Thursday, July 9, 2009

A close look at Arcane Power (II) - Bard heroic powers

Without further introduction, these are my opinions on heroic tier bard powers from Arcane Power.

Jinx Shot At-will
Power: ** - Fun: ***

One of the coolest at-wills out there. The effect is not terribly powerful, as the target can choose to move before he attacks (and maybe falls prone) or, if movement isn't needed, attack and stand up right away. Still, there are many tricks to pull off, and knocking prone with a ranged attack is way better than in melee.

Firemetal Shot Encounter 1
Power: * - Fun: ***

I love the rider on this power, but the overall strength is a bit lacking except in the most favourable scenarios, where it does shine. With an intelligence of 18 or better, you'd need around two allies succesfully hitting to break even with the average damage of a power of this level. Since hit chance tends to be slightly above 50%, this means the whole party has to focus on the target for a whole turn.

Multi-attack powers improve this outcome, as do action points, so this can potentially deal a lot of damage. Still, I'd prefer it to work a bit better on average cases.

Focused Sound Encounter 1
Power: ** - Fun: *

I don't think this is worth it before your party gets +2 weapons, but once you do, it's moderately interesting. Critical hit damage can be optimized to absurd levels (see builds exploiting RRoT), and you can use this in combination with encounter powers or dailies for greater effect. That said, even though the numbers are probably OK, I don't find the effect appealing. I guess it's a bit too inconsistent for me.

As a point in its favour, and unlike Firemetal Shot above, this does enhance the bard's next power, so you should take that into account, too.

Prophesied Strike Encounter 1
Power:* - Fun: *

This could almost be an at-will power, and it would be a pretty good one, but as an encounter attack, I find it lacking. You improve your chance to hit with a real attack - which this isn't.

Prophetic Action Encounter 1
Power: ** - Fun: *

The damage is decent enough, and the way the special effect is triggered is pretty flavorful, as you can justify the attack missing becouse of the extra movement. However, it also means that 50% of the time, when the target's attack actually hits, this won't do anything special. I'd expect something more impressive for such an unreliable effect.

Thunders Calling Encounter 1
Power: ** - Fun: **

This is outclassed by Blunder, but still decent. However, the extra attack being ranged instead of melee and the moderate distance you slide the target can be useful to run away from it. Useful in combination with slow effects.

Cruel Fate Encounter 3
Power: * - Fun: *

Most of the time, Firemetal shot will add more damage than this, for a single attack. And a single attack is all you will get enhanced. Abysmal.

Entangling Opening Encounter 3
Power: ** - Fun: ***

This is almost the same as always knocking the target prone, only cooler. Bonus effects on successive hits is one of my favourite bard mechanics, and this power gets it right.

Recitation of Foreknowledge Encounter 3
Power: ** - Fun: ***

None of the effects are mind-blowing, and the combination isn't particularly flavorful of synergic, but it sure looks versatile. This almost guarantees immunity to OAs, which isn't that frequent, and should prove handy.

Rhyme of the Blood-Seeking Blade Encounter 3
Power: *** (Overpowered!) - Fun:***

Dealing basic attack damage as an immediate action already makes this a great encounter power, damage wise. Turning an ally's miss into a hit on top of that means it's the equivalent of a double attack power that doesn't cost you a standard action. Way too good.

Song of the New Dawn Encounter 3
Power:*** - Fun:***

Free saving throws are always welcome. This grants them with a bonus, potentially to several allies at once, and rewards careful positioning. Brilliant.

Chillsong Stroke Encounter 7
Power:** - Fun:***

I just love the synergy between this power's effects - just try it with a reach weapon for an extra bit of awesomeness. One of my favourites.

Insightful Shot Encounter 7
Power: *** - Fun: **

Power-wise, a 2[W] attack vs reflex is often enough at these levels, regardless of the riders. The boost granted by this attack will be great (3+) for AC attacks, not so much for the rest. Just make sure an ally caster doesn't spend the bonus, as you really want the next hit to come from a weapon wielder.

Rewrite the Future Encounter 7
Power: ? - Fun: ***

It's really hard to intuitively evaluate how strong this is, but it sure looks cool. I'll reserve judgement until I see it in play or do the math.

