Monday, May 4, 2009

How much should a Shielding Swormage shield?

While playing a Dungeon Delve last weekend, I had the chance to experience in practice what I already suspected: that a Shielding Swordmage is the best one there is at what he does, and what he does isn't completely fair.

What a Shielding Swordmage does, is preventing a good chunk of damage from marked enemies attacking someone else. So much damage, in fact, that attacks from average monsters are effectively negated. Today, I'll explain why I think this is a bad mechanic, and how I'd try to improve it.

First, though, I should explain my view on the defender role. The unique purpose of a defender is to reduce the total damage taken by the party. They use two types of mechanics to achieve this: personal defense, and attack redirection. The first one is rather simple - defenders havethe best armor, highest hit points, and defensive powers, so attacks against them will be less efective than against other members of the party. Since this would be pointless if enemies were allowed to ignore them in favor of softer targets, defenders also have means to attract attention from their opponents. These means consist in marking enemies and penalizing or punishing attacks against other allies. The option to damage those allies will still exist, but it will be more difficult and usually not worth it.

The previous paragraph roughly describes the behaviour of all defenders in the game, except Shielding Swordmages. The effect of Aegis of Shielding is so powerful, that not attacking the swordmage becomes pointless. The table below shows Avg. dmg., the average monster damage by level (taken from this post), compared to AoS damage absorption, for Swordmages with an average Constitution value, 14. The fourth column expresses the percentage of average damage absorbed by AoS. Note that these numbers are so good, that there is little incentive for investing in higher Con. The effect wouldn't be half bad for a Con of 10, for that matter.

As we can see, AoS usually protects from 80-90% of an average attack, with the lowest point being about 60%, and the highest more than 100%. This goes beyond encouraging marked enemies to focus on you - it's almost impossible to damage anyone else! For any other defender, this would already be too good. Considering that a Swordmage's mark has no 'engagement clause' (like Divine Challenge, for example), and that Swordmages are by far the defender class with the best mobility and ranged attacks, running away from the marked enemy and leaving him unable to do any harm becomes the default choice.

What would be a reasonable power level for Aegis of Shielding? I think a shield that cut damage dealt in half would be good enough as a deterrent - attacking other targets will rarely be the first option, but it will no longer be a completely wasted action. Since we want the effect to scale with Constitution, we are looking for a range between 30% mitigation (for Con values as low as 10) and 70% (for starting values of 18, or even 20).

We can get these numbers by changing the damage reduction to Con+2, and +1 for every 5 levels above the first. I suggest using the following, revised version:

For reference, the table below shows mitigation values for average monster damage of each level, and different starting Constitution values.


  1. Wow, mate, this is one hell of a job. I'm one for overpowered gishes, you already know that, but I may even bow to this one modification, haha :D

    I really miss playing with you guys :(

    Great blog so far, btw, i know I don't comment much, but i sure read every post :)

  2. Well, I happen to be the guilty player in that delve ^^ (And did it by chance. After the other players chose their classes we needed a defender, so I rolled the char in 5 mins with character builder, without knowing even class features previously) and by the third encounter we familiar enough to abuse the shielding mark, laughing at a lvl 1 elite.

    Really the current version does way too much. The comparison with the Paladin mark (which I used over the complete keep of the Shadowfell) is so lopsided it is not even funny. Not only the shielding effect is much more effective, but the ease to maintain and abuse it simply could not happen to the paladin with all the restrictive clauses.
    The proposed values feel right, and give the option to invest heavily in con for a really powerful detriment

  3. On the other hand, the shielding swordmage stops one guy. One. This makes him stupid effective against elites and solos, but not so much against large groups of things. Three or four skirmishers are going to run a swordmage down - that's what you have the fighter's combat superiority for. Sticky vs. damage reduction. See also Warden. The shielding swordmage is also similarly pointless against minions. He can only do his bit once per round which is amazing when your opponents are also basically once per round types.

  4. I'm not saying the swordmage is superior in every aspect to other defenders - it's not. But Shielding Aegis is terribly easy to abuse, and it's very, very effective when you do.

    It comes down to this: you can, with very little effort, neutralize one guy in the oppossing team. This is huge, and you don't really need Elites - it's good enough against standard monsters. And the presence of minions isn't much of a factor, as most encounters with minions will have a couple of standard monsters anyways.

  5. Yes, you can shield from one enemy at a time. But so does a paladin. Paladin's divine challenge does 3/tier + ability modifier damage, Aegies of Shielding protects from 5/tier + ability modifier damage. With the proposed change the Aegis does as much shielding as a Challenge does damage.

    It's also worth noting that the Divine Challenge has steep requirements to maintain the mark. You are forced to either attack the marked creature or end your turn next to it, while Aegis of Shielding last until you mark someone else.

    The Divine Challenge's advantage over Aegis of Shielding is that it's a close burst 5 instead of a close burst 2 so you can mark from further away, but considering you'll probably have to move adjacent to the monster anyway in order to maintain the Challenge this is largely a moot point. For the Aegis to work the marked enemy also has to have an unoccupied square next to him, but that's usually a trivial requirement and therefore not enough to balance the powers.

    So basically the Divine Challenge is obviously weaker than Aegis of Shielding and arguably remains so even after the proposed reduction in shielding.

  6. Then again, Divine Challenge is arguably an underpowered mark (though Divine Power alleviates that), so the comparison with Aegis of Shielding may not be enough of an argument. The fact that Shielding tends to perform so much better than the other Aegis options is more worrying, to me.

  7. That is probably because Aegis of Assult is not guaranteed damage while Aegis of Shielding is guaranteed damage reduction.

    If you want to make the two completely balanced you can houserule so that Aegis of Assult gives you a melee attack that automatically hits and does as much damage as Aegis of Shielding prevents (except based on STR rather than CON).

    Now of course this doesn't take minions into account who'd inflict more damage with their attacks than it takes to kill them, but nobody in their right mind is going to pick a minion as their single mark anyway so it shouldn't be a problem.

  8. I hate Reaper's Challenge.

    There. I said it. It's out there. We can all move on. Swordmage Aegis of Shielding is really powerful-in my latest game, I upped Aegis of Assault, but did nothing for it. But one thing that I've always been annoyed by for Swordmages is that one 15th level daily. It's only really useful for solo bosses, but still-it totally substitutes for an entire class build as far as being a defender goes. Oh sure, there are more ridiculous builds out there-look at Certain Justice for instance-but it's the one that I've had the most bad experiences with.

    1. I'm a DM and I just had to stop using solos because of Reaper's challenge. And now it's just not fun