Thursday, May 28, 2009

Player’s Handbook 2 Classes Analysis Wrapup

Now that I’ve analyzed all of the classes in the PHB2, on to answering the original question I was posed, of whether I think there is power creep in the PHB2. Accumulating the results of my previous examinations, I get:

Avenger > Barbarian > Melee Ranger
Bard > Warlord
Wizard > Invoker > Druid
Shaman > Cleric
Sorceror > Warlock
Warden > Paladin

So it looks like the answer is yes, I think the PHB2 classes are better than the corresponding PHB1 classes. However, I notice that most of the comparisons were to the PHB1 classes that seem weaker to me (no comparisons to the fighter or the archer ranger, for instance). And in general, the difference was not that large, and in many cases the PHB1 classes were less balanced and thus seemed better the more you looked at only the most effective powers and class builds.

There is a spectrum of character design going from picking options purely based on characterization, to pure minimaxing. I probably fall somewhere in the middle. With that style, I’d say that the PHB2 classes are, on average, a feat or two better than the PHB1 classes, so there is some power creep. But I feel like they are better balanced, which is nice.

If you are minimaxing – well, there are a lot of people analyzing the game who are more interested in that sort of thing than me. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the most optimized PHB2 characters are not better than the most optimized PHB1 characters.

Player’s Handbook 2 – Druid analysis

My final comparison is the Druid, the one class that I intuitively felt was somewhat weak. The Druid seems easiest to compare to the Invoker. I will compare a Wis/Con Druid who takes human-form powers with a Wis/Con Invoker.

Same statistics and armor. Both have Ritual Casting powers.

Druid has more hit points than the invoker. The Druid has a third at-will power which is a beast form power and thus allows the Druid to fight with good effect in melee, which an invoker cannot do.

Invoker has +1 fortitude, Covenant of Wrath, Armor of Wrath, and Rebuke Undead.

This is interesting. My initial impression had been that the Druid was very lacking in class features. But now that I look at this comparison, it strikes me that each the Druid class features is pretty substantial, better than any one of the Invoker class features. I'm not really sure that the Invoker class features are really better than the Druid class features.

In general, I seem to like the Invoker at-will powers a bit better (Vanguard’s Lightning > Chill Wind or Flame Seed, Sun Strike > Thorn Whip, Avenging Light > Storm Spike). The L1 encounter powers are much better for the Invoker, though the L3 powers are not. The invoker has lots of cool utility powers; the druid’s utility powers are sleepy except for Camoflage Cloak, which seems out of place. Both have solid daily powers, the Druid has one of those scary auto-hit wall spells.

So it seems to me that the Invoker is better than the Druid because it has better powers, but the difference isn't all that great. The Druid still seems like a pretty decent class, but I certainly wouldn't say it was better than a class in the PHB1.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Player’s Handbook 2 – Warden analysis

Continuing with my comparisons of PHB2 classes with similar PHB1 classes, this time I’m comparing the warden with the paladin. We shall compare a Str/Wis warden with a Cha/Wis paladin.

The paladin has substantially better armor class. But the warden has better movement and better special defenses, and one point less armor penalty. I favor the paladin here.

I’ll say the Warden makes up for this with the second wind ability (I don’t much favor taking second winds in combat, so I don’t consider this ability that great).

The paladin has an extra healing surge, and a very useful Lay on Hands ability. The warden has substantially more hit points. I think a like the paladin a bit better here.

The paladin needs to use an implement rather than a weapon for his daily powers, while the warden can use a weapon for both. So I’ll say the warden is back to even.

Next we compare the defender powers. These are hard to compare without playing. The paladin can mark at range and cause damage at range. But the warden marks multiple foes as a free action.

A Str/Wis warden has one cool at-will power (Thorn Strike), and a bunch of really blah powers. I slightly favor the paladin here.

The warden seems to have a broader, more consistent, and more interesting selection of powers than the paladin. The paladin has a terribly limited selection of useful utility powers, but has a few good ones. I think I’d give the warden the edge for his better daily powers and the better selection.

The warden has the very impressive Font of Life ability. The paladin has Divine Mettle and can give a saving throw to someone else with a bonus once per encounter. Despite the paladin’s flexibility, I have to give the warden a solid edge here.

