Sunday, February 28, 2010

Monster Math: Damage Formulas

The most important statistics of a monster in D&D 4E can be easily derived from simple formulas depending on level and role: Attack bonuses, defenses, hit points... with one remarkable exception: attack damage. In order to determine a monster's damage, you need to consult a couple of tables in the Dungeon Master's Guide (p.184, to be precise). Because these tables only show you an expression with damage dice plus a bonus, which is not immediate to evaluate, a while ago I generated new set of tables with the average damage values for each level. Today, I'd like to go one step further, and reduce these tables to short, approximate formulas.

These are the formulas for normal attacks; I'll leave limited attacks for a future post. I provide some comments and discussion on their deviations from the original values below:

Attack damage, normal attacks
• Low: 6.1 + 0.4*Level
• Medium: 8 + 0.5*Level
• High: 9.4 + 0.6*Level

Minion Damage
• Low: 3 + (Level -1)/3
• Medium: 3 + (Level -1)/3 + (1* Tier)
• High: 3 + (Level -1)/3 + (2* Tier)

Explanation

The formulas for regular monsters came up naturally. Once you see the averages, the progression is almost linear, so I just drew a line from the level 1 values to the level 30 ones, and tweaked the numbers a bit so that they ended up as rounded as possible. I was pleased to see that damage actually increases by 1 per two levels, as per the monster customization guidelines in DMG, p.174. Anyway, this is how the formulas look like, compared to the tables:

If we substract the estimated (formula) values and the original ones, the absolute value of the result is the estimation error, in damage points. I divided these absolute errors by the original damage values, to come up with relative error values, as a percentage of these original values. This is shown below:

As you can see, these relative errors peak at 15%, staying at 10% or below for most levels. Though not perfect, I find this quite acceptable. In absolute terms, the aproximation is off by a maximum of 2 points of damage for medium attacks, or 2.6 points for strong attacks - but for most levels, it will be much closer.

As for the minion formula, it comes from the tables in DMG2, p.133. In this case, damage increased by 1 per 3 levels, with an additional jump of 1 extra point at certain levels. Since these jumps came roughly - but not exactly - with the change of tier, I chose to tweak it into an easier to express, more logical progression, by moving these extra increases to levels 11 and 21. Damage for most levels remains unchanged, it's just the 1-2 levels around 11th and 21st that have varied slightly. Also, although there was no 'low damage' entry for minions, they suggested reducing normal damage by 25% for weak attacks. My expression is just a bit above that, but with such numbers, some rounding was unavoidable.

Critical damage

If we want to find the Damage per Round of a monster, we should take into account the contribution from critical hits. I have made formulas for that, too. They are the following:

Crit extra damage, normal attacks
• Low: 2.5 + 0.2*Level
• Medium: 4.5 + 0.2 * Level
• High: 5 + 0.3*Level

I got these the same way as the previous formulas, except I used the maximum damage values from the DMG table rather than the averages. Minions don't get an entry because they lack any extra critical damage.

Calculating DPR

Since monsters don't usually deal damage on a miss, the average DPR can be simplified to the following expression:

Average Damage= (Hit rate * Average Hit Damage) + Crit Rate * Extra Crit Damage

Replacing the known values (Crit Rate= 0.05) we have:

Average Damage (low) = (Hit rate * (6.1 + 0.4*Level)) + 0.125 + 0.01 *lvl
Average Damage (medium)= (Hit rate * (8 + 0.5*Level)) + 0.225 + 0.01 *lvl
Average Damage (high) = (Hit rate * (9.4+ 0.6*Level)) + 0.25 + 0.015 *lvl

In order to simplify the crit contribution, we can make another aproximation and use fixed values for each tier:

Crit damage contribution to DPR, per tier (heroic/paragon/epic):
• Low: 0.2/0.3/0.4
• Medium: 0.3/0.4/0.5
• High: 0.35/0.5/0.65

Average Damage (low) = (Hit rate * (6.1 + 0.4*Level)) + 0.2/0.3/0.4
Average Damage (medium)= (Hit rate * (8 + 0.5*Level)) + 0.3/0.4/0.5
Average Damage (high) = (Hit rate * (9.4+ 0.6*Level)) + 0.35/0.5/0.65

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My gaming group is currently playing the Pyramid of Shadows module, and we are having some truly spectacular encounters, thanks to our DM's love for scenery and assorted gadgets. The last one was so awesome that I was left with no option but to show it here. So, without further ado... Behold the Temple of Verdant Rage!

This was the initial battlefield setup. The forest tiles and 3D trees are sold in PDF by Fat Dragon Games. It took our DM a bit of work to print and assemble them, but the result is stunning (save ends). There are also some 3D walls, also from FDG. Finally, the miniatures are some of the latest aditions to our WoW mini collection.

A closeup on the monster miniatures. The big green thing is one of my favourites, a Bog Elemental- in the role of an Arborean Plant Terror, which would bring us a world of pain later in the encounter. Behind, you can see an Arborean Speaker and a Dire Bear.

