Or, “Yes, I'm a noble that kills people and takes their stuff for a living. I don't see why this surprises you.”
Themes, introduced in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting, are meant to add a new dimension to characters , combining with race and class to define a character from the start of his career. They can be seen as the heroic tier equivalent of Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies; however, as something you start with at 1st level, they are more likely to be prerequisites for something you take later in your career than require prerequisites.
I anticipate two types of people needing this guide- those who already have a class in mind and want to know how to complement it and those who have run across a theme they like and want to know what sort of class it can work well with. While I will try to provide a useful resource to either type, this guide will be more focused on the latter; it's my hope that more class guides will start addressing themes so that players who have already picked a class can get guidance more focused on that class than this guide will be able to provide.
I will be using the standard color rating system:
Gold options are nigh mandatory choices. If you have access to such an option, you need a strong reason not to take it. Don't expect many of these to show up; in the context of themes, it would mean a power better than anything you could take from your class in the same slot, and there are a lot of good class options out there. Sky Blue options should be seriously considered. They are amongst the best things that characters have access to. Blue options are nice, but not as likely to override the other options available as those above. Black options are standard. You wouldn't hurt yourself by taking these, but you can probably find something better. Purple options are situationally useful, but generally sub-par. You need a reason to take these. Red is downright bad. Either there is no situation in which it's useful or there is a strictly better option available.
Thanks to the following people:
lordduskblade, for the standard guide format and his many contributions to the community.
Lord_Ventnor, whose unfinished theme guides gave me a place to start.
Aren't there already a bunch of theme handbooks? Until recently, the only theme handbooks were out of date and incomplete. Someone mentiond the need for a new one, which apparently caused three of us to start rating themes. I'd started on Dark Sun themes before the two recent handbooks popped up, and I thought as long as I'd done the most time consuming themes (Dark Sun themes having way more elements than Essentials themes) I should post them. I don't know for sure whether I'll end up rating all themes in light of the other handbooks, but from looking at them I think I'm coming at this from a slightly different perspective and may have some useful additions to make.
All themes share some things in common. Every theme gives a new power (generally, but not always, an Encounter Attack Power) at first level and access to 2nd, 6th, and 10th level utility powers that can be taken in place of class utility powers. However, beyond that there are some differences in the types of themes.
Dark Sun style themes were the originals. They came out before Essentials style classes, and thus assumed every character would get encounter or augmentable at-will attack powers at 3rd and 7th levels and daily attack powers and 5th and 9th levels. Based on that assumption, they have powers that can be taken in place of the attack powers available from your class; there's only one power per theme per level, but a higher level power can be given up for a scaled up version of each power. In addition, Dark Sun themes serve as prerequisites for feats and paragon paths, giving more options to the character who takes it beyond just the power swaps inherent to the theme.
Essentials style themes originated in a series of articles in Dragon 399. Since gaining attack powers with level could no longer be assumed, these themes do not offer attack power swaps, only utility power swaps. They do, on the other hand, give additional free features at 5th and 10th level, meaning they give more to a character who isn't giving anything up from his class. They don't generally provide prerequisites for feats or paragon paths; indeed, there are even some themes in this style (from the Neverwinter Campaign Setting) that require particular races or classes to take, a deviation from the original design principles behind themes.
Some character types will benefit more from one type of theme than the other. Essentials classes, without attack powers to swap, as well as those classes with strong attack powers that they're less likely to trade for theme powers, clearly get more inherent advantage out of Essentials style themes, getting 3 free features instead of one. However, classes with weak support in either attack powers, feats, or paragon paths can get more out of a Dark Sun style theme than an Essentials style theme. Characters looking to add or enhance a secondary roll can also benefit more from Dark Sun themes; if you want to play controller a bit, but your class doesn't have any native attack powers with solid control, a Dark Sun theme can provide those.
Overview: Don't be fooled by the striker label on this theme; the damage on the powers is low. The free encounter power, as well as the encounter power swaps, are best used by ranged characters, but some other options require melee.
Everything this theme does uses poison. This can be something of a problem, because not only is poison the most resisted damage type, but poison is (after disease) the second common effect type for monsters to be immune to. This means that a significant number of monsters you meet will be immune to the otherwise beautiful control on your powers. This means the theme works well with Assassins, who have a feat, Venom Hand Master, to ignore poison immunity and other poison support that combines nicely with this theme's capabilities. Multiclassing Assassin for this feat is recommended for any non-Assassins that plan to rely on powers from this class.
Seekers and Hunters, as ranged weapon using Controllers, can enhance their role with this theme. Hunters won't be able to take the higher level attack powers, but the Seekers should be glad for the extra options.
Automatic Features: Poisoned Strike: Excellent control for first level. Best used on a melee opponent that would need to move more than 3 squares to get to a target; if they move 3 squares, they'll drop prone and be immobilized for a turn, keeping them out of the fight for two turns. Someone who doesn't have to move to attack will still drop prone and be immobilized, but it won't be as impressive as its use on a melee opponent. The damage is unfortunately low, since the poison damage won't scale as well as your ability modifier.
Encounter Powers: Fever Poison (3/13/23): Like Poisoned Strike, this is best used on a melee opponent, at least 3 square from a target. This time the punishment for moving or attacking is a daze, meaning that a target that needs to move to attack will have to charge to do so- otherwise they won't have the action to attack after moving. This effectively gives an enemy the choice between being stunned for one round (not attacking, to not trigger the daze) or dazed for two; excellent control for an encounter power, especially at low levels.
Crystal Spider Poison (7/17/27): This attack is as useful in melee as it is at range. It can't be used for the outright action denial that the other encounter powers in this theme can, but it will provide two turns of weakened (unless the monster ops to skip attacking for a turn, which is effectively a turn of stun), which is still quite good.
Draining Poison (5/15/25): Horribly low damage, no control. Avoid.
Insidious Poison (9/19/29): Exact same damage as Draining Poison, only 4 levels later. The only difference is that the first save against the damage is an autofail instead of just being penalized. Still never worth it.
