I have recently had the opportunity to make an in-depth reading of Heroes of Shadow and, for the most part, I like what I have found. I’m not even a fan of the anti-hero archetype, but I nevertheless enjoyed the flavor of the book, as well as many of the new builds and powers. The fact that it reprints a whole subclass that had been released months ago was annoying, but forgivable. That said, there is one thing in the book that can only be classified as a failure: the Binder subclass.
The binder is a cool concept spoiled by a flawed execution - even more than other kinds of warlocks, which is saying something. It’s not that they are useless characters (thankfully, that is quite difficult to achieve in D&D 4E), but they certainly feel underwhelming. In terms of power, they compare poorly to regular Warlocks, and those had traditionally been among the weakest classes, to begin with. More specifically, a Binder character does very little that a Warlock can’t do, whereas a Warlock can be build so as to replicate most of a Binder’s abilities - only better. The problems with the subclass could be summarized in that you could give Binders the Warlock’s Curse feature, and they would still be on par with conventional Warlocks. In the following articles, I will suggest an extensive series of revisions aimed at making the Binder competitive as a controller (its intended role). However, you should be aware that it is also perfectly possible to fix them by giving up and turning them into strikers - to do that, just give them Curse, and change their Pact Boons to trigger as those of a normal warlock.
These are the most important problems I found when reading the Binder class:
- Pact Boon reward triggers. The pact boon rewards (those little bonuses you gain when someone dies) are actually pretty decent for Binders, but the triggering condition is a joke. It makes absolutely no sense to have an effect that triggers off the death of enemies adjacent to the Binder, when the class has no melee capabilities whatsoever. These features become all but useless outside of fights with lots of minions.
- Lackluster powers. While not downright bad, the Binder power list is not good enough for its role. Controllers usually have above-average powers to make up for their relative lack of class features, but what the Binder gets is not substantially better than what you’d expect for a typical ranged striker.
- Warlocks steal their tricks. Related to the above point is the fact that regular warlocks can take most of a Binder’s attacks... and actually make better use of them than a real Binder. As an example, a Binder encounter power in the hands of a Warlock loses the pact benefit, but gets to deal curse damage, so to be remotely competitive, pact benefits for these powers should be stronger than 1d6 damage/tier. In most cases, they aren’t. To make things worse, Binders suffer from a fixed selection of encounter powers, whereas Warlocks can pick from a wide variety (including both Binder pacts). And then there are Daily attacks (usually the strongest point of a controller), where Binders don’t gain any benefit whatsoever over a regular warlock.
- Summons are terrible. As a rule of thumb, in order to be playable, a Summoning daily attack has to create a creature that can either make instinctive attacks, opportunity attacks, or have one hell of a standard action attack - and even that doesn’t guarantee a strong daily, just a passable one. Since a Binder’s Ally has neither, it’s impact on the battlefield will usually be negligible.
In order to address these issues, my fix for the class includes the following changes:
- New triggers for Pact Boon rewards. Pretty straightforward. The features are nice, but you need to actually be able to use them.
- Power Upgrades. This involved changing a LOT of powers, including nearly every Binder-specific attack, but also many generic dailies from Heroes of Shadow that were given special bonuses for binders. In general, the revisions made the powers better in the hands of a binder, but also worse for non-binder warlock.