Friday, October 16, 2009

Level 4 Terrors

Continuing the trip through Heroic tier, it’s the enemies of Level 4 that can harass your party. These are the monsters that are the highest that should reasonably threaten a level 1 party, so I’ve included a pair of “boss” type monsters in this article

Cavern Choker

These lurkers are oldies but goodies. They’ve been around a while, and are as robust as ever. They’re basically the monster version of defenders, able to suck up a party member who will have a tough go of things if he isn’t trained in Athletics or Acrobatics, since the Choker applies an inherent penalty to escape, and his Body Shield ability can keep the other characters from knocking him away once he’s latched on.
His actual attacks aren’t that scary, damage-wise, but Ongoing 1d8+3 and restrained isn’t anything to sneeze at. At the beginning of the encounter, these guys should probably roll Stealth against the party’s passive perception and only scramble out to snatch a delicious-looking adventurer in the second or third round. You can safely add a Choker as the “sixth member” of basically any other encounter; they don’t really work or socialize with non-Chokers, but they’re opportunistic enough to follow around goblins and pick off an enemy for themselves. Cavern Chokers appear on page 42 of Monster Manual 1, and in most low-level Wizards’ nightmares.

Visejaw Crocodile

With a big ol’ smile like he sports, you’d think he’d be nicer. Crocs are a great verisimilitude creature that aren’t fantastical or magical, but can be plenty terrifying just the same. If there’s a river or lake that needs crossing (or a wizened sage’s hut in the swamp), Visejaws can make an interesting encounter. They’re soldiers, and will stay in their square doing a death roll on a grabbed foe (Clamping Jaws in the book, but you should definitely play up the raw power of a giant crocodile with their real-world habits), but can easily shift into the role of Lurker, with their outstanding Stealth score. Similar to the Choker above, they make a great “latecomer to the fun,” but they have no problem starting in plain sight, as long as there’s a few feet of muck they can make a move action and Stealth check at the end of it.
They can’t really be paired with other tasty (to a croc) creatures like Bullywugs, but a group of undead or Myconids would certainly be appropriate. Take advantage of their swim speed and aquatic combat rules to give the croc an edge, and also let a tactical opponent get the crocodile on land where a striker can tear it apart. Visejaw Crocodiles appear on page 45 of Monster Manual 1.

Barghest Savager

These guys are neat. They’re smart (for goblinoids) and have several tricks up their sleeves, or paws depending. They stand in for werewolves if you need some level-appropriate shapeshifters for your campaign’s theme, they’re likely to banter with the party as they attack, with condescending trash-talk while they swing around an axe,and then switch into their wolf form to try and strike fear into the party. Their recharging Super-Nimble-Strike attack is powerful, but their “Power Feed” is what takes the cake.
The Barghest, if he sees a cool At-Will or Encounter power from the party (or a unique ally), can replicate it once (and the power’s reliable), and the idea of a worg throwing a Magic Missile or dropping a Drow’s Faerie Fire should entertain you. Mixed in with your normal goblin hordes, Barghests become the ringleaders or mob bosses of pretty much any bandit group. A Barghest, by nature of his cunning and supremacy over his goblinoid kin, could easily be a miniboss-type antagonist, running away and leaving his men to the party’s mercy to raise another strike force – or team with a higher-powered group of Duergar or Ettercaps or what have you and lead them back to the party and their riches. Barghest Savagers are on page 20 of Monster Manual 2.

Brain in a Broken Jar

Despite first appearing in d20 Modern’s Menace Manual, the trusty undead brain in a jar escaped to a good game, and shows up in 4th Edition on page 140 of Open Grave. The great thing is a Brain in a Jar can either be a really sinister, unsettling enemy, or a hilarious joke machine, depending on the style of campaign you’re running. The jar is described as faulty or failing, and its occupant has gone quite insane, though whether that’s Futurama-style goofy flying brains or sadistic, Lovecraftian-cultist crazy is up to you. They’re controllers with flight, invisibility and mind control, and are one of the lowest-level monsters that feature the dominated condition. Take advantage of their hover modifier and float a Brain in a Broken Jar 2-4 squares above the party (use an adjacent d6 on the battlemat to keep track of elevation), and let the rogue make an Acrobatics check to wall-jump (or get an assist from the fighter) to stab at it for a memorable, cinematic fight. The Brain in a Broken Jar usually has a servant with hands to manipulate its admixtures, experiments and tomes, so think about throwing in an elite brute along with some cannon fodder skeletons when designing the climactic battle with “the wizard too poor or unskilled to perform a lich ritual.”

Monday, April 27, 2009

I Bought Player's Handbook 2 and All I Got Was This Lousy Spirit Companion

I have mentioned it already, but I will preface this guide by saying that Shamans are hands down the most complicated class to utilize in the entire game. However, they are also extremely useful, very versatile, and a hell of a lot of fun to play.

But What Do They Do?

Shamans are the Primal Power Source's Leader. They can heal like most leaders, but in a different way. They're main feature though is their Spirit Companion. While your Spirit Companion's appearance is up to you, it is essentially a pet in game terms, however it works totally different from the Beastmaster Ranger's pet, or the Invoker's summoned angels. You make the majority of your attacks through the spirit, determining line of sight and line of effect from it. Many of the Shaman's powers have ranges like "Melee Spirit 1" meaning that you can use it to attack any creature adjacent to your Spirit Companion.

You summon your companion with a minor action and you can place it anywhere within 20 squares of you. It occupies a square and enemies can't move through its space, though your allies can. When you take a move action, you can also move the spirit a number of squares equal to your speed. This means that the spirit companion doesn't shift, it only moves. The spirit can be attacked though it doesn't have hit points. If a single attack deals 10 plus one half your level or more, it dies and you take damage equal to 5 plus one half your level, otherwise the spirit is unaffected. You can summon the spirit again as soon as you have another minor action though, so its not too much a penalty, and the spirit is usually pretty good at sustaining enemy attacks. The Spirit Companion has additional powers but I'll get to those in the following sections. Learning how to position your spirit companion, is key to utilizing this class to its utmost.

Shamans have a twice per encounter heal, much like the other leaders though theirs works differnetly. Its called Healing Spirit and the range is Close Burst 5 and it heals one target in the burst by letting them spend a healing surge. It also gives 1d6 extra hit points to a separate ally adjacent to your spirit companion though, and these extra hit points go up as you level. While this makes them less competent as single target healers, it merely means you have to change how you think of healing. Try to keep your allies topped off as much as possible, and utilize the d6's because they don't use up healing surges, which is always a bonus. Shamans work especially well in groups where there are multiple defenders or melee characters, so you can heal two at a time, and there isn't only one tank character taking all the damage.

Shaman's also get a power called Speak with Spirits. Its a minor action that gives you a bonus to your next skill check equal to your wisdom modifier. This is excellent for Skill Challenges or encounters where you really need to make an athletics or acrobatics check to clear a pit or escape a grab.

Prorector or Stalker?

As usual you have a choice on first level as to which kind of Shaman you want to be. Protector Shamans have a slight edge in healing, and have some defender-like abilities to better make use of your Spirit Companion as an off-tank, while Stalker Shamans have more damage and debuffs, and can help make up for a missing striker in your group. Each choice gives you an innate class feature, a special at-will opportunity action power, and chooses one of your two at-will powers for you. Both have their merits and challenges, so I'll go over each.

If you choose a Protector Spirit, you gain a Spirit Boon, which means that any ally adjacent to your spirit companion regains additional hit points equal to your Constitution modifier when they use second wind or when you use a healing power on him or her. This can be extremely useful for really upping the ante with your healing, especially if there's some dwarves in the party, since they are more apt to use their second wind every encounter. This, like many of your powers does rely on positioning quite a bit though. You also gain the Spirit's Shield power which triggers when an enemy leaves a square adjacent to your spirit companion without shifting. The attack is against Reflex, and only deals your Wisdom modifier in damage, but one ally within 4 squares of your Spirit Companion also regains hit points equal to your Wisdom modifier. This again gives you more small heals that don't use up healing surges, so make use of them as often as you can. Force enemies to either provoke this attack and heal your allies or attack the spirit companion, likely doing nothing. The power is an opportunity action, not an immediate, so you can make use of it against multiple enemies in the same round. This obviously requires your teammates to cooperate with their positioning as well, but 5 squares from the spirit companion is a pretty easy position to maintain. You also get one of your at-wills chosen automatically, which is Protecting Strike. This power is a Melee Spirit 1 attack that target's Will. It deals 1d8+Wisdom modifier and gives each ally adjacent to your spirit companion temporary hit points equal to your Constitution modifier. When used correctly this can give your whole team a nice hit point buffer at all times, allowing you to stretch your heals farther and rely on them less.

Stalker Shamans get a different Spirit Boon, which gives allies adjacent to your Spirit Companion a bonus to damage rolls against bloodied enemies equal to your Intelligence modifier. This can be nice, but since it only works against enemies already boodied, and with how you position your spirit is likely only going to affect the melee characters, it definitely seems less useful than the Protector Spirit Boon. However, you also get other abilities, like Spirit's Fangs rather than Spirit's Shield. Spirit's Fangs is essentially an opportunity attack for your pet. It attacks Reflex and deals 1d10 plus your Wisdom modifier damage. You set this up similar to how you would Spirit's Shield and deal a decent sized chunk of damage if the enemy doesn't attack your pet or sacrifice its standard for a second move action. Stalker's Strike is the at-will you automatically get and it is a Melee Spirit 1 power that targets Fortitude. If the target is bloodied you get a bonus equal to half your intelligence modifier which is nice, but it also allows your spirit companion to flank with you and your allies until the end of your next turn, helping rogues get combat advantage and boosting accuracy for anyone who can position themselves. For a melee striker-heavy party, this power can be your bread and butter.

Ability Scores

Just like an Invoker all of your attacks use Wisdom, and your secondary score will be either Intelligence or Constitution, depending on the build. Stalker Spirit Shamans will use Intelligence, while Protector Spirit Shamans will use Constitution. Your next ability score should probably be Dexterity for Protectors and Constitution for Stalkers to help boost your weakest defense and also to give you either a few extra hit points and surges, or some better armor class, since a lot of your ranged abilities only go 5 squares. You could buy an 18 in your main ability score with this class, much like Invokers or Druids, but its not as much of a no-brainer in my opinion, as the tertiary score can be very useful, and you might want to multiclass for some powers or feats later.

Race Choices

Just like with Invokers the ideal ability score races are Dwarves and Devas, but also like Invokers, Humans are my favorite and for the same reason. After you take your at-will associated with your Spirit Companion choice, there are still 4 left, and normally you only get to pick one of them. With a human you don't have to, plus there's all the great human feats to choose from. Also, neither Dwarves or Devas seem inherently like Shaman races to me flavor-wise, as where a wild barbaric Human seems to fit better.

Other than those options the Player's Handbook also has Elves as an option, since they get a Wisdom bonus, and Eladrin since they get an Intelligence bonus can make good Stalkers. Tieflings, Halflings, and Dragonborn all don't have the right ability scores to be really good shamans, but Half-Elves have a Constitution Bonus and can help control the battlefield by taking a Druid power with their Dilettante feature, while still qualifying for the good Human feats.

Genasi are the only race from the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide that are well suited for Shamans, and then only for Stalkers, and though the added mobility or panic button you get with several of your Elemental Manifestation powers is nice, its not a huge bonus.

Goliaths and both varieties of Shifters work well as Shamans if you're looking in the Player's Handbook 2, and a Goliath Protector Shaman seems like a cool character to play, defending his tribe from the evils of the mortal world and the world of spirits.


You have a good array of skills as a Shaman, and gain Nature automatically, which you will be fairly good at with your high Wisdom. Also keyed off your primary ability are Heal, Insight, and Perception, which would work well to round out your character. With the Speak with Spirits power you don't have to worry about having a really high bonus with a trained skill though, so any of the powers will work.