Song of Duplicitous Allure Encounter 7
Power: ** - Fun: ***

Although the potential of multiple activations isn't as good as it could be if you pushed the target instead of pulling, your allies will be able to attack in melee, move him one square, and walk away freely, among other tricks. This is on top of the usual forced movement strategies, which I happen to enjoy a lot.

Theft of Life Encounter 7
Power: *** - Fun: ***

Bards get surprisingly few healing powers, for a leader class, but this one is as good as it gets. Also, the flavor fits like a glove, and the position requirements add a nice strategic element.

Timely Distraction Encounter 7
Power: ** - Fun: **

Bonus points for the funny flavor text. Even if you'd expect a better effect for a power of this level, it's still (barely) playable

Arrow of Warning Daily 1
Power: *** (Overpowered) - Fun: ***

The ability to grant an ally an at-will power (rather than a basic attack), and as an immediate action to boot, is full of strategic opportunities - from pushing a melee attacker out of reach to trigger a striker's retaliating attack, making the target invisible or just dealing a lot of damage. I just though of the idea of this power triggering Commander's Strike making a nearby fighter hit and mark the enemy - though I couldn't say if that would allow an eventual Combat Challenge attack.

Those are the good news. The bad news is that the damage dealt by the power is completely sick, putting it head and shoulders above the rest of bard dailies of this level and the next, as well as those of most non-wizard classes. It looks like someone at Wizards tends to severely underestimate how good it is for an attack not to require a standard action. This may not be as blatantly wrong as, say, a barbarian's curtain of steel, but it's close.

Echoing Roar Daily 1
Power: * - Fun: *

Any power coming right after Arrow of Warning is likely to be a letdown, but this one is terrible by its own merits. The Echoing Roar condition is too insignificant and has too short a duration to have any relevance, so this is merely a low-damage power that deals 5 ongoing whether you hit or miss. Weak and unexciting.

Malevolent Mischief Daily 1
Power: ** - Fun: *

Another daily inflicting a condition that, despite its cool name, is unlikely to have much effect on the battlefield. The "save ends" duration is quite unfortunate in this case, as an awkward initiative order could result in the target saving before you even had a chance to slow it! You shouldn't count on this power resulting on a target slowed for more than one turn.

That said, this one has a decent damage, so that turn of slow makes it playable. Kind of.

Saga of Rivalry Daily 1
Power: ** - Fun: **

This one, on the other hand, while not exactly the stuff of legends, is decent enough. Like its predecessors, it offers a short effect of questionable utility; unlike them, it adds, on top of that, a minor bonus to an ally for the rest of the encounter.

Satire of Fortune Daily 1
Power: * - Fun: *

A guaranteed reroll makes this a Prescient Bard powers, though it falls short of turning it into a good one. A daily power should bring someting more to the table.

Arrow of Ill Omen Daily 5
Power: ** - Fun: ***

You will get a critical hit... eventually. Not for the impatient types, but the delay is a great way to balance a really powerful effect. This being an appropiate rider for a daily of its level shows just how crazy RRoT was (and still is, to some point).

Compulsion Daily 5
Power: ** - Fun: ***

This will be a blast to play, and you'll wish that it lasted longer. It is an immobilize effect with an amusing side effect, though, so lasting until the opponent saves is a good deal.

Rhyme of Fire Daily 5
Power: *** - Fun: ***

Great way to quickly take down a boss. Simple, yet effective - a perfect leader power.

Strictures of Fortune Daily 5
Power: ** - Fun:**

A bit too situational for my tastes, but it will be well worth it when it works. The question lies in how much metagaming does it really take to play it effectively. A level 5 party should have enough experience to know that all dragons have recharge effects for this to trigger, but other enemies won't be as obvious.

Vigorous Cadence Daily 5
Power: *** - Fun: ***

This doesn't compare favourably to Stirring Shout when the whole party is beating on the bad guy. On the other hand, it's still pretty good, and works wonders if you plan to leave the target alone with a defender. When in doubt, take both.