Finally, the Paladin needs melee training to have effective charge and opportunity attacks, while the warden does not. But Cha gives more skill bonuses than Str, partially making up for this.

So, overall, I’d have to say that the warden is better than the paladin, but not by a large margin.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Player’s Handbook 2 – Sorceror analysis

Next I’ll analyze the sorceror, comparing a Cha/Dex wild sorceror with a Cha/Int fey warlock.

Same hit points and healing surges.

And Unfettered Power is a cute ability which gives you a useful benefit 10% of the time. I’d judge it slightly better than Prime Shot, which is a nuisance to use (we’ll say 2.5% to turn a miss into a hit). And the sorceror has a better initiative because his secondary statistic is Dex. But the warlock has Shadow Walk, which seems slightly better than Chaos Burst. And the warlock has slightly better special defenses (+1 Reflex is better than +1 Will). So I’ll judge this about even.

The warlock’s strengths seem to be defensive. Misty Step is really cool, much better than Wild Soul. And the warlock gets leather armor proficiency for free.

The sorceror’s Chaos Power striker ability is substantially better than Warlock’s Curse.

The warlock has only one interesting at-will power, Eyebite. The sorceror has Chaos Bolt, which is awesome, especially for a striker. This power can cause a lot of damage!

The sorceror has a much broader spectrum of encounter powers than the painfully restricted choice of the warlock. The warlock’s powers aren’t bad, though, so I don’t know whether to say the better selection is an advantage for the sorceror.

Both have respectable utility powers. The sorceror has a really cool class feat which allows him to use ranged attacks in melee, neutralizing the biggest weakness of ranged characters.

The low-level fey warlock has some of the worst daily powers of any class. The sorceror’s daily powers seem just fine.

So we have the warlock’s superior defensive powers against the sorceror’s stronger striker ability and better at-will and daily powers. Considering my play experience that the fey warlock has too much defense and not enough offense, I’d have to say that the sorceror is better than the fey warlock by a noticeable margin.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Player’s Handbook 2 – Invoker analysis

Continuing series of comparing classes from PHB1 and PHB2 by looking at all the class features and low-level powers. This time I’m looking at the Invoker. I’ll compare a Wis/Con invoker with an Int/Con wizard. I prefer comparing the staff wizard as the power of the orb implement varies wildly with level and the wand has unclear rules.

Hit points, healing surges, skills, and usefulness of stats is equal.

The invoker would appear to have much better armor. But when the wizard buys the leather armor feat, he ends up with equal or better AC and more mobility. So the wizard is better. We’ll say the invoker counters with his better non-AC defense bonuses.

The wizard’s free rituals are probably better than the invoker’s free stuff, but this is small stuff.

The wizard has his staff power, a very strong defensive power. Comparing this with the Covenant of Manifestation is tricky. The invoker’s bonus damage has a high upside if you get a lot of targets, and it is more consistent with the mission of a controller. But you can’t use it very often at low levels, and the fixed bonus damage will be less relevant at high levels. I’m not sure which one is better.

Wizard has those silly cantrips and the spellbook. I generally don’t find these useful, but in some campaigns they will be useful. I like the invoker’s Channel Divinity much better since it really does something, even though Armor of Wrath isn’t all that powerful.

Comparing at-will powers, Vanguard’s Lightning is a little better than Scorching Burst. The others seem OK on both sides. The encounter and utility powers are varied, but comparable I suppose.

When it comes to dailies, the invoker’s powers are pleasant and useful, but rather underwhelming for a controller class. The wizard, on the other hand, has some awesome conjurations. Here I see a substantial wizard advantage.

So the comparison seems to be typical for PHB2 vs. PHB1. The invoker has better class features, but when you look at who has the abnormally strong dailies, the wizard catches up. Overall, I don’t know who is better, the invoker seems to have a better balanced design. I’d say the wizard is better if he takes his best superpowers, some of them are ridiculously strong.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Player’s Handbook 2 – Shaman analysis

Continuing with the Shaman. I will compare a Wis/Con shaman with a Wis/Cha Cleric.

Basic hit points, healing surges, number of skills, are all the same.

