Thursday, April 8, 2010

Class Acts: Warlock. Charisma for Infernal Pact?

This month, in Dragon magazine, Warlocks get another amazing article. No, really. Again. It definitely looks like someone at Wizards is badly in love with Warlocks. Of the tiefling variety. And is Lead Designer of the game, and thus allowed to do silly things, like using Charisma for Infernal Pact powers, and get away with it.

It's cool to be with the charismatic boys!

Yes, intrepid reader! The days where Star Pact Warlocks sat lonely as the one class build with weird stats have come to an end, as the Infernal Pact joins the club. Of course, the devil is in the details, because this time the designers have not forgotten to provide an alternate at-will for charismatic characters. This power, called Gift to Avernus, is a very nice clone of Eldritch Blast which features a shiny new mechanic from hell: taking damage to reroll an attack.

Let us take a close look at this mechanic, because it is shared by all the powers introduced in this article. The base idea is simple: when you miss, take damage and make a new attack roll. The question that most sensible Warlocks should be making by now is not 'why would I use a spell that hurts me', but 'how much damage, did you say?'. We're talking about practical people, after all.

The cost is equal to your level in HP. This is a real bargain at the very first level, but don't be fooled by that anomaly - it soon stabilizes into something closer to 10-15% of your total health. Depending on your tier, this may or may not be more than a round's worth of monster damage. That's quite a lot! This makes focusing on these powers a risky proposition, unless you are just not being attacked, or you somehow have a bunch of extra HP lying around. Enter Dark One's Blessing.

Isn't it an amazing coincidence that the infernal warlock's pact boon grans them exactly the temporary hit points they'd need to pay for a reroll with these powers? The existence of this feature drastically changes our evaluation of these powers, from something dangerous and probably not worthwhile, to a good outlet for the absurd amounts of THP you naturally gained, and usually wasted. If you ever feel that you won't have enough temporaries to consistently support this, just add Bloodied Boon...

With that out of the way, what do the powers look like? The at-will, in my opinion, is a very good proposition, leaving the reroll as an option, and granting full effect if you hit the second time. As for the encounter powers (one for each level), they are a bit trickier, since they actually force you to take the damage, and then only repeat the attack against a different enemy, and with reduced damage. Nevertheless, I think they are well worth the pain.

Reliability with damaging attacks is important for a striker, and most of these powers deal more than enough damage by themselves (in addition to granting extra chances for your curse damage). But it is probably even better when you are inflicting significant control effects. And we are also getting a good score in that regard! You have immobilizations, automatic self-attacks (triggering defender marks), enemies trapped in zones, sliding enemies in an area... most of them both interesting and strong. My personal favourite is a level 7 power called Pain to Pleasure, which heals you if you hit, then hurts you on a miss only to heal you again, if you hit the second time. Wicked!

The power selection is barely enough to support a Charisma-based infernal warlock throughout his career, provided he takes generic or off-pact dailies (since they are not included). This doesn't allow for much variety, but since every power presented is quite decent, if not actively good, you should be able to pull it off. Also, many of the new options are tempting enough to expect a Fey or Dark warlock occasionally picking one. And the at-will should become an instant classic among charismatic human warlocks.

To round off the package, we are also given two flavorful and very potent magic items for warlocks. The Rod of Avernus allows for mass sliding of cursed enemies when you use your Pact Boon, an effect that already has me salivating (and has earned a quick spot in some of my friends' wishlists). As for the Armor of Dark Majesty, it confers a huge defensive bonus against cursed enemies, which honestly looks overpowered to me. We'll have to see if it survives the compilation errata.

Speaking of errata, there is one major bug in the article's mechanics that, well bugs me. Using damage type - changing weapons, you could potentially turn the HP cost of rerolling the new powers into resistable damage, most notably fire damage for tieflings with fire weapons, allowing you to essentially ignore the drawback. This really should be addressed. Apart from that, the article is quite a good read and very useful in play, so I can't help but recommend it.

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