Friday, September 24, 2010

Monster Workshop: The White Dragon

With the new monster design guidelines brought by Monster Manual 3, I’ve been looking for opportunities to adapt classic foes to the new, deadlier format. Unfortunately, my turn to DM our regular campaign is still a few months away, so I haven’t been able to put this into practice. That is, until our DM brought to my attention that we would be fighting a Dragon encounter (as he needed the minis from my home). That immediately put me into tinkering mode.

It is obvious that Dragons are an Essential very important part of the D&D game, and I love them as much as the next guy, but this specimen was from the first Monster Manual, and these are known to have... issues. Granted, it is still possible to have awesome encounters playing a MM1 Dragon by the book, but these become more and more difficult the higher level you are. At least we weren’t talking about a soul-crushing Black Dragon, but it was probably the next worst thing: a White. As a Solo Brute from MM1, this dragon has extremely high chances of providing underpowered, repetitive encounters, so something needed to be done.

White Dragons are among the weakest of the Chromatics, but the MM1 version is overkill.

Fixing It

What’s wrong with the White? To answer this, we can take a look at the statblock of a level 9 Adult White Dragon. The following issues come up:
- It’s an old-fashioned brute. This means that its accuracy is lacking, so it will be missing more often than not, and has almost no chance of bringing down any self-respecting defender.
- It’s an old-fashioned solo, so its defenses are higher, and its damage expressions lower than those of more modern monsters of its type - making encounters longer, and less threatening. Also, it has no special mechanic to resist stunning and similar effects, so it can be easily neutralized with the right powers.
- It lacks the MM3 damage boost, which has made higher level monsters far more deadlier, and much better adjusted to the PCs’ power level.
- It has a miserable power selection. Most dragons have, even at lower levels, some unique special power and/or a tail attack that triggers as a reaction to enemy movements. The White gets none of these. To add insult to injury, it’s only special ability of note is Dragon Fury, which grants an extra attack after hitting with two claws. The problem being, this is an inherently unreliable (and kinda weak) mechanic, which only gets worse when you put it on a Brute with lousy accuracy!

Reading this, you might get the impression that we’d be better off creating a new monster from scratch, and to be honest that isn’t too far off. But there are still some redeeming qualities, which we should make sure to preserve:
- It’s a DRAGON. Dragons are awesome by definition, and players will be willing to forgive a lot of things just because of it.
- Dragon Breath is always cool (no pun intended). This one deals no damage on a miss (which is unfortunate, given the aforementioned lack of precision), but slows and weakens enemies - something that goes well with the elemental cold theme, and is actually quite effective.
- The extra damage on an opportunity attack looks a bit too soldier-ish to me, but it is unique and kind of useful, so I guess we should do something with it.

Ok, that wasn’t too long. Anyway, from this analysis, I’m inclined to implement changes that go a bit deeper than merely adjusting defenses, hit bonuses, and damage to MM3 values. This guy could do with some new powers and traits, and a couple of tweaks on the existing ones. Also, I couldn’t wait to try something like the following in action:

The beautiful killing machine above is an official-ish new design that was handed out at the last GenCon, as reported at EnWorld. It is clearly built to present a serious challenge, and to be fair has a couple of things (Acidic Blood + Shroud of Gloom) that look a bit too overpowered to my taste. But I think it would make an amazing framework for any Dragon re-design, so I’m going to steal from it. Shamelessly.

The following ideas would fit well in our White Dragon:
- Action Recovery. A simple trait to prevent stun-locking, which covers most, but not all of the solo-crippling conditions (leaving a few weak points) and still lets players get some (but not too much) value from their stuns.
- Instinctive Devouring. Concentrated awesomeness. A limited extra action that goes a long way towards making dragon fights dynamic and competitive, and also helps fight stuns.
- The concept of Acidic Blood (though not its implementation). A lethal ability that only works when the dragon gets bloodied adds a lot of variety to the encounter.
- Miss damage on Bite attack. This is a small detail, but makes the main, hard-hitting attack a more serious threat to even the most armored warrior. Also, it adds some punch to the opportunity attacks.
- There is no Frightful Presence, which to me always looked like a waste of time as it made both parties skip a turn.

