Sunday, November 15, 2009

Forbidden Treasures: Adventurer's Vault weapons and armor

Update: This article really got hit by the Great November Errata, which brought many improvements to the game and particularly to Adventurer's Vault. Many weapons in my list were fixed - some of them just as I proposed, others solving a completely different problem than the one I had found!

I continue my series about broken magic items, with the first article dedicated to Adventurer's Vault. AV is a very complicated book, with a vast amount of items and an above-average concentration of problematic stuff, so today's long list will only cover magic armor and weapons. I explained my criteria for determining overpoweredness in the opening article, but given the length of today's list, I have also introduced a clasification of broken weapons, to quickly identify what is wrong with each one, from my point of view. The three categories are Damage Bonus, for those offering a large, continuous boost to damage (which isn't what a 4E weapon enchantment should do), Critical Bonus, for excessive critical hit triggers (also damage boosters, though in a less regular way) and Save Penalty, for items penalizing saving throws (dangerous in combination with stunning effects). Weapons that don't fall in any of these categories are listed as Miscellaneous.



Problem - AC bonus. With the help of your party leader, it's not that difficult to stay out of bloodied range for the majority of turns of each encounter, if you have a good reason to do so. The defense bonus from that armor is usually well worth it and, as a consequence, it becomes almost permanent. Furthermore, at higher tiers it becomes even better, without requiring that much of an investment in Dexterity - a character with a mere starting Dex value of 13 can naturally benefit from the increased bonus at Paragon, and only at Epic tier would he need to increase that ability in order to gain maximum benefit. These bonuses should be much more limited, both in duration and in requirements.
Solution - Change the property to "Property: While have maximum hit points, you gain an item bonus to AC equal to one half your Dexterity modifier up to a maximum of +1."
Comment - The bonus is way harder to keep active, but this will still come up at least a few rounds every encounter. Also, changing the ability requirement ensures the item is aimed at characters that are actually agile, instead of virtually everybody.


Problem - Damage Bonus. The bonus is very respectable. Frequently active under normal circumstances, and with a reckless strategy you can make it work almost every turn.
Solution - Change property to "While you are bloodied if an enemy has damaged you since your last turn, you deal +1d6 damage when you hit with this weapon."
Comment- The requirement of actually getting hurt by enemies makes abusing this much more complicated. It's still possible to get a virtually continuous bonus if enough enemies focus on the character, but it will be hard for an offense-oriented character to survive in that scenario. Extra damage for defensive characters is much less troublesome.

* Bloodclaw (Update: Bloodclaw is no more. I agree 100% with the change, which happens to be virtually identical to what I proposed.)

Problem -Damage Bonus. Together with Reckless (see below), Bloodclaws are the most common weapon of choice for characters trying to optimize their damage, and with good reason. Their constant HP cost is annoying, but they more than make up for it. Also, in case they weren't absurd enough, the loose wording allows a player to activate the power and then attack (with the bonus!) with a different weapon.
Solution - Change power from At-Will to Encounter. Change the beginning of the last sentence of the weapon property to "If you hit with this weapon...".
Comment- A harsh change, but far from bad enough to make the weapon unplayable. The +1 version becomes mediocre, and the use of one-handed weapons is far from optimal, though. As a strong encounter power, this version is prone to abuse by stacking activations from several lower level items (since attacks affected by that power are profitable even at the cost of a reduced enhancenment bonus), but I intend to address that general loophole with item powers in a future article.

* Bloodiron (Update: Also errataed, though they fixed an ambiguous wording that suggested a recursive effect rather than weakening the weapon. I'd like to see further changes, but I agree that the implemented change was needed.)
Problem - Critical Bonus. You can't get much more ridiculous than this with critical effects. Vicious Weapons are a good benchmark for this kind of items and, although it is acceptable for an item of higher level to be stronger, the disparity in this case is just too much.
Solution - Change the property to "When you score a critical hit with this weapon, deal the extra critical hit damage to the target again the next time you hit the target before your next turn".
Comment - The chance that the following attack will miss and the extra damage is lost weakens the property as much as the need to attack the target one more time in order to get the full effect. Given the amount of damage involved, critical hits with these weapons tended to be the last hits a target received. Nevertheless, this still beats Vicious.

Problem - Damage Bonus. Coupled with a very rare, but devastating, bonus to hit. This is only partially offset by the fact that it is very difficult to exploit in the first two rounds of combat (though even that might work, in a group with other strikers with much higher initiative bonuses). On the other hand, after that point, you will probably be able to jump from one bloodied enemy to the next.
Solution - Change property to: "After you hit with this weapon, if the target is bloodied, the next time you attack it with this weapon before the end of your next turn you gain a +1 item bonus to the attack roll and an item bonus equal to the enhancenment bonus to the damage roll."
Comment - The bonuses are still great, but it will take some effort to get them. It will take really accurate characters to make the most out of this, since one miss means you start all over again. Having one guaranteed attack without bonus against each target is another balancing factor.