Concealed Weapon (2): Generating combat advantage can be useful, though I suspect the characters that care about it most will have other methods of doing it.
Envenomed Weapon (6): Two turns of poison vulnerability per encounter isn't bad. It requires a melee attack, though, when the rest of the theme works better at range, and it's never going to be as good as the constant vulnerability you could get using other damage types.
Framing Assassin (10): A daily stance that gives you a weaker version of reach. One of the main benefits of reach is not needing to be next to an enemy to make your melee attacks; this requires being next to one enemy to attack another.
Inescapable Poison: 2 extra damage per encounter, or 7 extra if you miss with Poisoned Strike, doesn't seem worthwhile. Maybe if you ran out of every other feat that increases damage and still want more.
Stinging Poison: Adds a save penalty to Poisoned Strike. It's only going to affect one round of saves, and if you use Poisoned Strike right you won't need to put any save ends conditions on the target that round anyway.
Distracting Poison: There are much better ways to generate combat advantage.
Arms Troubadour: This path requires melee attacks with a light or heavy blade; not the strongest aspect of the theme. It's actually quite strong for anyone in a skill challenge heavy campaign- which is to say its features boost skills rather than combat ability. Getting double rolls on Stealth (along with Athletics and Acrobatics)will be attractive for some characters, though. The encounter and utility are fun, but the daily is pretty lame.
Unwelcome Guest:The AP feature alone should be enough to interest anyone with large AOE powers; targets you hit on an AP are immobilized and grant CA, letting you keep a group of melee opponents out of the fight for a round. The free Alchemy feat and recipies is unimpressive, since unlike the Alchemist theme there's no free item creation. Again, double rolls on Stealth (this time with Bluff and Thievery) will attract some. The level 16 feature and daily are aimed at dealing with poison resist, but neither are as good as Venom Hand Master. The utility is nice but requires a melee attack, while the encounter power is a versatile version of Poisoned Strike (either immobilize or daze, depending on the situation). Overall strong.
What you need to be: Weapon user, Ranged or Melee
What this adds: Leader, Defender
Recommended For: Warlord, Fighter
Overview: This theme is the master of repositioning, having several ways to either shift yourself or all nearby allies. They don't have ways to reposition enemies, but they can set up flanks and then punish enemies for moving. Most of their powers work best in melee.
Automatic Features: Quick Formation:Either shift substantially yourself or allow all allies in 5 squares a slight repositioning. Solid either way.
Encounter Powers: Delaying Strike (3/13/23):This slows an enemy and then lets you or nearby allies shift. Since the shift (speed for you, half speed for allies) should get you farther than the enemy can move, this either lets you run away from an enemy or play defender by getting your allies too far away to get at.
Sly Gambit (7/17/27):This power has a lot going on. First, you can make the target attack itself or an ally after you hit, meaning you can deal some substantial damage. Then, you either get a +4 to AC or make the target take OAs when it shifts or makes melee attacks- meaning that close attacks and teleporting are the only thing it can do without taking OAs. It's tempting to group your party around a target under this effect to maximize OAs; just be sure it doesn't have a close burst attack before you do or this could backfire.
Blunt Force Strike (5/15/25):Reliable attack, and on a hit you either get a basic attack against the target or two allies get basic attacks against other creatures. Decent enabling.
Hounding Presence (9/19/29):Another way to play defender, it stops the target from shifting and either gives you an encounter long +4 defense boost while adjacent to the target or makes the target grant combat advantage for the rest of the fight. Great for either secondary or primary defenders.
Slick Negotiator (2): Boosts a charisma based skill, either for yourself or an ally.
Deft Avoidance (6): Minor repositioning when you're missed by a melee attack. Solid against multiattackers.
Command Decision (10): Interrupt a hit to redirect it to an ally or give yourself a THP buffer as an encounter power. Use it the first attack every encounter and save some normal leader heals.
Advantageous Formation: Give an ally CA when affected by Quick Formation. You can already use Quick Formation to get allies into flanking; this shouldn't be necessary.
Quick Defense: Adding defense onto your allies when you use Quick Formation, on the other hand, will be useful.
Devious Opportunist: A once per encounter 1[w] damage boost? Not great.
Caravan Master: There is nothing to dislike about this path. Enhances the mobility of your whole party (well, as long as they're within 5 of you), gives a defense bonus and save on an AP, lets you roll twice on perception and insight, and stops you from granting CA when flanked. The encounter power gives you and an ally a basic attack, the utility cancels out CA for a turn, and the daily lets the entire party reposition or grants two extra basic attacks. Very nice.
Shady Dealer:The path features are mostly geared towards passing social skill challenges. The encounter attack power isn't great; it can enable two RBAs or one MBA, but you have to hit and do no damage first, reducing the utility. The daily is quite good, featuring the always-popular Dominate condition, along with an encounter-long -4 to hit you and your allies and counting as an ally for flanking purposes. Don't be fooled by the ability to use the targets at-wills, though; you have to hit the target, dealing no damage, to do it, reducing your odds of actually doing anything with your action.
What you need to be: No real requirements, but being a weapon user, preferably melee, will be needed for anything other than the free power. Having a high Charisma also helps.
What this adds: Striker (kinda- more in the mobility sense than that much more damage).
Recommended For: Rogue, Assassin
Overview: The powers from this are generally focused on getting out of bad situations, so it makes an excellent addition to anyone worried about being unable to get away. Stealth orientated characters clearly like the free power.
Automatic Features: Bluff Training:A free skill is always nice. You'll need this one for several powers, too.
Hidden Strike:Makes you invisible after an attack if you can make a bluff check, convincing observers that the attack came from somewhere else. It probably should have been “hidden” rather than “invisible;” RAW, everyone still knows you're there, even if they can't see you, so it might not be as useful for a stealth incursion as it might otherwise have been- they're still going to want to know why someone else was in the commander's tent eventually.
