Friday, April 1, 2016

Vaults & Vampires II: Both Blood And Elbows Come In Drops

So the rules for playing a vampire are a nonstarter in 2e, horrendously overpriced in 3e, and are vague and unfavorably compared to an opium addiction in Pathfinder... so, what about 4e?

Monsters and PCs don't use the same rules in 4e, so slapping on a template doesn't really work the same way it did in 3e. There was a vampire template in the DMG, but for NPC monsters rather than player characters, and even rules for new undead types and abilities in the undead supplement Open Grave weren't intended for player use at all. One of the first vampire-esque options was published in the online Dragon Magazine 371 and were republished in Dragon Magazine Annual 2009 (which is a bit of deceptive naming since the book didn't sell well enough for any later versions of Dragon Magazine Annual). These were the rules for the dhampyr (half-vampires) and were designed by one of the people who worked on Open Grave. As the author explained in DMA 2009, the intent was for the dhampyr option to be open to any character, so rather than make it a single race he designed it in the form of a feat you took to represent your vampiric heritage in system loosely based off of 4e's multiclass system.

Unlike in 3e where multiclassing means you're replacing one class level with another, 4e multiclassing involves spending a feat that grants you a bonus skill and limited-use ability from the new class, which is pretty nice, but what's better is that you also count as that class for the purpose of qualifying for things like magic items, feats, or paragon paths.  Paragon Paths are like 3e's Prestige Classes where you get extra options, but unlike 3e they supplement your abilities from level 11 to 20 instead of replacing them. Access to a good chunk of options for a class is pretty nice, and almost any character concept can be spiced up with a multiclass feat. The only real downside is that most characters only have one multiclass slot so they have to pick and choose their favorites.

Being a Dhmpyr means that you just spend a feat, get an ability and also qualify for other dhampyr feats and paragon paths (it doesn't consume your multiclass slot unlike true multiclassing). This means that just about any class/race combination can get in touch with their inner vampire. So, what do you actually get? Well, you count as a vampire for the purpose of effects, you get a bonus to checks to recognize dhampyrs and undead and you also get an encounter power that lets you chomp on dudes to spend a healing surge.

Backing up a little, let's flesh out some terms here. Encounter powers are somewhat of an extension of some of the experimenting that was done in the 3.5e Tome of Battle and other books that were released towards the end of the edition. Essentially, while spells and the like served as the bulk of a party's options and power for the day back in earlier editions, a conscious effort was made to give everyone special abilities the could trigger in a fight, be they magical or made from some combination of effort and circumstance. Encounter powers were a midway point between your workhorse at-will powers (which tended to come with more abilities than a simple attack with a sword or crossbow; more class-appropriate too) and the "big guns" of your daily powers. Since you regained all your encounter powers during a short rest (about five minutes) while your daily powers were only regained after an extended rest (around six hours), encounter powers meant that you always had something nice and class appropriate that you could bust out in every fight without worrying about squirreling it away in case you needed it later.

Healing surges are a representation of your character's inner well of resolve and endurance that keeps them going far beyond what ordinary people can endure. Each class has a certain base number of healing surges ranging from about 6 for the squishiest to around 9 for the tougher classes, and that number is further modified by your Constitution modifier and various feats and features. Whenever you spend a healing surge you restore a certain amount of HP equal to your healing surge value, which starts at 1/4th your maximum HP (rounded down) but can be modified further by various abilities. During a short rest you can expend any number of healing surges and recover your surge value from each as you tend your wounds or push through lesser injuries or whatever in a process that's somewhere between the reserve points rules from Unearthed Arcana and the "everyone sits and passes around the Cure Light Wounds wand" routine from 3e. While this means that characters have an extra 150% or more HP floating around, it's far harder to access in the middle of a fight. The only native way for all characters to regain HP during a fight is to use their Second Wind ability for that heroic change of pace, but for most characters that will only restore one surge worth of HP and takes up their standard action so they aren't attacking for a turn (though it does provide a defensive bonus similar to using Total Defense for that turn). If you're getting smashed by monsters than your second wind won't cut it, and you'll have to rely on powers from that let you spend a healing surge to keep you from taking a dirt nap, which usually come from clerics and other healer/leader-types. At 1/2 HP you're considered Bloodied, which usually is a sign that you need healing, though there are various abilities out there that have additional effects whenever you or your target are bloodied as part of the idea that Shit Just Got Real, whether it be giving you a boost to defend yourself at a critical moment or finish off a severely wounded enemy. Your surge pool only gets restored after an extended rest, so constant beatings will slowly deplete it as will draining effects from enemy monsters (such as wights) and environmental hazards, plus some character abilities cost surges to either use or improve them, so running low on surges is usually a good sign that you need to pack it in for the day.

