Features for Family

Today I’m going to talk about a few minor variant class and heritage features I banged out while putting together some 1st-level PCs for a game with my niblings and sister-in-law.

These are an odd handful of choices, given that they were created to help me build specific characters that would appeal to people I care for. As such, they aren’t exactly powergamer options—but I don’t ever seek to make bad options, even if they are niche and flavour-driven. Overall, my goal wanted to do was streamline the characters so their concepts would come through strongly without too many build quirks that would seem odd to first-time players.

(Of course, this is what Essentials was meant to, but ironically I found it much more complicated when everybody’s powers worked differently, advanced at different rates, and so on. Much easier to hand everybody 5-8 power cards that share the universal progression, so other players’ power usage is also a demonstration of their own!)

In any case, on the principle of “if they’re useful to me, they might be useful to somebody else”, here are some options you could add to your 4e games.

Spell Source: Phoenix Magic

My oldest nephew (we’ll call him Rin, the eventual name of his character) was all about Greek mythology when we started this game (thanks Percy Jackson :p). When I asked him what he wanted to play, he suggested two things:

  • Abilities based on a phoenix
  • To be a tree-climbing monkey

Wu-kan were already a core part of my Skies of Escarnum setting, so that was a no-brainer. For the phoenix part, I had intended to make Rin a shaman with Elemental Spirit, until I realised that he wasn’t going to have as much fun playing a leader—he’s more the type to enjoy cool pyrotechnics and big damage blasts than healing and party buffs.

Sorcerer was an obvious big-damage choice, but fire was a must, and dragon sorcerers are not well-served by a creature with no option for a Str bonus. Rather than dink around re-skinning another heritage (which seemed like it would be confusing for first-timers) I came up with the Phoenix Magic spell source.

Phoenix Sorcerer

Your blood burns with the elemental might of the phoenix. Your power blazes fast and bright, and dies only to be reborn in brilliance.

Phoenix Power: When you roll damage for an arcane attack power with the fire or radiant keyword, you can reroll any die showing a 1 until the value shown exceeds 1.

Phoenix Splendour: Your total number of healing surges increases by 1 per tier. If you use your second wind while you are bloodied, you regain twice the normal amount of hit points.

Phoenix Soul: When an enemy scores a critical hit against you, each enemy in burst 2 of you takes fire and radiant damage equal to your charisma modifier.

Resurgence of the Phoenix: The first time you would be reduced to 0 hit points during an encounter, you can spend a healing surge as a free action.

Essentially, this is an option for a somewhat independent sorcerer, more survivable than its base HP and surges would suggest. It’s a little under-supported since I haven’t made any powers specific to it, but at heroic tier it does fine just cherry-picking the fire and radiant powers from intended for cosmic and dragon sorcs. It would be nice to give it some powers of its own eventually, though!

Class Versatility: Implement Versatility

My younger nephew (character name of Ari) wanted nothing more than to be a kitty cat, so I was always going to make him an abilen character. I hadn’t considered the bard at first, since I thought we already had a shaman leader, but when I shifted Rin to a sorcerer it worked out perfectly. Ari is a real sweet kid who would definitely enjoy being kind to both friends and enemies, so bard was a perfect fit.

I had one problem though—a problem I also had when I built a bard for myself—in that I wanted powers from both implement-based and weapon-based pools. That’s all well and good if you’re already proficient with the game (or once you have access to weapon enchantments) but for a first-level character and a first-time player, it’s just messy.

My solution? Well, there’s one bard feature which was effectively dead in this build anyway; Multiclass Versatility. Normally this is a defining feature for the bard, but if you want level-1 simplicity, this ain’t it. Thus, I created this alternative.

Implement Versatility

You can use any weapon with which you are proficient as an implement. This feature replaces multiclass versatility.

It’s a niche feature for sure; normally bards are just itching to poach a fighter feat or a channel divinity or goodness knows what. But for specific builds, I could see this managing to edge in front. For me, I mostly just like it because it’s cleaner; tracking two different power accessories is annoying and inconvenient, even before you get item budget involved. Sometimes, a single basket is just fine for all your eggs.

