Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Broken Bits: Stormwarden

Broken Paragon Paths, Part Five
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We continue our series about unbalanced paragon paths with one of the most remarkable examples from the fist Player’s Handbook: the Stormwarden (not to be mistaken with a Storm Warden). An extremely potent offensive option for the most damaging class in the game, the Stormwarden path is only slightly held back by the fact that it is only available to rangers of a specific build. This has prevented rampart abuse by multiclassing characters, which is the main reason for it to remain untouched by errata when paths of arguably lower power level (like Pit Fighter or Daggermaster) got the axe. Nevertheless, the fact remains that this is miles above the usual power curve for paragon paths, and unlike most other offenders, it’s hard to blame a single feature or power for it.

The problems.

There is a glaring issue with Stormwarden, in that it contains a level 11 damaging feature (Blade Storm) that would normally be enough to sell a path all by itself, and then provides an improved duplicate at 16th level (Improved Blade Storm) that stacks with it.

Blade Storm (11th level): As long as you are armed with a melee weapon and are capable of making an opportunity attack, one adjacent enemy (your choice) takes damage equal to your Dexterity modifier at the end of your turn.

Twin-Blade Storm (16th level): As long as you are armed with a melee weapon and are capable of making an opportunity attack, two adjacent enemies (your choice) take lightning damage equal to your Dexterity modifier at the end of your turn.

Provided your character has a decent Dexterity score (and this path is enough of a reason to invest in Dexterity as your secondary ability, since Wisdom provides no appreciable benefits), this nets you between 8 and 18 extra points of damage each turn - around twice as much as what is considered the norm for a great offensive path, and without even requiring you to hit the target. And then you add half that amount to a second adjacent enemy, if there is one. It is possible for other paragon paths to outdamage these two features with a lot of optimization effort (usually involving lots of attacks per turn or some weird combo), but for most common characters, this is as good as it gets regarding focused damage.

And there is more. The path also provides a utility stance that can be used every encounter (so that its effect is as good as permanent), the aptly named Throw Caution to the Wind. This stance lets you trade 2 points of defense for a +2 to hit, a hefty drawback that can nevertheless be a bargain if your attacks are good enough, and you can count on the party defenders and leaders to keep you alive long enough. Since rangers are well known for their outstanding offensive capabilities, and this path already boosted damage to the stratosphere, it’s easy to see this working out well.

A solution.

As I commented in the introduction, it’s hard to turn Stormwarden into a fair path by changing a single feature. A decent approximation might be to prevent Twin-Blade Storm from stacking with Blade Storm, effectively deleting the 11th level feature for higher level characters. Still, this leaves us with a couple of problems, such as the higher level feature being much less impressive than the lower level one, and the ability to massacre minions without spending actions or rolling to hit. Because of this, I’d opt for a more drastic rewriting of the features, using new mechanics while trying to keep the spirit of the original.

Blade Storm Mk2 (11th Level): At the start of your turn, if you are armed with a melee weapon and your quarry is adjacent to you, you deal damage to it equal to your Dexterity modifier.

Twin Blade Storm Mk2 (11th Level): When you hit an enemy with a melee or close attack, if you are wielding two melee weapons you can deal lightning damage equal to your Dexterity modifier to another enemy adjacent to you.

In addition, I’d apply the following change to the stance:

Throw Caution to the Wind Mk2 (Utility 12): Change to Daily power.

Overall, it’s quite a downgrade, but not an undeserved one. The automatic damage in Blade Storm now requires some effort and isn’t all that automatic, as your quarry can prevent it by shifting away from you, making it more of a deterrent than a reliable offense boost. On the other hand, the revised Twin Blade Storm does show great damage potential, but only while fighting multiple enemies - making it much safer from a balance point of view than the original single-target meat grinder.

Does it remain effective? Yes, but it may no longer be the right choice for certain characters (i.e. those specializing in focused fire). On the other hand, those interested in fighting groups of enemies will find it more than useful. Given that the area damage emphasis was already present in the original version (though overshadowed by the brutal firepower), I think it is a very reasonable change.

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