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25May/110

D&D Character Themes – The Mighty Thor-Guy!

Thor (Marvel Comics)

Image via Wikipedia

So I went to see Thor Sunday, and while I was watching it, I started to think about how I could make everyone's favorite hammer-chucker in D&D. The key problem was that Thor is primarily a melee beast, but he also has an awesome ranged attack, and his fighting style alternates between the two rather seamlessly.

If it's in his face, he swings his hammer at it, if it's not, he hurls Mjolnir while he advances. I have seen a lot of melee classes acquire a secondary ranged weapon (Dwarven Thrower weapons are very popular), but in this case, it's really a gimmick- something to do when you can't reach an enemy.

I wanted to build a Thor-style character who uses the ranged attack as an integral part of what he does as a matter of course, allowing for that seamless switch in tactics. To date, only a few classes really pull this off:

The Ranger

The Ranger was designed to be able to use melee and ranged attacks equally. While you can (and many Rangers do) specialize in one tactic over another, it's not hard to build a Str/Dex Ranger who is equally at home in and out of melee, especially when Dwarven Thrower and Hungry Spear enchantments come into play.

But Thor is no Ranger- the Ranger's job is Striker, and while Thor is a damage-dealer, he seems a bit more “in-your-face” to me. He's a guy with a high AC who presents a problem to the Bad Guys, protecting his allies. That screams Defender to me.

The Slayer

This is a little more like it- the Slayer is plenty tough, and there are ways to make him a credible semi-Defender thanks to his Fighter chassis. He can be built to use Ranged attacks rather effectively as well. So this is a class I kept my eye on.

As an aside, the Slayer is actually better at switching between melee and ranged tactics than the Essentials Scout-Ranger, and a lot tougher as well.

The Hexblade

Another Striker, the Hexblade has both a very nice melee weapon (in some cases, one of the best melee weapons in existence), as well as ranged powers. While one could describe the powers differently to achieve the same effect, again, this is a Striker class better suited to skirmishing than Thor's general disdain for personal safety.

The Rogue

The Rogue, and his twin brother, the Thief, are very good classes for switching between melee and ranged tactics. Unfortunately, the Rogue classes are a bit squishy and better suited for skirmishing than everyone's favorite Thunder-Guy.

The Seeker

The Spiritbond build powers are designed to allow you to use a heavy thrown weapon in either melee or ranged combat. There's some nice stuff here, and one could imagine Thor as a Spiritbond Seeker very easily. That having been said, being able to smack stuff in melee is an afterthought, and most Spiritbond Seekers would be much happier staying out of melee combat.

Ultimately, what I wanted as a tough, Defender-style character, who innately uses ranged powers as part of his arsenal without skipping a beat. This is what I ended up doing:

The Mighty Thor-Guy”

Human Knight
Knight Option: Shield Finesse
Human Power Selection Option: Bonus At-Will Power
Auspicious Birth (Auspicious Birth Benefit)

Str 16 (18), Con 10, Dex 13, Int 9, Wis 16, Cha 10

Trained Skills: Athletics, Diplomacy, Heal, Nature, Streetwise

Stances: Battle Wrath, Poised Assault

Bonus At-Will Power: Cleave

Feats: Shield Finesse (bonus), Deft Hurler Style, Primal Sharpshooter (Multiclass Seeker)

As you can see, I had to give up some aspects of the original character to make this work. As a God/Alien/Superhero, Thor himself has more character points to work with! The low Constitution is where this is really apparent, and I'm forced to rely on a Background to make up for the hit point deficit, which means I could only use this character in a game that allowed them (such as Living Forgotten Realms). The investment in Dexterity is required for Deft Hurler, one of the linchpins of the build, and the unusually high Wisdom is there to support his Multiclass.

Deft Hurler allows the character to, when using Cleave, replace the normal benefit (Strength damage to an adjacent enemy) with something truly awesome: you can make a ranged basic attack (that does not provoke opportunity attacks) against any enemy in range other than the one you just hit with Cleave!