You get three to choose from, and Athletics might be a good choice since Acrobatics isn't an option, but Endurance could also be a useful skill. If you want to be more knowledge-skill based, History and Religion are both options, and you'll have a good bonus in them if you went Stalker Spirit build too.


As always, Implement Expertise. All of your powers use an Implement, so there is really no excuse not to take this feat at some point. After that though, there really aren't any must-have offensive feats, at least until Primal Power comes out, but we'll be waiting awhile for that.

For Defensive feats Toughness and Defensive Mobility can be really helpful, as they can on most characters. Defensive Mobility will be nice since your Spirit Companion uses your defenses and it can't shift, allowing you to make it less likely to take opportunity attacks that could kill it and throw a wrench into your plans for the turn. However, at low levels its hard for enemies to deal enough damage to kill your pet, so I'd consider waiting on it for a few levels.

Improved Initiative can be a good feat as well, allowing you to summon your pet into an inconvenient position for the enemies before they can even act, and drawing some fire away from members in your group who didn't roll good initiative. Skill Training can combine with your Speak With Spirits power to make you really useful in skill challenges, and Skill Focus can be added to make this even more ridiculous. Jack Of All Trades works along the same lines, and might be even more beneficial, especially at lower levels and DCs.

Shaman feats are pretty good overall, with two general feats and then one for each build. Shared Healing Spirit is good if you have a hard time positioning your Spirit Companion to maximize your heals. It allows you to give the extra d6's to an ally within two squares of the first target, rather than someone adjacent to your pet. Even if you don't think you need it, the added versatility it gives Healing Spirit is nice. Spirit Speaker allows you to use Speak With Spirits to give an ally the bonus instead of yourself which can be helpful when letting them escape a grab or jump a pit, but you can probably skip the feat unless you find yourself fighting a lot of enemies that grab you or you end up jumping a lot of hazards, or if your DM really loves skill challenges.

Stalker Shamans have a feat called Stalker Spirit Adept which allows allies to shift 1 square as a free action at the start of their turns if they are next to the Stalker Shaman. This can be nice, but it does make it so they are no longer adjacent to the Shaman for many of his powers that effect allies adjacent to it. Protector Shamans get Protector Spirit Adept which gives all allies adjacent to the spirit a +1 bonus to Fortitude, Reflex, and Will, which is really very useful and I would recommend every Protector Shaman take this feat, preferably as soon as you can manage.

Power Selection

Since I have already discussed Protecting Strike and Stalker's Strike we will skip those, but there are four other At-Will powers for you to choose from. The first is Defending Strike, which is a Melee Spirit 1 power that deals 1d8 plus Wisdom modifier on a hit and also gives you and all allies a +1 bonus to AC as long as they are next to the Spirit Companion. The bonus lasts until the end of your next turn. This is a useful power, but I think you have better options, and if you're a Protector build you already have a good defensive ability with Protecting Strike.

Haunting Spirits is one of two non Spirit-based powers and it targets Will defense at a range of 5. It deals 1d6+Wisdom modifier damage and the target grants combat advantage to an ally of your choice. This can really help if you have a Rogue in the party, or it can help a Warlock, Wizard, or Invoker land a much needed debuff on a certain enemy.

Watcher's Strike is another melee Spirit 1 power and it targets Reflex. If it hits, in addition to a small amount of damage, it gives you allies +1 to attacks and +5 to Perception while they are adjacent to your Spirit Companion. The bonus lasts until the end of your next turn, and can really help if your Spirit Companion and your allies are ganging up on an elite or solo monster.

The last At-Will power is called Wrath of Winter, and it is a ranged 5 implement attack that deals 1d10 plus your Wisdom modifier cold damage, and in addition it allows you to teleport your Spirit Companion to a space adjacent to the target. This can be very useful if you are afraid of provoking opportunity attacks with your pet, or if you can't spend a move action this turn and need to move your pet, plus it is one of your more damaging power.

Your first option for a level one encounter power is Call to the Ancestral Warrior. Its range is Melee spirit 1, and if it hits it gives you and your allies a +2 bonus to all defenses while next to the spirit until the end of your next turn. A really great defensive ability as long as your allies are positioned well, take it if you see a lot of opportunity for it in your encounters, otherwise you can choose a different power.

Call to the Ancient Defender has the same range, though it deals 2d8 damage instead of 1d10. However, its bonus is +5 to defenses against opportunity attacks while adjacent to the spirit, and it's hard to think that will be as useful as a flat +2 to all defenses flat out since your characters aren't going to provoke many opportunity attacks while standing next to the spirit itself.

Thunder Bear's Warding is a ranged 5 implement attack that gives you and your allies resistance to all damage equal to your constitution modifier until the end of your next turn as long as they are adjacent to the spirit companion. If you chose Protector Spirit it also lets you grant yourself or an ally within 5 squares of you temporary hit points equal to your Constitution modifier. I like this ability a lot, and it can really mitigate damage from monsters like Dragons that have powerful area attacks. Those are the type of attacks that defenders can't often do anything about, so this is one of my favorite options of the bunch, and the bonus for Protector Shamans is just icing on the cake.

Twin Panthers is another range 5 implement attack, and if you chose Stalker Spirit you gain a bonus on the attack roll against a bloodied enemy equal to your Intelligence modifier. This is a recurring theme for Stalker Shamans and it makes them very good at finishing off enemies so that your Strikers can move on to the next targets. If you hit with this power you and your allies have combat advantage when making melee attacks against any enemy adjacent to your spirit companion, and as an effect you get to repeat the attack against the same target or a different one, really amplifying your allies offensive capabilities for a round. A solid pick, especially for Stalker Shamans.

Blessing of the Seven Winds is the first of the level 1 daily powers, and it is a range 5 implement attack. Most daily powers don't use the spirit for their range, though they are often figured into the effect. This ability though is an exception, it deals 2d10 plus your Widom modifier damage and allows you to slide the target two squares. If you miss it still deals half damage and as an effect it creates a zone in burst 1 centered on the target. The zone lasts until the end of the encounter and as a move action you can move it five squares. As a minor action you can slide each creature in the zone one square. This can really help positioning and change the way the battle is going since its effect sticks around annoying your enemy and wrecking his plans while simultaneously aiding your own.

Cleansing Wind of the North may involve less winds, but its still a great power. Its a close blast 5 that only hits enemies and deals 1d10 plus your Wisdom modifier cold damage, half on a miss. The best part though is that all allies in the area can make a saving throw with a +5 power bonus, which will definitely help shake off unwanted status effects. With powers this good its hard to pick a favorite, but this might be it as far as level 1 Shaman daily powers go.

Spirit of the Healing Flood is a close burst 5 attack that deals 1d8 plus Wisdom modifier, and again, half on a miss. Its effect gives every ally in the burst regeneration 2 while bloodied, and as a minor action a character can end the effect to regain 10 hit points. It is an excellent group heal, and gives characters who don't have a lot of minor action powers something to do with it.

The last of the bunch is Wrath of the Spirit World and its a close burst 2 that targets enemies, though it also hits all enemies adjacent to your Spirit Companion, allowing you to hit a large number of targets with a little forethought. It attacks Will, as an extra bonus, and deals 3d6 plus Wisdom modifier damage and knocks the targets Prone, and still deals half damage if you miss a target. If you want to play an offensive Shaman this might be your best choice, dealing decent damage, hindering your foes, and hitting a lot of targets, just don't be surprised if it attracts a fair bit of monster attention to your character.

Once you hit level 2 you can choose a utility power, the first of these options is Bonds of the Clan. Its an immediate interrupt triggered when an ally within 10 squares of you takes damage, and it allows you to take half of the damage for them. Its usable every encounter which is nice, but Shamans don't really have a huge pool of hit points, and aren't exactly out of harm's way with their short ranged powers, so I wouldn't recommend using it unless you need to save someone's life and keep them conscious or alive for another round.

Spirit Call is a minor action that allows you to move all your shaman conjurations and zones in a close burst 10 five squares. While it is an encounter power, I can't see it being used that often since you don't have that many bursts or conjurations, and many of them have their own ways to move them.

Spirit of Life is a daily power that targets a single ally, and lets them regain hit points as if they had gained a healing surge. It's close burst 10 making it nicely ranged, and can even heal someone who's out of surges so I'd say its a great power. If your group is low on healing, I think this is probably your best bet.

The last option is Spirits of Battle, which creates a burst 5 area zone within 10 squares. The zone lasts until the end of the encounter and gives allies within it a +1 bonus to attack rolls. The zone is nice and big, and gives your allies room to move around within, which is nice, its only too bad its a daily power. Break it out against big scary solo monsters or powerful elites and you'll be giving all your allies a welcome buff.


I wouldn't. I don't see a lot of mechanical reasons to do so. Shamans are so versatile that there's not a lot to gain from another class unless you want one of their Paragon Paths. The obvious choices in this instance would be Cleric, Invoker, and Druid since they all use Wisdom to attack with, and use implements as opposed to weapons. Regardless Shaman powers have such a variety of effects that I can't imagine getting bored with them and needing another classes powers.

Combat Strategies

Positioning and Teamwork are required to make use of a Shaman. If your team does not work together, you may as well roll a different type of leader because playing this class will quickly become an exercise in frustration in a party like that. However, if your team can work together, all of the little bonuses your pet can give will add up and your teammates will quickly realize your worth and start to work with you.

Don't be afraid to take hits with your Spirit Companion, he's resilient, and even if he dies, the damage is likely less than you would have taken if the attack hit you directly. Besides, you can summon him again next round and perhaps even put him in a more advantageous position than he was in. So if you can, block off passages with him and force enemies to waste their attacks. This brings me to another strategy.

If you can position your pet within a group of minions, you have a very powerful strategy. Not only is your pet essentially invincible to the minions, he also gets an opportunity attack than can kill them if the minions realize this and move away. This makes Shamans a great anti-minion class. On the same tip, summon them next to archers so you can force them to shift back until they are up against a wall and provoking opportunity attacks if you can. Your spirit probably won't be helping a lot of your allies this way, but its still effective.

Forget about big heals and waiting for your allies to be seriously injured to heal them. You have lots of little heals and temporary hit point givers, and you should make use of them early and often. Since they don't use healing surges, there's really no reason not to.

The Shaman is a complicated class and it will take some time to learn how to position your pet optimally within the context of your group. Try to anticipate enemies movements when you summon him, so that you don't have to risk moving him, or have to use Wrath of Winter to teleport him when a daily or encounter power would be more effective otherwise.

And that's that, two guides in two nights.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Invokers: They're Like Really Angry Clerics

So, we've worked our way through half of the Player's Handbook 2 classes, and posting on the board has slowed down a bit which I do apologize for but I have a new job and it is taking time away from writing these unfortunately. The pace will pick back up a bit.

However, we press onward. There will be a change in the format for this guide from my previous ones. I have shortened the race section as I feel like a full paragraph is more than what is necessary, and I feel like I'm saying the same things over and over again for each race, so they will be shortened to merely a couple paragraphs. Everything else will be just as in-depth as before.

So what exactly are we invoking?

To be honest, the flavor of Invokers confuses me a little. I assume they are kind of like Favored Souls from 3.5, in that they are less about being really devoted to their god and being granted power in return, and are instead just innately capable of calling down divine badassery. Kind of like the difference between sorcerers and wizards, but on a divine tip instead of an arcane one.

Invokers are a controller, and play very similar to orb wizards, but have just enough differences to give them their own flavor. They are also the first instance of summoning, and they can summon a variety of angels into battle over the course of their levels. They also have a lot of very large area attacks that don't deal damage but give a lot of enemies a status effect which can be very useful. They also have a few good utility buffs to aid allies and can wear chainmail so they can have a decent AC without having to work it into their ability scores.