With that in mind, I came up with the following version:

So this looks way different from the original. Damage has got a significant boost (following the new formulas), which coupled with the increase in accuracy makes the new dragon pack quite a punch. You shouldn’t hear complaints of fights dragging with this one. Defenses also went down, so that AC is now very weak (as suits a brute), and fortitude is strong but no longer overwhelming. Frightful Presence got killed.

What about the new abilities? Instinctive Devouring and Action recovery were added without changes. I toned down the extra attack in Dragon’s Fury (which doesn’t come up too often, anyway) to compensate for the added bite from Instinctive Devouring. I tried to play into the improved opportunity attack idea, and added Bloodied Reflexes as the encounter-changing trait (since threatening reach had great synergy with strong OAs), and also a Tail Slam that triggered off enemies not moving. The idea would be that many of the dragon’s abilities work to hinder PC mobility, but the dragon punishes its enemies if they stay in the same place. I admit I borrowed some inspiration from that other game, but don’t tell anybody.

The new Dragon, in action

How did this play out? I brought the new version to my DM, with a few warnings about untested power and risk of TPK, which only got him more excited. So we went to play the encounter, which had an amazing poster map, with a mix of fear and curiosity, and...

...and we role-played our way out of the fight. Brilliantly, in fact. The dragoness was kind of receptive to dialogue, and our usually slash-happy party took to the (skill) challenge, in what was one of the greatest game sessions we ever had, from a narrative point of view. We convinced the monster to let us borrow a piece of its treasure, which was vital to the plot, in exchange for some services. It was fun, and memorable. And a bit of an anti-climax.

All right, it was a complete anti-climax! The DM was torn between pride (for an undeniably succesful session) and letdown (for the lost chance for mindless violence). He mildly suggested a couple of courses of action that would lead to the epic battle he craved, but the adventurers would have none of that. It was a happy ending, of sorts.

Eventually, we were convinced to play the battle, out of campaign continuity, for research purposes (ah, the sacrifices I make for my beloved readers!). And... it was a definite improvement over the original monster (which we would have annihilated), but it wasn’t quite the challenge I expected it to be.

Now, it is true that the dragon make some strategically questionable decisions (such as spending its Dragon Breath against a single Fighter - and missing- , or using action points at not-quite-optimal times), and that the DM was overly cautious with using terrain effects against us after my warnings of TPK-risk. And our PCs were fresh after an extended rest and, not fearing future encounters nor permanent death, they blew a zillion dailies at the poor creature. But it should have been more threatening.

What happened was that a well armored, melee heavy party surrounded it (with a fighter to lock it in place), making it almost impossible for it to move away or cover several of them with a breath attack. There was some mild debuffing involved (of the -2 to hit variety), which even with the increased hit bonuses made it pretty hard for the dragon to hit the marking fighter - and switching targets wasn’t much of an option because they were also well armored, and as hard to hit after counting the mark penalty. So the dragon took a beating, scratched the adventurers without ever threatening to knock one down, and died.

Tail Slam was usually spent on the fighter and failed to make much of an impact. A domination effect was shrugged off by Instinctive Devouring (to great sadness from our Bard), but not before preventing a whole turn’s worth of opportunity attacks just after Bloodied Reflexes had kicked in. In fact, it didn’t get to make an opportunity attack in the whole encounter. Overall, it wasn’t as dynamic as it should, and proved that the dragon could still gain some more power. Back to the drawing board.

The Dragon Strikes Back

After playing with it, I feel that my dragon still left a few things to be desired. First of all, it didn’t have many things to do during combat. I had expected that the opportunity attacks combined with tail slam would lead to a mini-game of PCs moving away with the dragon chasing them, but that didn’t work out well. And, although I don’t miss Frightful Presence, it is true that removing it left few attack options.

