Dragon 399 - Character Theme: Heroes of Nature and Lore

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  Dragon 399
Character Theme:
Heroes of Nature and Lore

By Richard Baker

Themes for all Campaign Settings debut in Dragon!  This first of four articles features the Alchemist, Animal Master, Order Adept, and Wizard's Apprentice themes, which work a bit differently than themes previously explored for the Dark Sun Campaign Setting.  It also discusses how to build your character and party using themes.

Talk about this article here.

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Personally, I prefer the new theme format, since it allows more classes to take advantage of themes, without interfering with class feature or power choices.  I LIKE Skill Powers and Theme Powers and Multiclass Powers, but I often can't justify them over my class' powers, which fit more for the character.  These Optional Powers only replace Utilities, rather than getting in the way of attacks.  I like that.  I know some people won't, though.  I like that you get new, bonus features at 5th and 10th levels. 

My one gripe is that Animal Master can't have a bear companion.  I was looking forward to building a Hybrid Druid-Ranger, taking Hybrid Talent for Beastmasters, MC Shaman, and Animal Master theme, so I could summon an army of bears, have three bear companions, and turn into a bear myself.  I guess I'll have to settle for Dogs.

COME TO ME, MY DOGS!!!!

Before posting, why not ask yourself, What Would Wrecan Say?

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A great man once said "If WotC put out boxes full of free money there'd still be people complaining about how it's folded." – Boraxe

Well, it is a bit hard to picture a bear as a minion.

In any case -- shouldn't the animal minions have levels, defenses, and skills that improve to match those of their masters?  Even though they are not meant to be constant combatants, they do need to have something that scales with level for this theme.  At present, the Animal Master is the only theme that does not scale with level in some way.

Excuse me, but what the ****? Why do these themes go only to the 10th level? Character careers are 30 levels long as far as I know. And where are the encounter and daily attack powers associated with the themes? Where are the paragon paths? Did the guy who designed these "themes" take a look at the Dark Sun Campaign Setting at all?

Another abysmal failure, WotC
Did the guy who designed these "themes" take a look at the Dark Sun Campaign Setting at all?


Quoting this because lol.

Anyway, I really, really like these themes. They have a ton of flavor and the alchemist one makes alchemy actually viable. I guess the lack of paragon paths can be kind of annoying but not really. Those could come in a different article and I'd be fine.
love these themes! good stuff wizards!
Excuse me, but what the ****? Why do these themes go only to the 10th level? Character careers are 30 levels long as far as I know. And where are the encounter and daily attack powers associated with the themes? Where are the paragon paths? Did the guy who designed these "themes" take a look at the Dark Sun Campaign Setting at all?

Another abysmal failure, WotC



You might want to take a look at the front cover of your copy of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting, specifically where it lists the authors of that book. The very first name in particular.

You might also want to take a quick look at the Dark Sun themes, because those only go up to level 10 as well.

As for the lack of encounter and daily attacks, that would be because these themes are intended to be 100% compatible with all Essentials classes, and many of those classes don't have encounter and/or daily attacks.

And yes, there are no paragon paths or feats; that doesn't mean we won't get them later, though.

Abysmal (sic) failure indeed.


As for the lack of encounter and daily attacks, that would be because these themes are intended to be 100% compatible with all Essentials classes, and many of those classes don't have encounter and/or daily attacks.




So another reason why Essentials is ruining the game for us classic 4e players.
Wouldn't want essentials players feeling like they are missing out, so they intenionally gouged the themes.

Abysmal (sic) failure indeed.


Why did you (sic) the word abysmal? I mean, it's a word, and it was used correctly. Are you thinking of abyssal?



i am linking to this thread as the official discussion thread.

@Marandahir:  thank you for creating this thread. 
Yeah, spelling's fine.  Otherwise excalainen's post was a little silly - themes were default 10 levels to begin with, they're the heroic version of paragon paths or epic destinies.  That's what they're supposed to be.  I'd like to see these expanded in the future with some feats or paragon paths, but given how many themes they're cramming into dragon this month, I'm willing to accept that we only get the basic levels of them to start.

That said, missing out on the encounter and daily power swaps really does cut into the thematic value of these, well, themes when compared to the Dark Sun versions, and yeah it can be laid directly at the feet of essentials classes that don't get leveled encounters and dailies, and yeah that sucks and they sucks because of it.

