Monday, November 8, 2010

Essentials Warlock: Conjured swords, simple mechanics, amazing flavor

D&D Essentials class previews

The original Warlock from Player’s Handbook was a flawed class that nevertheless grew on meover time. And the same could be said about the Hexblade, the Essentials take on the class that is included in Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms. Despite the many changes introduced, Hexblades still share some of the Warlock’s strong points (best flavor in the game, soul-collection minigames) as well as its weak points (restricted power selection, aggravated by a wasted at-will slot). However, two year of 4E design experience haven’t been in vain, because the legendary difficulty for building a competent warlock character (at least until later supplements filled in the many gaps) has been replaced with extremely straightforward builds that are playable out of the box. This is a huge improvement, even if the sacrifices in character customization have gone a bit too far.

Starry Transformation is a devastating daily spell unlocked by paragon Hexblades of the Star Pact. It totally looks like this.

Like its predecessor, the Hexblade is a striker of the arcane power source. But, with the addition of their namesake magic swords, they are no longer purely ranged characters, but hybrids that can switch seamlessly between flinging spells from afar, and slashing at their foes in the front lines. The confusing and rarely welcome dual attack attributes have been eschewed in favor of Charisma, which now powers all spells, and is complemented by Constitution, Intelligence or Dexterity, depending on build. And the builds themselves retain much of the flavor and ideas from those of the original warlock: they are called Pacts, are defined by the choice of patron providing the character’s arcane magic, determine first level at-wills, and have a Pact Boon that rewards you when foes are slain. The three hexblade pacts revealed so far match the warlock pacts offered in Player’s Handbook: Infernal, Fey, and Star.

One point about the hexblade that cannot be overemphasized is the quality of its flavor. All Essential classes care about backstory, and have rich descriptions for every game element, but hexblades, like other warlocks before them, take this one step further. You are not some random magic guy throwing colored rays at goblins, but a reckless individual struggling with sinister entities to borrow (or steal!) their unnatural powers. Your sword has names like Blade of Annihilation or Starshadow Blade, and is made up of the essence of dead devils, or by folding molten nightmares in the forge of a star. Where other characters hack away with Adjective Strikes, you have spells like Soul Eater and Blazing Doom of the Void. Humility is not a trained skill for Hexblades, but after reading a couple of pages, one can’t help but think that playing one of these crazy types must be the coolest thing in the multiverse.

It is an unfortunate turn of events, then, that the class mechanics are not up to the awesome expectations generated by their description. For all their pretentious titles and fancy background, hexblade features and powers tend to be rather bland, particularly when compared to warlocks of old. Warlock Curses are gone, replaced with flat damage bonuses. Instead of the excellent Shadow Walk we get improved armor proficiencies. Your pact at-wills feel more mundane than ever, and the encounter slots are usurped by a single attack that you can use multiple times. One of your precious at-will slots is still wasted in the hideously boring Eldritch Blast, now renamed Eldritch Bolt. At times, you feel like little more than a glorified Slayer with a colorful sword.

And yet, it mostly works out. The simplifications may feel excessive (and build customization takes a serious hit), but it all results in a class that is still enjoyable, and can be played safely without fear of the character spontaneously imploding (which happened all too often with the original warlock). There is still fun stuff going on, like collecting corpses for Pact Boons (now working off adjacent enemies, since there is no curse), and some new, brilliant ideas: summoning representatives of your patron, or dual wielding swords and implements (with powers that share weapon and implement keywords, opening a world of optimization potential). And daily spells are still around, so the difference with a classic power stricture isn’t that large.

Ultimately, hexblade players will probably tolerate the unneeded restrictions and enjoy the Fey out of the class, because the character concepts are that cool. As much as the limited options hurt, it would have been difficult to sustain the level of awesomeness (and trust me, it’s pretty high) for an additional couple dozen powers. I still think it would have been more enjoyable for me, had they left a greater number of options for the encounter slot, never mind the at-wills. But that would also brought back the inevitable filler, and might have diluted the good ideas. One thing is for sure: those novice players that Essentials is aimed at should really, REALLY love this one.


  1. Agree with your assessment. Can't wait to see some more options added to the Essentials line eventually.

  2. I know its a old post, but just wanted to share my opinions on this class.

    I love it and hate it at the same time.

    Love the flavor and the possibilities, and the fact that you are kinda a Sith Darklord.
    Love the Soul eater at will that is really great on a Charger build.

    Hate that we seriously lack hexblade powers, apart for the at wills the encounter power and one Daily at lvl26, none of the other powers have any real synergie with your pact weapon (apart for the obvious weapon+implement synergies).

    i've played a Revenant/Tiefling Infernal Blade that had made a Pact with one of his Ancestors when he was on the brink of death, brought him back to life and offered him a new arm( his right arm was ripped off, used the gauntlet axe item to represent this) and reconstructed part of his face( who also was seriously damaged) by using the Hel; of Seven deaths item( by Dm authorisation).

    And i loved it.

    But like i said and anyone that played a Hexblade or looked at them knows, they have serious problems.

    For a long moment i though i would "steal" some encounters powers from the Sorceror or the swordmage and reflavor them and simply add the implement keyword.

    Then i though that maybe i could mimic the Sorceror feat, Sorceror blade channeling, who lets the Sorceror use his powers at a melee range instead of ranged.

    So thats a start, something like"...when the Hexblade uses a Warlock power and has his pact weapon manifested, he can decide to use that power in melee instead, he then replace the power damage dice with its pact weapon damage..."
    Or something the like, also maybe adding something like if the power has a burst or blast , it becomes a close burst/blast instead.

    Another idea was to instead add more encounter powers, just add Special attacks or Rider effects to the pact weapon, a bit like with the Unseelie agent or the Fighter power strike power.

    This would allow for more versatility and adding effects on the at will and the encounter pact powers.

    Another thing that hexblades terribely lack are Class feats, since its technically a Warlock you can select Warlock feats, but a huge amount of them require the Warlock curse to work, Class power that you don't have.

    We could have Feats that lets you shiftshape the form of your pact weapon for the encounter for a minor action or a move action, and gain the benefits of that kind of weapon, like if you want to change the shape of your weapon into a Spear or a Claymore.
    Feats that lets you summon your pact weapon in the exact same way has the Shadow-wrought weapon of the Unseelie Agent theme, could always be handy if you are in a situation with your equipement.

    Feats that adds effects, or that lets you make a free attack when some requirement is met or anything else,or that modifies your pact boon.

    Also a feature that lets you partially polymorph temporary into your patron, Wings/legs for added speed and mobility, Horns/claws for more damages, Skin for more durability etc