Thus every turn, Thor-Guy can smack someone in melee, and simultaneously throw his mighty hammer at some other enemy who isn't necessarily anywhere near him! The Seeker multiclass makes this even better, allowing him to use Guardian Harrier once per encounter. Guardian Harrier is a ranged basic attack, so he can Cleave one enemy, and then Guardian Harrier in the same action!

So why Guardian Harrier? Mostly because it's special effect scales with Strength, an attribute Thor-Guy will have in spades. Specifically, it causes the target to take Strength damage if they don't move at least two squares away from their starting position on their turn. This is especially nasty if used on an enemy already in Thor-Guy's Defender aura, but it can also be used to force a brute to move away from one of your squishier comrades. Most enemies will suck up the bonus damage, but that's not a bad thing either.

The other benefit you get from Primal Sharpshooter is Inevitable Shot. Granted, it's only once per day, but it can be quite amusing to see. You Cleave, and make a ranged basic against another enemy. You miss, so you Inevitable Shot the missed attack...right back at the guy you just hit with Cleave!*

*This is legal as far as I can tell, but your DM may raise an eyebrow at such shenanigans, so, as always, YMMV.

At level 1, Thor-Guy probably won't be using his build to maximum advantage, since it involves disarming himself, not generally a good move. Plus, there aren't many good heavy thrown weapons that are also decent melee weapons. Thor-Guy may actually be forced to carry a Trident around, of all things (and more than one, at that!).

Still, the character remains a functional Knight- you can still use Cleave in it's normal configuration, dealing damage to an adjacent foe, so that's still a plus. Your stances were chosen because they work with both ranged and melee basic attacks, so you don't have the control of Defend The Line either. And there's the fact that you only have 9 healing surges, so you may have to take less risks.

Still, level 1 Thor-Guy is a competent Defender, if not a top-tier one. Once he gets his hands on a magic Trident (or, by Odin, a Dwarven Thrower Warhammer!), he'll come into his own, hopefully by (or even before) level 2!

The only real issue with this build is that you cannot use Power Strike with any of your other abilities, meaning you won't get much use out of it until there's only a single enemy. And when fighting a solo, you won't be making many ranged attacks either (although remember that Guardian Harrier can be used in melee, if you happen to be wielding something with the Heavy Thrown property!).

While the real Thor scoffs at using a Shield, there's no reason for Thor-Guy not to use one. One of the big advantages of this build is the high defenses you can get. Let's take a look at Paragon Thor-Guy:

Human, Knight, Crimson Hunter
Knight Weapon Specialization Option: Staggering Hammer

Str 21, Con 11, Dex 14, Int 10, Wis 19, Cha 11

AC: 30 Fort: 30 Ref: 22 Will: 27
HP: 96 Surges: 9 Surge Value: 24

Powers: Battle Wrath, Poised Assault, Defend The Line, Inevitable Shot, Cleave, Guardian Harrier, Secrets of the City*, Healer's Gift*, Shield Block*, Fighter's Grit*, Ravaging Shot

Feats: Shield Finess (bonus), Deft Hurler Style, Primal Sharpshooter, Master at Arms, Superior Will, Superior Fortitude, Encouraging Shield, Stout Shield, Primal Eye

*The Utility Powers are personal preference, and you can switch them out for anything you like. I didn't take Intimidate, despite it having some very nice Defender Utilities, again, from personal preference. Secrets of the City is really only good for Skill Challenges, and Thor-Guy sadly doesn't have the kind of Charisma the real Thor possesses. Intimidate would probably be a better choice to get things like Glowering Threat.

I went with Crimson Hunter as my Paragon Path, to bolster Thor-Guy's ranged attacks. The Path grants, among other things, a +1 bonus to hit with ranged attacks, and another ranged basic Encounter Power in Ravaging Shot.

