A couple of weeks ago we talked about the previews for the new fighter builds to be included in Heroes of the Fallen Lands. As could be expected, the preview teased us with a handful of class features and powers, from the many that the final text will have, which was all the more frustrating since there was one missing piece in the puzzle that was, well, essential. We had an innovative mark-like mechanic in Defender's Aura, but lacked the all-important class feature focused on punishing enemies for attacking your allies - the very core of any defender class. Thankfully, this feature (alongside other interesting information, which I may comment in a later post) was leaked in D&D Community Manager Trevor Kidd's site at wizards.com. Let's talk about it.
Battle Guardian is a class feature that takes the place of Combat Challenge. Though it shares many points in common with CC, it also introduces a few twists. In game terms, it:
- Works against all adjacent enemies not marked by your allies (i.e. enemies within your Defender Aura, see the Essential Fighter preview for details)
- Triggers whenever an adjacent enemy shifts or attacks an ally.
- Allows you to make a melee basic attack as an opportunity action.
- Deals Strength damage on a miss.
Rules-wise, there are a couple of interesting details about how the feature is implemented:
- It works properly with other marks or defender auras: you can’t trap an enemy between multiple defenders due to poor wording.
- It does nothing against enemies attacking other enemies, so it’s the first defender mark that doesn’t make the dominated condition even more brutal. I wonder if the marked condition will receive some errata to match this?
- It removes one of the most confusing rules issues for unexperienced players with the fighter: the fact that some enemy actions were punished as an interrupt, and other as opportunity actions, and that the Combat Superiority effects weren’t shared by Combat Challenge. Now everything uses the same type of action, and although the miss damage is specific to Battle Guardian attacks, it’s nowhere as critical as occasionally stopping movement.
So, what does this all mean towards the Knight's power level, and the way Essentials Fighters are likely to be built?
- Knights (and probably other Essentials Fighters) will be the best defenders in the game to lock multiple enemies. Not only does their mark (ok , defender aura) apply automatically on all adjacent foes, but they can make their punishment attack once to each one of them (since it is an opportunity action). Note that daily powers can boost other characters’ ability to punish groups beyond this level, though only temporarily. Also, awesome encounters such as Come and Get It are another advantage for traditional PCs.
- Knights are incredibly sticky, but less so than conventional fighters. Any kind of movement around them triggers a melee basic attack, which should be as good as other classes’ at-wills, thanks to their Stances. Known stance effects include extra damage, cleave, and even slowing (more on this in the following section!). Nevertheless, the almost assured lack of an equivalent to Combat Superiority (at least at level 1) means that their opportunity attacks, though still great, aren’t as awesome.
- It looks like it will be possible to have Knights with primary abilities other than Strength, thanks to the Melee Training feat. However, the strength-dependent rider in Battle guardian (damage on a miss) is good enough to keep that ability as a secondary at the very least and, along with the saved feat, a decent incentive to play as intended and have it as the primary ability.
In my previous article about the Essentials Fighter, I commented the following:
“The not-quite-a-mark could be as good as Combat Challenge (which is to say, really good), or almost useless, for all we know (again, I doubt that will be the case)”
Amazingly enough, the combination of Defender Aura, Battle Guardian and stances has turned out to be downright better than Combat Challenge, which is no small feat. The original fighter will still have an edge when it comes to opportunity attacks thanks to Combat Superiority, but I’d say that Essential Fighters have better overall defender capabilities than their predecessors (and other pre-Essential defenders, for that matter), before accounting for encounter and daily effects. Other defenders will be stronger when such powers are available, though just how much will be hard to tell, before knowing everything about the knight.
Nevertheless, even if we still lack information on many class features, the Essential Fighter with just the previewed material is quite playable, and definitely competent at its role.