The dhampyr's blood drain power thus would be a decent way to provide some offensive healing in a fight if it weren't for a issues: one is that the damage is kind of garbage for an ability that takes most of your turn to use, and the other is that it only works on targets you have grabbed. Grabbed is a special status effect that's delivered by some powers in a simplification of the previously labyrinthine grappling rules, most commonly in the form of the Grab ability which any character can use. The problem with this is that not only does making a grab attack as a standard action usually mean that you're forgoing most of your turn just to hold an enemy still, but the attack uses your Strength bonus (which makes it worthless for those who dump that score) and even more importantly has a problem where it doesn't benefit from things things like the accuracy bonuses of your magic weapons or your specialization bonuses so it suffers a huge drop-off in accuracy and effectiveness as you level. There are classes who have powers that will grab the target as part of the attack, but that is a small portion of the classes and in most cases only one or two powers that grab, which really limits your options. Admittedly there's a feat you can take at 11th level that lets you use Blood Drain on anything granting Combat Advantage (a much easier status effect to acquire that represents any sort of quick advantage in the fight ranging from flanking to distractions to the enemy being stunned or something), but that's still another feat you have to pay and 10 levels you have to spend without being able to use your sweet vampire ability.

Among the 4e classes there is one exception to the rule that grab attacks are either rare or weak: the brawler fighter. The class gets a free bonus to the Grab attack to help patch the accuracy gap and more importantly gets a bunch of powers that grab the target including one at-will attack that's as accurate and damaging as their basic weapon attacks (and can even be used off-turn as an opportunity action to snag enemies who are trying to sneak by). As an added bonus, the basic Grab attack is normally limited to grabbing targets no more than one size category larger than you are, while grabs inflicted by classes such as the fighter... aren't.

Even better, as a defender a dhampyr brawler fighter qualifies for the Bloodknight paragon path, which not only lets you recharge Blood Drain when you defeat foes and use it as a free action attack when you grab your enemies, but also comes with some nice powers including a really nice one that grants you a free attack each round to really pile on the pain.

End result is that if you want to get the most out of being a half-vampire warrior you should look less like this:

And more like this:

(given how the Bloodknight mechanics combine with a certain pair of feats favored by the brawler fighter, a successful Blood Drain will usually end up suplexing your opponents and pinning them to the ground)

But hey, maybe for some weird reason wrestling half-vampires just isn't your cup of blood and you want something with a little more style. What's out there?

Well, in 2011 WotC put out Heroes of Shadow, a book dedicated to heroes who draw on the darker aspects of the world and its magic. Among those options were the Vryloka, a race of humans whose ancestors made a pact with the mysterious Red Witch that gave them unnatural vitality and turned them into living vampires who draw strength from their fallen foes.

The same book also reprinted the Revenant race from Dragon 376, undead who rise from their graves to fulfill some fate. Revenants are their own race, and while they also count as their previous race for the purpose of meeting prerequisites, for some reason that doesn't include things such as size categories, so a halfling that comes back as a revenant will suddenly be six feet tall. Revenants have their own unique gimmick in that they're the only race in the game that remains conscious when at 0 HP or lower. While there are some penalties involved and they still die if they fail three death saves (a 1d20 roll made at the end of your turn when dying, 9 or lower is a failure, 10 to 19 is holding ground, 20 means you can spend a healing surge and regain consciousness) or if they reach a negative HP value of 50% of their total HP or worse, there are enough bonuses and ways to get around the penalties that revenants are among the toughest characters in the game to actually kill. Also, there's nothing stopping you from being a Revenant Vryloka and thus be 150% undead.

The third race in the book was the Shade, a race of humans who have let shadow magic essentially claim their souls in exchange for mastery over shadow. Average racial features with the exception of the fact that all shade characters have one healing surge fewer than normal. Racial penalties were nonexistent in 4e before this book, and while the Vryloka also had a racial penalty (a -2 penalty to healing surge value when they're blooded (reduced to below 1/2 HP)), it was negligible at higher levels while the Shade's penalty was something you were always going to feel and the rest of the race wasn't anything worth writing home about compared to just being a drow or something.

Should that not be enough to slake your thirst, Heroes of Shadow also introduced the Vampire class, with the idea behind it being that a class was a much better way to present a wide array of vampiric abilities that can be used every round in a fight and could fit a variety of races, while the vryloka was better if you wanted a fighter or cleric with some mild vampire flavor. They point out that you could be a vryloka vampire and thus be 150% vampire, but you could also be a revenant vryloka vampire and thus be 250% undead. Sadly you can't really be a dhampyr revenant vryloka vampire to be 200% vampire and 300% undead because the Vampiric Heritage feat requires you to be a living creature in order to take it (though if your DM waives that restriction, go wild).

