Arcanist Wizard - Trying to Survive in the Vale

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I am a player with a problem.

I play in one of my good friend's campaigns, and he plays in mine.  We are both DMs of medium skill, both working from our own concepts rather than prepublished adventures, and both try to make the sessions encounter-heavy, as the other people we play with are not too fond of too much roleplaying (sigh).

Here's the problem: as a player, I've been involved in 3 TPKs this past year, all due to the following:

- Poor party synergy
- Non-optimized characters
- really, really difficult encounters

So, this time around, my party companions and I aren't messing around.  We had a plenary session to determine what kind of party we could make together to prevent another pile of bloody corpses.  My character is going to be a wizard, and we start at 6th level.  Here's my build.  Please tell me what you think of it, and how I can possibly make it better.  A few stipulations:

- We're playing in the Nentir Vale.  No dragonshards, no dragonmarks, no deities from Faerun, nothing that doesn't exist in the Vale.

- Magic items are limited.  Even the ones I chose might be too many.

-  I have a dragon sorceror, a Guardian fighter, a blackguard, and a cleric in my party, and my objective is to pop minions while pulling bad guys towards the fighter and blackguard, and away from myself, the cleric and the sorceror.


====== Created Using Wizards of the Coast D&D Character Builder ======
Wizard, level 6
Tiefling, Wizard (Arcanist)
Build: Control Wizard
Arcane Implement Mastery Option: Orb of Imposition
Early Life - Isolated (Perception class skill)
Theme: Order Adept

FINAL ABILITY SCORES
STR 10, CON 12, DEX 10, INT 18, WIS 18, CHA 11

STARTING ABILITY SCORES
STR 10, CON 12, DEX 10, INT 15, WIS 17, CHA 9


AC: 20 Fort: 15 Ref: 18 Will: 20
HP: 42 Surges: 7 Surge Value: 10

TRAINED SKILLS
Arcana +14, Insight +12, Nature +12, Perception +12

UNTRAINED SKILLS
Acrobatics +3, Athletics +3, Bluff +5, Diplomacy +3, Dungeoneering +7, Endurance +4, Heal +7, History +7, Intimidate +3, Religion +7, Stealth +5, Streetwise +3, Thievery +3

POWERS
Basic Attack: Melee Basic Attack
Basic Attack: Ranged Basic Attack
Order Adept Attack: Argent Rain
Tiefling Racial Power: Infernal Wrath
Wizard Utility: Mage Hand
Wizard Utility: Water Stride
Wizard Utility: Whispering Wind
Wizard Utility: Light
Wizard Attack 1: Phantom Chasm
Wizard Attack 1: Winged Horde
Wizard Attack 1: Beguiling Strands
Wizard Attack 1: Twilight Falls
Wizard Attack 1: Sleep
Arcana Utility 2: Arcane Mutterings
Wizard Utility 2: Moonstride
Wizard Utility 2: Shield
Wizard Attack 3: Fire Shroud
Wizard Attack 5: Scattering Shock
Wizard Attack 5: Visions of Avarice
Wizard Utility 6: Summon Iron Cohort
Wizard Utility 6: Fire Shield

FEATS
Level 1: Ritual Caster
Level 1: Hellfire Blood
Level 2: Orb Expertise
Level 4: Enlarge Spell
Level 6: Armor Proficiency: Leather

ITEMS
Spellbook
Comrades' Succor
Tenser's Floating Disk
Eye of Alarm
Animal Friendship
Brew Potion
Orb of Impenetrable Escape +2 x1
Potion of Healing
Cloak of Distortion +1 x1
Adventurer's Kit
Candle
Climber's Kit
Flask (empty)
Thieves' Tools
Oil (1 pint)
Alchemical Reagents (Arcana)
Broy
Blessed Soil
Ghoul Candle
Ball bearings
Bell and whistle
Caltrops
Crook-eye
Dagger boots
Delver's kit
Chalk and slate
Cockatrice venom
Pixie Music Box
Mirror
Vial Bandolier
Deathcut Leather Armor +1 x1
====== End ======

I do not know much about wizards, so lets do the generic stuff, and someone else can help you with the specifics.

18 Int, 18 Wis? What a waste. Start with 17 Int at least, get some Wis, and maybe some whatever, Con? Accuracy rules, so get that Int up there.

Don't take an armor feat. That's throwing limited resources after a defense that is already sucking hard.
Check with the rest of the party if there is any point to arcane mutterings. Between the Sorcerer and the Blackguard, someone ought to have halfway decent diplomacy. Particularly given this party isn't all that much interested in roleplay.

