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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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9Feb/110

D&D 4E Rules in Review: Is it my turn yet?

So here we are again, talking about those wacky 4e rules. This time, I'm going to go over rules that confuse even veteran gamers, 'readying an action' and 'delaying'.

So what's the problem?

D&D is not a very accurate simulation of real life. If, for example, a massive brawl breaks out in real life, you don't have people standing around, patiently waiting to take their turn in battle. It's every man for himself (and women...and warforged. And shardminds!), acting all at once in a big confusing mess.

D&D wants to attempt to give you the feel of a big, chaotic combat scene, while still making it easy to figure out who's doing what, and when. So we have the nice orderly combat sequence. The guy with the highest initiative goes first, and we take it from there.

Thanks to immediate actions, immediate interrupts, and opportunity actions, you can also act during someone else's turn, which further helps immerse yourself in the combat experience. So far, so good.

Inevitably, however, someone will want to wait for an opportune moment to act. I remember way back in the day (2e), the Blink spell would cause the caster to randomly phase in and out of the material world, making them hard to attack. A canny player would ask if they could just wait for the Wizard to materialize before smiting him on his pointy hat.

Regardless of how the rules worked, the player would insist on being allowed to do just that, simply because you can do it in real life. Never mind that casting spells or swinging swords the size of Rhode Island aren't possible in real life!

So rules were written to allow this sort of thing to happen, to try and not deprive players of actions they could reasonably take. The theory is sound, really. A player with higher initiative has a choice. Act now, before anyone can react, or set yourself up to react to the tactics of those who aren't quite as quick on the uptake. In practice, things get a little screwy.

Readying an Action

You hear this one a lot. “I want to shoot at the first enemy I see when the door is opened!” It sound reasonable enough, doesn't it? Rather than attack now, you want to attack at an opportune moment. So let's go over the rules in more detail.

Readying is a Standard Action. Sort of. Actually, you're setting aside your Standard Action to use later on in the turn. Of course, it doesn't need to be a Standard Action- Move and Minor Actions are also fair game. When you Ready, you select the type of action you want to use, and the intended target, if any.

Next, you select a trigger for when the Readied action will occur. When the trigger occurs, your action occurs, as if it were an Immediate Reaction (and thus using up your Immediate Action for the round). If it doesn't occur, or you elect not to use it for some reason, you simply take your next turn as normal.

Some DM's may wish you to be very specific with your triggers, in order to prevent abuse. Here are some examples:

“The first enemy that comes within range, I'll blast with Magic Missile!”

“When a kobold moves adjacent to me, I want to Bull Rush it!”

“If Hugo, the brigand leader, attacks Tusk, our Warden, I'll use Healing Word on Tusk.”

It's important for your DM to be both fair and consistent with how permissive he is on setting Readied Action triggers. If he's too strict, then this action will be primarily reserved for corner cases, and not used often- which may suit him (or her) just fine! On the other hand, if too permissive, everyone will ready actions all the time, making a shambles of turn sequence.

Just remember, however, that the monsters can Ready actions as well, and it may be to their benefit to do so! So the same rules will apply and be (ab)used equally.

If you use your Readied Action, your Initiative is reset so that now you act just before the creature or event that triggered it. So, for example, if your Initiative is 20, and you use your Readied Action during another creature's turn (let's say, a Hobgoblin who has a 14 Initiative), next turn you won't act until just before the Hobgoblin's turn.

Now things get a little more complicated.

Opportunity Attacks

Let's say that you want to Ready a ranged attack. Ranged attacks normally provoke Opportunity Attacks. There's an enemy standing next to you, so you don't want to attack on your turn. You might think that Readying with a trigger of “as soon as the enemy is no longer adjacent to me” might be a good idea.

Sadly, you'd be wrong! Readying an Action that provokes is the same as making the action. So our hapless archer would be struck immediately. Oops!

In addition, performing a Readied Action that provokes also provokes. This may sound a bit unfair, but there is some logic behind it. Even if an Action provokes, you cannot make Opportunity Actions on your own turn. Since a Readied Action usually occurs on someone else's turn, they might not be allowed to react to it the way they normally would. Many enemies have triggered abilities they can employ when attacked, so while Readying is a good tactic to use against them, it's not without it's weaknesses.

