So I was talking to a longtime associate and applicant player for Tinderbox today about his character concept. I was shocked when he explained that he'd traditionally avoided the Battlemind class because it was almost universally reviled on boards, and had a worthless mark. I didn't doubt his words--I avoid boards of most any sort like a sane man avoids the plague, so I wouldn't know what they do and don't like today. The part about the mark being worthless, though, really caught me off-guard. One of the games I'm currently playing in has a battlemind defender, and I've never noticed any deficiencies. My associate went on to explain that the mark's damaging effect seemed difficult to trigger, particularly in the following two situations: 1) When the marked target chooses to move away from the battlemind, rather than shifting (battleminds have an opportunity at-will that shifts) and 2) When the battlemind has marked 2 (or more) creatures. My associate compared Battlemind's Demand, longingly, to Swordmage Aegis...and I found that even more interesting, since I'm markedly less bullish on the swordmage (though oh how I wish I could be).
I thought the swordmage comment was useful, though, because it highlights what I consider to be the two most important questions when considering relative mark quality: what are you consider the "base" defender, and what do you expect out of a mark? I'm only going to address the first question in this post, however.
High Marks: Fighters
For the former, I'm pretty sure the base defender class is supposed to be a fighter. The traits of a fighter's Combat Challenge are include:
- Ease of Application: It glides right on! A fighter's mark is arguably the easiest to apply. That might be tied with Warden, but fighters don't have to mark every target, and can mark on ranged attacks as well. The fighter simply declares that he's marking one or more creatures he attacks; even if the attack is on someone else's turn, he still applies the mark. All marks last until the end of the fighter's next turn, as well, so there's no penalty when comparing a creature you marked on your turn with one you marked thanks to the warlord Leading your ass.
- Simplicity of resolution: If the marked target makes an attack that doesn't target the fighter, or shifts, the fighter makes a melee basic attack as an immediate interrupt. Feats can improve this ability in various ways, as can class features, but even its core version is sexy. An accurate fighter can use this ability as a minion-killer, for instance. It plays well with item effects too; hit a shifting foe with something that knocks them prone and they aren't going anywhere.
- In-Class support: Specifically here, I'm talking about Combat Superiority/Agility. Fighters select one of these two powers, and both enhance their Attacks of Opportunity in different ways. Superiority boosts all AoOs attack rolls by Wis and halts movement (Like the World Speaker shaman's opportunity spirit attack). Agility is more complex, but basically it lets the marked foe complete his action, then chases him down and hits him. Either way, the value of these class features is to discourage enemies from straight running away from the fighter without a shift. I suppose that they also discourage it from making ranged or area attacks while adjacent to the fighter, but a mob doing that could still take the immediate interrupt hit as well, so I don't see a lot of archers and wizards taking that option.
High Marks: SwordmagesLet's compare this to the Swordmage. Now, the major advantages a swordmage's Aegis has (barring feats and powers, natch) are:
- Targeting: The swordmage picks one target in a close burst 2. There's no attack necessary, and no other requirements (like a paladin's responsibility to engage his challenged opponent). A swordmage is also capable of using this mark even if she is immobile or has her actions limited by conditions like daze. That latter option might seem like an odd choice, but if it's an until end of turn daze, she'll still be able to fire off her response to anything the creature might do.
- Range of effect: I was helping someone optimize a swordmage (inasmuch as I ever "optimize") and mentioned that the swordmage is an unusual defender because he doesn't need to care very much about where his marked target is. In fact, to get the best use out of the character I feel you're often trying to mark one opponent, then shift or run off to engage a wholly different one. If your marked opponent begins to cause a ruckus with your buddies, you have the same capacity to discourage him as an adjacent fighter...but from ten squares away.
- Duration: People don't talk about this one much, but it's pretty significant in my opinion. A swordmage who marks a creature leaves that creature marked until such time as she decides to mark someone else. This makes the ability more similar to an Avenger's Oath, except that the swordmage can move her mark around whenever she wants--rather than just at the death of the target. Unlike a Paladin mark, there's no maintenance required to keep the mark up. It's just there, until it needs to be moved.
- Versatility of effect: This is what my associate missed the most, I think. The swordmage is uniquely customizable in how he applies the consequences for violating his mark. The class builds themselves provide the choice between positioning and dealing damage (Assault), damage mitigation (Shielding), or positioning and control (Ensnaring). Furthermore, all three builds have access to additional powers which can be triggered as part of applying their aegis. Assault swordmages would expect to do this, since they're striker-ish; teleporting next to the enemy just sets them up to be even more strikerish on their actual turn. But it's particularly exciting to play a Shielding swordmage and still smite your opponent from afar...especially since you're still usually in a melee on the other side of the map. Finally, an Ensnaring swordmage just bring the threat to her, setting it up to be dogpiled in the process.
High Marks: BattlemindsFinally, the Battlemind. I could see coming back later and talking about Wardens and Paladins as well, but I wanted to make this somewhat succinct. Well, succinct for me. The traits of Battlemind's Demand:
- A lot like a swordmage! Battleminds have the at-will ability to mark a single target within a close burst. It's burst 3 instead of 2, however, which is a significant increase in total targetable squares. It's still a smaller area than the paladin's mark, but battleminds also posses the capability to augment their mark and hit a second character. The battlemind can be doing this as early as level 1, though it would leave him without an encounter power for that fight. Like the swordmage, the battlemind's mark stays on its targets until the power is re-used.
- Ample in-class support: In this case, the support is both for punishing the marked creature and applying marks in the first place. Battleminds have an opportunity shift that is triggered by an opponent's shift, which helps them keep adjacent to their target or force a full move (and thus AoO). Being an augmentation class, they can also expect to wield three at-wills, making it a far easier decision to pick up at least one which applies EoT marks to targets. I haven't had the chance to look closely at the battlemind in Psionic Power, but I had the impression he's intended to further focus on getting adjacent to marked foes, perhaps to the extent that he plays akin to a swordmage.
- Possibly the simplest mark consequence in the game: Fighters are easy- I swing first. Paladins are possibly easier- You burn first. But what I find impressive about the battlemind is that there are no rolls or modifiers to keep track of. When an adjacent enemy damages one of your allies with an attack that doesn't target you, the enemy takes equal force and psychic damage. Not only is this ability incredibly simple to remember and adjudicate, I think it scales extremely well with both player levels and threat levels. A fighter's melee basic starts to look a little tired around early paragon tier, when so much of combat is starting to be handled with encounter powers and dailies. A paladin's auto damage levels with the character. But a battlemind's damage levels with the enemies. Now, obviously this is bad in the case of minions, where the ability might feel wasted only plinking them for 5 or 6 damage after they've gotten their hit in. But consider the Solo. Most solos are able to disdain the efforts of defenders, because the -2 penalty from the mark isn't a huge inconvenience and being dinged for 1[W]+Str isn't terrifying. But hitting that same Solo for however much its bite, or eye lasers, or lobeshredder just dealt to the party's cleric...that's impressive.
The mixed elemental damage is just a nice addition; there aren't a ton of creatures I can envision having those two resistances. Demons, maybe, but only after burning two uses of variable resistance...at which point the storm sorcerer or wizard can strip them but good.