Level Up — Episode #14: Battle Clerics, Simple Characters, and Rhythm Shields

In this episode, we discuss a recent article posted on the D&D website by Mike Mearls where he talks about how to design classes that are simple enough so that people don’t get overwhelmed by the character creation process, but also have enough complexity for more advanced players.

We also talk about some interesting new options for Strength-based clerics in an article published last month.

Finally, in the magic item segment, Benoit talks about the awesomeness that is Rhythm Blade Spiked Shields.

As always, we want your feedback!  Leave a comment below, email us at podcast@rovingbandofmisfits.com, or send a tweet to Benoit or Hamblin.

Level Up logo by Wesley K. Hall. Music by pornophonique and is available for free under the Creative Commons license.
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6 Responses to Level Up — Episode #14: Battle Clerics, Simple Characters, and Rhythm Shields

  1. Pingback: New Cleric Options | Roving Band of Misfits

  2. Aaron says:

    1. The ‘trip fighter’ from 3 was a totally broken mess that worked off of the principle that you could make OA trip attacks at anything in your reach (with a polearm). I can honestly say I’d rather not ever see such a build in 4.

    There’s no reason at all to need a chain of feats that makes you good at knocking people prone, because that option already exists. All you have to do it find a way to make attacks that knock the target prone – usually via powers and a helpful feat or two. If you want to get better at it, raise your attack bonus.

    The Fighter (Knight) can take a stance that slows on hit with an MBA, and you can take a feat (World Serpent’s Grasp) that causes you to prone any target that is slowed… it takes a single turn to set up, but once you start hitting the creature you’re targeting, it’s going to stay slowed (and prone) until it dies. Seems to me like a remarkably easy ‘trip fighter’ gimmick, without having to add a whole bunch of extra clutter to the feat pool. For extra fun, combine with Headsman’s Chop.

    2. Feat trees from 3 frankly just shouldn’t exist in 4, as feats don’t serve the same purpose mechanically. In 3, feats like those were rarely just bonuses to how a character performed certain actions, with the capstone feats to the trees / chains giving completely new attacks / build-defining options. In 4, feats simply don’t do this – that kind mechanical interaction / defining ability is reserved for class features and powers.

    3. You seem awfully excited about the Rhythm Blade Spiked Shield, but the only two classes that would actually care at all about the combo out of the box are the Runepriest and the Warlord, since they both tend to be melee-range leaders. Every other class that cares enough about their AC to want to eat into their magic item ‘most wanted’ list can already just take a heavy shield instead.

    Any shield-using defender who really wants to get rid of their skill check penalty is far better off taking Shield Finesse, so they can leave their arm / shield slot open for a much better magic item.

    I suppose that someone playing a class that does not get any shield proficiencies by default, and who has the 13 Str requirement could feat into proficiency with light shields, then get the item to effectively make their light shield into a heavy shield. That said, I can’t think of any class off the top of my head where that seems like the best place to spend a feat.

    For classes that have easy access to Two-Weapon Defense or that have a good reason to throw feats at it, and who don’t actually use their off-hand weapon to make attacks – both the Rogue and the Assassin (Executioner) come to mind here – the Rhythm blade is a remarkably good choice.

    4. For presenting characters that have fewer choices, I think the most efficient and effective way to go about it would be to add a few notes in each class entry with a few suggested options depending on what sounds cool or interesting to the player. This is how I present information to new players at my D&D Encounters games – once they get to a point where there are options to choose from, I ask them what they want to do conceptually between a few different things, then suggest the feats or powers that work toward that style of play.

    Adding list of fixed choices to each class (a level-by-level pregen, effectively) removes the overhead, but it doesn’t help to teach a new player about making choices for their character, so that seems like a lost opportunity to me.

    5. Staff Expertise really isn’t as amazing as you think it is.

    First, of course it has two effects – it has to double as both a weapon expertise feat and an implement expertise feat, and I can’t think of any class / build that would give a damn about having both reach with a staff and not provoking when using ranged or area attacks through it as an implement. Anyone who takes this feat is taking it for only one of its functions – or two if you count the attack bonus.

    Second, not provoking OAs with ranged / area attacks is fine and dandy, but if the rest of your party is doing their job and / or your movement isn’t shut down entirely, it’s often trivial to simply reposition yourself each turn to not provoke anyway. Alternately, everyone who uses a Staff as an implement has access to (good) close attacks, so not being able to leave threatened space isn’t really a huge issue either.