The Arborean Speaker in its place of power. The altar was scavenged from a Hero Quest box.

A closer view on the trees. Properly assembled, they are sturdy as well as pretty. The Drow Sorcerer is posing on the treetop to show how they can support minis over them, though we didn't use that in this game.

This is one of the weirdest things our DM has come up with. Some kind of coconut cute head, to impersonate the Head of Vyrellis, the remains of an ancient eladrin. If you haven't worked it out yet, we love a bit of humour in our games - or was it a bit of game in our humour?

It's an ambush! Those innocent-looking cardboard bushes were actually hiding a couple of deadly Arborean Watchers. Our beloved drow Sorcerer would kiss the ground a couple of Sneak Attacks later.

Here you can see the climax of the battle. At the front, the Sorcerer has just been healed, only to find hersef hand-to-hand with a bear! Behind her, my Human Fighter (cloaked, armored mini) is trying to catch up with the enemy heavy hitters after being dazed, while a Dwarven Avenger and a Half-Orc Valorous Bard hold the line. An elven ranger sits comfortably on the background while she peppers her quarry with arrows.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Warlock Basics - Lots of feats and a damage boost for Warlocks!

Despite the great support, both in amount and quality, that has been devoted to the Warlock class (of which I spoke recently), there were two areas where the class was lacking, compared to other strikers: offense-boosting feats, and raw damage output. As of today, this is no longer a problem, because this month's Warlock Basics article in DDI does an amazing job at fixing it.

"I suddenly feel... powerful!"

Previously, a Warlock looking for feats to improve his attacks didn't have many obvious choices, apart from Implement Expertise (if his DM hadn't got rid of it) and Dual Implement Spellcaster, which annoyingly requires 13 Dex in a class that has no other use for that ability. After that, you might want a White Lotus feat for your at-wills... and that's about it. It is telling that the mediocre-until-it-becomes-unplayable Empowering Shadows was the best the class had to offer in the offense-enhancing department, outside of race-specific stuff. Warlock players have been crying for something as simple as a feat increasing Curse dice ever since PHB. There is one of those in Warlock Basics.

Then you have the damage issue. Warlocks compensate their low damage in multiple ways (great survivability, utility and fun via Pact Boons, and many ways to inflict nasty conditions), but it's still sad to hit for significantly less than every other striker, and even a bit less than some non-strikers (say, a defender or leader with a two-handed weapon). There are some ways to tweak the punishing at-wills for a more or less reliable extra damage, but only for Constitution builds. Or you can turn to the Dark Side, take Eldritch Strike and use your single melee power to make a melee character specialized in charging. Which is quite effective, but hardly matches the concept of the class.

So, what does the article do, exactly, to solve these long-standing problems? There are twenty class-specific feats, most of them interesting and playable, and three that are downright awesome, one for each tier of play. Once it is compiled and added to Character Builder, Warlock players will find themselves hard pressed to find slots for all the feats they want to try - which is quite a turn of events. And it will only get worse (or better, depending on your point of view) next month, when Superior Implements turn up...

The Big Three feats are, in my opinion, well above the power curve, in order to close the power gap between most warlock builds and the average striker. They improve the character's accuracy, control, and damage - accentuating two of the class' strengths, and mitigating its greatest weakness. More importantly, they are tighly coupled with the class features so that borrowing them through multiclassing or hybridizing is hard enough. The heroic one, Primed Curse, is the most likely to get skipped of the three, due to the fact that the boost to Prime Shot won't help melee or area attacks. But any traditional ranged Warlock will become one of the most accurate characters in the game, just below the rogue, which is nothing to sneeze at.

The great paragon feat, Protective Hex, inflicts a pseudo-mark penalty on every enemy hurt by your curse. This has an amazing synergy with the Warlock's resilience and abundance of riposte attacks and, in combination with your party's defender, can make life very complicated for your target. I can't imagine building a paragon warlock without it. Finally, the epic one is even more of a must - called Cursed Spells, it adds your Intelligence to curse damage, which is a great, but safe way to fix the class' damage, since it can't be exploited through multi-attacks or areas.

Only these three feats would justify an article, and a good one at that... but the rest are far from bad! To name a few things, there's the mentioned damage dice increase for your Curse, a feat that grants an improved version of Bloodcurse Rod, a way to ease the restrictions to apply Prime Shot, something to ignore cover and concealments on your cursed targets, ways to trade curse damage for the blind or dazed condition on encounter powers, options to boost daily powers to deal ongoing damage or make opponents slowed or immobilized, and feats that change the type of Eldritch Blast and curse damage. Among other things. If you play a Warlock, you will be retraining after this article. If you don't, maybe you'll want to try one as your next character.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Martial Power 2: A guide to Combat Styles

Martial Power 2 is out! Though I'd like to talk about the book in depth one of these days (short story: I like it, but I'm having a hard time using the new material on my current martial PCs), today I want to talk about the new system of Combat Styles. This consists on a series of feats that modify at-will powers, much like Divine Power's domain feat system. And, like that one, it's an awesome concept but it makes character building considerably more complicated: each feat is tied to a specific set of weapons and at-will powers, and grants a different special effect.