Instead, get a utility named Shield.

Maybe by going Int/Wis on a Int/Cha race, training perception, you're trying to fill too many roles? Can't the Cleric train in perception?

Given the party, I would read the handbook for enchanter mage stuff, it'll be useful.


Hellfire Blood isn't worth it for a character this is going to spend most of his time dragging people around the battlefield and imposing conditions on them.  You're dailies are fine, but I'm not a fan of either encounter power.  Charm of Misplaced Wrath and Color Spray might work as replacements.  Stone Blood is a handy at-will for this type of mage since it pops minions and helps keep enemies herded.
Mages are better than Arcanists unless you are abusing IToR or going for a full save penality build, which is not as good as it used to be. Unarmored Agility is better than Leather, because Masterwork cloth adds to Will.

20 starting Int is... well, better than almost anything.

Did you read the Wizard handbook?
Thanks for the replies!

Baldhermit, your comment about intelligence is a good point, and I will probably be taking points out of Wisdom to boost it.  I took Arcane Mutterings because of the fact that the other folks in the party are not great with non-combat skills.  I chose Tiefling for a game-related reason, not for its bonus to Charisma, but the point is taken that Charisma isn't really a great choice for a wizard.  I do have Shield.



SpartanKillian, I got Hellfire Blood because a bunch of my powers are fire based, and I love the +1 damage and +1 attack.  I'm open to another suggestion, though.  I suppose your point about conditions is valid, but I tried to make my build able to impose conditions and do damage, and not forsake one ability for the other.  I'll look into Stone Blood, but Fire Shroud is chosen for its fire keyword, and Twilight Falls comes very highly recommended by the CharOp board:

community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...

However, I was looking at Burning Hands due to its fire keyword, its enlargeability, and its relatively high damage.



Alcestis, I am actually considering going into the Mage route, but I like the idea of switching out more spells, and I understand that the Arcanist excels at that.  I think I will make an alternate build that is a fire-based Mage, and see what the numbers look like for him.  I took Leather because of my character's military background, and I see what you mean about Masterwork cloth, but my Will save is already fairly high.  I will have to do some more research into the benefits of cloth over leather.  Also, I will be trying to rework the ability scores to improve my Int to 20.  And I did read the handbook, and almost all of my powers are light blue.  Is there something from the handbook that I missed, or something that bears repeating that I am not following?


Again, thanks for all your help, and I look forward to posting my reworked wizard here in the next few days. 
I just like to check. I realize, now, that RF's handbook doesn't meantion what Naus's used to, which is that with the change to Flaming Weapon (only change untyped damage) you are basically shoe-horned into taking natively Fire keyword powers 1-30. Which is fine, because there is a decent one (and sometimes only one) at every level. On the bright side it means you can use a Staff of Ruin for an easy item bonus to damage.

Also your Will save won't be as good when you re-allocate your stats.
[Wi]th the change to Flaming Weapon (only change untyped damage) you are basically shoe-horned into taking natively Fire keyword powers 1-30.



Actually, at paragon you can use Weapon of Summer which at least gives everything the fire keyword.
You have to MC Swordmage or take AIP (WoS is heavy blade only), but yes, that is an option. You give up +3 item damage (+3 vs +6 in the end) and either +1 to hit or +4 to damage (no SIP options on Heavy Blades). Also have to factor in that, for the rest of your career, having such an expensive weapon (15+) means you will basically be +1 to hit behind where you could be by using a cheaper enchant. It isn't the optimal choice by a fair ways. It is technically feat neutral, since AIP/MC Swordmage replaces SIP. Still a huge accuracy loss though.

Oh, Pyromancers ignore Fire Resist (the most common resist on pre-made monsters). Kind of a big deal.
When I look over your character, it seems like you're all over the place.  I would recommend you pick an optimization path and stick to it instead.  Especially if you've already TPK'ed 3 times.  Either you want to be a control wizard or you want to be a fire blaster.  Frankly picking the Tiefling race as a CHA dumping control wizard is a weird choice and certainly not one made with an eye towards optimization.  How much are you willing to change your build ?
"Non nobis Domine Sed nomini tuo da gloriam" "I wish for death not because I want to die, but because I seek the war eternal"

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

  We are both DMs of medium skill, both working from our own concepts rather than prepublished adventures...

- Magic items are limited.  Even the ones I chose might be too many.

Honestly, far and away the best solution here would be to adjust things on the DM side of the table. It sounds to me like you guys are diverting a little too far from the baseline standards of the game, which are there for a reason. After a few initial encounters of varying difficulty, you should have a good idea of what the party can handle. After that, you tailor encounters to the skill of the party - which should be easy if you're not following any prepublished adventures.

