I have mentioned it already, but I will preface this guide by saying that Shamans are hands down the most complicated class to utilize in the entire game. However, they are also extremely useful, very versatile, and a hell of a lot of fun to play.
But What Do They Do?
Shamans are the Primal Power Source's Leader. They can heal like most leaders, but in a different way. They're main feature though is their Spirit Companion. While your Spirit Companion's appearance is up to you, it is essentially a pet in game terms, however it works totally different from the Beastmaster Ranger's pet, or the Invoker's summoned angels. You make the majority of your attacks through the spirit, determining line of sight and line of effect from it. Many of the Shaman's powers have ranges like "Melee Spirit 1" meaning that you can use it to attack any creature adjacent to your Spirit Companion.
You summon your companion with a minor action and you can place it anywhere within 20 squares of you. It occupies a square and enemies can't move through its space, though your allies can. When you take a move action, you can also move the spirit a number of squares equal to your speed. This means that the spirit companion doesn't shift, it only moves. The spirit can be attacked though it doesn't have hit points. If a single attack deals 10 plus one half your level or more, it dies and you take damage equal to 5 plus one half your level, otherwise the spirit is unaffected. You can summon the spirit again as soon as you have another minor action though, so its not too much a penalty, and the spirit is usually pretty good at sustaining enemy attacks. The Spirit Companion has additional powers but I'll get to those in the following sections. Learning how to position your spirit companion, is key to utilizing this class to its utmost.
Shamans have a twice per encounter heal, much like the other leaders though theirs works differnetly. Its called Healing Spirit and the range is Close Burst 5 and it heals one target in the burst by letting them spend a healing surge. It also gives 1d6 extra hit points to a separate ally adjacent to your spirit companion though, and these extra hit points go up as you level. While this makes them less competent as single target healers, it merely means you have to change how you think of healing. Try to keep your allies topped off as much as possible, and utilize the d6's because they don't use up healing surges, which is always a bonus. Shamans work especially well in groups where there are multiple defenders or melee characters, so you can heal two at a time, and there isn't only one tank character taking all the damage.
Shaman's also get a power called Speak with Spirits. Its a minor action that gives you a bonus to your next skill check equal to your wisdom modifier. This is excellent for Skill Challenges or encounters where you really need to make an athletics or acrobatics check to clear a pit or escape a grab.
Prorector or Stalker?
As usual you have a choice on first level as to which kind of Shaman you want to be. Protector Shamans have a slight edge in healing, and have some defender-like abilities to better make use of your Spirit Companion as an off-tank, while Stalker Shamans have more damage and debuffs, and can help make up for a missing striker in your group. Each choice gives you an innate class feature, a special at-will opportunity action power, and chooses one of your two at-will powers for you. Both have their merits and challenges, so I'll go over each.
If you choose a Protector Spirit, you gain a Spirit Boon, which means that any ally adjacent to your spirit companion regains additional hit points equal to your Constitution modifier when they use second wind or when you use a healing power on him or her. This can be extremely useful for really upping the ante with your healing, especially if there's some dwarves in the party, since they are more apt to use their second wind every encounter. This, like many of your powers does rely on positioning quite a bit though. You also gain the Spirit's Shield power which triggers when an enemy leaves a square adjacent to your spirit companion without shifting. The attack is against Reflex, and only deals your Wisdom modifier in damage, but one ally within 4 squares of your Spirit Companion also regains hit points equal to your Wisdom modifier. This again gives you more small heals that don't use up healing surges, so make use of them as often as you can. Force enemies to either provoke this attack and heal your allies or attack the spirit companion, likely doing nothing. The power is an opportunity action, not an immediate, so you can make use of it against multiple enemies in the same round. This obviously requires your teammates to cooperate with their positioning as well, but 5 squares from the spirit companion is a pretty easy position to maintain. You also get one of your at-wills chosen automatically, which is Protecting Strike. This power is a Melee Spirit 1 attack that target's Will. It deals 1d8+Wisdom modifier and gives each ally adjacent to your spirit companion temporary hit points equal to your Constitution modifier. When used correctly this can give your whole team a nice hit point buffer at all times, allowing you to stretch your heals farther and rely on them less.