What I wanted was some way to move PCs around. I increased the number of slowing attacks, and added a trait called Deadly Cold, to push slowed enemies that the dragon hit. I also wanted to have some way to boost attacks, so the new ability also granted combat advantage against slowed enemies. Having Dragon Breath be able to fail completely was too much of a letdown, so I gave it half damage on a miss. Finally, I made Tail Slam trigger as an opportunity action (so it would work against ALL adjacent allies), and had its attack target fortitude. I got rid of the extra damage on opportunity attacks, because they were pretty brutal to begin with.

This is the version I’d play today.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Essential Assassin

"We’ve charted a new direction in class design with the Essentials products" - Bill Slavicsek, Essential Cleric preview.

The Executioner Assassin is new build (though it actually includes two sub-builds) for the assassin class, with a format inspired by the Essentials books, brand new mechanics, and a couple of twists in the resource system. Executioners are strikers that use both the shadow and the martial power source, making them the first build in the game with multiple power sources.

Ever since the first Essential previews, we have wondered what that "new direction" would mean for future classes. We will still have to wait for a complete answer, but it is easy to tell what it means for the assassin class: freedom. This is a build full of wacky design ideas, often breaking the (somewhat rigid) structure we have come to expect from a 4E class description, though keeping the underlying core intact. More or less, anyway.

The first thing that caught my eye about the assassin rules is that they are unexpectedly interesting to read. I love reading page after page of powers as much as the next guy, but even I have to admit that the original 4E format sometimes comes off a little dry. Following the new Essentials style, the Assassin has additional flavor text and descriptions for every feature and power, in just the right amount (a single paragrapth at a time) to spice things up without getting boring. Moderately extensive writeups for race-specific assassins, such as humans or drow, are also included.

The power progression feels familiar, yet special. You get at-will, encounter, daily and utility powers as with any other (non-Essential) class, though there are a few caveats. All of the non-utility powers are written so as to be build-specific, so that the Executioner can't benefit from previous assassin attacks, and vice versa. The at-wills available are different for each Executioner sub-build, and you can actually gain more as you level up. The daily powers keep their usual number and strength, but have been reflavored as special poisons which the assassin can craft and use each day. Also, they have been grouped by tier, so that at level 9 you can choose among three level 1 poisons, where previously you would have powers of level 1, 5 and 9. There is a slight mechanical change in that it looks like you'll be able to use multiple instances of the same poison each day, but other than that it is the same as traditional dailies, with a very cool flavor. And then, there is the encounter power.

This is where the assassin deviates the most from the norm, but I think it's more than worth it. Rather than choosing up to 3 different encounter powers, the executioner assassin has Assassin's Strike, a single encounter attack which improves as you level up. The trick is that Assassin's Strike deals roughly the same extra damage as the three encounters put together. In one fell swoop. This single, devastating attack really captures what an assassin is about, to me, and feels about right, power-wise. The loss in build and play options is somewhat compensated by the additional at-will slots, and the inevitable gap in power level (compared to classes that have 3 attacks with weird effects) is left to fill by class features.

And there are a LOT of class features. True to the Essential template, the assassin class has its own progression table for each tier, with new features spread out across levels. The partial switch to the martial power source is evident here, in that there is less emphasis in shadow illusions and teleporting (one of the cooler things about the old assassin), and more plain acrobatics and physical prowess. Features that let you land gracefully on a fall, or create clever disguises are examples of this mundane theme, though shadow magic becomes more prominent as you level up. This way, the paragon tier brings an extremely nice little feature with no combat implications but great story potential; called Shadow Coffin, it allows you to magically capture an enemy corpse, to hide your tracks or use it later as proof of death.

Oddly, for all the color and inventiveness that is present in other areas, the main striker feature is as bland as it gets: an extra d6 added to all weapon attacks. This is functional but boring, and would be a bit of a letdown if it wasn't complemented by one of the most awesome and flavorful offensive mechanics I have seen in quite a while: the Death Attack. Gained at level 3, Death Attack lets you automatically finish off enemies with less than 10 hit points (a threshold that increases as you level up) after you damage them. This seems quite potent, and fun, and more than justifies calling this build the Executioner - bloodied enemies will fall quite easily at your hands, and there is a potential for one-shotting enemies at lower levels that not even a barbarian would match.

