Talking 4e: Power Sources Overview and Martial

I got this ball rolling by talking about roles available to characters in 4th Edition. I think a case could be made for reading this post first, if you’re inclined to perversity in following lists.

While the previous post discussed the various broad services that a particular character might provide the party—healing, damage absorption, extreme damage, or horde removal and/or priority target incapacitation—power sources are a broader concept. Two Arcane characters might look and act nothing alike, for instance, whereas a Fighter and a Paladin are likely to do very similar things. Instead, power sources help define how a particular character interacts with her abilities, as well as how the character understands the larger world. Most power sources included a class for every role, though none launched that way at the beginning of 4e. By the end of the edition, many power sources had double- or triple-dipped in some roles. In addition, the Heroes of… books fiddled with power sources and roles, creating classes with multiple masters and other riffs on core ideas; those books also changed up how characters gain abilities at a given level, though, so I’m going to address them in later posts.

The power sources are:

  • Martial
  • Divine
  • Arcane
  • Primal
  • Psionic
  • Shadow

The PHB launched with representatives from the Martial, Divine, and Arcane power sources. Primal characters came about in the PHB2 (meaning, surprisingly, Rangers aren’t Primal characters), and Psionic ones dropped with the PHB3. In both cases, races were added that were particularly well-suited to the new power source being surfaced. Shadow’s…that’s a weird one, with only two classes represented, one of which is really an R.C.C. It’s helpful to remember that 4e doesn’t apply limitations to class selection based on race, so you can have dwarves who are thoroughly Arcane, or half-vampires with a Divine bent. Some of the classes available in a given power source are also far less supported than others, representing ideas or experiments that never had a chance to gain much traction.

SwordsMartial: The Martial power source is easily the most “basic.” That doesn’t mean that the source lacks complexity, or is only suited to beginner-level characters. However, Martial characters don’t draw from wells of mystic energy, devotion to otherworldly beings, or even the forces of nature. Instead, a Martial character is reliant on his wits, his body, and his weapons. One of 4e’s revolutionary ideas was to build powers that accounted for a character’s weapon as the primary component of damage, but still did other, interesting things. Therefore, a Fighter with a greatsword is going to do more damage than one with a hand axe, but both could still Cleave. Martial attacks almost always use this method for determining damage, meaning the character is encouraged to pick up a hefty weapon or specialize in a style that favors two smaller ones.

Martial characters tend towards high health and familiarity with a wide range of armors and weapons. Any AoE capacity tends to come in the form of making multiple attacks, or whirlwind-style sweeping strikes, though characters focused on archery have more options in this regard. Beyond the forgotten Seeker class, almost all arching of any kind is done through this power source. Martial characters also deal almost exclusively physical damage, meaning they’re unconcerned about most types of damage reduction but markedly suffer against creatures who take reduced damage from a particular type of weapon. This also makes them particular gear-dependent in terms of needing magical weapons, though 4e generally wanted everyone geared to the gills at all times.

Martial classes include:

  • Fighter (Defender): Fighters are consummate Defenders, though many builds can output impressive DPS as well. Because the Fighter’s mark involves hitting with a weapon, Fighters are extremely gear-focused. Any builds that restrict Fighter weapon selection provide significant bonuses to compensate: Battleragers deal additional damage with axes (which are less accurate than swords), while Brawlers boost their AC and Ref in exchange for keeping one hand open and free. Fighters have high health and can wear excellent armor—again, where the armor is restricted there are other bonuses provided. Fighters generally need to close with their targets, however, and are more likely to get mobility-enhancing attacks and utilities than ranged ones. My favorite exception is Come and Get It, which tugs all enemies in a burst around the character into melee contact, than hits all of them with a whirlwind attack.
  • Rogue (Striker): Rogues are one of two Martial Strikers, and the one more clearly defined in that role. A Rogue wears lighter armors and is limited to generally low-damage, finesse weapons. The goal of the Rogue is to catch an opponent off-guard—whether through flanking, surprise, or anything else that would cause the target to grant Combat Advantage. Such an opponent is vulnerable to the Rogue’s Sneak Attack, which adds buckets of additional dice to each blow. Sneak Attack is such a marked increase in damage that it largely compensates for the low damage of available Rogue weapons. Rogues also tend to focus on a particular style or approach to combat. Some Rogue builds gain additional benefits from high Str or Cha scores, while others boost the Rogue’s ability to hide and remain hidden. Between class features and feats, there are several options for expanding a Rogue’s available weaponry; many of these are racial, but my favorite grants the character use of clubs and maces as though they were light weapons. By itself, that’s far from a powerful bonus, as maces and other blunt weapons are generally less accurate than swords and daggers. However, that particular build (the Ruthless Ruffian) adds Str and Dex to attacks with such weapons, and is built around creating a sort of anti-Mark (see the Defender section of the role post). Rather than encouraging you to hit the Ruffian, these Rattling powers penalize all of your attacks for the next turn; this allows the Rogue to be high-damage while also debuffing the target.