I've compiled two lists to complement the summary tables in Martial Power 2: one with the styles classified by at-will powers, and the other by weapon groups. This will not be entirely accurate, as the Heavy Blade category can include feats that work with versatile heavy blades, with longswords, or just with blades with the high crit property... Nevertheless, it's the most reasonable pattern I could come up with, and I've been comfortable using it so far. Keep in mind that, unlike domain feats, each Combat Style is limited to different martial classes, which I mention in the second list. Finally, there is a second tier of Combat Style feats, which only require having the corresponding at-will modifying one, and provide a general bonus as well as enhancing certain encounter powers. For sanity's sake, I'll refraing from showing a table for that.

*Update 1: Since the Styles only affect powers printed in rule books (PHB, MP, MP2), I've left out those from other sources - the list was already quite long.

1. List of Combat Styles by At-Will

1.1 Fighter

-Brash Strike
Styles: Ogremight(hammer, mace)

-Cleave

-Crushing Surge
Styles: Moradin's Forge (axe, hammer, pick), Ninth Legion (pick, spear)

-Dual Strike

-Footwork Lure

-Grappling Strike
Styles: (none)

-Reaping Strike
Styles: Ironstar (flail, mace), Reaving Axe (axe), Rending Chains (flail)

-Slash and Pummel
Styles: Elsir Hammer (hammer, pick)

-Sure Strike
Styles: Black Hood (axe), Desert Moon (h.blade), Hunting Spear (spear), Partisan Polearm (polearm)

-Threatening Rush

-Tide of Iron
Styles: Kulkor Battlearm (axe, hammer, mace)

1.2 Ranger

-Careful Attack
Styles: Desert Moon (h.blade), Silent Shot (bow, c.bow)

-Circling Strike
Styles: (none)

Styles: Hunting Spear (spear)

-Hit and Run
Styles: Kulkor Battlearm (axe, hammer, mace) ,Nerathan High Blade (h.blade), Rending Chains (flail)

-Marauder's Rush
Styles: Arkhosian Fang (h.blade), Black Hood (axe), Ironstar (flail, mace), Mountain Thunder (hammer, flail, mace), Reaving Axe (axe)

-Nimble Strike
Styles: Adamant Arrow (bow), Harrowing Swarm (bow, c.bow), Leaf Runner (shuriken, crossbow, sling)

-Predator Strike
Styles: (none)

-Throw and Stab

-Twin Strike
Styles: (none)

1.3 Rogue

-Acrobatic Strike
Styles: (none)

-Deft Strike
Styles: Leaf Runner (shuriken, crossbow, sling)

-Disheartening Strike
Styles: Kulkor Battlearm (axe, hammer, mace), Mountain Thunder (hammer, flail, mace)

-Gloaming Cut

-Piercing Strike
Styles: (none)

-Preparatory Shot
Styles: (none)

-Riposte Strike

-Sly Flourish
Styles: Harrowing Swarm (bow, c.bow)

1.4 Warlord

-Brash Assault
Styles: Elsir Hammer (hammer, pick), Ironstar (flail, mace), Mountain Thunder (hammer, flail, mace), Ogremight (hammer, mace), Reaving Axe (axe)

-Commander's Strike
Styles: (none)

-Direct the Strike
Styles: Ninth Legion (pick, spear)

-Furious Smash
Styles: Black Hood (axe), Moradin's Forge (axe, hammer, pick)

-Intuitive Strike
Styles: (none)

-Opening Shove
Styles: Hunting Spear (spear)

-Paint the Bull's Eye
Styles: Adamant Arrow (bow), Harrowing Swarm (bow, c.bow), Leaf Runner (shuriken, crossbow, sling)

-Risky Shot
Styles: (none)

-Viper's Strike

-Wolf Pack Tactics
Styles: Arkhosian Fang (h.blade), Kulkor Battlearm (axe, hammer, mace)

2. List of Combat Styles by Weapon

Axe
Black Hood (fighter, ranger, warlord)
Kulkor Battlearm (any)
Reaving axe (fighter, ranger, warlord)

Bow
Harrowing Swarm (ranger, rogue, warlord)
Silent Shot (ranger, rogue)

Crossbow
Harrowing Swarm (ranger, rogue, warlord)
Leaf runner (ranger, rogue, warlord)
Silent Shot (ranger, rogue)

Flail
Ironstar (fighter, ranger, warlord)
Mountain Thunder (any)
Rending Chains (fighter, ranger, warlord)

Hammer
Elsir Hammer (fighter, ranger, warlord)
Kulkor Battlearm (any)
Mountain Thunder (any)
Ogremight (fighter, warlord)

Arkhosian Fang (fighter, ranger, warlord)
Desert Moon (fighter, ranger, warlord)
Nerathan High Blade (fighter, ranger, warlord)
Red Cloak (fighter, rogue)
Steel Vanguard (fighter, warlord)

Leaf Runner (Shuriken only, ranger, rogue, warlord)
Red Cloak (fighter, rogue)

Mace
Ironstar (fighter, ranger, warlord)
Kulkor Battlearm (any)
Mountain Thunder (any)
Ogremight (fighter, warlord)

Pick
Elsir Hammer (fighter, ranger, warlord)
Ninth Legion (fighter, warlord)

Polearm
Longhand (fighter, warlord)
Partisan Polearm (fighter, warlord)

Sling
Leaf runner (ranger, rogue, warlord)

Spear
Hunting Spear (fighter, ranger, warlord)
Longhand (fighter, warlord)
Ninth Legion (fighter, warlord)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Player's Handbook 3 preview: Cloth Armor becomes playable!

