Saturday, July 30, 2011

Warlock Updates (revised)

The playtest for the Warlock class updates has ended, and what seems to be the ultimate revision for the class has been released. Not much has changed from the previous document, but they did succeed in implementing the most demanded fix: Star Pact warlocks can (finally!) have their choice of Charisma or Constitution for their fixed at-will, Dire Radiance. This had been a long standing problem for a build that allegedly allowed focusing on either ability modifier, and goes a long way towards improving the playability of the Star Pact. Aside from that, a few daily powers have received additional rewordings, usually to boost their power (notably, Hunger of Hadar has basically recovered its pre-errata status), and the at-wills Hellish Rebuke and Dire Radiance have been rewritten so as to trigger only once per round, which seems only fair and prevents a few egregious loopholes.

If you have ever been curious about playing a warlock, the class is in better shape than ever, and well worth a shot. It’s still a striker with relatively low damage output (meaning that it’s not uncommon for non-strikers to hit harder than you), but on the other hand it offers very respectable control and many, many tricks. It’s also one of the most supported classes in the game, with tons of options for powers and feats, and even a good deal of class-specific magic items, offering a potential build variety that is only matched by fighters and wizards, if at all. And, most importantly, it’s quite fun to play.

By the way, for those lacking a Player’s Handbook or a DDI subscription, the class is now available for free on wizards website.

Read More......

Friday, July 29, 2011

Broken Bits: Infernal Strategist

Broken Paragon Paths, Part Eight
Previous - Index - Next

We have talked before about how the standard for an awesome damage-boosting paragon path consists in having a feature to add an ability modifier to a character’s damage rolls. I tend to consider these paths overpowered, particularly when no particular condition is required to benefit from the extra damage, yet (barely!) not broken.That said, it doesn’t take much to push them into the realm of unfairness - and doubling this damage bonus certainly qualifies.

At first glance, Infernal Pincer (the 11th level feature of warlord paragon path Infernal Strategist) seems almost innocent: it’s a damage boost that only comes up when you are flanking an enemy. However, its true power soon becomes apparent, since this significant bonus can apply to both the warlord and his flanking buddy. It’s not unusual for this feature to contribute for 10 or more extra damage per turn, even at lower paragon levels - and that is before accounting for the impact of action points, multiattacks, and similar effects, as well as the rare occasion where the warlord manages to flank multiple enemies.

Granted, flanking is not a trivial requirement to meet. However, even in scenarios where the target enemy starts off isolated, it’s fairly easy for a warlord to set up a flank in an ally’s turn, so the feature is all but guaranteed to operate, at worst, at 50% efficiency (which is amazing enough). Add to this the fact that the rest of the paragon path is actually pretty cool to begin with (with a 16th level feature that opens up tons of possibilities, and a level 12 utility offering four great choices), and we get to the conclusion that Infernal Pincer needs a thorough revision.

A fix

I knew I wanted to cut the damage of Infernal Pincer in half, if not more. An obvious approach was to have it affect a single character only - which would be the flanking ally, as it is the option that makes more sense in a leader paragon path. However, this change would have left the path just as effective in niche builds focused on Commander’s Strike and similar powers, and I wanted to lower the path’s effectiveness - not just its scope.

While looking for alternative solutions, an idea that called to me was using both Int and Cha for the feature. After all, resourceful warlords are one of the few class builds in the game that supports two secondary abilities at once, and this had the side effect of reducing the power level. Just adding Int to your damage and Cha to your ally’s damage was tempting, but ultimately a bit too good for my taste, so I settled with the following:

Infernal Pincer (11th level): You gain a bonus to melee damage rolls equal to 1 + one half your Intelligence modifier against enemies you flank. Your allies gain a bonus to melee damage rolls equal to 1 + one half your Charisma modifier against enemies they flank with you.

This may look like a very modest bonus, but if you add up your extra damage with your ally’s, you end up with quite respectable values (i.e. 2+ Int/2 + Cha/2).

A different, unrelated fix

This path also has a level 12 utility called Flexible Authority, which doesn’t work properly at the moment. It is used as an immediate reaction, but is supposed to apply modifiers to an ally’s attack as it’s being made. As such, it should become an Immediate Interrupt instead.

Read More......

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Magic Item Reset (XVIII): Adjusting Damage

One conscious decision that I made while designing my magic item collection was to avoid items that granted flat bonuses, like the extra damage from the infamous Iron Armbands of Power. I believe that the result is a more varied and satisfying treasure system, but it does mean that characters end up dealing less damage than if they used the original rules. For this reason, and unless your group is interested in slightly longer combat encounters, I recommend to use the following house rule.

