Friday, March 5, 2010

March Errata: Orb of Imposition, Righteous Brand, Hide Armor Expertise...

The errata document for D&D 4E has been updated again, with many well-deserved fixes, including material from recent books such as Primal Power, as well as long-standing problems from the first Player's Handbook. Several popular character builds will be affected by this, though, with a few exceptions, all are moving from an overpowered position to a reasonably playable one. You can see a selection of the most relevant points below, but you definitely want to take a look at the whole thing!

1- Wizards

Wizard characters are taking a major hit, since both a class build and their strongest at-will are toned down. First, the Orb of Imposition class feature is changed to what it should have been from the beginning - a one-shot penalty to a single save. As originally written, OoI was too easily abusable for locking down enemies during whole encounters, with stunning ongoing effects that they had no chance to save for. This tactic has become almost impossible to achieve, since most of the magic items that were used to penalize saving throws in combination with the Orb have been taken down, as well.

The other great loss for wizards is the spectacularly effective at-will power Winged Horde. Capable of almost everything a controller could wish for, this friendly-fire area damage spell with a great controlling effect overshadowed other choices. With its damage significantly reduced, it still does lots of awesome things, but you'll want a backup power when you need to hit harder. I personally would have preferred to see the obsoleted powers brought up to this new standard, but I guess it was not to be. The good news are that the rumors about Scorching Burst's death were greatly exaggerated.

2- Cleric

The change to clerics was understandable. Up until now, a strength-focused cleric was about one thing: Righteous Brand. The attack-boosting melee power was ridiculously good, virtually guaranteeing auto-hits for one of your allies' attacks each turn. It was hard to justify skipping Brand for a turn to use an encounter power, never mind another at-will. Now, to be fair, Divine Power introduced a decent alternative in Recovery Strike, allowing you to shift into healing mode when needed - but Brand was still the default choice, by a mile.

No more. With its bonus brought down from somewhere between +4 and +9 to a very generous +3, the Brand is a very solid option that I can use without feeling dirty. Oh, and the dozen domains that boost it in Divine Power feel less like a cruel joke, now.

Other than that, epic-tier clerics will find out that their one-hit solo-slaying power, Seal of Binding, has lost its enemy-damaging capabilities. Now it is merely a way of temporarily removing both cleric and monster from the battle, if you have some means to gain regeneration.

3- Hide Armor Expertise

A change with severe implications for Barbarians and Druids is the downgrading of the primal feat Hide Armor Expertise, which now only grants a minor defensive bonus for characters with null Dexterity and Intelligence. From a Barbarian's point of view, the feat provides Chain-equivalent defenses at very low levels, but becomes inferior to heavy armor as soon as a character gains access to masterwork armor with +2 enhancenment bonuses, so it is unlikely to see much use beyond that point. The other build that is affected is the Swarm Druid, who has no real alternative if he chooses to ignore Dexterity. These characters will find that their AC is more or less acceptable at heroic tier, but really falls behind at paragon and heroic, bordering the auto-hit territory at level 30.

Of all the changes in this rules update, this one is by far the most controversial. Although most agree that the previous iteration of the feat provided excessive AC in combination with Barbarian Agility, and the way swarm druids outperformed guardian druids was less than ideal, it is hard to give up such great defenses. In my opinion, low-dexterity barbarians will be able to manage just fine and don't really deserve any more help from a single feat, but swarms will have a harder time. Maybe the feat should have increase by one or two points at higher levels.

Finally, it should be noted that this fix doesn't completely remove the problem with a Barbarians' excessive AC. Whirling Barbarians can still go beyond the AC of any shielded defender, and other builds can choose to give up their secondary abilities in order to max dexterity, so some kind of errata on Barbarian Agility is needed.

4- Paragon Paths

The Blood Mage paragon path has seen its Blood Pulse power, infamous for its ability to deal ridiculous damage through forced movement, reduced to sane levels. In what is probably overkill, the power's effect has been limited to voluntary movement and its damage has been reduced to a fixed amount in order to prevent damage roll bonus stacking.

Also, the Student of Caiphon path, which was commonly taken for its ability to grant an expanded critical range to divine characters (and anyone with a Radiant Weapon, for that matter) now only provides this bonus for Warlock powers. One overpowered Path down, but there's almost a dozen left.

5- Epic Destinies

The Demigod epic destiny loses its infinite encounter powers at level 30, merely getting one encounter reload. That ability should have never existed in the first place - I can't agree with the abolition of at-will powers when you reach a certain level. Maybe this will encourage more players to try different destinies, since Demigod is, without a doubt, the most popular in the game.

6- General rule changes

The various Expertise feats are now typed as feat bonuses, so that new ones can be released without the awkward rules text stating that they don't stack. As part of this change, all expertise-like feats that granted +1/+2/+3 bonuses to attack are also typed so that you can't benefit from one of these and one expertise to boost your hit rate to the stratosphere. These previously broken feats will now only be useful for strongly thematic characters, who might use them to gain the benefit of two feats (they also grant a Weapon Focus-like damage bonus) for the price of one. As part of this change, feats that used to grant a feat bonus to attack become untyped - so Hellfire Blood, among others, is now more interesting.

