Friday, December 18, 2009

Broken Bits: Come and Get It

(Broken bits is a series of short articles that will focus on unbalanced or otherwise broken game elements, one at a time.)

Overpowered attacks in D&D 4E usually fall in one of three categories: those that dish out huge amounts of damage (usually of the single-target variety), those that negate enemy actions with conditions such as stuns and immobilizations, and those that grant massive bonuses to a party's attacks or defenses. These tend to be easy to identify, since damage, enemy actions, and stat enhancenments can be objectively measured and compared as numeric values. Today I will discuss a power that, though not stellar in any of these variables, is nonetheless extremely effective.

How do you quantify strategic advantage? How much is controlling character positions in a battle really worth? These aren't easy questions, but looking at the Fighter's level 7 encounter power Come and Get It, the answers seem to be "Highly" and "A lot".

In many ways, Come and Get It is a success. There are few powers in the game that make such a perfect fit with the class they belong to. Indeed, for most other classes (and even most defenders) it wouldn't be more than a good way of dealing damage to lots of enemies, with an interesting side-effect. In the hands of a Fighter, the ability to attract most nearby enemies and hit them is the ultimate trump card.

It works like this: for a marked enemy, moving away from a Fighter is an annoyingly difficult and dangerous proposition. Under normal conditions, only one or, at best, a few clumped together enemies are threatened this way. But with Come and Get It, this turns into the whole opposing team. Moreover, since the forced movement is guaranteed, and the covered area is considerable, the Fighter has a wide margin for moving before the attack so that a lot of monsters are moved to, and pinned in, a very disadvantageous position.

It's an extremely exciting and amusing maneuver that every Fighter should try at least once in their career. I recently reached Level 7 with my Human Battlerager, and the power has been every bit as good as I expected. Though it is useful in many situations, you will often want to blow it on the first round of combat in order to take your opponents out of cover, mark everybody before your allies get hurt, and set up a barrage of whatever area attacks the party has at its disposal.

What is not to like? Well, for a start, being so terribly effective turns it into an almost automatic choice for the level 7 slot of any Fighter character. And being so convenient at the start of the battle makes it an all-too-common first turn play. But I think that to fully grasp the strength of this power, one has to DM against it.

Regardless of their actual efectiveness, fighters tend to be annoying opponents. Your creatures can't move, they can't safely shift away, and if you choose to stay and fight them, they take forever to bring down. But Come and Get It upgrades that annoyance to downright frustration. Forget about any clever schemes, because as soon as the guy with the sword starts his turn, all your incompetent lackeys will go rushing exactly where he wants them to be. And they won't get away.

A possible solution.

The power's brutality comes from two main factors: the size of the affected area, and the inescapability of the forced movement. A reduced burst would probably be a safe fix, but I'd rather keep the power as a burst 3, and make the pull conditional on an attack roll instead:

Come and Get It, mk2 - Fighter Attack 7
Encounter - Martial, Weapon
Standard Action - Close burst 3
Target: Each non-adjacent enemy in burst you can see.
Attack: Strength vs. Will
Hit: You pull the target 2 squares to a square adjacent to you.
Effect: Make a secondary attack.
Secondary Target: Each adjacent enemy you can see.
Secondary Attack: Strength vs. AC
Hit: 1[W]+Strength modifier damage.

With this version, there is some tension between reaching the maximum number of potential targets within the pulling burst, and having as many adjacent enemies as possible to ensure you can attack someone. The pulling attack can be extremely accurate, but the chance of missing, small though it may be, will make most players think twice about the way they use this power, which is a good thing in my mind. But don't fool yourself: even with this patch, you are still looking at a devastating attack.


  1. As written, your primary attack is a weapon attack against Will (the power has the weapon keyword). Not only does this not make much sense to me, but you end up applying your proficiency bonus against what is, in most cases, the weakest of a monster's NADs. Perhaps a Cha vs Will check would be more appropriate? You would likely have to make it Cha +2 vs Will (and then +4 and +6 in Paragon and Epic, respectively) so that it keeps up with enhancement bonuses.

    The obvious problem with this fix is that Cha tends to be a dump stat for Fighters. Assuming Dragonborn, the Fighter will most likely have a +4 Str mod vs. a +1 Cha mod, and the difference will only widen as you level (and boost Str). Races that don't get a Cha bonus will likely have a 0 mod. This would likely make the power too weak.

    However, if tied to a Cha based skill (most likely Intimidate), the attack would start out as very accurate, then equalize (when the difference between your Str and Cha modifiers is 5, which training in the skill compensates for), and then become less accurate as you level (when your Str mod is more than 5 higher than your Cha mod). Not the most elegant fix.

    Essentially, it's very difficult to make a Fighter Power that attacks vs Will and make it actually balanced. The most mechanically smooth fix would be to state that you make a Str vs Will weapon attack, but you can't add your proficiency bonus to it. From a flavor perspective, this doesn't really make any sense.

  2. I think you are totally ignoring the fact that the fighter who just did this is now getting attacked, probably with combat advantage, by probably six monsters if he did it correctly. That is not an insignificant drawback.

    Besides the point, all this power does is what wardens get to do for free every turn.

  3. Brian: The weapon attack against Will isn't common for martial classes, but not unheard of (see Positioning Strike, rogue encounter 1, for example). Think of it as a feint or some other kind of combat trick.

    I am aware that this makes the primary attack really accurate, but I don't think it's much of a balance concern - It isn't an attack that deals actual damage, but an effect that was previously automatic. I want the effect to happen very often, but to occasionally miss - hence the attack roll.

    Tom: What really bugs me about the power isn't the multimarking or the huge area attack (which is, indeed, a Warden's bread and butter), but the forced movement. That is an encounter-altering effect with guaranteed success - something we only usually see in daily powers. Also, though a Warden marks more often, the restrictions imposed by a fighter to marked, adjacent enemies are probably the strongest in the game.

    It is true that the best case scenario forces the fighter to deal with a whole lot of angry monsters - mindless abuse of this power can easily lead to a dying Fighter. But you have tools at your disposal to protect yourself for that turn: my personal favourite is the Utility Shielded Sides. Racial powers such as a Goliath's or a Shadar Kai's are also awesome here.

  4. One last thing: you don't HAVE to pull more monsters than you can handle. There is always the possibility of leaving a few behind, if you think that's too dangerous. The burst-loving wizard in my party would surely disapprove of that, though!

  5. Re: protecting yourself before using the power

    Yes, effects the buff the Fighter's defenses, give them damage reduction, etc. synergize very well with this power. It also works really well with controllers or sorcerers, as it's pretty rare to get 5 (not unreasonable given Come and Get It's range) or so enemies within the area of a 3X3 square.

  6. Perico: I agree that it completely hoses formations and artillery but, essentially, that's what it's supposed to do. Although, to your argument that there's really no other L7 fighter power to take -- you're right. At least making it a Strength vs. Will attack for the forced movement might, at least, make you think about taking something else... but probably not for very long.