I hope these themes do get expanded upon one day with paragon paths and feats, and I hope we see encounter and daily swaps then, too.  But in the mean time, these themes are still pretty cool.  I particularly like the alchemist. 
I rather like them myself. I do want some feats, and paragon paths would be dandy. Much agreement on the alchemist, it is fantastic. My favorite part is the flavorful bonuses they get in place of the attack powers, I feel they give more insight into who your character is other than a walking killing machine (not that there's anything wrong with playing a walking killing machine).
I agree, hatta.  I prefer getting bonuses at 5th and 10th level ON TOP of my other features, to having attacks I MIGHT DECIDE to swap my class encounter or daily attacks for.

While choices are good, having more features on top of my powers is better.  A worthy trade-off, I might say.  Alchemist essentially allows anybody to have the Alchemy version of Ritual Caster class features, with bonus alchemeical formulas and being able to perform one Alchemy power for free per encounter (the equivalent of every other theme's Encounter power).  This works much the same way as an Executioner's Daily Poisons.  I like it a lot.

Bonuses to Arcana for the Wizard's Apprentice and the Order Adept is useless for me, since when I play Arcane characters, my Arcana is already through the roof.  I guess if I was making use of powers and rituals that replace other skill checks with Arcana it could be nice, or if I wasn't playing a Bard/Sorcerer/Hexblade/Mage/Swordmage/Artificer/Warlock/Binder/Arcanist all the time.  >_>  I like Arcane, but I hate that we always get the lame +bonuses to Arcana.  ARCANA IS HIGH ENOUGH!!!

Wizard's Apprentice get's an extra 6th level magic item at 5th level.  This is actually really useful at the time, but unfortunately does not scale or remain with the character, really, as they go to higher levels.  But, Themes are now the rough equivalent of Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies, only for Heroic Tier (Heroic Themes?), and thus I shouldn't worry too much about later tiers.  As long as the encounter power scales.  A new language is very situational, especially if Supernal isn't allowable to be chosen, even at 10th level.  The theme is nice for Arcane dabblers though, and especially for Bards looking to go into the Resourceful Magician Paragon Path.

I agree that Animal Master minions should scale.  Of course, by then, you can summon a new one every day, if it goes down.  But that basically turns your Encounter power into a Daily power as you advance in levels, since the enemy will kill it, and if you're lucky, you'll get the CA from the animal before that happens. 

Order Adept is better for Spellbook-owners than not, because having an additional swapable utility in the spellbook is better than being allowed to retrain or learn a Wizard utility, even if the spellbook one has to be 2nd level, while the non-spellbook feature can be ANY level.  And while I VEHEMENTLY HATE ARCANA BONUSES, +2 Will Defence is nice.  Means it's better for a Con Mage or a Con or Dex Arcanist, though.

Before posting, why not ask yourself, What Would Wrecan Say?

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A great man once said "If WotC put out boxes full of free money there'd still be people complaining about how it's folded." – Boraxe

I agree, hatta.  I prefer getting bonuses at 5th and 10th level ON TOP of my other features, to having attacks I MIGHT DECIDE to swap my class encounter or daily attacks for.

While choices are good, having more features on top of my powers is better.  A worthy trade-off, I might say.  Alchemist essentially allows anybody to have the Alchemy version of Ritual Caster class features, with bonus alchemeical formulas and being able to perform one Alchemy power for free per encounter (the equivalent of every other theme's Encounter power).  This works much the same way as an Executioner's Daily Poisons.  I like it a lot.

Bonuses to Arcana for the Wizard's Apprentice and the Order Adept is useless for me, since when I play Arcane characters, my Arcana is already through the roof.  I guess if I was making use of powers and rituals that replace other skill checks with Arcana it could be nice, or if I wasn't playing a Bard/Sorcerer/Hexblade/Mage/Swordmage/Artificer/Warlock/Binder/Arcanist all the time.  >_>  I like Arcane, but I hate that we always get the lame +bonuses to Arcana.  ARCANA IS HIGH ENOUGH!!!

Wizard's Apprentice get's an extra 6th level magic item at 5th level.  This is actually really useful at the time, but unfortunately does not scale or remain with the character, really, as they go to higher levels.  But, Themes are now the rough equivalent of Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies, only for Heroic Tier (Heroic Themes?), and thus I shouldn't worry too much about later tiers.  As long as the encounter power scales.  A new language is very situational, especially if Supernal isn't allowable to be chosen, even at 10th level.  The theme is nice for Arcane dabblers though, and especially for Bards looking to go into the Resourceful Magician Paragon Path.