Regardless of build you get a Channel Divinity power called Rebuke Undead that is much like the cleric's Turn Undead, except its a Close Blast 5 and dazes them. It is very useful in undead-centric campaigns, but you probably want another use of Channel Divinity that you find useful for encounters that don't include such enemies.

Preservation or Wrath

As an invoker you get to choose between two covenants. Each covenant comes with a different channel divinity power, an innate class feature, and affects the way many powers work for you.

The covenant of preservation is the way you probably want to go if you want to really help your allies make the most of positioning and provide them with a some useful buffs. Whenever you use an encounter or daily power you can slide an ally within ten squares of you one square. This allows you to slide enemies into flanking positions for your allies, or remove your allies from the same type of positions, as well as help an Avenger keep his oath of enmity, or move allies out of a Sorcerer's area attacks. You also get a channel divinity power called Preserver's Rebuke which allows you to gain an attack roll bonus equal to your Intelligence modifier against an enemy who attacks an ally of yours, as long as that enemy is within 10 squares as an immediate reaction to the ally being hit. This is a very good power, and can help you land daily powers when you need them the most, and is really great against solo monsters who are often harder to hit, but who need to be dazed/stunned/immobilized the most.

The covenant of wrath is for the more offensive minded Invoker. The abilities are all about punishing your enemies, and they often deal more damage and are more about deterring the bad guys than aiding the good guys. Whenever you use an encounter or daily power you add 1 to the damage roll for each target of the power. This is a neat bonus on low levels when a few extra damage can mean the difference between whether or not an enemy gets to attack for another round, but on higher levels it doesn't scale well since you probably won't be hitting that many more targets with each power. Covenant of wrath also grants you the Channel Divinity power Armor of Wrath which is an immediate reaction you use when an enemy within 5 squares hits you. It deals radiant damage equal to your constitution to them, and pushes them two squares, which can allow you for an easier getaway. Its a pretty good power and can be improved with feats, but I think that Preserver's Rebuke is better overall. Luckily, Wrath gives some really sweet bonuses to your powers, adding pushes, extra damage, and penalizing saving throws.

Ability Scores

All of your attacks use Wisdom, so that is going to be where you want most of your points. If you are a Preserving Invoker you want to prioritize Intelligence next, while if you're a Wrathful Invoker you will want to prioritize Constitution. These key abilities come into play with many of their powers, improving them in various ways.

After that you can up Dexterity or Constitution depending on your build, to raise your weakest defense, but to be honest, there's little reason in my mind not to just buy an 18 in wisdom, a 14 in your secondary ability score and just not care about the rest. This might change when Divine Power comes out and gives us more feats, but as of now, I would probably go all out in those two scores unless I had a multiclass build in mind and I needed another ability score for it.

Race Choices

As far as ability scores go Devas make the ideal Covenant of Preservation Invokers, while Dwarves make the ideal Covenant of Wrath Invokers. Both have universally useful racial capabilities as well, so if you want an easy race choice, you can't go wrong with either of them. However, my favorite race for the class is Human, so that you can grab a third at-will, raise your defenses, and get an extra feat. This class really benefits from having a third at-will since they have quite a few good ones that are useful in different situations.

Elves make good and mobile Invokers of any type, and being able to shift over difficult terrain makes it harder for an enemy to pin them down. Eladrin make decent Preserving Invokers, and can teleport out of dangerous situations to much the same effect. Half-Elves make good Wrathful Invokers, and can use their dilettante power to grab Sacred Flame from the clerics to help give saving throws to their allies, or Lance of Faith to give their allies an attack boost. Tieflings are the last race from Player's Handbook One that really make sense for Invokers, and only as Preserving ones, but their racial abilities work fine for the class, helping them lock down bloodied enemies, and aiding against a foe that manages to hit them.

Genasi have the intelligence to make good preserving Invokers, and can take Earthsoul or Firesoul as their manifestation to punish enemies that get too close, or take Windsoul or Watersoul to become more mobile.

Gnomes make good Preserving Invokers, and have a good defensive power like many of the races cut out for the job, and Goliaths can be okay as Wrathful Invokers though other than the constitution bonus they don't get a lot to help with the job. Both kinds of Shifters get a Wisdom bonus, so both are capable as Invokers of any type, and both have a decent racial power that works for just about any class, so it applies here.


You get Religion automatically and then three others. Only one of these is keyed to Wisdom, and that's Insight so you might as well take it. It could be fun to call out NPCs on their lies with the vengeful tone of a fire and brimstone preacher after all. After that it might depend on your character, if you're a Wrath build you could take Endurance since you'd have a decent bonus in it, while if you're Preserving you could take History and/or Arcana for the same reason. From what's left you're basically choosing between Diplomacy or Intimidate, neither of which will have a particularly great bonus for you, so I'd just think about your character's manner when making the choice. Does he make demands or does he make proposals?


You make area attacks with an implement, so Implement Expertise is a foregone conclusion again. Distant Advantage could be nice if you have a lot of melee allies to help you out, but there's not a lot of general feats that help your offensive capabilities currently. You could take a Channel Divinity feat like Raven Queen's Blessing or Armor of Bahamut if your deity allows, but Preserver's Rebuke is pretty good and Armor of Wrath is great once you have the feats that improve it so it may not be necessary. I expect this to change with Divine Power's release, but until then, I'd focus on the class specific feats and the defense.

Defensively you could take Toughness because you class has very few hit points, as well as Durable because you don't have a lot of surges either. Defensive Mobility could be useful if you find yourself in a lot of tight small areas where you either have to cast next to an enemy or not at all, but again there's not a lot of real need here. Your allies should be protecting you well enough that you don't need to up your defenses a lot.

For utility you probably want to take Improved Initiative, because as an Invoker being able to go first means you can take enemies out of the fight quickly, and lay down a good Area attack before your allies place themselves in it. You are also going to have plenty of extra feat space (again, this could change with Divine Power) on this character, so you could take Linguist or Skill Focus to make your character very useful outside of combat as well.

The Invoker's class specific feats are all good to differing degrees. Invoker's Defense allows them to gain +2 AC against an enemy within 3 squares of you if you hit him with an invoker power, and the bonus lasts until the start of your next turn, but if you find yourself always having plenty of room between you and your enemies you probably don't need this feat particularly. Resonating Covenant gives you +1 to hit with your at-will attacks on the turn after you attack with an encounter or daily power. This can be nice, but you really want to hit with your dailies and encounters more, so this bonus is a little extraneous. It can keep you in the fight once your party is down to at-wills though, so if you can afford it, definitely take it. Insightful Preservation improves the Preserver's Rebuke Channel Dvinity power, giving the ally hit by the triggering attack a decent amount of temporary hit points. This is an excellent bonus, and makes a good power great, especially since its something you will without a doubt make use of every encounter, and your defender will be thankful for the extra cushioning on his hit points. Scouring Wrath is the last Invoker feat in heroic tier and it improves armor of wrath, making the target of the power gain vulnerable 2 to all damage until the end of your next turn. This can be good because it can add a lot of damage, but it depends largely on initiative order, if the monster you hit goes right before you, you don't get as much time to make use of the bonus as you would if you had just taken your turn, letting all your allies gain +2 damage against the monster.

Power Selection

Invokers have five different at-will powers to choose from, and its going to be a tough choice for your character which two make the cut, unless you're a human then you'll find it easier.

Avenging Light is a single target attack with a range of ten squares. It deals 1d10 plus Wisdom radiant damage, and you get to add your constitution modifier if you have a bloodied ally adjacent to the target. It targets Fortitude and can be used as a ranged basic attack. For Wrathful Invokers this can be a good power to fall back on once the heavier artillery has been used up, and can deal decent damage for a controller power. If you have a character who can grant you a basic attack it can also nice for that, however there is another power that can be used as a basic ranged attack that has greater utility.

Divine Bolts is a cool power because it targets one or two creatures within 10 squares, so you don't have to worry about lining up a blast or burst area to hit two enemies on your turn. It deals lightning damage which isn't as good as radiant since few enemies are vulnerable to it, and it doesn't deal very much damage but it can be great for taking out minions, and it targets reflex, if you want an at-will that targets that defense.

Grasping Shards is one of two Invoker at-wills that attack a burst 1 within 10 squares. It targets fortitude and only deals Wisdom modifier damage until you hit epic tier, but it also slows all the enemies, and it deals radiant damage so you can still deal decent damage to undead with it. Its one of my favorite at-wills for the class, and I recommend taking it if you can.

Sun Strike targets Reflex, and can be used as a ranged basic attack. It deals 1d8 plus Wisdom modifier radiant damage, and you can slide the target 1 square if you hit it, which can help position enemies in a really versatile way that powers that push and pull can't. I think its probably better than Avenging Light, so if you decided you don't want that power, then take this one so that you have a good ranged basic attack.

Vanguard's Lightning is the second burst 1 power that you have and it targets reflex and deals lightning damage. While it deals more damage than Grasping Shards, its effect isn't as universally useful. Vanguard's Lightning makes it so that the targets take extra lightning damage if they make opportunity attacks until the end of your next turn, so you can do this to penalize enemies you or an ally need to run past, but otherwise it's not that useful and isn't as good of a damage type.

The first Encounter Power option you have is Astral Terror. It's a close burst three that targets only enemies, and attacks will which is good since you don't have an at-will that targets it. All enemies hit by the power get pushed 2 squares, which can be useful, but sometimes your melee allies might not appreciate the change of positioning so much. It deals psychic damage which almost no monster (possibly even no monster now that I think about it) is vulnerable to, but it does open up the psychic lock feat as an option in paragon tier which is a great feat.

Blades of Astral Fire is another area attack, though this one targets a burst 1 within 10 and attacks reflex. It deals radiant damage to each enemy within the burst and allies get +2 AC for being within it. If you have Covenant of Preservation this bonus is actually equal to your Intelligence modifier plus one. This power is great since you don't have to worry about friendly fire with it, and it gives your allies a bonus. You can throw it right into the thick of melee and it will not only hurt your enemies but also protect your friends. Its an easy power choice for a Preserving Invoker, and I might even pick it if I chose Wrath.

Spear of the Inquisitor is a straightforward ability, it deals 1d10 plus Wisdom modifier radiant damage, targets reflex and immobilizes the target until the end of your next turn. It's great against elites or solos that don't have ranged attacks, especially if they're undead.

Thunder of Judgement targets one, two, or three creatures within Ranged 10 so it has a great amount of versatility when picking targets. It deals extra damage if you only target one creature so its useful even when you don't have a crowd to thin, and if you're a Wrathful build than you can push the target a number of squares equal to your Constitution modifier. If only it dealt radiant damage and targeted Will it would be perfect.

You get quite a variety in your level 1 Daily Powers, starting with Angelic Echelon. It's another close burst 3 that only targets enemies and again it targets Will. It deals 1d6 plus Wisdom modifier radiant damage, and if the target attacks before the end of your next turn it takes 5 radiant damage. This is another good power, especially if fighting a lot of undead creatures since that 5 damage is more likely going to be 10 or 15, which even mindless undead are going to be loath to take.

Binding Invocation of Chains is a close burst 10 attack. That's right, close burst 10! It only targets enemies so you don't have to worry about the extremely difficult task of keeping your allies 10 squares away from you, but it doesn't deal any damage. However, it does slow every enemy in the area until they make a save, and it slows them until the end of your next turn even if you miss. This makes it a very good power, especially if you have a range-heavy party and delaying the enemies from reaching you allows you a round or two of free shots.

Purging Flame seems kind of underwhelming to be honest. It does deal 1d10 plus Wisdom modifier fire damage and 10 ongoing fire damage, but any monster that you'd really want to hit with that kind of ongoing damage at level 1 is pretty likely to save against it after one round of it. It is nice that it still gives 5 ongoing damage if you miss though, regardless I just can't see this as anything but the worst choice for a daily power.