A character using Cloth Armor in D&D 4E is a rare occurrence. Right now, there are only two kinds of cloth-wearing PCs: those who are forced to do so because of their class features, like Avengers and Monks, and those who are waiting to level up and grab Armor Proficiency (Leather). The truth is that the upgrade from Cloth to Leather armor is one of the best conceivable uses for a feat slot, rivalling even the almighty Expertise (and arguably even better, at Heroic Tier). Because of this, dresses, robes and vestments have banished from the wardrobes of most adventurers, as even Wizards go around wearing leather jackets. Thankfully, Player's Handbook 3 is going to put an end to this madness, by allowing players to remain unarmored without incurring in significant mechanical penalties. Let's see how this will happen.

Remember how the Brawler Fighter from Martial Power 2 was sneakily previewed in a FAQ page? Well, it appears that they liked the trick, because they are doing it again with Player's Handbook 3. This time, we are shown a simple heroic feat called Unarmored Agility. It has no requirements, and grants you a +2 bonus to AC as long as you are wearing cloth. This is, very conveniently, just as good as Leather Armor Proficiency, and has three major implications for the game: a change in aesthetics, the redeeming of an entire magic item category, and an unexpected AC boost for certain strikers.

The aesthetic change

Wizards, Sorcerers and Psions are no longer punished for wearing their iconic robes. Hooray! Sure, we could (and did) use Leather for the mechanics while saying that our character was dressing as we liked, but this is the real deal. I'm glad this has changed.

The forgotten treasures

There is quite a bit of space in both Player's Handbooks and Adventurer's Vaults devoted to Armor enchantments available solely for Cloth - I counted around 40 of them, and this will surely increase with PHB 3. Most of this space was as good as blank before, but now it will actually be of some use. I'd recommend to take a look at these books (or the Compendium, of course), because there are some real jewels waiting to be uncovered. Among my favourites are the extremely cool Robe of Eyes, the incredibly useful Shimmering Armor and the almost broken Bloodthread Armor.

AC Inflation (and erratas undone)

Avengers and Monks rejoice, for you have just gained 2 extra points of AC. Which is very odd in the case of avengers, since they just lost a similar amount a few months ago. In that occassion, I commented the following: "The Armor of Faith class feature has been changed to work only in Cloth Armor, removing the potential for ridiculously high AC ".

Well, I guess this change gives them back the potential for ridiculously high AC. Admittedly, this cuts 2-3 points off the maximum defense score that could be achieved through extreme optimization and feat investments, because upgrading to Hide Armor is no longer feasible. On the other hand, Bloodthread Armor will partially compensate for that, making the AC cap (getting hit on 20s only) dangerously close for bloodied, epic Avengers.

With the new feat, even an 'innocent', non-optimizing Avenger is going to have impressive defenses:

Level 1 Avenger, 18 Dexterity or Intelligence, Unarmored Agility: AC 19 (N18)

A *normalized AC* of 18 is equivalent to Scale Armor and a Heavy Shield, and other than investing a single feat, this character is not sacrificing anything - and certainly not the ability to wield a massive two-handed weapon. An additional feat (*Improved Armor of Faith*) brings this on par with Plate + Shield, or even better at Paragon and beyond.

Let's see a more extreme scenario, though:

Level 30 Avenger, starting 18 Dexterity or Intelligence, Unarmored Agility, Improved Armor of Faith, weapon with the 'defensive' property, +6 Starweave Bloodthread Armor, Demigod Epic Destiny and two-weapon Defense: AC 52 (N21), or 54 (N23) while bloodied.

It is virtually impossible for a defender character to match these results. And I'm pretty certain that you could get an extra point or two, with enough optimizing. This character, while bloodied, would be just 2 points below the cap (N25), which is a real nightmare for most monsters. This just feels wrong. Maybe Improved Armor of Faith should be changed into a flat +1 bonus, rather than a scaling one.

What about monks? It will depend on the feat selection they get. If there is anything like "Improved Unarmored Defense", I'm afraid they will also outperform shielded defenders on the AC department - otherwise, they will be more or less at their level.