Stalker Shamans get a different Spirit Boon, which gives allies adjacent to your Spirit Companion a bonus to damage rolls against bloodied enemies equal to your Intelligence modifier. This can be nice, but since it only works against enemies already boodied, and with how you position your spirit is likely only going to affect the melee characters, it definitely seems less useful than the Protector Spirit Boon. However, you also get other abilities, like Spirit's Fangs rather than Spirit's Shield. Spirit's Fangs is essentially an opportunity attack for your pet. It attacks Reflex and deals 1d10 plus your Wisdom modifier damage. You set this up similar to how you would Spirit's Shield and deal a decent sized chunk of damage if the enemy doesn't attack your pet or sacrifice its standard for a second move action. Stalker's Strike is the at-will you automatically get and it is a Melee Spirit 1 power that targets Fortitude. If the target is bloodied you get a bonus equal to half your intelligence modifier which is nice, but it also allows your spirit companion to flank with you and your allies until the end of your next turn, helping rogues get combat advantage and boosting accuracy for anyone who can position themselves. For a melee striker-heavy party, this power can be your bread and butter.
Just like an Invoker all of your attacks use Wisdom, and your secondary score will be either Intelligence or Constitution, depending on the build. Stalker Spirit Shamans will use Intelligence, while Protector Spirit Shamans will use Constitution. Your next ability score should probably be Dexterity for Protectors and Constitution for Stalkers to help boost your weakest defense and also to give you either a few extra hit points and surges, or some better armor class, since a lot of your ranged abilities only go 5 squares. You could buy an 18 in your main ability score with this class, much like Invokers or Druids, but its not as much of a no-brainer in my opinion, as the tertiary score can be very useful, and you might want to multiclass for some powers or feats later.
Just like with Invokers the ideal ability score races are Dwarves and Devas, but also like Invokers, Humans are my favorite and for the same reason. After you take your at-will associated with your Spirit Companion choice, there are still 4 left, and normally you only get to pick one of them. With a human you don't have to, plus there's all the great human feats to choose from. Also, neither Dwarves or Devas seem inherently like Shaman races to me flavor-wise, as where a wild barbaric Human seems to fit better.
Other than those options the Player's Handbook also has Elves as an option, since they get a Wisdom bonus, and Eladrin since they get an Intelligence bonus can make good Stalkers. Tieflings, Halflings, and Dragonborn all don't have the right ability scores to be really good shamans, but Half-Elves have a Constitution Bonus and can help control the battlefield by taking a Druid power with their Dilettante feature, while still qualifying for the good Human feats.
Genasi are the only race from the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide that are well suited for Shamans, and then only for Stalkers, and though the added mobility or panic button you get with several of your Elemental Manifestation powers is nice, its not a huge bonus.
Goliaths and both varieties of Shifters work well as Shamans if you're looking in the Player's Handbook 2, and a Goliath Protector Shaman seems like a cool character to play, defending his tribe from the evils of the mortal world and the world of spirits.
You have a good array of skills as a Shaman, and gain Nature automatically, which you will be fairly good at with your high Wisdom. Also keyed off your primary ability are Heal, Insight, and Perception, which would work well to round out your character. With the Speak with Spirits power you don't have to worry about having a really high bonus with a trained skill though, so any of the powers will work.
You get three to choose from, and Athletics might be a good choice since Acrobatics isn't an option, but Endurance could also be a useful skill. If you want to be more knowledge-skill based, History and Religion are both options, and you'll have a good bonus in them if you went Stalker Spirit build too.
As always, Implement Expertise. All of your powers use an Implement, so there is really no excuse not to take this feat at some point. After that though, there really aren't any must-have offensive feats, at least until Primal Power comes out, but we'll be waiting awhile for that.
For Defensive feats Toughness and Defensive Mobility can be really helpful, as they can on most characters. Defensive Mobility will be nice since your Spirit Companion uses your defenses and it can't shift, allowing you to make it less likely to take opportunity attacks that could kill it and throw a wrench into your plans for the turn. However, at low levels its hard for enemies to deal enough damage to kill your pet, so I'd consider waiting on it for a few levels.
Improved Initiative can be a good feat as well, allowing you to summon your pet into an inconvenient position for the enemies before they can even act, and drawing some fire away from members in your group who didn't roll good initiative. Skill Training can combine with your Speak With Spirits power to make you really useful in skill challenges, and Skill Focus can be added to make this even more ridiculous. Jack Of All Trades works along the same lines, and might be even more beneficial, especially at lower levels and DCs.
Shaman feats are pretty good overall, with two general feats and then one for each build. Shared Healing Spirit is good if you have a hard time positioning your Spirit Companion to maximize your heals. It allows you to give the extra d6's to an ally within two squares of the first target, rather than someone adjacent to your pet. Even if you don't think you need it, the added versatility it gives Healing Spirit is nice. Spirit Speaker allows you to use Speak With Spirits to give an ally the bonus instead of yourself which can be helpful when letting them escape a grab or jump a pit, but you can probably skip the feat unless you find yourself fighting a lot of enemies that grab you or you end up jumping a lot of hazards, or if your DM really loves skill challenges.