Counterpoint Daily 9
Power: * - Fun: ***

You will need to gang up on the target, and the effect doesn't last that long, and he could just shift and attack, or get lucky and don't miss... Still, this impacts both your strategy and your opponent's, and has the potential for memorable histories. A fighter in your group will make this easier to pull off.

Rain of Starlight Daily 9
Power: ** - Fun: **

Yet another short, rarely relevant condition, this one comes attached to an area attack (thus affecting 2 or 3 enemies at once), which saves this power from mediocrity.

Saga of Vengeance Daily 9
Power: *** - Fun: ***

From the makers of Stirring Shout and Vigorous Cadence. I don't mind so much this kind of repetition, as it allows some cool thematic builds. Also, using several of them on a single boss looks completely unfair (in a good way).

Symphony of Misfortune Daily 9
Power: ** - Fun: ***

This does so many things! It may not be a powerhouse, but you have guaranteed fun for the rest of the encounter. Also, it's an ally-friendly zone, so take this into account in your tactics.

Wail of Anguish Daily 9
Power: *** (very broken) - Fun: ***

The basic idea is cute, but the damage is absolutely excessive. This turns you into a walking, ally-friendly Stinking Cloud, and the shift prevention is a nice added bonus. Having to roll to hit and spend opportunity actions does little to achieve balance.

Canon of Avoidance Utility 2
Power: ** - Fun: ***

Though I don't think this would be unfair if it cost a minor action, it still makes a tempting, if a bit painful, option for a standard action. Such a bonus can improve a defender's survivability quite a bit, and the option to switch target on an emergency is an interesting one.

Clockwork Precision Utility 2
Power: * - Fun: *

I hate the aid another mechanic, with a passion. It's mostly pointless in combat (though, ironically, I remember a bard in my group, back in the 3e days, who used to turn to this out of frustration) and does evil things to the skill system. The same applies to this power.

Concerted Effort Utility 2
Power: * - Fun: **

The standard action requirement kills this for me, as the bonus is just too brief. Still, I can see this being kind of useful if your party wants to go nova and blow everything it has in a single turn. Take this for fun in games with 6-7 party members.

Moment of Escape Utility 2
Power: ** - Fun: ***

The bard's counterpart to Knight's Move, it really makes you feel as a leader for your party. I'd take this for all my utility slots if they allowed it.

Words of Protective Fate Utility 2
Power: * - Fun: **

Monster critical hits just aren't as dangerous as PCs'. This would be a far easier sell if it didn't cost you a whopping standard action. At least, you can preemptively cast it before entering a boss lair.

Chord of Resilience Utility 6
Power: *** - Fun: **

As good as damage prevention effects get. Which is to say, a lot.

Dramatic Shift Utility 6
Power: ** - Fun: ***

It's Kobold time! Granting your whole party the shifty ability for a turn each encounter is just great. Your allies should love you for taking this.

Glimpse the Future Utility 6
Power: ** - Fun: **

A safety net for important dailies, this all but guarantees a hit when you need it. Make it count.

Song of Speed Utility 6
Power: * - Fun: **

It's unfortunate that this one is published right next to Mass Kobold form. Maybe if it affected several targets?

Synchronicity Utility 6
Power: ** - Fun: **

The mandatory initiative-related utility. Everybody gets one, and it's usually OK.

Break Enchantment Utility 10
Power: ** - Fun: **

A classic. Cute, and you will always find a decent use. It may be harder to find an encounter that really makes it shine, though.

Chant of Accuracy Utility 10
Power: *** - Fun: **

For that time in the day when you want to unleash hell on your opponents. Remember that the bard will actually get two turns worth of bonus.

Idyll of Calm Utility 10
Power: * - Fun: **

I'm sure there is a monster somewhere in the manual that gets completely hosed by this power. You may reach your Epic Destiny without finding a good chance to use such a situational ability, though.

Illuminating Stars Utility 10
Power: ** - Fun: **

No noticeable effect in combat, but the bonus should be good for skill-intensive games. Maybe even too good - it's hard to say, with the skill system.

Mantle of Unity Utility 10
Power: *** - Fun: ***

A strong defensive power with a wacky mechanic and great flavor. Good all around.