Spirit Boon is distinctly worse than Healer’s Lore, since not only does it involve moving around the spirit companion, but it uses a secondary statistic rather than a primary statistic. Healing Spirit is a bit less convenient than Healing Word, since you have to maneuver the spirit companion around. However, the two of these combo when you can get two allies next to your spirit companion, effectively doubling the benefit of Spirit Boon. This also makes noncombat healing more efficient. I think I’d still prefer the convenience of the cleric, but it isn’t a big advantage.

The Shaman has Con rather than Cha as a secondary statistic, a nice benefit. But the Shaman has to spend a feat to get Chain Mail proficiency, which cancels this out. But also, the Shaman has to take Str 13 to qualify for this feat, which is not difficult, but still inconvenient.

Channel Divinity with Turn Undead is a very fine ability. Speak with Spirits is hard to compare because it depends on what kinds of noncombat checks the DM allows it to be used on. If the interpretation is restrictive, and it can only be used on checks that clearly take exactly one round to perform, it is mostly limited to combat checks and doesn’t seem better than Channel Divinity. If the interpretation is expansive, and the shaman gets a major bonus on almost every noncombat skill check, this power is a very potent noncombat ability worth many feats. I’ll assume a restrictive interpretation, so the cleric is a bit ahead.

The shaman has some fine at-will powers, but I think the cleric’s Sacred Flame is better than any of them, and that’s even without the fact that it does radiant damage. The shaman has some cool encounter powers, but I think the cleric’s Divine Glow puts it on top. The shaman may have a bit better utility powers (his L2 powers are better than the equivalent cleric powers).

The cleric has no melee powers, nothing to do when pinned. But the shaman can attack through the spirit companion in this situation, a big advantage that may compensate for the cleric’s better powers. However, it is a drawback that the shaman sometimes has to maneuver the spirit companion around in order to attack at range. Nevertheless, the shaman's flexibility makes up for a lot.

When it comes to daily powers, the cleric’s Consecrated Ground is broken. Assuming the DM fixes it, both the cleric and the shaman have some great daily powers. Wow, that Spirit of the Healing Flood looks mighty. But overall, I don’t know who is better.

At this point, the classes are close, perhaps the cleric is still slightly ahead.

Finally, the shaman has the spirit companion with its ability to block a space and perform the Spirit’s Shield opportunity attack. The shaman has lots of different things it needs to spirit companion to do, so placing it seems non-trivial. And Spirit’s Shield is not going to be very useful in the situation where a summoned creature would otherwise seem easiest to use (tying down a melee fighter at the beginning of the battle). But gosh, compared to the various minor advantages of the cleric, the chance of getting the equivalent of additional attacks without spending actions is pretty mighty. In particular, it a summoned creature is anywhere near worth a daily spell (as it is for other classes), it would have to be pretty mighty. I’ve never played with a summoned creature, though, so it is hard to judge the tactical consequences.

So whether the shaman or the cleric is better depends on how the DM interprets certain abilities and how the tactics of the spirit companion work out. Under the assumptions I’ve made, I’d say the shaman is better, but it looks like there is something to be said for either one.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Player’s Handbook 2 – Bard analysis

Continuing with the Bard, which I will compare with the Warlord.

Defense and basic offense are the same.

The Majestic Word of the Bard is clearly better than the Inspiring Word of the Warlord.

At 6th level, the Warlord is healing 6 points per character per action point, which with 4 allies is about 12 points per combat. The bard is granting 4 temp hit points per round in which a foe was bloodied or defeated, which is probably quite common. These abilities seem at least somewhat similar.

The bard has a high Con, an especially useful secondary statistic due to the healing surges. But the bard has to buy Melee Training in order to have effective basic attacks.

The warlord has Combat Leader, a strong ability. But the Bard has Words of Friendship, an extra skill, skill versatility, and bardic training, which I think is plenty of compensation.

The bard gets multiclass versatility, and a lot of those multiclass feats are pretty good.

The bard can choose to mix melee and ranged at his leisure, but he has no effective ranged basic attack. The warlord can throw only basic javelins as his ranged attack. I think the bard is better here.

So far, due to his horde of class features, it seems clear that the bard stands ahead of the warlord. Those PHB2 classes have a lot of cool class features!

Both classes have a pleasant selection of at-will, encounter, utility, and daily powers. The warlord appears to have an edge if you cherry-pick the very best powers – none of the bard powers strike me as being as far above average as warlord superpowers like Bastion of Defense and Stand Tough.

