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 l8july@hotmail.com, 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.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Leaders: More Than Healbots

A lot of people play Leaders because the party needs healing, but in 4th Edition the Leader classes are so much more than that. If you are thinking of playing a Leader you currently have four options: Cleric, Warlord, Bard or Shaman. All of them play differently and I'll be getting to the last two in some of my upcoming articles, but regardless of which one you pick, you have a lot more to offer the party than just healing. I wanted to write a shorter article and bring up just a few things that Leaders do that can be taken for granted.

Saving Throws: An Oft-Ignored Resource

Many different Leader classes have abilities that can give players extra saving throws or make bonuses on their next saving throws. Some classes have feats or Paragon Paths that allow them to add extra saving throws to their current abilities. Regardless of how you get the bonuses and extra saves, they're invaluable.

While there are more status effects that are detrimental to your melee characters, all characters can be debilitated and it happens fairly often once you make your way into Paragon tier. Melee Strikers can have their damage halved by a weaken, their actions limited by a daze, become dangerous to your party by being dominated or lose their turn altogether to a stun. All of those translate into one thing: the bad guys stay alive longer. Less turns under the effect means more success for your party, and every Leader class can help with this to some degree. However, nobody is as easily gimped by a status effect as your main defender (well, unless they're a Warden, but that's for another time). If your main defender can't get in close with a monster because of slow or daze, that's a turn the monster is free to attack your squishier party members. So if you are a leader and you notice that the monsters are throwing down a lot of status effects, you should have some situational abilities ready for this moment. If you haven't breached level ten with your campaign yet, this may make less sense, but trust me when I say that Paragon Tier monsters mean probably double the number of status effects for your party.

Tactical Positioning

Sometimes characters can't get into the best positions by themselves and those pesky monsters may not stand in just the right spots for your team to really excel. This is where you come in. With push, pull, slide and even teleport effects you can move around both friend and foe and find a better situation for everyone. You can give your strikers combat advantage by moving the targets into flanking, position somebody to be bull rushed into a hazard, or arrange it so that your controllers can hit with their close and area attacks without making it painful for your melee characters.

Tactical Warlords were the supreme rulers of this particular Leader discipline, but Bards have given them a run for their money. Even Shamans and Clerics can push enemies around and shouldn't be afraid to make use of this ability. Everyone in your party can benefit from it, but if you have a Rogue, Wizard, Invoker, or Druid in your party it is especially nice for allowing them to maximize their efficiency and minimize collateral damage. Combine it with close burst attacks from a fighter or a Warden's free action marking and you can even help the Defender be better at his job.

Buffs: All About The Timing

Buffs are something that all Leaders can do, but both using them and making use of their effects is really all about the timing. If you have a defensive buff that only lasts one round and you win out initiative over the dragon you are fighting, use it. Its likely it will help some of your team avoid taking as much damage from a breath weapon, and if the DM doesn't use the breath weapon just because of the buff, well, that gives you a free turn to wail on him before his best ability even makes an appearance. In all likelihood that translates into less breath weapons over the course of an encounter.

In the same way other party members might wait for an attack buff from you before they attempt to hit with a daily. If several of your characters are bunched up in the initiative order, don't underestimate the power of holding your turns and rearranging into the best possible sequence of actions. You can do it every round with no penalty as long as you don't hold past any of the enemy's turns.

Secondary Roles

Almost no Leader build is just a straight up buffer and healer. Most have a secondary role of some kind. Tactical, Resourceful, and Inspiring Warlords all make decent off-tanks and secondary defenders while Bravura Warlords can deal a decent amount of damage and be secondary strikers. Wisdom-based Clerics have plenty of controller-like abilities that hit multiple enemies or give them debilitating status effects. These are not the only examples.

