Close Encounters of the Essential Kind! – Week 2

The Essentials Wizard

The Essentials Wizzard

Though one encounter per week does little more than whet my appetite for some real gaming, it’s fun to get out of the house and hang out with my fellow gamers. I knew Chuck and Rob would be there, even if poor Tim was forced to miss out yet again.

I’m still a bit underwhelmed by the pre-gen Mage; it’s not that he’s bad, it’s just that, as I’ve said before, I’d have done things a bit differently.

The Encounter started with a horrible Initiative; 5! While I grouse about not being able to go sooner in the round as a Controller, I did luck out in that by the time my turn came up, our enemies were nice and close to the party. I’d been doubly fortunate in that the kobolds decided not to try and get at the squishy Elf in the corner!

Ok, technically he’s an Eladrin, but I doubt a Kobold would know the difference.

I had a hard time deciding how best to get at the most enemies within range, since I was the farthest from the map, but the guys were happy to help me figure it out as I used the new Ace of At-Wills; Beguiling Strands.

I’m sure you’ve at least heard about this power by now, but just in case you haven’t:

Beguiling Strands Wizard Attack 1 At-Will * Arcane, Charm, Enchantment, Implement, Psychic
Standard Action Close blast 5
Target: Each enemy in the blast
Attack: Intelligence vs. Will
Hit: Intelligence modifier psychic damage, and you push the target up to 3 squares.
Level 21: 3+Intelligence modifier psychic damage.

This spell oozes with potential; first of all, Close blast 5 is pretty amazing, as is the fact it only targets enemies within that range. The damage is fairly lackluster, but it’s enough to destroy minions, and the push can be fairly useful as well.

Note the ‘Enchantment’ keyword; the Essentials Mage, as opposed to Implement Mastery, chooses a ‘school’ of Arcane magic to specialize in, gaining benefits for using spells assigned to his school. At the moment, there are only a few Enchantment spells per level, but most of the non-Illusion mind-affecting spells will likely be retroactively added to the school in the future, if Charm of Misplaced Wrath and Sleep are any examples.

This spell compares favorably to Thunderwave, but there are a few caveats to consider:

  • Thunderwave can benefit from Enlarge Spell, allowing you to turn it into a Close blast 4 for a minor damage penalty. While that’s still smaller than Beguiling Strands, it still does more damage.
  • Thunderwave inflicts 1d6 + Intelligence modifier damage; while that’s not a lot, it’s still roughly equal to the damage of an Epic Beguiling Strands! At level 21, Thunderwave also gets another d6, but for the most part, very few Wizards will be getting much mileage out of their At-Wills at Epic.
  • Thunderwave’s push is based on a secondary stat; while it’s unlikely a 1st-level Wizard will get more than Beguiling Strand’s Push 3, the spell can upgrade over time.

On the other hand, Thunderwave can harm allies, and Enchantment Mages gain bonuses to the forced movement from their spells, so the spells remain very close in effectiveness. Beguiling Strands is probably a bit better, especially at low-Heroic. I imagine it would be amazing with White Lotus Hindrance, a combo I can’t wait to try!

Whoever designed the cards for the Encounters pre-generated characters has earned my ire; if the Eladrin is an Enchantment Mage (which he appears to be), there are several oversights that need to be addressed:

  • Not all of his spells are Enchantments; he was given an Evocation At-Will and a Daily spell. I’m more annoyed with the At-Will, as it benefits from his Enchantment focus, but it’s still an odd choice to give an Enchanter a destructive Daily power.
  • The benefits of the character’s Enchantment Apprentice feature aren’t even included on his character card! At 1st-level, Enchantment Mages increase the forced movement from their Enchantment spells by 2 squares, a huge benefit! That’s a Push 5 on Beguiling Strands, a possible Slide 5 from Hypnotism, and a Slide 5 from Charm of Misplaced Wrath!
  • The benefit from Staff Expertise was worked into the character’s attack bonus already. Nowhere is it spelled out that he gets a +1 to hit from his Implement. This actually would have been fine, if Tim hadn’t given the character a +1 Implement; since he didn’t add the bonuses to the character, I had erroneously assumed that the +6 attack was due to the enhancement bonus!

The other benefit, that the character did not provoke Opportunity Attacks with their spells was added to the card, but having not seen the Feat, I thought that was the entire benefit of it!

It did bug me to realize the Mage could have had Sleep and Hypnotism available; Hypnotism is an amazingly good At-Will!

Hypnotism Wizard Attack 1 At-Will * Arcane, Charm, Enchantment, Implement Standard Action Ranged 10
Target: One Enemy
Attack: Intelligence vs. Will
Hit: Choose one of the following effects:
+You slide the target up to 3 squares.

I know, so far, it’s not very stellar. A Ranged 10 slide 3 At-Will? But wait, there’s more!

+The target uses a free action to make a melee basic attack against a creature of your choice, with a +4 power bonus to the attack roll.

Charm of Misplaced Wrath, the At-Will Power! Now don’t get me wrong, Charm still has it’s place, as it grants both the slide and the forced attack (with a +2 bonus to damage as opposed to +4 to hit), and it dazes the victim as well, but I know I’d get a lot of mileage out of Hypnotism!