Equipment is fairly standard, using the quick-start rules, I was able to get the following with money to spare:

Eagle Eye Goggles (Heroic Tier)
Badge of the Berserker +2
Dwarven Throwers (Heroic Tier)
Heavy Shield of Deflection
Dwarven Thrower Warhammer +3*
Summoned Gith Plate Armor +3

*I could have spent a Feat for a Craghammer here, Brutal 2 is nothing to sneeze at, but I wanted to get all the Defense-boosting Feats out of the way to show what you could have by level 11.

Our Mighty Thor-Guy has, at this point, +18 to hit with Cleave, and +20 to hit with his ranged basic attack. He can increase this by +1 with Poised Assault, but most likely he'll be increasing his damage with basic attacks by +3 with Battle Wrath. His melee damage is only 1d10+11, but his ranged damage is much more considerable, at 1d10+16, and, of course, don't forget that he can attack twice per turn.

There's some room for improvement, but I really like the way this build turned out, and I think it has a lot of potential. Maybe I'll even get to try it out someday...

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8Apr/110

Heroes of Shadow Review Part 1 – The Blackguard

I like Paladins. No, let me rephrase that. I love Paladins. They've always been one of my favorite classes, imbued with Divine power to protect the innocent, and punch Evil in the mouth.

I could regale bore you with tales of my first Paladin, Valric Manfred the Shadowbrand for hours on end, and he was just one of many.

When I started playing the new Edition, however, well, I could see something was wrong with my favorite class. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with Paladins who choose to Defend, it's certainly in theme. But where were the Paladins that ran around smiting Evil?

The only Divine Striker was the Avenger, who, while pretty cool, isn't a Paladin. More like a Vatican Assassin or something. And yes, I'm aware of the Ardent, which is certainly a step in the right direction, but there was something a bit off about that build as well.

Here we have a Paladin who chooses to be a bad Defender in order to kick ass. Why not just cut out the middleman?

Enter the Blackguard, the Anti-Paladin Cavalier. Where the Cavalier has Virtues, he has Vices. He sure ain't Lawful, and he's probably not Good. But more importantly, he's a Striker. No Auras here, the Blackguard is here to take names and kick butt!

Which begs the question. Is he any good at it?

The Good

The Blackguard is a Strength-based melee class. That means he already has a strong melee basic attack, so he can charge and make opportunity attacks if need be. He can also use heavy thrown weapons, if you want to be like The Mighty Thor.

While he does use Charisma to power his special abilities, it doesn't need to be super-high. A 16 should do nicely, which means just about any race that has a bonus to Strength or Charisma can be a fine Blackguard.

Granted, there are two races that grant a bonus to both, the Dragonborn and the Vyrkola, but there are reasons those may not be the best choices. I'll get to them in a bit.

So unless you really want to poach some Charisma-based powers from the core Paladin (bah, puny Implement Powers), there are many fine choices for your Blackguard's race.

Secondly, the Blackguard is a Paladin, and he's built on the same chassis. Which means that I can officially award the Blackguard the title of World's Toughest Striker. 15+Constitution hit points, 10 starting healing surges, +1 to Fortitude, Reflex, and Will, as well as proficiency with Plate and Heavy Shields make the Blackguard a menace on the battlefield. If you want endurance, the Blackguard is your guy. Where other Strikers may quickly fall flat after a few Encounters, this guy keeps on going, and that's a good thing, because...

The Bad

The Blackguard is a mediocre Striker. He does have a damage-boosting mechanic, adding Charisma to his damage rolls...provided he has Combat Advantage. Unlike the Thief, the base Blackguard doesn't really have any way to guarantee Combat Advantage either, which will be an issue.

The Blackguard is capable of some ridiculous damage, but you're not going to see it every round, let alone every combat! Both Vices have a different method of delivering the big hits, and I'll discuss them in turn.

First, Domination.

Domination has a familiar-sounding method of increasing their damage output. If the Blackguard has temporary hit points, they can, as a free action, take damage equal to their Charisma-modifier. They then add a bonus to their damage roll equal to the damage they took.