I agree that Animal Master minions should scale.  Of course, by then, you can summon a new one every day, if it goes down.  But that basically turns your Encounter power into a Daily power as you advance in levels, since the enemy will kill it, and if you're lucky, you'll get the CA from the animal before that happens. 

Order Adept is better for Spellbook-owners than not, because having an additional swapable utility in the spellbook is better than being allowed to retrain or learn a Wizard utility, even if the spellbook one has to be 2nd level, while the non-spellbook feature can be ANY level.  And while I VEHEMENTLY HATE ARCANA BONUSES, +2 Will Defence is nice.  Means it's better for a Con Mage or a Con or Dex Arcanist, though.



The bonus to arcana is good for the Sage of Ages ED.

Excuse me, but what the ****?



Because these were origionally written for the cancelled book "Champions of the Heroic Tier" which was, as one might imagine, geared entirely towards heroes of 10th level and lower.  In order to add to these articles, they would have to hire people, and it seems rather silly to hire a whole bunch of people when you just got done firing them.

WotC does not have the resources to create new content.  DDI subscribers will be getting the content they decided wasn't good enough to publish.  What will happen when they run out of rejected content?  Good question.  I suspect we won't like the answer.
I am really disappointed. I was so excited about themes being added into the game and get ... these. I don't understand why they have been so gutted since the Dark Sun themes. Well okay, I do know the reason: To fit with essentials classes. I guess that was what was wrong with the excellent, flavorful and mechanically sound themes from the Dark Sun book? They gave a nice benefit and you could almost use them in lieu of multiclassing to splash into another role. It was a great way of handling things and one I enjoyed immensely.

These themes vary from chronically underpowered (the Animal Master) to something that is clearly quite better than the rest (Order Adept). Additionally because of retraining, it leaves you with some very sticky issues like with the Wizard Apprentice. Can you get to level 6, take the free item you get and then retrain it out? What happens to the item? I know this is cheesy, stupid and no DM should allow it, but by RAW it creates some major issues for things like LFR (Here, get a free item!) and possibly even encounters.

It's just not as well thought through as the original DS themes for me.
These themes in my opinion fit the greater number of campaign settings. The Dark Sun themes were more combat oriented because they really needed to be to fit in thematically with the world of Athas. These newer themes are what I was expecting general themes to be like. They offer a power or equivalent benefit at character creation, grant bonuses appropriate to the theme throughout the heroic tier, and offer a few heroic level utilities that you can choose from. Hopefully, at some point in the future we will see some feats and paragon paths for them, though I'd expect those would likely have to be submitted to Dragon by a freelance writer. 

Very happy about the Themes so far and really excited to see the rest.


That's good stuff mama. Keep them coming !

Yan
Montréal, Canada
@Plaguescarred on twitter

So far most of this looks nifty.  I am going to apply the animal master theme to my Archer Warlord.  Fits in perfectly with the idea he was a Sentry/Militia type in the Dalelands.  

With the animals it doesn't say they don't scale but it also doesn't say they do scale either.  Personally I would allow them to scale with the player.   
The odd thing to me is that, because the theme attack powers were all entirely optional to begin with, everything would still be compatable with essentials. Sure, many classes would be unable to take advantage of theme attack powers without the use, perhaps, of a feat, but they would still get the full automatgic benefits. The new themes, instead, introduce more even possible power creep (level 5 and level 10 benefits), but with less versitility and choice.
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The older themes still are compatible, with non-AEDU classes. However, non-AEDU classes don't get the most out of them because of the Dark Sun themes exclusive usage of attack powers as benefits. Overall, these newer themes don't seem too power-creepy to me because they stop offering more benefits after level 10, unlike the older batch of themes. Really if you placed two otherwise identical characters, where the only difference is a fully utilised theme, next to one another they'd be pretty equal to me. Of course the newer themes lack any feats or paragon paths, so really at this point they're riding the short bus. 



P.S. Don't give me any flack about the Short Bus comment because at one point I had to ride that thing. Moral of the story is, don't chuck office furniture at your principle  
Overall, i like this article.  Rich, you have ooutdone urself again.  I especially like the Wizard's Aprentice.  I also like how the flavor meshes well with the mechanics.

Dark Sun is different by naure, more combat heavy.  Also, I feel that the Dark Sun Themes were more limiting in play.

This was taken from, "Champions of the Heroic Tier", so with all due repect, no duh the only go to tenth level Money mouth.  Heroic tier is, after all, designated as levels 1-10.

