Is Magic Missile a change too far?
I’ve been thinking long and hard about the change to Magic Missile, and whether it has a place at our gametable. On the surface it’s a pretty incongruous little spell doing the least amount of damage of any damaging At-Will Power in the game. It also happens to be the most game-breaking Power there is. Here’s why.
The largest change to Magic Missile is that now doesn’t require a to-hit roll; it’s a Ranged Power that automatically hits and does a fixed amount of damage. Let that sink in. Magic Missile ignores Cover. It ignores Superior Cover. It ignores Concealment and Total Concealment. It ignores Invisibility. Your Wizard can use it when Prone (hell yeah!), Restrained, Blinded, Marked or Running, all without penalty. Those actions and conditions penalize the Attack Roll – which Magic Missile doesn’t have any more!
Do I have your attention yet?
While it just does just 2+INT damage at Heroic Tier, even that’s not to be sniffed at. Your INT 20 Eladrin Wizard will be doing 7 damage every round, guaranteed. That’s more than enough to kill a Minion (more on those in a mo’), but really comes into its own when you add in Feats which boost effect, especially the White Lotus Feats. Add Battle Caster’s Defence from PHB3 and Magic Missile is usable when the Bad Guys manage to get up close and personal too.
Then there’s Wizard’s Fury. This is a Daily Spell which lets your Wizard fire off a Magic Missile as a Minor Action for the rest of the Encounter. Your INT 20 Wizard could cast a wide area Encounter Spell (Standard Action) then drop Prone (Minor Action) and cast Wizard’s Fury (Minor Action replacing his Move Action). From there he can fire 2 Magic Missiles a round (one Minor, one Standard) for 14 guaranteed damage or mix it up with other spells as required and still have his Move Action to Shift as needed. Add the White Lotus Hindrance Feat and any enemy you hit with the Magic Missile treats the squares around you as Difficult Terrain too.
Forget Laser Clerics. That’s a frickin’ machine gun emplacement!
In short, if you’re playing a Wizard and don’t take Magic Missile, you are an idiot. The Mage for D&D Essentials write-up says as much by including it as an automatically given Power for that build. Heck, Magic Missile is good enough that it should be the immediate go to Power for multi-classed Wizards and the Half-Elf’s Dilettante feature. Even as a per-Encounter Power, it’s well worth taking.
On to Minions.
To date, the highest level Minion in the game is the Crawling Blood Swarm from the Underdark supplement. This is a whopping Level 34 critter worth a total of 9,750 experience points. That’s enough to take a lone 1st level Wizard up to just shy of 7th level in a single jump – and with Magic Missile, he can kill it with a single shot. Given that this beastie has an Armour Class of 48 (and similar other defences) nothing outside Epic Tier can touch him but a single Magic Missile will fell him every time. Of course, this is an entirely fake situation because a) monsters in Fourth Edition tend to travel in packs, b) your lowly 1st level Wizard would be dead long before he got close to a Crawling Blood Swarm’s stomping ground, and c) players tend to hit GMs who put them against unreasonably high-level foes. It still leaves a sour taste in my mouth though.
Now you could argue that this is a problem with the Minion rules as a whole, and to an extent I agree. While the Minion rules in Mutants & Masterminds work spectacularly well as they’re designed to provide hordes of cannon fodder (mooks, lackeys, ninjas and the like) for the Superhero to smash through en route to the Evil Supervillain. Even so, Minions in M&M do get a Toughness save if they’re hit meaning there’s no guarantee they will fall on the first punch. Over in 4e D&D though, any Minion drops (dead, unconscious or otherwise out of the fight) on a hit regardless of level or ability, every time. Also, in M&M you don’t see many Super-powered Minions. While it’s cool to toss Cyborg or Robot Minions at the heroes, even they tend to be much lower down the power scale than their Evil Overlord. Supermen just don’t fight Supermen who have glass jaws (apart from in DC Comic’s Hundred Minute War story arc where is seemed everyone had a glass jaw. Let’s ignore that one, ok?).
In D&D-land though, your typical high-level Big Boss is likely to surround himself with Minions who are within a handful of levels of himself. Even at high Tier that’s cool as it means your Awesome Heroes ™ can smash around Giants and Other Massive Things like ninepins. I like that, a lot. But not enough to justify that a single frickin’ Magic Missile from some dirtfarming 1st level Wizard can take out those selfsame Massive Things with one shot. Oh no.
I’m planning to implement a House Rule in my 4e game where Minions get Hit Points equal to their level rather than just a meagre lonely 1. This shouldn’t slow combat down too much but means there’s a (slim but steadily increasing with level) chance that one hit won’t take down a Minion every time. That first level Wizard will be eaten by the Crawling Blood Swarm right after he’s let off his first Magic Missile. Just as nature intended.
Anyhow. Back on plot.
Picture the scene. A mighty Elder Red Dragon swoops over the city, confident in its power and prowess. 250 voices all shouting “MAGIC MISSILE!” reach him, closely followed by arcane bolts of force. They each do an average of 5 damage (assuming INT 16 low-level Wizards) and the beast falls to the ground, quite dead. The people look up bored, and carry on their business.
With 250 Wizards, a city could defend themselves against pretty much anything. In a city with, say, 20,000 people that’s just 1.25% of the population. Why the feck would they need adventurers?
So, am I going to nerf Magic Missile and reject the errata?
I haven’t decided yet. What do you think of it?