Interrupting

A Readied Action is an Immediate Reaction, which means it occurs after it's trigger. This may make it seem impossible to attack before your enemy does when your Action triggers. However, you can set your trigger to be dependent on an enemy's movement. For example:

“If the Orc swings his axe at the Wizard, I'll shoot him with my bow!”

“If the Orc moves adjacent to the Wizard, I'll shoot him with my bow!”

This just goes to show it pays to think about what will trigger your Action!

Another thing that often comes up with Readied Actions is when “beginning” and “ending” of turn effects occur. The answer, actually, is when they normally do! You make a Readied Action during your turn, but your turn doesn't stop there. So if you are suffering from Ongoing 5 damage, you take it, you Ready, you make whatever other actions you like, then you save.

If your trigger goes off, your Initiative changes, but you will take the damage again at the beginning of your next turn as normal. Some canny players will think to use a Readied Action to change their Initiative order to go after an ally who can grant them a saving throw or heal them. It's perfectly legal to do so, although your DM may quirk an eyebrow in your direction at such tactics.

Just remember, however, that this works both ways. For example, if you are “vulnerable 5 to all damage (save ends)”, changing your Initiative could give monsters more opportunities to take advantage of you than they would have ordinarily! Alternately, your DM may look at the rules for Delaying, which are very clear for how Start and End of Turn effects are applied.

Delay

As a free action, you may wish to wait to take your turn until later in the combat round. There are several reasons to do this. For example, Striker classes often have excellent Initiative, and Defender classes often...don't. If you are a melee Striker, you might not want to run into combat before your Defender, so Delay becomes a good option for you.

Leader classes are also often “initiative-deprived”. This normally works to their advantage, as their powers are often reactive in nature. A Leader who gets a good Initiative roll, however, may want to Delay until an ally is wounded, or the battle shifts.

Once you Delay, you can return to the Initiative order after any turn has been completed. Your Initiative changes to this new position in the order.

If you don't take your Delayed turn, for some reason, when your original Initiative comes back up in the order, you lose the Delayed turn and take your turn then.

Start and End of Turn

Effects that are triggered by your turn starting happen when you opt to Delay- you can't Delay to avoid ongoing damage, for example. Any effect you are sustaining ends, and effects that last until the end of your turn now end if they are beneficial to you and your allies! This prevents you from extending the duration of a beneficial effect.

After you take your Delayed turn, you make the saving throws you normally do at the end of your turn, and the durations of baneful effects that expire at the end of your turn now do so.

Since you can lose a Delayed turn if you do not take it, if you are suffering from a baneful effect, such as ongoing damage, be careful with this option!

With as much confusion as these rules tend to cause at gaming tables, you'd expect them to be more complicated than this, but it really boils down to the fact that, most of the time, you don't have much reason to Ready or Delay. Properly used, these tactics can make your character very effective. Improperly used, and you're literally wasting time.

DM's need to be careful as well. While it may seem like a good idea to use Ready and Delay to foil your player's tactics, doing so will no doubt frustrate and annoy them needlessly. For example, let's say you know that the party Leader can grant saving throws.

You have an enemy who can place “stupidly annoying effect (save ends)” on players. Delaying your enemy's turn until after the Leader's will ensure a whole round of bad stuff...and make the Leader less effective. Until the Leader starts Delaying. Which could end with both your enemy and the Leader simply losing turns!

Since you probably don't want each encounter turning into a glorified game of 'chicken', it's best to use such tactics sparingly. Let the players open the door when it comes to more advanced options; if they want to use the rules to their advantage, that's fine- show them that it works both ways!

You just don't want to force your players into having to master areas of the rules they aren't comfortable with yet.

With all that in mind, I hope this article has given you new insight into how to make the rules work for you, instead of against you!

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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:

7Oct/100

Character Optimization Part 3: Heroic Medium

Dragonborn Paladin of Bahamet

When we last left our Dragonborn Fighter, he was mixing it up at level 1 fairly well. Let's assume he survives til level 2. Since this is a thought experiment, I can't really say what magic items, if any he may have found, so let's focus on things we can plan for. The first thing our Fighter (who I'm going to call 'Kriv' from here on out) had to do was get a better weapon. There were three basic choices:

Longsword for +1 to hit.

Battleaxe for d10 damage.