My analysis only covers low levels, which is what I tend to be most interested in.

So it seems like the comparison is what I’m seeing as typical between PHB1 and PHB2. The PHB2 class has better class features, but a more balanced selection of powers. If you assume a random choice of powers, the bard looks rather better. But if you minimax the power choices, the warlord catches up, potentially even passing the bard (it is hard to compare big dailies with reliable powers).

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Player’s Handbook 2 – Avenger analysis

Finishing my analysis of the PHB2, I will try to do actual point-by-point comparisons of the PHB2 classes with similar PHB1 classes.

Of course, trying to estimate the value of a class before playing is error prone. Thinking back to when I was first looking at the PHB1, I recall mis-estimating the rogue on a couple counts. First, I assumed that sneak attack was about as good as hunter’s quarry. I didn’t realize how easy it was for rogues to gain combat advantage until I actually played. Also, for some reason I thought the extra damage from the brutal scoundrel ability was countered by the artful dodger’s extra damage from Sly Flourish, I overlooked the fact that Piercing Strike is just as good as Sly Flourish.

But the point of writing things down is to make the comparison clear, and to open up the opportunity for someone to point out anything I missed.

The Avenger is most similar to the Barbarian, and since I already ranked the barbarian, I can use this comparison as a point of reference and compare the Avenger directly to the barbarian. In particular, a Wis/Dex Avenger vs. a Str/Con barbarian.

Using a standard of +4 stat, +2 weapon, +1 weapon focus, crag hammer. Both cause 15 damage then as a basic attack. The barbarian’s at-will boosts this to 18.5. The avenger’s oath of emnity is a 40-50% boost when it works. How often does it work? Beats me. Assume 2/3, so it gives a 30% bonus. This is 19.5, so the avenger is ahead. But the barbarian gets a free attack on every critical, so we’ll calll it even.

Barbarian has +4 AC, +1 Reflex, -1 armor check. Avenger has +5 after getting leather armor, but this costs a feat. Avenger has 3 points of special defense bonuses instead of 2. I’d say this is a small edge for the Avenger.

If you factor out the +1d6 we’ve already including, compare the at-will bonuses. The barbarian can charge, and some of the powers have nice bonuses when raging. I guess this is a bit better than the Avenger’s powers, but it is close.

Avenger has an extra skill, Barbarian has +1 surge and +1 hit point.

Barbarian’s secondary stat is Con, but Avenger’s is Dex, so we’ll say these cancel out.

The barbarian’s encounter daily powers look more impressive. But the Oath of Emnity inherently combos well with encounter and daily powers. So I’m not sure what is better.

Barbarian is allowed to take Improved Rageblood Vigor, which looks like a great feat at low level. But Avenger can take Improved Armor of Faith, which looks fearsome at high level.

The Avenger is behind one feat to get Melee Training. But the barbarian has to use a tertiary stat, Dexterity, for his AC bonus, which is terrible, so I’d give the edge here to the Avenger. But the Avenger’s need to spend so many feats will make him suffer at low level, so that may cancel out.

Avenger has a small number of ranged attacks, but they seem wimpy and require him to divert from other choices. Barbarian’s ability to throw javelins may well be better. We’ll say this is partially countered by the little Avenger benefit that his primary stat, Wisdom, gives him a bonus on more skills than the barbarian’s high Strength.

At this point we seem close to even.

Avenger’s Divine Channeling is very cool, rather better I’d say than Swift Charge.

The Censure abilities look tricky to use, but generally seem more potent that the barbarian’s temp hp when defeating a foe.

Therefore, my estimation is that the Avenger is more powerful than the Barbarian. Not exactly by a lot, though, probably within the margin of error.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Player’s Handbook 2 – Classes

Continuing my review of the Player’s Handbook 2. I’ll record my early impression of the classes, without going into precise comparisons.