The last daily power is your first summoning ability, Angel of Fire. It summons a medium sized angel in an unoccupied square within range 5. The angel has speed 6 and can fly at the same speed, though you have to use your actions to move it. Its standard action is a close burst 1 which means you can use it to make an area attack round after round, dealing a decent amount of fire damage each round. The angel also has a good opportunity attack, so positioning it in a way to take advantage of that is key to maximizing your uses of this power.

Once you hit level 2 and gain a utility power you have a good assortment to pick from. Divine Call is an encounter power that pulls one or two allies within 10 squares 3 squares each. This can be nice to bail an ally out of trouble, or since its a minor action, set up positioning for your own abilities or another allies without taking the majority of your turn to do it.

Emissary of the Gods gives you +5 to your next diplomacy or intimidate check. If you use it during a skill challenge it gives you an extra success if you make the check with it. Its cool, but since its not that applicable outside of skill challenges in most D&D games, I'd skip it.

Shroud of Awe lets you speak with a thunderous voice that stretches 500 feet. It can increase your next intimidate check, and you can do it every encounter, but again I'd skip this in favor of a more combat applicable power.

Shroud of Warning gives you and each ally an initiative bonus once per day, but isn't that useful if you're a Wrathful build. It's good but I'd prefer either Divine Call or Wall of Light actually.

Wall of Light is a nifty power simply because there aren't enough Wall powers in the game and this one is one of the few that creates an actually defensive wall instead of an offensive one. The wall it conjures is 5 squares long and grants 5 temporary hit points to any ally that starts their turn inside it. It also grants +1 AC to anyone who is inside it, so in fights where your characters don't have to move a lot it can provide a great defensive boost.


The most obvious choice is Cleric, especially if your team is short on the Leader role, but Shamans also work for the same goal. Druids or Avengers also use Wisdom for attacks, so those can be available multiclass options though neither is really optimal.

For Preserving Builds you can also take Swordmage powers or Wizard powers but again, these aren't very useful mechanically while if you are Wrath you can take some of the good Warlock powers, which can actually be helpful since Dire Radiance helps keep enemies at bay, and there are plenty of good solid damage dealing Warlock powers that use Constitution if you want to make up for your party's lack of strikers.

If you aren't missing some kind of role though, I wouldn't really multiclass an Invoker since they get plenty of cool options for themselves as far as feats and powers are concerned.

Combat Strategies

Invokers are pretty straightforward to play. Hinder foes, and help position enemies and allies in the most advantageous position you can whenever its a possibility. Listen to your allies needs, and you will often find yourself with the tool for the job. Use your angels to help block off hallways and prevent enemies from getting to you and the other casters whenever you can and consider taking some of the large area status effect powers to really help give your party an edge.

There aren't a lot of tricks for this class that I haven't mentioned already unfortunately so I'll have to end the guide here. Hopefully it won't take me quite as long to do the Shaman, even though I consider it to be the most complicated class in the game.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Monster Spotlight: Level 3 Terrors

I have to come up with a new naming convention besides "Level X Terrors", but regardless, let's go over some of the scariest level 3 monsters in the game that don't see as much use as the standard goblins, orcs, and gnolls.

Gnome Arcanist

The Gnome Arcanist is a very devious controller that resides on page 134 of the Monster Manual. The reason this monster is so cool is that he has a lot of abilities to get away from melee attackers, even fighters who are very hard to escape from once they mark you.

The attack you are probably going to use with them most is Scintillating Bolt, which deals 1d6+4 radiant damage and causes the target to become dazed until they make a save. They also get a minor action ranged attack that slides a target one square. Make use of this every turn if possible sliding targets back that may be able to reach you on the following turn. If targets do close into melee the Gnome Arcanist can use Illusory Terrain, a close blast 5 that hits only enemies and slows them (save ends). If that doesn't make it easy enough to get away, they can teleport 5 squares as a move action once per encounter, and if they do get hit they turn invisible until they attack or until the end of its next turn.

If you can draw a melee character into chasing after you then you can have a lot of fun with this monster, running about the room, slowing and dazing your would be killers and teleporting or becoming invisible if need be. If you want to make a really memorable bad guy consider combining this guy with a Warlock or Wizard template, and play up his trickster nature with a bit of roleplaying. This would definitely be the kind of villain that taunts your players while he fights them.

Shadowhunter Bat

Darkness is a really under-utilized element for most DMs and can be a great obstacle for PCs to overcome during certain encounters. On low levels one of the best options is the Shadowhunter Bat. It deals 1d6+4 damage, but that rises to 1d6+10 if they are in dim light or darkness, and they get a +2 to their attack rolls for it as well. They have perception +7 as a skill, so they might actually notice a rogue attempting to sneak up on them, and they can fly at speed 8, darting out of your melee character's reach, causing them to ready actions in order to really hit them in most cases.

They also get flyby attack, which they can do as often as they want. It allows them to move 8 squares and make an attack at any point during the movement. The bat doesn't provoke opportunity attacks when moving away from the target of the attack. Combine this with their stealth +10 and you can have a very deadly surprise round set up for your PCs.

Shadowhunter Bats are on page 27 of the Monster Manual.

Young Brown Dragon

The first solo monster I have used here is indeed a dragon, but probably not the most used variety. The Young Brown Dragon is a very challenging encounter for most groups, but it is definitely more memorable than the other young dragons, and has cooler abilities to make the fight more fun for you as well. You can find the monster's stat block on page 168 of the Draconomicon.

First off is the dragon's mobility. He has an 8 speed, plus he can fly at 6 speed and burrow at 6 speed. Definitely try to make use of all of these if you really want the players to remember the fight. Don't just have him sit in the middle of the room blasting away with his breath weapon. His basic attack is either his bite, or his claw attack, both of which are reach and vs. AC, though the bite does 1d8+4 where as the claw only deals 1d6+4. The Dragon also has double attack though, allowing him to make two claw attacks with a single standard action, and the dragon also deals 1d6 extra damage if he has combat advantage.

My favorite ability the dragon has is Sand Spray. Its an immediate reaction that is triggered by an enemy attacking him with a ranged attack. It deals 1d6+1 damage and blinds them until the end of the dragon's next turn. Being blinded also means that he has combat advantage, so this would be a perfect time for the dragon to burrow or fly over to the target and deal a lot of damage to him.

The Brown Dragon's breath weapon is a little different from most others. It is a close blast 5 that remains in place until the end of the dragon's next turn. Any creature that starts its turn adjacent to the area or that moves through the area takes 5 damage and it blocks line of sight for all creatures except the dragon. As with most dragons he automatically recharges and uses it when bloodied. You can use this line of sight block to stealth and become hidden, gaining combat advantage for surprise attack.

Also like most other dragons, the Young Brown Dragon has Frightful Presence, which stuns enemies in close burst 5. Even after the stun wears off, it leaves an aftereffect that gives its targets -2 to attacks until they save. Using this ability early in an encounter will help keep your dragon alive and dealing damage for as long as possible.

The Brown Dragon also has a move action attack called Sandd Cloud. It turns into a cloud of sand and can move a number of squares up to its speed, including moving through enemy's squares. When it does so it deals 1d6+4 damage and blinds any creature who's space it enters. The blind is also save ends. So as you can see its plenty easy to get combat advantage and deal a lot of extra damage with this beast.

The key to this fight is to make sure to roll your recharges for abilities, and to use Sand Cloud and Sand Spray as often as possible, then taking advantage of the combat advantage once you have it. With a monster this sneaky and resourceful, you might consider not using its action point right away, waiting until it has combat advantage so it can pounce on a target with 4 claw attacks, each with combat advantage.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

State of the Blog Address

So, it appears I have a decent group of readers now, so I thought this might be the time I talk about things I was thinking of doing in the blog. I'd really like to hear what you guys would like to read though, because that'll probably be the driving force behind what gets put here.

First off, I do intend to finish all the PHB2 guides. We're halfway done, and the Invoker guide is something I'm reading up for right now and will have up soon. I have offered to extend the guides and do reviews of feats, powers, and paragon paths after I have done the low level guides for the remaining four classes (Invoker, Shaman, Sorcerer, and Warden), but I haven't heard whether people want that or not. Also, a couple people have mentioned me doing similar articles for the PHB1 classes, and if there is enough interest for it I'm willing. And while we're on the subject of guides, I do plan to do shorter guides on all the builds that come out with Arcane Power and any other character sourcebooks that should come out.

I will also continue spotlighting monsters that I think are cool in my monster spotlight articles. As well as some other tips and tricks articles for DMs where I will point out other things like templates, traps, hazards and tactics that might benefit your game. However the real thing I want to see if there is interest in, is if I start writing my own adventure series and putting them up here. They would be free, though donations would be welcome, and each would be probably 10-12 encounters in length. Perhaps I could even get some feedback from readers that will help determine the path the adventures take. Again, this is just an idea, and whether or not it will become more than that will be determined by your feedback.

One last thing is a request for anyone who knows anything about web design and/or blogspot and who would like to make this better, go ahead and contact me. Either leave a comment, or email me at, and maybe we can get this place spruced up a bit.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Druids: Medieval Fantasy's Greenpeace

Now that we've gone over Bards, Barbarians, and Avengers, we have come to Druids. Druids are the Primal Controllers. I want to state up front that Druids, like Shamans and Avengers are not a very friendly class for new players to take on. Their abilities require a lot of strategy to use effectively, and finding the balance between your standard and beast forms can be very difficult. They also are heavily dependent on their teammates not getting in the way of their abilities and making use of any advantage the Druid gives to them.

So What's A Druid All About?

Druids are the primal controllers, but thinking that they are largely reskinned wizards because of this would be a huge mistake. Druids play very differently from Wizards, or the other new controller class, Invokers. Druids have many abilities which dip into defender and leader territory as well, and if well utilized can be a powerful force in any group.

Although the book has it in a different order, one class feature that really defines Druids is the Wild Shape power. Letting them turn into some kind of ferocious beast or turn back from that form once per turn as a minor action, this is one of the Druid's most unique abilities. Druid get powers with the Beast Form keyword, and these can only be used while you have Wild Shaped into that form, and while you are in Beast Form you can use no other powers. Most of the Beast Form powers are used from a closer range, but they allow you to control the battlefield in new ways, and can be very useful if you are fighting in close quarters. When you use Wild Shape to go back into your standard form, you get to shift one square which is very important and often overlooked. This opens up a lot of strategies in your turn: you can move in attack, and then shift back to human form, automatically backing away for casting a ranged spell either next turn or with an action point. If you start your turn adjacent to your enemy and in beast form this means you can make an attack, switch out and shift, and then escape back to long range again without provoking an attack of opportunity with your retreat. It is amazing how valuable that one square shift can be. You continue to gain the benefits of your gear in Beast Form, though you drop any equipment you are holding besides implements.

Balance of Nature is the next Druid class feature, and it basically boils down to giving you three at-wills. However, one of your at-wills must have the Beast Form keyword, and no more than two may have it. This means you have an at-will attack no matter what form you are in. This means that when you create your character you probably want to determine how much time you plan on spending in Beast Form. If you plan on being up front, clawing at enemy's and slowing them or pushing them around a lot, take two of the Beast Form at-will powers, but if you plan on only dipping into Beast Form rarely then you only need one of the Beast Form at-wills.

Druids get Ritual Casting as a bonus feat, and automatically start with Animal Messenger and one other ritual. I like this because I think Animal Messenger is actually a pretty useful ritual, and roleplaying its use as a druid can be very fun. If you don't have another ritual user in your party, you might want to consider Gentle Repose as your other ritual, and eventually plan on taking Raise Dead when it becomes available.

Guardian or Predator

As a Druid you choose a Primal Aspect, either Primal Guardian or Primal Predator. These give you a passive bonus, and can change the way certain powers work at certain levels. As a Primal Predator you gain +1 speed while not wearing heavy armor, while as a Primal Guardian you can use your Constitution modifier instead of Dexterity or Intelligence to determine your ability bonus to AC as long as you are not wearing heavy armor.

