Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Broken Bits: Brash Assault

One of the coolest ideas from the first Martial Power was Brash Assault, a Warlord at-will attack that leaves you open to an enemy counterattack which, in turn, allows an ally to hit the target. Unfortunately, the implementation leaves a bit to be desired, so this awesome power will, more often than not, be reduced to a mere melee basic attack. Here is a typical usage scenario:

Warlord: I move to flank the goblin with the fighter, and attack recklessly! Brash Assault!
DM: Ok, you hit.
Warlord: Great! I deal 7 points of damage, and he can make a free attack, but...
DM: He passes.
Warlord: Uh, what?
DM: The goblin doesn't make the attack. He knows your pal will hit back, and it's probably not worth it.
Warlord: (cry)

What really frustrates me about this power, is that it leaves completely up to the DM whether or not it works. Even worse, there is absolutely no drawback for the monster who chooses to do nothing. So, really, you have a Warlord asking his DM to please, please, please let him do cool things. Of course, the Warlord's ally will more often than not hit harder than the target, and chosing to attack tends to be a losing proposition for the monster. Unless there is a defender mark involve - then it becomes a massacre. From a strategic point of view, the 'right' choice for the DM will be, almost always, to do nothing. And, in the rare event where the monster's attack clearly outperforms that of the PCs, and there is no immediate risk of it getting killed... well, then the warlord might see the trigger work, but he would have been better off with a basic attack!

To complicate things further, we have the Role-Playing argument: "But the zombie/ooze/random-stupid-monster should ALWAYS choose to attack!". This enters the gray area of monster intelligence and tactics - generally, non-intelligent monsters will have less sophisticated tactics than intelligent ones. There are guidelines about monsters too stupid to look for flanks and the like, but no official rulings whatsoever. So it's up to each DM whether to exaggerate personality traits of certain monsters through their tactics, or to play at the best of his strategic abilities, occasionally giving up complex plays where it would be inappropiate for a monster. One thing is for sure, though - a target of Brash Assault knows how the effect works.

What would this mean for the stupid monster scenario? Even if it doesn't fully understand what's going on, the monster should know that it will get hurt if it counterattacks. If it hasn't seen the warlord's ally in action yet, it may not know just how much of a beating it will take - in this case, it may be legitimate to bite the bullet and attack. If the adjacent barbarian with a greataxe has just hit it for a gazillion damage, though... well, I could see even a zombie hesitating in that case. And I don't think the 'stupid monster' clause should never, ever serve as an excuse to make a Brash Assault counterattack through a defender's mark - that's downright suicidal, and anything smart enough to make an opportunity attack should know better.

The conclusion, then, is that it is very hard to justify choosing Brash Assault as a power, and using it in battle. We could leave it at that, but I really love the concept, so I'd like to rewrite the power so that it works. This is what this blog is about, after all.

Making it work without appealing to DM charity

There are several points that a fixed version of Brash Assault should address:
  • The effect should present the DM a legitimate choice. This means that refusing to take the attack should have a significant drawback.
  • Alternatively, we might force the enemy to make the counterattack.
  • It is not desirable to allow Warlords with polearms to abuse the fact that an enemy without reach is unable to counterattack.
  • Similarly, abuses with defender marks should be prevented.
As a final consideration, I think there should be a feeling of risk, of gambling, when using this power. This should have a relatively small chance of being downright great, but also of backfiring in some way. Also, some nod to the bravura warlord would be appropriate, since the build is clearly related to this power.

This is my take on the power:

Brash Assault

At-Will Martial, Weapon

Standard Action Melee weapon

Target: One creature

Attack: Strength vs. AC

Hit: 1[W] + Strength modifier damage.
Increase damage to 2[W] + Strength modifier at 21st level.

Miss: The marked condition ends on the target. You provoke an opportunity attack from the target, and the target must make the attack if able. If the opportunity attack hits or misses you, an ally of your choice within 5 squares of the target can make a basic attack against the target as a free action.