The executioner also succeeds in an area where the previous assassin design felt lacking - the use of weapons. Both builds are proficient with ki focuses that allow an assassin to wield effectively any tool at hand. However, the original version of the class did little to incentivize the exotic weapons one usually associates with assassination, so the optimal style of play consisted in swinging brutish two-handed blades - not the most fortunate flavor match. The executioner fixes this by having weapon-specific attacks. A lot of them, in fact, and for many different weapons.

Each of the new assassin at-wills is associated with a specific weapon, such as the kukri, blowgun, or shuriken. These have long been (rightfully) regarded as crappy weapons, weak even when compared with the humble dagger. However, by having at-wills specifically tailored from them, the assassin can squeeze power out of them like no other class in the game.

For example, the kukri power lets you charge and deal 2[W] damage (at-will!), which after accounting for that weapon's terrible damage die ends up roughly equivalent to an attack with a heavy weapon such as a Mordenkrad. The blowgun attack deals miserable damage by itself but is more accurate than any other at-will in the game, making it great in combination with poisons, Assassin's Strike, or Death Strike. Or all of them thrown together - there is no such thing as overkill, for an assassin.

Also, if these specialized weapons and maneuvers fail, you're still free to make basic attacks with the heaviest stick you can find. Executioners are able to use their dexterity for basic attacks, swap weapons with ease, and switch from melee to ranged attacks without effort, so they should be able to have a much more eclectic fighting style.

And that's about it. As with other Essential classes, there are no class-specific feats in the article, though I'd be surprised if the generous array of feats for the classic assassin didn't hide several gems (without feature requirements) for the new build. The class is presented as a Beta version, so that playtest feedback can be sent before the final version is compiled in November. Nevertheless, my initial impression is that, barring a couple of typos and the odd table, the class is highly polished - more so, perhaps, than the previous assassin. The power level looks well adjusted, the mechanics appear to be quite fun, and the whole package is full of personality and flavor. The class framework is definitely unorthodox, but isn't really all that far off your regular 4E striker, in its core. I don't know if I'll have the chance to play with the class anytime soon, as my turn to DM our campaign comes closer, but I'd definitely recommend it.
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Monday, September 13, 2010

Old monsters in Dungeon adventures to get stat updates

UPDATE: Added upgraded monsters from The Wayward Wyrmling and The Ghost Tower

Out of Dungeon and Dragon magazines, I'm definitely a Dragon guy. It's not that Dungeon articles are lacking in quality, but there's only so much adventure material my group can consume - and, since we are currently fighting our way through Pyramid of Shadows and intend to continue that adventure series all the way to Orcus, it will be a LONG time before we ever have a chance of trying out a Dungeon module.

So I tend to ignore everything that comes with Dungeon except for one thing: the monsters. Unlike in previous editions, I find 4E monster stat blocks quite enjoyable to read, and I find that monster design has only improved since the first Monster Manual. Moreover, I really like the changes brought by MM3, and I have a project to update many older monsters to the new stats, so I find it useful to check out on any new monster that comes out, as reference. This is how I found, while browsing through Vanguard Tower (the latest Dungeon adventure), that the game developers had a similar idea: they are applying errata (of the stealthy variety) through their adventure modules.

Vanguard Tower is a 4th level, delve style (i.e. 3 encounters long) featuring a couple of new monsters, and several older ones from the first two monster manuals. I haven't really read it in detail, so I can't say much about it, other than that its maps seem to be easy to reproduce with Dungeon Tiles (something I often miss in many official adventures), and that the old monsters have brand new stat blocks. To my knowledge, this last point was unheard of - up until now, the official stance on 'updating' old creatures to modern standards was to print cloned versions with slighly different names and more appropriate stats. This is a different approach, and probably a signal of a change in policy.

