Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Berserker: A Love Story

Many classes in Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition have the capability of fulfilling multiple roles in the party. Whether it is a fighter built to deal damage with huge weapons or a warlock that can disable an enemy with weird status effects, classes have always been able to cross roles to some degree. Unfortunately, in order to do this, those classes usually give up some capability in their primary role. If you wanted to play a character that could pull off multiple roles you had to hybrid or multiclass. That is, you did until now.

I am NOT compensating for something!
The Berserker, which appears in Heroes of the Feywild, is a subclass of Barbarian. The Berserker is also the first dual role class in 4e D & D. It’s a Martial and Primal Defender and Striker.  Although the Berserker can function as both a Defender and a Striker, its true strength lies in its versatility. Like all Essentials Defenders, the Berserker has a defender aura. It also has a built-in extra damage feature. In many ways, it is similar to hybrid characters because it can’t deal the extra damage at the same time it is trying to defend. The unique thing about the Berserker is that it can switch from Defender to Striker by using the Berserker Fury Class feature.

Hulk SMASH!
There is a lot to be excited about with this class. First is the novelty. Being the first of anything is always exciting. The Second exciting thing is being able to be a Defender and a Striker. I have a post explaining Defenders here. I contend that Defender is the most important role, but Striker is probably the sexiest role. Being able to defend while also being able to pull out all stops in the damage department may just be the definition of awesome. The third thing I am excited about with this class is the flavor. I really like the idea of a disciplined warrior who goes into a Hulk Rage and lays waste to things with an axe. I have always liked Barbarians, but the Berserker is actually better because the Barbarian always seems a bit off. The Berserker, on the other hand, really captures the Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde dichotomy. Finally I have loved the Feywild as a concept since the beginning of 4e. The tie between the Berserker and the Feywild is a bit tenuous, but it’s still nice to have a bit of a Fey connection.

Berserker as a Defender
According to this guide there are really three ways to play a Berserker. You can try to play a Martial focused Defender, you can try to play a Primal Striker or you can do what the class does best and try to keep them in some sort of balance. Though balancing each Role is difficult it is also rewarding. Let’s take a look at how well the Berserker does at each Role. 

As a baseline, the Berserker is a solid Defender. They compare well to the other Essentials Defenders. The Knight is a little stickier because of some of the At-will stances, but the Berserker is at least able to hold his own. Its Defender Aura is identical to all the other Essentials classes and works the same. The punishment mechanic, Vengeful Guardian, may even be better because it does Striker level damage.

The Berserker also holds its own in the survivability department. The Berserker can use light armor and shields and with a high enough Dex score they have no problems with AC. They even have a class feature, Poised Defender, which makes you harder to hit as long as your Defender Aura is active. Your will defense can be a bit of a problem, but that is true for most Defenders. The main problem with the Berserker is a problem shared with all the other essentials Defenders. A determined enemy can get away from the Berserker and attack the squishies often with no penalty because the -2 to attacks only functions while in the aura. If you want to play a determined Defender pick up a Theme like Guardian and you will also probably want to MC fighter because fighters are the stickiest Defender.

I'd like to axe you something!
As a Striker the Berserker also does well at the baseline. The Berserker has a solid extra damage feature, Berserker Fury, which turns on when you use a Primal power or you can turn it on as a minor action when you are bloody. Berserker Fury adds extra damage to your Berserker At-will and melee basic attacks. In addition to the extra damage the Primal Encounter and Daily powers tend to be high damage weapon attacks. The main drawback to Berserker Fury is you can’t use your Defender Aura or Vengeful Guardian while you are in Fury. This has the added drawback of turning off Poised Defender making you easier to hit. The real problem is that once you fury there is no way to go back to being a Defender so make sure you are ready to smash-face before you use a Primal power.  If you want to play a full Striker pick up a theme like Mercenary and pick a lot of Barbarian Primal powers.

As a Defender a Berserker is never going to be as good as a single classed fighter and as a Striker it is never going to be as good as an easy button ranger. What the berserker has that they don’t have is versatility. One of the best strategies with a balanced Berserker is to keep everyone from dog piling the main Defender in the early parts of the fight and then picking the right moment to get angry. With so many good options it is hard to be truly in balance so it is probably best to pick either Defending or Striking and focus on it a little more, while not ignoring the other.

I am Jack's raging Barbarian
I like a lot about the Berserker. I really enjoy being able to play a sexy Striker, but not feel like a douche for refusing to play the tank. I also enjoy exploring the Bruce Banner/ Hulk dichotomy inherent in the class. In fact, recently in a Planescape game, I argued philosophy with a dustman, which would have been very out of character for any other type of Barbarian. I then was able to take a Demon from full to dead in one hit because it made me mad. I also like bringing in something a little Fey and mystery without going all out Fey. If there was one thing I would change about the Berserker, I would give some way to switch back to Defender after you Fury. It could cause a real problem, especially if you play a Berserker as the only Defender and a second wave of enemies show up. Still I really enjoy the class and look forward to playing it more.

Until next time, remember, don’t let your DM tell you no. It’s always “Yes and…?”

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