Perhaps the biggest idea behind the vampire is how it works with healing surges. Normally a character will have somewhere around 6 to 12 surges depending on how durable the class and character is, but there are some extremes. If you decide to make the worst decisions possible and play a Wizard (6 + Con modifier surges) with 8 Constitution (-1 modifier) and using the Shade race (-1 surges), you'd have 4 surges. Even though that's a minimum of about 100% of your HP in reserve, this is still a bad idea because you're liable to lose around a surge every fight or so unless you're awesome at completely avoiding all lucky blows from your opponent; while a few good hits from your enemies in a fight will empty your reserves in a hurry. Alternatively, if you were a member of one of the toughest classes, boosted your Constitution (or other durability score) at every opportunity and took every surge count booster you qualified for you could easily end up with a surge count in the high 20s to low 30s, meaning you could lose 100% of your HP every fight and still have some left over when the squishiest members start feeling the burn.

In comparison, the vampire's surge count is 2. Not 2 + Con modifier, just 2. Lower than what you could get even if you tried your best to fail, the vampire is the least durable class by surge count alone. The class comes with regeneration through its Enduring Soul feature, but the regeneration only functions when you're bloodied (and thus turns off when you're above half HP) and isn't enough to outheal a sustained beating at any level. Assuming you survive the fight, your regeneration will get you back up to half HP, but spending your only two healing surges to go the rest of the distance will leave you drained for the day. This would be unfeasible if not for the vampire's Blood is Life class feature, which among other things lets a willing and adjacent ally lose a surge once during a short rest to allow you to regain your Bloodied value in HP.

When combined with your regeneration this lets you top off after a battle pretty easily, and also serves as one of the most cost-effective forms of surge-based healing in the game. Not only do you get 1/2 your HP back from a resource that normally restores 1/4 of it but you can take that surge from anyone in the party who's willing to give it to you, letting you feed off of people who have surges to spare and ensuring that no party member is being depleted of surges faster than the others (which would force the party to stop and rest rather than endanger that member). Amusingly enough, one of the best classes for a vampire to feed off of is the paladin since they have the highest base surge count in the game (10 + Con modifier) and a tendency to pick up things that boost that number even farther partly to support their Lay on Hands ability (which lets them spend a surge to allow another character to regain HP without spending a surge). All you have to do is explain to that warrior of light that the best way for their selfless sacrifice to alleviate the most suffering is if it's poured down your undead throat.

If there are no willing donors in the neighborhood, it's time to consider the unwilling ones. Among the tools in the beginner vampire's arsenal is the blood drinker encounter power, which is a power that the vampire can trigger upon successfully hitting a target with an at-will melee vampire power, which will deal extra damage and give the vampire a free healing surge, allowing you to keep up with the attrition. Even better, thanks to Blood is Life, if you end a short rest with more healing surges than your normal maximum, you lose any additional healing surges above your maximum and regain all of your lost HP instead. This means that your surge total isn't as important as it is for other classes, and the only thing that matters is being able to end the fight at (N+1)/N surges.

This isn't risk-free though- as a vampire your abilities are melee to short-ranged only, so you're rarely more than a walk away from someone who can smack you one, and if you get hit hard enough that the only thing standing between you and unconsciousness is a healing power then you're going to spend have to spend a surge and lose your surplus. Since that one healing power is unlikely to recover all the HP you lost to get in so critical of a state and your regeneration tops at 1/2 your maximum HP, you're going to need to top off using an ally's surge rather than deplete your own surge pool and thus set yourself even farther back from the N+1 fullheal. This also makes you extremely vulnerable to effects from enemy attacks or environmental checks that drain healing surges; while you're immune to some effects just by being undead, the fact that you favor Dexterity and Charisma as stats mean that you have no real defense against things that target Fortitude or require Endurance checks. Several of your powers also allow you to lose a surge to boost their effects, meaning that those parts of the power are largely nonviable for a while unless you can go through a fight with no damages and surges to spare. You do gain another use of blood drinker at 7th level (and 11th with the Vampire Noble paragon path), and starting at level 9 you have daily powers that can also generate a surge, so you can start generating two or more surges at later levels to help you make up your deficit and get back to the fullheal faster. But for the first six levels you're essentially living paycheck to paycheck where you're only one or two bad hits or failed Endurance checks away from losing one too many surges and thus being forced to ask your allies if they'll spot you a cup of blood for the next fight (you'll pay it back, promise!).

