Saturday, May 22, 2010

Class Acts: Invoker. More feats than you can fit in a Burst 2.

One of the best articles in DDI so far this month has been the Class Acts dedicated to Invokers. It's one of those increasingly rare, mechanics focused articles, offering little in the way of backstory, but full of new options - the ones I'm always looking for. Signed by the prolific and reliable Robert J. Schwalb, this article consists purely of feats, of all tiers and colors. With a total of 34 invoker-specific feats, this is more than the whole Divine Power book added to the class in that regard, unless we count Domain feats. So the number of possible combinations and builds for the class has been greatly expanded - opening up some very intriguing concepts.

Dubious Manifestation is a new feat of dubious quality for Drow Invokers

There's something I should get out of the way first, though. A dozen of these are racial feats- not a bad thing per se, as it actually covers the races that had been left out in previous supplements. And they are terrible. Not all of them are strictly unplayable (though many are), but they manage to be consistently bland, situational, and often pointless. The formula of 'gain a small bonus when you use your racial power' is abused to death, and almost always disappoints. It's not that it's impossible to make exciting feats with one-shot encounter effects, but they aren't even trying too hard - combat advantage, forced movement, small amounts of damage or even a +1 bonus to a single attack roll are far too weak benefits to be worth the effort.

The few racial feats that do something different are way more acceptable, though not spectacular: the changeling one, Flexible Covenant, allows you to change covenants each day, and the shifter feat Mobile Covenant lets you shift huge distances as your covenant benefit. Nevertheless, the racial stuff feels like mere filler, overall.

After that, things get more interesting. Way more interesting. The remaining feats develop certain themes, such as improvement of summons, specialization in ranged attacks, mastering the staff implement and granting covenant-specific benefits.

Of these, perhaps the most interesting are the ones thatenhance your summoningprayers. With a name like 'invoker', one would have expected a class with better support for powers that bring creatures to the battlefield, so there was quite a gap to fill. Thankfully, the feats are excellent:Carceri's Manacles slows enemies around summoned creatures, whereasRighteous Summons grants a different benefit depending on the character's covenant: attack penalties for maledictors, ally sliding for preservers and, my personal favourite, extra damage for wrathful invokers. To round it off, we have a general purpose feat that will greatly benefit summoners inHand of Fury, which grants extra attacks when a daily attack fully misses.

The feats that reward the use of ranged power are very intriguing because, unlike other controllers, invokers are very strong in this department (mostly because of *Hand of Radiance* and similar multi-target shots). Heaven's Arrow grants a bonus to hit against isolated targets - a condition that isn't usually that easy to meet, but which has quite a bit of synergy with the free slides from Covenant of preservation. Interestingly, it is a scaling feat bonus, as if tempting players to take the feat instead of Expertise. I don't think anyone will get that far, but it is something to consider. The remaining ranged feats are Angelic Harrier, which makes your dailies and encounters slide, and Vanguard's Eye, which grants protection against opportunity attacks.

Staff wielders will get to play a very different style of controller by taking Staff of Channeled Invocations, a feat that turns ranged powers into melee attacks. Among other cool combinations, this allows invokers of the Skill Domain to use Divine Bolts as opportunity attacks, in what may be the first realistic application of the power since it was mostly obsoleted by Hand of Radiance. The other staff feat, Pillar of Heaven, is also interesting but much more limited in scope, as it should only be useful to invokers relying on single-target ranged powers in their encounter slots.

As for the different Covenants, Malediction gets the most new options, with four feats. Of these, Crushing Doom looks particularly impressive, placing a significant damage penalty on all targets of your Maledictor's Doom power. The other covenants get three feats each, of which the paragon feats Preserver's Fury (target of Preserver's Rebuke becomes vulnerable to all damage) and Wrathful Outburst (Armor of Wrath targets an additional enemy) stand out the most.

Finally, the epic tier presents three generic feats that every Invoker should consider taking.Invoker Implement Expertise, as its name suggests, is the boring yet useful option to boost the crit range for all class powers.Dreadful Invocation is a truly spectacular feat that makes your critical hits from encounter or daily attacks inflict a lasting attack penalty, as well as forcing the target to move away from you (with the subsequent opportunity attacks). The last one, Reaching Invocation, works with area attacks, allowing you to target additional foes adjacent to the area - the Invoker's equivalent to Enlarge Spell, and a reason to maybe try Vanguard's Lightning over Hand of Radiance once you gain access to it.

