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The Hexblade Rebooted

hexblade transThis 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


About The Author

Editor-in-Chief
Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.

Comments

7 Responses to “The Hexblade Rebooted

  1. Dave T. Game says:

    It reminds me a bit of comic books, and the saying “every character is someone’s favorite.”

    In comics, when they reinvent a character, there’s always outcry from someone who liked the old version and didn’t want it changed, whereas there’s also fans of the new creation who either didn’t like the original or the new version is their introduction to the character.

    I played a lot of 3.5 and especially used Complete Warrior a lot, but Hexblade just never struck a cord with me or any of the people I played with. So this version is the first one that appeals to me, and the name clicks immediately as someone who combines hexes with blades (though aren’t hexes the name of shadow powers?) Whereas you, who have experience with them, don’t like that its been reinvented, and wanted a version closer to the original, which is fine.

    If it were another arcane defender, they’d really have to go out of their way to make it different than the Swordmage, which is probably why they didn’t do as you suggest.

    So like there are those who prefer harpoon-handed bearded Aquaman over orange-shirt Aquaman and vice versa, I’m not sure there’s a right preference here. Just interesting.

    However, I definitely don’t buy the “it’s not D&D anymore” argument for something like this. That seems a bit overboard, especially with my core disagreement that what D&D is is different for each person.
    .-= Dave T. Game´s last blog ..When the Bad Guys Win- Chatty’s Gamma World One Shot =-.

  2. DBV says:

    Well, I personally feel like naming the class “Hexblade” is a lot like naming the fighter At-Will exploit “Cleave”. Cash in on a bit of nostalgia, with a little smirk. In particular, I think that there are enough differences in this class and the 3.5 version that they shouldn’t share a name. That having been said, I’m not 100% sure why a warlock variant was introduced at all. If the goal of Essentials is to bring back some of the classic modes of game play, why bring “back” a class that is only a couple years old? Especially when there are character classes that are not being represented from that classic era? Specifically, where is my mystic, or bard, or barbarian? I know I for one am cooking up “essentials” versions of these classes so it’s not an issue, but if the goal of the essentials line is to bring retro-roleplaying to 4e, then why execute this way at all?

    Now, I’m sure I’m going to regret this, but I believe that this “Hexblade” is a direct take on the Death Knight class from World of Warcraft. Armored melee/caster with a dark background, who summons a minion? In fact, with a very very slight amount of work, I’m sure you could create a “Lich King Pact Hexblade”.

    That aside, the class looks fun, and I’m looking forward to it, and all of the other takes on class builds from a mechanical/tinkering point of view.

    Great post.

  3. Wyatt says:

    The Hexblade was actually really underpowered in 3.5.

    It was basically a Paladin re-skin, with the same gimped, worthless spell progression, that WOTC attempted to make up for by giving it a high HD and full BAB, minus any way to put either of those to decent use outside of blowing all your feats on a Fighter trick (such as a leap attack shock trooper thing). Insultingly, your bonus feats were all terrible for you because you wouldn’t want to actually cast your spells as many of them were a bunch of levels behind when you got them and had been worn out by the Wizard months ago. Those really should’ve just been Fighter bonus feats.

    Your spell progression existed solely to be fed to Arcane Strike for a few d4s to damage every day, if at that (or maybe cast wraithstrike at some point *starry eyes*). The Hexblade’s Curse is the Paladin Smite to complete the analogy, being severely limited in use for no apparent reason as well as needing for the enemy to fail a saving throw to actually work. And the saving throw DC wasn’t very optimal.

    The class hardly got any support, except for that alternate class feature where you summon some kind of weird abyssal shadow dog that gives people saving throw penalties while they go ‘what is this i don’t even”, which is actually a very decent reason to have a Hexblade around, so the Wizard can do better. It doesn’t make the Hexblade itself all that great, however.

    So yeah, sorry if this sounds like a troll, but as someone who’s pretty much torn 3.5 up and down it’s kind of jarring to hear the Hexblade getting any sort of praise like what you gave it up there, speeding up the bad guy’s demise and yadda. That thing was bad. You could have fun with it, but it was very poorly designed. It’s not something you want to be faithful to. It was a bunch of lego blocks stacked in a weird way.

    However, if you just wanted the Hexblade Curse back (and that’s the only redeemable part of the class), really, the regular Warlock has stuff that gimps out people who are under its curse. The Hexblade Curse did a bunch of crap, but none of it, in terms of 4e’s mentality, really matters as much as “dude has a penalty to attack rolls” which every 4e class already does, and the Warlock does too.
    .-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Macguffins And Phlebotinum of Eden =-.

  4. Gmforpowergamers says:

    Ok, so you had a great rped character. as you put it:

    (((((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!)))))

    that could just as easily be a fighter, a wizard, a theif…heck the only even close to a mechanic listed in there was the words Hexblade… so why could you not make adark hero who was charismatic, selfish, and little vain, swaggering around the decadent southern trade-town of Delzimmer like a bad-boy rock star. in this edtion?

    I do think that it could have been done diffrent…infact I have my own homebrew hexblade I made that was more swordmage then warlock…but still that doesn’t make this bad.

    the hexblade killed the soul knife and took his stuff….

  5. @Dave – Well I think the “it’s not D&D anymore” is a fairly accurate summation of how many of the die-hard edition-wars D&D gamers feel, although you are right, in that the reason they feel it’s not D&D, does vary from gamer to gamer. But as to another arcane defender, yeah, actually if you’re WotC and just making more builds anyways, why not have made it an Essentials Swordmage, rather than try to reinvent the class as something it never was (i.e. a warlock)?

    @Wyatt – I’ll agree that the class was underpowered compared to some, and it never got the class support it was due. However, the Essentials developers could have taken an opportunity to actually keep some shred of the original class intact in this new build – a design “selling-point” they have mentioned in various posts and panels – and made a much more improved version of the Hexblade in 4E. And actually, the 4E warlock’s curse merely adds damage, much like the Ranger’s quarry ability, and has none of the “de-buffing” effects of the 3.5 hexblade’s curse.

    @GMforpowergamers – You are correct, any class could have been swaggering around Delzimmer. But that’s only part of the reason for my dislike of the new warlock build being called a Hexblade. I’d love to see your homebrew hexblade/swordmage – i’m sure it would be considerably more to my liking than this Essentials build.
    —-

    Personally, I think the mark ability of a defender bears a closer resemblance to the hexblade curse than a warlock’s curse does, and the design team could have made a super-mark ability encounter power that debuffs an enemy that tries to hit a hexblade’s ally and not him, and that would have been closer to the original.

    Again, my concern overall is the hit-and-miss nature of the design philosophy, where they strive to make one build so much like a 3.5 class its a bit boring, such as the Slayer, and then they turn around and create a build that bears no resemblance to the original class in any form. Those inconsistencies seem to be piling up with the Essentials line, and I hope they are not a sign of some more profound problem with where the game of D&D 4E is headed.

  6. I think that the hexblade is more a way of putting in the game something similar to the old Elf (a fighter/wizard) than anything else and using the warlock as a base they can put in the interesting pact thing :)

  7. Joe says:

    Just quickly pointing something out, the Hexblade doesn’t get a daily power “eventually” unless they have modified the article since I last looked at it they get one at first level.

    And I for one can definitely see their dailies called “Hex of (blank)” and having debilitating effects on their target coupled with the striker damage.

    My main reason for loving the new build besides the fluff is that it is one of the few classes that can seamlessly switch between melee and ranged attacks at the drop of a hat.

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