The update also includes clarification on how weapons used as implements (and viceversa) work, as well as damage type-changing effects. These now replace previous types, and explicitly allow the use of energy-dependant feats or powers. The most popular application of this rule, Frost Weapons with Lasting Frost, sees a minor adjustment which doesn't prevent it from being extremely potent. Finally, untyped bonuses from sources with the same name (say, a certain feat or power) no longer stack, which addresses issues with feats like Echoes of Thunder.

7- Items

Several very exploitable items have been fixed. Salves of Power, which granted extra uses of daily powers, now only affect encounters. Solitaires granted very strong powers on the first crit of each encounter, and are now limited to daily activations. Potions of Clarity, which could provide reliable and inexpensive boosts to any attack, now are restricted to encounter or daily attacks of certain levels. Finally, Diamond Cincture loses the ability to heal without expending healing surges.


  1. I always assumed that a single bonus doesn't stack with itself in any event anyway, but I'm glad they put that out there.

    You also forgot the nerf to energy weapons: they REPLACE rather than ADD damage keywords now. There was some controversy over whether that's how they worked to begin with; now, you can't use an energy weapon with an essence mage.

  2. Nope, the original rules only stated that penalties didn't stack with themselves, but you could do all kinds of crazy things with a single, untyped bonus.

    I did mention the energy replacement part, (see 6, paragraph 2), though I think it isn't a complete fix. This way, only caster characters are really harmed - weapon users focusing on a single target, and whose attacks are untyped to begin with are left almost untouched

  3. I get really annoyed when an errata is just a broken as prior to it. Hide Armor Expertise should have been a scaling benefit by tier. When you take the time to fix what you didn't take the time to do right the first time, you should really take that time to fix it.

    Finally, the Expertise feat changes are a problem...a big problem. In our games we grant them to each player for free, for any implement or weapon they are proficient. Now, because of the errata, they won't stack with any of the thematic (or tactical, because they really do require you to plan a bit more) feats meaning in our games no one will ever take them. The thematic feats should have a bonus type, obviously, but expertise was supposed to be a math fix. Bah!

    Double fail. If only the bloody CB would let us home brew better.

  4. Cole: Why not give players an OPTION between what expertise feat you take? For instance: Dragonborns can take Draconic Spellcaster in place of Expertise.

  5. That is not really the affect I am looking for. If expertise is taken for free, then the math (for attack at least) is pretty close to spot on. The other feats are all under specific situations - a bonus for tactical planning or for spec'ing your build right. Expertise is all the time, while the others are not, making them inherently worse if you had to choose. And since expertise is used by a lot of people (like me and my group) to bring things back to level, then there isn't much point in even having a feat that isn't as good around unless it doesn't stack. It doesn't make any sense to me.

  6. Draconic Spellcaster, for instance, grants both an attack and damage bonus-so it both substitutes Implement Expertise and Weapon Focus for characters who use only fire powers. The feat is definitely way less of an obvious "get" than it was before, but frankly, it was overpowered before.

  7. Cole: if you're already houseruling that everyone gets Expertise for free, then couldn't you just as easily houserule that it remains an untyped bonus?

    The way that I houserule Expertise in my games is that rather than getting Bonus Feat: Expertise, I just give characters an intrinsic bonus to all attacks at levels 5, 15, and 25.

    Also, in general I'd also like to mention the fact that shields no longer work in beast form for Druids, which further penalizes Swarm Druids, who now have no options for increasing their AC in the Heroic tier.

  8. I thought about making the Expertise feats Feat Bonuses back when Arcane Power came out, as that was the first instance of a scaling bonus to attacks. Now, that was only for Dragonborn, but it made Dragonborn sorcerers *so* much better than any other sorcerer-giving them, at epic tier anyway, a +3 bonus to hit, which increases your hit chance by 15% (which, when you have a 55% chance to hit, actually translates to a 27% increased chance of hit, relative to the chance you had before; for worst case scenarios, a 15% chance of hit becomes a 30% chance of hit-doubling your net hit chance). Race combos should probably give a flat +1 relative to non-race combos. So, if you want, make Draconic Spellcaster a +4 feat bonus instead of a +3. Hellfire Blood is already a +1. If you look at the damaging feats, Githzerai Blademaster is +2/3/4 feat bonus to damage, compared to Weapon Focus' +1/2/3. This method allows you to give players an advantage for taking the feat under specific circumstances even if they don't optimize their build for it, and allows them to avoid having to take an expertise feat entirely if they DO optimize for it, while still gaining said advantage.

  9. I really like the current implementation of Hellfire Blood, and turning Draconic Spellcaster and similar feats into clones of the tiefling feat would probably be the best solution.

    By the way, Swarm Druids have lost most of their options for increasing AC, but gain a new, if slightly weak one in PHB3. Superior staves can have the Shielding property (+1 AC/Ref on a hit), and with area attacks and the like this should work around 80-90% of the time...

  10. Well the difference between my suggestion and yours is basically one feat. Also, Draconic Spellcaster works on *non. Implement. Powers.* Now, how many non-implement attack powers are there? Not many. Only Dragon breath-when you take ancient breath. So, a +3 feat bonus to dragon breath-versus a +1 untyped bonus, while being unable to get the standard feat bonus.

  11. Brian: re-read both my previous posts. It was not about my ability to house rule it, it was about how the character builder makes such a house rule very painful to implement.