The Ardent debut article is up on D&D Insider, and it contains the Mantle of Clarity build for this new Psionic Leader. The full class will appear in the PHB3 in March.
What's in a Name?
First, a comment on the name. I hate it. A lot. Judging by the discussions on the WotC forums many people agree with this sentiment. The problem is partially that the word "ardent" is an adjective. You're left thinking, "so what exactly is this guy ardent about?" You can say that members of the class are ardent, but you can also say that Rogues are sneaky; does that mean that the Rogue class could be called "Sneaky" and make sense? "Sneak" would make sense, but that's a noun. Same goes for renaming "Barbarian" to "Reckless." Or we could just re-name the Wizard the "Intelligent." Grammatical faults aside, there was already a widely speculated name for the Psionic leader: Empath. The Empath was a Psion build in 3rd edition, so there's even a precedent (to be fair the Ardent was a 3rd edition class from Complete Psionic, but it doesn't resemble the 4E Ardent except that they both have "mantles"). Here's the kicker: the flavor of the 4E Ardent could not possibly be more suited for the name Empath. They Psionically read the emotional state of their enemies, as well as influence the emotional state of their allies. They're empathic. I liked the name Empath. It made sense. Ardent is just silly.
Anyways, moving on to the actual mechanics of the class. Not surprisingly, they use Charisma as their primary stat. Also not surprisingly, Wisdom is secondary for the Mantle of Clarity build (secondary defender). The other build, to be released in the PHB3, is the Mantle of Elation, and is a secondar striker that uses Constitution as a secondary stat. If you can't already see a problem with the Mantle of Clarity build, I'll point it out right now. Like certain builds of other classes (for example, Charisma Paladins), the Mantle of Clarity Ardent gets a primary and a secondary stat that contribute to the same defense, Will. That's a little odd for a secondary defender, wouldn't you think? But wait, there's more. Their armor proficiency goes up to Chain (so at least not having a secondary or primary stat for AC doesn't hurt them too much), but they don't get any shield proficiencies. That's an AC of 16 at 1st level. And they're a melee class. I'll reiterate that: the party leader (who is supposed to play backup defender) is sent to the front lines with minimal armor and no shield. This is the guy who you want to keep standing so he can heal you. And shouldn't the secondary defender build get Con secondary instead of the striker? So yeah, you'll have very few healing surges too. And if you want to improve your armor you'll need at least a 13 in both Con and Str (just Str if you're going for lt shield, but consider your surges!). And forget about a heavy shield completely unless you want to waste enough stat points for a Str of 15. So yeah, improving your AC is both feat intensive, and stat intensive. If you're a race that gets a bonus to Str it would definitely be worth it, but everyone else loses out. And with all the points you're throwing into Cha, Wis, Str, and Con, your Reflex is really going to suffer.
I'm thinking that polearms will be pretty much mandatory for these guys if they want to not die. You have proficiency with military melee weapons, and the picture in the article has a glaive. So have fun hiding behind your defender and attacking around him, just like every other Ardent will be doing.
Like the Psion, the Ardent gets an extra at-will power and can replace at-wills as they level with more powerful ones. These at-wills can be augmented to be more powerful with power points. They do not get encounter powers because of this (a fully augmented at-will is equivalent to an encounter power, and they get enough power points to cast the same amount of fully augmented powers as other classes get encounter powers). Power points recharge after each short rest. The benefits to this system are that Psions/Ardents can use the same "encounter" power twice instead of using two different ones. You can also augment an at-will with 1 power point instead of 2 (full), essentially giving yourself two weaker encounter powers instead of 1 standard one. All of this can be done spontaneously, when you attack. So yeah, great flexibility with how you use your powers, but less flexibility in terms of how many different things you can do. Example: whereas a Wizard could have an at-will that debuffs attack and an encounter power that dazes, a Psion would have an at-will that debuffs attack, with the ability to augment that power to either debuff more targets or debuff with a bigger penalty (whatever is laid out in the power). Kind of like a one trick pony that's really flexible with that one trick.
The 2/enc healing power is called Ardent Surge, and it's pretty standard in terms of what it heals (normal xD6 progression for extra HP). What makes it unique is that it has a different effect depending on your Mantle. Mantle of Clarity Ardents give the target a +1 bonus to all defenses until the end of your next turn, and Mantle of Elation Ardents give a +1 attack bonus. This is actually a pretty cool way to distinguish the builds that we (surprisingly) haven't seen in a leader until now.
In terms of other differences between the mantles, nothing else about the Mantle of Elation is specified. It can be assumed that it's similar to the Mantle of Clarity though, which is a constantly active close burst 5 "aura" that grants any allies within it a defense bonus against opportunity attacks (equal to Wis, your secondary stat) and a +2 bonus to Insight and Perception checks. Flavorful. Also, as I learned when playtesting my World Speaker Shaman, granting a solid bonus against opportunity attacks can potentially alter party tactics, reducing the risk of risky maneuvers (things that provoke OAs). Artful Dodger Rogues in particular will be virtually invulnerable to OAs, especially if they're Halflings.
I really like the flavor of the class. It's pretty much exactly what you'd expect a Psionic leader to be, minus the crappy name (if I ever make an Ardent I'm just going to call it an Empath). The Mantles are pretty standard in terms of their mechanical influences on the different builds, which is a good thing since I've heard that mantles in 3.x were not done very well. I've never seen Complete Psionic so I don't exactly know in what ways the 3rd edition Ardent was poorly designed, but I trust the prevailing opinions on the WotC forums, especially considering the Psionics Handbook (which I do own). I do suspect that the 4E Ardent will carry over the legacy of being somewhat inferior, and unfortunately the reason should have been easy to foresee on the part of the devolopers. Proficiency with the light shield at the very least would give Ardents an option other than polearms, and having some ranged implement attacks would mitigate the low AC, as the Ardent wouldn't have to be in melee constantly to be effective. And on top of all of this the Mantle of Clarity build's two highest stats feed the same NAD (non AC defense). The result is that Ardents will feel the need to "catch up" to their fellow leaders, most likely through feats (armor/shield proficiencies will be attractive options, but will require investment tertiary/quaternary stats, making the Ardent quite MAD (multi attribute dependent)).
Con-based Shamans have a similar AC problem (and similarly need to invest in Str for better armor), and people have been complaining since the release of the preview (and are still complaining, for that matter). The situation is arguably more dire for Ardents since they'll have to be in melee almost constantly. A simple comparison can be drawn with the Warlord, which is another exclusively melee leader and is known for taking a beating if played carelessly. The Ardent is at a disadvantage in terms of initial AC (since Warlords have shield prof.), and also in terms of improving AC (Warlords attack with Strength, the main prerequisite stat for armor prof., whereas Ardents would not normally want to invest in Strength). In particular this build (Mantle of Clarity) is supposed to play secondary defender, but will have stats spread out between Cha, Wis, Con, and Str if it wants to be even passably effective at it. I can't imagine any race except the Dragonborn being able to make this work.