~Teo

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Meh, I'm not impressed. It was pretty obvious that themes wouldn't be the same as they were in Dark Sun given WotC track record, so I'm not really shocked by the change. I do however think it was a poor change in design because the lack of scaling power swap powers for all levels hurts the customization available through Dark Sun themes. With a Dark Sun theme you could have your character completely embrace his theme and have that define him as much or more than his class.

I confess I haven't really read through the mechanics too closely, but some of these themes seem like they really won't have much of an impact on your character beyond the first few levels(although admittly some Dark Sun themes potentially have this problem as well) and I feel like themes should be able to be meaningful through the entire campaign. Giving theme features? That was a good idea, but I don't think that justifies completely gutting the power selection. Also these really should have some feat support and PP support of some kind.
I am impressed with these new generic themes. The alchemist in particular actually makes me want to play an alchemist, whereas before the monetary requirements just made the whole shebang inconvenient to irritating (ymmv).

Looking forward to more heroic themes! 
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The older themes still are compatible, with non-AEDU classes. However, non-AEDU classes don't get the most out of them because of the Dark Sun themes exclusive usage of attack powers as benefits. Overall, these newer themes don't seem too power-creepy to me because they stop offering more benefits after level 10, unlike the older batch of themes.  



Beyond the choice of PP, the old themes gave no benefit above level 10, except for the scaling on powers (and you had to replace the power with itself at those levels). The scaling was there so your theme didn't become mostly useless past 10.


That said, beyond the alchemist, I'm rather disapointed in these. I'm as unexcited as I was when I cracked open heroes of shadow, possibly more, because I was expecting HoS to not be that great whereas I loved DS themes.

I do like the addition of features at 5 and 10 however. The beast trainer looks nice, though WoTC forgot about scaling. Wizards get more oportunity to crank their arcana through the roof.

The lack of feat and PP support is saddening.I know this was for a book on heroic tier, but guess what, it no longer is in a book on the heroic tier.

Once again the new direction makes slight improvements while raining on all that was already good about classic 4e
Really people? Richard Baker gives us cool, flavorful themes that are usable by all PCs and it's a sign about Essentials killing 4e, or themes being gutted and losing their flavor? See, the Darksun themes were entirely crunch, and backgrounds were written to justify having a useful power. These themes are full of flavor, and it's hard to find a PC that couldn't use any of the themes.

The only thing I don't like at all is the untyped, permanent +2 bonus to Will. It's way better than any other benefit granted by a theme. 

Co-author on AoA 2-3 and 4-1.

I wish they had the encounter powers as well, but my biggest gripe is actually something I haven't seen anyone mention:

Where the hell is "Nature" in all of this? All I see is three lore themes and one for animal training.

I, in real life, have two very well trained dogs. Not once in my life would I pretend that makes me any closer to nature. If anything it's a subversion of that.

Nature, anyone?
It hurts my brain that the alchemist can have only one free alchemical item prepared at a time. And I'm not even a simulationist gamer.
It hurts my brain that the alchemist can have only one free alchemical item prepared at a time. And I'm not even a simulationist gamer.


They spoil quickly when gimmicked together?

-O
It hurts my brain that the alchemist can have only one free alchemical item prepared at a time. And I'm not even a simulationist gamer.



The ingredients used to make these free alchemical are weak, and the item soon breaks down? Also, balance.

Co-author on AoA 2-3 and 4-1.

I like the animal master and the alchemist because I think they are the most adept at supplying a fantasy trope across a range of classes with solid link of fluff to crunch

Alchemist combines very well with wizards and artificers, druid/shaman/warden herbalists, rogue and assasin  trap makers.

Animal Master allows a fun little pet that works well with everyone, Battleminds with Dogs and Thieves with Monkeys are great.

However the other two seemed to have a solid place, but unjustified crunch. Wizard's apprentice is a classic theme, i think dissapear is a great spell, why they are linked is less understandable to me though.

Arcane order is great, but why does it confer a fire close attack spell? If you can't make it tight just don't do it. 

Instead of "wizard's apprentice" they could have done "spirit guided" and have an obi-wan kenobi style master whose disembodied can increase accuracy, ward you, or help you with lore checks, gives wizards who want to stress a "teacher that meant something to them" but also opens it up to all character classes, martial, primal, etc.

althought I love the spells, I just wish they were presented as new wizard spells. 
People do realize the Dark Sun themes don't work with Ardent, Battlemind or Psion either, except the one specifically designed to do so.

