Thursday, December 17, 2009

Player's Handbook 3 Debut: the Ardent

A warlord with power points. December's preview class from PHB3 is called the Ardent, and consists in a psionic leader based on a great concept: emotion manipulation to boost allies. Also, it is mechanically innovative in that, like all psionic classes except the monk, it features an alternate resource system based on power points, replacing encounter powers. However, despite these interesting premises, Ardents have only managed to instill one emotion on me so far: disappointment.

Despite their other flaws, they do look good in picture.

More than any other class in D&D 4E, Ardents give me the impression that they have nothing new to bring to the game, other than a cross in the intersection of a power source and a role. The unfortunate comparison with the Warlord ("The Ardent is a psionic Warlord") appeared in the first developer commentary, and I couldn't take it off my head as I read the class description, because it's true.

In play, Ardents closely mimic the Warlord style of play, as heavily armored leaders focusing on melee weapon attacks. Their primary ability score is Charisma, but other than that, there's little to set them apart from their martial counterparts: In their case, psionic power manifests in a very mundane way, so most of their powers consist in weapon strikes that grant a boost here or a penalty there - just like a warlord. Oh, there is the occasional teleportation or zone and a couple of attacks even deal psychic damage. But most of the effects could have been done by a Warlord or a melee Cleric. And, what is worse, many of them have.

It's not that the power selection isn't solid, but I failed to find a single at-will or "encounter" (augmented, really) effect that the class could claim as its own. Likewise, the class features are decent yet unexciting: a bonus to defense against opportunity attacks, an encounter attack that grants free movement to your group and a healing word tweaked to grant bonus to either attack or defense, depending on build.

Maybe I am spoiled by the fact that almost every class design since PHB has been nothing short of amazing. To be fair, the class probably plays better than it reads, and it seems to be perfectly capable of fulfilling its role. The addition of psionic power points to a familiar archetype may be just a gimmick, but it does change the way a character is played.

Is that change for the better, though? The psionic resource system uses three augmentable powers for all your at-will and encounter slots. In the best-case scenario, this gives a player up to three at-wills and three encounter-equivalent powers to choose from, which is a net gain of one at-will power above a standard class, and three lesser augments on top of that. On the other hand, the ability to mix and match different styles of attacks is greatly diminished, since each "encounter power" is a stronger-but-similar version of an at-will. Furthermore, the lesser augments for this class are decidedly on the mediocre side, and I can easily see many players ignoring them altogether.

Another problem with the psionic system that I have found for Ardents lies in power progression. Starting at 7th level, whenever you would gain a new encounter power you replace an augmentable at-will with a new one. Psions handled this well, but in the case of Ardents, it is not always clear that each new level offers something you want to upgrade to! Oddly, one of the reasons fo this is the high quality of the 1st level powers.

Of the three level 1 at-wills available to ardents, two have very strong and interesting effects. Energizing Strike and Focusing Strike can be disregarded on first sight due to the fact that they are, essentially, a cleric's Sacred Flame power split into two different weapon attacks. On the other hand, Sacred Flame is one of the best, and more versatile powers in the game, and each one of these Ardent powers has improvements over the corresponding half. Aside from the fact that a [W] attack will typically do much more damage than Sacred Flame's measly 1d6, the temporary hit point power is based on a primary ability (netting 2-3 THP more) and augments into Healing Strike, whereas the saving throw one can also be used on oneself.

You really want to have these powers available throughout the character's career but, unlike Psions, Ardents don't seem to have strictly superior versions of lower level powers. So, when you get to 7th level, the level 3 at-will is actually the most likely to get replaced. And at level 13th, you might not even want to trade any of them...

We will have to see how psionics work in actual play, and how much the class improves when we see the remaining, unpublished half. For now, it leaves a bit to be desired.


  1. What a disappointment. I was hoping for a leader more "Charles Xavier" style.

  2. I agree, the Ardent is disappointing. I honestly don't understand how the developers could have decided to give them all weapon attacks. Assuming the Battlemind will be similar, the Psion is the only psychic caster in the entire Psionic power source!

    So far the only thing I like about the Ardent is that the mantle is essentially a close burst 5 aura, and reducing the risk of OAs in an area that large could potentially have a huge effect on party tactics. IMO it's probably stronger than any other single class feature that a leader gets straight out of the box, but it also probably won't make up for the rest of the class's shortcomings.

    If you're interesting, I also reviewed the Ardent on my blog, but I focused more on their AC issues than their at-will/augment issues:

  3. I finally figured out the character concept for the Ardent and now I want to play one. They're supposed to be all enlightened and revelatory and stuff, right? So for the Mantle of Clarity - Peter Gibbons from Office Space. Post-hypnotic, of course.

  4. Ardent needs more hoopy psionic tricks to seperate it from warlord. I wouldn't mind too much if it tread somewhere between Warlord and Bard territory, because right now it really hasn't even left Warlord territory at all. Hopefully Psionic Power makes them their own class. I like the concept though.