It's certainly an interesting method of modeling the vampire's hunger when compared to the saving throws of 3e or Pathfinder. At no point are you required to roll, nor is control of your character ever taken from you; all the game does is let you decide how and when to feed after reminding you that you are oddly frail and everything around you is magically delicious. Of course, the flip side to this is that while vampires in the other games fed maybe once a day to a once every couple of weeks, a 4e vampire can chow down a dozen times or more during an adventuring day. Furthermore, neither Blood is Life nor blood drinker restrict you to feeding on the living, with the flavor text for blood drinker handwaves your sustenance as "the life force of other creatures... whether it consists of blood, ichor or the unseen energy of life itself" so feel free to literally taste the rainbow.

The book takes a similarly player-friendly approach to one of the other classic vampire problems- how to deal with the giant glowing ball of death in the sky. In previous editions vampires exposed to the sun are destroyed entirely in a round or two, but in 4e you take 5 damage per round where you end your turn in direct sunlight. The damage is radiant damage (a damage source used by many effects involving holy magic or powerful light, which leads to jokes about radiant clerics being "laser clerics" and radiant holy weapons being lightsabers), and as a vampire you have Radiant Vulnerability 5, meaning you take 5 extra damage from any source of radiant damage, so it's 10 damage per turn total (which is about as much damage as NPC vampires take in the sunlight), radiant damage also shuts down your regeneration for a round, and if you're reduced to 0 HP or lower by sun damage you're destroyed instantly instead of going into the normal negative HP/bleeding out stage. So a 1st level vampire with 20-some HP will last about three rounds in the sun (about a round or two longer than they would in an earlier edition), but you also gain 5 HP as you level so a higher level vampire might have a minute or two to find shelter. It's not just damage- a vampire PC who ends a turn in direct sunlight is also weakened (save ends), which means that they're afflicted with a condition that causes them to deal half damage until they save against it.

In 4e, a "save ends" effect is a replacement for various long-duration effects, where you roll a 1d20 at the end of your turn and try to get a 10 or higher after applying any bonuses or penalties to successfully end the effect. Theoretically this means that it's much harder for either players or monsters to be locked out of a fight by a negative effect, especially when many characters (especially leaders) have recovery options that make or grant others saving throws outside of the end of their turns and thus potentially allow them to get out of an effect before it can do too much damage. This is especially nice due to the fact that it's a d20 roll against a target of 10, so it's easier to make than it would be when compared to a 3e or PF ability that allows you to try to save against the effect again (which won't help you much if your save could only succeed on a natural 20 anyway).

Between the damage and weakening effect a 4e vampire won't instantly die in the sunlight, but it's not something you want to put up with any longer than necessary. Rather than make your entire party plan their adventurers around the vampire's operating hours and preferred environment, the game only applies the sunlight effects "if you end your turn in direct sunlight and lack a protective covering such as a cloak or other heavy clothing". While the designers suggest that maybe you might draw looks if you're heavily wrapped, it effectively means sunlight is only going to be a problem if the DM or players decide it needs to be one.

So, with the class system allowing the game to dole out vampire abilities at a steady pace, the player-friendly nature of vampire weaknesses making it easier to play in an adventure and the unique surge mechanics offering a new and compelling take on both healing and hunger, you might be tempted to call the vampire a triumph in design.

Then you'd remember which column we're in.

The vampire has a couple of problems. Problem 1 is that most of the class is on rails.

Due to the game having fixed levels for handing out certain iconic abilities such as your mesmerizing gaze or ability to turn into a bat, there are very few levels in which you get to make a decision about your class abilities; only at level 2 and 22 do you get a choice between two powers, everything else is fixed. To be fair there are people out there who would find this a perfectly acceptable situation, forgoing the hassle of sifting and choosing from the vast arrays of abilities possessed by other classes to enjoy the iconic vampire experience provided by a well-designed class.

Problem 2 is that the vampire is not a well-designed class.

As part of the design process for 4e, the original designers reviewed the character classes and attempted to identify the various party roles they occupied. This wasn't a new idea; WotC designers had done a similar process in the 3.5e Player's Handbook II, breaking down the classes into the following roles:

Warrior: Responsible for fighting monsters and stalling them so that your companions can do their thing (Fighter)
Expert: Has lots of skills to fill different roles (Rogue)
Arcane Spellcaster: Have powerful spells to destroy the greatest threat (Wizard)
Divine Spellcaster: Has powerful spells that support the party (Cleric)

These are admittedly kind of vague categories, with some defined by what you do in a fight, others by what you do everywhere else, and others by the kind of magic they have. For 4e the design team eventually narrowed it down to four categories based on how the character functioned in combat.

