Sunday, March 29, 2009

The numbers of the Beast

UPDATE (09/05/2010) - Added comparative charts for beast damage.

In previous posts, when talking about rangers, I deliberately skipped Beast Master builds. This doesn't mean that they are flawless (they aren't) or that I dislike (I love them), but their mechanics are a bit more complex than average, and I didn't quite know how to explain what I found was wrong with them. Today I'll give it a shot.

Beastmaster Rangers didn't hit the mark
The Beast Master fighting style is the best thing that's happened to rangers in 4E. Not in terms of damage, certainly, but in variety and uniqueness. Of course, previous editions already had pets for rangers and other classes, but they suffered from a series of flaws. Pets, along with summoned creatures and similar mechanics, allowed players to multiply the number of actions (i.e. attacks) available to them, violating what is now known as economy of actions. This had implications beyond game balance, as it slowed down fights, and made some players' turns take significantly longer than the rest's.
On the other hand, pet stat generation was usually overcomplicated, involving the selection of some Monster Manual creature and its levelling up, adding several bonuses, and even magic items and feats. Since the Monster Manual itself was a bit anarchic concerning monster balance, it became possible, with just a few hours of research and optimization, to come up with character builds where the 'pet' was overwhelmingly superior to its alleged 'master'. The system's 'flexibility' also allowed for truly pathetic pets, if the players weren't so careful with their builds.

Fast forward to the 4E. The new game system promises to fix most of these issues in a clean, balanced way. Character creation has become straightforward, and there are well defined numbers for a character's expected stats and number of powers at any given level. Also, characters now have a fixed pool of actions (minor, move, standard) each turn regardless of their pets, mounts, continuous effects and the like. The game now has all the ingredients for the perfect pet experience. And yet, for their first attempt (the Beast Master Ranger), they didn't get it completely right.

I want to like the Beast Master. The basic idea is simple, but interesting enough: the beast is a bag of hit points that doesn't directly increase your damage, but flanks, makes a few opportunity attacks (at the non-insignificant cost of an immediate action for the master) and allows the master to channel beast-specific powers. Some of those powers grant a bonus to the ranger's attack, others have the beast make the attack, and several of them combine attacks from both, which in practice doesn't differ much from multiattacks from dual wielding or rapid firing. Reading these powers, it makes sense to think that the basic beast attack is roughly equivalent to a standard basic attack. That assumption, however, is utterly wrong.

At first level, beast attacks are only slightly below a basic weapon attack. It doesn't last long, however, as their damage improves very, very slowly. Only increasing ability scores and extra damage dice from epic tier affect it. Beasts gain no damage benefit from feats, enhancenment bonuses or paragon paths, so at mid Paragon tier their attacks deal only half the damage of a basic attack.

And this is the real issue: not that pets are weak (which they are, sometimes), but that power, relative to the ranger's, has a strong variation with level. This is confusing, and means that you can't easily evaluate a Beast Power. Intuition says that an attack dealing 2[B] should be comparable to another dealing 2[W], but this is only true within a certain range of levels. This disparity also means that most beast powers should be broken, at least at certain levels.

Pet attack bonuses and defenses, in contrast, scale perfectly with level, preventing further disaster. The beast powers themselves are rather good, and I believe they would work nicely if beast attacks were more like standard attacks. So I'm going to try just that. In a following post, I will provide alternate rules that treat pets in a much more efficient and simple way.

Beast damage charts

What follows is the comparison of basic attacks between a PC with no optimization whatsoever (i.e. the minimum progression) and a beast companion. The following assumptions are made:
- The PC has a starting ability score of 18, and increases it as normal
- The PC's basic attack has a +2 proficiency bonus and a [W] of 1d10. Damage at level 1 would then be 1d10 + 4
- Weapon enhancenment bonuses are gained at levels 2,6,11,16,21,26. Crit damage is 1d8 per bonus.
- Expertise bonuses to hit are gained at levels 5,15,25
- Crit range increases to 10% at level 21.
- The beast companion used for reference is a lizard. The companion is not affected by magic items or feats.
- Damage increases by 1(w) at level 21 (this shouldn't really apply for a beast companion basic attack, though it does for Predator strike)
- Hit chances are calculated as if attacking a Skirmisher monster of the same level.

For reference, I show numbers for the current spirit companion, as well as a modified version adding enhancenment bonuses to damage and extra damage on crits.

This is the progression for damage dealt on a hit.


And this is the actual Damage-Per-Round progression:

The whole spreadsheet is available here. Also, there's a thread for discussing possible erratas on the subject in the official forums.

No comments:

Post a Comment