Domination comes with an At-Will attack that grants them temporary hit points, just to give them a good chance to actually start their turn with at least one temp h.p.. I should also note that the class as a whole has several other ways to get temporary hit points, but that's the easiest method.

All Blackguards have an At-Will attack that inflicts 2 bonus damage per enemy adjacent to them (maximum of +8), and an Encounter power that works a little like the Cavalier's Holy Smite- when they target an enemy with an At-Will attack, they can use their Dread Smite to automatically inflict cold/necrotic damage, and if the attack hits, toss on ongoing 5 cold/necrotic.

So, if the following conditions are met:

  • Blackguard has temporary hit points on their turn.
  • Blackguard has combat advantage against an enemy.
  • Blackguard is adjacent to four or more enemies.
  • Blackguard attacks with Vengeance Strike, uses Dread Smite, and hits.

(Assuming Str 18, Cha 16): 1 [W] +15 damage, plus 5 cold/necrotic, plus 5 ongoing cold/necrotic.

That's a really nice hit, and it doesn't even consider other bonuses, just raw Strength and Charisma! At the same time, however, there are going to be many turns where you can't combo like that, and likely turns where you're doing 1 [W] + Strength damage!

This makes the Blackguard a very swingy Striker, even more so than the Rogue.

As for Fury Blackguards, they have a little easier time inflicting their damage. They get a +2 bonus to damage when they have Combat Advantage (on top of the existing bonus), which rises to +4 if the enemy is bloodied. They also have an At-Will attack that gives them Combat Advantage on their next attack. This makes them a little less swingy, and possibly somewhat more accurate as well.

It's still far from guaranteed, and in most battles, their damage output will seem less spectacular than other Strikers.

The Ugly

As the Blackguard rises in level, he gains access to other methods to increase his damage, but many of them are Encounter-based or equally situational. This means that a Blackguard player needs to be patient, and wait for the right moment to get synergy with his various damage boosting techniques.

He isn't very good at front-loading damage, and his nova takes some setup. With the right party, his job gets a lot easier, but most Strikers prefer to be able to function alone, without depending on others.

This isn't to say that the Blackguard is bad- he's not. But if your (or your fellow player's) idea of a good Striker is someone who can front-load massive damage and kill enemies within the first few turns of combat, then you should stick to Rangers or Rogues.

The Blackguard is good in games like Encounters, where you have to conserve resources over the course of a month, and you can afford to be patient, waiting for that moment when the stars align just so, and you deal so much damage your DM will faint dead away!

In something like LFR, however, where there are generally less combats (due to time constraints), the Ardent will be vastly superior to the Blackguard, as they can afford to spam their abilities.

In summation, the Blackguard is a rewarding class, but the rewards are somewhat different than other Striker classes. If you like the idea of being a darkly divine hero who smites his enemies in close combat, and can take any amount of punishment the game can dish out, then you should definitely check out the Blackguard!

Races

Dragonborn seem to be a natural fit for Paladins of all stripes, and the Blackguard is no exception. However, the main problem with them is that their Dragonbreath power's damage is based on Constitution, and that may be an attribute you'll have a problem raising high enough to be relevant. If you're not playing pure Essentials, there exist Feats to mitigate this, but be careful not to spend too many Feats on a single Encounter ability!

Vyrkolas, with their noble bearing and dark ancestry, make excellent Blackguards. However, when bloodied, they do take a minor penalty to their healing surge value. It's not much, and at higher levels, it is quite probably academic, but it is a small hit to their overall toughness, which is a big selling point of the class.

There are few bad choices, but Dwarves are a pretty solid choice. The +2 to Con won't go to waste, and the minor action Second Wind will only increase your overall toughness. Further, if your game allows for non-Essential Feats, Dwarves have a lot of nice ones to choose from, including the excellent -to-slightly overpowered Dwarven Weapon Training.

That's all for now, I hope you've found this review to be informative. See you next time for more D&D Heroes of Shadow reviews!

