Strikers are without a doubt my favourite role in 4e D&D. In a balanced party someone needs to be responsible for excessive damage output and that’s usually me. I’ve played the Rogue, Ranger, Warlock, Sorcerer, Monk and Barbarian classes and enjoyed all of them. Although I’ve never played an Assassin, one of the players at my gaming table ran one for months the last time I was the DM so I’m well aware of their prowess (and look forward to playing one soon). Each striker class has its own pros and cons, and every one of them is rewarding and a lot of fun to play. Except the Avenger.
I’ve played the Avenger during dungeon delves and more recently I’ve been playing one in Living Forgotten Realms (LFR). After giving the Avenger a thorough shake-down I’ve come to realize that Avengers suck. They are the worst, most underpowered class in the striker family. I’d go so far as to say that the Avenger is quite possibly the worst classes in 4e D&D.
The striker’s purpose is to dish out damage. What makes the striker special is that when he hits it should hurt… a lot. All strikers get a little something extra to enhance their damage output. Admittedly in many cases the extra damage is circumstantial and if the appropriate criterion isn’t met then they don’t get the extra damage. The Avenger is the only Striker class that gets nothing extra.
Here’s a quick summary of the extra damamge striekrs can deal.
- Rogue: +2d6 sneak dice (combat advantage required)
- Ranger: +1d6 hunter’s quarry
- Assassin: +1d6 assassin’s shroud
- Warlock: +1d6 warlock’s curse
- Monk: 2+Str or 3+Wis Flurry of Blows
- Sorcerer: +second ability modifier
- Barbarian: +1d6 or +1d8 from at-will power
- Avenger: no additional damage
This is certainly a simplified way to compare the classes, I’ll admit that. Each striker class does have other abilities or powers beyond just the extra dice damage. The Avenger’s big ability is that, in some circumstances, he gets two attack rolls. As awesome as that sounds it’s really not that great. It certainly does not make up for the lack of extra dice damage.
In order for the avenger to get two attack rolls he needs to meet some very specific criteria. First he needs to designate one target as his Oath of Enmity target. This works just like a Warlock’s curse or the Ranger’s hunter’s quarry. But unlike these other classes, the Avenger cannot change targets during combat. The Avengers can select powers that allows him to change his Oath target, but who wants to give up a potentially awesome offensive power just for that luxury?
As long as the Avenger is attacking his Oath of Enmity target then things look good. Every time he attacks he gets two attack rolls. However, there are two other important caveats. The attack must be a melee attack and there cannot be any other enemies adjacent to the Avenger.
There are going to be battles where it’s incredibly easy to meet these criteria. In these cases then the Avenger looks pretty powerful. He’s going to hit a lot more often (statistically speaking) then anyone else. And because he’s rolling two attack rolls he’s also more likely to score a critical hit. If the two attack die ability was just a blanket rule that applied to all attacks against the Oath of Enmity target I’d take back all the bad things I’ve said about the Avenger. But it doesn’t so I won’t.
As a class that uses the divine power source, the Avenger can use the holy symbol as an implement. That means that that many of the class powers are implement-based, and as such are ranged attacks. Oh, guess what, none of them get the benefit of getting to roll two attack dice (except for a very select few that specifically say so). This is like a dual-class Rogue not getting sneak dice with powers from his other class. Except in this case they are all powers from your class.
It is possible to build an Avenger that doesn’t have any ranged or implement-based powers, so you can make a character that doesn’t have to worry about this issue. But the other requirement is not nearly as easy to ensure.
The easiest and probably best way to avoid having any other creatures adjacent to you (and thereby negate your best class feature) is to partner up with a really competent controller. If the controller can keep other monsters away from you, then you’ll see just how powerful the Avenger can be in the right circumstances. However, my experience is that the player running the controller wants to do more than just keep monsters off your back (assuming that he has enough powers with forced movement in the first place).
Even if you do manage to get a controller to be your best friend and you develop a great one-two punch where he keeps the bad guys away as often as possible, you then have to worry about the DM.
As I mentioned my experience playing the Avenger has been through LFR play. This means that I’ve have numerous DMs run combat encounter for me. In every adventure I’ve played with the Avenger, the DM has used his knowledge as the DM to negate my class ability. He’s intentionally swarmed me with monster to ensure that I’m never able to go one-on-one with the biggest opponents. During one home game where I was using the Avenger the DM used creatures that are immune to forced movement, eliminating any help I might get from the party’s controller.
This situation presents a real dilemma for me as the player. I hate to be critical of the DM, but this kind of action just doesn’t seem fair to the poor guy playing the Avenger. Although it may not seem like a big deal when the DM swarms the Avenger with monsters that are immune to forced movement (for no good reason other than the DM knows how to negate your best class ability) it really is. It’s like the DM always using monsters that don’t grant combat advantage when flanked for no reason other than because there’s a Rogue in the party. Without a good in-game reason for taking this action the DM is severely weakening the Avenger class.
Before the Avenger lovers try to lynch me for not giving the Avenger an even shake, I should admit that I actually really like the class concept. In fact, I find divine characters extremely interesting. I’m fascinated with the idea of a rogue loner who acts in the best interests of the church but can (and often does) blur the lines of the church’s dogma to accomplish goals for the great good. The whole time the Avenger himself sees his actions as necessary and justifiable.
From a role-playing perspective Avengers have tremendous potential. But as much as I like this side of the character, the weaknesses the class possesses on the combat side of things just to balance the scales for me.
I was willing to play the Avenger for a few levels before giving up on the class. After my recent experiences I decided that the Avenger class is the class I’ve enjoyed playing the least in 4e D&D. It’s a sub-par striker and a sub-par class. The Avenger just doesn’t excel in enough areas to be in the same arena as the other strikers or even the other classes.
Which striker class do you think is the worst? I’d appreciate hearing from anyone who’s played an Avenger at higher levels. If you agree that the Avenger is the worst striker do you think they’re the worst class in 4e D&D? If not which class do you think deserves that distinction?