Overall, I have to say I approve the idea - switching to MM3-type stats makes the monsters more enjoyable to me, and I was willing to implement these changes by hand, anyway. I am curious as to how the intend to implement it, though. Will they just drop the new monster versions on the Compendium and Monster Builder, and overwrite the originals without telling anyone? Or will there be some kind of 'Monster Update' section on the periodic rules updates. I think this really needs to be properly communicated to players and DMs, which isn't currently the case - I happened to randomly stumble on it.

Anyway, in case you are interested, here's the list of changes brought by the adventure. It's mildly spoilery as it reveals most of the monsters in there, so you should skip it if you intend to play it anytime soon. As you can see, most monsters gain a few points of extra damage in their attacks, and soldiers and brutes have their hit rates adjusted. The most interesting update is that of the lurker Duergar Scout, which has it invisibility changed to a standard action (so it will usually attack every other turn) and its Sneak Attack damage increased to impressive levels, to make up for it.

Monsters updated in Vanguard Tower (9/7/10)

Duergar Guard (Level 4 Soldier)
- Warhammer: -2 to hit, +3 damage
- Infernal Quills: -2 to hit, +3 to ongoing damage

Duergar Miner (Level 5 Minion Brute)
- Warhammer: +2 to hit

Duergar Scout (Level 4 Lurker)
- Shadow Attack: Upgraded to 4d6 extra damage (up from 2d6!)
- Warhammer: +1 to hit, +2 to damage
- Crossbow: +1 damage
- Underdark Sneak: Changed from minor to Standard, no longer requires darkness.
- Infernal Quills: +1 damage, +3 ongoing damage

Deathpledged Gnoll (Level 5 Brute)
- Bone Claws: Renamed to Longspear (but with unmodified reach), +2 to hit

Gnoll Huntmaster (Level 5 Artillery)
- Handaxe: +1 to hit, +1d6 damage
- Longbow: +2 to hit, +4 damage

Rust Monster (Level 6 Skirmisher)
- Bite: Damage increased from 1d10+5 to 2d8+5

Monsters updated in The Wayward Wyrmling(9/14/10)

Kobold Dragonshield (Level 2 Soldier)
- Traits: No longer has Mob Attack or Trap Sense
- Short Sword: +3 damage, marks as an Effect
- Dirty Tricks (new attack): High damage and immobilization, slow on a miss.

Kobold Slinger (Level 1 Artillery)
- Traits: No longer has Trap Sense
- Dagger: +3 hit, damage changed from 1d4+3 to 1d6+3
- Sling: +2 hit, +2 damage
- Special Shot: +2 hit, +2 damage, now uses random ammunition.

Also, Kobold Minion and Kobold Skirmisher receive no update, but now have very interesting replacements in Kobold Tunneler (a minion that can escape bursts) and Kobold Quickblade (a skirmisher that boosts damage by shifting).

Monsters updated in The Ghost Tower(9/21/10)

Level 1

Decrepit Skeleton - Level 1 Minion Skirmisher
- Longsword: Add 'Effect: shift 1 square before the attack'
- Shortbow: Add 'Effect: shift 1 square before the attck'; +1 damage.

Scurrying Rat Swarm - Level 1 Skirmisher
- Swarm of Teeth: +1 to hit, change conditional damage to 1d10+8 (was 2d6+3)

Dire Rat - Level 1 Brute
- Stats: -2 AC, -2 Fortitude
- Slam: +2 to hit, damage changed to 1d10+5 (was 1d6+2)

Level 3

Ochre Jelly - Level 3 Elite Brute
- Stats: -3 AC
- Tremorsense: removed
- Traits: Added 'Ooze: While squeezing, the ooze moves at full speed rather than half speed, it doesn't take the -5 penalty to attack rolls, and it doesn't grant combat advantage for squeezing'.

Skeleton - Level 3 Soldier

- Stats: +1 AC, +1 Speed
- Longsword: -2 hit, +3 damage.