Defender: Highest defenses and HP, serve as the front line to protect weaker characters (Fighter)
Striker: Deals high damage to single targets, the highest in the game, uses good mobility to go towards or away from the greatest threat (Rogue)
Controller: Able to lock down opponents, wiping out the weakest enemies en masse and disabling strong ones while the rest of the party works (Wizard)
Leader: Heals injuries but also boosts allies to help them destroy the enemy faster (Cleric)

Roles aren't iron-clad; most classes have a secondary role or two (the paladin is a defender with some leader abilities), and later books introduced subclasses of classes who might have a different role (the slayer is a fighter who is a striker instead of a defender). Different classes with the same role (such as paladin and fighter) will play radically differently, and even two characters of the same class can play uniquely (such as a cleric who shoots spells at foes vs. a cleric who helps allies by hitting monsters in the face with a hammer). What roles do is allow designers to have benchmarks and goals for classes to hit (even in different ways) so they can remain viable in various parties. So all leaders need some sort of healing and support ability, while defenders need some form of "stickiness" to keep monsters from wandering off in search of squishier targets.

The 4e vampire is designed as a striker with some secondary control powers, fitting for a manipulative predator. And while it lacks any mind control abilities, the rogue can serve as a decent comparison, since that's also a lightly armored dexterity-based class focused on picking off targets of opportunity and possesses a useful bag of tricky abilities. The problem is that most good strikers have the ability to point themselves at an enemy of their level and decide "this one needs to die right now" and then make good on that statement. The vampire has no real native abilities that let it turn up the volume on an enemy of interest and just go to town. You might be satisfied with this and decide that with all the vampire's utility powers such as the form of a bat you don't need to be a top-of-the-line striker, just one who's good enough to pull your own weight. Well...

As you gain levels you're going to be facing higher-level threats, and monsters have a steady gain in HP as they level. So you need to keep boosting your attack damage every level just to tread water and defeat monsters in the same amount of time. The vampire's biggest striker feature is its Hidden Might ability, which lets you add your Charisma modifier to damage rolls of vampire and vampire paragon path attack powers. As striker features go, getting to add a secondary stat to damage rolls isn't that uncommon, nor is it particular terrible, but how useful it is depends on what powers you have and that's where the vampire falls short. While blood drinker is nice for generating surges, it's only a handful of d10s worth of extra damage per use, which isn't really all that much, and it gets worse when you look at your level 3 feral assault power or its level 17 upgrade; while they technically do more damage than your at-will abilities, both would be considered rather subpar by striker standards and that's after you use the option to lose a healing surge to give the power extra targets or a few extra dice of damage. The daily powers aren't much better, their bat swarm AoE and its upgrades are serviceable at best since they're more about damaging groups than focusing down a dangerous target, and while the mesmeric gaze ability is nice because you get it fairly early on at level 9 and mind control never goes out of style, they get a daily power at level 5 that never gets upgraded again. While the encounter-long boosts it provides to accuracy, damage, and movement are good for characters of any level, it also prevents you from using healing surges to heal for the entire fight; manageable, but if you get clocked hard enough and your party has no surgeless healing available you are basically boned because 4e regeneration doesn't function when you're below 1 HP unless otherwise specified.

For comparison, there's a wizard gimmick build out there that can also add its secondary stat to damage and thus can do similar damage while being able to hit far more targets at once thanks to area attack spells and also enjoys all the power and feat support that comes with being a fucking wizard.

Specifically, this wizard

Your abilities don't offer much, and neither do your powers, making feats and items your last resort for boosting your damage to meet the benchmarks. Unfortunately for you, you're not exactly doing so hot on that front either. Classes have power sources in addition to roles- the rogue and fighter both use the martial power source while bards and wizards use arcane and clerics and paladins use divine. Power source options can be used by anyone whose class (or multiclass) is part of that power source, so fighters and rogues can take advantage of feats that let them get the most out of different weapon groups while bards and wizards can get the ability to quickly cast their spells. There are useful feats and options out there, except the vampire's power source is Shadow and support for that power source as a whole is basically nonexistent outside of Heroes of Shadow (and basically nonexistent inside of it as well). There are no abilities in HoS that are restricted to the shadow power source, partly due to the fact that all the other subclasses introduced in the book draw on both shadow as a power source plus whatever power source their parent class used.

Items aren't much better, because vampire characters tend to forgo weapons and armor in favor of their supernatural agility and abilities; thus vampire characters use magical implements to focus and enhance the magic that animates them. Magic implements are the caster version of magic weapons- they make your numbers go up so you can face higher level foes and hopefully have enough cool properties that it's as exciting to get a good magic staff as it is to find a nice sword of frost. You might find it weird to have your vampire using abilities with the help of a magic stick, but staves and wands are not vampire implements (the game does allow you to use your powers with any implement you're proficient with, so with the right feats you can use your powers through a magic staff or even a magic tome if you decide you really need a copy of Dracula to help you focus your powers). The implements of the vampire class are of the more subtle (and hands-free) variety: holy symbols and ki focuses, which may serve as symbols of the powers that created you and a focus for your reverence or vengeance, or the symbols you turn to to remind yourself of what you are and what you lost. Whatever your flavor piece may be, come crunch time you'll discover that there aren't a whole lot of stand-out ki focuses on account of them being a relative latecomer to the game (debuting in the PHB3) and not receiving a whole lot of support, and while there are some great holy symbols out there, most of them are designed for people with a decidedly less murder-y set of class features and won't really help you put enemies in the ground. Except for one.

