Saturday, December 4, 2010

Further impressions of the Knight

My initial playtest encounters with the Knight went well, but I recently pitted the party against a group of enemies that included 4 highly mobile skirmishers (Thri-Kreen scouts) and 2 brutes with a push on their MBA's (Blackscale Lizardfolk). Against enemies like these, the Knight is virtually helpless.

The Lizardfolk weren't a problem for my Knight, per se, because he's a Dwarf. But any non-Dwarf Knight is extremely susceptible to forced movement, as enemies can push you away from their allies (leaving them out of your aura, utterly preventing you from doing your job). With the traditional marking mechanic even if you were unable to punish enemies too far away to violate your mark, at least they still had the -2 penalty to attack against everyone but you.

The Thri-kreen had an encounter power that lets them jump their speed without provoking OAs. Deathjump spiders are another nasty skirmisher that can do this. Point being, the enemy neither attacked an enemy while in the aura nor shifted, so the punishment mechanic doesn't apply. The movement itself doesn't provoke OAs, so they can basically move wherever they want and the Knight can't stop them. The Scout in my playtest got obliterated when multiple Thri-kreen swarmed him, and he spent about half the fight on the ground dying.

This makes the Knight the swingiest defender I've seen in action. They can be extremely effective, but have a situational weakness that renders them inadequate as a defender.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Balanced Spring Sentinel build

Purpose of this build:
This build is designed to be a versatile, playable leader that focuses mostly on defensive buffing, healing and funneling damage to the companion or a summon, while still packing some offensive punch. Summons serve a double purpose of increasing your damage soaking capabilities (which ultimately prevents damage to the party), while incidentally boosting your DPR in the process.

Damage funneling is accomplished in several ways. 1) The summons chosen provide lockdown capabilities, which set up the summon or companion as the only available target for a monster to attack, 2) Utility powers and your at-will are used to buff melee allies taking advantage of the wolf's aura with AC boosts, invisibility, and THP. Enemies can either attack buffed allies with reduced effectiveness, or attack the unbuffed companion and have damage wasted, and 3) the wolf's CA-granting aura should be enough to incite many enemies to attack it and get rid of the offensive buff, especially if you have allies that can do extra damage with CA (Rogues, Scouts, and Wild Shape Druids).

This build has a respectable amount of healing, especially from Paragon onward. It should be plenty for any party, especially given how much damage prevention is emphasized via buffs, THP, and most importantly the damage-soaking companion and summons. Save-granting ability is fair, with Knack for Success providing some respite in Heroic, and Clear the Chaff being your big-guns, mass save granter/buffer.

You don't actively grant many (if any) offensive buffs, but the wolf's aura is active as long as it's on the field, providing a solid, consistent boost for ally attacks. You also pack more personal offensive power than most leaders thanks to Combined Attack. Your typical nova round looks like this: Standard action: Combined Attack. Action Point: Tending Strike (you can only use Combined Attack 1/turn, despite having multiple uses of it). Instictive Action: whichever summon you have active. Basically, if you have a summon out and use an action point, you're making 4 attacks in a turn, which isn't too shabby at all.

Race: Half-Elf
Class: Druid (Sentinel)
Paragon Path: Spiral Wind's Ally
Season: Spring
Level: 11

I chose Half-Elf because the new racial power offers some leader functionality that otherwise isn't available to low-level Sentinels. Dwarf is also a superb choice, as your companion regains a surge's worth of HP for free when you second wind, which the Dwarf can do as a minor action. The Paragon Path is currently the best option for improving the leadership capabilities of a Druid, offering plenty of additional healing. Spring was chosen because the Wolf's aura provides a good counterbalance to the otherwise highly defensive nature of this build. Obviously the Bear works well for a purely defensive build, but I prefer a more balanced approach. All leaders should contribute to offense in some way.

Ability Scores:

Str-11, Con-21, Dex-14, Int-12, Wis-21, Cha-9

Con and Wis were bumped at each opportunity. Alternatively, you can switch Dex and Int around which reduces your Initiative, but you can qualify for Blade Initiate (Swordmage M/C) which allows you to use heavy and light blades as an implement. Doing so frees up your weapon enchantment for something other than an Alfsair Spear.