To sum up, an amazing, useful and deep article. If you play an Invoker, chances are that you'll end up using several of the feats included here.
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Character Survivability Calculator (advanced)

UPDATE (16/05/10): Fixed script formulas for sustained damage)
UPDATE (01/12): Updated for MM3 monster stats

I've been making some improvements to my calculator of character survivability, and now we can incorporate PCs with attacks that grant temporary hit points, resistances, or defense bonuses on a hit, that depend on the PC's chance to hit. Defender characters (who are typically the most interested in measuring their endurance) should find this particularly useful, since most make regular use of these mechanics.

I've chosen to focus exclusively on effects that a character can grant himself, rather than external bonuses and healing. That stuff is left for future posts. If your character isn't interested in gaining THPs and the like, you'll probably prefer the basic version of the calculator, which is still available here.

An explanation of the new formulas used will be added soon.

Character Stats:
HP:Resistance: Regeneration:
Conditional damage mitigation on a hit:
Bonus to AC:, to For:, to Ref:, to Wil:
Resistance/THP: Attack Bonus: vs
Chance to Mitigate:Sustained THP?:
Chance to mitigate damage:
Chance to sustain THP:
Monster Stats:
Level: Type:
Marked Combat Advantage
Average monster DPR:

Number of turns it takes a Skirmisher monster of level 1 to kill you:

Attacking vs AC: vs For: vs Ref: vs Wil:
Overall survivability:turns.

Chance for a Skirmisher monster of level 1 to hit you:

Attacking vs AC: vs For: vs Ref: vs Wil:
Overall Hit %:
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Saturday, May 8, 2010

May Rules Updates: Infernal Wrath, surgeless healing, flight...

It's errata time again! Following the trend of recent awesome updates, this month's revision affects a large series of items for books up to (but not including) Player's Handbook 3. Although the usual class and power adjustments are in place, this time there's an infrequent emphasis on general rulings, of which some had been expected, and one caught me totally flat-footed! Also, there is a very surprising movement in the complete rewrite of a racial power (which, honestly, was in dire need of fixing) and the sweeping changes brought to all feats and features that depended on it. Let's take a look!


Infernal Wrath has been reborn, and an era of greatness for tiefling adventurers is starting, that will surpass even the glory days of Bael Turath. It's not that the new version of the power is so much better than the old one (when it worked), though it is quite a bit better. Rather, it's the reliability and flexibility which makes it shine. Old Wrath depended too much on the charisma score, becoming an almost worthless ability for those tieflings who weren't interested in making friends. This meant that many class combinations didn't exploit the full potential of the tiefling race, and even though the remaining racial features are quite sweet (I'm totally in love with Bloodhunt), some players felt rightfully discriminated - and others ignored the tiefling in favor of a different, more open race.

So, aspiring wizards, swordmages, psions and even fighters - know that, if you are of Tiefling ascendancy, your enemies will learn to fear your Wrath. Also, you'd better check out on the various racial feats, since the changes bring a number of new interactions to base a character on. There are also some losses, such as Lingering Wrath, but overall I think this is a very positive change.

General rules

There are a LOT of revisions and clarifications in the general rules, many of which had come up at my table. I'll start with the one I secretly wanted, but hadn't expected in a million years: Aid another! This was a vestige of old 3E rules that hadn't really worked as they should, requiring a roll against a flat DC that very soon became obsolete, as the level bonuses grew. The developers have chosen to streamline it in a very roundabout way, by splitting it into three different abilities, depending on whether you want to help in a skill check, an attack roll, or an ally's defenses.

The assistance for skill or ability checks has kept the Aid Another name, and is the one that has seen the most significant revision. After all, screwing up skill challenges was virtually the only use that this action had seen in the game. This now relies on a roll against a DC of scaling difficulty, using your bonus in the same skill or ability check that you want to assist. On top of that, failure is no longer inconsequential, as it brings a -1 penalty to the assisted character, so you won't automatically want to use this in an area in which you are not proficient - and if you are proficient, you may be better off rolling the skill check yourself, to begin with!

As for the assists on attack or defense, now called Aid Attack and -wait for it- Aid Defense, they keep pretty much the same funtionality, although they schew the useless roll and work automatically. This should be a welcome change for DMs intending to use it with a bunch of minions and a boss-type monster, since that is about the only scenario I can think of where it would come up.

Another area of the rules that has been greatly improved is the one concerning flying. The original implementation of flight in the DMG was full of strange exceptions and quirks that made it rather unintuitive. Flying creatures couldn't shift or make opportunity attacks, and had to move a certain distance to prevent falling. As for the falling itself, the rules governing it were confusing, to say the least. All of this has been cleaned up, clarified, and implemented in a more straightforward way.

