Monday, January 2, 2012

Anatomy of the At-Will (III): Weak broken options

We continue our journey through the most poorly balanced powers available for the at-will slot. After discussing the overpowered stuff in the last article, today we examine something much less exciting - the unplayable and boring. They are the following powers:

Plain basic attacks

Problem: The first batch of powers is likely the most bland and unimpressive in the game. Simply put, they are simple basic attacks with no special mechanic whatsoever. What any weapon-based character can achieve by simply equipping a longbow, these arcane classes can get for the cost of an at-will slot. To make things worse, two of these attacks are mandatory for their builds, so we cannot even pretend they don’t exist...

On the upside, I can make up whatever I like as a solution for these powers, since they are a blank slate. I’ll tend to err towards simple effects that are nevertheless more compelling than “hit for standard damage”.

Acid OrbSorcerer At-Will (PHB2)

Suggested Fix: One of the mechanics I associate with acid attacks is hurting enemies even on a missed attack (due to acid corroding armor, or something like that). This looks like a good fit here.

Change Hit line, add Effect line.
Hit: 1d10 acid damage.
Level 21 : 2d10 acid damage.
Effect: Charisma modifier acid damage.

Note that this wording allows some unusual tricks, like auto-killing minions or triggering vulnerabilities twice.

Eldritch BlastWarlock At-Will (PHB)

Suggested Fix: This power, too, seemed like a good candidate to give miss damage. In this case, I thought using the warlock’s curse would allow interesting interactions (including making good use of feat support for curses)

Add Miss line.
Miss: You can deal your warlock’s curse damage against the target. This damage does not benefit from any bonuses to damage rolls.

Eldritch Bolt - Warlock At-Will (HotFK)

Suggested Fix: Though the notion of using damage on a miss here was tempting (just kidding, I promise!), I felt I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to fix a hole in the Hexblade design. See, something I always found annoying on Hexblades is the fact that your pact boon works much worse when you are stuck attacking from a distance. Enter the new and improved Eldritch Bolt:

Change Hit line, add Effect line.
Hit: 1d10+Charisma modifier force damage. If this attack bloodies the target, you can use your pact boon.
Effect: Until the start of your next turn, when the target is reduced to 0 hit points, you can use your pact boon.

This way, using Eldritch Bolt doesn’t guarantee a pact boon trigger, but comes pretty close.

Basic attacks with drawback

The following powers are among the worst attacks in the game, since they work, in practice, like plain basic attacks with a drawback. Their common feature consists in giving the enemy choices that include negating whatever upside the attack could have, or even turning against you. This way, Brash Assault (of which I’ve talked at length) lets the monster trigger an attack exchange only when it thinks it’s to its advantage (or when the DM feels charitable). Erupting Flare lets the target move towards you and your allies to punish them if they don’t flee from it, and directly hurts any allies that may want to charge it or stay next to it. Elemental Spirits is highly dependent on order of initiative, but typically allows the enemy to move so that it no longer hurts its allies, but damages you and your companions.

Brash Assault -  Warlord At-Will (MP)

Suggested Fix: Though in my *previous article* I did my best to balance the original mechanic of lots of extra attacks everywhere, I have since come to the conclusion that it’s not a very good mechanic to begin with - too swingy and gimmicky. What follows is an attempt to preserve the spirit of the power while going for a more conventional approach.

Change Hit line, remove Level 21 line, change Effect line:
Hit: Strength modifier damage.
Effect: The target may choose to be marked by you until the end of your next turn. You grant combat advantage until the end of your next turn. An ally within 5 squares of you may make a basic attack against the target as a free action.

As in the original version of the power, you open your guard to let an ally attack the target. This does not match the raw power of Commander’s Strike, but it comes close enough, while providing much greater flexibility and having looser ability requirements. The new drawbacks (granting CA and potentially screwing ally marks) force you to be careful, but are far from a dealbreaker.

Erupting FlareWizard At-Will (Dra388)

Suggested Fix: The most urgent change for the power is to make it ally-friendly - but even with that, this at-will is still sorely lacking in power for a controller attack.

Change the Hit line and add an Effect line:
Hit: 1d10 + Intelligence modifier fire damage.
Level 21: 2d10 + Intelligence modifier fire damage.
Effect: Until the end of your next turn, any other enemy that ends its turn adjacent to the target or willingly enters a square adjacent to it takes fire damage equal to 2 + your Intelligence modifier.
Level 21: 5+ your Intelligence modifier fire damage.

