Vampire: The MinMax-querade

Wow, that is a really lame title for this entry. I was going to call it “The Blood Is the Life,” but I like this one better. Anyway, this article is about the new Vampire class in Dungeons & Dragons.

When Heroes of Shadow came out, I flipped through it, noticed the “Vampire” class and thought, “What the what now?” But I quickly became used to the idea of “Vampire” as a character class. After all, anyone of any race can become a vampire, and “vampire” defines the powers and abilities of the character. And, if you want to play a Vampire Paladin or something, there are still reasonable ways to accomplish that (like the Vampire heritage feat, or hybrid Vampire, which has playtest rules).

The Vampire class is weird, though. It’s an implement user – ki focuses and holy symbols, for some reason. It’s an “Essentials” class, so it doesn’t have the power choices of the Player’s Handbook classes. But you do get to drink blood (basically), turn into a bat (if you want to) and generally be creepy and lurk in the shadows. Fun times!

I decided, then, that I would play a Vampire when the opportunity came up in our Living Forgotten Realms game. I was making this character at 11th level so, while I didn’t have any choices of encounter powers or daily powers (the Vampire class has set powers and few choices), I would need to pick 7 feats, some magical gear and stuff like that. Intrepid explorer that I am, I went to the internet to find recommendations for Vampire choices.

Now, I am not really a min-maxing guy, but I like a little optimization, I like combos, and I like to contribute effectively to my party’s success. So, I try to make characters who can hold their own when the chips are down and the solo is doing a burst 5 that dazes.

And that is how I found out that the internet hates the Vampire class. From the character optimization forum at wizards.com to the various reviews of the class around the net, everyone was coming down hard on the Vampire. It made me sad. It also made me double down on my Vampire – I was going to find a way to make this guy work.

“I Vant to Optimize Your DPR.”

The main complaint of Teh Intarwebs is that Vampire doesn’t have the damage output potential of other classes (and note here the word “potential”). But, to the Internet MinMaxers, if you can’t do 30 damage a turn before level 10, then your existence isn’t justified. That’s not really the way the game goes – you don’t (always) just stand there and roll attacks against a target for an entire encounter.

Firstly – there are no Vampire-specific feats (yet?) or vampire-specific magic items (yet?), but let’s look on the bright side – the field is wide open. In fact, most other classes get locked into feats because their build requires X, Y or Z. The Vampire has no class feats, but that also means you aren’t locked into taking those feats. You can take the excellent “Superior Defense” feats, Skill Focuses, etc. Of course, that isn’t going to “MinMax” your Vampire, but he or she will end up being the hero in a Skill Challenge or an elusive target for his or her foes.

When it comes to feats, I like the Superior Defense feats on a Vampire. Vampires look flimsy when you see their “Healing Surges: 2” line, but because they gain regeneration when bloodied, because they steal healing surges and can hold more than the 2 they start with, and because one extra healing surge (or one surge from a buddy)¬†heals them to full HP at the end of an encounter, Vampires are resilient Strikers. Combine that with some Superior Defenses and you’re a hard target (which is good, because you’re really a melee character).

Another option is to Multiclass with your feats. This doesn’t open up a great variety of options, but a few aren’t too bad. Remember, you’re an implement class, so taking Rogue for sneak attack doesn’t work. If you’re looking for some damage, check out Ranger – you get Hunter’s Quarry for two turns (Hint: It’s a minor action, and it lasts until the end of your next turn) which means a possible +2d6 damage per encounter at Heroic tier. Multiclass skills are grand because they grant an extra trained skill, which again makes you the hero of the Skill Challenges.

You can also spend feats to use weapons as implements, get a Frost weapon, use it as an implement, take Wintertouched and Lasting Frost to try to get that thing going, but I think Teh Intarwebs is convinced that this “Permafrost” combo is better than it truly is.

Instead, I have a different plan. First, we overcome the poor implement choices of the Vampire by multiclassing into Sorcerer with either Soul of Sorcery (sorcerer implements and a Resist 5 of your choice, but you need Str 13) or Arcane Prodigy (sorcerer implements, Arcana training, and a oddly-placed encounter power that adds +2 to your next damage roll). I think Resist 5 is probably the better choice – both are good, but neither seems outstanding to me.

At any rate, once this feat is under your belt, you can use a staff implement. Next, you take Staff Expertise (+1/+2/+3 to attack with the staff, and your ranged and area attacks don’t provoke opportunity attacks). Now the relative lack of mobility for the Vampire is not as big of an issue – Vampires have a Ranged 5 at-will attack (that has +2 to hit built in) which doesn’t provoke and pulls the target toward you.