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24Jan/110

Creating Worlds: My First Campaign

Yes, I know, I promised to talk about rules stuff next. Sue me. I'll get around to it, since I've noticed actions that change initiative, not to mention exactly how immediate actions work, tend to confuse even 4e veterans.

Well, to be fair, I've never seen a system where readied actions didn't confuse everyone! I'll expand on that more later. You may have noticed I haven't been as prolific in my writing of late, and the reason is- I didn't have much new to say!

I keep touching on the same points in my editorials, and often, I come off as way too critical- something else I've talked about before. It may seem paradoxical that someone who claims to enjoy gaming nitpicks about it so damn much!

11Jan/114

Total Insanity- D&D 4E Rules in Review

I'm something of a 'mechanics guy'. The 'crunchy bits' of how a game functions intrigues me, both from a simulationist (how well the mechanic matches reality) and a gamist (how well-balanced the mechanic is within the framework of the game) perspective.

Often, mechanics that try and match reality tend to be somewhat over-complicated and even broken- simply put, the universe has a lot more variables running at any given time than anyone can keep track of.

So the best, and most balanced mechanics, are the simplest ones. And usually, the mechanics most divorced from 'reality'.

At both ends of the scale you get a lot of arguments. One of the features of 4e design is that the rules are made as simply as possible, using something that has been defined as “exception-based” design. There is a set of basic rules, which regulate the game. Unless a game element goes out of it's way to say it changes these rules, you always default to the basic rules.

For example:

7Jan/110

A New Year of Gaming

Wow, 2011 already. That's one thing that always amazes me as I get older- how much faster the years go by! Well, so far, the new year is definitely better than the old in at least two respects. One, my health is a lot better, even though I still have a good 50-100 pounds of encumbrance I could stand to lose. Definitely need to work on that while there are still chairs that can support my weight!

And two, I've reconnected with an old flame. No, Cupid hasn't managed to hit me with an arrow lately- much like a dragon, my defenses only increase with time. I imagine he'll need a nat 20 to hitch me up with a girl at this point!

But I digress. Dungeons and Dragons remains my first true love. We've been through a lot, the game and I, ever since I discovered it back in Junior High. And despite the occasional break-ups and betrayals, we always get back together in the end.

As I've mentioned before, 4e felt like a betrayal to me. I'd spent a lot of time mastering the 3.5 ruleset, and purchasing many products. I was comfortable with the game, and I felt that it could only get better. Unfortunately, Hasbro/WotC had other plans.

30Nov/100

Dipping into the Red – A Red Box Holiday Story

So I got a text message the other night. I am thinking of braving the hordes and picking up the red box for Kara. It was my friend Brandon. We had been talking the other week about how Kara really wanted to play some more of the table top World of Warcraft game that we did some time ago. I told Brandon that I had started to get ideas on how to convert WoW class abilities into the new DnD Essentials format. he thought the idea was good, but he kind of wanted to disassociate WoW with other gaming. So I told him about the Red Box.

Before I continue, let me talk about Kara. Kara is Brandon's 9 year old daughter. And gaming is in her blood. Her father has been a gamer since grade school, as well as her mother, Kate. Kate has been playing D&D as well for some time, and is an active LARPer. Kate's husband, Garret  is also a heavy gamer and LARPer. Kara has been raised around gaming since she was crawling still. She loves Gromlock from Transformers: The Movie. (Yes the 1980s movie). She bleeds d4s, while her mother insists that she only bleeds d2s.

She loves playing hunters on WoW because of the pets. I ran a WoW based adventure for Kara, Brandon, and my roommate Joel one night. Kara played a hunter who's pet was a Pegasus (yeah a little much, but you have to keep kids interested somehow). They started out in Northshire and they had to take care of a kobold problem in a cave nearby. I even had the kobalds saying their trademark fighting words, " You no take candle!" They only made it through only half of the adventure, but for the past few months its always been on something on Kara's mind. Every time Kara would be staying with Brandon at his house she would ask him when I was going to run that WoW game with the miniatures again. Each time with an eager grin on her face, full of that childish excitement.