Encounter Powers: Repel The Siege (3/13/23):It's two attacks out of turn, which is solid, and also gets you out of a flank and prevents flanking from mattering. The only thing that keeps this from being sky blue is that some DMs will stop trying to flank you to avoid triggering the power; while that's good in and of itself, it means you're left with an attack power that's doing nothing for you but getting you out of granting CA.
Astonishing Wound (7/17/27): The only attack that can be used at range, it actually works better at range than melee. It can self generate combat advantage and immobilize the enemy to boot; not bad.
Turn the Tables (5/15/25):An interrupt that will let you stand if you're prone, knocks the target prone, and gives an attack penalty on top of the prone penalty, making it a damaging version of Shield.
Who is Master Now (9/19/29):It's limited dominate- only weapon attacks and, since you have to grab the target, you can't force it to move to provoke OAs and you have to sustain it with a minor. Still, dominate at 9 is solid, you get a defense bonus, and you have the fun of grabbing a target's arm and making him slap himself.
No Bonds Can Hold (2): Gives you a shot to cancel anything that stops movement as a reaction. If you rely on mobility, it's a solid enough pick.
Wary Defense (6): A minor defense bonus and shifting away as a stance. It won't usually be enough to stop an enemy from reaching you, but it should be enough to keep out of flanking for an encounter.
Opportune Distraction (10): Bluff check to become immune to OAs for a round. A great way to make sure you can get where you need to go, or make ranged attacks in melee.
Master of Escape: Skill bonuses to escape or break in. Rarely worthwhile.
Slave Sympathy: Skill bonuses, but only with slaves. Really? Your DM should be giving you a bonus if you play up the shared suffering anyway.
Slave to None: Resilient Focus makes it obsolete.
Freedom Fighter: This is open to Warlords as well as escaped slaves, which should be enough tell you that it doesn't have a striker focus. The AP feature is insane in a fight with enemies that mark or grab, and still good otherwise. The 11th level feature is meh, but the bonus to initiative and perception at 16 is solid. The attack powers both let you play defender, and the utility can end up giving every ally a save if you make one yourself.
What you need to be: Melee Weapon User
What this adds: Defender
Recommended For: Barbarian, Rogue (for the CA granting powers), any Defender (but Fighter in particular).
Overview: The powers from this are generally focused on getting out of bad situations, so it makes an excellent addition to anyone worried about being unable to get away. Stealth orientated characters clearly like the free power.
Automatic Features: Disrupting Advance:Best used by a defender getting ahead of the party and slowing several foes so that you're the only one they can reach. Other roles probably won't want to try this; for them, the hope is to get the right setup with an enemy adjacent before you move, so that you can then run away and leave a group of slowed enemies unable to reach anyone. It's much harder to take advantage of if you're not willing to be ganged up on.
Encounter Powers: Savage Sweep (3/13/23):Fighters should like this most, and anyone else certainly won't mind giving everyone adjacent an attack penalty.
Murderous Rampage (7/17/27):Good if you can set up enemies starting adjacent to the target. It relies on lucky enemy positioning or allies with forced movement powers a bit much; sure, it's great if you have a standard with several adjacent minions, but how often will you get that perfect setup?
Infuriating Challenge (5/15/25): Encounter long combat advantage is nice, but probably not worth your daily slot.
Bloody Blades (9/19/29):There are a lot of ways to take advantage of this power. One is to take advantage of damaging people who make OAs against you with an Artful Dodger or other characters with a high AC vs OAs. The burst attack is nice, but the real benefit is the stance that follows, that damages enemies that start adjacent and stops them from being able to shift. It's not as damaging as Rain of Steel, but it lets non-defenders punish enemies for leaving and lets defenders either double-punish (with an OA and mark punishment) or just absolutely lock enemies down, for fighters.
Go with the Flow (2): Can either be used for a defender to get in position to mess up an enemy's move (remember, you can react to any square of movement; you don't have to wait for them to finish) or for running away after an enemy has come adjacent. The free combat advantage is just icing.
Bloodborn Menace (6): Yet another way to get combat advantage.
Perceive Weakness (10): Bonus to attack and damage that you regain if the buffed attack misses. Not bad.
Brutish Disruption: If you're planning on staying away from the target after the push, this is a good way to do it.
Disrupting Shove: Likewise, this is helpful for staying away from targets you shove, not so helpful if you were going to rush in and mark them all.
Thrill of the Kill: It can't be reliably triggered, it requires you to be able to take actions (meaning it won't get rid of the worst of the conditions), and it uses your second wind- which doesn't always matter, but just adds insult to injury.
Keep Them Close: If you mark, you want this. Besides the immediate mobility restrictions it places on your marks, there are other ways you can take advantage of this- World Serpent's Grasp means you can also prone your marks on every attack, for instance.
Gladiator Champion: The level 16 feature is what makes this path; no enemy can shift away, ever. Add that to the earlier feature that damages all adjacent enemies when you bloody one, and you should not only lock down but do reasonable damage to a large number of enemies. The at-will utility can be used to position yourself to lock down more enemies or, in that it triggers when you're damaged while bloodied, help pull out if you get overwhelmed. The attack powers both rely on getting your enemy adjacent to other enemies; the encounter power has a built in slide for this, but for the daily you'll need to rely on smart positioning and other methods of moving enemies around.
Jazst Dancer:This path requires light blades, meaning that rogues are more likely to be able to take advantage of it than a lot of other classes. Either chargers or those who have a large number of move+attack powers will appreciate ignoring difficult terrain. The ongoing damage bonuses are nice, but most light blade characters can probably access other paths that boost their damage now rather than help them do damage later. The defensive stance and dazing (or bonus damaging if you attack a dazed target) encounter are nice. All in all, it's solid, but I have trouble thinking of a build that couldn't do significantly better, unless you're really focused on ongoing damage.
What you need to be: Implement User. Being able to operate close to enemies is a plus.