Level 1 Monk, 20 Dexterity, Unarmored Agility: AC 19 (N18)

Overall, I can't say I'm happy with the way Unarmored Agility interacts with these classes. On the other hand, I do like what it does for casters with robes. I think those in charge of Errata should definitely be keeping an eye on the following items:
- Improved Armor of Faith
- Any monk feat enhancing Unarmored Defense.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Character Math: Damage per round

Today I'm starting yet another article series, this time devoted to the calculation of a player character's statistics. The idea is to provide ways to measure and compare different aspects of a PC's performance, much like the post on attack and defense normalization, a while ago. I have a few cool formulas lying around to quantify stuff that hasn't really been explored in depth... but I should start from the beginning. So this post will focus on damage dealing, which is pretty much all that is looked at, nowadays. You will find some basic definitions and formulas, as well as guidelines for calculating damage in some common special scenarios.

Most message boards have adopted the term "Damage Per Round" (DPR) as a measure of the amount of damage that can be dealt during a game turn. Although I can't tell for sure where this expression originated, it does look awfully similar to the "Damage Per Second" (DPS) commonly used in MMORPGS.

Definitions
• Damage per round (DPR): Average damage inflicted by a character to a single enemy in a round. It takes into account hit rates and extra damage from critical hits. DPR typically measures the abilities of a single character, so bonuses from other party members are ignored.

We usually clasify DPR in two types, depending on whether it involves a character using spendable resources or not: At-will DPR, and Nova DPR.

• At-Will DPR: Damage per round that can be achieved by using exclusively at-will powers. Bonuses from daily or encounter effects do not apply, and spending of action points or other consumable resurces is not considered. Exceptionally, an encounter power granting encounter-lengh effects can be considered a valid modifier because of being permanently active.

At-will DPR is the most commonly used metric in optimization boards. It isn't the most realistic estimation of actual PC damage, since the contribution of encounter and Daily powers is usually very significant. On the other hand, it's relatively straightforward to calculate, and a reliable indicator of damage in the worst case scenario for a damage dealing PC.
• Nova DPR: Damage that can be dealt in a round with all the tools that a single character has at his disposal, including action points and daily powers. Used to measure a character's maximum offensive potential.
In addition, any DPR value can be against a single target (the default assumption) or against multiples (Area DPR).
• Area DPR: When attacking multiple enemies, damage that can be dealt to each of these enemies in a round. Area DPR measurements should specify what kind of area or how many enemies can be covered: "Area DPR (area burst 1)" or "Area DPR (2 targets)".

Calculating DPR

The DPR of a character making a single attack each round is equal to the average damage of that attack. For scenarios with more than one attack per round, see below.

Average Damage of an attack.

The following calculations assume that a character is attacking a standard skirmisher monster of his own level. If you want to find out DPR values against different types of enemies, you will need to adjust Hit Rates accordingly.

Average Damage= (Hit rate * Average Hit Damage) + (1 - Hit Rate) * Average Miss Damage) + Crit Rate * Extra Crit Damage

Or, abbreviated:

AD= HR*Dh + (1-HR)*Dm + CR * Dc

• Hit rate (HR), chance to hit a Skirmisher Monster of the same level. Can be calculated from here. If an attack has an intrinsic bonus to the attack roll, add it to the HR (+0,05 per extra point).

• Crit Rate (CR), chance to score a critical hit.

Roll to crit - Crit rate
Crit on a 20 - 0.05
Crit on 19-20 - 0.1
Crit on 18-20 - 0.15

• Average Hit Damage (Dh). To calculate, add the average value of all rolled dice, and any damage modifiers that apply.

Die - Average value
d4 - 2.5
d6 - 3.5
d8 - 4.5
d10 -5.5
d12 -6.5

The Brutal property adds 0.5 to the average value of a die per point of brutal.

• Average Miss Damage (Dm). Usually 0, but can be half the hit damage (Dh/2) for certain Daily attacks, or a fixed falue in certain cases.

• Extra Crit Damage (Dc), or how much more damage is dealt by a critical hit, on average, in excess of the average damage of a normal hit.

Dc = Dh - Average Crit Damage.

(Average Crit Damage is the sum of all maximized damage dice, plus damage modifiers, plus extra crit dice).

Multiple attacks

When your character can make several attacks during a single round, calculate separately the average damage of each one and add them together.

Conditional attacks

When you have an attack that only triggers after hitting with a previous power, multiply that attack's Average Damage by the Hit Rate of the previous attack.

Attacks that trigger on conditions not completely under your control, such as a Fighter's Combat Challenge should not be considered on DPR calculations.

Automatic damage

If an attack deals automatic damage in addition to, or instead of a conventional attack roll, that damage is directly added to the total Average Damage.

Multiple rolls

If an attack allows you to roll twice and use the highest value, the effective Hit Rate and Crit Rate are increased. You can calculate these new values, HR' and CR' from the original HR and CR as follows:

HR' = HR * (1-HR)
CR' = CR * (1-CR)

Once-per-turn damage bonuses

Most striker classes have features that deal extra damage once per round. When calculating DPR, you can add this extra damage to Average Hit Damage only if you are making a single attack per round. When making multiple attacks, calculate this extra damage separately, as follows.