Hit Points / Bloodied: 93/46 (12 base + 21 Con + 50 level + 10 Toughness)
Healing Surges: 14 (7 base + 5 Con +2 Durable)
Healing Surge Value: 28 (1/4 HP + 4 Swift Recover +1 Belt of Vigor)

Since you want your animal companion and summons to soak as much damage as possible, you want to make sure that you have enough HP and surges to take that punishment. More importantly, you want your surge value to be as high as possible. This is because when you re-summon your companion after it's been reduced to 0 HP, it comes back with HP equal to your healing surge value. It also gets free HP equal to your healing surge value when you use your second wind, so the higher your surge value the more damage your companion can soak.

AC: 27 (10 base +5 level +5 Con +2 enh +3 Hide +1 shield +1 feat)
Fortitude: 24 (10 base +5 level +5 Con +2 class +2 enh)
Reflex: 20 (10 base +5 level +2 Dex +2 enh +1 shield)
Will: 22 (10 base +5 level +5 Wis +2 enh)

Initiative: +7 (+5 level +2 Dex)

Speed: 6

At-Will Powers
Animal Attack
Tending Strike

This build is primarily focused on defensive buffing, so Tending Strike is a natural choice. It's best to buff up melee allies that focus on enemies within your wolf's aura; this way enemies must choose to either attack a buffed PC, or the damage-soaking companion. Either way you're doing your job.

Encounter Powers
Combined Attack x3
Spiral Gust

Combined Attack can't be traded out, so you might as well make the most of it. Focus fire on an enemy that a Summon will use its Instinctive Action on for impressive burst damage for a leader. It'll be your go-to attack when Tending Strike's THP aren't needed. It's also useful for shuffling around your companion's position (Move action: you move adjacent to an enemy, companion shifts. Standard Action: Combined Attack allows companion to move its speed as a free action, and you both attack target).

Daily Powers
1: Summon Pack Wolf
5: Life Blood Harvest
9: Summon Crocodile

The Pack Wolf synergizes extremely well with the Wolf companion, resulting in enemies being locked down (via the Pack Wolf's prone and companion's OA) next to a summon and a companion, both of which you want to funnel attacks onto. The Crocodile works much the same way, only by directly grabbing an enemy and holding it in place (make sure that place is in your Wolf's aura). Life Blood Harvest gives you a nice emergency heal for when your Healing Words and buffing/damage funneling just won't cut it.

Variant 1: Destructive Harvest makes a good alternative to Life Blood Harvest if you find that you don't need the healing all that much (especially true if there's another leader in the party). It's great against solos and elites, as it provides a nice damage buff to allies adjacent to the target. Works particularly well if you have a lot of melee multi-attackers in your party (Rangers, Monks, and Whirling Barbarians).
Variant 2: This is another variant on your level 5 selection. If you want to go with a full summoning theme, and if your party can coordinate to keep enemies from running away, Summon Shadow Ape simultaneously brings a defensive buff, a DPR boost, and damage funneling to the table.

Utility Powers
2: Barkskin
6: Camouflage Cloak
10: Clear the Chaff
F: Swift Recovery (heal)

Barkskin and Camouflage Cloak both provide excellent defense buffs to allies with a minor action. They can both help you funnel damage onto a summon or your companion if you use them on melee allies that are taking advantage of the wolf's aura. Once again, enemies must choose between attacking buffed allies or the annoying wolf that's providing CA. Clear the Chaff is a phenomenal save granter, which by this level is probably going to get plenty of use. Prior to this Knack for Success was the only way you could grant saves.

Variant: If you prefer to have more offensive buffing power, choose Guided Shot (perception) for your skill power, which turns an ally's missed attack against AC into an attack vs Reflex (which will likely hit, if it didn't miss by much initially).

Misc Powers
R: Knack for Success
U: Restore Life

Knack for Success is the major reason why Half Elf was chosen for this build. Because Sentinels get Combined Attack forced on them, they have fewer leader options during combat that other leader classes.

