Monday, March 16, 2009

Go, go, ranger powers!

UPDATE: As of December, 2009, Careful Attack has been errataed to add Dexterity or Strength to the damage roll, so my suggested fix for that power is no longer necessary (though I like it more than the official version).

I'll do the usual trick: show modified powers now, then have some discussion after the cut. I'm leaving Beast Mastery for other day, as I think it's a whole different animal (heh). Also, no changes for Nimble Strike -we like you as you are, NS!

This will hurt a little now, but you'll feel much better afterwards...

Careful, now.

Ok, we're ready to go!

When it comes to at-will powers, Rangers find themselves in an awkward position. On the one hand, they have Twin Strike, the best at-will in the game (though it's a really close call between that and the cleric's Righteous Brand). On the other hand, and intimately related to the first issue, they hardly ever get to use whatever power they have chosen as a second at-wil. And it's not just Twin Strike to blame, here, as some of the worst at-wills in the game -Careful attack, I'm looking at you- are also sported by rangers. Nevertheless, I think that even without those crappy powers, it would be almost impossible to have a somewhat balanced selection that didn't involve changing Twin Strike.

The way 4E rules are made, powers allowing multiple attacks beat almost anythin, damage-wise. Not only that, but they are more accurate than the so-called "accurate attacks" (poor, poor Careful Attack!), since you're more likely to land an attack when rolling twice than when getting a +2 bonus. Or a +4, for that matter.

The changes shown above try to address the issue, bringing down TS to a more mundane level while improving the subpar choices so that they are actually interesting to use. Note that they imply a significant reduction (between 10% and 20%, from my calculations) to a Ranger's damage at-will damage output. Since Rangers were usually well above most other classes in terms of damage, you could probably just apply these modifications and call it a day. I suggest using them with the feature changes I proposed previously, which increase the damage potential at the cost of making it more rogue-like (and I mean being Sneak Attack-ish, not looking like an '@').

Since I have probably bored you to death with Twin Strike (I'd argue that TS usually has that effect), I should comment on the other two powers. I felt Careful Attack needed some sort of side effect, since hitting often is something that TS was already great at. I settled with a bonus to hit for the following turn, because, if the numbers are right, it could allow for a power rotation: open one turn with Careful Attack, have an enconunter power, or Twin Strike, or whatever the following turn, and repeat. While it may not seem terribly varied, it should be more fun than just using a single attack. Since it was still a bit too weak, extra damage was added. I could have used Wisdom modifier here, but I found that at higher levels it would be almost equivalent to just using the main ability, so I went the halved main ability route.

Regarding Hit and Run, I always considered that it failed on the 'run' part. The added movement should interact nicely with the other effect, and improve the ranger's emphasis on mobility, which is usually one of the most fun aspects of playing a striker. Of course, this really shines with the improved Fighting Style I proposed, but it should work either way. Again, I could have linked the bonus to Wisdom modifier, but I think it plays better when it gives 3-4 squares of movement.

Bonus home rule: Global multiattack adjustment for Rangers

A mere -2 penalty to hit, by itself, isn't really enough to balance multiattack powerhouses like Twin Strike, but it sure helps. If you really feel that your rangers' damage is excessive, or that single attack powers are way below multiattacks, the following modification may be for you:

Whenever a ranger power allows you to make more than one attack on any single target, apply a -2 penalty to hit to that power's attack rolls.

This wouldn't apply to burst powers, or powers that forced you to make all attacks on different targets. Powers that give you the option to hit either a single target or several (such as Twin Strike) would always have the penalty, regardless of how the attacks are assigned. Below, I provide a table with all ranger powers that would take the penalty. (Paragon path powers not included)

It may be hard to believe, but there are a few multiattack powers that could be considered more or less balanced, or even weak. The table below lists what I consider fair powers. It's probably safe to keep these without a penalty:


  1. Excellent blog! On topic, though, I don't think I could bring myself to make such sweeping changes to the ranger (particularly since they haven't been problematic for me yet). However, I've been under the impression that most of the excessive power stemming from multi-attack powers comes from items that add large damage bonuses like Reckless, Bloodclaw, or Radiant. Do you think if such things were removed, Multi-attack powers would still need an across-the-board nerf? (Ignoring the disparity between the Ranger at-wills for the moment)

  2. I think the problem with multi-attacks goes beyond those broken items (which I'd definitely like to tone down), as anything that improves your damage will benefit those powers more than single-attack ones of the same level.

