Underpowered: Duergar (4E)

Generally I’m not the kind of person who ranks things by power level. I tend to leave that to the experts. But I do talk with people and I see a lot of gameplay. One of the big benefits of running D&D Delve Night for a couple of years was that I got to see literally hundreds of character builds, and I’ve noticed some trends that more powerful characters follow.

As I understand it, the power level of racial powers can be ranked roughly like this:

  • The dwarf
  • Minor action encounter powers that attack enemies
  • Immediate-speed powers
  • Minor action encounter powers that affect enemies without an attack roll
  • Minor action at-will powers
  • Powers that help the character using them
  • Standard action powers

So it’s a little weird that the duergar, with a minor-action encounter power that attacks enemies, is so underpowered. But let’s compare it to two other races with similar powers that get a lot of play, one older than the duergar and one newer:

Duergar (MM2) Dragonborn (PHB) Thri-kreen (DSCS)
Stats +2 to two +2 to two (errated to +2 to one, +2 to choice) +2 to one, +2 to choice
Speed 6 6 7
Vision Darkvision Normal Low-light
Languages Three Two Two (one uncommon)
Skills +2 to one +2 to two +2 to two
Traits None Two (attack bonus, healing bonus) Three (action bonus, jump bonus, doesn’t sleep)

Without traits, the duergar’s power level is largely reliant on its racial power. And how does it measure up?

Duergar (MM2) Dragonborn (PHB) Thri-kreen (DSCS)
Range Ranged 3 Close burst 3 (5 with feat) Melee 1 (targets three creatures)
Attack Con +2/tier vs. AC Choice of ability +2/tier vs. Reflex Choice of ability +3/tier vs. AC
Damage d8/tier + Con d6/tier + Con (d10 with feat) d8/tier + choice of ability
Damage Type None Choose at character creation None
Effect -2 to attacks, ongoing poison None (various with feats) None (reliable with feat)

The racial power only targets one creature, and that creature must be within 3 squares (but not adjacent, or that’s an opportunity attack). It has an attack bonus as though it was targeting a secondary defense, but it actually targets AC. It relies on Con, which is only a primary attack stat for battleminds and certain warlocks (hint: infernal warlocks are the expected build for duergars). With all these penalties to hitting, its damage should be serious. But instead it’s just on par with other racial powers, and it deals small ongoing damage of the most-resisted damage type.

So literally the only things that the duergar has going for it are darkvision and an encounter power that usually misses but deals -2 to attack rolls (save ends) when it hits. That’s nothing to sneeze at but it’s not enough to make anybody actually want to play the race. So let’s try to make it viable.

As before, let’s look at the monsters. Interestingly, every one of them has speed 5, like the dwarves on which the race is based. As much as I hate to lower a race’s power while trying to increase it, this fits too much to ignore. But every duergar also has resistance to fire and poison. Now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s add that in. PC resistances tend to be 5 + half-level and the deva has two, so that works without being too unbalanced.

We also need to update their build to be in line with current design. There are eight duergar in the MM2: two Con-primary, two Wis-primary, three Str-primary, and one Cha-primary. The Cha-primary and Con-primary have secondary Dex, and the Wis-primary have secondary Int. So Cha and Int are rare, but Con and Wis both make sense as the mandatory ability, and Str and Dex can make both strong cases as the new third stat. When monster precedent fails, I’m inclined to earn toward race precedent. Their attack power uses Con, and duergar are basically evil dwarves. So let’s use the same stat line as dwarves, and we’ll modify the power to fit. And since many of the monsters are trained in Religion (the knowledge skill that tells players about devils), we’ll use that.

These changes pretty much bring them back up to competitive, especially since fire and poison are such common damage types. But I want to give them one more trait, something small and flavorful. I’d love to give them the devil keyword, but PC don’t have keywords, so that’s out. Since they’re hardy creatures who were enslaved by devils, let’s give them something to resist the attacks of devils.

Which leaves us with:

Average Height: 4′ 2″- 4′ 8″
Average Weight: 160-220 lb.

Ability Scores: +2 Constitution, +2 Strength or +2 Wisdom
Size: Medium
Speed: 5 squares
Vision: Darkvision

Languages: Common, Deep Speech, Dwarven
Skill Bonuses: +2 Dungeoneering, +2 Religion
Force of Will: You gain a +1 racial bonus to Will defenses against attacks made by immortal creatures.
Infernal Resistance: You have resistance to fire damage and poison damage equal to 5 + one-half your level.

Infernal Quills Duergar Racial Power
You tense and send the quills projecting from your body into the gaps in your foe’s armor.
Encounter ⋄ Poison
Minor Action Ranged 3
Attack: Strength, Constitution, or Wisdom vs. AC. You gain a +3 bonus to the attack roll.
Level 11: The bonus increases to +6.
Level 21: The bonus increases to +9.
Hit: 1d8 + Strength, Constitution, or Wisdom modifier damage, and the target takes a -2 penalty to attack rolls and ongoing 2 poison damage (save ends both).
Level 11: 2d8 + Strength, Constitution, or Wisdom modifier damage, and the target takes a -2 penalty to attack rolls and ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends both).
Level 21: 3d8 + Strength, Constitution, or Wisdom modifier damage, and the target takes a -2 penalty to attack rolls and ongoing 8 poison damage (save ends both).

How to reskin this power so that it works with Wisdom is an exercise left to the reader.

This race didn’t need to be half-rewritten like the bullywug, just updated. I tried to give it the general feel of dwarf + devil. As much as I wanted to pull in the 3E duergar and add 4E versions of invisibility and enlarger person and psionics and stuff, that’s not really what they are any more. Plenty of room there for a racial paragon path, though.

This entry was posted in D&D 4th Edition, Gaming Systems, Underpowered. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Underpowered: Duergar (4E)

  1. Dave says:

    You know, I really love these reworks. They are fascinating just from a design/analysis angle. The version of the duergar you’ve proposed here looks very fun, flavorful, and playable.

    Just one question: what exactly is the correct formula for calculating an arbitrary attack bonus in 4E? It seems like the normal progression is more or less 1/level, but that includes things like weapon bonus, proficiency bonus, and feat bonuses.

  2. MssngrDeath says:

    My answer ended up being long enough that I’m going to make it a different article. But there’s a good general-practices read at http://squarefireballs.blogspot.com/2009/10/calculating-hit-chances-using-attack.html for anybody interested.

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