The DM Giveth and the DM Taketh

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 08 April 2010

I love giving to my players whether it's working with them to tell great stories or providing challenging encounters that let them shine. There are few things I hate more than asking them to give up something. Unfortunately, I found myself asking one of my players to do just that. Like many groups, I allow character builds as long as they count as legal. This means all of the books and Dungeon and Dragon magazines are allowed. For the most part, this has worked really well. However, we recently found a build/feat combination that made my job really hard.

Our group had gone defender-less for awhile. When it became clear that the gnome artificer wasn't working well with the party, the player decided to switch to a Shadar-kai swordmage. Eventually, he asked if he could use the White Lotus Riposte feat from Dragon 374. Not knowing any better, I gave it a cursory look and agreed.

I didn't notice the problem immediately, but over time I found the battles less fun for me. It took me a while to figure out the source. Large encounter groups can be hard to run at the table and often take a bit longer. To help with this problem, I focused on using fewer monsters in general and no more than 2 or 3 monster types in a particular battle. Also, the story required that they be introduced to a couple long-term villains, so I used a fair number of elite and solos. The problem became the combination of the Aegis of Assault [DDI] and White Lotus Riposte [DDI], which sets up a bit of a "Damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. I felt this particularly hard when the swordmage went after the ranged controller rather than the melee monsters. However, it wasn't purely the double "mark" that was the issue, but rather the amount of damage and the fact that it was not limited to once per round. His attack bonus was 5 which meant that any time White Lotus Riposte was in play (and it often was) and the creature attacked him, it had to take 5 points of damage. And if it had an attack it could do as a minor or an action point and it chose to attack him again, it would take 5 points of damage for any additional attacks. Unlike the Aegis power, the damage was automatic and, well, added up pretty quickly.

For a while, I was at a bit of a loss about what to do. I know this particular player enjoys finding the special combo that makes for particularly devastating characters but designing encounters was becoming less and less fun for me. I didn't want to take the passive-aggressive way out and design every encounter to make it so this particular character would fail or have rocks fall or any of those DM tricks we joke about. So I took the advice from the Save My Game panel at PAX East and talked to my player. We worked out a couple of options on how we could modify the feat in case he still wanted to use it, but, in the end, he decided to go with a free retrain. While I can't say he was ecstatic about the change, he did admit that it was a bit broken. He was doing more damage, more often, with the white lotus feat than his similar encounter power.

Since my players just made level 8, I know that there are a whole bunch of adjustments I'll have to make to my encounter design habits. For now, I'm really looking forward to going up against the new swordmage. Hopefully my monsters can take it, at least for a few rounds.


I would've considered adding a recurring controller who could give a single monster resist 5 all damage for the encounter. This will give you the ability to negate the effectiveness of his combo in certain circumstances.

Swarms are also fun, for their ability to resist half of his weapon damage.

Nice post. I find your posts are really a great read. Thanks for this anecdote.

In my current game we had an issue come up. A player had created a character when we started the campaign without really understanding 4e's mechanics and roles.

He created a fighter but for the next 8 months of play kept playing him like a striker.

The solution for us was to re-roll the character as an Avenger. It happened that in the story there was a perfect transition with his character based on injesting some ancient blood of heros (don't ask. :) )

I value fixing broken mechanics and even character builds in the name of fun and I don't hesitate to change things to increase fun.


I forgot to mention the options I gave for softening White Lotus Riposte:

* Treat it as a mark but say that only one of the two marks can apply to any one creature at the same time. Player chooses which one he cares most about for any particular round and they can always choose to have two different creatures be affected.

* Allow a single creature to have both effects on it, but the White Lotus Riposte gets changed to an immediate reaction/interrupt or otherwise limit it to once per round. It will still stack if the higher level feat is also taken, but it limits the damage to 1/round.

@AsmodeusLore Yeah, I'm going to be looking into those sorts of powers more as my PCs gain interesting powers. It's a thin line between providing challenging encounters and frustrating them.

@Dave Thanks for the kind words! My brother wanted to play a dex-based fighter. I tried to get him to look at the rogue class (this was before I had a good handle on the other ones) but he's a bit set in his ways. I'm glad you guys were able to figure out a fun way to transition the character over.

