Building a Better Avenger

by Sndwurks (David Buresh) on November 29, 2011

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.

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1 Bookeeper November 29, 2011 at 9:44 am

Awesome article, please send this to Wizards as it would make a great new build for the Avenger which is sadly not all the fluff makes it out to be.

2 Shane November 29, 2011 at 11:11 am

I’d love to see an Essentials avenger build like this. Have you sent a proposal to Dragon?

3 Ameron (Derek Myers) November 29, 2011 at 11:51 am

@Bookeeper and Shane
They say timing is everything and as luck would have it I’ll be attending a seminar at the Wizards head office in Seattle next week. I think I’ll make a point of bringing this to their attention while I’m there. I’ll keep everyone posted (including Sndwurks, after all it’s his article).

4 Toldain November 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm

I feel that your negative review of the Avenger class as it stands is very likely due to a particular playstyle adopted by your group as “standard”. One of the complaints in the first article here about Avengers is that GM’s could easily cancel out the Avengers abilities by surrounding them.

However, doing this requires positing that the enemies in question know 1) That the character is an Avenger, 2) What an Avenger’s powers are, and 3) How best to counter them. Of course the GM knows this, but do the orcs? Have they seen an Avenger before? Do they know what their powers are?

When I run a game, I always try to keep in mind the state of knowledge and intelligence of the enemy. This way, when a group comes along that does know these things, it makes things more dramatic, and portrays how these enemies are different. RPG’s are related to wargaming, but they aren’t wargames, or abstract intellectual exercises.

The Avenger class is also loaded with powers that allow special movement, which players ought to be using to set up their one-one-ones. And team play matters, too. The Defenders should be the ones surrounded by enemies, not the Avengers. Avengers should not be the first into battle, that’s not what they do.

And of course, there’s the best-ever Avenger power “hit me a lot and I’ll just do more damage”.

5 OnlineDM November 29, 2011 at 2:07 pm

I’d be interested in seeing this written up as actual class features so I could understand the details better, but I’ll admit that on a casual read-through this sounds overpowered.

You seem to focus on the Censures as being the avenger’s source of striker damage. I disagree. The avenger’s source of striker damage is just from hitting and critting more often via the two attack dice from Oath of Enmity. The Censure bonuses haven’t come up very often in my own experience with avengers. The extra accuracy has come up all the time.

Giving the avenger extra hit points and surges, plus improved censures, plus at-will auras that make those censures more likely to trigger just seems like a crazy upgrade in power level from what the avenger currently has, doesn’t it?

I think a basic attack focused avenger (built like the Essentials martial classes) could be very interesting. I’m also open to the argument that the avenger needs more oomph compared to other strikers. But I think the paladin sub-class with the attendant extra hit points aren’t the way to go.

You’ve at least inspired me to think about this, though. Maybe I’ll take a crack at an “essentialized” version of the avenger.

6 Sndwurks (David Buresh) November 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm

@Bookeeper & Shane
Thanks for the praise! While I would love to write this up as a full article pitch, this is the sort of thing Wizards usually handle in house, likely as an Unearthed Arcana article. I’m not sure that I would be their first choice to write an article like this. But, we’ll see just what Ameron manages to pull off, though. Fingers crossed, here.

While the comments about playing Team Monster with an appropriate level of knowledge and tactics is a /very/ valid one, as it is truly what moves D&D combat away from a War Game and firmly into the realm of an RPG, I will make one comment. Most monsters? Probably would think that piling on the guy wearing no armor, swinging a sharpened airplane wing as a generally smart idea. No armor, after all, generally makes a target appear to be easier to hit. And Swarm & Drop tactics is effective in most circumstances. Why go after the guy in armor when his buddy is just as far away and not in armor?

One note that I think you may have missed. The Censures are now Encounter powers that are Free Actions that are a response to an Avenger attacking an enemy who is subjected to their Oath of Enmity. As an unleveled feature encounter power, it is something that is difficult (but not impossible) to refresh. Regarding their Accuracy, however? I don’t believe it. A Rogue of various types can hit on a 2, easily, without support. Avengers are even close to the most accurate Strikers, when most Leaders can hand out significant enough bonuses to make missing unlikely. Also, rolling twice just gives you two chances at the same odds, which does not actually equate twice the chance of hitting. Critting more often does increase their damage, but it is not that much of a significant boost in power when you note that Avengers do not have powers with significant X[W] for their level compared to their effective competition, being Barbarians and Rangers. Also, Avengers have one power that makes multiple attacks (Soulforge Hammer, Avenger 17), three Immediate action, and one minor action attacks. A Ranger is in a better position flat out (multi-attacking = same chance to score a critical hit, and better than always rolling twice because you have a chance to do more damage), and most other good Strikers have Immediate and Minor action attacks to roll that wonderful natural 20 on.

However, that being said, the Auras may still be over powered. I would like to see them, perhaps, not grant more damage, but to serve as a control feature to make the Avenger a bit more Defender-ish. Maybe one that Slowed a creature moving out of their aura, or one that knocked prone their Oath of Enmity when they got hit. What would you suggest?