    It’s worth noting that Rogues can make very effective ranged characters, and many of their attacks function with a ranged or melee weapon. However, it’s much more difficult for a Rogue to set up Sneak Attacks at range. They’re not flanking, so they can’t create the bonuses on their own as easily. There are feats that improve their ability to interact with a combat while shooting, but even then they require a large party (so someone else can set up the flank) or a lot of combat debuffs. Ranged Rogues are therefore even more likely to focus on stealth, hoping to set up a fight-starting shot that drops their foe; the stealth-oriented class build is designed to compliment this.

  • Ranger (Striker): The other Martial Striker, the Ranger is a bit of a hodgepodge class, probably serving too many masters. Favoring light to medium armors, Rangers are proficient in all melee and ranged weapons (except exotic ones, because that’s never baseline). Rangers are very much defined by their selected fighting style, and initially dropped with the ability to select either an archery or two-weapon focus. Many Ranger powers can be used with ranged or melee weapons, including some that allow you to make multiple attacks in either mode. This did make Rangers the first class to showcase powers that have separate damage tracks for the main and off-hand weapons a character wields, which in turn encouraged players to focus on paired weaponry whenever possible. Rangers eventually picked up a few more esoteric styles, including one focused on mixing thrown and melee strikes in the same round. They also became the first full-on Pet class, a build I always enjoyed.

    The Ranger’s Striker-ness comes into play with their Quarry ability. This allows a Ranger to mark her nearest foe as a minor action, and until the action is taken again that foe takes an extra die of damage from the Ranger’s attacks. This grants Rangers a lot of flexibility in terms of target selection, because a mobile Ranger can cut through the backfield or help quickly bring down a frontline bruiser. The ability actually carried over to 5e, though now it’s a spell that the Ranger can cast on a target and freely shift when the target dies. However,the bonus damage is only half that of a Sneak Attack and required an action to establish, so Rogues who could maintain CA on a target generally outscored the Ranger in terms of damage.

  • Warlord (Leader): The Warlord was one of the biggest revelations of 4e: a melee-focused, non-magical healing class! Warlords wear heavier armors and wielded any damn weapon they wanted, fighting from the frontlines while boosting their allies. While Str and Con are thus important to the character, Warlords can secondarily focus on Cha or Int (or, later, Wis). In the PHB, Cha-focused Warlords are better healers, while Int provided better attack options. Warlords differ from Clerics in that their moderate healing abilities are supplemented by much better party combat buffs. Warlords can provide significant bonuses to attack and damage for their allies, and one of their At-Wills actually provides an ally a free attack! Again, for the time this was mind-blowing, and led to the creation of “Lazylords:” characters who just stood near a fight, pointing at targets while more powerful characters beat them to death. As Warlords grew more complex, they developed more hybridized models of the above, as well as gaining the option to specialize in high-damage archery. The other key element of all Warlords is that they provide a pair of party-wide buffs; one at all times, the other for any party member who spent an Action Point while able to see and hear the Warlord. These buffs range from extra healing to bonus attacks, and helped cement the Warlord as a martially-focused character.

    They also have access to a power called “Rub Some Dirt on It.”

You’ll notice there’s no Controller for Martial characters. That’s the kind of crunchy distinction that I absolutely love, and it makes a lot of sense for the power source. Controllers are generally tasked with wiping out big groups of enemies with fancy attacks, or locking down specific targets with some sort of lingering incantation. Neither of those tasks are completely out of a Martial character’s reach, but tend to fit better as singular abilities instead of the basis for an entire character. The Heroes of… series eventually provided a Martial Controller option, for the Ranger class, but that ate into the Seeker and never felt particularly well-considered or earned to me.

Martial characters, then! Strong, good at hitting things, good at being hit! Love their swords, don’t much truck with magic, rubbin’ dirt allll up on it.

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