What this adds: Leader, Controller (reduce enemy movement)
Recommended For: Artificer, Bard, Cleric
Overview: The attack powers from this theme are a bit different than most Leader powers; rather than giving your ally a bonus directly, you incentivize your allies to attack your targets, granting the bonus to whoever hits first. This makes it hard to boost the allies you want, particularly if they're not willing to rearrange their initiative orders a bit, but has a fun flavor. In the meantime, you'll be messing up the movement of your enemies so that they can't get away from your allies. All but one of the powers are psychic, allowing you to combo with Psychic Lock if you're so inclined.
Automatic Features: Templar's Fist:This power actually makes the odd Leader mechanic work in its favor; the attack bonus an ally gets will spread over two of the ally's turns. Best used with multiattacking allies; a ranger that triggers the bonus with a minor action attack can then take two turns of actions, with the possibility of an action point, while under the effect of the bonus. If you don't have allies with multiple attacks and/or minor action attacks, they can still take advantage with an action point, but otherwise it becomes an attack bonus that's delayed a turn later than most leaders give; that's the only thing that keeps this from being sky blue. Slowing the target isn't a bad rider, either.
Encounter Powers: Fearsome Command (3/13/23):Careful with this one; it's the only party unfriendly power this theme offers. It's a solid area slow, but while the auto save rider is nice, the ally having to hit an enemy means that he won't be using this to get rid of most of the really nasty save ends effects.
Fettering Glare (7/17/27):Prone nearby enemies and then allow one ally to double roll one attack. A great way to set up an AP daily.
Glare of Oppression (5/15/25):Area immobilize and grant regeneration to an ally for the encounter. Clearly, it's best used on the first turn of an encounter; lock down a group and send your defender in to keep them locked down while regenerating. Unfortunately, the regeneration doesn't scale, so the higher level versions may fall behind. It's the only radiant power in the bunch, which is nice for groups that generate radiant vulnerability.
Imperious Gaze (9/19/29):Daze you nearby enemies and then let an ally recover an encounter attack power. The recovered power has to be lower level than this one, so you need to upgrade it to keep it useful, but it can be quite useful in the meantime.
Reward the Obedient (2): This might be black if it was a minor action instead of a standard. If you do take it, remember that your ally can choose to make his normal saves before the bonus on at the end of his turn, giving him two chances against a condition or allowing him to skip a save-ends aftereffect of a power.
Mantle of Might (6): It's too bad the debuff only lasts a turn on this, but it enables you to get close to enemies to set up the real benefit of this power without too much danger. Trading a minor action for an ally to get an extra AP once per day is definitely worthwhile, and (unlike many other methods of generating an AP) the AP doesn't need to be used quickly or lost.
Berate the Weak (10): The ultimate recovery power. It will let prone allies stand, stunned or dazed allies recover, or bloodied allies heal. In addition, everyone can move- but only adjacent to enemies, which is a small flaw in an otherwise excellent power.
Templar's Dazing Fist: You'll want to use this power every encounter anyway, so dazing as well as slowing the target is solid.
Templar's Tugging Fist: Sliding a slowed target is nice for keeping them away from any allies they can attack. Just remember that you want your allies to be able to hit this target.
Benevolent Templar: If you have a multiattacker to set up in your party, giving a damage bonus with the attack bonus can be solid. Otherwise probably not worthwhile.
Praetor Legate: The action point feature is frankly amazing; every action point you spend will generate an action point for an ally, assuming someone in the party hits one of your targets. The level 16 feature works best if you stick close to a defender; it will let you slide an enemy next to them if they start next to you. The attack powers are also both impressive; the encounter power gives an ally resist 10 for a turn and the daily gives 3 surges worth of surge free healing. Very nice, though I think it's the flow of extra APs that will attract most to this path.
What you need to be: Implement User
What this adds: Controller
Recommended For: Wizard, Invoker, Druid, Psion. It's best if you don't have a lot of use for minor actions.
Overview: This theme focuses on escaping enemies, either letting you or allies get away. All attack powers can be improved if you have a minor action to spend with the standard action, giving you some flexibility in power. If you tend to need minor actions a lot, this theme may not be for you. If you're aiming for the Master of Moments epic destiny, on the other hand, go hog wild. You'll do mostly psychic damage with this theme.
Automatic Features: Excise from Sight:This lets you or an ally turn invisible to the target, which can let an ally walk away from it and gain combat advantage. You can also slide the target a square with a minor action. Best for setting up a Catch-22 by making your defender invisible, sliding the target towards the defender if necessary.
Encounter Powers: Dazzling Flash (3/13/23):It's a close power, but the free shift insures you can either get into position before the attack or get away after it. You both slow the targets and impede (or, with a minor action, remove) their ability to make OAs and immediate actions, meaning your allies should have no trouble leaving them behind to focus on someone else. Also note that it's the only radiant power the theme has.
Sandman's Veil (7/17/27):A limited version of blind in a close blast. You'll be able to get far enough away with the free shift (or free teleport, if you have a minor action and it's one of the few situations where that matters). Unfortunately, there's nothing inherent in the power to stop enemies from just following you. Best used to supplement a defender with a weak punishment, if enemies tend to ignore him to make ranged attacks; much better to just have a properly built defender.
Psychic Veil (5/15/25):A daily power that just deafens and gives a minor penalty to off-turn attacks? Really? It turns into daze at 25th, but you should have something better than daze by then.
Sequestering Veil (9/19/29):A target hit by this power can't move, period. No forced movement, no teleportation. Just be careful, since it's the theme's only nonfriendly power. Drop this on a group of melee enemies and you won't have to worry about them for a while, plus any AOE attacks will have a nice group of targets set up. If you catch some ranged enemies in the burst, fine, you give everyone nonadjacent concealment anyway. You can spend a minor action to give a save penalty so you can keep the enemies locked down longer. The burst size increases at 29th, but you'll probably have some better conditions to inflict by that point.
Veiled Arcana (2): Ranged attackers have a harder time getting CA than melee, so this can be nice to use on yourself or another ranged arcane ally. The limitation to the arcane power source hurts it, though. Best used to set up an area attack, since you'll get CA against all targets.