I have the exact same thing in my group, a Swordmage with White Lotus Riposte feat. Make sure that they are only applying it after they use an arcane at-will. This escaped me the first time I read the feat. It will still apply most of the time, but not always and it's a real pain when they use Sword Burst.

So far it hasn't been a real problem, but he's also Aegis of Shielding so either my monster takes damage or the damage is reduced. Also, I told him that he needs to remind me to take the extra damage, and he forgets half the time :)

Yeah, I think he started to use just his arcane at-will when he took the feat. Since he's the type of player that likes to get as much as he can out of his character stats (while still coming up with some pretty awesome backstory to explain it all), he rarely forgets. That combination sounds pretty annoying as well. As long as you and the rest of the players are happy with the build, there is no need to change it.


Im just looking at Aegis of Assault and while it is an At-Will power, its not an attack. I.E there is no attack line and no to hit info, in addition they say At-Will Attack at the top of the description. Its just an ability to mark an opponent. So I dont see whats wrong with the combo, since they dont compliment each other in the way you described. Unless I'm missing something?

Also using an at-will attack over an encounter or daily just for an extra 5 damage? Dosen't make sense.

Remember Aegis of Assault doesnt always hit. They still have to roll, sometimes its better to take a gamble and attack someone else anyway.

Aegis of Assault is a mark. It gives a -2 penalty to attack rolls that don't include the swordmage and, if the attack hits and the attacker is within 10 squares, the swordmage gets to teleport next to the attacker and make a melee basic attack. White lotus riposte, on the other hand, does a guaranteed 5 extra damage for each attack made against the swordmage. Unlike the Aegis of Assault, there are no limits on how many times per round that the monster can take the damage and it's for every attack, not every hit. So for monsters that have minor attacks and action points, it's possible for it to take 10-15 points of damage per turn.

So if the monster attacks the swordmage, it gets 5 damage per attack, regardless of the outcome of the attack. If the monster attacks someone else, it gets a -2 to attack and only if the attack hits, it can be subject to a melee basic attack (+13 to hit and 1d10+7 damage) or, I believe only once per encounter, to spikes of agony (+13 to hit and 2d10+7 damage and 5 force damage if it attempts to move afterwards). If you figure that most monsters of the same level have an AC of 21 or below, chances are more often than not, the monster will get hit. This doesn't even count probable bonuses from either buffs from allies or conditions like flanking. It becomes pretty easy to sum this up as damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Further proof that it's a bit broken for this build is that it turns practically any swordmage at-will into a beefier version of the swordmage encounter power chilling blow. That encounter power does 1d10+8 damage during the attack and then causes an additional 3 damage each time the target attacks until the start of the swordmage's next turn. Granted, you don't get to do a melee basic and get the +5 if the monster attacks another target, but chances are, it's not going to attack anyone else if it's within 10 of the swordmage.

I could still swear that after it first became clear how broken WLR was, that we decided to treat the riposte as an opportunity action, working only once per enemy turn.

But as I see it Anonymous is correct in that they don't compliment each other.

But even so, the feat is exceptionally poorly written and for that reason alone, I'm not at all sad to give it up, broken or not. Ambiguous rules are the bane of any game experience.

also, re AsmodeusLore's suggestion:

The worst thing a DM ever did to me was send my party with my 3.5e gnome druid through a dungeon filled with 5' corridors. No room to maneuver, no room to summon, and no room to polymorph into a Large bear without squeezing.

It's fair that he was frustrated with the character, who was very powerful compared to the 3.0 druid he was playing in another game, but he crossed that 'thin line between challenging players and frustrating them.'

I'm a DM too, and have watched the characters wade through encounters that seemed like they should have been much more challenging. But when you start designing encounters specifically to negate a feat or power choice a player invested in, that's when you cross that "thin line."

Surely this feat just encourages monsters to not attack the defender? The Swordmage punishments are much less effective than the Riposte effect. Hence the monsters will intentionally move away and attack the swordmage's allies, even after they learn of the swrodmage's punishment powers.

The Swordmage in the meantime gets to use their punishment attack more often, but they have become a lousy defender because the monsters have no good reason not to simply go for the nearest melee striker.

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