One of my players expressed an interest in playing a “spell thief” of “ur-priest” type character in a conversation about the next campaign, so I set about to make a Spellthief for Fourth Edition. My efforts were met with mixed success. While I like the Witchknife well enough, it isn’t much like how I originally imagined it.

Here’s the Heroic Witchknife class:
Download: Essentials Witchknife (Swordmage) v.1

When I began designing the class, I had a clear idea of what I wanted from it — the class would have an encounter daze power and its role would be that of a striker-controller. At first I tried to design the class of whole cloth, but that quickly proved difficult to impossible. So I turned to the Bard for help.

Class Skills were initially determined from the Bard skill list, though I pared it down quite a bit throughout development. The Witchknife’s proficiency and defense bonuses are also based on the Bard, as are hit points and healing surges. I even derived the name of the Bladeweave power from a 3.x Bard spell.

Even the name “Spellthief” stuck with the class through most of its development — but I just couldn’t reconcile its striker role with the daze condition and also the basic “thief” theme of the class. I tried to justify basing the class on the Rogue archetype, and even that fell through after a spell. A breakthrough came after I analyzed Sneak Attack.

Sneak Attack is an incredibly restrictive class feature. First, it requires the character be using a designated “rogue” weapon, and second that the character have combat advantage for the attack. Third, the character is restricted to using the feature only once per round. Great damage to be sure, but under such limitations!

I decided to try and simulate the conditions of Sneak Attack, but leave them more open for the player to manage them more easily. I designed the Arcane Flourish power, which drew inspiration from the Rogue power “Sly Flourish.”

Arcane Flourish is super-accurate, given that it enables a player to use their weapon proficiency against a target’s Reflex defender, which by default is lower than their AC. Additionally, Arcane Flourish adds both a primary and secondary ability score to damage. This one power is almost enough to make the class a striker.

Spell Strike picks up the slack however, and brings the class into striker territory but emulating the most essential parts of Sneak Attack — its limitations and damage. The damage advances like Sneak Attack, and can only be applied to arcane weapon attacks with combat advantage. I did change the per-round limitation to per-turn.

Given the lifting of restrictions on the types of weapons that can be used to deliver a Spell Strike there should be a pretty rich selection of Witchknives, based on their preferred weapons. Superior weapons are easily supported this way, and races that come packaged with weapon proficiency will of course be happy.

Imagine Eladrin and Dwarf Witchknives doling out damage with longswords and warhammers respectively. I get a cool mental image, though the Eladrin will have an easier time of it given the key abilities sync with their bonuses nicely.

What finally made this design work for me was when I decided to base it on the Swordmage instead of the Bard. The Marked condition is a lot more intimated than the Dazed condition, and it’s far less painful to apply a Mark for the entire encounter than a Daze — that enabled me to base a conditional bonus on its persistence.

Once I went with Swordmage, the Arcane Warding class feature came easily. Adaptive Resistance is clearly a defender feature, and the Siphon Strength feature smacks of a dual striker-controller role that really suits the class.

As the Witchknife advances, the defender role gets new perks. Theft of Grace at 5th level, Witching Ward at 6th level, Theft of Might at 9th level, and finally at 10th level Ominous Gaze — all serve to reinforce the class’s secondary role as a defender.

It was only at the end that I determined the name “Witchknife” for the class, which can be said to draw inspiration from the 3.x monster, the “Witchknife.” Not so much the rest of the class, except where it likes to cause all kinds of nasty problems for its enemies.

Though the class changed a lot during its development, I’m proud of how it turned out.

Play at your own risk.