Veiled Escape (6): A solid escape power, turning a normal shift into a shift 3 or enhancing other shifts. Being a ranged power instead of a close burst keeps it from being blue; it won't help you escape OAs.
Sensory Absorption (10): There's only a minor combat benefit, from being able to see around something that blocks LoS or grants concealment without blocking LoE. It's probably intended for noncombat use, but there are problems with that; first, you'll likely only get 6-12 seconds of listening in or reading over a targets' shoulder. Second, there's no provision to keep the target unaware of the effect, so it knows someone is listening and watching, meaning they won't let you find out much. All this and it's a daily? No, thanks.
Concealed Conspiritors: If Excise from Sight made you invisible to everyone, extending that invisibility to two party members might be worth a feat, but limited invisibility once per encounter probably isn't.
Expand Excision: This makes the invisibility from Excise from Sight less conditional, making it so a enemies around the target also can't see your party member. Can help your defender Catch-22 more characters; if you have a paladin with a mass sanction power, then consider this.
Dependable Excision: On a miss, you'd still become invisible to the target of Excise from Sight. In that it's best used to set up a character in melee while being a ranged power, you'll rarely be the best target of the invisibility effect.
Veiled Guardian: This is a defender path, so it clearly isn't aimed at those who can make the most of the rest of the things opened up by this theme. The marks it grants are generic, with no punishment outside of the daily stance. The stance punishment is triggered by movement, just like a normal OA; there's no time you could use the stance punishment that you couldn't have taken an OA. The stance punishment does stop movement, much like a fighter's OA. Battleminds and fighters can punish a generic mark, but Fighters are likely to be put off by a stance that duplicates their class features; Battleminds, or off-defenders that don't mind not punishing marks, might be able to make some use of this.
Overview: This theme focuses on conjuring spirits. Generally, you'll spend a minor action to conjure them, they'll grant a bonus to adjacent allies, and then you'll spend a standard action to remove a spirit and make an attack. If you absolutely must have as many figures on the board as possible, this is for you. Just remember that you'll need some spare minor actions, so be careful if you normally use those for healing, too. IMPORTANT: There are common rules for conjurations from this theme that are not repeated in each power. Each conjuration occupies a square, meaning you can't conjure them in occupied squares but you can use them to block movement. Also, you can spend a move action to move each conjuration 5 squares. These are very important to keep in mind to make the most of your conjurations' bonuses!
Automatic Features: Spirit of Athas:Your first conjuration is solid; it lasts all encounter and gives +1 to all defenses of adjacent allies. You can either just accept that encounter long benefit for a minor action, or you can spend a standard later to attack an enemy and give that enemy -2 to hit and defenses for a turn. You'll probably want to summon this one in the first turn of most encounters and leave it granting it's bonus until you've run out of other things to hit enemies with.
Encounter Powers: Bloodthirsty Elemental (3/13/23):This one affects adjacent enemies instead of allies, making them grant CA. The burst attack to stop shifting will make your defender happy. Remember that conjurations don't need to be on the ground; plant this one above your defender's head and pop the power once he has a group around him. Also remember that you only have a turn from when you summon to when you have to pop the power or lose it, though.
Elemental Justice (7/17/27):This power takes two standard actions to attack once. If summoning was a minor, it'd be decent, but as is, it's never worthwhile.
Vengeful Elementals (5/15/25): Not only can this serve as an encounter long buff for your melee allies, but you can grant up to 4 basic attacks (melee or ranged) over the course of the encounter for the cost of a minor action each. Higher level versions give damage bonuses with the granted attacks, but there may be better attack granting powers available by then.
Primordial Retribution (9/19/29):This is a controller power, not a leader power, and as such these conjurations don't give bonuses or penalties to adjacent creatures like the others do; they're used exclusively to block movement and set up their attack power. You can use the attack power as long as you have at least one elemental left, and each attack can target up to 4 enemies regardless of how many elementals you have left. Hitting restrains enemies, inflicts ongoing damage, and removes an elemental (though not necessarily one adjacent to the hit target) from play. This gives you some serious ability to lock down enemies that are spread out across the battlefield, and you'll get another chance if you end up missing.
Scion of Stone (2): You already have an encounter power for a +1 to defenses all encounter long; I don't see much reason to want a daily one. The temp hit points to several allies keeps it from being a complete waste, but it's not a very large number of temps.
Retrieving Elemental (6): You can use this all encounter to make minor positioning adjustments around your conjuration or you can expend it to give an ally a large shift.
Elemental Boon (10): This power could be reasonable if it didn't cost a standard. The bonus HP on a heal are nice, but it would be better if you didn't have to wait until an ally fails a death save to trigger granting a heal. Better to heal the ally before his turn, and not get screwed over if a dying ally makes his death save.
Defender's Friend: This lets you let an ally mark enemies in a burst 2 around your spirit when you dismiss it. It's a generic mark, and it's only once per encounter; not likely to be worth a feat.
Elemental of Guardianship: Lets allies within 2 of your spirit get a defense bonus when you dismiss it. Not bad, but again probably not worth the feat.
Warding Elemental: This feat is a reason in and of itself to take the theme. Allies within 2 squares of your spirit get Resist 5 all; simply never expend your spirit and grant this bonus to allies all fight long. The only issue is with extremely mobile enemies you might have a hard time keeping the spirit close in some fights, but either Primordial Retribution or help from your controller and/or defender should keep this from being too much of a problem.
Rainbringer: This path gives bonuses to allies adjacent to you, so make sure you can be in the thick of things before taking this path. You get rerolls on three skills (Endurance, Heal, Nature) that are particularly useful in Dark Sun- you can generate survival days and reduce the problems that come if you run out. You'll hand out a significant number of THP to adjacent allies every time you heal, allow allies within 2 to heal a bit and shift a square when you AP, and bloodied allies will regenerate when adjacent to you. The powers run from decent to awesome; the encounter attack to weaken adjacent enemies is nice, the encounter utility heal+mass concealment suffers from being a standard action, and the daily will make and encounter; besides dazing enemies on a hit, it creates a zone that heals bloodied allies and damages enemies. Remember, dying allies are bloodied, so any dying ally will regain consciousness at the start of his turn if he's in the zone. The only downside is it won't heal you- make sure you stay up to sustain it.