I still recommend some optimization and party synergy since those things can often make the game more enjoyable, but you really can't ignore the DM side of the equation - especially when the campaign is built from scratch.

TL;DR if I ever were to TPK a party, I would feel that it was my failure as a DM rather than the party's failure (barring any extremely stupid or self-sabotaging behavior by the party). That's just me, but any DM should take at least partial responsibility for such a disaster.

Thanks for all the suggestions and comments, I remade my character, keeping some of the non-optimized aspects (he is still a Tiefling) but changing many (no more Orb, no more Arcanist, cloth armor, etc.).

- Changed build significantly due to Noctaem's urging, but kept Tiefling for story reasons
- I followed Alcestis's advice and became a Pyromancer
- Beefed up Int to 20, dumped Str
- Kept Hellfire Blood (for obvious reasons)
- Reselected powers for the Fire keyword, at the expense of a few that I liked (shoehorns hurt)
- Thought about Scatterbrained's comment, but I believe that the TPKs were not necessarily just the DM's fault.  We have a few guys new to D&D, some mental yips on the part of the former leader and healer (Example: "Damage an enemy vs. heal the striker?  Might as well do 1d4+5 dmg to big bad guy, I can take him!")

Work in progress, take 2.  Let me know what you think.

====== Created Using Wizards of the Coast D&D Character Builder ======
Take 2, level 6
Tiefling, Wizard (Mage)
School: Pyromancy School
School: Enchantment School
Expert Mage Option: Pyromancy School Expert
Accidental Initiate (Perception class skill)
Theme: Order Adept

FINAL ABILITY SCORES
STR 9, CON 12, DEX 10, INT 20, WIS 16, CHA 12

STARTING ABILITY SCORES
STR 9, CON 12, DEX 10, INT 17, WIS 15, CHA 10


AC: 21 Fort: 15 Ref: 19 Will: 19
HP: 42 Surges: 7 Surge Value: 10

TRAINED SKILLS
Arcana +15, History +13, Nature +11, Perception +11

UNTRAINED SKILLS
Acrobatics +3, Athletics +2, Bluff +8, Diplomacy +4, Dungeoneering +6, Endurance +4, Heal +6, Insight +6, Intimidate +6, Religion +8, Stealth +5, Streetwise +4, Thievery +3

POWERS
Basic Attack: Melee Basic Attack
Basic Attack: Ranged Basic Attack
Order Adept Attack: Argent Rain
Tiefling Racial Power: Infernal Wrath
Wizard Utility: Mage Hand
Wizard Utility: Water Stride
Wizard Utility: Light
Wizard Attack 1: Fountain of Flame
Wizard Attack 1: Sleep
Wizard Attack 1: Burning Hands
Wizard Attack 1: Twilight Falls
Wizard Attack 1: Beguiling Strands
Wizard Attack 1: Winged Horde
Wizard Attack 1: Magic Missile
Wizard Utility 2: Jump
Wizard Utility 2: Shield
Arcana Utility 2: Arcane Mutterings
Wizard Attack 3: Fire Shroud
Wizard Attack 3: Color Spray
Wizard Attack 5: Scattering Shock
Wizard Attack 5: Summon Magma Beast
Wizard Utility 6: Fire Shield
Wizard Utility 6: Summon Iron Cohort

FEATS
Level 1: Hellfire Blood
Level 2: Enlarge Spell
Level 4: Unarmored Agility
Level 6: Staff Expertise

ITEMS
Dynamic Quarterstaff +2 x1
Bloodthread Cloth Armor (Basic Clothing) +1 x1
Cloak of Distortion +1 x1
====== End ======

Why Order Adept? Adding another L2 utility to your spellbook seems kinda pointless, and the rest of the theme is nothing to write home about. 

I'd take Infernal Prince, even fits the tiefling pyromancer fluff. +1 to all attack rolls is about as good as it gets. 
keeping some of the non-optimized aspects (he is still a Tiefling)



That counts as an example of what's not optimised? A Tiefling Wizard? 
I second Infernal Prince.  I play a tiefling hybrid warlock/bard with Infernal Prince, Hellfire Blood and an Expertise feat and the accuracy is downright amazing. The theme also comes with an encounter damage adder that penalizes attacks that target you, a bonus of Bluff and Diplomacy at 5th, and an addiitonal use of the encounter power if you get bloodied at 10th.  