    Third, reach with a mediocre simple weapon is really not impressive – sure, it’s a nice bonus and it goes great with the new Battle Cleric (or the Eldarin Knight) obviously, but it’s not even remotely so impressive that it’s any more of a ‘must take’ feat than any of the other Expertise feats (and for Wizards and Psions in particular, I personally find Orb Expertise to be far, far more impressive).

    • James Hamblin says:

      1 & 2. I agree that a lot of the functionality that used to be in feats in 3rd edition has shifted into the encounter powers in 4th edition. The downside of this is that the best feats tend to be the ones that give you static bonuses: Expertise, Dual Implement Mastery, Backstabber, etc. Tripping was just an example of the kind of mechanic you could introduce. And your example isn’t really the kind of thing I was talking about. I’d be more interested in a feat that gave me some kind of interesting choice or option on my turn (like the old Power Attack, for example), where perhaps I can trade off some hit bonus or defenses in order to gain an extra effect.

      3. Getting rid of the armor check bonus on your shield without taking a feat seems pretty good for any class that would otherwise use a heavy shield. Being able to use your off-hand for climbing or holding items can also be useful. In addition, the spiked shield is a weapon, so you could still have a magic item in your arms slot.

      4. The point I think Benoit was trying to make was that some players don’t want to worry about those choices. I think as players who are invested in the character building process, we tend to think that we are “cheating” that person out of the opportunity to learn about that process. However, some people just want to sit down and play.

      5. In the podcast I mentioned two of my characters that use staffs as weapons and implements: my warlock (with Eldritch Strike) and my cleric (multiclass sorcerer). Not provoking is pretty important if you want to get combat advantage from flanking, and I hear +2 to hit is pretty good. Even more so, for warlocks, getting flank *and* prime shot without the fear of getting attacked is especially good. And, sure, extra reach isn’t great, but if you add up *all* the things Staff Expertise does, it is far and away better than any other Expertise feat. Orb Expertise (+1 square on push/pull/slide) doesn’t even seem to be in the same league.

  3. Aaron says:

    I think the design space for what you’re looking for from feats already exists in the form of either (a) style feats that could be made to give something more interesting than small conditional bonuses, or (b) a new subset of feats or themes that give a stance power. A new set of stance powers that adds optional give/take choices in combat would be rather cool, actually. The key would be making them generalist enough that they work with multiple powers without taking a half-page or more to make them function.

    Come to think of it, using themes seems to be the perfect go-to mechanic for something like this, as they often include a singe granted power, as well as a number of power swap options as you level. Using themes as the medium for a set of mechanics like this also seems to be a perfect match conceptually… a Fighter (Weaponmaster) class with the ‘Polearm Expert’ theme (maybe including a capstone power swap that gives threatening reach) would be just one example.

    Also, it’s worth noting that there are already a couple of feats like this. Power Attack still exists, and and Enlarge Spell (though sadly restricted to Wizards) functions in a similar way, allowing you to take a penalty to damage in exchange for an increased area of effect.

    There are certainly those who don’t ever want to even think about the mechanical choices that go into their characters, that’s true. I guess that after so much time spent trying to help get people into the hobby, I often try to bend even the least interested of prospective players into learning as they go – even if they don’t know they’re learning at the time.

    Note that when I say simple questions and concepts, I mean they can be very, very simple. Something like “Do you want to do more damage, or be harder to kill?”, or “Do you want to shoot fire, or ice?” is usually quite palatable, even for the least interested of players (in my experience).

    Using the ability to not provoke in order to gain CA at point-blank range is an interesting option… one that I must admit I hadn’t considered. Then again, I’d usually rather not be adjacent to enemies in the first place with characters who want to avoid OAs while using a staff as an implement. Gaining CA on an attack is a very nice bonus, but wading into territory where I am just as likely to be flanked in response doesn’t hold a lot of appeal. When playing a non-Druid controller, I’m a coward, I guess 🙂

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree on the relative merits of Orb vs. Staff Expertise. for me, the two classes that start with the ability to use an Orb (Psion and Wizard) I would almost always lean toward more control via forced movement distance rather than not provoking. I can use tactical movement and teamwork to avoid provoking an OA, but I can’t get extra forced movement just by being clever.

    • James Hamblin says:

      If you don’t value combat advantage, then it makes sense that you wouldn’t value Staff Expertise. I tend to play aggressively since playing that way tends to result in shorter, more successful encounters.

      • Aaron says:

        Oh, I do value CA – I just don’t value it at the risk of getting hosed for it. At least, not without a reliable interrupt or something to get me out of trouble.

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