In my local gaming circle, which operates out of a college gaming club, the autumn always brings with it a plethora of new games. With a very active player base, and a wide variety of different parties, I have the advantage of seeing several different parties and classes in action. It allows me to see trends, and not just those that are commented upon increasingly by the editorials released by Wizards of the Coast. While what I have seen at this gaming circle confirms most of what they have said, a recent observation has given an interesting conversation. Other than Clerics and Paladins, divine classes do not get played.
After interviewing most of my gaming circle as to why, I have been able to come up with the same reasons for Avengers, Invokers, and Runepriests. First, there is a lack of distinctive flavor for Runepriests and Invokers to separate them from Clerics and Wizards. Second, the powers and feats are generally lackluster. And third, especially in the case of the Avenger, they simply do not measure up to the other classes for their role in the party. The subject of the Avenger in specific has been discussed before on this blog, and how it fails to be a good striker class. As such, a few friends and I were inspired to take the Avenger back to the drawing board, and re-think the class to solve the issues of a lack of traction, a lack of support, and a lack of being a striker.
The first step to reworking the Avenger into a good, hard-working striker is to examine what traction it does have, and enhance it. The Avenger is an oath-sworn killer for a god, who travels about in plain clothing, able to strike swiftly and dispatch their god’s enemies. They are a divine warrior, with no armor, and an intense religious fervor. The concept of an Avenger is interesting, but how to differentiate it from other strikers and divine classes is necessary, and the execution of the class falls short. While sharing many similarities with the Assassin in flavor and fluff, it is necessary to show the divine blessings of their faith to make the Avenger stand out.
As a divine warrior class, the Avenger should be a build of the Paladin class. This will give it support in the form of several Paladin feats, as well as open up a range of powers without needing to publish the full four encounter, four daily per level. Yes, that loses the access to the currently existing Avenger powers, but considering their lackluster power selections, that is not much lost. And even in further review of powers, Paladins have higher damaging encounter and daily powers than an Avenger, with a 3[W] Encounter (Heedless Fury) and a 4[W] daily (Blood of the Mighty) at level 1. Instead of existing Paladin At-Wills, however, the class would best be served by focusing on a Melee Basic Attack and some new At-Wills specific for their interactions with the Oath of Enmity, which is the Avenger’s defining features. I’ll get into those later.
Similar to the Thane build of the Bard available in Heroes of the Feywild, Avengers should still be an AEDU (At-Will, Encounter, Daily, Utility) class, with different features from the base Paladin. They should keep their focus on being unarmored, mobile holy warrior, and focus on making melee attacks with increased accuracy. However, the Oath of Enmity alone does not make them a threat enough. While they will score a critical hit twice as often, it still puts them behind the curve on damage compared to every other striker out there. Also, as it stands, an Avenger has a very weak Melee Basic Attack, which is one of the key areas of attacking. As such, I propose to remove the need for Wisdom from Avengers as a primary attribute, and move to Strength. This falls in line with the movement towards a Paladin class, as the high damaging Paladin powers are strength based. This will also give them a strong Melee Basic Attack. I would give them a damage increasing feature that does not rely on their Oath of Enmity as well, such as a scaling damage similar to Sorcerers and Slayers based off of Wisdom, or simply +1d8 per tier once per turn on a melee weapon attack. With their increased critical hit chance, I feel the latter to be a stronger choice, as it will maximize more often.
I would keep the Oath of Enmity and Armor of Faith. I feel these two features are their most defining. I would keep their weapon and armor proficiencies unchanged, as well as their defense bonuses. I would drop the Channel Divinity feature. Finally, I would move their hit points and healing surges to the standard Paladin amount, as per the Paladin and Blackguard. This would make them tougher, yes, but even with the Armor of Faith benefit, they will still generally simply get attacked more, and this will make them a more significant threat. The Censures, however, would need to be changed. As they stand currently, they are supposed to be the damage kicker that made the class a striker. However, they fell drastically short of that mark, and they have been replaced. However, I feel that the Censure could be reworked to better suit the class as a form of divine punishment.