The mobility of all flyers has been improved so that they are now more or less equivalent to what the hover ability previously granted. This means that flying now essentially works the same as other forms of movement, except in 3D: you can shift, charge, run or stay still without penalties. Falling now happens when the creature is knocked prone or stunned (unless it has hover - the only utility of hover now is prevent stunned creatures from falling).

The new flying rules are complemented with clarifications on how forced movement works in a 3D context. Most importantly, this means that pulling or sliding can now bring a flying creature to the ground - but also that you can move enemies up or down flights of stairs or ramps.

There are many more changes that affect general rules, so I'll make a quick overview:
- Damage from overlapping zones or auras now stacks.
- Move-related skills, such as athletics, acrobatics or stealth now work with any action that allows you to move (rather than only move actions, as before).
- The marked condition ends when the marker is knocked unconscious.
- The charge action now clearly states how you must move (closer to the target, as though being pulled), and explicitly states that you can take free actions afterwards. Also, creatures with reach can now charge adjacent to their target.


Another sweeping change is the one affecting healing powers that don't spend healing surges. In theory, this would affect all leaders, but it's clear that clerics, the undisputed kings of surgeless healing, are the most hurt. In fact, their main class feature, Healer's Lore, along with a number of feats and magic items, have been changed so that they only benefit healing gained from spent surges.

This reduces the efficiency of an astounding number of cleric powers (at least 20, or 10% of all of the class' total) and, most importantly, is a serious hit to two of their at-wills, Astral Seal and Recovery Strike. An optimized healer could exploit these powers after an encounter had been reduced to 1-2 enemies, so that each turn the party gained a substantial amount of 'free' hit points, even after accounting for the enemies' damage. This tactic is no longer valid, but many cleric players will be forced to rethink their builds, since the at-wills are no longer effective for a character without a substantial charisma.

Wizards, Swordmages, Sorcerers

I place these classes together because they are all seriously impacted by a change to a wizard feat, Enlarge Spell . Enlarge Spell was a very welcome addition from Arcane Power that hugely boosted the efficiency of wizard area attacks, in an attempt to make up for the class' lack of combat-relevant features. However, such an attractive effect turned out too tempting for other arcane classes, and specifically Swordmages and Sorcerers, and was used as the foundation of builds that turned their at-will areas into optimized monstruosities.

So Enlarge Spell is rewritten to work only with wizard spells, and the other arcane classes take a huge blow. Personally, I think that this is how it should have been from the beginning - when I read Arcane Power, I couldn't help thinking of that feat as a long lost Wizard class feature... that unfortunately could easily be stolen by multiclassing.

There is another aspect of the feat that has changed, though, that somewhat reduces its usefulness to actual wizards: it no longer works with daily powers. Seeing as how it could expand sustainable areas such as Stinking Cloud at no significant cost, this is probably a well deserved revision.

Martial Power 2

Several new powers and features from the recently released Martial Power 2 have been subject to revision. The most significant are probably two new at-wills. The ranger's Throw and Stab loses it's ability to target a single enemy with both attacks and replaces the secondary charge attack with a free movement followed by a basic attack. This is, in general, a reduction in power, though it comes with great increase in mobility that makes it a very interesting power, in my opinion. The second at-will fixed is the Warlord's Intuitive Strike, which should come as no surprise to anybody - the insane scaling of the attack bonus translated into auto-hits for several members of the party around paragon tier. These bonuses have been reduced to a fixed +2, which leaves warlords with a definitely playable attack that is, in fact, stronger than before at lower levels.

Also of note are the clarifications to the fighter's Brawler Style, which state that the defense bonuses of the feature work while grabbing another character, and prevent the stacking of unarmed attacks with Ki Focuses for absurd bonuses to hit.

Paragon Paths

To conclude, I should mention the changes to the ubiquitous paragon paths Daggermaster and Pit Fighter, whose strongest features (expanded crit range and bonus damage equal to Wis) have been restricted to work only with rogue and fighter powers, respectively. This affects a wide range of classes, including Avengers, Sorcerers, Rangers or Battleminds, which often turned to these paths in order to gain considerable boosts to their damage, often gaining more than single-classed Fighters or Rogues would.

The revision continues the line started two months ago (when the Bloodmage and Student of Caiphon were brought down for similar reasons), and it's reasonable to expect other frequently multiclassed-into paths to follow a similar route - If I had to bet, I'd say Divine Oracle and Kensei are likely to see a similar fate soon.
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