Some people might see this choice as the same choice about whether they will be primarily in Beast Form or their natural form, but that isn't entirely the case. While almost all of the powers that gain a direct benefit from Primal Predator are Beast Form powers and almost none of the Primal Guardian ones are, you can deviate to varying degrees.

As a Primal Guardian, the most common way of playing it is to only dip into Beast Form when absolutely necessary and only choose one or two Beast Form powers, if any at all. But in general Primal Guardian druids are going to have a few more hit points as well as more Healing Surges so it is perfectly feasible to make a Primal Guardian Druid who uses a lot of Beastform Powers and remain on the front lines. If your party is short on melee characters, this can be a good option for you.

As a Primal Predator, the most common way of playing it is exactly the opposite, using your increased speed and initiative to close into melee range and using Beast Powers to disable important targets, but again you have some variety. While in general I think you should favor Beast Form at least a little as a Predator Druid, having a good selection of range and area implement attacks is probably a good idea as well. Your increased speed should make it easy to dart in and out of the fray, and hit and run tactics should be taken advantage of as a Predator Druid.

Ability Scores

All Druid attacks use Wisdom, so prioritize it as your primary ability score, regardless of Primal Aspect or whether you favor Beast Form attacks, or standard implement ones. Druid is a class where it may even be beneficial to buy it up as high as possible, unlike many classes where having a tertiary high score can be very important.

As a Primal Guardian, Constitution is going to be your next most important ability score. It determines your AC bonus, as well as the effectiveness of many of your powers, and as always grants you additional hit points and healing surges. No score really stands out as a tertiary option unless you are planning on a specific multiclass build. Dexterity can give you a boost to Initiative and Reflex, but if you don't mind having one weak defense it might be a good idea to buy your Wisdom up to 18 (before racial modifiers), and just not have any solid tertiary score.

As a Primal Predator, Dexterity is going to be your secondary score. It affects all of your Primal Predator powers, as well as boosting your Reflex, Armor Class, and Initiative. You can either choose not to have a tertiary high score, and again buy an 18 in Wisdom, or you can choose Constitution to gain some more hit points and surges, which can be useful if you plan on remaining up front and in Beast Form a lot.

Race Choices

Dwarves have the ideal ability scores for a Primal Guardian Druid, while both Elves and Razorclaw Shifters have the ideal ability scores for Primal Predators. As usual, there are other races that make excellent choices though, and these include Half-Elves, Halflings, and Humans from the Player's Handbook; Drow from Forgotten Realms Player's Guide; and Devas, Goliaths, Half-Orcs, and Longtooth Shifters from Player's Handbook 2. Let's go over them each in detail.

With bonuses to both Constitution and Wisdom Dwarves have great ability scores for Guardian Druids. Unfortunately, beyond this they simply don't have much else that works well for the class. Their ability to use Second Wind as a minor action and resist forced movement is great for the times when they are in Beast Form and using melee powers, but as Guardian Druids this is likely to be the minority of the time, and their 5 movement speed doesn't work well for hit and run tactics, which are often what you want to try and use as a Druid. Dwarven Weapon Training doesn't really benefit them at all, though some of the later feats like Dwarven Durability can help. So while they make really good Guardian Druids, they definitely aren't the best race for it.

Elves have a bonus to Dexterity and Wisdom, a 7 speed, and can shift on difficult terrain with their Wild Step class feature. They can reroll a crucial attack for increased accuracy, have low-light vision, and get bonuses to Nature and Perception. There really is no better race than this for a Predator Druid. Just as they are built perfectly for Archery Rangers, they work likewise for the Primal Predator build. There is literally no downside to this choice.

Razorclaw Shifters also have bonuses to Dexterity and Wisdom, but their racial power is different. If you do plan on playing a Predator Druid who spends most of their time on the front lines in Beast Form, then your chances of becoming bloodied and getting to use your Razorclaw Shifting power each encounter is pretty good, but the more you plan to mix up melee and range, the less useful it becomes.

Half-Elves get a Constitution bonus which definitely aids in their capabilities as Guardian Druids, though their Charisma bonus is largely extraneous. They can use Dilettante to take an at-will from any class that uses Wisdom for implement attacks (like Clerics) to give them some added utility. My personal favorite choice is Sacred Flame so that they can't grant a saving throw if need be. And, as I'll state every time the Half-Elf is an option in one of these guides, being able to take the Human racial feats is an excellent bonus. The only downside is that they do not get a bonus to Wisdom, but if you only need two high ability scores for your build, you can still get an 18.

Halflings make excellent Predator Druids, because the class ignores all of their downsides. With no need to use weapons, being small size doesn't matter, and as a mobile class your AC bonus against opportunity attacks and Second Wind for attacks that get through are invaluable additions. Add in feats like Lost in the Crowd and Underfoot and you have a great character option for a Primal Predator Druid who can spend most of their time in Beast Form tearing through foes.

Human is my personal favorite race for a balanced Guardian Druid, though either build will work. They can boost their Wisdom, and still have a decent secondary ability score. They get a bonus to Reflex, Fortitude, and Will and can have an extra skill from what is a pretty good class list. Their bonus feat is helpful as always but the bonus at-will is where they really shine. Allowing them to either specialize further in one of their forms, or be equally good at both, this is a great help because Druid at-wills are some of my favorites.

Drow have the same ability score bonuses as Halflings, which means that a really high Wisdom will be hard to come by and the Charisma bonus will be largely wasted, but they have really good racial powers for helping control the battlefield and boosting your allies by giving them combat advantage. Also, Darkvision can be really useful depending on the campaign. Plus, having your Wild Shape be a giant spider or lizard would be pretty cool.

Deva get a bonuses to Intelligence and Wisdom, so like most of the races I have mentioned, that's one good and one useless ability score bonus. They can do equally well as either Predator or Guardian Druids since they don't have any bonus to Dexterity or Constitution. They do get two really good resistances though, and a racial power which can both aid in accuracy or really help to make a clutch saving throw.

Goliaths make good Guardian Druids due to their Constitution bonus, but only if the Druid is going to spend enough time in Beast Form to make use of their racial power. The racial power is great if you are in danger on the front line, but in back where being attacked is less common, the ability isn't as good. Goliaths also get +1 to Will, raising their best defense even higher, and reducing the chance that your Druid will get hit with a fear or charm effect that could take them out of the fight.

Half-Orcs, like Goliaths, get an extraneous STR bonus, but their boost to Dexterity is useful for a Predator Druid. Coupled with some decent racial feats like Thirst for Battle, and +2 Speed when charging, this can be a good race for a melee-heavy Primal Predator build.

While Razorclaw Shifters are one of the best races for druids, Longtooth Shifters can also be good for a druid who favors his Beast Form, though either build is equally as good. Their Strength bonus isn't necessary but a quick reckless charge so that they can activate Longtooth Shifting and get a damage bonus and regeneration can be a useful tactic for them.


Druids automatically have the Nature skill which can be very useful in a lot of campaigns that spend time outside of dungeons, as well as for some skill challenges and monster knowledge checks. They get three other trained skills, and have access to Heal, Insight, and Perception, which are three important skills that all key to their best ability score. While these aren't as often useful in skill challenges, they are very commonly used within combat encounters, and are my personal choice for skills.

Endurance is a good option for a Guardian Druid, and Athletics can be useful though you likely won't be getting an ability score bonus in it. If you want to be more useful in Skill Challenges consider Diplomacy or History, but again, you aren't likely to have a good bonus from your ability scores in either of these.


All Druid powers, even Beast Form powers, have the implement keyword. This means that there is pretty much no reason not to take Implement Expertise as a Druid. The earlier you grab it, the more attacks that you will hit with throughout your character's lifespan. There aren't any other general feats that really help you offensively, which isn't too much of a bother since you are a controller not a striker. You can take Coordinated Explosion if you find yourself having allies inside your area or close attacks, but otherwise its best to focus your feats elsewhere or Distant Advantage if your allies are flanking the targets of your ranged attacks often. Combat Reflexes can be useful for a Predator Druid since they can substitute some of their Beast Form at-wills for opportunity attacks and its important that they hit with them.

Armor Proficiency feats don't much help Druids since they can't wear Heavy Armor without losing some of their benefits and they already start with access to hide. Likewise with Shields since they would have to drop them when in Beast Form. Defensive Mobility is a good choice for Predator Druids since you are trying to remain mobile and hit the right targets with your melee abilities. Toughness can also be a good idea for any druid who plans to be in melee range often.

Improved Initiative is a good feat for utility, as you want to disable important enemies before they can act. Durable is also a good choice so that you can go longer between extended rests. If you plan on using rituals often, or you are the sole Ritual Caster in your party, consider taking Expert Ritualist to aid in their use.

Druid specific feats are good in general, but none are totally necessary in Heroic Tier. Enraged Boar Form gives you +1 to attack and +2 damage while you charge in Beast Form, while Ferocious Tiger form gives you +2 damage with combat advantage in Beast Form. I favor the second because as a Predator Druid it is easier to get into flanking position, and this boost in damage may be almost constant. Primal Fury is a feat specific to Primal Predator druids that gives you +1 to attacks against bloodied creatures, which is a good filler if you find you have an extra feat slot while the Guardian specific feat allows you to let an ally reroll initiative, which is useful but probably not worth a feat on most builds.

Power Selection

Druids have 8 total at-will powers to choose from, so this section will be a little longer than usual. Three of these powers are Beast Form powers, so you must take at least one of them.

Call of the Beast is an implement power that targets an area burst 1, hits each creature and makes it so that they can't gain combat advantage. Also, anyone hit by the target takes 5 + Wisdom Modifier damage if they don't make an attack that includes your nearest ally. The use for this power is so situational that I can't really see myself ever taking it when the other Druid at-wills are so much better. It can be used to make a target that hasn't been marked by your defender attack your defender, but the problem is that if they're already close to the defender, you might hit some allies with this power. Which means that your allies either have to attack eachother or take damage and they can't gain combat advantage. Overall I'd say this power is something you should pass on, regardless of build.

Chill Wind is another area burst 1 that hits all creatures but this one deals 1d6 cold damage and slides the target 1 square. This power is a great minion killer that doesn't really deal too much collateral damage and if you hit your ally can even help you slide them into flanking positions. If your druid is going to stay mainly Beast Form, I'd probably consider taking this at-will so that you can still have a minion killer to use when not using Wild Shape.

Flame Seed is an implement power that hits a single target within 10 squares. It deals 1d6 fire damage, and the squares adjacent to the target become a fiery zone that lasts until the end of your next turn. Any enemy that starts its turn or enters the zone takes fire damage equal to your Wisdom modifier. This is your other option as a minion killer and area damage spell as a Druid. What's really nice is that if you hit a target with this right before he goes, he is going to take the damage from the fire from it if he wants to move at all, since he will have to pass through the zone.

Grasping Claws is the first of the Beast Form powers and it deals 1d8 + Wisdom modifier damage and slows the target until the end of your next turn. You might find this kind of underwhelming since it only hits a single target and has to be used from melee, but this power can also be used as a basic melee attack. Which means that you can stop enemies from getting by you and attacking your enemies with your opportunity attacks. Regardless of build, I would make sure to have either this or Savage Rend within your repertoire.

Pounce is another Beast Form power and it deals the same damage as Grasping Claws but instead of slowing it, it causes the target to grant combat advantage to the next creature that attacks it before the end of your next turn. This ability can also be used in place of a basic melee attack when charging which is nice, but I'd still say its the least useful of the Beast Form powers in general. However, if you have a rogue in your party, especially if they're crossbow based, then you should take this power as it will probably be more useful to aid him in dealing his sneak attack damage every round.