And now you have access to one of the best (especially for the price) magic items in the game – the Staff of Ruin. The Staff of Ruin has a d10 critical and adds its enhancement bonus as an item bonus to damage rolls (meaning it effectively adds its enhancement bonus twice to damage rolls). It doesn’t have a power, but most item powers are disappointing anyway – I’d much rather have a strong Property on the item so it’s always doing something for me. Now, the Staff of Ruin is a nuclear weapon in the hands of a Sorcerer or Wizard with their bursts and blasts (adding that extra damage over and over on multiple targets), but it still cuts hard in the hands of a Vampire.

If you go the staff route, you still have 5 feats left over to pick up those utility or defensive feats, or grab more multiclass feats and pick up Sorcerer powers (which you can use in melee without worrying, thanks to Staff Expertise). I highly recommend Superior Implement Training for the Accurate Staff, which grants a +1 untyped bonus to all attacks made with it.

I wish I could tell you that, instead, you can multiclass as a monk and really get some nice movement feats and such… but although monks have staff as an implement, multiclass monks only get ki focuses. I know – it makes me sad, too.

You have other staff-using classes to multiclass into, but most of them aren’t going to achieve synergy with what you’ve got as a Vampire (and you’re going to have to invest in an Ability Score that isn’t Dexterity or Charisma). Do you want to change into a wolf for style (but be unable to use your Vampire powers)? Then multiclass as a druid. As an Artificer, you get a healing power once per day (which probably makes it the best second choice). Invoker can get you Ritual Casting, so it’s not bad if you were going to take Ritual Casting anyway (but one wonders why a Vampire would be the party’s Ritual Caster). Sorry folks, Sorcerer is pretty much the only good choice if you want to be the staff vampire.

But this sort of crazy course to staff implements isn’t necessary, it’s just an option I like. A vampire is already an effective Striker, despite the hatred of the internet theorists. It’s also a fun class to play, and (like the other Essentials classes) great for new players.

The Vampire has three at-will attack powers – one that grants temporary hit points (making the Vampire even more resilient), one that deals 1d10 damage (and pushes, and counts as a basic melee attack), and one that is Ranged 5 (with a +2 to hit and a pull). Each of the three attacks targets a different Non-AC Defense, making the Vampire very difficult to match in targeting the weakest defenses of their opponents. The Vampire’s encounter power, Blood Drinker, adds damage after hitting with one of the two melee at-will attacks (which is a little limiting, but not very) and gives a healing surge as you sup on the precious life juices of your enemy, despite the fact that it’s a skeleton or a gelatinous cube.

Of course, I’m not calling the President to tell him about the Vampire’s other encounter and daily attack powers. The fact that you don’t get a choice and that they’re not mind-blowing means you’re left with a bit of an empty feeling when they appear on your sheet… but they still aren’t bad, don’t get me wrong. This really comes down to a psychological phenomenon, I think – people are happy when they have the perception of control. Vampire takes away the perception of control, so when you look over at the wizard who got to pick all his powers, you might feel a little sad.

Add that to another psychological phenomenon – the feeling of helplessness when faced with too many choices. When you realize there are dozens of feats you could take as a Vampire, you might feel that one, too. Other classes are going to look at their class feats first, and find there are feats ready-made for them to pick up. A Vampire player is going to have their eyes glaze over when they flip through all the generic feats and don’t see anything specially made for them.

The folks at Wizards who designed the Vampire class probably didn’t understand these two psychological phenomena, so the Vampire class ends up double-dipping on things that make you feel bad – too many choices in one place and no control in another place.¬†That doesn’t make Vampire a bad class, it just means the class is going to have bad PR.

For me, my 11th level Drow Vampire (I know, I put darkness in my shadow so I could dark elf while I vampired) is both fun and effective. Of course, the drow racial powers help me get combat advantage (which means bonus damage for me), and drow have the perfect ability bonuses for the Vampire class. So far, it’s fun, and I haven’t even gotten to respec to my Staff of Ruin concept yet. I don’t fall too far behind the warlock in damage-dealing, I get around the field and I don’t need attention from the healers (of which we have two). I can do a little bit of control with pulling and pushing powers and a daily attack that dominates the target. Plus, I hit often (because I had lots of room for a superior implement feat), and against a very defensive enemy, my Dark Beckoning (+18 versus Will) is bound to break through.

And thusly, internet haters, do I defend the Vampire class and it’s lack of an optimization scheme for maximized damage. It’s not a pure damage class, and it’s biggest flaw may be that it has no niche at all. But it still offers a variety of customization through feats and considerable utility (for a Striker) with its wide range of attacks and effects, including a rare domination effect and a flight speed (as a bat) as an encounter power (albeit not a very good power, but it’s still a flight speed).

Plus, drinking the blood of your foes while talking in a bad European accent – who doesn’t love that?

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