Elemental Manifestation: Oceansoul

For our third character, I was considering a cleric before I realised that probably an actual literal mum wouldn’t appreciate being typecast as “team mum” in-character. On the other hand, SIL being a teacher and just an outstanding book nerd, wizard seemed an obvious conclusion once I came to it.

Genasi presented itself as an oustanding choice for any wizard, and I had wanted a water theme too—but the elemental manifestation for water is about speed and transience, which wasn’t what I had in mind. My concept for water was more about the awesome, timeless, unfathomable vastness of the ocean. So I cooked up a custom elemental manifestation for them.


You can breathe underwater. You also gain resist 5 cold and the sea of calm power.

Sea of CalmOceansoul Genasi Heritage Power
In moments of distress, you draw strength from the ageless resilience of the vast, still ocean.
No Action ✦ Personal
Effect: Make a saving throw.

I’m pretty happy with this as a respectable heritage power. Of course, it lags behind other elemental manifestations in terms of feat support, but at 1st-level that’s less of a concern. It’s another feature I might add some feat support for later, since I think it could be a serious contender if I did.

Additional Arcane Implement Masteries

Finally, I also wanted to give this wizard a tome. C’mon, what’s more nerdy than schooling your enemies with a giant book? Problem is, the Tome of Binding mastery is strictly for summoners and the Tome of Readiness mastery is, let’s say, a wee bit complicated for a first-timer. I wanted something more straightforward.

Tome of Study

When you take an extended rest, you can choose one of your level 1 wizard at-will attack powers to prepare in your tome. As long as you wield a tome, you can use that power as a basic attack. Your tome can only store one power at a time, but you can change it whenever you take an extended rest.

I admit, I have a particular fondness for basic attack replacements, as they really make power usage feel second-nature to a character. In the case of a new player’s wizard, they also keep me from having to print out a useless ranged basic card that you should technically have, but for all intents and purposes you will ignore.

Since I was in the business of looking at mastery alternatives, I made a few more while I was there. I liked the idea of more choices that involve a static benefit, rather than an associated power, so I wanted to have at least one “static” mastery for each implement.

Orb of Guidance

As long as you wield an orb, when one of your implement powers allows you to pull, push, or slide a creature, the maximum distance of the forced movement increases by 2 squares.

Orb of Shrouding

As long as you wield an orb, creatures hit by your implement attack powers treat enemies more than 2 squares away from them as having partial concealment until the end of your next turn.

Staff of Consumption

As long as you wield a staff, when you hit at least one target with an implement attack power, you gain 2 temporary hit points.

Staff of Grounding

As long as you wield a staff, you and any allies adjacent to you have resistance to lightning equal to your constitution modifier. In addition, if you are subject to forced movement you may make a saving throw to avoid being moved.

Tome of Distraction

As long as you wield a tome, when you hit a target with an implement power, the target takes a -2 penalty to the next attack roll it makes against you before the end of your next turn.

Wand of Destruction

As long as you wield a wand, you gain a +1 bonus to damage rolls with an implement fire attacks. This bonus increases to +2 at 11th level and +3 at 21st level. Additionally, your implement attacks ignore fire resistance.

Wand of Assurance

As long as you wield a wand, when you roll damage for an implement power, if any of the dice come up with a result of 1, pick one of them, reroll it, and use the new result.

You may recognise most of these as being directly pinched from the mage’s school specialisations, and you’d be right—I like to salvage useful things from essentials classes when I can, since I rarely enjoy their fundamental design. If you want to preserve the uniqueness of the mage, you may want to just ignore these.

Staff of Grounding, on the other hand, is lifted from a Geomancer wizard variant posted on www.dandwiki.com. I don’t see any reason that this should be a class variant instead of simply a build recommendation, but I thought the mastery had merit, so I’ve reproduced it here.

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