If this doesn't do it for you, I'd also like to recommend Devil's Pawn; it comes with a minor action burst 2 encounter power that autohits and debuffs enemy defenses, but is nonfriendly.  You will be able to cut through a pile of minions and start punching the BBEG as a minor action.

This sort of build is kinda dependent on getting a focus that can transform damage types; Hellfire Staff, Weapon of Summer, Flame and Flametongue are good gets for you.  As you mentioned, it is possible to take all fire powers, but it is better to take the best stuff and add fire.  On the other hand, some powers are so good you shouldn't feel like they have to be fire powers; a little elemental diversity can be a good thing.

DMing:
I'd like to provide some constructive criticism when it comes to TPK's; if they aren't a part of your group's culture the DM always has the power to prevent them.  We've all been in that situation when the party does something ... dumb ... and you get hot dice.  As the DM, you aren't applying the mathematical equation of the monster to the party and await the answer like a computer; you are telling a story.  When an encounter has gotten messed up I have missed when I didn't miss, forgotten about various triggered powers on a monster, captured the PC's instead of killing them (sometimes this is worse; one group woke up framed for an assassination), and lowered damage I knew would autokill (negative bloodied) a PC that didn't want to die.  This goes the other way too; when the party starts to overwhelm a fight that they weren't supposed to (and it would be anticlimactic to win easily), I have tossed in extra guys, summoned reinforcements, made an encounter that wasn't a trap into a trap, and added powers to the BBEG on the fly.  None of these ideas may apply to your group, and sometimes the story you are telling is how dumb people who attack the Duke get unceremoniously killed, but here it is.
keeping some of the non-optimized aspects (he is still a Tiefling)



That counts as an example of what's not optimised? A Tiefling Wizard? 



He must have missunderstood my comment from earlier.  A fire blaster Tiefling is very good because of the feat support the race offers.  Now that he's picked a focus it'll pay off a lot more.
"Non nobis Domine Sed nomini tuo da gloriam" "I wish for death not because I want to die, but because I seek the war eternal"

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

- Thought about Scatterbrained's comment, but I believe that the TPKs were not necessarily just the DM's fault.  We have a few guys new to D&D, some mental yips on the part of the former leader and healer (Example: "Damage an enemy vs. heal the striker?  Might as well do 1d4+5 dmg to big bad guy, I can take him!")

I'm sorry you feel that way. A player error like your example shouldn't lead to a full-on TPK though, and multiple TPKs are almost surely a sign of DM error, which is unlikely to be fixed simply by you optimizing your one character.

As Misha illustrates, there are tons of ways for a DM to put the brakes on before the impending trainwreck, and there are also plenty of other possible outcomes to losing a fight, all of them more fun and interesting than, "Game Over; Everybody Loses."
Agreed with Scatterbrained.  Full on TPK's should basically never happen, much less 3 of them.  There's always ways for the DM to make it interesting for the party.  Capturing the party is pretty crappy however it can be fun if it's done well and not all the time.  It opens up a huge amount of doors for where that could lead.  As long as the party has fun with it, that's all that matters.  But from the sound of it, your party is not having fun and is resorting to an arms race with the DM as a result.  I think the group should stop for a moment and have a discussion about what is going on.  Check around the table to see if everyone is still having fun or if there's a problem that needs to be resolved, both on the player and DM side.  Simply point out that 3 TPK's are not normal to begin the conversation. 
"Non nobis Domine Sed nomini tuo da gloriam" "I wish for death not because I want to die, but because I seek the war eternal"

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

While DM's do have a lot of control, the burden of making strategically nonhorrible choices are disproportionately shouldered by your party leader.  One path forward for your group could be to place the leader role in the hands of a player that is both interested in, and capable of, that tactical mindset.   
Misha - I agree completely on your point regarding party leadership. I was playing two characters who had low Charisma, were outsiders and loners, and who were not very good at asserting themselves. This character we are generating together is a colonel, is brash and outspoken, and has no problem ordering strangers around - in short, I have taken the reins of party leadership.

Noctaem and Scatterbrained - in defense of my friend and DM, the third TPK was not exactly a Total Party Kill, but the two survivors are captured and presumed tortured or dead.  While I do think they could have been handled differently, and they weren't very fun, they were designed as difficult, high-stakes encounters with the big bad guy, with clear consequences. I don't want to shift blame to him for our poor planning, synergy, and ability to adapt. As I said before, I am now leading the party, and "training" my allies in the art of combat.

Svendj and Misha - I did go with Infernal Prince, and am loving the increased accuracy with my fire powers! The build is getting better, and last time I play tested, almost everything hit. This character is beginning to feel well put together and satisfying to play.