The Sun Disk of Pelor (holy symbol for the 4e god of the sun) converts all damage dealt using the symbol into radiant damage (the aforementioned holy/light damage source). This is nice because radiant damage is one of the best types of damage in the game. It's one of the least commonly resisted damage types (mostly just angels who resist it, and if you're fighting angels something has gone horribly wrong), and it's also the most common vulnerability in the game since it's the vulnerability of choice for most undead, including you. While the Sun Disk is turned on, your hands will be glowing with awesome undead-shattering power, though it won't hurt you unless an enemy uses an ability that makes you attack yourself. The vampire also has an at-will mesmeric gaze ability that deals psychic damage and draws enemies closer; with the Sun Disk converting that damage into radiant damage it means you now have some form of magnetic lasers eyes.

The strength of radiant damage isn't that it's uncommonly resisted and good for destroying common undead enemies (or its amusing interactions with your undead abilities), it's that radiant damage is staggeringly easy to boost, especially if you're a divine character. Divine worshipers of solar deities can take the Power of the Sun feat to hand out radiant vulnerability to any enemy in the game at-will with certain powers, or the Solar Enemy feat to increase that vulnerability for a short time. If your divine character worships the Forgotten Realms sun god Amaunator (or you can convince your DM that the local sun deity is an acceptable equivalent) you qualify for the Morninglord paragon path, which grants the ability to inflict Radiant Vulnerability 10 for a turn to any target you hit with a radiant power. This is an extremely nice ability; Radiant Vulnerability 10 is even worse than your own vampire radiant vulnerability and it is very easy for characters to do radiant damage. Most divine characters can have one or more at-will radiant powers right out of the gate, but even a fighter can pick up a weapon that will convert damage into radiant damage just as the Sun Disk does- the Sunblade is the earliest option for sword users, followed by the Crusader's Weapon for hammer and mace users, but any weapon user can pick up an excellent Radiant Weapon by the time the Morninglord Paragon Path takes off. This is the cornerstone of a party optimization gimmick nicknamed "the Radiant Mafia" and it gets even more ridiculous when you start adding on options that boost the vulnerability or your damage against targets who are vulnerable to radiant damage, as well as when you can attack multiple times per round and trigger the vulnerability with every attack. It says something about the vampire's choices that its strongest option for damage out-of-the-box is to shack up with a party devoted to everything that will destroy you. But hey, with the right divine multiclass feat even you could be a Morninglord and devote yourself to handing out its fiery doom. Praise the Sun! All hail the Burning Hate!

The Vampire Noble is the paragon path actually designed for the vampire, granting the vampire a third use of blood drinker and thus the ability to generate three surges per encounter. The rest of the features depend on which thematic bloodline you choose to embrace. The Beguiler bloodline is supposed to be a manipulative social predator, while the Stalker bloodline is about being more of a bestial hunter. Of the two the Stalker is the inferior one since its features include a bonus to Nature checks (a skill you don't have that relies on an ability score you don't use) and its big gun daily power is a wolf transformation that provides mediocre bonuses in exchange for preventing you from using any of your other abilities until you change back, and you don't even make any attacks during the standard action you use to start this crummy transformation. The Beguiler's bonuses all involve skills that you have and want, and all of its powers can be used with the rest of your abilities to provide some crowd-control options for corralling or evading enemies.

One feature they both share is that at level 16 you no longer take damage from being in the sunlight thanks to some form of supernatural strength (Beguilers cloak their presence while the Stalkers draw upon their connection to nature). Your radiant vulnerability remains, and ending your turn in the sunlight still weakens you, but both paths allow you to add your Charisma bonus to saves against the weakening effect of the sun. Your Charisma bonus will be around +5 or more at this point, so with other bonuses such as a +2 bonus from a feat and a +2 bonus from the right magic item you can have a +9 or higher bonus to saves and thus succeed at getting a 10 or higher even on a natural 1, assuming no penalties from your enemies. Since end of turn effects can be applied in any particular order the player chooses, you can end your turn in sunlight, become weakened (save ends) and then immediately make your end-of-turn save against it and thus be under the effect for a mere fraction of a second to ensure you are never more than mildly inconvenienced by the sun.