Striker damage contribution = Chance to hit once * average extra damage

The chance to hit once (H1) depends on the number of attacks and the Hit Rate HR:

2 attacks: H1= HR * (1-HR)
3 attacks: H1= 1 - (1-HR)*(1-HR)*(1-HR)
N attacks: H1 = 1 - ((1-HR) ^ N)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Broken Bits: Barbarian Agility

One of the most important changes introduced in the Great Errata of november, 2009 was the Avenger fix, which prevented a striker class from easily surpassing the Armor Class of a defender in plate armor and shield, while wielding a massive two-handed weapon. Unfortunately, another class with almost the same symptoms got left behind: the Barbarian. I expect that some official errata on the subject will happen sooner than later, but meanwhile, it might be a good idea to present a house rule that deals with it.

The problem has existed since the first appearance of the class on Player's Handbook 2, but only got aggravated with Primal Power. Essentially, Barbarians are expected to work with really low stat modifiers to AC, and have a feature called Barbarian Agility which adjusts their defenses under these conditions. A starting 14 Dexterity used as tertiary ability (that is, never increased when you level up) nets you the same AC progression as a Chainmail, which is far from impressive, but functional nonetheless. Also common starting values of 12-10 end up one or two AC points below that,a value slightly below that of other melee strikers (other than the unplayable-without-AC-upgrades melee ranger). The upgrade to Chain is usually affordable, but not necessarily a priority, since it won't grant that much of an increase.

That is the baseline, PHB2 scenario: as long as you are not continuously playing the archetypical barbarian who charges without support against the largest group of enemies he can see, you can do fine. You might even have the hit points to survive for a turn or two that way, but more often than not, you'll want to stay close to your defender, or just charge isolated or weaker targets. What this design didn't take into account was that, with the right stat and feat allocation, a barbarian's defense can rise to a point where it embarrases most defenders.

Because Barbarian Agility was implemented without any kind of safeguards, nothing prevents a player from building a Barbarian with a starting 18 Dex (or 18 Con with Hide Armor Expertise). Assuming that Dexterity or Constitution are your secondary abilities, the character will have plate-equivalent AC at Heroic tier, plate+light shield at Paragon, and as much as plate+heavy shield at Epic. That can be further optimized, but it's beside the point: these values are already too high for a striker wielding a two-handed weapon who has invested as little as 0-1 feats in defense.

A not-so-agile Barbarian

The following is a refinement of a solution I proposed at wizards.com errata forums. The principle is simple: have Barbarian Agility grant a bonus to characters with low Dex (as it currently does), but not to those with good base defenses. Also, I have added a small conditional bonus to reflex so that the feature doesn't become completely worthless for the characters that were abusing it.

Barbarian Agility, mk2
While you are not wearing heavy armor, you can use a +2 modifier in place of your Dexterity or Intelligence modifier to determine your AC and Reflex. The modifier increases to +3 at 11th level, +4 at 16th level, +5 at 21st level and +6 at 26th level.
While raging, you gain a +2 bonus to Reflex.

This version of the feature guarantees that a Barbarian's AC will, at worst, be 1 point lower than Chain Armor (for a normalized value of N14, and an enemy hit rate of 60%). This is a low armor value, but it won't kill you, and requires no investment on defense whatsoever.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

New feats and multiclass rules for battleminds!

Following my tradition for debut classes (except for the Ardent - no love for you, Warlord copycat!), I have created a bunch of new feats for players who feel like trying the Battlemind before the release of Player's Handbook 3. Since the book is pretty close by now, I have chosen not to go the easy way of expanding class features with feats, as you will have plenty of that in a couple of months. Rather, I wanted to show a cycle of feats with a common mechanic, based more on my perception of the class' personality than in existing game rules.

The idea is the following: Battleminds are renowned for their extreme arrogance towards their opponents. How does that manifest in a battle? In my mind, the BM will have countermeasures prepared against a number of common enemy tactics. Not only will such attacks be more difficult to carry out but, when they fail, the psionic defender will have gained some kind of tactical advantage. Or just feel good about it.

Roleplaying these feats should be quite a fun experience (for the battlemind, anyway). The triggering of each of these effects should be followed by displays of verbal abuse against the poor victim. Pointing at them and shouting "Ha,Ha!" should also do the trick.

Note that they all work only for attacks against your allies, except the one about Will defenses, which also affect the Battlemind. Because, you know, psionic.

Battlemind Feats

Confidence of the Stubborn
Prerequisite: Battlemind, Battlemind's Demand power.
Benefit: When an enemy marked by you makes an attack targeting Will, the enemy takes a -1 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack misses, you gain a +2 bonus to saving throws until the end of your next turn.

Confidence of the Stout
Prerequisite: Battlemind, Battlemind's Demand power.
Benefit: When an enemy marked by you makes an attack targeting Fortitude that does not include you, the enemy takes a -1 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack misses, you gain temporaty hit points equal to your Wisdom modifier.

Confidence of the Swift
Prerequisite: Battlemind, Battlemind's Demand power.
Benefit: When an enemy marked by you makes an attack targeting Reflex that does not include you, the enemy takes a -1 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack misses, whenever you shift before the end of the enemy's next turn, you can increase the distance by 1 square.