A few critiques:
- during playtest, I felt the absence of controller type powers, and somewhat regretted the choice to remove them for fire powers. I know several of you have spoken about adding fire keywords to powers...does this happen at paragon or can I do this right now? I can look into the weapons mentioned, but as I said, our magic items are somewhat limited.

- Beguiling Strands and Winged Horde are my at wills, but they don't feel too dissimilar, and neither carries the Fire keyword. Any thoughts or suggestions?

- Is it just me, or are there very few powers available to wizards at any one time? 2 encounters and 2 dailies later, I am reduced to a magic missilery.  This is probably less a critique and more a player unfamiliar with playing wizards.

New updated build posting soon.  Thanks again for all your help so far. 
Svendj and Misha - I did go with Infernal Prince, and am loving the increased accuracy with my fire powers! The build is getting better, and last time I play tested, almost everything hit. This character is beginning to feel well put together and satisfying to play.


Good to hear! Optimization can be very satisfying when done right. 

A few critiques:
- during playtest, I felt the absence of controller type powers, and somewhat regretted the choice to remove them for fire powers. I know several of you have spoken about adding fire keywords to powers...does this happen at paragon or can I do this right now? I can look into the weapons mentioned, but as I said, our magic items are somewhat limited.


Here are some general ways to add fire to your attacks. If you can't rely on items though, you're SOL in heroic. 

Spellscarred tieflings can deal extra fire & necrotic damage to bloodied enemies with the Plaguing Bloodhunt feat (requires Student of the Plague as well). 

- Is it just me, or are there very few powers available to wizards at any one time? 2 encounters and 2 dailies later, I am reduced to a magic missilery.  This is probably less a critique and more a player unfamiliar with playing wizards.


Wizards aren't any different from other classes in this regard, so I'm not sure what your point is. And you should never, ever be reduced to casting MM unless you're sure the enemy you need to kill is in its damage range.
In a game with limited magic items, it is tough to convert attacks into fire damage.  I recommend having a quick chat with the DM about how fire is your theme and getting one of those items (give him a list) would add to the fun without being crazy broken (some DM's have PTSD from third ediiton and have trained themselves to say 'no' to players; this was for good reason).  

I'm a huge fan of several of the powers you have taken, and one way to make the build as it is more tactially rewarding is to sqeeze every last bit of advantage out of them.  Examples:

Hellfire Heart:  Infernal Prince isn't just about accuracy with fire attacks, you also get to smack somebody you hit with an extra 1+Int mod damage; furthermore, the target takes a -2 to attacks that include you until the start of your next turn.  The two most common tactical uses of this are (1) adding some damage to an attack you think might drop an opponent, and (2) hit a guy who is very likely to try to attack you on their turn; you get extra credit if they are a multiattacker and you get to Shield both yourself and other party members.  Side notes:  I forget about the reroll of bad bluff and diplomacy checks on humanoids a lot, but it is a great level 5 power.  At level 10 you get another use of Hellfire Heart if you get bloodied.

Beguiling Strands:  love this power; it is a crazy good friendly burst 5 that pushes; the only bad thing is that it does crap damage.  Ah!  Is there more?  First, the CB does a bad job of presenting the damage from this power; make sure it adds your impliment bonus; adding Hellfire Heart to this gets you into reasonable damage territory.  Second, pushing is optional and you don't have to push at all or push the maximum distance.  That means you can toss this thing into a crowd and selectively push (or not push) opponents into bad strategic situations.  Look for opportunities to push enemies into difficult terrain, off obstacles, into flanks, next to the defender, out of flanks with your friends, into 'burst one' formation for a followup AP attack, and you always get extra credit for pushing a dazed guy one away from anybody they can charge.  The best part about this power is you get to look for these opportunities for each opponent you hit.
Pretty sure enhancement bonus doesn't apply if there isn't a damage roll.  Magic Missile is an explicit exception.
This is correct.
Contraserrene: to be clear, the last two posters have pointed out, correctly, that the below quote is mistaken.


Beguiling Strands:  love this power; it is a crazy good friendly burst 5 that pushes; the only bad thing is that it does crap damage.  Ah!  Is there more?  First, the CB does a bad job of presenting the damage from this power; make sure it adds your impliment bonus



The CB does a perfect job of adding up the damage of Beguiling Strands.  Beguiling Strands has no damage roll, and your magical implement's enhancement bonus to damage applies only to damage rolls.  Thus, your implement's bonus to damage does not apply to Beguiling Strands.