Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Ultimate Zombie Hunter Part 2: Powers

Dominic Matte

Hopefully I've convinced you that paladin is the right class choice for killing zombies in 4th edition D&D. So now let's move on to power and feat selection.

I've already talked about Lay On Hands, but there are actually two other options available to select instead, introduced in Divine Power: Ardent Vow and Virtue's Touch. They're both daily powers, but don't let that fool you - just like Lay On Hands, they can be used a number of times per day equal to your Wisdom modifier.

Ardent Vow allows you to choose one creature and gain a huge damage bonus against it - 5 plus your Wis modifier (which should be 2 or 3). Also, each time you attack the target, it's subject to your divine sanction, meaning you can spend your Divine Challenge on another enemy, or just save that minor action.

Virtue's Touch automatically removes one condition from a creature from the list of blinded, dazed, deafened, slowed, stunned, or weakened. This is nice because it allows an ally to, say, take their whole turn after being stunned, even if that condition isn't saveable. It's cool, but situational - you'll be taking damage far more often than conditions, so healing might be better overall, but when you do get these conditions, Virtue's Touch is very powerful.

If you're going to select one of these powers, I'd recommend Ardent Vow, since it's much more attack-oriented than the other two. However, I personally prefer Lay On Hands for three reasons: it makes you very durable, since you can heal on your own; it gives your leader more flexibility, since you're not just relying on them for healing; and it's received far more extensive feat support than the other two options, by which I mean it's received feats at all. To my knowledge, there are no feats tied to Ardent Vow or Virtue's Touch. Some good feats for Lay On Hands are discussed in Part 3.

In terms of at-will attacks, you have a surprisingly robust choice of radiant damage options:
  • Holy Strike is a solid defender power with a bit of striker thrown in, dealing extra damage if you've marked the target. Use your Divine Challenge, then attack that same creature for free bonus damage.
  • Vengeful Strike is even more offensive, gaining power if you have bloodied allies and giving you a bonus to your next attack if you miss this one. 
  • Strike of Hope grants an ally temporary hit points, with extra ones if they're bloodied.
  • Ardent Strike doesn't deal damage on its own, but applies your divine sanction to the target. You can also use it as part of a charge instead of a melee basic attack.

Now, since we're going for an aggressive zombie slayer, let's drop Strike of Hope, since its effect is too defensive. We'll also drop Vengeful Strike, since it relies on having bloodied allies to work at maximum potential, and you don't want to rely on doing badly.

That leaves us with Ardent Strike and Holy Strike, which actually complement each other very well. Your divine sanction counts as a mark and sticks around until the end of your next turn, so you can alternate Ardent Strike and Holy Strike for additional damage and use your divine challenge on a second enemy. You can also use Ardent Strike to charge, and to allow you to maintain two marks instead of just one. And if you're down to only one enemy, you can just stick with Holy Strike for maximum damage potential.

If for some reason you only have space to choose 1 radiant at-will, it should absolutely be Ardent Strike (Holy Strike is your second choice). It doesn't directly or immediately deal radiant damage like the other powers, but it provides fantastic synergy with some encounter and daily attack powers, as well as some feats, which are vital to building a powerful zombie killer. I'll get to those a little farther down.

I'll make one special recommendation of a non-radiant power that a zombie hunter should consider: Valiant Strike, which didn't appear on the above list because it won't help against undead specifically, but for a paladin charging into the thick of things, its +1 bonus to attack per adjacent enemy can really help out your accuracy when you need it. Due to the wording, you always get at least a +1 bonus, and if you're surrounded it can increase all the way up to +8 (though that's pretty unlikely). And with a particular feat which will be covered in Part 3, it does gain a bonus against undead. If you're playing a human, choose Holy Strike, Ardent Strike, and Valiant Strike.

There are a lot of encounters and dailies, so I won't get too specific. In general, always select powers that deal radiant damage, and aim for a good mix of single-target and multi-target attacks. Keep an eye out for powers that apply divine sanction, since it's a good source of extra damage against undead. At some levels there will only be one or two radiant powers. If you're going really hardcore on the undead killer theme you might pick these up, but remember that non-radiant powers are just as strong against zombies as any other creature, and they might be a better option if you end up fighting non-zombies.

Even though I said I wouldn't get too specific, there are a couple of powers that really stand out from the rest as excellent zombie slayer tools. The level 2 utility power Bless Weapon is pretty solid, but absolutely stellar against undead. It's a daily power, but well worth it: with a minor action you bless your weapon, giving you +1 to attacks and +1d6 radiant damage on a hit for the entire encounter, increasing your damage against the undead. But wait! It also expands your crit range to 18-20 against creatures vulnerable to radiant damage - in other words, zombies. A lot of the lower-level zombies in 4e will die outright on a critical hit, so this is a seriously huge bonus for a zombie hunter. Unfortunately it doesn't apply to everything, but even against non-zombies, it's worth blessing your weapon at the beginning of a combat you anticipate to be difficult. It practically makes you a striker all by itself.

The other power that stands out to me is a level 9 daily called Holy Outrage. It doesn't deal radiant damage, and only fairly standard damage on a hit. But as an effect that applies regardless of hit or miss, until the end of your next turn, whenever you hit with a melee attack, each enemy adjacent to you (other than the target) takes radiant damage equal to your Wisdom modifier. You can sustain this effect as a minor action. And of course, since undead are vulnerable to radiant damage, this means you'll be dealing likely 8 or more damage to all zombies around you whenever you hit one of them, which would kill minions outright. This power functions best if you've selected Ardent Strike as one of your at-wills, since you can still apply divine sanction while reserving your minor action to maintain the effect of Holy Outrage.

That covers powers, so join me in Part 3 to take a look at feats.

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