1: Melee Training (Wis)
2: Versatile Expertise (spear weapon, spear implement)
4: Swift Recovery
6: Skill Power
8: Toughness
10: Durable
11: Armor Specialization (Hide)

Other feats that work well for this build are Improved Defenses, Superior Will, Strong Willed Summoning in late Heroic or early Paragon, and Battlewise if you prefer getting your wolf into position before your allies take their first turn (however, since you don't specialize in offensive buffing or de-buffing, you don't really need to go first as much as some of the more aggressive leaders or your controller counterparts). Blade Initiate is an option if you want to wield something other than an Alfsair Spear, and if you want to focus more on off-striking with Combined Attack then damage boosting feats like Weapon Focus, TWF, etc are useful. Check out Initiate of the Faith (Cleric M/C) if you want an extra Daily heal, though you may want to train it out once the build's healing capabilities start to pick up.

Main-Hand: Alfsair Spear +2 with Siberys Shard of the Mage +1
Off-Hand: Light Shield
Armor: Lifeblood Armor +2
Neck: Healer's Brooch +2
Arms: Iron Armbands of Power
Waist: Belt of Vigor
Companion: Friend's Gift

Lifeblood Armor makes sure that you're buffed with THP at the start of every encounter. You'll need the Alfsair Spear to use both Weapon and Implement attacks. You'll definitely want to use implement attacks, as Summons are much better than most of the weapon-based dailies. The Shard and Iron Armbands keep your damage up to par since Combined Attack pretty much forces you to be an off-striker. Belt of Vigor boosts your surge value, and the Friend's Gift gives your Animal Companion extra HP when you spend a healing surge to have it re-gain HP. This definitely works when you second wind, though it's unclear whether it works when you re-summon. "Doing so causes your animal companion to appear in the nearest unoccupied space, with hit points equal to your healing surge value." IMO it works fine since the companion goes from 0 HP to surge value HP as a direct result of you spending a minor action and a healing surge, but the wording is a little ambiguous.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Essentials Playtest

Long time since I've posted! I guess that'll happen when you've been living in free Forest Service "housing" for several months.

Anyways, I decided to take some of the new builds out for a spin, via a couple of "solitaire" encounters. The party was 6th level, and consisted of a Half-Elf Spring Sentinel, an Elf Scout, a Dwarf Knight, and an Elf Predator Druid (since I know the class well, and I wanted at least one non-essentials PC).

Knight: I'll start with this guy since he was released first in HotFL. It was kind of nice, especially for a solitaire encounter where I was controlling everything, that the mechanics for defending were so simple without compromising effectiveness. The defender aura is more intuitive than marking, and doesn't require minis or tokens to be labeled. Honestly, it was a pain before when multi-marks (from Come and Get it, for example) would end after a turn and I'd have to remember to remove labels so I didn't over-extend marks accidentally. One less thing to book-keep.

Mark punishment was brutal! Since it's an OA instead of an immediate action, you can punish multiple enemies per turn. Plus you benefit from whatever stance is active, and you can make punishment more deadly by using Power Strike with it. Higher level elite brutes usually have no qualms about triggering punishment and soaking the damage to do whatever they want, but when the punishment is enhanced with a stance effect and a Power Strike even they start to think twice! Even with two stances, I found it tactically engaging to juggle them on any given turn. You may want one stance for your standard action attack, but another one might work better with your OAs. Assuming you're already in melee, you can switch stance, attack, and then switch stance back. Both of my stances (Defend the Line and Hammer Hands) were useful for standard action attacks and OAs, albeit under different circumstances. A savvy player could certainly be satisfied with the tactical options that the Knight presents, despite its apparent lack of variety in powers.

I'd like to note that I started the first encounter with Measured Cut, and for the first 2 or 3 rounds found myself wishing that I had Hammer Hands. I basically just stayed in Defend the Line for those rounds, and finally decided "screw it, it's a playtest so I'll trade out stances mid-encounter!" As frequently as Hammer Hands was useful, I actually didn't have much luck with it, though that was purely the fault of the dice. Fortunately the Predator could cover the forced movement whenever the Knight missed, but at the expense of other options.