Regardless of what your secondary role is, recognize it and make use of it. If all you do is make your teammates better and don't do anything on your own, chances are you aren't going to have as much fun at the table. Don't be afraid to throw out some damage, status effects, or tanking powers in an encounter. Your allies won't need a heal, buff, or repositioning every single round anyway.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Barbarians: They're All The Rage

I apologize for the title but its the best i could come up with. Anyway, having finished my Avenger write-up, I have decided to move on to the next class ahead of schedule so I can get everyone's favorite class done in a reasonable amount of time. So, in pretty much the same format: Barbarians.

Just What Is A Barbarian?

Have you never watched Conan or played Diablo 2? Barbarians, traditionally, are just like that in pen and paper RPGs. Big, muscle-bound warriors who use the powers of both anger and wearing nothing but a loincloth to overcome any obstacle. Who needs discipline when you can just get really mad? In 3.5 Barbarians were pretty much just that: angry, less disciplined fighters. In 4th Edition they have been altered a little to come in line with the rest of the primal classes. Barbarians are the primal power source's strikers, and their "Rage" is actually them calling primal spirits into their bodies. They wield big weapons, deal lots of damage, and inspire with their courage.

Mechanically Barbarians are can be a deceptively deep class. Some may dismiss them as simple glass cannons because of their armor proficiencies and ability score requirements, but there is more to it than that, and that will be the point of this write-up. Barbarians can give groups some really excellent bonuses and buffs, and learning when to use your daily powers is different for them than any other class. Their two builds play drastically different from each other, and riding the fence between kicking ass, and getting yours kicked is harder to do with them than one might think.

To help with their low defenses they get the class feature Barbarian Agility, which gives them a +1 bonus to both armor class and reflex. This bonus improves to +2 in paragon tier, and +3 in epic. The extra reflex defense is nice, especially if you are planning on using a sword or spear because you already have some investment in dexterity for just that reason and then you will probably have at least two decent defenses. Barbarians gain a flat +2 bonus to fortitude, and they have a lot of hit points, so don't be too afraid about throwing them into the fray. They can't deal any damage sitting on the sideline.

All Barbarian daily powers have the Rage keyword. Once you use them, they are not only an attack but a buff that lasts until the end of the encounter. While under the effect of these buffs you are considered to be "raging" and that confers benefits to other feats and powers, besides just the buff the rage itself gives you.

At fifth level Barbarians gain an ability called Rage Strike, which is a daily power that you must sacrifice one of your rages to use, though you must already be raging to use it. The higher level daily you sacrifice, the more damage Rage Strike does. The damage is usually ahead of the curve for a daily of that level, but it has no secondary effects, just damage. Because of this many people say they'll never use it but it is a great panic button if you get in over your head and need to burn a troublesome enemy down. You also can't benefit from two Barbarian daily powers fully at the same time anyway, and if you make it to an extended rest with a daily power still in reserves, that's a potential Rage Strike wasted. The solution is to not plan on using Rage Strike, but to recognize when its time to break it out.

Rampage is a passive ability that can grant barbarians further bursts of damage and it makes the "Mastery" feats in epic tier look very attractive. Whenever a Barbarian scores a critical hit with a Barbarian attack power, they get to make a melee basic attack as a free action. That attack does not even have to be against the same target, which is what makes it such a good feature.

Rageblood vs. Thaneborn

Much like the Avenger's Censure, Barbarians have a feature which requires you to make a choice between two different options. This choice will pretty much define your character's playstyle more than anything else you choose, and the gap in style here is larger than it was for the Avenger. The choice is your Feral Might class feature, and it comes down to what you want your character to focus on.

The Rageblood Vigor feature is the choice to make if you want to be all about the damage. You will also gain more temporary hit points, and be able to take hits better, but the main focus here is the damage. The Rageblood Vigor feature grants you an encounter power called Swift Charge, which is a free action triggered by reducing an enemy to zero hit points, and allows you to charge another enemy right then. The fact that it doesn't even use your immediate action for the turn makes it very useful, especially combined with powers that allow you to use them during charges in place of melee basic attacks. Encounter powers used as free actions? Sign me up.

