Sunday, July 5, 2009

A close look at Arcane Power (I) - Bard class builds


The Prescient Bard is a new class build, focusing on ranged weapon powers. It uses Wis as secondary score, and the main theme is modification of die rolls, both of allies and enemies. It's linked to a new class feature, the Virtue of Prescience, which prevents attacks against your allies once per encounter.

How good/interesting is Virtue of Prescience?

Although its power level is adequate, it's hardly a compelling class feature, particularly when compared to the alternatives. Previous Virtues were usable once per turn, when specific but frequent conditions were fulfilled. In contrast, Virtue of Prescience activates once per encounter, and has a stronger effect to compensate. You do have greater control over when and how you use it, but overall it feels more like a (very strong) utility power than a class feature.

I may be judging this virtue too harshly - after all, there is enough precedent in perfectly valid class features that are encounter powers, such as Channel Divinity or Wizard Implement Mastery. In fact, this could be considered an improved version of the Wizard Staff Mastery encounter power (though that came bundled with a very nice static bonus to AC). On the other hand, this has to compete with other bardic virtues, and they look far more appealing to me due to their frequency of use.

Who should use this build?

Players who want an archer bard have a strong incentive to go Prescient, as it is the only build whose secondary ability enhances encounter powers with ranged weapons. That said, Arcane Power has an awful lot of bard powers for bows and crossbows, so it shouldn't be difficult to make a character without virtue-specific powers. Conversely, no melee powers are supported by Virtue of Prescience, so this isn't the best of options for front line bards.

Races with high wisdom may feel attracted to Prescience, but note that dwarves and devas (two very popular Wisdom races, in my experience) are also good Valerous and Cunning bards, erspectively. I'm afraid that, all other things equal, the other virtues make better choices than Prescience.

How good/interesting are the feature-specific feats?

Extended Prescience (Heroic feat)
Power: **
Fun: **

Your staple prescient feat, this isn't that interesting when you are just saving a random ally from an attack, but will excel for protecting defenders. Use this at the right time when the party defender is engaging several enemies, and you can prevent a good amount of damage.

Prescient Fortification (Heroic feat)
Power: * (** with other feats)
Fun: * (** with other feats)

This is a curious case, in that I wouln't ever take it by itself, but it does have a nice synergy with other Prescience-enhancing feats. With Extended Prescience you can have an almost invincible character for a turn, and in combination with Prescient Aid you can but guarantee a hit, if you really need to.

Prescient Aid (Paragon feat)
Power: **
Fun: *

The option to use your Prescience for offense rather than defense is undoubtedtly powerful, and likely to become the default choice when you reach paragon. However, I really dislike the philosophy behind this, as the new functionality usually obsoletes the previous one, and it has has zero synergy with Extended Prescience. Not that I'd like the attack bonus to last for a full turn - now, that WOULD be annoyingly powerful.

Prescient Resurgence (Epic feat)
Power: **
Fun: ***

What took them so long? Additional uses of VoP are definitely welcome, and I think any Prescient Bard worth his salt will eventually take this. It's also an appropiate effect for epic tier, as I think this might be a bit too good at lower levels.

Is there anything that should be fixed or houseruled?

When I look at Virtue of Prescience, I really, really feel like it's asking for some additional effect. Not power-wise, as much as in terms of fun gameplay - other bards get to do cool stuff every turn! How could we solve this? I'd like this Virtue to be relevant more than once per encounter, but I'm not really comfortable with granting extra uses of the encounter power - it's a pretty potent one, after all. So we should look at other kinds of effects. I propose the following feat:

Prescient Advice
Tier: Heroic
Prerequisites: Bard, Virtue of Prescience class feature
Benefit: When you roll initiative, as a free action, you may grant an ally a power bonus to initiative equal to your Wisdom modifier. This doesn't spend your Virtue of Prescience, but it counts as a use of the feature for the purposes of other feats and features.
(This would work with Prescient Fortification, as well as the Karmic Shaper paragon path)

I think initiative-related effects fit perfectly with the flavor of the Virtue, and this is a great way to make the whole party excited about your prescience. Generous DMs might consider giving this for free to their prescient bard, though I see it fine as a feat.

As I commented on the feat section, I'm not satisfied with the implementation of Prescient Aid. I'd consider a revision of the feat that, while not as strong for purely offensive purposes, integrated the regular feature and related feats, rather than ignoring them. It also adds a really epic dimension to your VoP activations:

Prescient Aid (revised)
Tier: Paragon
Prerequisites: 11th level, bard, Virtue of Prescience class feature
Benefit: When you use your Virtue of Prescience to grant a power bonus to an ally's defense, that ally gains that bonus to the next attack roll it makes before the end of his next turn.

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