Problem - Save Penalty. Just out of principle, this shouldn't work for the whole duration of an effect.
Solution - In the item property, replace "to saving throws" with "to the first saving throw".

Problem - Miscellaneous. This won't come up often as it is one of the most boring possible strategies, but at paragon tier and beyond, the item allows a defender with a strong enough mark to use total defense every turn to become almost unhittable. Even if you have houserules for the most likely candidates for mark abuse, this is dangerously degenerate.
Solution - Replace the property with the following power:
Power(encounter). Free action. Use only when you take the total defense or second wind action. Add the enhancement bonus of this weapon as an item bonus to all of your defenses until the start of your next turn.
Comment - What we are left with isn't the most exciting of weapons, but is really close to the original one in the most common (and fair) scenarios: a character using Second Wind once per encounter, and staying away from Total Defense.

Problem- Damage Bonus A very specific item, as it only works for a single build of a character class. On the other hand, the benefit that Trickster Rogues get from this is nothing short of amazing, and probably the only thing that keeps it from being mandatory to such characters is the even-more-broken stuff like Bloodclaw&Reckless.
Solution - Replace the property with the following power:
Power (Encounter): Free Action. Use when you hit an enemy with this weapon and deal extra damage from your Sneak Attack class feature. add your Charisma modifier to the damage roll. When you reduce an enemy to 0 hit points, regain the use of this power.
Comment - Unlike other cases in this article, I have added the chance to recover this power because I thought it ended up a bit too weak for a level+4 item. Still, it will rarely trigger more than a couple of times per encounter unless there is an abundance of minions. And minion slaying is far from an ideal use of a rogue's abilities, anyway.

* Mage's Weapon (Update: The Parrying Dagger trick still works, but they fixed a potential abuse with the encounter power.)
Problem - Miscelaneous. Easiest way in the game to get a +1 bonus to AC, for a character not proficient with shields or otherwise dependant on two-handed weapons: Buy (or craft) a +1 Mage's Parrying Dagger. Some also dislike the combination with superior heavy blades, but that is a lot more fair, as it still requires you to have a level-appropiate item.
Solution - Replace the property with "Anyone trained in Arcana applies this weapon's proficiency bonus to attacks as though he was proficient with it."
Comment - The effect is almost the same for characters not exploiting defensive weapons. I changed the requirement because it was pointless to have a condition that is met by every single player character in the game - needing arcana matches the weapon's flavor and restricts its use to, you know, mages.

Problem - Critical Bonus. Although I like that such an effect exists as an alternative to the hard to get Weapon Mastery epic feats, it is so strong that having it at anything but the highest enchantment level would make it hard to justify taking most other weapons at paragon (once we have dealt with the greatest offenders in this article, at least).
Solution - Change item levels to 15/20/25/30.

Problem - Damage Bonus. As straightforward as it gets, the radiant weapon will always grant its contant bonus unless you happen to find one of the very few monsters that resist radiant damage in the game. For the rest of damage-boosting weapons I have chosen to reduce frequency of use, but in this case, I feel it's appropiate to leave it as a constant benefit (after adjusting the bonus, of course) due to the fact that it's a maximum level enchantment, and its original intent is clear enough. Also, there is the very significant disadvantage of not stacking with other "Item" bonuses to damage (some of which, by the way, will see a similar adjustment in subsequent articles).
Solution - Replace the property with "When this weapon is used to deal radiant damage, add a +2 item bonus to its damage rolls". Add "Level 25 and 30: +3 item bonus".

* Reckless (Update: Fixed, too.)
Problem -Damage Bonus.The second member of the Reckless & Bloodclaw unholy duo, this weapon has a lot in common with its sister. A slightly less brutal boost is compensated by a relatively inexpensive activation, particularly in the optimal scenario of multiple attacks per round, since the AC penalty doesn't stack.
Solution - Replace the power with:
"Power (Encounter): Free Action. Use this power before making a melee attack with this weapon against an adjacent target. You gain a power bonus to that attack’s damage roll equal to twice this weapon’s enhancement bonus. You take a –2 penalty to AC until the end of your next turn. If you are hit while this penalty is active, regain the use of this power."
Comment - The power recovery clause isn't necessary from a balance point of view, as the enchantment should be good enough without it, but I found it fun enough to risk adding it.