(Edited: removed combat advantage in the free attack to adjust power level)

So, how does this one work? Basically, it's a normal attack if you hit, and an exchange of blows if you miss. It shouldn't be difficult to set it up so that your ally's attack is stronger than the target's, at which point, the trade is in your favour - and missing becomes a good thing. Nevertheless, barring very strange scenarios, I doubt you'll ever get to the point where you'd rather miss than hit. The mark-removing clause requires a bit of extra coordination with your defender, but is necessary to prevent easy exploits. Likewise, the requirement that the enemy attack 'hits or misses' forces polearm users to play fair and take the blow. It also prevents the power from working against blinded, dazed or stunned opponents, so watch out.

Overall, I think this version is a reasonable power that you can play without feeling embarrased or causing trouble at your table. That said, the number and quality of at-will powers that Warlords have at their disposal after Martial Power 2 is remarkable, and the competition for the slot should be fierce!

If you are interested in the subject, there is an in-depth discussion about the power at the official errata forums, from a year ago.


  1. The biggest problem with this rewrite is that you're reinforcing the "Warlords don't ever need a decent attack bonus" mechanism. The aforementioned attack is stronger on a miss than on a hit.

  2. > The aforementioned attack is stronger on a miss than on a hit.

    Is it? Yes, the ally's attack will be equal or stronger than our own (depending on the warlord build, and on whether a striker has spent his 1/round damage or not), but you do have to substract the OA from an enemy to the overall value of the miss effect. I really think that is a non-insignificant drawback, except maybe against very debuffed enemies or certain artilleries.

    Outside of very specific (no Str) builds, I see the miss effect as worse than a hit, but better than nothing. This would work as a Reaping Strike of sorts, in that regard. Playing the power assuming auto-miss makes this a bad Commander Strike that provokes, which is hardly appealing.

    This power doesn't want too much accuracy, but it does work wonders with a strong melee attack - so, rather than dropping Strength, I'd pick up Power Attack and a hammer.

  3. See, the problem with your comparison to Reaping Strike is that the point of the miss damage is its consolation. Darn, you missed, but you're still dealing damage regardless. The point of Brash Strike is to trigger the exchange of blows! That's what makes the power interesting, and that's why people choose it: because it gives your ally a basic attack while risking yourself, the core of the Bravura style.

    In a perfect world, everyone would have a +gazillion attack bonus and all of your cool attack would hit. This would be the only power in the game, the only power, that would instead encourage you to miss.

  4. I think the issue here is you're creating a damage-dealing leader power that only fully misses about 25% of the time. Even twinked out Commander's Strike with max Int isn't that good.

    That's before you even get in to the debate of whether or not ending the marked condition is worth 1W damage. My gut tells me no. I think if you gave most DMs the choice to end a mark by taking the average of 1W damage, most of them would be happy to do it. In fact, if you just added "if you choose to attack, the marked condition ends and you can not be re-marked until the end of the warlord's turn" (to get around the fighter's automark) to the power as written, I think DMs would be more likely to make the attack.

  5. >See, the problem with your comparison to Reaping Strike is that the point of the miss damage is its consolation. Darn, you missed, but you're still dealing damage regardless. The point of Brash Strike is to trigger the exchange of blows!

    Well, while brainstorming the revision, I found a compelling argument for triggering the exchange on a miss: you can easily imagine an opponent thinking you're open for a counter attack when you miss with an attack. Apart from that, yeah, it is a consolation, but a pretty good one.

    Though I didn't specify it in the explanation above, there was yet another restriction I faced when revising the power: if the counterattack is enforced, there is no way you can let the warlord hit for normal damage AND have the chance of the ally basic attack against the same enemy, at the same time, unless you make it as unreliable as, say, a Barbarian's Rampage. Counterattack or not. This is way too much of a damage spike for an at-will power.

    So, if it is not acceptable to have a regular hit and an ally's extra attack at once, what options are left? I liked the miss trigger for the reasons stated above, and because it was a natural way to separate the scenarios where you dealt damage, and those where your ally did. The alternative would have been to cripple the warlord's hit damage, or remove it altogether.

    A low-damage version of Brash Assault would deal Strength mod damage, at most, and could trigger the exchange of attacks as an effect. Unless you allowed players to cheat and avoid the counterattack (and I'd rather not), you would have to add some kind of modifier to the triggered attacks, which would probably depend on Charisma. At this point, the similarities with Furious Smash were too obvious, so I had to scrap the idea.