Smoking Crown Initiate:This path is all about three things: fire resistance, difficult terrain, and boosting your defender. The fire resistance is pretty minor if you don't have another source of fire resistance, but it will boost an existing source and allow you to share that resistance with adjacent allies. Your AP creates difficult terrain (watch out, since this is the only difficult terrain you create that you and your allies aren't immune to) and lets an ally mark your targets, the encounter lets an ally mark your targets, the utility creates a zone that is damaging and difficult terrain for enemies, and the daily is a very nice defender boost; it creates difficult terrain around an ally (so no shifting away for most enemies) and will damage and slow any enemy in the zone that moves away from the ally- which generally ends their movement, since they just spent two squares of movement to enter a square of difficult terrain.
What you need to be: No real requirements, since the free power isn't an attack. If you want to take any of the theme attack powers, you need to be an Implement User.
What this adds: Leader, power points
Recommended For: Any class that uses Power Points, any leader, anyone that likes hitting.
Overview: Most everything from this theme boosts allies, though you could certainly be happy just taking the free power and using it to boost your own accuracy. The utilities, on the other hand, tend to involve allies sacrificing something for you. Its one of the few ways to get Power Points; you get one for free, and you can get more by taking the at-will attack powers of the theme (but only if you're not replacing augmentable powers to take them). For the most part, these will go towards fueling your powers from this path, but they can afford you some flexibility.
Automatic Features: Power Point:Ok, so mostly you'll use this with Adept's Insight to give it a boost, but it also opens up feats and items that need a power point to get the most out of. Also, if you're a power point using class already, it evens out the number of points you have at 13th level and beyond, which will often let you use one more fully augmented power each encounter.
Adept's Insight:A small to reasonable bonus to an attack, saving throw, or skill check, available as a free action each encounter. It can target either you or an ally- remember, though, that since it takes a free action you won't be able to use it to help yourself save against a stun or dominate. Mostly, I expect it will be used to get one more hit in every encounter or let an ally break out of a condition that would keep him from attacking, either of which is something everyone should want to have. Unless you know that the check was failed by exactly 1, expect to spend your power point to boost this.
At Will Powers: Unnerving Suggestion (3/13/23):This will daze an enemy and grant a sizable damage bonus against it to one ally; pick a multiattacker, someone about to nova, or someone you're about to grant some attacks to and you can help finish an enemy off pretty quick. The damage bonus scales well, too. Generally, you'll get this once per encounter, but if you have power points from your class or taking the other at will from this theme, you can keep this going.
Cruel Decree (7/17/27):This is less impressive than unnerving suggestion; it only slows enemies (which is pretty much useless, except to keep ranged enemies from fleeing, since you want to catch allies in the burst, too) and gives a lower damage bonus. However, the damage bonus is against several enemies and can be used by any allies you caught in the burst, so it makes up for it somewhat. Again, you can use this more than once if you have another source of power points to fuel it.
Imperious Torture (5/15/25):Single target and inflicts what amounts to a variation on ongoing damage (relying on an enemy within 5 of the target taking damage) that has a chance of proning the target. You should be able to do better.
Face of Defeat (9/19/29):A single target daze that turns into a one round stun if the target gets hit. That might be okay, but the duration is until the end of your next turn- if the enemy goes right after you, it may well never lose an action to the stun since your next turn will come before it's next turn.
Slave's Sacrifice (2): You redirect a hit to an ally, with a defense boost to the ally. There are a couple of nice things about this power; one is that you should know the attack roll against you, so you should know whether it will hit your ally. The other is that a marked enemy should trigger the mark punishment before you redirect the attack, so you can get him punished and send the attack to your defender anyway.
Enforced Competence (6): You let an ally reroll a save or skill check, but damage him if he has the temerity to fail again. It's fun, but not particularly practical.
Psionic Sustenance (10): This lets you use another augmentable power or another at will from this theme one encounter per day, at the low cost of an ally's healing surge.
Fluid Form Schooling: Allow an ally to reposition after you help them with Adept's Insight. It's okay, but only helps once per encounter.
Mind Barrier Schooling: Once per encounter defense bonus when you help an ally with Adept's Insight. Again, okay, but there are much better feats.
Vanquishing Noble: This one can actually be useful; it makes it more likely that you'll be able to save your power point for something else and gives you a higher average bonus if you do spend the point.
Mind General: A solid Leader path with a lot of focus on positioning. Your APs let an ally shift and get a defense boost, you can slide allies that kill enemies, and you can drop one ally's defenses to boost another ones, letting allies that are out of danger help out those threatened by a lot of enemies. You get extra power points, which will likely be spent on having your encounter power grant 2 attacks instead of 1. The utility is like a lesser, minor action version of Reorient the Axis, letting all your allies shift your first turn or one shift later, and the daily give you a stance that lets you slide one ally or one enemy at the start of each of your turns.
Psionic Focus:This is more focused on control; you daze enemies with APs and can learn an enemy's resistances and lowest defense once per encounter. The latter combos well with the encounter power, which can either remove resistances or penalize a defense. You get some decent psychic resistance. The utility can cancel an attack against an ally and open up the enemy for retaliation, and the daily attacks three defenses and restrains, weakens, and/or inflicts ongoing, based on what hits. Unfortunately, it does no damage, so it's not as good as many other multidefense-targeting powers.
What you need to be: Melee Weapon User
What this adds: Defender
Recommended For: Barbarians, Avengers, Paladins
Overview: All the attack powers after the free one are polymorph powers, giving you a boost for a turn or an encounter along with an attack. They generally also come with some sort of defender functionality built in that may or may not interfere with normal mark punishment, making it better for secondary defenders and Paladins, who don't need to use an action to punish on their marks. Most powers are thunder, and a couple of those are close powers, so Resounding Thunder can increase their size.
