Thursday, October 14, 2010

Broken Bits: Battle Captain

Broken Paragon Paths, Part Six
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If there is one game mechanic that has no place in D&D 4E, it is that of adding (or subtracting) ability modifiers to d20 rolls. Be it for an attack, a saving throw or an skill check, the roll of a d20 determines failure or success of an action, and is usually adjusted in tiny increments of 1 or 2 points. And with good reason - since success rates tend to be around 60%, a modifier of 4 points would have a huge impact in the chances, and one above 8 points would virtually assure success or failure.

Coincidentally, primary and secondary ability modifiers most often range between 3 and 9 points, depending on level, so applying them to a d20 roll starts as extremely effective (at heroic) and ends up downright broken (at epic). Today I’m going to talk about Battle Captain, a paragon path whose primary shtick consists in adding Intelligence to your allies’ attacks. Don’t expect that to survive until the end of the article.

As is often the case, most of the features and powers in Battle Captain are fine, or even mediocre, and it is a single crazy element that spoils the path. There are a bunch of minor and conditional ways to improve the accuracy of your friends, like Battle Action (+1 to hit for the team on your action points) and Cry Havoc (another +2, for the first round of combat) that are nevertheless quite handy, and fit nicely with the style of the Tactical Warlord. The attacks are a mixture of area damage and forced movement, also providing a ‘tactical’ feeling but merely acceptable, power-wise. The utility, Bolt of Genius, combines amazing concept (give back an encounter power to an ally!) with hideous implementation (spend a standard action and provoke opportunity attacks!), and is rarely worth spending an action on it. And you could take all that away, and 16th level feature Battle Inspiration would still be a great deal, all by itself.

Although, in theory, you can use Battle Inspiration without Tactical Presence (and the path is actually pretty decent for not-tactic warlords), that class feature improves its effect so much, that few choose to. Basically, it tacks on each of your Inspiring Words (of which you’ll have 3-4 per encounter, at that point) an Intelligence bonus to the target’s attack rolls for a whole turn. So the ally is all but guaranteed to hit with an attack (or more, if there are action points involved) and, as a nice side effect, the warlord can also enjoy autohits with Commander’s Strike for his turn and the following one. This would be a potent tool once per encounter, but in multiples it’s nothing but devastating. For reference, Tactical Presence itself usually provides half the bonus with about half the frequency (roughly 4 times every 2 encounters), and is considered an awesome feature that defines what is arguably the strongest warlord build.

A fix.
I think that the best course of action consists in neutering the dangerous element in Battle Inspiration (the egregious attack modifier), leaving it at a modest level and letting the rest of the path stand on its own (except for a small tweak that will be explained below).

Battle Inspiration 2.0 (16th level): When you use your inspiring word power, allies you heal gain a +1 power bonus to attack rolls and a +1 power bonus to speed until the end of your next turn. If you selected the Tactical Presence class feature, the bonus to speed is equal to your Intelligence modifier instead.

Did you know that Battle Inspiration also grants you a cool bonus to speed? This part was always inevitably overshadowed by the ability to blow up the world, but I think it can do a good job as a signature ability, once you take that out of the equation. Leaving the bonus to hit at a mere +1 matches the rest of the path, joining the host of small modifiers and requiring you to dirty your hands (by combining multiple bonuses and flanking) to improve party accuracy.

While not entirely necessary to have the revised Battle Captain at a playable power level, I’d also suggest the following change to the utility power to prevent it from being frustratingly weak:

Bolt of Genius - Utility 12
Minor Action - Close burst 2
Target: One ally
Effect: The target regains an encounter attack or utility power he or she has already used.

This never had any business costing you an entire standard action, and won’t break anything as a minor, anyway. Having it as a ranged power prevented the warlord from using it in his natural environment (melee), and made little sense from a flavor standpoint. Finally, I’ve reduced the range because I think it should make for more interesting gameplay, though leaving it at 5 would also be ok.

So, there you have it. No longer the one and only perfect path for all things tactical, but quite a solid choice.

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  1. I would make Battle Inspiration 2.0 unnamed instead of power bonus, if it is so little, it should at least stack.

  2. Perhaps, but that would be too many untyped bonuses for my taste. In my opinion, every modifier should have a type unless there is a very good reason for it; Battle Action and Cry Havoc are justified because you really want to be able to stack all three features. Again, I see it more as a matter of style than a balance requirement, but I don't think there are that many warlord powers overlapping with it anyway, other than the odd encounter or daily.