Roasting the Racial Powers
I did a quick search of my blog this morning and found to my surprise that I hadn’t touched on this subject before. In short, racial powers in Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons are kind of a crap shoot. I noticed over time that certain racial powers saw more use, and others inspired more “awesome” in games.
Recently, I decided to organize them into categories. The resulting information was intended for the Star Wars conversion my gaming group is developing, but it got me really thinking about the “best” racial powers, and what made them “competitive.” I devised three categories: damage-, utility-, and boon-type.
“Damage type” includes the dragonborn “Breath Weapon” as its star. Interestingly enough, their alternate racial power (“Dragonfear”) presented in the online content fits in a completely different category. Tieflings receive “Infernal Wrath,” Bladelings receive “Razor Storm,” and Duergar receive “Infernal Quills.”
Honestly, the damage type is the easiest to measure and in my opinion, the easiest to design. It makes me wonder why there are so few of them compared to some of the other categories. *frowns* Generally speaking, a damage-type racial power is a minor action to deal “at-will damage” to one or more creatures.
In this way, you could almost imagine racial powers as being “holdout” powers that characters of a particular race can be expected to pull out when things get rough.
“Utility type,” the second category of racial power, includes the dragonborn’s “Dragonfear” power, which acts as a mass-debuff effect, causing enemies hit by a Will attack to suffer a -2 penalty to attack and grant Combat Advantage. It’s one of the best because it’s a close burst that only targets enemies within five squares.
Racial powers that provide effective utility effects also include the eladrin “Fey Step” (teleport five squares once per encounter? Sign me up!) both the drow racial powers, “Darkfire” and “Cloud of Darkness,” the gnome power “Fade Away,” and the “Warforged Resolve” power of the eponymous warforged.
The best utility powers grant a character something that might normally be inaccessible to them, or even to a character of similar level. Invisibility or teleportation make the gnome and eladrin very tempting choices, since they break the normal rules of visibility and movement (respectively) in such dramatic fashion.
Finally, there’s the “boon type” of racial powers, which fall firmly in the category of “Boring But Practical.” If you choose a race with a “Boon” racial power, you’re almost guaranteed to use the power in every single fight though you might not remember to use it, or you might forget ever having used it.
Impressive though their effects may be, the human’s “Heroic Surge,” the elf’s “Elven Accuracy,” the half-elf’s “Knack For Success,” the halfling’s “Second Chance,” and a half-orc’s “Furious Assault” don’t make for good reading. When you compare them to situational-use powers like “Fey Step” or “Dragon Breath,” they don’t hold a candle.
“Dwarven Resilience” is perhaps the saddest example of a boon on the list. It takes a boring and ineffective power that everyone gets access to, and makes it worthwhile. It still doesn’t measure up to “Warforged Resolve” however, because guaranteed use of “Second Wind” in every encounter is all it offers.
Want my advice? Any race that has a “Boon” should be split into sub-races that can be given interesting or unique “Damage” or “Utility” powers like the rest.