First of all, I have to say that I really enjoyed the feel and the fun design of many of the classes. I had envisioned that Avenger would be an aggressive paladin and an Invoker would be an aggressive cleric. I like that they instead have distinct and interesting personalities. The avenger isn't a holy protector of the faith, he’s a homicidal religious fanatic! And I like how the Invoker is just gifted with raw divine power (sort of like a cult leader convinced he is personally chosen by God, as opposed to the cleric being the normal priest of an organized church). And the personality of the primal classes are pretty cool, the Druid, the Shaman, and the Barbarian are certainly pretty distinctive. The Warden is my least favorite, the one the most seems like "we needed to put in a primal defender class." However, even the Warden is not bad, taking on aspects of nature is a pretty cool superhero power.

Also, I really like the inventiveness with the use of game mechanics that make these new classes seem like they will play differently from the old classes. Here are my initial thoughts on the game mechanics and power level of each class:

Avenger: I think it is cool that they have all these funky tactical powers and restrictions – the idea that they ruthlessly hunt down and isolate their opponent, while trying to avoid other enemies, is creative and different from the classes in the PHB1.

When I first saw the powers, I thought, wow, these are incredible! They have the hit points and defenses of a defender (once they get an armor proficiency feat), and an amazing striker power that works really well with big attacks. And they have other cool side powers too (unlike, say, the rather featureless ranger and rogue classes). But there is a weakness. A perusal of the actual low-level powers of the class reveals that they are rather mediocre. There is no major striker-type at-will power akin to Twin Strike or Piercing Strike. And the encounter / daily powers don’t generally have big “on hit” effects that would combo powerfully with the Oath of Emnity.

Barbarian: I already analyzed this class in an earlier post. I like that the barbarian and the sorcerer are finally striker classes that don't have weird restrictions on the extra damage that they do. The rage power is cool. The only problem is that it is one of those daily powers you want to use at the start of the fight, so you always have to make difficult decisions about whether to use it or not.

Bard: Seems like a cool class. The panoply of Class Features strikes me as being better than the small number of class features of the PHB characters. The at-will powers seem pretty average. Strange but useful that they slide allies around instead of shifting them – the warlords are jealous.

Druid: This is the one class from the PHB2 that didn't seem all that great. They actually seem to have less impressive class features than a wizard – practically none at all. They do have normal hit points and armor, so that’s not so bad. But they need awesome powers to make up for having nothing else. The powers just don’t look that awesome to me. Especially the beast form at-will powers, which don’t look any better than the single-target powers of other classes that have far better class features. This makes the beast form seem rather unexciting. The idea of the beast form is cool, but I’m not so sure about the execution. I do notice that they have Wall of Thorns, which seems to be just like the super-strong auto-hit wizard walls. I had hoped they would stop making those auto-hit powers. At least this sort of thing seems toned down a lot in PHB2.

Invoker: Much more like a wizard than the Druid. Seems impressive – very slightly better at-wills than a wizard, more cool class features, and better armor class. The utility and encounter powers seem strong, but on the other hand I don’t see all of those ultra-mighty wizard conjurations.

Shaman: I like the idea of the spirit companion, it seems like fun to move around. But something seems very wrong with the balance of spirit companion vs. the new summoning spells like “Summon Angel of Fire”. The major feature of both seems to be the ability to occupy space and threaten foes with opportunity attacks unless they waste effort killing the construct. But the spirit companion is an at-will minor action, while the angel is a daily standard action. Either the companion is too strong, or the summon spells are too weak. I suspect both. The shaman, without the combat ability of the spirit companion, doesn’t seem all that much weaker than the cleric, so the spirit companion doesn’t have to be very powerful to make that shaman seem pretty good. But without playing, I have no idea how effective the companion actually is.

Sorceror: As mentioned above, I like the straightforward striker bonus. And the idea that the chaos sorceror is filled with dice randomness is fun.

The sorceror’s damage bonus seems rather better than Warlock’s Curse, but the other little class features may not be as good as those of the warlock. But I think the sorceror looks more fun, the warlock has such limited choices. My concern is that the sorceror seems to have a lot of area effects, for which his striker damage bonus works extremely well. Is he a controller in disguise?

Warden: Wow, they gave 7 hit points per level! The Font of Life is pretty formidable. Wierd, though, that it makes “save ends” powers actually less effective than powers that work for one round. I like the new defender ability, seems amusingly different. The effectiveness of the ability is not easy to judge, but it doesn’t have the annoying “lockdown” effect of the fighter, so I guess it isn’t as good. But you can mark more targets, so I guess it is pretty good. Hard to judge the Warden overall.