7 Toldain November 29, 2011 at 5:25 pm

@Sndwrks, Interesting thoughts.

Yes, there are monsters that swarm, and will swarm the weakest looking target. Which is why the Avenger, or the Rogue, or even the two-weapon Ranger should not be in the front in the opening round or two, but hanging back a bit. 4e is based on MMORPGs, and this is definitely part of the received wisdom of MMORPGs: Stay behind the tank. Use your extra movement in later rounds to get to the focus fire target. Movement powers are where the Avenger really shines. And if you take a few opportunity attacks on the way to that target? With the right power, that just turns into more damage.

Furthermore, Avengers have movement powers available to get them out of this situation, particularly phasing.

Finally, if, as you describe, Rogues can hit on a 2, then something more fundamental is broken than the Avenger class. It might be the system, it might be the campaign. It might even be the Rogue build, by the way. I think whatever feat took that Rogue from hitting on a 3 to a 2 would probably have been better spent on something else, particularly damage, or crits or something. Or maybe even, gasp, defenses.

Don’t forget that rolling twice also doubles the chance that you will get a crit.

8 Sndwurks (David Buresh) November 29, 2011 at 6:02 pm


Here’s the math on a Rogue hitting on a 2.

Average Monster AC: 14 + Level
Rogue Attack: +4 (Stat) +3 (Dagger or other light blade) +1 (Class Feature) +2 (Combat Advantage) = +10 without any feat or item support, before 1/2 level.
Rogue (Thief) gets Backstab, which is an Encounter +3 to hit, +1d6 damage.

That’s a +13 to hit before Feat, Item, or 1/2 level. Now, you are correct. Not every Rogue is a Thief. But that is still the comparison to make.

And as I said above, Critical Hits, while good, are not good enough to truly make up the difference without having the powers that deal multiple [W] damage. Also, the Ranger will usually have an equal to greater chance of critting compared to the Avenger, through virtue of making multiple attacks per round. In addition, the Ranger has the ability to roll multiple crits a round, which an Avenger simply does not.

9 Zevix November 29, 2011 at 6:12 pm

So I must say, i was skeptical going into this, mostly because I consider the Avenger to be so far beyond help, but this concept really blew me away.

The problem with Avengers is that as Strikers, they really only have one build that can deal significant damage, and that build is broken beyond belief. (Half-Elf with Twin Strike anyone?)

What you are proposing here is a character that sounds fun to play, maintains the feel of the Avenger, and brings a whole new playset of previously unseen abilities to the game.

Love it, send it in.

10 Toldain November 29, 2011 at 8:10 pm

@Sndwurks I had to look up Backstab in the compendium. I think I’ve found what’s broken. I’ve had that reaction to other material found in Heroes of the Fallen Land; it seems like it was subject to serious power inflation. Which was inevitable given WotC’s business model, which depended on getting players to buy the latest book when they already had a giant stack of material to play with.

I can’t reconcile your math with my experience of GM’ing two groups, one into their teens. With the math you give, any melee character should hit on about a 5 or more. But that isn’t the case, and I’m not throwing wildly out-leveled monsters at them, either.

But I can’t really find any error in what you post, either. The bonuses to hit for a character add up pretty well. Maybe my players were not completely optimized for attack? I think it’s likely that some of them started with only a 16 or so in a primary stat. There is such a thing as defense, after all. And skills.

I have one group with a archery focused ranger and an Avenger, they are level 12 now. They work well together, the Avenger loves the movement powers she gets, and uses them to good advantage. I don’t think she feels at all overshadowed by the Ranger.

It’s true that the Avenger is a somewhat better player than the Ranger, though.

11 Ensign Expendable November 30, 2011 at 3:59 am

A good effort at bringing the Avenger up to snuff mechanically but I think that it also suffers fluff wise as a stand alone class which also makes it less popular.

The idea of the religious fanatic who want to bring death to the enemies of their faith isn’t a bad one (as a character in a fictional universe that is. Real life is a different story) but there isn’t anything that prevents you having that back story as another striker, or any of the roles for that matter. The Ranger trained in the mountains by the little known fanatic religious order, the Thief who found faith when locked up in jail who now sneaks through the shadows and smites the enemies of his god or the Sorcerer who loves his god and uses his magic to stamp out those who don’t. Any of these could also take the Cleric multiclass feat and gain access to Channel Divinities and healing too.

Couple redundancy with the mechanical deficiencies (which you’ve addressed) and you get the lacklustre class we know and hate.

12 Philo Pharynx November 30, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I’ve seen some kick-ass invokers. Heck, just reading the invoker power list in a dramatic voice is enough to inspire a character. 🙂 They’re a great class if you like enemies only bursts.

