Preview: Shaman

The shaman class is the latest and arguably last class that Wizards is giving us a sneak peak of out of the Player's Handbook 2. As expected it fills the leader role and belongs to the primal power source that apparently everyone is so confused about that Wizards has opted to explain it all in Primal Power.

The meat of the class is of course its class features, the rest of the class a collection of fiddly numbers that dont do much in differentiating you from anyone else. Of these you get Companion Spirit, healing spirit, and speak with spirits.

The downside is that I'm not sure how much I can say about this since its supposed to be for subscribers only, but judging from the numerous threads whining about it on the official forums, I think its safe to say that most people will be able to faithfully replicate the article once they manage to filter out all the bitching.

That, and there's the fact that Hordling's was kind enough to post pictures of the Delve character sheets, which kind of shortcuts the entire process.

Companion Spirit lets you choose from an animal spirit that either serves as the cleric's bonus healing mechanic, or helps you and your allies maul the shit out of things you dont like. Like a warlock, whichever one you choose also determines one of your at-will attacks. Regardless as to whether you pick a bear or panther, you still get bonus healing that is essentially whats required to graduate from Leader Academy. I like this as it will prevent people from complaining about worthless shaman builds...somewhat.

Healing spirit is your predicable extra leader heal-age, except that if the target burns a healing surge, someone else gets the extra d6 hit points if they happen to be next to your spirit companion. The lesson here is crowd people around it, and preferably hug it for dear life.

Finally, speak with spirits is an encounter power that gives you a bonus on a skill check. Unlike the paladin's astral speech this applies to any skill you feel like using at the time. Apparently you are just as likely to find a spirit willing to drag your ass up a cliff as you to find one knowledgeable about esoteric arcane junk that you just pried from the dead hands of an orc, whose only crime was being in the wrong square at the wrong time.

So the shaman is bursting with spiritual goodness. You run around with a spirit animal that watches your back, and you can call them whenever you do not feel like performing manual surgery, or are having trouble noticing a massive hidden door right in front of you. What about its powers?

Call spirit companion lets you actually conjure up your spirit buddy. The range on this is 20, which puts it on par with the best medieval ranged weaponry that gold can buy. Enemies cannot move through it, so you can be a real ass with it and use it to plug up an escape route that the Big Bad Evil Guy is trying to utilize (which I did do in Pyramid of Shadows, har har). The spirit is impervious to damage-but-not-really: if an attack deals a set amount or higher, the spirit goes away until presumably you spend another minor action to summon it again.

Spirit's fangs
and spirit's shield are both opportunity attacks for your spirit. One deals damage, and the other one deals less damage, but lets an ally regain hit points as well. I'm sure you can figure out which is which without me having to add "respectively".

Laden with almost enough at-wills to make the druid jealous, I havent even scrolled down to the shaman's actual attacks. There are a grand total of six. As I said before, the game picks one of them thematically oriented towards the kind of spirit you prefer to tour with. The other one is free game.

Since the shaman is a leader, her attacks follow the formula of make an attack and if you hit, deal damage and grant your allies so many modifiers that their head's spin. I can already physically hear the cries of power bloat: one grants each ally next to your spirit temporary hit points, while another grants an attack bonus to everyone. Compare this to the cleric who could dole out a measly +2 to one person, and it sounds like a ratio for disaster.

Both benefits are only for allies that are directly adjacent to your spirit companion. While this sounds like an easy prerequisite I've noticed that in actual application things dont always go according to plan. For example, your spirit companion can make melee attacks, so you probably want it up in melee. This leaves out the crapton of classes that like to hang back and not get their faces ripped off while simultaneously utilizing the actual meat shields as barometers for when its time to leg it.
So while Joe Fighter is gaining temp hp out the ass, the warlock, wizard, ranged-ranger, rogue-somewhere-else, sorcerer, etc just isnt feeling the love.

Of course, not all the at-wills center around making your spirit do your dirty work: I counted at least two that are ranged attacks for the shaman. This makes me fairly nostalgic about my dark days playing Final Fantasy XI, eagerly trying to gain the summoner job only to find out that the only thing you can summon is a worthless blue dog with a ruby jammed in his forehead which probably explains all the stupid shit he did despite my best attempt at macroing.
The shaman feels the same without making me feel like that I'm useless until I hit level 70 and get the rest of the summons after I've beaten the game by letting you hang back and blast the crap out of things while your spirit goes about mauling things to death.

The list of powers goes on, progressing up to level 3 attacks, and for fear of getting slapped on the wrist by Wizards I'm not going to go into detail on all of them. I will go on the record and say that compared to other leaders this class is particularly interesting and/or cool (to use official Wizards of the Coast vernacular). With the exception of the bard I've played each leader class up to level 5, occasionally because I'm bored but mostly because I'm the only sucker in my group that has successfully maintain a campaign past Heroic. Thankfully Red Jason is seriously gunning for that achievement as well, meaning that I might actually get to pick a paragon path before 7th Edition is released.Despite the innumerable amount of leaders that I've played since 4th Edition was released, I really want to give this class a try. Which is good and bad since I was hankering for some druid love, to say nothing about the concepts I've had on .doc format for a swordmage and sorcerer since the names were dropped on EnWorld.

The theme is sound and the wording of the powers makes it work. This is important because powers can be broken down to the basic elements of attack roll, damage, and effect. Honestly you can configure them about as much as you like but if you dont add in the appropriate name and effect text then you might as well defer to the h4ters that decry everything as the same and obviously havent actually played previous versions of Dungeons & Dragons.
It doesnt feel like a less-armored reskinned cleric or warlord, which was one of my concerns after making so many of these party-centric bastards. Since Red Jason is going to rerun an old DCC sans annoying former members of our group, I might make some kind of re-flavored street shaman (to channel Shadowrun just a bit) and see how it works out.

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