In addition to Swift Charge, Rageblood Vigor grants you a passive feature as well. Whenever you reduce an enemy to zero hit points, you gain temporary hit points equal to your constitution modifier. This increases by five in paragon tier, and by five more in epic tier. This ability helps them take hits which they are definitely going to be doing a fair bit of.

The other Feral Might option is Thaneborn Triumph, which is the option you should take if you'd like to inspire your allies as well as just beat up the bad guys. Thaneborn Barbarians don't deal as much damage as their Rageblood counterparts, but they do give their group a lot more buffs, and in many groups this utility may be worth the trade-off in damage.

Instead of Swift Charge, you gain the Roar of Triumph encounter power. It is also a free action triggered by when you reduce an enemy to 0 hit points but it is instead a close burst 5 that automatically gives all enemies in the burst a -2 penalty to all defenses until the end of your next turn. In a striker-heavy team, this power can give a lot of help, and it opens up the opportunity for some well-timed dailies and encounters from your party over the course of the next round without spending anything but a free action on your part.

The passive feature for Thaneborn Triumph is a bonus given whenever you bloody an enemy. The next attack that enemy by you or an ally gets a bonus to its attack roll equal to your charisma modifier. Again this ability characterizes the difference between the two builds. Thaneborn Barbarians are still strikers, but they also have many leader-like abilities. I will go over the different strategies more in a later section.

Many powers have additional benefits depending on which Feral Might option you have chosen, but in general they are based on either giving small buffs to your allies and debuffs to your enemies for Thaneborn Triumph or dealing more damage and taking hits better for Rageblood Vigor.

Ability Scores

All Barbarian powers use strength to make their attacks, so it should be the primary focus of your build. It is also a requirement of most weapon feats, and these are something you could definitely go for later down the line in paragon and epic tiers. Your secondary ability score depends on your build choice.

Rageblood Barbarians use constitution as their secondary score, which gives you a nice hit point and healing surge boost, as well as helping many of the Rageblood type powers be more effective. The only downside is that this score, like strength, boost your fortitude defense, which means that your other defenses are going to take a hit because of it. However, both axe and hammer related feats require strength and constitution, which means it is much easier to qualify for weapon feats.

Thaneborn Barbarians use charisma as their secondary score which makes it harder for them to qualify for weapon feats since no weapon type uses it to qualify, but it benefits will defense, giving Thaneborn Barbarians a second high defense other than just fortitude. It is also gives them bonuses to many of their powers.

As for where to spend the rest of your points, I nominate dexterity. This will allow you to improve your AC without having to take any armor feats. You also need dexterity to qualify for sword or spear feats later on, and it helps your initiative, which is always good. You could also take constitution or charisma as a tertiary (assuming you took the other one of them as a secondary) to gain access to powers from the other build if you prefer, but at that point you should really think about taking the feats for heavy armor since you aren't getting much of an armor class bonus from your ability scores, if any at all.

Race Choices

The only races released in books that have perfect ability scores for Barbarians are Goliaths and Dragonborn. However, these are not the only races that make good Barbarians and some would argue they aren't even the most optimal choices. Dwarves, Half-Elves, Halflings, and Tieflings from the Player's Handbook, Drow and Genasi from the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide, and Half-Orcs and Longtooth Shifters from the Player's Handbook 2. I will go over what all of these options bring to the table.