Keep the Censure of Retribution and Pursuit. Make them encounter power free actions that trigger when you attack your Oath of Enmity target. Have it deal extra radiant damage on a scaling amount based off of Intelligence (Retribution) or Dexterity (Pursuit) as an effect, similar to the Smites that the Cavalier and Blackguard have. As a light armor class, that would make both Intelligence and Dexterity as secondary attributes. Add a requirement for the usage of the power similar to the existing conditions. The Avenger can only activate Censure of Pursuit when the enemy targeted by their Oath willingly moves away on its turn, and deals damage equal to 2 + Dexterity modifier (scaling) radiant damage. The Censure of Unity can be activated at any point, but deals damage equal to the Avenger’s Intelligence modifier, for every time they were hit since the end of their last turn.
Now, we have an Avenger who is a holy warrior who operates without armor, swings a weapon with better than average accuracy, deals on par striker damage with Melee Basic Attacks, and punishes their chosen target once per encounter under special circumstances. The final piece to the puzzle comes in with their At-Will powers. Similar to the Skald build for the Bard in Heroes of the Feywild, the Avenger is best served by having At-Will divine aura powers that interact with their Oath of Enmity. These powers would be Aura 1. These powers should serve to be the extra hammer to play into the Censures, by which they need to either encourage monsters to attack the Avenger, or encourage the target of the Oath of Enmity to move away from the Avenger.
I feel that a good aura to encourage the latter would be one that gave the Avenger a Melee Basic Attack against the target of their Oath of Enmity as an opportunity action whenever a creature in their aura hits them. For optimization reasons, it is necessary for it not to be an opportunity attack, but a Melee Basic Attack as an opportunity action. This would make the target not to want to attack the Avenger while in the aura, and discourage other monsters from engaging the Avenger in melee so long as the Oath of Enmity is in their melee range. An aura that encourages monsters to attack the Avenger would be one that allowed the Avenger to shift one square as an opportunity action when a creature in the aura moved away from them. This fulfills the Pursuit idea excellently, as well as encourages monsters to focus melee attacks on the Avenger as needing to choose between moving and provoking an attack of opportunity, or shifting, and still having the Avenger next to them. A ranged attack could still shift back, however, and then make a ranged attack with impunity, as the Avenger’s opportunity action on that turn was spent.
With these two auras, we see a growing theme. An aura that allows opportunity actions for the Avenger should continue with the other two auras. These should be similar to the second At-Will aura in that they would work with both Avenger Censures. A third aura would be one that, as an opportunity action to the Avenger being hit by a creature in their aura, dealt their Intelligence modifier in radiant damage to the target of their Oath of Enmity. This would encourage an Avenger to Oath a distant target, and then charge into a group of other enemies. As the damage is an opportunity action, it would not be usable on the Avenger’s turn, and multi-attacking monsters would only activate it once. The fourth aura would fill the gap created by the other three, allowing the Avenger to take on a secondary role. As they are a Paladin class, that role should most likely be Defender. The fourth aura I would have on the Avenger would grant them temporary hit points equal to their Wisdom modifier as an opportunity action when an enemy in their aura made an attack. This would provide a buffer on the damage they would be suffering, as well as add the strategy of whether an enemy is better off attacking the Avenger or another PC.
To prevent these auras from being used by other Paladins, I would suggest them requiring the Armor of Faith class feature. This would give them the flavor of further interacting with the divine power radiating from the Avenger, and protecting them. The nature of the auras would encourage Avengers to switch between them on their turns to best suit the combat as it progresses. The final product is a lightly armored, fast moving weapon based warrior who shields themselves in the power of their faith, and smite the foes of their god with extreme prejudice. This Avenger will deal damage on par with other strikers of its level, and with a few powers, would fulfill the role of a divine striker with traction and competitive support.