Stalker Shamans have a feat called Stalker Spirit Adept which allows allies to shift 1 square as a free action at the start of their turns if they are next to the Stalker Shaman. This can be nice, but it does make it so they are no longer adjacent to the Shaman for many of his powers that effect allies adjacent to it. Protector Shamans get Protector Spirit Adept which gives all allies adjacent to the spirit a +1 bonus to Fortitude, Reflex, and Will, which is really very useful and I would recommend every Protector Shaman take this feat, preferably as soon as you can manage.
Since I have already discussed Protecting Strike and Stalker's Strike we will skip those, but there are four other At-Will powers for you to choose from. The first is Defending Strike, which is a Melee Spirit 1 power that deals 1d8 plus Wisdom modifier on a hit and also gives you and all allies a +1 bonus to AC as long as they are next to the Spirit Companion. The bonus lasts until the end of your next turn. This is a useful power, but I think you have better options, and if you're a Protector build you already have a good defensive ability with Protecting Strike.
Haunting Spirits is one of two non Spirit-based powers and it targets Will defense at a range of 5. It deals 1d6+Wisdom modifier damage and the target grants combat advantage to an ally of your choice. This can really help if you have a Rogue in the party, or it can help a Warlock, Wizard, or Invoker land a much needed debuff on a certain enemy.
Watcher's Strike is another melee Spirit 1 power and it targets Reflex. If it hits, in addition to a small amount of damage, it gives you allies +1 to attacks and +5 to Perception while they are adjacent to your Spirit Companion. The bonus lasts until the end of your next turn, and can really help if your Spirit Companion and your allies are ganging up on an elite or solo monster.
The last At-Will power is called Wrath of Winter, and it is a ranged 5 implement attack that deals 1d10 plus your Wisdom modifier cold damage, and in addition it allows you to teleport your Spirit Companion to a space adjacent to the target. This can be very useful if you are afraid of provoking opportunity attacks with your pet, or if you can't spend a move action this turn and need to move your pet, plus it is one of your more damaging power.
Your first option for a level one encounter power is Call to the Ancestral Warrior. Its range is Melee spirit 1, and if it hits it gives you and your allies a +2 bonus to all defenses while next to the spirit until the end of your next turn. A really great defensive ability as long as your allies are positioned well, take it if you see a lot of opportunity for it in your encounters, otherwise you can choose a different power.
Call to the Ancient Defender has the same range, though it deals 2d8 damage instead of 1d10. However, its bonus is +5 to defenses against opportunity attacks while adjacent to the spirit, and it's hard to think that will be as useful as a flat +2 to all defenses flat out since your characters aren't going to provoke many opportunity attacks while standing next to the spirit itself.
Thunder Bear's Warding is a ranged 5 implement attack that gives you and your allies resistance to all damage equal to your constitution modifier until the end of your next turn as long as they are adjacent to the spirit companion. If you chose Protector Spirit it also lets you grant yourself or an ally within 5 squares of you temporary hit points equal to your Constitution modifier. I like this ability a lot, and it can really mitigate damage from monsters like Dragons that have powerful area attacks. Those are the type of attacks that defenders can't often do anything about, so this is one of my favorite options of the bunch, and the bonus for Protector Shamans is just icing on the cake.
Twin Panthers is another range 5 implement attack, and if you chose Stalker Spirit you gain a bonus on the attack roll against a bloodied enemy equal to your Intelligence modifier. This is a recurring theme for Stalker Shamans and it makes them very good at finishing off enemies so that your Strikers can move on to the next targets. If you hit with this power you and your allies have combat advantage when making melee attacks against any enemy adjacent to your spirit companion, and as an effect you get to repeat the attack against the same target or a different one, really amplifying your allies offensive capabilities for a round. A solid pick, especially for Stalker Shamans.
Blessing of the Seven Winds is the first of the level 1 daily powers, and it is a range 5 implement attack. Most daily powers don't use the spirit for their range, though they are often figured into the effect. This ability though is an exception, it deals 2d10 plus your Widom modifier damage and allows you to slide the target two squares. If you miss it still deals half damage and as an effect it creates a zone in burst 1 centered on the target. The zone lasts until the end of the encounter and as a move action you can move it five squares. As a minor action you can slide each creature in the zone one square. This can really help positioning and change the way the battle is going since its effect sticks around annoying your enemy and wrecking his plans while simultaneously aiding your own.