To recap: the punishing effect becomes reliable, no longer hurts allies, hits harder, and now also triggers for moving around the target. This remains mostly a damaging attack for mindless pyromancers, but the fire aura can be a major annoyance for your foes.

Elemental SpiritsSeeker At-Will (PHB3)
Suggested Fix: Again, the effect needs to become friendly to your allies, but that merely turns the attack into a realy weak proxy of an area burst that relies on initiative order to work.

Change Hit line.
Hit: 1[W] + Wisdom modifier damage of the chosen type. Each enemy adjacent to the target takes damage of the chosen type equal to 1d6 +  your Dexterity modifier.

This removes the timing issues and adds a ton of damage to make the power into a weird area burst attack which is ally friendly, a bit harder to set up than usual, and provides a choice of damage types. Much closer to what I expect from a controller attack.

Basic attacks with irrelevant bonuses

Problems: Our next group of at-wills consists in powers that are nominally better than a basic attack, but have a benefit so situational or minuscule as to be irrelevant, if not insulting. Focused Fury is an avenger power which only does something when your main class feature isn’t working (due to the requirement of an additional adjacent enemy). Savage Reach and Foe to Foe are barbarian powers (which are supposed to have a built-in striker damage bonus of 1d6/tier on top of something else) that either lose all extra damage for no apparent reason, or give it with unreasonable restrictions with no real upside to compensate. Finally, Hunter’s Teamwork is a ranger power that requires a lot of work to provide an effect that is strictly worse than the current version of Careful Attack.

Focused FuryAvenger At-Will (PHH2)

Suggested Fix: In order to be a useful attack, Focused Fury needs to work in scenarios where you get your Oath of Enmity bonus - or, even better, let you get the reroll when you normally wouldn’t. We can have that by making the push automatic, and happening before the attack.

Before the Attack line, add Effect line; change Hit line.
Effect:Choose an adjacent enemy other than the target. You push that enemy 2 squares.
Hit: 1[W] + Wisdom modifier damage.

Foe to Foe - Barbarian At-Will (PHH1)

Suggested Fix: One problem that comes up when rewriting barbarian at-wills is that you don’t just need to balance them - you also have to pay attention to its templating and level of complexity. In this case, we have a power whose damage needs to scale per tier, and which in the original implementation has three different damage values depending on context. If we were to take the original design and have it scale properly, we’d end up with a messy, unreadable wall of text. And we’re not doing anything particularly interesting or flavorful to begin with! I opted for a fairly radical redesign.

Add Effect line, change Attack line and Hit line:
Effect: Before or after the attack, you can shift a number of squares equal to 1 plus the number of non-minion enemies you have reduced to 0 hit points this encounter. If you are raging, you can shift before and after the attack.
Attack: Strength vs AC. You gain a bonus to the attack roll equal to the number of non-minion enemies you have reduced to 0 hit points this encounter.
Hit: 1[W] + 1d6 + Strength modifier damage.
Level 11: 1[W] + 2d6 + Strength modifier damage.
Level 21: 2[W] + 3d6 + Strength modifier damage.

The base damage now includes the striker bonus (which is a must to make the power playable, unless we have a really awesome effect). I took the additional damage for killing foes and turned it into an accuracy bonus, since that takes just a single line, rather than a bunch of text per tier. Finally, I added a mobility component that is heavily implied by the power name and flavor, and tied it to monster killing and raging. Overall the damage/accuracy alone still won’t beat more straightforward options like Howling Strike, but it is comparable - and the mobility should make it fun and useful in its own way.

Savage Reach - Barbarian At-Will (Dra384)

Suggested Fix: Sliding is a nice effect, but this attack is really missing the barbarian damage bonus. I found a flavorful yet effective way to link this extra damage to the slide:

Add to the Hit line: If the target ends this slide adjacent to an enemy or a solid obstacle, the target and all enemies adjacent to it take extra damage equal to your Strength modifier.

Hunter’s TeamworkRanger At-Will (PHH1)

Suggested Fix: I consider post-errata Careful Atack to be a good baseline for at-will power level. Granting combat advantage is worse than a straight +2 to hit, so I wanted the power to do something on top of that, and have an easy to meet condition. A leader effect was a natural fit, given the power’s flavor.