Should that not be enough for you, multiclass into paladin. At 11th level Paladins qualify for the Hero's Poise feat, which grants a bonus equal to your Charisma modifier to the saves of allies within 5 squares until the start of your next turn every time you successfully make a saving throw. This is a great feat with a great bonus, and it plays well with other great abilities that let you save at the start of your turn in addition to the end, since not only will you have two chances to save, but you'll also have a chance to end the effect before it interferes with your turn. For a Vampire Noble Paladin you can successfully make a saving throw every single round and thus provide a tactical boost to your allies that can make them borderline immune to "(save ends)" effects provided you parade around in the sunlight in all your incandescent splendor.

This is the skin of a killer, Bella... it provides +5 to saving throws

With Dragon 401, WotC introduced multiclass and hybrid rules for the classes introduced in Heroes of Shadow (among other books), which included multiclass and hybrid rules for the vampire. Hybrid rules were introduced in the PHB 3 and function more like 2e multiclassing rather than 3e multiclassing- a hybrid of a certain level counts as being that level in two classes, but you only get a fraction of the class features from each class. While 4e multiclassing is a dash of spice that can't really hurt you, hybrids range from characters whose features are too mutually opposed to unholy terrors whose reduced features complement each other superbly. The vampire falls into the former category since so many of the vampire's features that don't work well with other classes, such as the vampire's two total healing surges and their striker feature that only boosts the damage of vampire powers.

The Vampirism multiclass feat stands as one of the more unusual ones since it essentially gives you three of the vampire's class features- Blood is Life, Enduring Soul and most of Child of Night (everything except Darkvision and some minor damage resistance, but that's not a big loss). This still manages to be less than a great deal because it also sets your surge count to 2 regardless of what your normal class would offer you, and unlike a level 1 vampire you don't even have any uses of blood drinker for surge generation, meaning your entire strategy for healing becomes "drink surges from your allies after battle". Unless you rarely take damage you're going to need to spend some more feats to shore up your surge problem (don't be a level 1 multiclass vampire, you don't have the feats for it). One possible feat is Blood Thirst, which lets you trade one of your encounter attack powers for a use of the blood drinker encounter power. Amusingly, the playtest version of this feat forgot that blood-drinker requires a vampire at-will power to use, which made it useless to most characters, but the final version lets you use it with any melee at-will power, thus making it actually viable. Of course, if you only have one use of blood drinker then you're still as vulnerable to things going south unexpectedly as a 1st level vampire, so you need to get more surges.

The other set of feats introduced by the article were feats that offered benefits based on your other power sources. Each feat provided a different thematic ability, and more importantly granted you a healing surge once per encounter when you hit with an encounter attack power of that particular power source. Usually, you only qualify for one power source feat since you only have one multiclass slot (as someone who multiclassed vampire or a vampire who multiclassed another class), but hybrids can access two different power sources and there are a few classes out there who qualify as two sources (usually martial and something else). The exception to this is the bard, whose Multiclass Versatility feature lets them break the rules and have as many multiclass feats (and thus power sources) as they want. There are six feats (Arcane/Divine/Martial/Monastic/Primal/Psionic Vampire), but the trick is getting enough different encounter powers to trigger all six options, especially since Monastic vampire is limited to monks and psionic power points work differently than regular encounter powers. That said, the bard has a native series of powers that count as both arcane and primal encounter attack powers (letting them double dip), and can pick up one more encounter attack power through multiclassing and one more through theme.

Themes are like paragon paths in that they're another source of options that mostly supplement your character options instead of replacing them (though some also offer alternate powers you can choose to take or leave instead of your class powers), only this time they take place during the first 10 levels (with Paragon Paths at levels 11-20 and Epic Destinies at levels 21-30). They're largely without any prerequisites (except for a few that might require you to be a particular race, class, or power source) so they can be added onto any existing character and represent things your character picked up by being a knight or explorer or noble or something. Some themes offer various encounter attack powers that have power sources and thus can be used to activate the vampire feats, so it's not a bad idea for a low-level vampire to multiclass, pick up a Vampire feat, and then use a theme to potentially generate one more surge per fight and survive until you get your second use of blood drinker at level 7. If you miss the attack you're out of luck because that encounter power is expended, but the benefits offered by the feats can still be worth it. Divine Vampire removes your Radiant Vulnerability and prevents you from taking damage in the sunlight while Martial Vampire provides a free bonus healing surge once per encounter when you're first bloodied- perfect for letting a healer patch you up without sabotaging your surge storage.