Sentinel: I was really excited about this build, but the play experience was a little dry. That may have been because the Knight and Scout were so surprisingly fun whereas the Sentinel was pretty much what I expected it would be. I also made some "beginner" mistakes with the positioning of the wolf. Basically, the wolf and Knight didn't play all that well together because there were several occasions where I wanted to use Hammer Hands, but it would have pushed the enemy outside of the wolf's aura. Plus you almost always want the wolf to get attacked since it's such an effective damage sponge, but the Knight's aura basically shut that function down. The wolf should almost always go off to establish a "second front" to attract the rest of the party to a focus-fire bonanza, with the Sentinel either joining it or helping the defender. It's hard to judge with a solitaire experience, but I found that the Sentinel itself didn't get attacked all that much. Obviously they want the pet to take the brunt of attacks, but early to mid encounter it's beneficial give the companion free HP via second wind before it's knocked out. The Sentinel just never took enough damage to justify using a second wind. Perhaps he was hanging around the Knight too much.

I can see new players possibly being unsatisfied with the Sentinel, because it's difficult to appreciate how the companion prevents damage. I also found myself spamming Tending Strike most of the time, and it got to the point where the encounter didn't seem all that dangerous between monsters having to chew through THP and wasting attacks on the companion and summon. Effective, yes, but in a very passive way. In two higher level encounters (with one party member short, no less) I actually only used one Healing Word. I'm guessing that this subtle defense was a major motivating factor for the developers locking this guy into Combined Attack. I must admit it was nice respite from all of that damage prevention. Too bad I missed with the initial attack 3 out of 4 uses of it (at least the wolf always got to hit!).

Overall, the wolf's aura was pretty amazing. There was not a single round in 2 encounters that the Predator and Scout lacked for CA (it also helped that both had Cunning Stalker). The lockdown synergy with Summon Pack Wolf worked brilliantly, and I was almost sad when the monster was finally killed.

Scout: Ever since the first PHB I've wanted a Dex-based melee ranger, though the real disappointment had always been that Twin Strike spamming was so gosh-darn boring. Finally, my wishes have come true, and it doesn't disappoint! Between the Wolf's aura and Cunning Stalker this guy could pretty much do whatever he wanted and count on having CA for it (same goes for the Predator Druid, who had never gotten so much use out of Claw Gloves!). My Aspects were Lurking Spider and Cunning Fox, which was a very fun combination. Can't beat Lurking Spider for straight damage and nova rounds, but I found myself mostly sticking with Cunning Fox. Never have hit and run tactics been so easy and fluid to employ. Let me tell you, Scouts absolutely thrive in parties with a good controller that liberally applies immobilized/restrained/dazed/prone. Speaking of which, World Serpent's Grasp turned the Predator Druid into an absolute beast, especially with the Knight constantly slowing with Defend the Line. Probably another reason why these encounters seemed like cakewalks :)

Scouts may not pack the nova punch of their Two-Blade Style cousins, but they're not too shabby. I picked up the Rogue M/C feat for an encounter use of sneak attack (I literally always have CA, and use a rapier + short sword, so it's kind of a no-brainer). My nova round typically involved charging a lone enemy or an enemy in the wolf's aura (with a vanguard rapier). I'd be in the Lurking Spider stance for the extra damage, and I'd blow a Sneak Attack and a Power Strike, then follow up with a Dual Weapon Strike. Bazinga! Between charging, CA, and using light blades accuracy was not even remotely an issue.

I'm usually not the biggest fan of strikers, and the ones I do like tend to be good secondary controllers (Monks, Rogues, and Warlocks). But skirmishing around with the Scout was a blast! It's certainly not as tactically engaging as a controller or leader, but between bouncing around everywhere and juggling stances there's enough there to keep you entertained. Plus I love the Ranger archetype, so it's nice to finally have my vision of the class realized mechanically.

Looking forward to logging some more time with these guys, particularly some more challenging encounters.