Khopesh for Brutal 1.

Statistically speaking, the average damage of the Battleaxe is 5.5, compared to 4.5 for the longsword. The Khopesh is a weird case because it simply cannot inflict 1 damage, making it's average damage 5 even.

6Oct/101

Character Optimization Part 2: Heroic Low

Dice for various games, especially for rolepla...
Image via Wikipedia

A lot of players like to plot out their progression all the way to Epic tier. But let's be honest. Optimization is more about knowing your game than anything else. Different choices have different values based on the game's power level. A Heroic-tier game that won't even hit level 10 requires a different mindset than a game that starts at level 15!

Retraining can cover for a lot of sins, but there are a few things you can't retrain for. Today we'll start with Low-level Heroic gaming.

When starting from first or second level, you have to be optimized right out of the gate. Forget Paragon Paths, you just want to survive, and kick butt now, not in five or six levels!

In low-level games, having a high primary stat is most important. You want the best chance to hit, and to have your powers pack the biggest punch possible. This means, however, that the rider benefits of your secondary stat won't be so hot, so don't set yourself up to rely on them!

At low-levels, forget versatility, you want to be focused and specialized. You have a job to do, so make sure you can do it! For our example of low-level building, let's focus on The Fighter.

DISCLAIMER: The views presented here are not based on in-game experience, but a logical examination of possible playstyles and environments. If you have found that an option presented here isn't as good as I think it is, or that something I discount is much better, that's great! Let me know, and I'll certainly re-evaluate my builds. This is an exercise in one possible way to approach Character building, and is far from the only way!

5Oct/100

Character Optimization Part 1: Unreasonable Expectations

Cover of

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I'll just start out with a caveat; I am capable of making false assumptions about the 4.0 playstyle.

The D&D rules set is modular. Think of it as a bunch of Legos ™; you have Legos of all different shapes and sizes, but each piece has definite 'rules' for how it connects to other pieces. Most Legos follow the same basic rules, but there are always exceptions!

So optimization is all about using your Legos to build something. That's great, but what looks good on paper can fail in practice. For example, let's look at the Fighting-Man of Chainmail.

13Jul/102

My favorite power – Teleportation

Teleportation has long been my favorite superpower and always my favorite thing to do in D&D.  As a player, I loved my Assassin's at-will teleportation, stepping into one person's shadow only to appear within my enemies'.  My teleporting Swordmage, instantly appearing to smite my marked foe, if he dares to ignore me.  And as a DM, nothing messes with your player's well laid plans as a teleporting and phasing Gish Assassin.

Wizards of the Coast has started up a new article series talking about various rules of the game and their first discussion is about Teleportation. It discusses the original rules and the recent rules updates.

If you want to get up to date about the various rules and updates to the teleporting power in D&D check out their new article.

4May/100

D&D May 2010 Rules Updates.. It’s a big one!

Make sure you check out the new May 2010 D&D rules update here.

There are a lot of minor rule updates and clarifications. I did notice several things our groups use such as, lightning arrows and healer's lore. Plus other updates to things like Aid Another during skill challenges and flying rules.

Overall lots of stuff, so I highly recommend giving it a read to see if there is anything that effects your characters and also so everyone is on the same page as far as the general rules.

6Sep/081

D&D 4th Edition Rules – Things I’ve Noticed

I was just rereading through some of the rulebooks and caught a few things that stuck out to me that I might have first missed the first time.

  • Charge
    Is a standard action that allows you to move and take a basic melee attack in the same action. So move then charge is a valid action, or a shift then charge, as long as you are 2 squares away from where you started.
  • Commander's Strike
    The warlord must be within range of the ally and enemy target with his melee weapon. Link to Q&A. I know this seems weird and totally gimps my tactics with my warlord, but WotC has spoken.
  • Ranged attacks against adjacent enemies
    PHB p. 290 states Ranged and Area Powers Provoke: If an enemy adjacent to you uses a ranged power or an area power, you can make an opportunity attack against that enemy.
    This includes ranged magic abilities such as Magic Missle and Eldritch Blast.
  • Area Attacks
    PHB p. 271 states multiple attack rolls but only one damage roll.

That's all I can think of right now, so leave a comment if there is anything you want a clarification on and I will do my best to look it up.

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