Level 4

Deathjump Spider - Level 4 Skirmisher
- Stats: -3 AC, -2 Ref, -1 Wil, -3 Init, -2 Perception; +5 Resist poison
- Traits: Added 'Web Walk: Teh spider ignores difficult terrain composed of webs'
- Bite: Damage changed to 1d6+3 (was 2d6+3)
- Death from Above: Changed from at-will to Recharge 4. Added 'this movement does not provoke opportunity attacks'.

Level 5

Wraith - Level 5 Lurker
- Stats: +16 HP, +3 AC, +4 For, +2 Ref, +1 Wil
- Insubstantial: No longer works against force attacks, added 'whenever the wraith takes radiant damage, it loses this trait until the start of its next turn'.
- Spawn Wraith: Added 'and it rolls a new initiative check. The new wraith acts under the DM's control'.
- Shadow Touch: No longer weakens, damage changed to 2d6+6 (was 1d6+4) necrotic damage, or 4d6+14 if the wraith is invisible to the target.
- Shadow Glide: Changed to Triggered Free Action (At-Will) from Move Action (Encounter). Trigger: An attack that does not deal force or radiant damage hits the wraith. Effect: The Wraith becomes invisible until it hits or misses with an attack or until the end of the encounter. The wraith teleports up to 6 squares and cannot attack until the end of its next turn.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Preview of September Rule Updates

Coinciding with the release of Heroes of the Fallen Lands, Wizards of the Coast has compiled a document with all the game rules, feats, powers, items and features that have been modified by that book. The list is 5 pages long, though most of it is taken up by the revised Wizard attacks (of which there are a lot) and to add rarity to existing magic items. For those concerned about stealth edition changes or whatever, it is true that a few of these changes weren't strictly necessary, but I sincerely think that most, if not all of them, are an improvement. Most importantly, though, the document (available for free) includes all necessary information to play with the upgraded stuff.

Curiously, this is only a fraction of this month's Rule Updates, which will come out "in the near future". It seems an effort has been made to prevent any further confusion (of which there has been plenty!) on how Heroes of the Fallen Lands interacts with previous books.

Changes of note include:
- A lot of Wizard encounter powers reprinted in the book gain miss effects.
- In addition, some Wizard classics have received additional tweaks. Lightning Bolt is stronger and more straightforward, and Fireball... gets an extra d6 damage. Ok, at least they tried.
- Strangely, nothing is said about adding Evocation, Enchantment or Illusion as keywords to wizard spells.
- Sneak attack is confirmed as 1/turn, rather than 1/round. Rogues are the Warlord's best friend, now.
- Rapier becomes martial! This is great news for small melee characters.
- Some races have the option to choose different ability score bonuses. Humans can take a racial power instead of a third at-will.
- Implement proficiency has been streamlined.
- The horribly broken wizard daily, Visions of Avarice, has finally been fixed.
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Saturday, September 4, 2010

First Reviews of Heroes of a Fallen Lands

Those following this site lately will have guessed by now that I'm VERY interested in Heroes of the Fallen Lands and the rest of the Essentials line. Well, although sadly I still don't have the volume in my hands, it looks like some lucky reviewers have received early copies. The blog Dungeons and Dragons and Retail is one of them, and has written an in-depth analysis full of juicy information - I recommend you to check it out. Here are the highlights:
  • There is a list of the builds in the next book in the line, Heroes of a Forgotten Kingdom. It's full of surprises, as it has a leader druid (the Sentinel), controller ranger (Hunter) and what looks like a melee warlock (called Hexblade!), as well as more traditional builds like a defender paladin (the Cavalier) and striker ranger (the Scout).
  • Feats are organized in the following categories: Armor Training, Weapon Training, Two-Weapon Training and Implement Training; Enduring Stamina, Vigilant Reflexes and Steadfast Willpower; Divine Devotion, Learning and Lore, and Quick Reaction.
  • Only Common magic items (i.e, the ones craftable by players if you use the new magic item rules) are included.
  • No rituals.