Goliaths, a new race detailed in Player's Handbook 2 get their ability score bonuses to strength and constitution making them ideal Rageblood Barbarians, though in truth either build will work fine for them. Both of their skill bonuses are in the Barbarian skill list, they get improved will saving throw and are roll twice when using the athletics skill, something you will probably be doing often. Their racial power gives you resist 5 to all damage (scales to 10 in paragon tier and 15 in epic tier) until the end of your next turn, which brings some added resilience to a class that could definitely use it. In almost every way the race and class have excellent synergy. It gets better when you look to feats. While Goliath Weapon Proficiency only helps if you don't plan on using a superior weapon (which is not something I recommend), Markings of the Victor is a feat that has great benefit to Barbarians. As a Barbarian you are going to drop dailies as early in a fight as possible to keep the benefit of the rage for as much of the encounter as possible, and Markings of the Victor lets you roll twice on the first attack of an encounter. With other classes, this is not going to be a daily all the time, but for a Barbarian it will be in many encounters, especially after you get to level 9 and have three daily powers. Markings of the Blessed is also good, granting you two rolls on your first saving throw. Barbarians become much less effective when hit with many status effects, so any feat that helps them save against such effects is very useful.

Dragonborn get +2 Strength and +2 Charisma which puts them perfectly in-line with Thaneborn Barbarians, but in truth they are just as viable as Rageblood Barbarians too. In addition to Dragon Breath, which gives them some minion killing power, they also are more effective when bloodied, and have bigger healing surges due to their class features. Unfortunately, not many of their racial feats have use as a Barbarian. The standout exception is Dragonborn Frenzy, giving you +2 damage while bloodied. As a Barbarian you are likely to spend a fair amount of time bloodied, so this is a nice bonus, but not a totally necessary feat choice.

While Dwarves don't get a bonus to strength and their bonus to wisdom is largely wasted on Barbarians, they still make decent candidates for the Rageblood build. They get a +2 bonus to constitution, and can use their second wind as a minor action. Not having to stop with the hack n' slash to heal themselves is pretty useful for Barbarians, as is their resistance to push, pull, slide and knock prone effects. They also get Dwarven Weapon Training, which can help them become proficient with a Mordenkrad or Executioner's Axe, the Rageblood weapons of choice. In Paragon tier they can also get Dwarven Durability, gaining more healing surges and raising their surge value by their constitution. The one major downside is that Dwarves have a measly five speed, and that makes it tough to get to their opponents as fast as other races.

I put Half-Elves and not Humans on the list, and that may surprise some people, but let me explain the choice. Humans don't get two ability score bonuses, and in exchange get an additional feat, an additional at-will power, and an additional skill. Unfortunately, Barbarians really need their ability score points, have no need for three different at-wills, and their skill list is sub-par. Even though you get +1 to reflex, fortitude, and will as a human, that bonus doesn't scale very well, and the extra feat, while making you awesome at first level, quickly becomes unnecessary. Humans do have awesome racial feats, including Human Perseverence for +1 on saving throws and Action Surge for +3 on attacks after spending an action point, but Half-Elves can take these feats too, and their other bonuses are more useful to Barbarians. With bonuses to both constitution and charisma they can work equally well as either Rageblood or Thaneborn Barbarians and strength is a common ability score for attacks to key off of so there are plenty of excellent choices for your Dilettante powers. Standout choices differ depending on the build but Barbarians might take Righteous Brand from Clerics, Cleave, Brash Strike or Footwork Lure from Fighters, Valiant Strike from Paladins, Hit and Run from Rangers, Wolf Pack Tactics from Warlords, Guiding Strike or Warsong Strike from Bards (Thaneborn only), and Thorn Strike from Wardens. The only downside to Half-Elves is that you don't get a bonus to Strength, which puts an 18 either out of reach, or so costly that you won't be able to invest in dexterity at all, which means you'll have to spend valuable feat slots on armor proficiencies if you want a decent Armor Class.

