Powergaming: Choosing the best powers for your character

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Powergaming

blog_d20In 4E D&D, choosing your Powers is a critical part of your character. Especially since you get so few, it is essential that you choose Powers that won’t let you down. So, how do we decide which Powers to select?

Knowing Your Role

The first problem that many new players fall upon is choosing Powers that are simply wrong for what your character should be doing. If you’re a Controller, you should be Controlling; if you’re a Striker, you should be Striking, and so on.

Now, just remember not to be too short-sighted about this. Your character’s job is based on not just their role, but also their class. Rogues and Warlocks are both Strikers; in most cases a Warlock can’t hope to do the same damage as a Rogue, but that’s okay, because Warlocks have plenty of spells which inflict nasty conditions and effects on the target. Play to your strengths.

Classically, the Wizard falls into this trap: there are many damaging Wizard spells, but the Wizard is a lot more useful if they just do their job of Controlling. Sleep, a Level 1 Daily, does zero damage, yet is one of the most powerful spells in the game. If you want to blow stuff up, play a Sorcerer (PHBII).

Diamonds in the Rough

Having just said that, I’m going to backpedal a bit. Sometimes you’ll come across a Power that is just… good. Really good. This is either because:

  • It’s simply more powerful than any other option of the same level
  • It’s unique (-ish)

An example of the first, a powerful option, was Rain of Blows, a Fighter Level 3 Encounter Power. It’s actually been errata’d now, but the original PHB version gave up to 4 attacks. It’s not that the other options are bad (some are quite good), it’s just 4 attacks is too good. The errata’d version is 2-3 attacks, with no +str to damage, which is much more sane. As a side note, it’s godlike when multiclass Power-swapped by an Avenger (PHBII), since Avengers get to roll twice for every attack. Many of these too-good-to-be-true powers have actually been errata’d; another example is the Ranger power Blade Cascade.

An example of the second is Scorching Burst, a Wizard Level 1 At-Will Power. Scorching Burst is Area burst 1 within 10: it’s a ranged Area spell, and is the only At-Will one in the PHB. This is great for general purposes, and minion killing.

Basically, look at your options closely, and see if one stands out.

Power Synergy

Simply put, grab Powers which work nicely together: think of combos. For example, a Fighter could use Come and Get It (Level 7 Encounter) to Pull foes towards him, and then use Thicket of Blades (Level 9 Daily, Close Burst 1) to attack everyone next to him. A Wizard could create a Wall of Fire adjacent to a foe, and then Immobilize them so the enemy can’t move away from the flames.

This often works very well when you consider Action Points. In general, you can use an Action Point once in every 2 encounters you fight, assuming your DM assigns Action Points consistently. Using an Action Point means you can chain your attacks without the foes recovering between them.

Keep in mind that a lot of Powers in 4E are specifically designed to do interesting things. You’ll tend to find there are more combinations if you gravitate more towards more complicated Powers, rather than ones which simply do damage.

Party Synergy

Party Synergy is something which deserves its own post; it’s kinda important.

4E is a team game. Unlike earlier editions, it is specifically designed to require the abilities of multiple party members to solve problems and beat encounters. No longer can you have a single Druid or Wizard cleave through a whole encounter single-handedly. Nor will you find that the party will be particularly effective if you simply work separately.

The Leader and Controller roles highlight this new attitude. Neither can accomplish much by themselves, but Leaders can dramatically increase the effectiveness of the party, and the Controller can drastically reduce that of the enemy.

Consider a Power which knocks someone Prone. Alone, this is pretty useless: the foe can simply stand up as a Move Action and keep fighting. However, what if you knock an enemy Prone, and then the Rogue runs in and Sneak Attacks them? Suddenly, the Prone effect is valuable. Consider a Power that Pushes, Pulls, or Slides a foe: you can try to ball up enemies together such that another character can hit them with a Close Burst or Area attack.

Look at what Powers the other players are choosing, and see how your choices can interact with their abilities.

Hit the Books

If you have access to books outside the PHB, use them. The <Power Source> Power books (Martial Power, Arcane Power, etc) are very good, and provide many more options for you to choose from. In addition to simply giving more options, they give different types of options: for example, Arcane Power gives Illusions and Summons for Wizards; Martial Power gives Fighters some Powers for Two Weapon Fighting and more weapon-specific Powers. That said, new is not always better, and the 4E splat books are mostly quite balanced. Open up the books side-by-side and compare all the options for the level you’re looking at, and look carefully at which Power really is the best for your character.

Do the Numbers

Sometimes, you have to realise when certain things are strictly superior or inferior to others. Careful Attack (Ranger At-Will) is strictly inferior to Twin Strike: mathematically, you will do less damage overall. Sure Strike (Fighter At-Will) is similarly inferior**. Don’t get swayed by attack bonuses or other effects if they are actually worth the tradeoff in choosing that Power over another, often more damaging, Power.


The important thing to remember is that whilst Power choice is very important, you can Retrain at every level. Thus, you can try something out and see how it goes, or you can change a decision that turned out not to be that good. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but you should still spend a little time making sure the Powers you choose are actually worth it. It’s a lot harder to have a ‘bad’ character than in earlier editions, but as ever, a few optimal choices and you’re laughing all the way to the magic item store.


*Rain of Blows has been disputed on many occasions, with people saying it gives 2, 3, or 4 attacks. However, if you look at how it’s indented, I reckon it’s pretty clear that you get 2 attacks, and, for each that hits, you get a secondary attack, so a potential maximum of 4 attacks.
**Sure Strike technically has a couple of uses, involving Heavy Blade Opportunity (which allows you to use At-Wills for Opportunity Attacks), or Hammer Rhythm and related Feats (which preclude the use of Reaping Strike).

Series NavigationPowergaming: Understanding Area of Effect in D&D4EPowergaming: Choosing a Wizard School SpecializationPowergaming: Making a Powerful Fighter or Monk in Core 3.5 D&D

About Duncan

Ellisthion's all about 5E D&D at the moment, but has at times has played every edition from 1E AD&D through to 5E, plus Star Wars: Saga Edition, Paranoia, and more. He DMs a lot, and tends to make overly-complicated campaigns and characters.
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