Cleansing Wind of the North may involve less winds, but its still a great power. Its a close blast 5 that only hits enemies and deals 1d10 plus your Wisdom modifier cold damage, half on a miss. The best part though is that all allies in the area can make a saving throw with a +5 power bonus, which will definitely help shake off unwanted status effects. With powers this good its hard to pick a favorite, but this might be it as far as level 1 Shaman daily powers go.
Spirit of the Healing Flood is a close burst 5 attack that deals 1d8 plus Wisdom modifier, and again, half on a miss. Its effect gives every ally in the burst regeneration 2 while bloodied, and as a minor action a character can end the effect to regain 10 hit points. It is an excellent group heal, and gives characters who don't have a lot of minor action powers something to do with it.
The last of the bunch is Wrath of the Spirit World and its a close burst 2 that targets enemies, though it also hits all enemies adjacent to your Spirit Companion, allowing you to hit a large number of targets with a little forethought. It attacks Will, as an extra bonus, and deals 3d6 plus Wisdom modifier damage and knocks the targets Prone, and still deals half damage if you miss a target. If you want to play an offensive Shaman this might be your best choice, dealing decent damage, hindering your foes, and hitting a lot of targets, just don't be surprised if it attracts a fair bit of monster attention to your character.
Once you hit level 2 you can choose a utility power, the first of these options is Bonds of the Clan. Its an immediate interrupt triggered when an ally within 10 squares of you takes damage, and it allows you to take half of the damage for them. Its usable every encounter which is nice, but Shamans don't really have a huge pool of hit points, and aren't exactly out of harm's way with their short ranged powers, so I wouldn't recommend using it unless you need to save someone's life and keep them conscious or alive for another round.
Spirit Call is a minor action that allows you to move all your shaman conjurations and zones in a close burst 10 five squares. While it is an encounter power, I can't see it being used that often since you don't have that many bursts or conjurations, and many of them have their own ways to move them.
Spirit of Life is a daily power that targets a single ally, and lets them regain hit points as if they had gained a healing surge. It's close burst 10 making it nicely ranged, and can even heal someone who's out of surges so I'd say its a great power. If your group is low on healing, I think this is probably your best bet.
The last option is Spirits of Battle, which creates a burst 5 area zone within 10 squares. The zone lasts until the end of the encounter and gives allies within it a +1 bonus to attack rolls. The zone is nice and big, and gives your allies room to move around within, which is nice, its only too bad its a daily power. Break it out against big scary solo monsters or powerful elites and you'll be giving all your allies a welcome buff.
I wouldn't. I don't see a lot of mechanical reasons to do so. Shamans are so versatile that there's not a lot to gain from another class unless you want one of their Paragon Paths. The obvious choices in this instance would be Cleric, Invoker, and Druid since they all use Wisdom to attack with, and use implements as opposed to weapons. Regardless Shaman powers have such a variety of effects that I can't imagine getting bored with them and needing another classes powers.
Positioning and Teamwork are required to make use of a Shaman. If your team does not work together, you may as well roll a different type of leader because playing this class will quickly become an exercise in frustration in a party like that. However, if your team can work together, all of the little bonuses your pet can give will add up and your teammates will quickly realize your worth and start to work with you.
Don't be afraid to take hits with your Spirit Companion, he's resilient, and even if he dies, the damage is likely less than you would have taken if the attack hit you directly. Besides, you can summon him again next round and perhaps even put him in a more advantageous position than he was in. So if you can, block off passages with him and force enemies to waste their attacks. This brings me to another strategy.
If you can position your pet within a group of minions, you have a very powerful strategy. Not only is your pet essentially invincible to the minions, he also gets an opportunity attack than can kill them if the minions realize this and move away. This makes Shamans a great anti-minion class. On the same tip, summon them next to archers so you can force them to shift back until they are up against a wall and provoking opportunity attacks if you can. Your spirit probably won't be helping a lot of your allies this way, but its still effective.
Forget about big heals and waiting for your allies to be seriously injured to heal them. You have lots of little heals and temporary hit point givers, and you should make use of them early and often. Since they don't use healing surges, there's really no reason not to.
The Shaman is a complicated class and it will take some time to learn how to position your pet optimally within the context of your group. Try to anticipate enemies movements when you summon him, so that you don't have to risk moving him, or have to use Wrath of Winter to teleport him when a daily or encounter power would be more effective otherwise.
And that's that, two guides in two nights.