Savage Rend is much like Grasping Claws except that it slides the target 1 square instead of slowing them. It can still be used as a basic melee attack. I do like Grasping Claws just a bit better because suddenly reducing someone to 2 movement when they're trying to move past you can pretty much end their move, as where in the same application this just effectively reduces their movement by 1. However, if your party has several melee characters, you might be able to slide them into a square where if they continue their movement, it will provoke further attacks of opportunity, so it does have that advantage. Also, outside of opportunity attacks, this power has other positioning uses for setting up flanking or ruining enemy flanking position.

Storm Spike is a range 10 implement power that deals 1d8 + Wisdom modifier damage. If the target doesn't move at least 2 squares on its next turn, it takes lightning damage equal to your wisdom modifier. The reason I like this is it makes it impossible for most enemies to just shift, so you can almost guarantee some extra damage with it if you cast it on an enemy who's already in melee by making them trigger opportunity attacks or take the damage. It can also be used to force ranged monsters closer to your party in some situations just like Thorn Whip.

Speaking of Thorn Whip, it deals the same damage as Storm Spike but pulls the enemy 2 squares instead of forcing them to move. There are definitely times where this will come in hand more than Storm Spike, but Storm Spike is probably going to be slightly more useful for you overall. However, this power targets Fortitude and only one other Druid power, Chill Wind, does that. So you might consider taking it just to vary the defenses you attack.

The first Encounter Power is Cull The Herd. It's a Beast Form power, but unlike the vast majority of those powers, it is range 5. It also targets Will, which is relatively rare for Druids as well. The power deals 2d8 + Wisdom Modifier damage, and it pulls the target 3 squares, so it is kind of like a glorified Thorn Whip, but honestly I just can't see this power being all that useful. It can be used to pull an enemy back into melee, but you could also charge them if you were still in Beast Form, or shift and begin hitting them from range if you aren't. If you really want to have a power that targets Will, I'd consider taking this, but otherwise, I'd pass.

Darting Bite is another Beast Form power but its a Melee attack that targets one or two creatures and targets Reflex. It deals 1d10 + Wisdom modifier damage, and if at least one attack hits you can shift 2 squares. If you chose Primal Predator as your aspect, you can instead shift a number of squares equal to your dexterity modifier. If you really want to take a Beast Form power, than I'd take this one, as it can help set up positioning, and attacks multiple targets.

Frost Flash is a range 10 attack against Fortitude that deals 1d6 + Wisdom modifier cold damage and immobilizes the target until the end of your next turn. It's great for keeping melee attackers at range. If you're a Primal Guardian Druid than it deals additional damage equal to your Constitution modifier, but that's really just an extra bonus since you're not a damage dealing class, and this can be an effective power regardless of Primal Aspect.

The last level 1 encounter power is Twisting Vines and it targets a burst 1 within 10 squares and attacks reflex. It hits each creature in burst for 1d8 + Wisdom modifier damage and each square adjacent to the target becomes difficult terrain until the end of your next turn. This is nice because it can make it impossible for enemies to shift, but it can also hinder allies. However, if hitting multiple enemies, it can create a pretty large area of difficult terrain, which you can use to an advantage to prevent enemies from charging or to hinder their escape.

The Druid has outstanding daily powers, and they start right from level 1. Faerie fire is another burst 1 within 10 squares power, though it targets Will. If it hits, the target is slowed and grants combat advantage until it makes a save. The aftereffect is 3d6 + Wisdom modifier radiant damage, and the target grants combat advantage until the end of your next turn. If you miss entirely, it still deals 1d6+ Wisdom modifier radiant damage and the target grants combat advantage until the end of your next turn. This power is fantastic. It targets a commonly weak defense, hinders your enemy, and deals decent damage when they save, all the while being effective even if it misses. It also deals a damage type that is rarely resisted, and almost all undead are vulnerable to. This is a great power, and one of the standouts at its level.

Fires of Life targets the same area, but attacks Reflex. It deals 1d6 + Wisdom modifier fire damage and an ongoing 5 fire damage. If the target drops to 0 hit points before it saves against the ongoing damage, one creature of your choice within 5 squares of it regains hit points equal to 5 + your constitution modifier. If they make their save the after-effect is that a creature within 5 squares regains hit points equal to your constitution modifier. On a miss the attack simply does half damage. This power is good for a Guardian Druid who is in a party light on healing, because it can heal multiple targets for small amounts and doesn't cost anyone healing surges. It doesn't do a lot to control the enemy's actions though, and that may be what your party is expecting of you.

Savage Frenzy is the only Beast Form power in the level 1 daily category. It is a close burst 1 that targets reflex and deals 1d6 + Wisdom modifier damage and slows the target until they make a save. If it misses, it deals half damage and slows until the end of your next turn. If you are absolutely inclined to use almost all Beast Form powers than I guess this is your only option, but otherwise I just can't see using this power when its contemporaries are so much better.

Wind Prison is a single target ranged 10 power that hits Reflex. It deals really good damage, 2d10 + Wisdom modifier, and causes the target to grant combat advantage until it moves or until the end of the encounter. If the target moves, all enemies within 5 squares of the target is knocked prone. This can be great for keeping an elite monster in place and getting a bonus to hit it for most of the encounter, because unless it is a ranged monster, it's probably not going to want to risk knocking all of its allies prone, and if it does, that's a pretty good advantage for you too. I would probably choose Faerie Fire or Fires of Life over this in most situations, but depending on the party and the campaign this might be the superior option for you.

The first level 2 utility power is Barkskin. Its a minor action that targets you or an ally and grants a power bonus to AC equal to your Constitution modifier until the end of your next turn. While this isn't an amazing ability by any means, it is the only encounter power of the bunch, and its probably something you can make use of every single encounter, and will prevent at least one attack from hitting in all likelihood.

Fleet Pursuit gives you a power bonus to speed equal to your Dexterity modifier until the end of the encounter, but its a daily power and it will be really rare that you need more than 7 speed (which you likely already have if you are considering this power, you might even have 8 speed) in an encounter unless it is heavily based around outdoor areas instead of dungeon crawling.

Obscuring Mist targets an area burst 1 within 10 and is a standard action. It creates a zone of lightly obscured squares that lasts until the end of your next turn. If you sustain it with a minor action, it grows by size 1 to a maximum of burst 5. This can be great to grant allies some additional defense against ranged monsters especially, and aside from Barkskin is probably the most utilitarian option.

Skittering Sneak allows you to assume the form of a tiny natural beast. It gives you a +5 bonus to stealth checks but you can't pick up anything or manipulate objects. Until the encounter ends you can use wild shape to shift between this form, your beast form, and your humanoid form. This power is probably not going to be very useful in combat ever, but can help you spy on an enemy or see what's in the next room a lot of times, so it will definitely see some use unless your party is the "Bust down every door and run in screaming" type. I like this power just because it can be really cool flavor wise, and seems like something a Druid would be able to do.


With all the new classes that use Wisdom for their attacks, you have plenty of options including Avenger, Invoker, Cleric and Shaman. Depending on what you are going for, these can be effective in varying levels. Multiclassing Cleric and taking healing spells can be nice to raise your utility to your group, and Shaman can do largely the same, but since you drop any weapon you are holding when you shift into Beast Form Avenger isn't that useful and Invokers do mostly the same things you already do anyway.

Overall Druid is not the most multiclass friendly class, since weapons are largely useless to it. Guardian Druids could multiclass Warlock for some striker powers if they take the Constitution powers, though I'm not sure how you reconcile the flavor of the two different classes, especially if you aren't taking the Fey Pact powers.

Combat Strategies

Between the hit and run tactics, switching in and out of Beast Form, and the unique nature of many of your powers, Druids are one of the most complex classes currently in the game. They are a hard class for new players to learn and master, and I would tell any new player who wants to play one right up front that its probably not a good way to learn the game.

However, Druids can be valuable in ways that no other Controllers can. By attacking from range, then shifting into Beast Form and positioning yourself to provoke opportunity attacks from enemies attempting to get to your allies, you can seriously hinder an enemy advance. On the next round you can then use Wild Shape to return to humanoid form, shifting back from the enemy so that you can make a safe escape to range and then hit them with Storm Spike or another ranged power on that turn. This kind of tactic isn't something any other class can really do well at, but the druid is built for it.

Many of the Druid powers create zones, and you'll need to be careful not to hinder your allies with these, so really think about where you position them. The Druids can also grow a lot of these zones by sustaining them, so in large area encounters, they maintain a level of control that Wizards can't hope to, but in confined spaces and hallways might find themselves more limited than the other controllers.

If you have a good understanding of 4th Edition's combat mechanics, and you want a class that opens up a lot of strategic options for you and your party, this class would be a good choice for you, plus who doesn't want to shapeshift into a man-sized beast anyway? Druids, despite what I've read about them on many other forums, and despite my own initial impressions, are a great class that plays in a unique way, and add a whole new dimension to the Controller role.

Monster Spotlight:: Level 2 Terrors

While I continue to work on the Druid article I thought I would do a sequel to my Level 1 Terrors article and show you some monsters that are just one level higher but equally fun to use against players, especially those who already have a decent grasp on the game.


Hyenas are fun to use and work well as pets of whatever the real villains of an adventure are whether they be goblins, kobolds, or bandits. They can be found on page 166 of the Monster Manual and are not particularly scary by themselves but using just a few of them along with some other skirmishers or lurkers can yield dangerous results.

Hyenas only deal 1d6+3 damage normally, but they deal an extra 1d6 if the enemy is adjacent to two or more of the hyena's allies, which is not too hard to accomplish, especially if you want to add some minions to the encounter. The real scary part of this monster is their Harrier ability which means that if Hyenas are adjacent to an enemy, all other enemies have combat advantage against them for their sneak attacks. If you throw in some other monsters who get extra dice or have better effects (Kobold Slyblades, on page 169 of the Monster Manual for instance), you can make a reasonably scary encounter.

My personal recommendation for a tough encounter is to use two of the hyenas, find two other lurkers or skirmishers who benefit from combat advantage, and then eight minions of some kind. Make sure the area you put these monsters in is of medium size. Too small and the group's controller will be able to trivialize the entirety of the minions and too large and you won't be able to take advantage of the Hyena's bonuses.

Greenspawn Sneak

Speaking of cool Lurkers, the Greenspawn Sneak is a great monster if you can put them in the right circumstances. They're a Lurker that can attack from both range and melee, and can be rough on a beginner group especially if they're not used to the stealth rules. Greenspawn Sneaks can be found in the Draconomicon 1 on page 218.

Greenspawn Sneaks can deal 1d8+3 in melee or 2d4 from range, each is an at-will basic attack. They also get to deal an extra 1d6 damage if they have combat advantage. The really great ability they have is Arboreal Hunter though. Because of it, if a Greenspawn Sneak starts its turn with cover, it also has total concealment against non-adjacent enemies, which allows them to use Stealth and become hidden, gaining combat advantage. They make a great monster to use hit and run style tactics with, and can be a memorable low level enemy without being too deadly.

While they have a melee attack, you probably want to favor ranged attacks with them so that they can make use of Arboreal Hunter. Make sure to build the encounter with this in mind, giving them plenty of hiding spots to gain cover with. You also want to give the sneaks melee support of some kind. For a thematically appropriate encounter use the Brownspawn Marauders on the same page. The Marauders can blind ranged party members before closing to melee, forcing your party's melee characters to make a tough decision: stay and defend their blinded allies while taking the damage from the sneaks or rush ahead to close in on the sneaks but leave their allies vulnerable to the marauders.

Halfling Stout

Found on page 152 of the Monster Manual Halfling Stouts may very well be my favorite minion period. Halflings may not seem like there's much opportunity for use as a monster, but they can easily be members of a bandit group or mercenaries hired to thwart your party.

The reason that I like Halfling Stouts so much is that they have a ranged attack, which is pretty rare for minions, and that they have Second Chance. This means that even if you hit this minion, there's a chance they could cause you to miss with Second Chance, effectively making you hit them twice to kill them. And if the enemy closes to melee they have a little bit more room to maneuver since they get +2 AC against opportunity attacks.