Halflings are an odd choice for Barbarians, and one you probably won't find recommended by many others. Its not that Halflings emphasize the strengths of the Barbarian class particularly well, it is instead that they shore up the weaknesses better than almost any other option. The downside is that Halflings are small sized, which means they can't use two handed weapons which limits them to versatile weapons weilded two-handed. There are plenty of choices that work for this like Waraxes, Triple-headed Flails, Broadswords or Bastard Swords. Since Halfling really only works for Thaneborn Barbarians and you may as well make use of the dexterity bonus, I recommend the Bastard Sword or the Flail since their feats use dexterity. This hurts your damage a little, but the bonuses you get more than make up for it. You get +2 to armor class against opportunity attacks, which you will incur to remain mobile. You also get Second Chance forcing your enemies to try twice as hard the first time they attack you in an encounter. The feats make it even better, with Lost in the Crowd giving you +2 to AC whenever two medium size or larger enemies are adjacent, and Underfoot in paragon tier allowing you to move through the squares of large sized or larger creatures without provoking opportunity attacks. A Halfling Thaneborn Barbarian is probably the "safest" build for a Barbarian if you want all the fun without the fun without the tragically low defenses.

Tieflings only really work as Thaneborn Barbarians, and even then they are not a great choice, but they are passable, and if you think about the flavor, there's opportunity there for a really unique and memorable character. The charisma bonus is nice, and while not as useful as dexterity, their intelligence bonus does help their armor class. Fire resistance is nice since it is one of the most encountered damage types, and Bloodhunt will help you finish off bloodied foes. Infernal Wrath is pretty useful right from the start, but with the paragon tier feat Fiery Rebuke, adding 5+ one half your level fiery damage to the attack from Infernal Wrath is going to mean that the attack will add something like 15 extra damage. That is more than an orc's furious assault would add. It will be hard for a Tiefling Barbarian to get the weapon feats at the same level other races could, and the lack of a strength bonus hurts them, but Tieflings still make passable Barbarians.

Although I'm not sure how you would explain the existence of one, Drow make surprisingly good Thaneborn Barbarians. Their ability scores bonuses are the same as Halflings, but they are medium sized meaning a Fullblade is within the realm of possibility for them. They can get combat advantage easily with Darkfire, and Cloud of Darkness works well both offensively and defensively. Most of their useful feats just expand the capability of their racial powers, but all-in-all they are a good option.

Genasi make good Barbarians of either build. They are one of only four races that get a bonus to strength, and while Dexterity would be better, Intelligence helps their AC a little bit. I recommend choosing Earthsoul or Firesoul for your manifestation. Especially since Earthsoul gives you +1 to saving throws and fortitude, and its power can knock all adjacent enemies prone, and Firesoul gets you Reflex, fire resistance and the ability to strike back at an enemy who damages you. Again the downside is that it will be harder to get weapon feats with no bonus to dexterity or constitution, but combined with some of the more elemental themed Barbarian powers, the idea of a Genasi Barbarian is pretty damn cool.

Half-Orcs are another race that can be effective at either build. Their dexterity bonus influences their choice of weapons towards spears, flails or heavy blades if they choose Thaneborn, but I prefer them as Rageblood Barbarians due to a couple small synergies. The obvious one is that Furious Assault increases damage and Rageblood is the damage dealing build, but the +2 speed while charging Half-Orcs get opens up more possibilities with your Swift Charge power, and makes it useful even in wide open areas. As far as feats go the options aren't astounding, but Thirst for Battle remains one of the best racial feats there is, so I'd take advantage of of it.

Longtooth Shifters gain a bonus to strength which is always nice, but unfortunately their Wisdom bonus is largely useless except for giving you a +1 to your will defense. However, as a Rageblood Barbarian you are likely to become bloodied every encounter, and their racial power is really nice giving you +2 damage for the rest of the encounter afterward, and regeneration as long as you're bloodied. The Gorebrute Charge feat gives you +3 more damage on charge attacks while your shifting is active and in Paragon tier you can get 2 resist all during it with Beasthide Shifting as well.