UPDATE: For more spoilery goodness, take a look at this thread at Enworld
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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Broken Bits: Stormwarden

Broken Paragon Paths, Part Five
Previous - Index - Next

We continue our series about unbalanced paragon paths with one of the most remarkable examples from the fist Player’s Handbook: the Stormwarden (not to be mistaken with a Storm Warden). An extremely potent offensive option for the most damaging class in the game, the Stormwarden path is only slightly held back by the fact that it is only available to rangers of a specific build. This has prevented rampart abuse by multiclassing characters, which is the main reason for it to remain untouched by errata when paths of arguably lower power level (like Pit Fighter or Daggermaster) got the axe. Nevertheless, the fact remains that this is miles above the usual power curve for paragon paths, and unlike most other offenders, it’s hard to blame a single feature or power for it.

The problems.

There is a glaring issue with Stormwarden, in that it contains a level 11 damaging feature (Blade Storm) that would normally be enough to sell a path all by itself, and then provides an improved duplicate at 16th level (Improved Blade Storm) that stacks with it.

Blade Storm (11th level): As long as you are armed with a melee weapon and are capable of making an opportunity attack, one adjacent enemy (your choice) takes damage equal to your Dexterity modifier at the end of your turn.

Twin-Blade Storm (16th level): As long as you are armed with a melee weapon and are capable of making an opportunity attack, two adjacent enemies (your choice) take lightning damage equal to your Dexterity modifier at the end of your turn.

Provided your character has a decent Dexterity score (and this path is enough of a reason to invest in Dexterity as your secondary ability, since Wisdom provides no appreciable benefits), this nets you between 8 and 18 extra points of damage each turn - around twice as much as what is considered the norm for a great offensive path, and without even requiring you to hit the target. And then you add half that amount to a second adjacent enemy, if there is one. It is possible for other paragon paths to outdamage these two features with a lot of optimization effort (usually involving lots of attacks per turn or some weird combo), but for most common characters, this is as good as it gets regarding focused damage.

And there is more. The path also provides a utility stance that can be used every encounter (so that its effect is as good as permanent), the aptly named Throw Caution to the Wind. This stance lets you trade 2 points of defense for a +2 to hit, a hefty drawback that can nevertheless be a bargain if your attacks are good enough, and you can count on the party defenders and leaders to keep you alive long enough. Since rangers are well known for their outstanding offensive capabilities, and this path already boosted damage to the stratosphere, it’s easy to see this working out well.

A solution.

As I commented in the introduction, it’s hard to turn Stormwarden into a fair path by changing a single feature. A decent approximation might be to prevent Twin-Blade Storm from stacking with Blade Storm, effectively deleting the 11th level feature for higher level characters. Still, this leaves us with a couple of problems, such as the higher level feature being much less impressive than the lower level one, and the ability to massacre minions without spending actions or rolling to hit. Because of this, I’d opt for a more drastic rewriting of the features, using new mechanics while trying to keep the spirit of the original.

Blade Storm Mk2 (11th Level): At the start of your turn, if you are armed with a melee weapon and your quarry is adjacent to you, you deal damage to it equal to your Dexterity modifier.

Twin Blade Storm Mk2 (11th Level): When you hit an enemy with a melee or close attack, if you are wielding two melee weapons you can deal lightning damage equal to your Dexterity modifier to another enemy adjacent to you.

In addition, I’d apply the following change to the stance:

Throw Caution to the Wind Mk2 (Utility 12): Change to Daily power.

Overall, it’s quite a downgrade, but not an undeserved one. The automatic damage in Blade Storm now requires some effort and isn’t all that automatic, as your quarry can prevent it by shifting away from you, making it more of a deterrent than a reliable offense boost. On the other hand, the revised Twin Blade Storm does show great damage potential, but only while fighting multiple enemies - making it much safer from a balance point of view than the original single-target meat grinder.

Does it remain effective? Yes, but it may no longer be the right choice for certain characters (i.e. those specializing in focused fire). On the other hand, those interested in fighting groups of enemies will find it more than useful. Given that the area damage emphasis was already present in the original version (though overshadowed by the brutal firepower), I think it is a very reasonable change.

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