    The other choice would be some kind of variant of Commander's Strike that provoked a counterattack. But this would be really tricky, since CS is really awesome by itself - how could we improve it enough so as to justify such a hefty drawback, and not end up with monstruous damage? I haven't been able to find a solution that satisfies me.

    Finally, there is an idea I'd like to comment: in any scenario where you want to always miss with revised Brash Assault (i.e, where the ally's basic attack is blatantly superior to yours), the warlord is using the wrong power. What you need, in that case, is either Commander's Strike or Direct the Strike, as they are clearly superior under those conditions. But when the expected damages of the warlord and the ally's basic attacks are comparable, Brash Asault mk.2 behaves like an attack that allows you to reroll to hit by taking some extra damage. Which is more than decent.

    I have run some tentative numbers with the ally dealing 50% more than the warlord, and hit rates of 60%, and they look good - but this would require a more thorough analysys. I'll try to do that, and share it when I can.

  6. What really frustrates me about this power, is that it leaves completely up to the DM whether or not it works.

    I think this is the wrong way of looking at it. I'm usually really in sync with your assessment of busted powers, but I think you're way off on this one. There's little reason for the DM to have the monster not to choose to make the attack, and I think you (and a lot of DMs, to be fair) are flubbing the distinction between what the DM might choose to do with all the information he or she has at their disposal, and what an enemy character might choose to do, knowing what little THEY know in that situation.

    True, the power does give an enemy an option to decline to attack, which leaves an uncomfortable degree of the power at the DM's discretion, but I can't think of too many reasons to do this unless, I dunno, it has a really high Insight bonus listed maybe?

  7. >knowing what little THEY know in that situation.

    There is a slight ambiguity there, but p. 57 of PHB states that "Whenever you affect a creature with a power, that creature knows exactly what you've done to it and what conditions you've imposed". It cites Divine Challenge as an example. From this ruling, some (myself included) interprete that the target of Brash Assault KNOWS they'll trigger a counterattack.

    If you're not sold on this argument, then it's reasonable to think that monsters will chose to attack more often than not. Once, at least. After seeing the power in action, any monster in the encounter should be able to recognize it again and use that knowledge when deciding to counterattack. Of course, the DM can still choose to take the attack, but monster ignorance should not be the reason to do so.

  8. Having your attack remove your defender's mark is a horrible horrible thing.

    I think instead you should change the Opportunity attack on miss to ignore the mark condition/effects. Though even then... it's kind of awkward.

    Classic Brash strike is still useful when the warlord has a lot of surges remaining and doesn't care about taking more damage than the amount the PCs will deal, but maybe they just want the fight to end earlier.

  9. Well, you don't HAVE to attack a marked enemy. Thing is, if the power allowed you to force a marked enemy to attack you (and take a beating from the defender), that would overshadow any other application - it's such a good interaction. Ignoring the mark condition sounds good, but I'm afraid it would only affect the mark penalty, and you'd have to add some really awkward wording to prevent the defender from counterattacking.

    An alternate implementation that should feel much better than mark removal is having the warlord mark the target - and let the extra attacks happen only if the target is marked by you. It would screw your defender just the same (if you insist on attacking a marked enemy, which you don't have to!), but adding a condition instead of removing one doesn't look so much as a drawback.

  10. Here is a thought on revising the power:

    At-Will ✦ Martial, Weapon
    Standard Action Melee weapon
    Target: One creature
    Attack: Strength vs. AC
    Hit: Strength modifier damage.
    Increase damage to 1[W] + Strength modifier damage at 21st level.
    Effect: The target can make a melee basic attack against you as a free action and has combat advantage for the attack. If the target makes this attack, an ally of your choice within 5 squares of the target can make a basic
    attack against the target as a free action. If the target can attack and does not, it grants combat advantage to allies with 5 squares until your next turn.

    This gives the enemy a clear trade off on whether to attack or not, making the power much more like playing chicken as I originally imagined it.

  11. Just thought I should add: RAW does not exploit reach at all; in fact, it's even less useful with a reach weapon.

    1. I was unclear in that part. It´s not that Brash Assault as written is better with reach, but that it's easy to design an alternate version that does get broken with a polearm, if one does not take the possibility into account.