Friday, August 6, 2010

Essential preview: a striker fighter!

D&D Essentials class previews

Ever since the release of the first Player’s Handbook, Fighters have been one of the most damaging classes in 4E. Forget about roles and that stuff for a moment: these defenders have the right combination of class features, paragon paths and feats to give them a realistic shot at beating many strikers at their own game, when properly built. If you think that is frightening (and it is!), imagine a fighter build that was even more focused towards bringing pain, to the point of eschewing defender marks in favor of striker-like extra damage features. Heroes of the Fallen Lands brings us exactly that - it’s called the Slayer, and it looks brutally straightforward - and terribly effective.

More than any mechanical innovation (though there are a few), the most surprising thing about the Slayer is the Role line. It’s a Martial Striker, with a touch of defender - not the other way around. This marks (heh) a major shift in class design in D&D 4E, since there was precedent of builds of a class with different secondary roles, but never before had we seen a change in the main role. And there is no reason why it shouldn’t happen again, so the class lineup for the second D&D Essentials player book, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms becomes more intriguing than ever: which classes will be given new roles? It’s easy to imagine Druids as defenders or leaders, Paladins as leaders, and Rangers or Warlocks as controllers. However, there will likely be at least one build for each of these classes that keeps the current role, so I doubt we’ll see more than a couple of these changes. Still, it’s an exciting prospect.

As for the rules details there’s little new about the Slayer - it shares the same basic core as the Knight, with basic attacks and stances replacing at-will attacks, Power Strike replacing encounter powers, no daily powers, and several new features at higher levels. The major differences lie in the defender features (which are missing: forget about Defender Aura and Battle Guardian), and the brand new striker feature. That one is called Heroic Slayer, and it lets you add your Dexterity bonus (Slayers use Strength as main ability, and Dexterity as secondary) to all weapon damage.

Apart from that, we get to know about the Weapon Talent feature which, as expected, grants a +1 to hit on all weapon attacks. Also, we can see a couple of the at-will stances, including Berserker’s Charge (which boosts movement and accuracy in charges, and would be the enfy of any Barbarian) and Unfettered Fury (which looks like a stronger version of Power Attack). It remains to be seen whether Knight and Slayer stances will be interchangeable or not, as they have no built-in requirement, like requiring a shield or a two-handed weapon. This is rounded up with the same HP, surges and proficiencies as ordinary fighters (though there is no shield proficiency), making for an extremely sturdy striker.


Unlike with other classes in D&D Essentials, we actually get to know every Slayer class feature available at level 1 so, apart from a couple missing at-will stances, we have everything that is needed to build a first level character. I haven’t experimented too much yet, but it’s safe to say that they will be very capable strikers. Not only that, but they are clearly the easiest class to play in the game. Just pointing at an enemy and attacking will work, with perhaps a change of stance every other turn. All martial characters in Essentials already had pretty straightforward mechanics, but the Slayer goes a step further, and also removes many of the strategic nuances. After all, rogues need some effort and finesse to keep Combat Advantage every turn (and are relatively fragile), whereas knights have to perform the more subtle defender role. A Slayer is very much like a barbarian without encounter powers or rages, which is to say, a well oiled killing machine with few concerns apart from getting close to an enemy and smashing it to a pulp. I can’t say I’m personally thrilled to play one, but it’s a great option to have in a product aimed at introducing new players.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that the Slayer also presents yet another nod to old school D&D players, in that many primitive fighters were purely focused in damage, with little of what we currently associate with a defender, apart from the heavy armor and high HP pool. Not only that, but bow-wielding fighters (or, at least fighters capable of performing decently at range) are now possible, if not actively suported, since some class features (and crucially the striker damage) also work with such weapons - a controversial decision that is sure to bring some wacky builds.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting take on the Fighter, to be sure. But do we really need yet another striker? I suppose its niche (within the strikers) will simply be the "easy mode" striker. And while it has defender level HP (much like a Barbarian, so that's not unprecedented), I'm guessing that it will fall short in the mobility department.

    Looking ahead, I would absolutely love to see 2 Druid builds that change role depending on whether or not they're in beast or humanoid form. Specifically, a Leader/Defender build and a Controller/Striker build. Ideally this would be done using some alternative mechanic to the power system, especially since you can already build a pretty darn effective Controller/Striker. Plus, given the backwards compatibility of Essentials, it would be too easy for the Leader/Defender build to simply pick up controller powers while keeping the leader class features, perhaps becoming too potent. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!