Regardless, don't just use Halfling Stouts. Mix up the encounter with some soldiers or brutes, and perhaps even a controller. If its a mercenary group you can find decent monsters under the Human, Elf, and Dragonborn sections of the Monstrous Manual and get a really ragtag group of enemies. Add Orcs or Goblins if you want to make the band seem a bit more savage.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Bard's Tale

Bottom Line: Do They Still Suck?

Bards have been a decidedly sub-par class since their inception to D&D. The best they could hope for with an optimized build is to almost reach the upper end of mediocrity. In all the games of D&D I have ever run, I think I have maybe seen two people actually play a Bard, and both of them wanted to change characters before we hit level ten.

So the answer to this question is (surprisingly) no. Bards are both effective and interesting. They are no longer just musicians and storytellers who dabble in a bit of everything, though this jack-of-all-trades versatility is still reflected in the class. Bards take up the mantle of the arcane power source's leader, and can heal and buff their allies with the best of them. They channel the arcane power of age-old tales and traditions, using their voices and instruments to both bolster their friends and sabotage their enemies.

Mechanically Bards play similar to either Clerics or Warlords depending on your build, but there are enough differences to make them fun and unique. Probably more complicated to play than a ranged built Cleric or Tactical Warlord, Bards are nevertheless a fairly simple to learn class with a few tricks up their sleeves for experienced players.

Their first feature is Bardic Training and it gives you Ritual Caster as a bonus feat. You get to start with two first level rituals, one of which must have bard as a pre-requisite. There aren't a lot of Bard rituals currently, but with Arcane Power coming out in about a month, I'm sure we'll see that change (and for any of you wondering, yes I do plan to do guides for the new builds in Arcane Power). You can perform a bardic ritual once per day without expending any components as well, and this raises to two at 11th level and three at 21st level.

Majestic Word is what bards get as their main healing power. It is their counterpart to Healing Word or Inspiring Word, but it works just a little bit differently. At first level it heals a target for their surge value plus your charisma modifier, and you can slide them one square. It increases by gaining an additional 1d6 points of healing for every five levels you gain just as cleric's Healing Word does. Its range starts at close burst 5 though, so be careful not to let the front line melee characters wander outside of the burst.

Bards also have a feature called Multiclass Versatility which allows them to ignore the previous limit of only taking multiclass feats for a single class. As people explore the options more and more I'm sure this will work into some pretty crazy builds, but I'm most excited about it because it means all of the neat style feats and things like Spellscarred can still be taken on a standard multiclass character.

Skill Versatility gives you a +1 bonus on untrained skills, which is nice, and thins the gap between your trained and untrained skills down. Unfortunately, if you still have a low bonus in the key ability of a skill, this doesn't really help it all that much.

Song of Rest is one of my favorite features of the Bard because it allows them to make a party's healing surges stretch out over more encounters. When the party takes extended rests, the bard can sing or play an instrument and then all members of the party get to add his charisma modifier to their healing surge value until the rest ends. If you have two Bards in the party, these effects do not stack.

Words of Friendship is an encounter power which gives you a +5 to your next diplomacy check, which officially makes Bards the best at this skill I do believe. There's really not much analysis to be done here, but suffice it to say that Diplomacy is a pretty common skill in Skill Challenges, so this is nice if your DM uses a lot of those.

Bards use wands as implements and have pretty decent starting armor and weapon proficiencies. Exactly what combination of weapons/implements you plan on using though, is based on a single choice really. Which brings us to:

Bardic Virtue: Valor or Cunning?

As with most classes there is a single distinguishing choice to make right from level 1 and the Bard is no different. This choice is called your Bardic Virtue and it separates the Bards into two main builds. Your choice of virtue gives you a passive class feature and gives many powers an additional effect. In general Valor Bards are going to use more weapon and close attacks while Cunning Bards will use more ranged and area attacks. Valor Bards are more into inspiring their allies to great deeds, while the Cunning Bards are tricksters, and have a lot of very unique abilities to reflect this.

If you choose Virtue of Cunning, once per round, when an enemy attacks and misses one of your allies that is within Intelligence Modifier plus one squares of you, you can slide them one square as a free action. Which is great for setting up tactics and getting allies away from the attacks of enemies. This can even disrupt the plans of a monster who has multiple attacks. The problem is that the allies who you want to be in melee the least, probably have the lowest defenses and aren't going to be missed that often so I feel it is the less useful of the two passive abilities. However, I think most of the powers this build uses make up for that. Cunning Bards use Intelligence as a secondary ability score.

If you choose Virtue of Valor, once per round when an ally within 5 squares of you bloodies or kills an enemy, they gain temporary hit points equal to your Constitution modifier plus one. This increases by two at level 11, and again by two at level 21. This is fantastic, and in some battles will add up to a really surprising amount of temporary hit points. However, the bonuses that you get to your powers usually aren't quite as strong, and the powers aren't as unique as the Cunning Bard's. Valorous Bards use constitution as their secondary ability score.

Ability Scores

The Bard's ability score usefulness makes them a great class for actually making decent hybrid builds, which is rare. Obviously Charisma should be your highest score, and then either Intelligence or Constitution, but taking those equally works well, as does taking the other as your tertiary score.

If you took Intelligence as your secondary, you already have a bonus to your Will and Reflex defenses. And the natural third choice is now Constitution since Strength gives you little benefits unless you are thinking about multiclassing into a class which uses it heavily. This means that you can take a lot of the powers meant for the other build, as well as have better starting hit points and more healing surges.

If you took Constitution as your secondary, you are only lacking an ability score to give a bonus to Reflex, as you have Fortitude and Will covered. Intelligence would allow you to take some of the Cunning Bard powers, but it doesn't give you a bonus to initiative like Dexterity does, which is a small benefit to consider. I personally enjoy the freedom to take any power and have it useful, as well as having decent scores in all of your secondary defenses.

Despite how easy it is to make a hybrid build and still be effective, there is one other thing to think of. I almost never promote buying an 18 in your primary ability score (before racial modifiers), but there are a few classes where it is an effective choice and this is one of them. Charisma is of such value to Bards, and is used to make so many things effective that forgoing a tertiary score can be an effective choice. This really works mainly on races that get a bonus to whichever secondary score you were going to choose, but regardless, it's a powerful choice. With Charisma affecting all of your attacks, your Majestic Word heals, and your Song of Rest, starting with an extra point to your modifier may be something to look at.

Race Choices

Half-Elves are the only race that has the ideal ability score bonuses for Valor Bards, and both Gnomes and Tieflings have the ideal ability scores for Cunning Bards. In addition to these three there are a multitude of other races that make good Bards. These include Dragonborn, Dwarves, Halflings and Humans from Player's Handbook; Drow than the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide; and Devas and Goliaths from Player's Handbook 2. The other races are all work as Bards as well, but more for multiclass variant builds than the two main builds. I will go over each of the races I mentioned in further detail here.

Half-Elves are the quintessential Bard race, being masters of versatility themselves. Their ability score bonuses make them ideal for Virtue of Valor but they make good Cunning Bards as well. Their Dual Heritage gives them access to the awesome Human Perseverance and Action Surge feats, and and they even have good skills. If you want to play a multiclass-heavy build you can even take the Half-Elf feat from PHB 2, Versatile Master, and open up a plethora of builds I haven't even began to ponder. As for Dilettante Powers, a lot of options are available for useful powers depending on your build. Some of them include Dire Radiance and Eyebite from Warlocks; Cloud of Daggers or Thunderwave from Wizards; and Burning Spray, Dragonfrost or Chaos Bolt from Sorcerers.

While Gnomes have the ideal ability scores for Cunning Bards there is an unfortunate lack of synergy elsewhere. Their 5 square movement doesn't really detract, and Reactive Stealth is nice if you need to sneak around a fight a bit, but Fade Away is only moderately useful here. Cunning Bards are rarely on the front lines and are rarely the most appetizing target available to ranged enemies either, meaning that taking damage isn't something they have to worry about unless their team utterly fails turning the power from an excellent damage mitigation technique to a panic button. I will admit that the flavor connection is very nice and that if you want to play a real trickster type bard then their ability to use Ghost Sound is pretty neat, but overall I expected a little more synergy.

Tieflings also have the same issue. They have the ideal ability score combination but their other bonuses are all merely small bonuses to a Bard. Bloodhunt is nice in making you more accurate, but the debuffs a Bard applies to his enemies are often more useful before the foe has already been bloodied. Fire Resistance is always good, but this isn't a class that is going to be targeted that often, although if you're caught in an area of effect fire attack you're going to be thankful you have this. Infernal Wrath is a good racial power, especially with feats, but it requires you to be hit, and for a Cunning Bard this isn't going to be too common.

Dragonborn get a bonus to Charisma, which makes them decent Bards, and I would say that they lean towards Valor since Constitution already helps two of their racial features. If you want your Valorous Bard to be able to tank a monster or two and relieve some of the pressure from the fighter, than this is a good race choice. In addition, your Dragon Breath allows you some minion-killing capability. Having a higher healing surge value and a bonus to hit once bloodied are both useful, since Valorous Bards are actually at risk for getting beat up. If you do use this build, you can put your tertiary score into Strength and take Scale and Platemail Proficiency, as well as Heavy Shield Proficiency to increase your AC, though Chainmail and a Light Shield should be sufficient for the earlier levels. If I were to make a Valorous Bard, based on mechanics alone, this would probably be my pick for a race.

Dwarves make decent Valorous Bards, getting a bonus to Constitution. Their Wisdom bonus does go to waste unless you utilize it multiclassing but as usual the race offers so many bonuses to melee characters it can't be ignored as a choice here. If you want a small boost to the damage of your weapon based powers you can take Dwarven Weapon Training. You can second wind as a minor action, allowing you to save your Majestic Words for others and still not stop fighting when you need to regain some hit points. Your reduced movement is a bit of a pain, but its unlikely you'll be pushed outside of the action once you get there.

Halflings are great Bards, and their Dexterity bonus translates to at least a small initiative boost. They can work as either build since they don't favor Constitution or Intelligence, but I think their racial abilities being mainly defensive makes them slightly lean towards the Virtue of Valor build. Second Chance, and later Lost In The Crowd give them the ability to duke it out in melee for a round or two while the fighter holds down the more dangerous targets and their AC bonus against opportunity attacks allows them to maneuver around and lay their close blast attacks in the most efficient spots.

With Half-Elves as a viable option for a class Humans are often eliminated from possibility for it, but Humans have a number of advantages advantages for Bards. The extra feat is very helpful, especially if you are going to be multiclassing since so many feats will be required for that. The extra at-will is also beneficial because the Bard has some pretty excellent at-will powers, and the skill is useful with such a good skill list to pick from. The extra bonus to Reflex, Fortitude, and Will is nice as always. The only unfortunate downside is that if you choose to multiclass you're losing out on the extra ability scores that are nice when you need to spread out your points.

Drow have the same ability scores as halflings, but Fearie Fire and Cloud of Darkness means that their racial power can be useful from up front or in the back. They work especially well if you don't have another character in the party to sneak ahead and I can imagine a Drow Bard multiclassing Rogue who skulks about whispering dark secrets rather than singing boisterous epics, confusing his foes before he sticks his blade in their flank. I think I have another idea to add to my "Characters I really want to play" list.

I am not sure what kind of songs they would sing or instruments they would play but Devas make excellent Cunning Bards. Their Wisdom bonus is largely wasted, but everything else they get is really useful. If a creature does get through the melee characters to attack you, he may already be bloodied, at which point you get a bonus to your defenses. You get two good resistances right off the bat, and your racial power is useful for both landing a hit when you really need to or making a crucial saving throw. Even before you look at racial feats, Deva is a good choice for Bards.