Saviors Song Utility 10
Power: *** - Fun: ***

Any encounter with a heavy saving throw component will become so much easier. Don't forget to keep singing "save, save, save" or a similar tune while it lasts.

Fixing broken stuff

After marking a few powers as "broken", it's only fair to explain what I would consider fair for them. To that effect, I'd apply the following fixes:

  • Arrow of Warning Daily 1
    Change damage to 1[W]+Charisma. This will still outdamage, more often than not, regular 3[W] powers, but it will be a much closer call.

  • Rhyme of the Blood-Seeking Blade Encounter 3
    Change damage to just Charisma. Still more than worth taking - really, I would probably want it if there was no damage whatsoever.

  • Wail of Anguish Daily 9
    I think the right call is to leave this one's damage as just the Charisma modifier. This severely changes the power's use, though, as it's no longer a viable short-term damage source. It can pay off over the course of a whole encounter, particulartly if you take into account that you never spent a standard action for it. As a result of the change, you might find it convenient to sometimes not spend the opportunity action in order to be able to make a "real" OA - I'm fine with that, since you'll have plenty of chances to trigger opportunity wails.

Fixing not-really-broken stuff

Bringing mediocre powers to a playable level isn't as urgent as dealing with the overpowered ones, but I enjoy it nevertheless. Here you have some low-priority patches, in case you are interested:

- Firemetal Shot: Change 'whenever an ally hits' into 'whenever you or an ally hit'. Just a bit more damage, which is what I missed here.

- Prophesied Strike: Move the reroll effect from the Hit line to an Effect line. Having the same effect, but reliably, turns the power into something useful for a party`s strategy.

- Prophetic Action: Change 'the target misses' to 'the target hits or misses'. It's a fun, mostly harmless effect, it deserves to work when you want it to.

- Echoing Roar: My change for this one is a bit radical - let the echoing roar effect last the whole encounter, take away the ongoing damage, an add 'whenever an ally hits the target, he deals 5 ongoing thunder damage to it (save ends)'. This is a great rider, but still below that of Rhyme of Fire (level 5 daily), making it fair in my book.

- Malevolent Mischief: My initial idea is sadly already taken - see the Burdening Dirge power from Dragon magazine. Sad as it may be, changing the duration from 'save ends' to 'until the end of your next turn' actually makes the power more potent and easy to use, so I'd try that.

(Edit - new idea for a fix) After writing this article, I have come up with an idea for a mechanic that would work really well with this power. At the end of the effect section, add: "The target cannot save against this power if it has moved since the end of its last turn".

- Satire of Fortune: Add a symmetric effect affecting the target's attacks, 'The next time the target hits with an attack during this encounter, you roll a d20 and replace the target's attack roll with yours'. This should be worth almost as much as weakening the target for a turn, and fits the theme.

- Cruel Fate: Make the effect apply to all attacks from allies. With that you still don't match the bonus you'd gain with Firemetal Shot, so add 'The next time the target hits with an attack before the end of your next turn, he rerolls the attack's damage and uses the lower result'. Again, a thematic effect to fill the power gap.

- Song of Speed : make it work on two targets.

- Counterpoint: Add 'Aftereffect: whenever the target misses with an attack, it provokes an opportunity attack from an ally of your choice (save ends)'

1 comment:

  1. I tend to think any power that knocks an enemy prone as an at will is really powerful. It doesn't have the same power as a daze as an at will, but it does have some similarities.

    Daze: -minor and -move. Prone: -move.
    Daze: Can't use immediate or opportunity actions. Prone: You can, but if any are attacks, you'll at least take a penalty to hit.

    The problem with prone and daze as at wills is that it's just too easy to control enemies that way. At least with slow, everyone has to run for the hills.

    Of course, Jinx shot requires the target to miss, so it's not THAT great. But on the other hand, it's way more useful against area attackers or multi-attackers, since the more attacks per round, the more likely they are to miss at least once. I suppose ranged bards aren't really OP enough to worry though-unless they go Twin Strike, which means they won't be using Jinx Shot anyway!