Confidence of the Rebuking Bastion
Prerequisite: 11th level Battlemind, Battle Resilience power
Benefit: When an enemy marked by you makes a charge attack that does not include you, the enemy takes a -1 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack misses, the enemy is knocked prone.

Confidence of the Fleet-Footed
Prerequisite: 11th level Battlemind, Speed of Thought power
Benefit: When an enemy marked by you makes an opportunity attack against an ally, the enemy takes a -1 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack misses, that enemy cannot make opportunity attacks until the end of the ally's next turn.

Confidence of the Iron Fortress
Prerequisite: 21st level Battlemind, Mind Spike power
Benefit: When an enemy marked by you makes a melee attack against an ally adjacent to you, the ally gains resist 5 against the attack. If the attack hits, you can use Mind Spike against the attacking enemy as if it was adjacent to you.

Multiclass feats

The Novice Psionic power and Novice Non-Psionic power were originally released in the Psion feat article. I have updated them for compatibility with all psionic classes.

Iron Mind Initiate [Multiclass Battlemind]
Prerequisite: Con 13
Benefit: You gain training in one skill from the battlemind's class skill list.
Once per encounter, you can use the Battlemind's Demand power.

Novice Psionic power [Multiclass Encounter]
Prerequisite: Any psionic multiclass feat, 4th level
Benefit: You can swap one encounter power you know to gain one psionic at-will power of the same level or lower from the class you multiclassed into. You can use that power once per encounter. In addition, you gain power points depending on the level of the swapped power:

Level 1 to level 10 - 2 PPs
Level 11 to level 20 - 4 PPs
Level 21 to level 30 - 6 PPs

Novice Non-Psionic power [Multiclass Encounter]
Prerequisite: Any psionic class, Psionic Augmentation class feature, any non-Psionic multiclass feat, 4th level.
Benefit: You can swap one psion at-will power that you know and has augmentations for one encounter power of the same level or lower from a class you multiclassed into. In addition, you lose power points depending on the level of the power you swapped out:

Level 1 to level 10- 2 PPs
Level 11 to level 20 - 4 PPs
Level 21 to level 30 - 6 PPs

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Player's Handbook 3 Debut: Battlemind

Battlemind. Not the most exciting of names, but coming up with iconic and simple ones for something like a Psionic Defender can't be an easy task. You shouldn't take this as a signal that the game developers are running out of ideas, though, because this class' mechanics and power selection are among the most imaginative that the game has to offer. Let's take a look at them.

This is not a generic fighter with a brilliant halo painted over her head. Honest.

Overview

Gear-wise, the Battlemind is a defender of the old school: a reliable set of heavy armor, a solid chunk of metal to bash enemies with, and possibly a shield. On a battlefield, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart from regular Fighters, if not for the silly Halos around their heads. According to their flavor, they have egos that occupy several squares, and their combat style overwhelms opponents with sheer prepotence (which is somehow tied to their Constitution modifier). One might question whether their fighting prowess really justifies this degree of self-confidence, but there is one thing you can't deny: they have some really cool tricks up their sleeve.

As all other Psionic classes (except for monks, who aren't really psionic, but we love them anyway!), battleminds use a groundbreaking resource system for their powers. You can find a detailed description in my Psion review but, in short, instead of at-wills and encounter powers they have at-wills that can be augmented (in two different ways) by expending Power Points... which, appropiately, are regenerated each encounter. Dailies and Utilities remain unaffected.

So far, we had seen a basic use of power points in the Psion class, and a terrible one with the Ardent. Battleminds get to be the creative powerpointers. Baseline effects that would have looked completely out of place in non-psionic at-wills (like non-standard actions), lesser augmentations that are actually worth using, and even augmentable class features make sure that Battleminds are not just "like that other class, but with power points". Unlike ardents.

Features

I am torn between loving and hating the class features. On the one hand, they are flavorful, slightly weird, and just different from those of other classes. On the other... they don't quite work as they should. While I'm writing this, D&D message boards all over the world are raging about the class' alleged incompetence at the Defender role. As usual, there is a good deal of exageration here but, as much as I want to like the class, even I have to admit that it feels weak on certain areas.

Their method of marking is actually pretty good, with an at-will power that lets them mark a creature within 3 squares for the rest of the encounter - or until you mark a different one. There is an option to spend one power point to make this affect two foes at once - something you won't want to do very often, but that could be extremely handy in certain encounters. In addition, there is a good amount of at-will powers that can mark enemies (sometimes in multiples!). Overall, they have multimarking capabilities almost as good as a warden's, as well as a Swordmage's ability to maintain marks at range. This would make them good candidates for Swordmage-like mark-and-run strategies... if not for their punishing mechanic.

The punishing mechanic, it must be said, is one of the coolest things that I've seen on a player's handbook. A power called Mind Spike triggers against enemies breaking a mark, hurting them for as much damage as they have dealt an ally. It's concentrated karma punching the monster on its face.