A vampire with Noble Vampire and one of the multiclass Vampire feats can thus generate up to four surges per fight, while a bard might be able to generate even more thanks to multiclassing shenanigans, but at that point you've got enough surges to power your abilities, take a few unlucky hits and still heal up to full after the fight. If you really want to make an impression, then why not figure out a way to share your snacks with the rest of the class? The easiest option is the Shared Healing feat, which lets you or an ally foot the surge bill for a healing power and thus lets others draw on your bank of free surges, but it requires an epic cleric (or someone who multiclassed cleric) and is thus a little out of reach for most of the game. For your more lower-level needs there's always the Comrade's Succor ritual, which lets you and other party participants donate one or more surges to another person participating in the ritual. This is really nice to help with pacing when a party member gets too low on surge, but it does cost a surge just to use the ritual and cuts into your bloody gains. What's an easier solution?

The Artificer is an arcane leader class introduced in the Eberron Player's Guide, a sort of magical researcher and tinkerer who uses arcane magic to power all sorts of wondrous devices. Unlike other leaders, the artificer has the ability to create healing infusions that provide healing and other effects without requiring the target to spend a healing surge; a healing infusion is replenished when an ally expends a healing surge during a short rest. Since a vampire only needs one extra healing surge, any past that can be donated to the artificer's infusion reserves as part of an aggressively mandatory blood drive. Better hope your vampire is a universal donor.

With enough surge generation abilities a vampire can take a system designed to slowly deplete over the day and turn it into a system that regenerates every battle, effectively destroying healing surges as a pacing mechanism. Of course, even with a blood drive you probably can't take care of all of the damage your party will suffer, so you'll probably end up stopping for an extended rest eventually, even if it's only to refresh your daily powers. You may be able to feed the party several surges per fight, but if you're packing it in after four to six fights then how valuable are your surge-gathering skills compared to simply investing in being a defender with a hilariously high amount of surges per day who can use the same options to share with the party and refresh those surges each time you stop for a rest? If you really want to show what you can do, you have to do something that even the character with the highest surge count in the game can't do: never take an extended rest.

There are a few classes out there which can be built without daily powers and with healing surges as their only pacing mechanism for the day, though most have one or more complications that won't play nice with vampire mechanics such as not having any use for the Charisma score that powers your regeneration, or not having any encounter powers with a level that can be swapped for blood drinker or encounter powers that hit to trigger feats such as Martial Vampire (especially those whose encounter powers are boosts that trigger on an at-will hit, which don't count for those purposes). Even if you can't build a good vampire out of a class without daily powers, you can still decide that your daily powers are a small price to pay in exchange for absolute power.

The Eager Hero's Tattoo grants you temporary hit points after each short rest equal to 5 + the number of healing surges you've spent since your last extended rest (with higher level versions eventually offering 10 + 2x and 15 + 3x surges spent). This is a nice enough item on a beefy defender, because temporary hit points function as a sort of shield that gets depleted by damage first before it can reduce your normal HP, and since it scales by your surges spent it will protect you from more damage each fight and thus allow you to stretch your surge reserves out through more fights than you normally could. While running out of surges will still stop a normal defender for the day, the amount of surges a vampire can use between extended rests can keep growing as long as you decide to keep going, and at its extreme means you can have more THP than HP and thus require enemies to damage you enough to kill you several times over before they can even scratch you.

Should that not be enough for you there's also stuff you can do with milestones, which are a fixed event that players hit every two fights. Normally not a lot of things happen at a milestone outside of everyone getting an action point (which lets you take an extra action during an encounter, which is very nice), but there are some classes that get extra uses of abilities at a milestone and there are also some items that provide bonuses after a milestone. Meliorating Armor is a magic item which improves its enhancement bonus by +1 per milestone you reach, while there are rings that offer a similar property for your other defenses (specifically the Rings of Agile Thought/Enduring Earth/Unfettered Motion, which boost Will/Fortitude/Reflex, respectively), and the Imperishable Destiny feat lets humans (and half- or revenant humans) get a +1 to saves, skills and ability checks per milestone. These properties are balanced around the idea that an average party may see perhaps four milestones between extended rests if they're particularly badass, but this blows the math out of the water and ensures that 10 milestones will make you basically untouchable by level-appropriate challenges. Of course, none of this boosts your offense, so you can't get too cocky or you'll fight foes who are just as unhittable, and none of this boosts your allies either so enemies can go chew on squishier targets... unless you're also the defender.

The vampire is a creature of extremes, and the 4e vampire moreso. A normal vampire doomed to a squishy start and slow slide into obsolescence with nothing more than a novel healing minigame to pass away the time, while an abnormal vampire is the embodiment of everything it hates and if you're an insomniac revenant paladin vampire who inspires allies with your incandescence and gives blood freely then you'll only die when the DM bludgeons you with the Monster Manual.

Stay thirsty, my friends

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