Close Encounters of the Essential Kind!


So this week I made my way to Peotone to play an Encounter. Quickly looking over the characters presented to me, I chose a Controller..in this case, Tim’s Eladrin Wizard!

I mean, it’s only fair, since he couldn’t make it this week, right?

I got the feeling that there was important information left off the tiny card that served as the Wizard’s character sheet (sadly, the poor fellow doesn’t seem to have a name), but it was serviceable for the Encounter. Essentials has added a few fun toys to the class, such as Beguiling Strands.

I’m sure you’ve heard about this power; close burst 5 at-will, deals psychic damage equal to the Wizard’s Intelligence modifier, and a hefty push 3! Beguiling Strands can slaughter minions by the score, and it’s push rivals Thunderwave for pure control.

Of course, unlike Thunderwave, it won’t benefit from Enlarge Spell, but it doesn’t force you to muck around with Wisdom either. Which is good, because the Eladrin seemed to be an Enchanter build, as he came with a very hefty Charisma score.

I can’t say much about the benefits of said build, as there was no information presented on the card. Still, what was listed was more than sufficient; in addition to Magic Missile, he came with both Beguiling Strands and another spiffy power, that deals lightning damage to up to two enemies within 20 squares.

The guys joked about how all Tim basically did with the character was use Magic Missile, but given that there were marks on both his Encounter and Daily Power, I was pretty sure that wasn’t true. The setup for the encounter was basic; we’d been sent to deal with the Kobolds infesting Dragonfang Hill.

Dragonfang Hill has a cave entrance set into it’s face, out of which a waterfall spills, undoubtedly fed from some underground river. Our first goal was to climb up the side of the Hill; as you may recall from the Scales of War campaign, I’ve faced this challenge before!

With my Athletics check of -1, I thought I was doomed, but fortunately, a halfway decent die roll, and a +2 bonus from Chuck’s* Climber’s Kit (always a good buy!) helped me up.

*I won’t reveal the name of his character here, as several people submitted some rather interesting choices on Facebook.

Chuck himself wasn’t so lucky, playing a Halfling Ranger with a Strength of 8. Having built the character himself, Chuck had chosen his options purely for slaughtering and surviving Encounters. As a result, his best stats were his 20 Dexterity, and a doughty 16 Constitution, thanks to the new Dex/Con Halfling build.

There’s been a lot of buzz about how Essentials has treated the Martial classes, but if the Ranger was any example, it might not be as bad as we thought. True, all he ever did was make a ranged basic attack, but with an array of different Stances to choose from, he was able to switch out for several different useful benefits on the fly, easily replicating a variety of different Powers.

In my mind’s eye, I had this mental image of a Halfling with a tweaked-out Steampunk shortbow, with settings for autofire, close-ranging sniping, and more! In addition, he had some interesting mobility benefits, and a leader-ish method of granting Combat Advantage from range.

I’m confident that a pre-Essentials character could do all of this, but likely not at first level. So it’s clear, low-level Essentials characters do have a lot of options; the jury is still out with regards to higher level play.

Our next opponent was three slimes (of indeterminate coloration); while we were forced to fight in the rapid current above the waterfall, the slimes had swim speeds, and quickly our Thief and R.J.’s Knight were overwhelmed.

Not a problem for a sturdy Dwarven Defender, but the Elven Thief was in trouble!

My first action was a dud, as I targeted two enemies with a lightning blast…and missed both attacks. Ouch!

-It’s a simple rule of thumb I’m sure most people have picked up by now; don’t blow an Encounter Power on a creature until you’ve seen it take damage. I know I’d hate to blow something good on a lowly minion!

There were a lot of reactions happening between turns, something I was used to from Paragon play, but hadn’t seen so much in Heroic. And these guys were a low-level group! I myself lacked such options, so I had to wait for my turn to roll around again.

Being somewhat simplified in how they defend, the Knight can apparently react to attacks made by non-allies as well; using Charm of Misplaced Wrath, I sent one slime to fight another…granting our Dwarf a free attack in the process!

During round 2, we discovered there was another opponent as well; a Kobold who was either some kind of Sorcerer (as he had something that looked like Acid Orb), or some weird Ooze Shaman. Take your pick. Just what we needed, another spell-lobber.

By the time round 3 rolled around for me, there was only one slime in line of sight, and I had no way to see the Kobold. Which meant my action for the turn was…sigh…Magic Missile.

8 points of auto-hit force damage, and the slime went splat. Hooray.

We earned our 125 xp, got 25 gp, and found a suit of Level 5 Armor (amusingly enough, the book at the table didn’t have any level 5 armor listed in it!). Not a bad haul.

And then it was over, leaving me somewhat…unsatisfied. One Encounter just isn’t enough!

In summary, I have to say that Essentials is still DnD. The characters have slightly different abilities, but given the existing wealth of options, they really don’t stand out that much. I’m sure if I ran the same Encounter with a pack of 1st-level pre-Essentials characters that it would have played out much the same.

A common complaint about the Essentials characters that lack true Encounter or Daily Powers is that they are boring, doing the same thing over and over again. However, at the same time, often, I’ve glanced over lists of Powers wondering which one to use from turn to turn. Oftentimes, it’s all about having the right tool for the job; but when you can only use the tool once, things get more complicated.

Also, there are times when the neat tactical bonus of a Power simply goes to waste. You might have a Power that grants forced movement, and find you don’t need it; you’re just making an attack for some damage.

I like options, but there’s something to be said for consistency as well; sometimes you need to use the same tactic over and over again. Unless you chose the right At-Will, a non-Essentials character could get screwed, where an Essentials build has more re-useable options at his or her disposal.

Bottom line, it looks like the Martial builds focus more on utility and reliability, like a Gerber multi-tool. The traditional builds are more like Batman’s utility belt; full of neat gadgets, but when they run out, you’re down to nothing but Batarangs and a grappling line.

Both are valid play styles, that suit different types of gamers.

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Posted by Lynceus

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