Automatic Features: Mark of Thunder:Exactly what it says on the tin: you mark an enemy, and they take thunder damage if they attack someone else. It's no action to trigger this mark, which means fighters and battleminds can double punish the target; other defenders can punish the target any someone subject to their normal mark.
Encounter Powers: Armor of the Land (3/13/23):This gives you resist 5 all and an interrupt attack to punish an adjacent enemy that moves, giving you solid defender functionality for a turn without taking your standard action. Note that since it's an interrupt, not an OA, you can punish shifting. It's too bad that the resistance doesn't scale, though.
Armor of Living Dunes (7/17/27):The benefit of being in this form, immunity to forced movement, is so-so, but a blast 3 that pushes and blinds makes up for it. Just be careful about catching allies in the blast.
Storm of Debris (5/15/25):A great catch-22 when used by a full defender, and a minor one when used by anyone else. Enemies starting their turns within 2 take damage and are marked; if you have ways of punishing marked enemies for moving away, then you can keep them in the damaging zone for a long time. It also comes with an attack to slide enemies and slow them, making it easier to get them close and keep them close as the auto damage drains their HP.
Of Wood and Stone (9/19/29):This combines the benefits of the two encounter powers, forced movement immunity and damage reduction, and makes them apply all encounter and to adjacent allies. The weakening attack is nice, adding to how much damage you'll be able to take after popping this power in a group of enemies.
Sandstep (2): A shift followed by concealment that extends to allies. Just be careful not to use it around enemies with bursts or blasts, since concealment won't apply to those and you've just bunched up with allies...
Lifting Wind(6): This power will get better as you level up; at level 6, when you likely only have a 4 or 5 as your highest mod, you're not going to get as much out of it. Still, useful if you need to pull an ally into flanking position.
Balm of the Guardian (10): Healing for you, a small number of THP for your allies, and thunder vulnerability for your enemies. If you grabbed the other thunder powers from this theme, or happen to do or have allies that do thunder damage normally, this gets better; otherwise it's a decent self heal.
Guardian's Mark: Honestly, I'm just happy to see a theme feat that doesn't only apply to one attack each encounter. This will give you a mark useable several times, if you take enough theme powers. Decent enough for someone who wants to throw some more secondary defender in, but there's no punishment and the classes that can punish generic marks aren't likely to need it.
Mark of Elements: Change the damage type of Mark of Thunder. If you're that concerned about its damage type, you should probably be using an elemental weapon anyway; not that much resists thunder.
Persisting Thunder: This makes the mark from Mark of Thunder save ends. A feat for a 45% chance to have one mark per encounter last more than one round doesn't seem like a good deal to me.
Demanding Spirits: This one can actually be helpful to primary defenders, or can be used to give Guardian's Mark a bit more bite. It's not a damaging punishment, but it'll let you pull an enemy back towards you if it ignores the mark. It's a great way to screw up multiattacking enemies.
Guardian of the Land: Everything in this path revolves around the 3x3 patch of Guarded Land you can create each encounter. The problem is that the patch isn't very mobile (you can move it 1 for free when you move or 3 as a move action), meaning that in a mobile fight you or the zone will be left behind; at least it counting as difficult terrain for enemies limits their ability to run away. It can also be destroyed by Arcane Defiling, so hope your arcane allies aren't jerks and that you never have to fight a sorcerer king. The abilities you get from the path are decent, but none work unless you can keep your enemies in or near the Guarded Land; it's too easy for you to effectively lose your PP regularly.
Voice for the Ravaged:This is a controller/leader path rather than a defender path. If you have an ally that focuses on cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage, he will love you for taking it; it's one of the few sources of an untyped +1 to hit that lasts all day. The encounter power can make one enemy smack another (or himself); make it a ranged basic attack and you can force the enemy to trigger OAs (and, possibly, mark punishment). The utility is a mass no surge healing power, and the daily stuns a group of enemies, followed by a daze if they make their save or dominate if they fail. The powers don't use implements or weapons, but the attack bonus scales properly and you're not taking this path to do damage, so it's a minor concern. You give THP and a shift to allies when you use a primal daily, so it's best taken by druids, shamans, or seekers.
Overview: This theme's theme is being a lone wolf; all but one of the powers either require you to stay away from allies or get boosted when you do. It helps to either be self-reliant or ranged to make doing so easier.
Automatic Features: Wasteland Fury:It's a little sad that none of the striker themes get a free power with more than one die per tier for damage, but at least this one has a built in striker mechanic- one that will stack with other striker mechanics for the non-hybrids out there. If you're not adjacent to allies, you get a free shift, too. The striker mechanic requires CA, so if you don't have CA and you're adjacent to allies, this is pretty much a basic attack. It can be decent when used right, but takes more care than a lot of other powers do.
Encounter Powers: Stalking the Prey (3/13/23):This gives you free CA for the attack if you're not adjacent to allies and gives more CA if you hit. Nice for ranged strikers and anyone who picks off enemies away from the main fight.
Flensing Wind Strike (7/17/27):This does low damage on its own, but can set up a nice catch-22 on any enemy in melee, forcing them to draw OAs or take extra damage. It's the only power that doesn't care if you're not adjacent to allies, too.
Nomad's Pursuit (5/15/25):If you have problems with enemies running away, but can manage to stay away from allies, this power's for you; it lets you shift towards the target, ignoring difficult terrain, for free at the start of each turn you're not adjacent to allies. Pointless if you're ranged, but if you're melee and can use it on a ranged opponent, you can make it hard to keep away from you.
Monstrous Savagery (9/19/29):This is like a daily version of the at-will Brutal Barrage; it throws in an attack penalty, but that's not really enough to save it. If you use vulnerabilities, you might be able to make some use of it, but I suspect you can find more damaging powers anyway (or you ought to just play a battlemind and do it more often).