Change the Target and Attack lines, and add an Effect line:
Target: One creature adjacent to one or more allies.
Effect: Until the start of your next turn, the target grants combat advantage to you any allies adjacent to it.
Attack: Dexterity vs AC.

Weak non-conventional attacks

Problems: The final set of powers deviates more from the typical scheme of “basic attack with additional effects”, following more unusual structure. Sure Strike is a classic of at-will suckiness, providing extra accuracy but sacrificing way too much damage in the process, so that it ends up, on average, less damaging than a basic attack. Preparatory Shot also loses a ton of damage compared to a basic attack for too little in return - in this case, one turn’s worth of combat advantage. Call of the Beast is flawed at many levels, with a poor conditional damage mechanic that is easy to ignore and doesn’t work as intended (since an enemy can just move closer to the target of its choice to prevent it). Feinting Trick attempts to compensate thieves for attacking without combat advantage, but that is a moot point for a class that is almost assured to have combat advantage every turn (and highly encouraged to do so). Finally, Predator Strike and Circling Strike suffer from depending on a broken class mechanic, the ranger beast companion.

Sure StrikeFighter At-Will (PHB)

Suggested Fix: Simply put, this attack needs to hit harder to be worthwhile. As Careful Attack and similar powers have proven, this would hardly be broken with the full Strength modifier as a damage bonus. However, I like the notion of sacrificing damage for accuracy, so I have tried to keep that aspect of the power and give it an additional mechanic: a bonus to compensate the fighter for missed attacks.

Change the Attack and Hit lines:
Attack: Strength +2 vs AC. If you have  missed the target since the beginning of your last turn, gain a +2 power bonus to the attack roll.
Hit: 1[W] + one half your Strength modifier.
Level 21: 2[W] + one half your strength modifier.

Preparatory Shot - Rogue At-Will (MP2)

Suggested Fix: The basic concept of a weak shot that sets up a devastating attack later on is an interesting one, but you need to make sure it’s worth the effort and the wait. I changed damage numbers all around to ensure that preparatory shot resulted in a net damage increase (rather than a loss, as the original version), and made the preparation effect reliable

Change the Hit line, add an Effect line:
Hit: 1[W] damage.
Level 21: 2[W] damage.
Effect: The target grants combat advantage to you until the end of your next turn, and you gain a power bonus to your next damage roll against the target equal to your Dexterity modifier + your Intelligence modifier.

Call of the Beast - Druid At-Will (PHB3)

Suggested Fix: I like the idea behind this power, but the original implementation didn’t really work, and even if it did, it would need a significant boost to be worthwhile. I fixed the timing issues of the enrage effect, to ensure that targets would be adequately taunted by close enemies, and added a small damage to the initial attack.

Change the Hit line:
Hit: 1d6 psychic damage, and the target can't gain combat advantage until the end of your next turn. At the begining of the target's next turn, it chooses one of its enemies nearest to it or marking it. The target takes extra psychic damage equal to 5 + your Wisdom modifier when it makes any attack that doesn't include the chosen creature that turn.
Level 21: 2d6 psychic damage, and the extra damage is increased to 10+ Wisdom modifier psychic damage.

This is now a damaging burst with friendly targeting and a strong controlling effect, comparing favorably with controller favourites like Winged Horde - though it should be noted that the wizard equivalent becomes even more attractive once we factor in wizard-exclusive options like Enlarge Spell.

Feinting Trick - Rogue At-Will (HotFL)

Suggested Fix: Though I like to preserve the spirit of a power whenever possible, the problem with Feinting Trick was in the premise - thieves should almost never make an attack without combat advantage. Therefore, we need a major redesign. I want to keep the dependency on Charisma modifier (making it more useful), and some kind of compensation when you lack combat advantage, as a secondary mechanic.

Change the Effect line:
Effect: You move up to your speed. Until the end the end of turn, you do not need combat advantage to use sneak attack with basic attacks. After you make a basic attack this turn, you gain a power bonus equal to your Charisma modifier to the next damage roll against the target of the attack before the end of your next turn.

A straight Cha bonus to damage seemed excessive, so I opted for the delayed damage solution - this is now potentially the most damaging thief trick, but it requires a bit of set up effort and patience.

Predator Strike - Ranger At-Will (MP)
Circling Strike - Ranger At-Will (MP)

Suggested Fix: These powers can’t really be fixed as long as the ranger beast companion remains broken. Long ago, I devoted a series of articles to that topic, which can be read here.

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