Optional rule: Damage adjustment

All player characters gain a bonus to damage rolls of melee and ranged attacks depending on their level, according to the following table:

PC Level - Damage bonus
1-5     - +1
6-10   - +2
11-15 - +3
16-20 - +4
21-25 - +5
26-30 - +6


Here is some explanation of the reasoning behind this rule.

- Why keep this bonus?

I think the game plays better with it. It’s not a huge deal at lower levels, but at paragon and epic, encounters can drag a little, and this extra damage can help a bit on that. That said, it is not vital to a party’s success, so you can feel free to ignore it.

- Why not give it through items?

I just couldn’t find a proper way of implementing this bonus using items without seriously warping one or more item slots. Using specific items was out of the question (Iron Armbands and Staves of Ruin being great examples of what I don’t want to do with my system), but even using item categories introduced its share of problems.

I first thought of having every Arms items grant the bonus (+2 damage /tier), but it was hard to balance so that common items of level 11 and 21 wouldn’t trump any uncommon or rare of the previous tier as soon as they became available. The other option was resorting to the weapon slot (granting +1 extra damage / enhancement bonus), but this had a similar problem: I think some high level uncommon and rare weapons can be competitive with plain magic weapons with higher enhancement bonus... but with that extra damage, that was impossible to achieve.

- Why are area and close attacks excluded?

I wanted to make single target attacks more competitive against areas. Right now, when a character has a choice between a melee or ranged attack and a burst or blast, unless the single target option does something ridiculous like stunning or dominating, the area wins handily. You just don’t lose all that much damage against the primary target, and affecting one or more additional monsters is obviously a huge advantage. By preventing the extra damage from working with areas, we provide a slight incentive to try out those single target powers.

Not that I am suggesting that area powers are broken, but given the chance to make this small adjustment, I think it’s best for the game. By contrast, some types of powers which are indeed broken are multiattacks and immediate action attacks - but fixing those requires deeper changes to the game (which I intend to implement, some day).

Read More......

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Magic Item Reset: Compilation

After months of work, my epic rework of the 4E magic item system is, if not complete, at least ready for release. In the link below you will find the compiled .pdf file with the latest version of this item collection. Alternate treasure generation rules are not included, but can be found here.

Magic Item Reset-v1.13.pdf

For insight on the design process and discussion of specific items, I recommend checking out previous articles on this blog.

Read More......

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bladesinger preview

The upcoming Neverwinter Campaign Setting supplement is including a brand new character class: the Bladesinger, the first level of which was previewed last week. In previous editions, Bladesingers had warriors of elven origin that mixed martial techniques and the arcane arts, usually fighting in light armor and channeling deadly spells through their swords. This comes off as a bit of a deja vu, since only a couple of years ago, we were introduced to a 4E sword-wielding fighter-wizard hybrid in the swordmage class, included in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting  (with the fact that Neverwinter is located in the Realms only contributing to the redundancy). Then again, whereas the swordmage performed the defender role, Bladesingers are labeled as controllers. More specifically, they are melee controllers with defender-like AC, and an extra damage mechanic not unlike that of an striker. Oh, and they actually count as a Wizard subclass. Confused yet? This is only the beginning.

A note of caution: like most of the material released in the last year, the Bladesinger is a post-Essentials design, meaning that the class deviates from the classic 4E structure of at-will, encounter, and daily powers, gains class features as you level up, shows a love for basic attacks, and tends to sacrifice build variety for flavor, simplicity, and focused mechanics. That said, I believe there are a lot of things to love. The core of the class is solid enough: they have striker hit points, are proficient with swords (both as weapons and implements, since they can use them as wands) and leather armor, use Intelligence as a primary ability and Dexterity as secondary (it is, after all, a class for elves-eladrins), have a good basic attack, and gain a shield bonus for free. That alone makes them competent melee fighters. On top of that, they count as a wizards, so they can benefit from plenty of great feats and utility powers, though access to actual wizard attacks (the strongest element of that class, by a mile) is far more tricky.

So far, what we have seen is interesting, but not all that original. It is in the attack power department where the Bladesinger shows the most innovative (some would say heretic) ideas. To sum it all up, they get at-wills that add damage and controlling effects to their melee basic attack, a fixed selection of encounter powers (of which the one that has been revealed is awesome at so many levels), and daily attacks that are actually wizard encounter powers (!).