Anyways, back to the Encounter; as short as these are, smart play and good tactics can make them even shorter. Having not used my Action Point last week, I decided to use it now. Beguiling Strands x 2 greatly shortened the Encounter length, and by the time my next turn came up, there was only one enemy left!

(As it happens, the enemy in question was a Leader, so depriving him of his allies really limited his effectiveness!)

The Encounter had a failsafe built into it, which was impressive; the Kobolds had created a primitive magical rune that could be used to attack their enemies with fire. I was able to wrest control of the rune with Arcana checks, but, as it happened, by the time I could employ the magic, the Encounter was a Magic Missile away from being over.

I did get a chuckle out of it though, when the DM commented on how ‘simple and crude’ the rune was when I asked if it could be destroyed. If it’s so simple a Kobold can do it, then nothing really stops a trained Mage from replicating it later…

I know, I shouldn’t be thinking like a roleplayer, but I can’t help it. You never know when taking careful notes can pay off down the road!

So, the Encounter won, we moved onto the next fight, which features a Dragonborn armed with a very large axe…but that’s another Encounter!

Since I really had only myself to blame for my issues with the Sample Mage, I bought a copy of HotFL and decided to make my own Enchantment Mage. Since this is a level 1 character, I decided to go Human, for the extra Feat.

I’d found out that the main benefit of Charisma for an Enchanter doesn’t occur until Paragon (where they add their Charisma modifier to forced movement), so I went with a lower Charisma than the Eladrin. This allowed me to bump up my Con and Dex. Normally Dexterity isn’t a great thing for Wizard (or Mage), since they already have massive Intelligence, but a little bonus Initiative never hurt anybody.

My array:

Str-8, Con-12, Dex-12, Int-20, Wis-10, Cha-12

My Feats: Improved Initiative, Orb Expertise

Orb Expertise, just so you know, increases forced movement from your spells by 1. That means my Beguiling Strands, Hypnotism, and Charm of Misplaced Wrath now move enemies a whopping 6 squares!

As for my spells, it’s a no-brainer. Light, Mage Hand, Prestidigitation, Suggestion, Magic Missile, Beguiling Strands, Hypnotism, Charm of Misplaced Wrath, Sleep

Suggestion is a neat level 1 Utility Power with similar functionality to Arcane Mutterings (Arcana Utility 2), letting you use an Arcana check once per Encounter instead of Diplomacy. It surprises me that the Essentials Mage even has a Power like this, to be honest.

While Skills Challenges are part of the 4E game, in general, Utility Powers that can be used out of combat don’t see much play. Given the somewhat ‘retro’ feel of Essentials, you wouldn’t expect them to bother with such things at all, let alone grant them to a character at 1st-level.

Not that I’m complaining! I’m a roleplayer, I prefer to immerse myself into the game a bit, and non-combat abilities let me do that. It’s hard to select them, however, knowing that they won’t get much use. That’s why Suggestion is so great; you don’t have to feel bad for choosing it, it’s free! And having the Power on one’s sheet gives players an incentive to find uses for it as well.

Definitely a step in the right direction!

At any rate, next week I’ll see if my character performs any better than the Eladrin Wizard, as I introduce my companions to Alaric Ramsey, a bored scion of a noble house who has taken up the role of Gentleman Adventurer (and evade a pesky arranged marriage)!

Stay tuned! Same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel!

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Posted by Lynceus

Comments (2) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Thanks for the detailed report. I’m very interested in Essentials for the more casual players in my gaming group. It seems like the classes are simpler, more distinct from one another, and yet not underpowered. Hope that’s all true!

  2. Well, there’s good points and bad. I do think that Essentials is a better “jumping on” point for getting people involved in the game; one of the issues the current edition has, is that in a short amount of time, a dizzying array of options has been put into place for character creation. There’s 26 classes, hundreds of Feats, each class currently has at least 2 different builds, and in some cases, like the Wizard or Fighter, five! Toss in 18-36 races (depending on setting and/or how lenient your DM is)…well heck, that’s not even including Muls or Thri-Kreen…yeah.

    The new classes have much simpler builds, with fewer choices. You still have options, of course, but there are no ‘traps’ or bad choices so far. Even if you did something weird like build a Slayer Fighter with low Strength and high Dexterity, it can still work and be a viable character, which is pretty neat.

    Too often, setting up your stats can be the difference between having an enjoyable character and one that isn’t so. I have an experience like this myself; I made an Avenger with Dex 20 and Wis 16. He worked, even though he got a lot less benefit out of his staggering Dex, and even with his Oath mechanic, he occasionally missed when he probably shouldn’t have.

    But worse, he simply didn’t qualify for many of the Feats that would have given him better options as he levelled up, simply because all my points were dumped into two stats!

    But that’s a tangent I should address in a future post. At any rate, Essentials does have it’s down side too; players who enjoy figuring out different builds and optimizing will have a harder time with Essentials I think. But so far, it does sound like both Essentials builds and the current classes can co-exist; the non-Essentials classes will pull ahead as the game progresses to Paragon, and be blown away by Epic, but that will change as more Essentials products are released.

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