Here’s my avengenger fix. 2 feats. Heroic level feat to increase weapon damage 1 die type when oath reroll applies. Heroic level feat to increase crit range when oath reroll applies with avenger/PP powers – 19-20 at heroic, 18-20 at paragon, 17-20 at epic. (This works out to 9.75%, 19.00%, 27.75%, respectively). This would be overpowered if they got more multiple weapon damage powers. It might be overpowered with some effects that trigger on crits. I’m at work and haven’t had the chance to run the numbers, but this seems like a good easy way to give them striker damage without rewriting the whole class. It also enhances their unique feeling. Other people may have been trained by a religious order, but their faith allows them to embody the perfection of their god for fleeting moments.

13 Al November 30, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Rogue (Scoundrel) only gets +1 class feat to dagger or crossbow or sling only which will hurt his damage output.

Backstab is a Rogue (Thief) 1/encounter at level 1 class feature, and should not be included in your math.

You are adding more things than you should to give you the +13 to hit.

I’m also in agreement with OnlineDm that at first blush this looks overpowered.

14 Rabbit is Wise November 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm

If were going to talk about the best strikers in terms of damage, which would be a fun topic, for my money its the half orc rougue brutal scoundrel build…

@David… I agree that avengers would be better off as a strength based paladin build.

15 Sentack December 1, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I wanted to add that while I haven’t seen an Avenger in long term play, I have seen a Rogue and I can confirm that a decently made Rogue can reach 5+ without CA, 3+ with CA and can target Reflex, which is like a +2 attack bonus. Not to mention doing 3x the damage of any non-striker and having a number of off turn attacks or utility powers that are hard to match. But that could be an issue of the Rogue and also the Ranger being 2 of the best strikers in the game period.

Now as for the proposal from the post itself. An interesting concept but I think it’s a little over complicated and perhaps a little over balancing in some respects. Neat, I’ll admit but seems like they have too many moving parts.

16 donalbain December 1, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I personally have never played an avenger, but from what I just read I’m sold.

17 las artes December 13, 2011 at 5:57 am

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.

18 Namagem April 12, 2013 at 9:56 am

As someone who has seen a paragon tier avenger of Unity in action firsthand, I can’t help but think that this is unneccesary. The other censures, I don’t know, I haven’t seen, but Unity works well.

– +1 per ally adjacent to your oath target, +2 at paragon, +3 at epic. This adds up to an actually pretty large static bonus assuming you can convince your party to focus on a single target at a time (which is actually usually a good idea anyway). In addition, your allies ganging around an enemy makes it harder for an enemy to be adjacent to you without being punished.

Add that to your high accuracy (rolling twice and taking the higher is equivilant to between +2 and +5 depending on the modifier applied), the improved likelyhood of critting (You will want to ask for a weapon that improves your crit and/or take the feat that improves your crit), and the fact that you’re using large weapons with large numbers of [w], and you’ve got a competant striker class.

I can understand thinking it’s underpowered from a straight up comparison of striker mechanics, but the way they work together makes it on par with the other strikers in my opinion.

19 knuckles664 September 18, 2013 at 7:55 pm

I have to jump in here. There are many things that make the avenger not only on par with other strikers, but over all better in many regards. First off, to those who say they don’t have enough fluff: Favored Soul paragon path gives them WINGS. Beat that for flavor.
Second of all: There are many monsters that AC are rediculous for their level. Hell all their defenses are. So who do you rely upon to hit that fat bastard in the huge armor. The Avenger, who, as luck would have it, can also probably do the most damage. The fullblade is extremely benificial to the avenger, and their lack of extra damage is immidiatly corrected with a handy little feat called “Painful Oath”. Don’t know what that is? Let me fill you in. It allows you to, once per turn, add your wisdom modifier as necrotic AND radiant damage to your oath of enmity target.
Also, their level one daily “Argent Mantle” is an amazing daily, especially for a full blade user, or anybody using a D12 weapon. Burst 1, 2 D10 damage. It allows you to, for the rest of the encounter, reroll damage rolls. Granted, you have to take the second result but say you use your encounter after it. You get roll a 12 and a 1 on damage, you reroll the one and get a 9. you just netted an extra 8 damage, and that effect lasts the entire encounter. On a solo, it gets ridiculously useful.
In one of my groups, we are at level 13. I have my avenger with all the things ive mentioned, and one of my friends is using a two blade ranger with the storm warden paragon path. (yeah, that amazing one). During an encounter, I usually end up having done more damage, taken more attacks, AND taken less damage. Oh, and I usually second as defender, because our defender is a life warden, meaning he’s more healer than defender. (Before you ask, no we don’t have a leader.)

20 Landon October 3, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Okay I only have one problem with all of these comments. All of you want a striker that deals truck tons of damage and that is it. The avenger is a striker that has controller like abilities. 4e is not about being the hero of the party. It is about team work. This isn’t 3.5 or whatever that deals with making everybody awesome. 4e is all about knowing what you are capable of and finding ways to incorporate that into a battle plan. The avenger is fine the way it is. You just need to build in a way that matches it’s capabilities. Plus the avenger is fun to role play especially if you worship The Raven Queen.

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