hybrid Talent options now includes alternate class features from Martial Power 2, so that avid spoiler hunters such as myself can have a rough idea of the contents of the book.

These are the new class features that can be derived from the hybrid writeup:

- Brawler Style (replaces Weapon Talent). AKA Sword and Punch, we hyped about it here.
- Combat Agility (replaces Combat Superiority). Likely a Opportunity Attack-related, Dexterity dependent feature.

-Cunning Sneak (probably replaces Rogue Tactics). Stealth-related, maybe keying off Intelligence?
-Sharpshooter Talent (replaces Rogue Weapon Talent). A boost for ranged rogues, for sure.

- Hunter Fighting Style (replaces Fighting Style).
- Marauder Fighting Style (replaces Fighting Style). Uses two-handed weapons. Related to new at-will power, Marauder's Rush (spoiled here), which can be used with greataxes, at least.
- Running Attack (replaces Prime Shot). Almost certainly grants a conditional +1 to hit on melee attacks. I'd bet on "moving 3 squares" as the triger, like the Skirmish feature I proposed here.

- Canny Leader (replaces Combat Leader).
- Battlefront Leader (replaces Combat Leader).
- Archer Warlord (replaces Chain and Shield proficiency). Grants proficiency with bows and allows bow basic attacks with strength.
- Skirmishing Presence (replaces Combat Presence). Lets an ally shift on an Action Point. Keys off either Intelligence or Wisdom.

What's interesting here (other than the features themselves, which are rather inspired) is how each class has new options replacing features that were previously fixed. Up to now, a class build was defined by a choice of different options from a single feature, but with Martial Power 2, you have two feature sets to customize. This brings a huge improvement in variety, since the new features don't just add to existing combinations, but they multiply them. The model has shifted from a mere list of alternate features into a matrix.

If Martial Power 2 is a success (and I am inclined to think that it will) and more sequels for power source books come out, we can probably expect similar developments for most classes. The Feature Matrix has too many advantages to pass up. In addition to the increased variety, it opens up more design space (since there are only so many possible tweaks on a given feature). It also means that in order to use some new features from X Power 2, you don't need to give up the ones presented in X Power, so both books complement each other rather than compete. Finally, it allows replacing niche (Prime Shot, I'm looking at you) or subpar features, solving design flaws in certain classes or builds.

The following table shows the complete list of known features (classified by group) for each martial class, with the possible combinations before and after Martial Power 2. New options are colored in green. Due to the way the Rogue Tactics feature is written, it is possible that new choices in that group haven't been revealed in the Hybrid article. Other than that, I think all the new stuff is covered.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Martial Power 2 Preview: Brawler Fighter build!

With the most obvious fighter builds (weapon and shield, two-handed weapon, two weapons, berserker) already available from Player's Handbook and Martial Power, I wondered what new weapon style could Martial Power 2 bring. Single handed weapons without a shield is still open, but that might be hard to justify. What could you possibly want the free hand for?

To punch them in the face, of course! The Brawler Style Fighter has been previewed in a very sneaky way through the MP2 faq, which includes an awesome new at-will power specific for the build: Grappling Strike. It is a standard weapon attack that requires you to have a hand free, so that you can grab your foe after hitting. It looks like a very cool concept, since it introduces hand-to-hand combat in a very fightery way, giving a new meaning to the expression "Sword and Fist".

I had some doubts about Martial Power being able to surprise us, but this was quite unexpected.
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A role-defining class feature for controllers.

I have fallen in love with a new wizard spell. I didn't think I was ready for a relationship, after my tragic loss of a beloved at-will. But this Utility is different: the first time I saw it, I knew we were made for each other...

Mystical Debris is a level 2 Wizard Utility power featured in today's Class Acts article. It is not the strongest power out there (most optimizers would probably take Shield for that slot), but it does have an unprecedented, cool effect: It allows the wizard to create squares of difficult terrain, one at a time... at-will. Think of the possibilities. Turn after turn, the wizard can modify the battlefield, blocking corridors with the help of a Defender, preventing shifts to flanking positions, and generally annoying the DM. This is the perfect controller power!