Goliaths seem like another unlikely candidate for Bards, but they work as Valor bards almost as well as Dragonborn. Their Strength bonus helps them qualify for armor and shield feats, and their racial power lessens the hits that get through. If you add in racial feats, it gets better, allowing them to make crucial saving throws or attack rolls almost as well as a Deva does. It will be hard for them to buy up an excellent Charisma, but they will be some of the most durable Bards around.


Bards have an immense skill list and because of this are probably going to outshine other characters in Skill Challenges. The only downside I see is that they get a lot of Wisdom skills, but Wisdom is arguably the least useful ability score for them. Regardless, you can train whatever skills you need. As always I recommend at least two people in the party with a decent Perception, and to have two or three people with the Heal skill in the roster as well. Diplomacy also makes a pretty obvious choice since you have a racial power to boost it. And if you want a more underhanded Bard go ahead and take Intimidate or bluff as well. For a storyteller, History might be a good skill to have, and for a wandering minstrel Nature might make sense. It's really all up to you, and you have plenty of options.


Bards have a lot of controller-esque abilities and as such its pretty important to land that necessary status effect when they need it. This makes both Weapon Expertise and Implement Expertise useful depending on what type of powers you use. If you are a front line fighter then Melee Training also becomes useful so that you can take advantage of your opportunity attacks, otherwise monsters will be unafraid of merely walking right past you. In general it is better to think of offensive feats as helping you be more accurate than helping deal damage because you are a leader and it is unlikely that you are dealing that much damage anyway.

As for defensive feats, your options are fairly limited. Increasing your armor class is unlikely unless you have the Strength to take the feats. However, feats to help your secondary defenses may be helpful once they open up to you. As a Cunning Bard you won't be taking too many hits regardless, but as a Valorous Bard you may be able to upgrade your AC a bit with feats, but if not you can at least take Toughness.

If you plan on switching between implement and weapon powers than Quick Draw is probably a good feat to take, if not you could go for Improved Initiative. Skill Training or Skill Focus feats make sense on Bards, if you want to be really good at a particular skill, and Linguist makes sense for the traveling minstrel archetype as well.

Bards get some pretty excellent class feats in the Player's Handbook 2. Bardic Knowledge gives them a +2 bonus to six skill checks that are commonly used in skill challenges and as monster knowledge checks. Improved Majestic Word also gains temporary hit points equal to your Charisma Modifier, which turns Majestic Word into one of the best heals in the game. Advantage of Cunning improves Virtue of Cunning, allowing you to slide an enemy 1 square into the spot an ally vacates. If you want to set up combat advantage, this is a great way of doing it. Strength of Valor gives a +2 damage bonus on the next attack of anyone affected by your Virtue of Valor, which isn't as good of an upgrade as Advantage of Cunning but is definitely worth a feat slot if you can't think of anything else you want.

Power Selection

If you didn't read my other two write-ups, then I should tell you that I only go over the power options for levels 1 and 2. If there is demand for anything more, I will cover that stuff in a later article, but due to length and time issues, this is as much as I am writing right now.

Bards have excellent at-will powers and technically only one of them favors one build or the other. Two of them use implements and two of them use weapons though, so think about that in your build. My personal recommendation is to take a mix of implement and weapon powers for most builds and to use the Quick Draw feat to switch between the two just so you can have the right tool for the job ready as often as possible.

The first At-Will power is Guiding Strike. It's a weapon power and it gives the target a -2 penalty to any one defense until the end of your next turn. If teamwork is something your group does well, and your Bard fights up front than this ability is very very useful. If neither of those are the case, then you can either use it to set up your own attacks or skip it. One thing that is very nice about this is that it helps lower most monsters that have one very high defense into the reachable range, or can lower a monsters weak defense even further, giving those who can target it almost a surefire hit.

Misdirected Mark is an implement at-will power that marks the target, but unlike other marking powers, it marks them for someone else, and its range 10. Great for helping the defender pick up a monster who got past him, or marking someone he can't reach. The only reasons I could see for not taking this power is if your party doesn't have a defender, or you absolutely refuse to use implements and only want to use weapons. Otherwise I would say its a must-have, just be sure not to get more than 5 squares away from the defender..

Vicious Mockery is the second at-will power and in a way its almost redundant since it gives the target -2 to attack rolls and Misdirected Mark gives them -2 to attack rolls against anyone except the ally who you chose. I prefer Misdirected Mark generally but this power can be useful against artillery or controller type monsters who you don't want hitting anyone and who have area attacks that can hit the defender and others at the same time. This attack also targets Will which is the most common low defense. It's also the argument for taking both Vicious Mockery and Misdirected Mark so that you can attack both Will and Reflex.

The last At-Will is a weapon attack and its really only useful for Valorous Bards, but its really useful for them and makes them temporary hit point giving dynamos. The attacks effect means that anyone who hits the target before the end of your next turn gains temporary hit points equal to your Constitution modifier. You can even use its benefit on your next turn. As long as your group is focus firing, this can be a powerful ability, and is my personal favorite of the Bard At-Wills. The only downside is that the bonus doesn't scale up very well, but by the time it becomes obsolete you probably aren't using many at-will powers anyway.

Blunder is the first of the level 1 encounter powers, and its meant more for Cunning Bards. How good it is depends on the makeup of your party. It deals 1d6 plus Charisma modifier damage, and you get to slide the target two squares, during the slide you or one of your allies can make a melee basic attack against the target as a free action with a +2 bonus to the attack roll. The bonus is raised to your Intelligence modifier +1 if you are Virtue of Cunning. I like this power a lot if you have a big two-hand weapon wielding teammate, because their basic attack could hit fairly hard, and I like it if you have a Rogue because you can shift someone into flanking and the rogue might be able to get Sneak Attack damage on them, but even without either of those its still a decent power and can move an enemy into flanking to further make it more likely the attack will hit. The only downside is that two squares isn't very far so if your group is spread out over a large area, this power is much less useful, and its also only Range 5.

Fast Friends is a rarity as it deals no damage. Its an implement power that targets Will, but like Blunder its only Range 5. If you hit with it you get to make one of your allies off-limits for that turn, and the monster will be forced to attack someone else. This is a great Panic Button to save someone from something thats about to kill them, but the effect goes away the moment you or one of your allies attack the target, and even if that doesn't happen it only lasts one round. There are better powers that do something very similar on later levels, but if you need a power like this until you get one of them this could be an option that you retrain later. My personal opinion is that its the least useful of the bunch, but still not completely useless.

Inspiring Refrain is the only weapon power out of the level 1 encounters, but its a pretty good one. It deals 2[W] damage and gives all allies a +1 bonus to attack rolls until the end of your next turn. The reason I like this power is because unlike most bonuses like this, the recipients don't have to target the same creature as you, meaning they can go about fighting off whatever they were fighting.

The last power, Shout of Triumph is an implement power, but it is geared towards Valorous Bards. It's a close blast 3 that attacks Fortitude and only damages enemies. It deals 1d6 + Charisma modifier damage and you can push the target 1 square. You also get to slide each ally in the blast 1 square, and both of those numbers turn into your Constitution modifier if you're a Valorous Bard. This is a pretty decent tactical positioning ability, as you can move enemies into flanking, move them into the area of your controller's area or close attacks, or save your allies from being damaged by those same attacks. It also deals thunder damage which is pretty rare as a resistance on the enemies. As for whether to take this or Inspiring Refrain on your Valorous Bard, it's a tossup really. Both are useful in different situations, but its hard to say which of those situations are more likely to come up.

Moving onto the daily powers we get Echoes of the Guardian. It's a weapon power that deals 2[W] + Charisma modifier damage and lets you mark the creature for an ally just like Misdirected Mark. However, it also deals half damage on a miss, and has an effect that until the end of your encounter all of your attacks have the same effect. If you don't have Misdirected Mark this is a very good power, but if you already have it, this can be a little redundant.

Slayer's Song is another weapon power that deals the same damage but is more offensive otherwise. The enemy hit grants combat advantage to you and your allies until it makes a save and in addition whenever you hit an enemy until the end of the encounter, it also grants combat advantage, though just until the end of your next turn. Being able to provide this kind of attack buff is nice, and the effect makes it amazing, because even if the primary target saves against the combat advantage, you can restore it for another round by attacking him again. The power is versatile, and universally applicable. There's never going to be a time your allies don't want you to use this power or that this power will botch someone's carefully laid plans.

Stirring Shout is a ranged 10 implement power that targets Will and deals 2d6 + Charisma modifier psychic damage. As an effect until the end of the encounter whenever an ally hits the target they regain hit points equal to your charisma modifier. The fact that you don't even have to hit with this power makes it a great addition to a Cunning Bard powers, since they don't have as many abilities to grant hit points at low levels. Since its the only implement power, I think its a pretty obvious choice.

Verse of Triumph is another 2[W] + Charisma modifier damage ability. Until the end of the encounter you and all allies within 5 squares gain a +1 bonus to damage and saving throws, and when any ally kills an enemy, you and any ally within 5 squares of the downed enemy can shift one square as a free action. This ability is definitely good, but in the face of the other level 1 daily powers that are not only more specialized ins cope but also less generic in flavor, I'm guessing most Bards will pass on this.

You'd think Bards would have awesome utility powers, but at level two the options are kind of underwhelming or too situational. Hunter's Tune merely helps an ally be stealthy as a daily power, but if you have a stealthy ally in your party its unlikely he needs the help.

Inspire Competence gives you and each ally within 5 +2 on a certain skill check until the end of the encounter. This can be useful if climbing or jumping is required, so that you can boost the acrobatics or athletics of all until they can get past the obstacle. It's also an Encounter bonus so if your DM loves obstacles this can be a nice choice.

Song of Courage creates a zone in close burst 5 that gives all allies within a +1 power bonus to attack rolls. The zone moves with you and you can continue the effect by using your minor actions, but the fact that its a daily power is kind of a bummer. The buff is nice, especially on lower levels, but having to sacrifice your minor actions, which could be used for Majestic Words or other utility powers is a definite downside.

Song of Defense is essentially the same ability but the +1 bonus is to AC. I prefer it to Song of Courage, but either make a decent choice.


Bards should be the kings of multiclassing, but in reality it doesn't seem to work out this way. There are classes that can be useful for certain builds but the problem with Bards is that Charisma, Constitution, and Intelligence aren't the most used ability scores for attacks, so that often times you will be forced to raise an ability score just for the purpose of your multiclass. This will be fine and dandy, but until you reach the level where you can start power swapping a decent amount, that raised ability score is largely a waste. I myself like Bards as straight Bards or maybe with a bit of Sorcerer or Paladin thrown in, but I'm not too big on taking multiple Multiclass feats with Multiclass Versatility yet. This may change as the game develops and more combinations come to light.

Combat Strategies

Regardless of which build you choose, you can be a competent healer, though probably never as good as a Cleric. The number of unique buffs you give, the tactical positioning and the fact that you get quite a few controller-type abilities make you useful to replace that role as well. If I already had a leader in my party but we were going to double up on that role, this would probably be best for that just because they can help with many different tasks.

Valorous Bards can off-tank fairly well. While they could be easily overwhelmed if not careful, standing shoulder to shoulder with the defenders is where they should be, if not helping to provide them flanking. A lot of their abilities can help the Defender do his job even better, so make sure he's within a decent range of you at all times.

In fact, even if you are an implement bard, try not to hang back too far. You're going to kick yourself every time somebody can't make use of your Virtue or can't be reached with a buff because you stepped back one square too far. You have plenty of hit points to take a few hits and aren't a likely target in most situations, so stay where you can effect the most allies. Who's the enemy going to attack the guy singing a song or the guy swinging a sword?

Bards don't have that many ways to give Saving Throws or Saving Throw bonuses to their allies, which is pretty unfortunate. This means that your group needs to bring down Controllers and other debilitating enemies first, so that they don't get locked up. This gets a little better as Bards level up, but it can still be a problem.

For some more strategy consider reading the article just before this one, which is all about Leaders and what they bring to a party.