I like these themes, they work for every class and are mostly flavorful. I certainly have a Bard who I want to use the Alchemist theme with, she already being set up to do that in RP, and crunch.

My only problem is the power of the Order Adept and the disconnect between it's generalized fluff and specific power.

The complaints about the Animal Trainer are unfounded, the pets don't need to scale they are not specifically supposed to attack things or be attacked, so why do they need to scale?

All in all though these are good stuff!
They need to scale because they need to be present in combat encounters, and if they're present in combat encounters and can only be missed on a natural 1, they die to the first area attack or zone that comes their way, and the theme, thereafter, does diddly squat, until you can replace them.  The encounter power from the theme is useful (very much so, for some CA-dependent strikers without native CA boosters), but it becomes quickly irrelevant if you have to leave your pet behind to avoid it getting blown out of the sky.  It's a daily power or worse if your pet gets killed in the first encounter.
Harrying your Prey, the Easy Way: A Hunter's Handbook - the first of what will hopefully be many CharOp efforts on my part. The Blinker - teleport everywhere. An Eladrin Knight/Eldritch Knight. CB != rules source.
"Your animal minion normally stays out of the way in combat, waiting by the outskirts of the fighting .... If you’re not using your animal minion to harass a foe, you can assume that your pet is safely out of harm’s way and won’t attract any enemy attention."

So, animal minions are normally not vulnerable, even at higher levels.
And further to what Keith_P says the article says it is safe even for the CA granting power as it just darts in and out.

Basically it only dies if the DM wants to kill it for some reason.
"... and your little dog, toooo!"
"Your animal minion normally stays out of the way in combat, waiting by the outskirts of the fighting .... If you’re not using your animal minion to harass a foe, you can assume that your pet is safely out of harm’s way and won’t attract any enemy attention."

So, animal minions are normally not vulnerable, even at higher levels.



Then why do the powers and features of this theme mention that the animal minion has to be within 5 or 10 squares of you for those powers or features to work, and why does the 5th level feature make it easier to replace them when they are killed?  These minions need higher defenses to give them a chance against incidental attacks and attacks that affect a wide area, and they need for their skills to scale in a similar manner (so, for example, the hawk that grants a Perception bonus does not himself have a worse Perception bonus than even the least perceptive party member).

I think there may be other themes that grant similar companions, and that the book these themes were to appear in gave a general summary of how to treat such companions at higher levels.  If so, one of these four articles needs to include that information.

I really like the inclusiuon of features rather than attacks, it makes them more appealing for me because I never really found the attack powers of themes any better than class powers.

Play whatever the **** you want. Never Point a loaded party at a plot you are not willing to shoot. Arcane Rhetoric. My Blog.

Excuse me, but what the ****? Why do these themes go only to the 10th level? Character careers are 30 levels long as far as I know. And where are the encounter and daily attack powers associated with the themes? Where are the paragon paths? Did the guy who designed these "themes" take a look at the Dark Sun Campaign Setting at all?

Another abysmal failure, WotC



As for the lack of encounter and daily attacks, that would be because these themes are intended to be 100% compatible with all Essentials classes, and many of those classes don't have encounter and/or daily attacks.



Well boo-****in-hoo for them. The rest of the grown up classes do.

Themes are a great way to assist multiple undersupported classes at once. I feel they missed a real opportunity if they dont implement some attacks later.

I would love to see a theme power feat, similar to skill powers, since most of these arent really worth a "real" utility slot.

Also, the Order adept seems pretty superior to the others. +2 Will, and lets anyone train Shield if they want.

Not to mention a unconditional +4 arcana bonus, and arcana can already be subbed in for alot of other skills via various powers, feats, and items.
Re animal master and scaling: the place I'd think of using this is on a Rogue or Blackguard, who benefit greatly from CA.  You're a striker, and reasonably hardy in the case of the Blackguard, so you start at the front of the group.  In order to use the encounter CA power, your minion starts 5 squares back.  A burst 2 goes off in the middle of the group.  At level 1 it has a chance to survive.  At level 10 it only survives on a natural 1.  Bye bye minion.  Bye bye meaningful benefits of this theme for however long it is until you can replace it.

It's a very cool feature, very flavourful and quite useful.  But it needs to scale to stay that way.
Harrying your Prey, the Easy Way: A Hunter's Handbook - the first of what will hopefully be many CharOp efforts on my part. The Blinker - teleport everywhere. An Eladrin Knight/Eldritch Knight. CB != rules source.