    We're moving into science-fiction territory here, but I'd be comfortable with a system where, for a moderately optimized character with good gear, the raw damage output of multiattacks was slightly below that of single attacks. Multiattacks would still have the advantage of a greatly increased accuracy (beyond Careful Attack's wildest dreams) and flexibility, for those powers that allow choosing one or more powers. They would also be the powers of choice whenever leader bonuses to attack were available.

    Now, I haven't made extensive calculations, but I think my sweeping fix doesn't get that far: the powers listed, even with the added penalty, would probably outdamage most alternatives as soon as you applied a minimum of optimization. More so if Reckless weapons and the like are used. I just tried to reduce the difference.

    A different approach that I'd also like to take would be to restrict the best damage-enhancing effects to work only once per turn. Maybe only with main-hand attacks, too. You can see this philosophy in the recent official errata to Marked Scourge, for example. You don't need to change Weapon Focus, but Hammer Rhythm and many paragon path features would probably deserve it.

  3. That all sounds reasonable. I have never seen Bloodclaw or the like in action, (and hopefully never will) so I'm not very familiar with the potential of multiattacks. Perhaps I'll have to give some thought to good universal houserules for them in the future.

  4. This is way out of date, and you probably don't check this any more, but I've found a better fix for twin strike is keeping the attack the way it is, but making the hit line "Hit: 1[w] damage. If both attacks hit, this does 1[w] bonus damage."

    This disables the stacking modifier.

    However, another problem that rangers have is off-turn attacks and minor action attacks. Those are tougher to fix without going through on a case-by-case basis.

  5. Hi, VM. I may not have much time to post new articles these days, but I still check the comments, so any feedback is appreciated.

    Anyway, about your suggested fix - it's an idea that comes up from time to time in forums, and it works fine for the most part. The main problem I have with it is that it's not all that easy to translate into rules text that works and remains readable, particularly for a verbose power like Twin Strike: though the meaning of your version is clear enough, as written you would be _adding_ damage to the attack, rather than reducing it.

    You'd need a clause like "If the two attacks hit the same target, resolve them as a single hit that deals 1[W] extra damage".

    An even better solution, and one that also comes up often in multiatack discussion, is to hardwire this non-stacking clause into the rules, so that all multiattacking powers that happen to hit more than once are resolved as a single hit. It's not a bad houserule, though it would probably feel a bit forced as an official rule.

    I have had off-turn / minor attacks on my future article list practically forever, but never got to write about it. The easiest solution is horribly inelegant, but similar to the previous one: to remove all damage bonuses normally associated with a hit from these attacks. This is easier said than done, and has the problem of also hitting fair stuff like Combat Challenge and other defender mechanics.

    For my great rules revision project (which is unfortunately on hold, for the moment), I though about these issues and came up with an idea to codify these rule changes in an acceptable manner. I would first define two keywords that could be applied to powers:

    Flurry: An attack with the flurry keyword halves all damage bonuses that would be applied to it.

    Swift: An attack with the swift keyword ignores all damage bonuses that would be applied to it.

    I would also need to define damage bonuses, which is not currently a clear rules concept. A tentative definition would be "anything that adds to damage and isn't stated in the power text". So you'd keep your ability modifier, and whatever your [W] is worth, and reduce/discard the rest.

    The next step would be to define a list of powers that would have these keywords retroactively added. Basically anything multiattacking would get flurry, while off-turn attacks would gain swift.