Unfortunately, its efficiency leaves a bit to be desired. It only works against adjacent enemies, it won't trigger on missed attacks, and it costs an immediate action. It is true that it never misses and that, looking at average monster damage values, it hits slighly harder than a maxed out Divine Challenge (by a few points)... but the basic attacks of other defenders will easily outdamage it.

Along with Fighters, Battleminds are the only defenders who can penalize enemies for shifting around them. But the similarities end here - if Fighters answer shifts with a swing of their blade (which is their universal answer to all problems), Battleminds prefer to do as their foes, and shift after them. Except that it isn't exactly 'after'. The power in question, Blurred Step, costs an Opportunity Action, thus resolving before the enemy gets a chance to get away.

While this is a good thing when attacking, in this case it prevents the battlemind from going into the square their foe is going to leave. Among other complications, this means that shifting enemies in a diagonal square from a Battlemind are gone for good - there is no way to end up adjacent to them. Also, a much-criticized side-effect of the Opportunity Action cost is that you'll never get an Opportunity Attack if the enemy then chooses to charge. Then again, that OA would have been equally impossible without Blurred Step, and at least there is a chance of moving to an advantageous position.

The build-related feature for the Charisma build ("Quick Battlemind") is quite original, as well as extremely useful for a defender. It grants them a free movement when the combat starts, giving an unprecedented control of where the front line will be set. I have lost count of the number of times that my fighter rolled a low initiative, only to see allies and monsters maneuver into hardly defendable positions - incidentally, this is part of the reason why I value powers like come and Get it so highly. At any rate, I see this as a major incentive to take the class.

As for the Wisdom Build, Resilient Battlemind, it honors its name with a power called Battle Resilience, which triggers the first time they are attacked, granting a high resistance to damage for a turn. This has the potential to go wasted if, for example, the triggering attack misses and nobody else attacks the character during that turn, but if you can somehow attract the attention of several enemies from the beginning, you can prevent a lot of damage.

Overall, the class suffers from a punishing mechanic that is difficult to use, so the plain mark penalty will often be the only adverse effect that marked enemies take. This is aggravated by the lack of good basic attacks, which makes the Melee Training feat a must.

Powers

Although the features left a bittersweet taste, a Battlemind's catalogue of powers is nothing but pure sugar. There is, inevitably, some filler material, but most choices are interesting either in their at-will or their augmented form, which creates a nice tension. More importantly, there are several at-wills that are radically different from those of any other class - great examples of the potential of the Power Point mechanic.

The basic lineup of level 1 at-wills isn't all that impressive, but covers essential functions. There are at-wills to mark, push, and penalize attacks, and augmentations for close bursts, blasts, and even a blinding debuff, all of them very tempting as spammable encounter powers. But the undeniable star is Iron Fist, a strike that grants resistance equal to Wisdom modifier whether you hit or miss. This looks like a better version of the Temporaty HP- granting powers of other defenders - which is to say a lot.

The real surprises begin at level 7. Lightning Rush is an Immediate Interrupt at-will attack! It triggers when a nearby enemy attacks an ally, allowing you to move adjacent and attack, sacrificing the standard action of your next turn (a necessary, but profitable tradeoff). If that wasn't enough, both augmentations offer great effects.

Also at level 7, and competing for the same slot, is Psionic Speed, which could be described as a marking, better version of Dual Strike that hits three enemies and can be used with two-handed weapons. This will typically be similar in effect to a Sword Burst, but it can easily be upgraded to a close burst 2 with a reach weapon. Also, the mass-marking should prove invaluable.

Even more gems await at level 13. Brutal Barrage is the first at-will (and probably the last) in the game that lets you attack a single target three times, incidentally knocking him prone if two or more hit. Of course, in order to keep the damage at a sane level, each hit only deals your Constitution modifier in damage - which, multiplied by three, is acceptable but far from stellar. Accuracy is nothing short of insane, though, and I personally find the interaction with Hammer Rhythm hilarious.

The next remarkable power is Armor of Blades (level 23), a variant of Lightning Rush that trades out-of-turn movement (along with its great reach) for the awesome effect of redirecting enemy attacks to oneself. It isn't probably worth taking over Lightning Rush, but I would be very tempted to take both.

Finally, Brilliant Recovery is another unprecedented at-will effect, though one that I see as horribly unbalanced. It is a minor action attack that you can only use after missing. It would be extremely effective, but actually fair, if it was somehow limited to one attack per turn, but it isn't. As it is, there is a huge incentive to force a miss on your first attack (say, attacking bare-handed with your eyes closed) in order to blow two minor actions for an improved Twin Strike. This really deserves errata, but once it gets it, it will be one of my favourite powers.

The selection of dailies is merely passable, in my opinion. For each level, there is an attack that comes with a stance that boosts opportunity attacks. Some of these are quite good, others less so. Nevertheless, I'm not sure it is a mechanic that justifies so many slots, as it gets boring quick. Utility powers are also decent, my favourites being an at-will Water Walk at level 2, and an encounter power that lets you turn a melee strike into a ranged 10 attack.