You only get three choices and the list isn't that expansive. Also, of the eight choices, three of them key off of wisdom, which is an otherwise useless ability score for you. Make sure to take either Acrobatics or Athletics so that you can climb and jump easier. After that it is largely up to you, though my top three choices are Endurance, Heal and Intimidate. Perception is also a viable option, especially if you don't have a Ranger or Cleric in your party to be really good at it. Heal is nice because you don't have to be really good at it to make the easy check to stabilize fallen allies, and having that utility is always good. Endurance is a skill that doesn't come into use in every game and is often overlooked, and Intimidate is hard to use because of the penalty for using it against hostiles, but otherwise take what you think fits your character best.


Barbarians are a class that can get plenty of use out of the current feats, but I can tell will have many more options once Primal Power comes out. Right now you will still probably have to make some tough decisions though.

For defensive feats your options are kind of limited, but I do recommend Defensive Mobility so you have less to fear from opportunity attacks first and foremost. If you don't have a decent score in Dexterity or Intelligence to help your low AC, you are probably going to want to head for plate armor proficiency by the time you get to Paragon tier. Toughness is another feat I would aim to have no matter what, and Durability might be a necessity if there are a lot of encounters in between extended rests during your campaign. Timely Respite might be another option just because you don't have many other ways to get free saving throws, but if the leader in your party is doing a reasonable job feeding you saving throws you can skip that too.

When it comes to offensive feats there are similarities between the Barbarian and the Avenger. Since you are also a striker that uses his weapon to deal damage, you are probably going to want to grab some kind of superior weapon proficiency early. Unlike the Avenger though, polearms and spears are acceptable weapon choices so consider the greatspear amongst your choices. Others include a Fullblade, Mordenkrad, or Executioner's Axe. You also want to hit as often as possible so Weapon Expertise is pretty much a requirement. Weapon Focus and Blade Opportunist are two other options that bring entirely different strengths to the table, but depending on the specifics of your build, you could skip them entirely.

For utility you are going to want Improved Initiative if at all possible since your character is going to be charging into battle a lot, but there aren't many other great options. If the other melee characters are falling unconscious and you took heal as a trained skill, Combat Medic could be an option, but the better option is to tell your DM to tone down the encounters and quite being a sadist.

What a lot of your feat slots could be spent on though, are the Barbarians outstanding class specific feats. Deadly Rage grants +1 damage per tier as long as your raging, and it stacks with other feats that are similar because its bonus is untyped. As you gain more daily powers you'll spend more time raging, so don't grab it at level 1, wait until level 8 or 10 to pick up this feat so you can get more use out of it while you have it. Improved Rageblood Vigor gives you 5 extra temporary hit points whenever you trigger its passive feature, which is astoundingly good at low levels and at least decent all the way to level 30. Improved Roar of Triumph extends the burst radius of the power by your charisma modifier and gives you +2 damage while it lasts. Both are must-haves for their respective builds. The only heroic tier feat that's not that great is Rising Fury which gives you +2 damage for a turn after you kill an enemy. Better for Rageblood than Thaneborn, but not required for either.

Power Selection

Just as I did with Avengers, I will only be doing the level one and two powers, but if you want more leave me a comment and perhaps in the future I will do some extensions to these class write-ups that continue further in levels.

Starting with the At-Will Powers we have Devastating Strike. It is the most damaging at-will power that Barbarians have dealing 1[W]+1d8+Strength modifier damage. It does give any attacker a +2 bonus to attack rolls against you if you aren't raging though. This power is one of the only times I will honestly say a power just isn't very good. If you absolutely must squeeze every last point of damage you can out of your character you can take this power but otherwise I'd pass. You can add a second d8 to the damage at level 11 and a third at level 21.

Howling Strike changes out the d8s for d6s on the damage from Devastating Strike but doesn't have the horrendous downside. In addition it can be used in place of a basic melee attack when charging, and furthermore if you are raging you can move 2 extra squares as part of the charge. If you are a Half-Orc this means you can charge 10 squares with this power if you are raging. This power will likely be your bread and butter.