Problem - Critical Bonus. Like Bloodiron before, this enchantment pushes too far the benefit for scoring a critical hit.
Solution - Remove the "1d6 damage per plus" line from the Critical line.
Comment - Taking away the extra critical dice, it's not immediately obvious if just having an extra attack is stronger or weaker than other critical triggers. The answer depends heavily on the degree of optimization of each character. It's still a cool effect with interesting interactions, though.

Problem - Damage Bonus. Other enchantments listed here provide higher damage boosts, or do so unconditionally, but this is still a respectable, untyped increase, and the Combat Advantage condition is very easy to meet through flanking. Though it isn't the most aberrant of weapons, it still crosses the line for me.
Solution - Change the property to "When attacking with combat advantage, if you are the only creature adjacent to your target, add extra damage equal to this weapon's enhancenment bonus to the damage roll."
Comment - Requiring you, and only you to be adjacent to the target is the subtle way of preventing this weapon to work while flanking. There are plenty of other ways of gaining combat advantage (most of them involving conditions on the target), but it's not exactly a trick that can be pulled at-will. I have left the bonus untyped because an Item bonus would make it a bit too weak for my taste, and there is no way to justify a Power bonus.

Problem - Damage Bonus. It only works in dedicated charger builds, but it's quite efficient if your character is constantly charging.
Solution - Change property to: "after you hit with a charge attack, your next melee attack against that target before the end of your next turn deals +1d6 thunder damage. Level 23 or 28: +2d6 thunder damage.".
Comment - Though it is possible for a character to make charge attacks almost every turn, doing so without switching targets is much more complicated. As a consequence, using this weapon as a sustained source of single target damage should require a lot of effort. Characters who charge frequently should still be able to trigger this at least a couple of times per encounter, making this a tempting enchantment. Finally, the chosen mechanic was inspired by the Echoes of Thunder concept, which is a theme I like for the damage type.

Problem - Damage Bonus. Like Thundergod above, this shines for dedicated chargers, although the bonus in this one is stronger at lower levels, and a bit worse at higher ones. In this case, there is the added benefit of a decent daily power.
Solution - Add "if the target has maximum hit points" at the end of the property line.
Comment - Limited to once per target, difficult to maximize damage while focusing fire. The kind of play encouraged by the new ruling - being the first to charge to battle, moving from one foe to another - goes well with my concept of 'vanguard'.

Problem - Save Penalty. Just out of principle, this shouldn't work for the whole duration of an effect.
Solution - In the item property, replace "to saving throws" with "to the first saving throw".


  1. Wounding weapons: Really, I don't think they're that problematic. Ongoing untyped damage is pretty rare, and even with a -6 saving throw it's not like you're killing something instantly. The only power that REALLY justifies a Wounding Weapon is Quivering Palm.

    Thundergod: Boots of Adept Charging help charge attack every round, but yeah, hard to pull off. Still, really good combo for a dragonborn Barbarian/Fighter with Overwhelming Charge and Draconic Arrogance. I know-I've tried it before!

    Bloodthirsty and Radiant: I'm not concerned about these ones. Item bonuses to damage are so passe, especially for melee users, since Iron Armbands of Power are basically the default choice. It sort of depends on how much damage you want characters to have. I tend to flat-out prohibit Twin Strike in my games, so I'm okay with an item bonus to damage-but I fix the problem by having items (armbands in my current rules set, but maybe weapons as "Masterwork" later) give an item bonus to damage rolls automatically based on level.

    This would make Iron Armbands of Power only useful if you wanted a slightly higher item bonus to damage for a given cost of an item, and a radiant weapon only serves to boost your damage without having to buy a separate item (and, of course, that's also lost when you attach it to weapons).

    I'm surprised you didn't point out Goblin Totem. Other than Staff of Ruin, a Goblin Totem Staff is probably one of the best implements. Heck, with a Ring of the Dragonborn, you're probably better off.

  2. On Wounding Weapons: I didn't really check for powers that met the condition, but assumed there would be some nasty "N ongoing damage + stunned/blinded/dominated (save ends)" effect out there. It turns out these are really rare! Right now there's probably no killer application for the enchantment - though this might change with future supplements.

    Goblin Totem got left out because it's actually from the Forgotten Realms campaign book. Otherwise, it would have definitely been on my list.

    About item bonuses to damage... when I wrote this, I had the intention of eventually covering the whole AV book, so Armbands and Staffs of Ruin would have been nerfed, too. The Great Errata tricked me into thinking all of this would be errataed soon, so I abandoned the idea. Maybe I'll return to it, someday.