It was black Friday when I texted Brandon back, Do you want me to head over to Barnes and Nobles now to pick it up for you? I'm already here in town.

18Nov/102

Close Encounters of the Essential Kind! Week 5: Chain Reactions

To paraphrase Newton, 'for every action there is an equal, yet opposite, reaction'. Take Dungeons & Dragons, for example, in the game, your character enters an abandoned castle/dense forest/mysterious cave with his friends, looking for trouble (and loot!).

The Dungeonmaster presents you with a cunningly crafted encounter, using tricks, traps, puzzles, and yes, monsters, to oppose you. Sometimes the monsters are members of ordinary player races. More often, they are fantastic creatures with bizarre abilities.

Players and monsters encounter one another. The monster hits the player, the player goes “Oof! Medic!”. The Leader trivializes the damage as much as they can, and the player hits back.

Actions and reactions.

Now, before I get to my point, I do want to apologize for something that has been creeping into my blog posts lately. If you're going to review something, you need to stay objective. Unfortunately, I've been letting a few of my personal biases color my vision.

16Nov/104

Close Encounters of the Essential Kind! Week 4

And finally, we come to the end of the chapter. The final encounter was technically harder than the last. There were four lizardfolk, another Dragonborn, and a recurring enemy*.

-Or so I gathered, I hadn't played in the previous chapter, so I had no real idea who this guy was.

The session opened with a skills challenge. Like most published skills challenges, it ended up being “everyone roll dice for a few minutes before we get to the next encounter.

Others have ranted about the way skills challenges are handled, and have more experience with them than I do, and I have very little to add. They always feel to me, however, like you're being punished somehow for decisions you made in character generation that have very little bearing on the game.

Consider this, in a month of Encounters, I've slogged through 4 fights, and one skills challenge. While you can build your character to be more well-rounded, taking points out of your combat attributes to buff up your skill checks, this is a small part of the game, and it really feels like you should focus on fulfilling the obligations of your role first, and worrying about skills second.

11Nov/100

Fun Stuff: Essentials Thief Build


Meet Mad Jack, the Brigand. A conversation I had with Tim regarding the Thief inspired me to create this bizarre build; a tough-as-nails melee Thief.

While the Thief can use their Dexterity to make melee basic attacks due to their Weapon Finess feature, they don't have to use Dexterity, but could use regular old Strength instead. With the exception of the bow, all of the Thief weapons are one-handed, and the class has no restrictions on what armor they wear to use their powers.

Which brings us to Jack.

Mad Jack, Human Rogue (Thief) 1

Str 20 (18+2)
Con 14
Dex 10
Int 8
Wis 10
Cha 11

Jack's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, which probably explains his bizarre lifestyle. As a Human, he gets two Feats, and we'll use them both to pick up better armor; Chainmail and Light Shields. For weapons, he'll use a trusty Short Sword.

4Nov/102

Close Encounters of the Essential Kind! – Week 3

As promised, Tim was able to go to Encounters this week, and once again take over the Eladrin Mage, Berrian. I had made a Human Mage, Alaric, that I felt was superior to Berrian, but then it occurred to me; did the party really need two Controllers?

Well, technically, we already had two; the Ranger (Hunter) that Chuck was playing is billed as such. However, I haven't really seen much Control out of the build (more on this shortly).

Anyways, if one Mage makes Encounters too short, then two might be too much! So, just in case, I quickly threw together a second character. I haven't built a character this fast, well, ever! Even in my 1E/2E days, I carefully weighed every choice I had available. Most of my characters were Fighters, but once I allocated my stats, rolled for exceptional Strength (if I was so fortunate), decided on a race, selected weapon and non-weapon proficiencies, weapon specialization, Kit (the precursor to 4E's class builds), armor and equipment, name, and other miscellaneous things like height, weight, alignment, religion, and so on...well, let's just say I usually burned the better part of an hour!

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