Monday, February 23, 2009

D&D class overview (IV): The not-so-awesome

The second tier of classes, which I'll talk about today, are mostly fine except for a few significant issues. While they can certainly be played, and enjoyed, I believe they would vastly improve if these issues were addressed. Let's take a look at the Fighter and its balance problems, the featureless Wizard, and both Clerics and Paladins with their crippling multiple main ability scores.

I find identifying classes in pictures rather difficult, and not just because of resolutions as tiny as above.

I should start by admitting I'm a Fighter kind of guy. Shield Fighter, to be more specific. The first archetype I try in most games is the highly defensive melee guy. However, don't think that I'm blinded by favoritism when I state that the Player's Handbook Fighter is a brilliant design. I particularly like how it offers not just 2 different builds, but 2 x N: two fighter weapon talents and N different types of weapon (including three very viable choices in heavy blades, axes and hammers, as well as a smattering of lesser varieties). These multiple levels of choice are a great idea, and something that I'd really like to see generalized.

While the Player's Handbook material alone would have the fighter as an almost flawless class, this changes, for worse, with Martial Power. Don't get me wrong, I think MP is quite a decent supplement, and it adds lots of goodies for all martial classes, fighters included. It's just that it has a few important blunders regarding balance, and they are all fighter related.

The most obvious offender is the Battlerager Vigor class feature. For builds with low to average constitution it's merely a better choice than Weapon Talent. On more optimized characters, however, it is a powerhouse that grants near immunity to melee attacks. Slightly less problematic, but still dangerous, is the Tempest Fighter build. This build, coupled with double weapons from Adventurer's Vault and a careful feat selection, is capable of damage outputs that rival those of most strikers, being second only to optimized Rangers. I do believe that most of the blame lies in the double weapons, but the at-will power Dual Strike should also be closely examined.

Another Fighter 'gem' from MP is the paragon feat Marked Scourge, which is almost unreachable for other classes through multiclassing, boosts Fighter damage even more, and becomes just insane when dual wielding. Finally, no discussion on Fighter balance would be complete without mentioning the 3rd level encounter power from PHB, Rain of Blows. Official interpretations on this poorly formatted power (which I disagree with) state that it can deal between 2 and 4 attacks, which translates in an absurd amount of damage, rivalling most daily powers, even at Epic levels.

Wizards, more than any other class, are entirely defined by their powers. It's not just that they have an amazing selection of them, with excellent choices available both for the at-will, encounter and daily categories. Rather, it's because what they lack: class features.

Cantrips and Spellbooks, while cool and flavorful, are virtually useless in combat. Implement Mastery, on the other hand, is quite useful, and would make a great secondary feature. What is missing here is a core, combat related feature. Any other class would fill this spot with some role-related feature, but there is no such thing for controllers. As a result, the class feels slightly lacking in efficiency and uniqueness, even if the awesome powers sometimes make up for it. There are also worrying implications with multiclassing, as other classes with actual features can gain access to those wizard powers.

To make things worse, even the humble Implement Mastery isn't fully taken advantage of. No power in the wizard's repertoire references neither the wielded implement nor the chosen mastery, making this build choice largely irrelevant. Furthermore, secondary ability scores are worthless, with the exception of Wisdom being used for two at-will powers. Other than that, and the Implement Mastery power, we find that Wisdom, Constitution and Dexterity mean nothing to the Wizard.

Despite these problems, added to their blatant lack of feats, wizards work fairly well. But they definitely can be improved upon.

We are left with Clerics and Paladins, which to me present the same concern: they offer two options for a main ability score, and have that as the only variable to differentiate builds. As I explained previously, multiple main ability scores just don't work. But even if they did, the build options in these divine classes would still be very, very wrong.

It's bad enough that class features stay the same from one build to the other. What is completely un acceptable, though, is that one build's abilities affect these features while the other one's don't. Wisdom Clerics have Healer's Lore, but Strength Clerics get nothing. Likewise, Charisma Paladins gain a bonus to Divine Challenge, and Strength Paladins cry (though both have Wisdom-powered Lay on Hands). You could argue that Strength provides better basic attacks, or whatever. The fact is, in order to use one of your class builds, you have to give up features without getting anything in return!

Oh, and there is no 9nth level daily power for Strength Paladins. The designers must really dislike strong divine characters.

Next: The less-than-awesome!

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