Then, the cogs in my brain started turning. Costing a mere minor action and being usable at-will for almost every turn of an encounter, this power almost feels like a class feature. In fact, it would have made a great feature for the Wizard - it couldn't fit better in the philosophy of the class and its role, and Wizards have always felt like they missed some extra combat-related feature. Come to think of it, so does every other controller, as that role... lacks... the defining feature...

Could it be possible? Is Mystical Debris the missing link? The Lost Controller Feature?

Dun Dun DUN!!!

Featuring: the controller

Of the four roles in D&D 4E, the controller clearly got the shaft. Everybody else has a well-defined function in a battle, whereas controllers... they control. Whatever that means. A crucial factor in this confusion lies in the role-defining features: Every striker has extra damage, all defenders get some kind of mark, and leaders speak their words of healing. These tend to be the strongest features of each class, and they usually define a character's gameplay.

It is not that controllers are lacking in strength. They do have better-than-average powers to compensate. But making a class special solely through its powers is dangerous, in that others can get them through multiclass and put them to better use because they have actual class features. It also means that a controller character, more than any other, can be crippled by unfortunate decisions in character building (imagine a hypothetical newbie wizard taking Magic Missile and Ray of Frost as at-wills... the pain, the pain!).

I have long wondered how I would design the role-defining feature that controllers need, but so far, I always got stuck at dead ends. With Mystical Debris, I finally saw it clear: terrain manipulation is the way to go. It is tame enough, power-wise, that you can tack it onto existing classes without having to remove or fearing to break anything. It's also open-ended, creative, and subtle. There is enough design space to introduce small variations for each class, further differentiating them and fitting with existing mechanics and flavor. There is also an enormous potential for future extensions, feats and powers affecting altered terrain in various ways - but I won't go into that today, as I prefer to focus on the basics.

So here is the deal: I propose, as a house rule, to add a terrain-altering feature to each controller class in the game. There would be no tradeoffs or drawbacks, since I consider it a small enough change in raw power so as to be acceptable. They would work as follows:

Add the Mystical Debris class feature.
Mystical Debris - You gain the Mystical Debris power (see Dragon 383).

Add the Pool of Radiance class feature.
Pool of Radiance - You gain the Pool of Radiance power.

Pool of Radiance - Invoker Feature
You fill an area with a puddle of radiant liquid that hinders enemy maneuvers.
At-Will * Divine
Minor Action Ranged 5
Effect: One square in range becomes difficult terrain for your enemies and sheds dim light until the end of the encounter. You can end this effect as a minor action.
Special: You cannot use this power more than once per turn, and you cannot have more squares than your Wisdom modifier under this effect at one time.

Add the Rampant Growth class feature.
Rampant Growth - When you use Wild Shape to change to beast form, you can have up to two adjacent squares become difficult terrain until the end of the encounter. When you use Wild Shape to change to humanoid form, you can end this effect in up to two squares you can see. You cannot have more squares than your Wisdom modifier under this effect at one time.

Add the Entangling Roots class feature.
Entangling Roots - When you make a Seeker attack, you can have a square adjacent to a target of the attack become difficult terrain until the end of the encounter. If you don't, you can end this effect in a square you can see. You cannot have more squares than your Wisdom modifier under this effect at one time.

Add the Illusionary Terrain class feature.
Illusionary Terrain - You gain the Phantasmal terrain power.

Illusionary Terrain - Psion Feature
You alter the perceptions of surrounding creatures to fill a small area with false obstacles.
At-Will * Psionic, Illusion
Minor Action Ranged 5
Effect: Until the end of the encounter, one unoccupied square in range costs 1 extra square of movement for other creatures. You can end this effect as a minor action.
Special: You cannot have more squares than your Intelligence modifier under this effect at one time.
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