Thursday, June 24, 2010

Broken Bits: Divine Oracle

Broken Paragon Paths, Part One
Index - Next

The cleric paragon path Divine Oracle, from Player’s Handbook, is one of the most remarkable designs in the game. Following a theme of prophecy and foresight, its mechanics sometimes leave us with an impression of temporal travel (which is very much what the character would perceive, after all), and overall have a special, evoking feel. Not only that, but they are terribly effective. Which brings us to...

The problem

The path is well rounded, with a set of very solid powers and features. Its level 11 encounter, suitably named Prophecy of Doom, pushes the boundaries of what you’d normally be able to do with a power in that slot, encouraging experiments with crit specialists - but, ultimately, I think it can be considered fair. There is a feature that really worries me, though, and it is a Terrifying Insight. It reads as follows:

Terrifying Insight (16th level): Whenever you make an attack against Will, you can roll twice and use the higher result. If the attack misses, you are dazed until the end of your next turn.

There is a lot to be said about this feature. To begin with, it is remarkably difficult to take advantage of within the cleric class, where attacks against will are typically scarce. The drawback, getting dazed on a miss, is harsh, but manageable, specially when considering that dazing is not as painful for ranged characters, and that the very feature prevents you from missing too often. And then, of course, there’s the fact that the benefit is insanely strong.

Rolling twice to hit in D&D 4E is very, very good. Besides the obvious accuracy boost (which is often equivalent to a +4 or a +5 to hit), which improves both your damage and your many effects that trigger on a hit, it almost duplicates your chance of scoring a critical hit, with all the benefits that it brings. Because of this, the Avenger class’ Oath of Enmity is generally considered the most potent feature in the game. So the prospect of a Paragon Path that lets you attack like an avenger (or even like a dazed avenger) is really tempting.

In the hands of a cleric, Terrifying Insight is quite overpowered, and may become downright broken, the day they release a strong at-will targeting will defense for the class. Meanwhile, there are other classes that can multiclass into cleric and become Divine Oracles to break it in half. Wizards, Warlocks and Bards, among others, can easily specialize in attacks against will, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a paragon path that is better suited, for that kind of builds.

A solution

We could cut most of the abuse with Terrifying Insight by applying the Pit Fighter treatment, and changing it to work only with cleric powers. But I don’t find that fix too satisfying, and there’s always the potential for some future cleric at-will to synergize with the feature, requiring further changes. Because of this, I always prefer to go for a reduction in power level, while conserving as much of the original mechanics as possible.

So these are the requirements: it must be useful for clerics, yet not too good for other classes, and it should allow for rerolling of some kind. We also have a drawback (daze on a miss), which we could tweak in order to weaken the feature. Using these elements, here’s what I came up with:

Terrifying Insight mk.2 (16th level): If you miss with an attack roll for an attack that targets Will and are not dazed, you can reroll the attack roll. If the rerolled attack misses, you are dazed until the end of your next turn.

I borrowed the new wording from the Life Singer path (which, incidentally, is also in the line for fixes). It is functionally very similar, but has the advantage of not providing as much of a boost to your chance to crit, since you are only rolling the second die if you miss. But this is just a detail - the great change is preventing it from working while dazed. This means that the feature will be turned off for a turn after missing, so you may want to think twice about using it with lesser attacks, if there’s a strong encounter or daily you want to use the following turn. It also discourages multiclassers from going trigger happy with area attacks, and ensures that the daze will hurt you, even if you didn’t intend to use move or minor actions. As a side effect, being dazed by your enemies will be particularly painful, so you’ll have to be very careful about certain monsters.

That said, the new version remains an amazing feature, definitely worth multiclassing for - and the rest of the path is full of awesome. This won’t stop Oracles from being a top tier choice, but hopefully, more mundane paths will now have a fighting chance.

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