Pressing Strike doesn't deal as much damage as either of the abilities normally, but it allows you to shift 2 squares before the attack and you can even shift through an enemy's space with with it. You also deal 1d6 extra damage if you are raging but this portion of the damage doesn't scale up with level. This is a good power. It can let you close a small gap to a monster initially, avoid opportunity attacks, or gain flanking position with an ally. It is another solid at-will choice.

The last at-will is Recuperating Strike which doesn't have any extra die added to the damage but it does give you temporary hit points equal to your constitution modifier if you hit, and five more than that if you are raging when you do it. For a Rageblood Barbarian its hard not to take this power, but Thaneborn builds are unlikely to have the constitution for it to be really useful. If you are a Rageblood build it will be hard to pick between this and Pressing Strike, but I think I'd base it off of my party's composition. If you are needed to give flanking situations to a rogue so he can get his sneak attack damage or if you have a warlord you need to stay close to so he can feed you extra attacks, then forgo this power, but otherwise I'd say this edges Pressing Strike out, and you can always take Defensive Mobility as a feat to help mitigate the opportunity attacks.

Your first encounter power option is Avalanche Strike, the most damaging of the bunch at 3[W] damage to a single target. It deals extra damage equal to your constitution modifier if you chose Rageblood Vigor, but the problem with it is that whether you hit or miss, anyone who attacks you gets +4 on their roles until the start of your next turn. I would say the consequence far outweighs the benefit in this situation. While it would be good if you could guarantee you'd only get attacked once, chances are that leaving yourself open like this is going to put you in a world of hurt before your next turn. I would probably never take this as my level one encounter power.

Bloodletting is another single target attack but it only deals 2[W] damage. You do get to add your constitution modifier to damage if the target is bloodied though. This is a possibility for Rageblood Barbarians, but not a necessity. If you really want to focus on the single-target damage this is probably the power to take, but if you want more variety there is another option.

And that option is Great Cleave, a close burst 1 that deals 1[W], but gets a bonus point of damage for each enemy adjacent to you. This is probably my choice for a Rageblood Barbarian, even though their constitution doesn't give it any benefit. Being next to multiple enemies is a situation more likely to occur every battle at 1st level than fighting a monster who's bloodied but still needs to be targeted with a 2[W] damage attack.

The last option, and the only one tailored towards Thaneborn builds specifically is Vault The Fallen. It targets one or two creatures, and you can shift one square between the attacks. It deals 1[W] to each, but you get 1d6 bonus damage on the attacks as well. If you have taken Thaneborn Triumph you can shift your charisma modifier squares between the attacks, which makes it infinitely more useful. I can't fathom the number of times I've played a striker and been torn between finishing a near dead enemy off and going to help an ally with a monster they were having trouble with. This power is built for those situations specifically and either it or Great Cleave work fine for a Thaneborn Barbarian's level one encounter power.

Daily powers are where Barbarians really stand out from the crowd, and almost none of their daily powers are totally useless. All four of the level one options have their benefits, and it largely depends on your playstyle for what power will work best for you.

Bloodhunt Rage hits for 3[W] on a single target, half damage on a miss, and while you are under the effects of the rage you can add your constitution modififer if either you or your target is bloodied. While this is more consistently giving you its rage bonus than some of the other options, it's my least favorite just because its bonus isn't anything special.

Macetail's Rage is another close burst 1 attack, again for 1[W] to each target, though this one deals half damage on a miss. In addition, you gain temporary hit points equal to your strength every time you hit with an attack until the rage ends. This is a great bonus that you can theoretically apply every turn and since its based on strength, its one of only a few opportunities for a Thaneborn Barbarian to get a decent number of temporary hit points at all. It would probably be redundant to choose both this and Great Cleave though, unless your party was really hurting for area attacks.

