This morning, WotC released a new excerpt from Heroes of Forgotten Kingdoms, featuring a new build for the Warlock class – the Hexblade. Frankly, I am just not sure what I feel about the release of this new build, due no doubt in part, from my previous opportunity to DM to an incredibly dynamic portrayal of the old 3.5 edition Hexblade in my last campaign before switching to 4E. But I find my feelings being further muddled over this new build, because this Hexblade is so far removed from the original class that it feels like more like a reboot than anything else – and that seems to be counter to one of the design tenets WotC seemed to want to follow with the whole Essentials line of Character builds!
Remembering the old ways…
My last 3.5 edition campaign lasted over 5 years, and ended over this new version of D&D everyone wanted to try called 4E. Set in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (3rd Edition), one of my players created a Hexblade with a tragic past: a Damaran exile fleeing persecution from his own family for having strange and unsettling arcane talents. The character turned out to be incredibly dynamic, becoming a dark hero who was charismatic, selfish, and little vain, swaggering around the decadent southern trade-town of Delzimmer like a bad-boy rock star. Admired by townsfolk for his heroic exploits, while reproached by others (including some of his own party) for his petty cruelties, the Hexblade known as Erych Ebonhand cut quite a wake through social events and high society, rising to notoriety despite his origins as a teenage runaway always looking over his shoulder while fleeing from a violent and troubled past. Needless to say, it was great fun DMing to a player-character with such a wide range of persona and pathos!
As some D&D gamers may recall, the old Hexblade in 3.5 was released in The Complete Warrior, and was a Fighter with a smidge of Sorcerer thrown in, and fitted nicely with other Fighter subclasses like the Paladin and the Ranger, which were really Fighters with a dash of Cleric and Druid, respectively. Hexblades gained the use of Sorcerer spells much like Rangers gained Druid spells, and Paladins gained Cleric spells. And it had an interesting class feature, the Hexblade’s Curse, which was really its signature ability. This curse was capable of imposing a vicious penalty that affected attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks, ability checks and damage rolls, the Hexblade’s Curse was known to frequently speed the demise of any number of my villainous NPCs and “boss” monsters. Hexblades were lightly armored warriors, incapable of using shields, but who could wield martial weapons with the same potency of their Fighter cousins.
Personally, I was always secretly hoping that the D&D 4E designers would come up with an exciting interpretation of this character class, not just a build, and expected it to be a Defender with similarities to the Swordmage. There was some speculation on the EN World forums back in 2008 as to what the Hexblade might be like when it was eventually interpreted into 4th Edition, but I am not sure that this new version is what many expected. There are some mixed opinions already seething on the new Hexblade thread on the forums, and it will be interesting to see how the 4E community reacts.
By any other name…
One of the major design tenets discussed at GenCon 2010, with regards to the Essentials builds, was about how the development team wanted them to evoke the same play-style and “feel” of the original classes for older edition D&D gamers. That is why we have a Thief (Rogue) and a Slayer (Fighter) lacking daily and encounter powers, and mainly doing at-will swings, while the Mage (Wizard) has a full array of spells in his spellbook, and the encounters, utilities, and dailies can be swapped out after an extended rest. These builds definitely have that “older edition feel” to how they play, which was intended to be a selling point of 4E DMs to their 3.5 hold-out players.
But this new build of the Hexblade has virtually no resemblance to the original class, and is essentially an armored warlock casting spells at point blank range by using his pact weapon. There is no Hexblade Curse and no spellcasting capability other than Eldritch Bolt. However, it appears that other spells might be attributed to the pact weapon the Hexblade can manifest, as given by the example of the infernal pact version called a blade of annihilation, but these are really just a pre-packaged at-will and encounter power, and not true spellcasting in the “old edition” sense. The build does gain utility powers, and eventually a daily power, which might be more spell-like in nature, but otherwise, the excerpt demonstrates very little casting ability for the Hexblade. Moreover, the Hexblade now gains the ability to summon planar ally and summon warlock’s ally, two abilities the original class never had, unless one broadly counts summoning a familiar like a raven or toad as a planar ally. And the warlock’s ally turns out to be a spined devil lackey, which hates the summoning Hexblade and has a long-standing grudge about being summoned over and over to fight the warlock’s battles, something which the original class never had at all.
If this is WotC’s idea of trying to entice old players with 3.5 edition Hexblade characters into trying D&D 4E, they clearly have made a mistake in trying to create a class with that old Hexblade “look and feel”. There is absolutely nothing in this Essentials Warlock build like the old subclass, except the name itself.
I would, however, be untruthful if I did not say that I think the class has some interesting potential, but I really wish that the designers had chosen another name to hang on this new Essentials Warlock build. By choosing to call this new build a Hexblade, the WotC developers created an unfulfilled expectation about the class’ capabilities, which does not in any way resemble the original design. Even though this new build might turn out to be a lot of fun to play – which we will not know fully until Heroes of Forgotten Kingdoms hits the shelves – it will certainly not be useful for any attempt to try and convince older D&D gamers to give 4E a chance. In fact, may again just underscore what the “edition wars” detractors have always said about this newest version of D&D – it is not really D&D anymore. Once again, I find myself wishing that someone over at Wizards could find that Libram of Unambiguous Design I mentioned a few blogs ago, and put it to good use.
So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!
Base Image courtesy of The Complete Warrior by Wizards of the Coast