Lone Resolve (2): A save at the start of your turn once per day, so long as you're not adjacent to allies. It gets a hefty bonus, meaning you're likely to succeed. On the off chance you don't, you don't expend the power. A great way to get out of save ends conditions that might otherwise eat your attack.
Dune Dancer (6): Lets you run away after being hit if you're not adjacent to allies, with some CA to boot. It'll save you if you're up against a multiattacker, but in most cases it's just solid repositioning.
Lone Nomad (10): Resist 7 All for an encounter, as long as you can keep from ending adjacent to allies. A very good way to keep yourself up while you deal with enemies on your own; any defender should love this power.
Drag to Death: Lets you slide an enemy away and shift after it with Wasteland Fury. Not worth it for a 1/encounter ability.
Dune's Advantage: I generally dislike the feats that add a boost requiring you to hit with your free encounter power, but a properly applied daze can be powerful enough that this could be worthwhile.
Endurance in Solitude: Bonus HP on a second wind when not adjacent to allies. Might be worth it for a dwarf or warden, who use second winds more regularly, but both probably have better ways to boost second winds.
Dune Strider: This path has some solid out of combat utility in Dark Sun games, making it very hard to get hit by sun sickness- you travel faster (so you spend less time in the desert), your party needs fewer survival days, and you have bonuses to nature (getting more survival days) and fortitude (vs disease only) and endurance (avoiding sun sickness if you run out of survival days). As far as in-combat utility goes, you have the solid ability to get concealment at the end of shifts- particularly useful for Cunning Sneaks, who have access to multi-square shift powers and can hide based on the concealment. The utility power is a fun way to reposition yourself and two others (preferably enemies, since they'll grant CA), and both attack powers are solid; the encounter power blinds and gives you concealment. The daily weakens and punishes the target for failing its save with damage and getting knocked prone.
Sand Reaver:This path is bloodthirsty- a lot focuses on attacking bloodied foes. Your AP attacks have a bonus against them, your melee attacks inflict penalties to hit on them, your daily lets you heal if they're bloodied but conscious after the attack, and the utility is a stance that gives you a damage boost after killing. The encounter power makes creatures take OAs if they stay next to you- nice for defenders, and it can be combine with the daily which stops a creature from shifting. Add to a significant bonus to your healing surge value, and you have a nice set of features, although some won't kick in until after your party has done a chunk of damage.
Overview: This theme is focused on critical hits; the free power sets them up, and all the other powers get a boost when you make them. It enables crit fishing, but other methods of crit fishing don't work well with it's non-free attack powers; Avengers won't get their double attack rolls, and none of the attacks from the theme are multiattacks.
Automatic Features: Psychic Surge:If you hit, you get an 18-20 crit range until end of next turn. It's a great way to set up a nova round. If you can convince a leader to throw some extra attacks your way and/or you have some off-turn attacks, so much the better.
Encounter Powers: Wildfire Bolt (3/13/23):Ok if you crit, crap if you don't. Unreliable.
Mind Clash (7/17/27):Decent if you crit, crap if you don't. Unreliable.
Psionic Shelter (5/15/25):A decent off-turn attack with a defense bonus that will go away quickly unless you keep critting, in which case the defense bonus will grow and you'll damage enemies within 5. If you're one of those builds that is more likely than not to score at least one crit every round, this is actually really good; other than those rare builds, though, you can do better.
Chaotic Thoughts (9/19/29):Low damage that isn't really made up for by the ongoing or the damage it takes on a failed save (which, since it's equal to the failed save result, can't be very high itself). The daze every time you crit (whether or not it's against the target) is nice, but too unreliable to save the power.
Wilder's Armor (2):A decent defense bonus for a turn, plus THP if you crit. An okay proactive defensive ability.
Wild Repulsion (6): Resist All 5 for an encounter is already good; the fact that it can increase if you crit is just gravy.
Psychic Feedback (10): Defenders will love this; it damages enemies that damage them. You can also boost a critical hit by ending the stance, which seems like it won't be worth it unless you're in mop up. No scaling on the damage means it becomes less useful at high levels, accept as a minion popper.
Lingering Surge: It's a decent way for a crit fisher to maintain combat advantage against an enemy. Of course, if you're critting them that often they may not be likely to survive long enough for the CA to make much of a difference.
Wilder Rejuvenation: THPs for you and allies when you crit. Again, nice for crit fishers.
Enhanced Psychic Surge: Let's be honest, you probably took this theme to use Psychic Surge to set up novas. This makes it twice as good at setting up novas. 16-20 crit ranges are rare in this game; you want this.
Resurgent Wilder: This borders on Gold for ardents, psions, and battleminds, who almost always use at-will psionic powers; who doesn't want an 18-20 crit range on the majority of their attacks? It's still strong for monks as well, but since their encounter powers won't get the expanded range it's not as quite as good as the classes that use augmented at-wills instead. APs will set up crits for the entire party (though that feature may lose its luster when you hit epic and a lot of people have 19-20 ranges already). You also get to heal whenever you crit, which is not reliable but should happen often enough with your crit range to be helpful. The encounter power is a slow and attack penalty, which actually has a good crit rider effect- daze (save ends), almost unheard of on encounter powers. The utility adds an extra crit each day and the daily enhances everyone's crit range against the target. Very nice for anyone who like crits.
Wielder of the Way:While a letdown after the other theme PP, this is still solid. You'll likely want another source of power points than the theme so you can take advantage of the 1/encounter power point for an extra [W] of damage trade (though you could do this every other encounter and rely on your AP to get the point back for you); you'll want the points from the theme to augment the encounter power every encounter, since it makes the target provoke OAs when it makes attacks. Hit an enemy when it's in the middle of a bunch of party members for maximum effect. The saving throw bonus after augmented attacks is so-so, but the utility to slip daze onto an attack every encounter (combines well with the encounter attack if you don't have another way to keep an enemy from shifting away before he attacks) and the daily that dominates as an effect (with a large attack bonus on the enemy's attacks) are both very strong.