Rage Drake's Frenzy is another 3[W] single target attack. It gains a +2 bonus if the target is bloodied, and it deals half damage on a miss. Its rage is my favorite for a Rageblood Barbarian, and it gives you a melee basic attack whenever you reduce an enemy to zero hit points. Combined with Swift Charge this can add a lot of auxiliary damage. Unfortunately its rage benefit is lost against a solo monster, and greatly diminished against elites since it will be more difficult to kill them.

Swift Panther Rage, the last option is again a 3[W] single target attack that deals half damage on a miss. Its rage gives you +2 speed and lets you shift two squares as a move action. This is a really great option for either Rageblood or Thaneborn barbarians who's parties use a lot of positioning. You would take it for a lot of the same reasons you might take Pressing Strike.

Once you level and gain a utility power, you again have four choices. Combat Sprint lets you move your speed +4 and you get a +4 bonus to defenses against the opportunity attacks. It is an encounter power, which is great, except that it doesn't seem like the kind of power you could use every encounter. How often do you need to run betwixt several enemies? It's probably not that infrequent, but unless your DM has a penchant for tiny rooms, it's probably not that frequent either. Regardless, as a Thaneborn Barbarian its almost your only real solid option.

Primal Vitality is a daily power and grants temporary hit points equal to one-half your level plus your constitution modifier. If you are raging you get to add your constitution modifier again. This can be a lot of temporary hit points, but the build that benefits from it, Rageblood, has plenty of other ways to gain the same effects.

Stonebreaker gives you a +5 bonus to strength checks to break objects for a turn, and you deal double damage to those objects. Great for breaking down locked doors down, but locked doors usually mean that there is a key of some kind around and keys don't take up a power slot on your character.

Tiger's Leap is a jump enhancer, allowing you to jump as though you had a running start and without the cap of your normal speed with regards to said jump. It definitely has its uses, but I doubt this kind of situation comes up in the majority of encounters for most players.


Barbarians can multiclass to a number of classes effectively though you will probably not want to trade out your daily powers since Barbarians have some of the best there are. Options include Cleric, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Warlock, Warlord, Bard, Sorcerer, and Warden. Some of these grant you limited ranged attack power, others boost your abilities as an off-tank, but all are viable.

Combat Strategies

As where Avengers brought an enemy out from the chaos of battle to kill them one on one, Barbarians throw themselves into the fray. The real general skill of Barbarians is to learn how to mitigate the number of attacks against them. Don't be so reckless that you are using up most of your leader's healing powers because no amount of damage dealing is worth that. You also need to ration out your daily powers for your encounters, but that becomes easier the higher level you become. Aside from that general strategy, here are some specific things to think about.

Rageblood Barbarians can use a minion as a quick heal. If you know minions are in the fight be sure to use them as a surefire trigger of Rageblood Vigor, and possibly even to close a gap with Swift Charge after you kill one. Thaneborn Barbarians are probably less excited about minions, though they can be used to trigger Roar of Triumph.

Status effects are going to cause you problems if your leader doesn't help you mitigate them. Daze, Stun, Weaken and Dominate all cripple your character's effectiveness, and if you become dominated it is easy for you to deal a hefty sum of damage to one of your allies as well. Try to avoid fighting these monsters if at all possible.

Warlords can grant attacks to their allies, and no ally is better at this than a Barbarian, especially a Rageblood Barbarian. With big two-handed weapons you can hit much harder than any warlord could themselves, so you will be a warlord's preferred partner in crime.

Many people seem to think that Thaneborn Barbarians are worse than Rageblood Barbarians, but this simply isn't the truth. Remember that even though you are a striker, this is a cooperative game, and the boosts Thaneborn Barbarians can offer you with many of their abilities could very well cause more damage overall when you take the rest of your party into account. Don't get so caught up in dealing tons of damage that you don't see the utility in your class as well.

Unlike Avengers, Barbarians can work fairly well as a character for a new player. Although it is easy for them to become overwhelmed, the sheer amount of damage they do will make them fun for new players, and if they read this guide or any comparable guide they might even be able to make a fairly well built one without any help at the table.