The at-wills are my favourite part of the class, by a mile. Called Bladespells, they are ranged attacks that trigger when you hit with a melee basic attack, and hit automatically for a fixed amount of damage (based on your Dex score) and a control effect. The really nice part is that you can target different foes with the basic attack and the bladespell, opening up some strategies that are unavailable to most other characters. Notably, you can use your melee attack against whatever monster the party is focusing fire on, and use a bladespell to hinder the actions of a different enemy on the other side of the battlefield. Or kill a minion just about anywhere without sacrificing much damage. And, of course,something that most controllers are usually unable to do: unleash both attacks on the same target, weakening it and hitting for a total amount of damage not too far off that of the party striker. Add to that the fact that a bladesinger can choose three bladespells (out of a total of 6), with a wide variety of useful controlling effects and energy types, and we have a very versatile class, with a unique fighting style.

As for the encounter attacks, there is a selection of three fixed powers whose effect will scale across tiers. This means that the experience of building a bladesinger character won’t be as varied or interesting as with other classes, but it looks like, at least, the powers that you end up getting are well worth it. Only one of them is shown in the preview, but it is impressive on all fronts. Called Bladesong (though “God-Mode” would also be an accurate name), it provides a significant two-turn boost to the character’s stats: damage, accuracy and defenses. Damage-wise, it is easily equivalent to two Power Strikes or similar attacks, and of course the synergy with action points and daily powers (and perhaps other encounters) is nothing short of amazing. As for the remaining two encounter attacks, only the name is provided, but we can hazard a guess. The level 7 one is called Steely Retort, and it will likely consist in an immediate action attack dealing fixed damage and an extra effect to an enemy hitting you, much like the powers Hexblades get. At level 3 you get Arcane Strike, which sounds similar to Power Strike, so I expect some special trigger when you hit with a basic attack. Linking these effects to Bladespells (for example, by allowing additional uses of  Bladespell when you use them) is a potential design solution, and one that I’d enjoy very much.

Finally, we get to the most controversial point: the daily attack slot. The good news is, Bladesingers get to choose among a huge amount of powers with a variety of effects here. The bad news is that they achieve so by using the Wizard’s encounter attacks as their dailies. This kind of move is unprecedented in the game, so let’s try to make some sense out of it. To begin with, we have to be realistic: with a class so front-loaded on features and at-will powers, there was no way they could have been given access to regular wizard dailies without being grossly unbalanced. That said, how lackluster are wizard encounters for a daily, after all? In my opinion, not as much as you’d think. Keep in mind that most of them have received errata to have miss effects, so they will at least meet the minimum criteria for a daily: have an impact on the board whether or not you hit. The downside is that the second requirement usually asked for those powers (have effects lasting for several turns, if not the whole encounter) is pretty much out of the question. That said, this power list includes some fairly impressive area attacks (something that Bladesingers can’t have through their at-will or encounter slots), as well as strong controlling effects such as stuns, or area blinding and immobilizing. Add to that the fact that Spellsong will virtually always be active when you cast a daily, and you have, at the very least, the ability to unleash highly damaging Fireball effects and extremely accurate control. To be the weak point of the class, your dailies may not compete with those of a true Wizard, but they don’t have that much to envy those of non-controlling classes.


I like this class, and I think I would enjoy playing it. Although this is just a preview, we are actually two class features short (the level 3 and 7 encounter attacks) of having all of the essential information for playing it all the way through epic tier. I think this is the best implementation of the elusive arcane fighter archetype to date: the Swordmage is pretty decent (at least for the playable builds), but I don’t think the defender role is what most people have in mind when thinking about spellcasting swordsmen; as for Hexblades, they aren’t too bad, either, but they offer less variety in both build and combat options, and aside from the amazing Gloom Pact build they feel slightly underpowered. I am still growing accustomed to the idea that Bladesingers are a Wizard subclass, but this has the advantage of providing plenty of support for daily and utility powers, as well as paragon paths and feats. This kind of design works great for adding new classes to the game without requiring any additional support, and we can only wish they had thought of it when implementing stuff like Runepriests or Seekers.

Read More......

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Class Compendium: Arcanist Wizard

The Class Compendium series comes to an end with what is likely the most complex class update yet: the Player’s Handbook Wizard, now known as Arcanist. Ever since I read Heroes of the Fallen Kingdoms, I had been awaiting this revision, to finish the changes started there: give miss effects to wizard encounter powers, and add school keywords to all spells. The article addresses this, but also tackles the issue of attacks with persistent, damaging zones, severely weakening many wizard spells that, to be honest, were likely deserving their fate.

A huge amount of game elements were changed in the article, so I’ll show them classified into five broad categories: General, At-Wills, Encounters, Dailies, and Paragon Paths (curiously, the update had no effect on wizard utilities).


Zone Damage: Almost every damaging zone was changed. Zones now tend to deal damage at the end of turn, using static amounts rather than damage rolls, and only once per turn. This is a severe reduction in power, but in many cases it was well deserved . On the bright side, the powers become much more interesting, since enemies now actually have an incentive to move away from damaging zones, so the wizard has -gasp- control over their actions. Still, in some cases this would work better if the end of turn damage was raised - I’m not advocating returning to damage rolls, but some higher modifiers would be in order.

Cantrips: Arcanist Wizards can now choose which cantrips they have, so spells released in Essentials books become relevant for them.


No Improvements: This is the big letdown for me, in the article: PHB wizard at-wills haven’t got any better, despite the fact that the standard for controller at-wills is now much higher than 3 years ago. I was particularly hopeful for my pet power, *Scorching Burst*, which really deserved some additional effect, or (my personal favourite) just boosting its damage die to d10. Ray of Frost is likewise unimpressive, and would really need to slow on a miss, slow (save ends), or prevent shifting to remain remotely competitive. Cloud of Daggers, which was fine before, has been hurt by the sweeping changes to zones, so its damage now triggers at the end of turn - underwhelming to say the least. I would really like it if they kept this timing but, say, doubled the zone damage. The rest of at-wills are ok, though: Magic Missile is weak but has its niche, and Thunder Wave is awesome as ever.


The update had a very positive impact on wizard encounter attacks - the vast majority of the ones released in  Player’s Handbook now have an effect on a miss, and the very few which don’t are likely mistakes that will be corrected before the final version. A couple of powers suffered a reduction in power, due to the sweeping changes to zone damage, with automatic damage triggering at the start of turn getting downgraded to damage at the end of a creature’s turn. Still, most remain competitive.

Note that many encounter attacks had already been reprinted and improved on Heroes of the Fallen Lands, and have not been affected by this article.

Get better (* marks very weak improvements): Chill Strike (L1*), Ray of Enfeeblement (L1), Icy Rays (L3), Spectral Ram (L7*), Mesmeric Hold (L13), Prismatic Burst (L13), Thunderlance (L13), Combust (L17), Ice Tomb (L17*), Thunderclap (L23), Black Fire (L27), Force Cage (L27)

Get worse (* marks weak powers now): Winter’s Wrath (L7), Frost Burn (L13*), Acid Storm (L23)

Unchanged, deserve improvement: Force Orb (L1), Fire Burst (L7)


If the update brought an increase in power level for wizard encounter attacks, the same cannot be said about dailies. Daily attacks with damaging zones are much weaker now, and non-zone dailies with multiple damage rolls like Prismatic Beams and Prismatic Spray no longer get to pile damage bonuses several times against each target. This affects some of the best damage-dealing dailies in the wizard class (or in the whole game, for that matter), and it’s a change likely to affect many players. On the other hand, these powers definitely had it coming, and they remain, for the most part, very playable, and very dangerous, even in this diminished state. The one exception where I feel they went too far with the nerf is Flaming Sphere, which may have become too much of an action sink for too slim a chance of damaging an enemy: having it trigger on enemies moving adjacent to it in addition to ending their turns there would greatly increase its usefulness in combat.
I generally approve of the updates made to dailies, but for a glaring omission: Fireball (and its big brother Meteor Swarm) still suck. I really, really want to play those, but they are extremely poor options, even after the errata to their worst competitors for area damage.

Get better (* marks very weak improvements):Acid Arrow  (L1*)

Get worse (* marks weak powers now):Flaming Sphere (L1*), Freezing Cloud (L1, also got minor buff), Stinking Cloud (L5), Wall of Fire (L9), Prismatic Beams (L15), Cloudkill (L19), Elemental Maw (L25), Necrotic Web (L25), Prismatic Spray (L25)

Unchanged, deserve improvement:Fireball (L5), Lightning Serpent (L9)

Paragon paths

For a long time, the undisputed star of wizard paragon paths has been the Bloodmage, and even a couple attempts at errataing it down to more reasonable levels didn’t bring it down. This article reduces its power level once again, and it looks like they finally nailed it. Two other paths also see minor changes, though nothing of that scale.

Battle Mage: Closing Spell (L20 Daily) reduced in area.

Bloodmage: Bolstering Blood (L11 feature) damage limited to one target; Burning Blood (L16 feature) damage changed; Destructive Salutation (L20 Daily) reduced in damage, now dazes instead of stunning.

Spellstorm Mage: Extra Damage Action (L11 Feature) damage limited to one attack. Storm Cage (L11 attack)  wall damage moved to end of turn.

Read More......