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Author Topic: Dragonfire Adept - My Thoughts  (Read 3608 times)

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June 08, 2009, 03:17:28 PM

Along with the warlock, PRC 3.2 also saw the debut of the breath-wielding dragonfire adept.

In order to ensure that I would see the greatest range of the dragonfire adpet's abilities, I opted to take one through Endless Nights VI. While it does offer occasional high-end rewards, most rewards are of the low-magic, low-gold variety; while it is a bit annoying at times, it does force you to rely more on your character's abilities- and gives you the chance to really explore all possibilities.

The DFA is, in general, a fun new class for NWN. Like warlocks, they have access to a small number of invocations which can be used an unlimited number of times per day. As noted in the invocations thread, this means that, like the warlock, the DFA need not rest nearly as often as his other spellcasting siblings must do (at least not to regain his powers, anyway- more on that later). While I won't repeat my findings on each DFA invocation here, I will note that the DFA's invocations are generally best used as defensive options, for covering his vulnerabilities, forcing his opponents to take damage if they hit him, providing desired resistances/invulnerabilities, dispelling the work of enemy spellcasters, etc. All of these functions serve as great compliments to his primary offensive ability, another unlimited-use power: his breath weapon.

The DFA breath weapon is one of the most fascinating offensive abilities I've ever seen, on par with the warlock's eldritch blast. First, for all of the aiming problems I've had with eldritch cone in NWN2, I never had any trouble with the DFA's breath here in NWN; just click and boom- you're breathing on the enemy. (Admittedly, I generally click on one opponent at a time for a breath, rather than try to aim a non-existent cone; that may have something to do with my greater success here.)

I also found it something of a novelty for a (more or less) arcane spellcaster to have a magic attack for which the DC is based on Constitution, rather than one of the standard spellcasting stats (Wisdom, Intelligence or Charisma). Since I consider his breath to be his primary weapon, I subsequently saw fit to devote all of my stat increases to Constitution. Because he uses a d8 for hit dice, the DFA is already far ahead of the game versus other arcane spellcasters where hit points are concerned. As such, apart from boosting the effectiveness of his breath weapon, the extra Constitution also granted him far more hit points than typical for an arcane spellcaster. (There is a danger of stat fatigue here: the DFA's invocations use his Charisma to determine their DC. My solution: The only offensive invocation I really used- instill vulnerability- doesn't use DC, so I felt justified in concentrating all my stat gains on Con.)

One thing about the DFA's breath that I had to keep in mind when using it was that the same exact breath cannot be used twice in succession. For instance, while it is possible to alternate between the fire breath cone and line, you can't simply use only the cone, or only the line. While it wasn't difficult to adapt my DFA's breath attacks so that I wasn't using the same breath attack in two consecutive rounds, I must admit that I still found myself forgetting this caution on occasion.

Here, I'll muse on my favorite- and not-so-favorite- breath effects. The ones I actually chose for my DFA are in bold and italics; effects I didn't take are in italics only:

- Fire, electric, acid, frost and thunder breath: While I didn't go in that direction, it is possible to have all five of these breaths in your collection by the time your DFA reaches the 12th level. (As it happened, I had selected all of these breaths for my DFA once I reached the 25th level.) It isn't strictly necessary to have all of these breaths at your disposal; however, I liked the idea of my DFA having access to all five of the basic energy types for his breath attacks. (In my mind, this quintet measures up quite favorably against the offensive spell ability of other arcane and divine spellcasters. Admittedly, he lacks access to certain energy types enjoyed by other classes [e. g., divine or negative energy]; on the other hand, as an unlimited use power, he never needs to abandon a certain energy type due to running out of spells.) These five breaths are particularly effective when paired with the instill vulnerability invocation (especially against single opponents; admittedly, using these breaths alone may not be the best strategy against crowds, especially of the rogue-type persuasion).

The DFA starts with the fire breath line and cone effects; it is certainly possible to go through an entire module using just these two breaths alone, especially if they are supported by instill vulnerability and perhaps aura of flame (a favorite strategy of mine). I grabbed lightning breath as my 2nd level power; as I envisioned my DFA being descended from bronze dragons, gaining lightning breath seemed to be a logical progression. (At lower levels, it also proved useful to have an energy attack not involving fire, as occasionally I would run into enemies with fire resistance.) However, looking back, I may have been better off getting frost breath here instead (as it is, I picked this up during my epic levels); as with fire, I found that certain enemies were particularly vulnerable to cold effects on their own (e. g., fire giants). While acid breath wasn't essential for completing EN6, I found myself using it often enough once I picked it up during my epic levels; since arcane spellcasters rarely entered into hand-to-hand combat with me- thus negating the usefulness of my aura of flame- I found that acid breath combined with the acidic version of instill vulnerability proved to be an effective combination against them. My biggest problem throughout EN6 was dealing with rogue-types (and gods) with access to Evasion or its improved cousin, which allowed them to escape damage from the first four breath types (all Reflex-based); as such, the DFA's thunder breath- which requires a Fortitude save, and therefore is immune to being negated by any kind of Evasion- was a true godsend for me.

- Slow breath: I took this as my 5th level breath effect. It proved to be a nice effect for me to throw in amongst my various damaging breaths. At that level- and for some time beyond- I found it to be of some use against non-Will enemies (especially crowds of Reflex-based rogue types) in- well, slowing them down. Eventually, though, I pretty much retired this effect, in favor of...

- Sleep breath: My 10th level pick. One of my favorite non-damaging breaths, this proved invaluable in handling both the Fortitude-heavy warrior types and sneaky Reflex-type rogues intent on damaging my poor DFA body. This was especially useful against single enemies (though it also serves well as a Fortitude- or Reflex-type crowd control); I could alternate between putting my enemy to sleep and hitting him with a damaging effect. (This was admittedly a little trickier with the rogue-types, at least until I picked up thunder breath at 12th level.)

- Cloud breath: Unfortunately, I was forced to pass on this effect, as I discovered it was not functioning at all when I tried to take it as my 10th level effect. I'll enjoy trying it out with my next DFA, as I understand this has been fixed in PRC 3.3.

- Paralyzation breath: I believe I took this as my 15th level effect- and found myself wishing I could have taken this well before 15th level. Between this effect and its Will-save cousin, sleep breath, crowd control issues- especially with rogue-type opponents- became a problem of the past for my DFA. As a Fortitude-save ability, it was especially effective in convincing all the spellcasters in EN6 to stand still for my various damaging breaths (after occasional softening by devour magic).

- Force breath: Magic missiles, DFA style. My 20th level effect pick, I found the magical damage caused by this breath to be useful on multiple occasions, especially against opponents resistant to one or more of the energy weapons I had at my disposal at the time.

- Discorporating breath of Bahamut: Rarely used by me- and recommended with reservations. I didn't pick this effect up until 30th level, largely because I was wary of an effect that also damaged me as I used it (damage equal to twice my level, since my DFA was good; neutral DFA's would suffer damage equal to four times their level). The one time I remember using this ability, the breath ended up doing more damage to me than to my opponent. Even with the boost to hit points my DFA receives from increasing his Constitution, I found myself disinclined to use this effect very often, for this reason. On the plus side: an unusual damage type (magical), the damage amount (double damage when using this breath), and a different save required (Fortitude rather than Reflex- handy for dealing with enemies sporting any type of Evasion ability). If you have easy access to high regeneration items, this breath might be worth considering more often.

- Sickness breath, weakening breath: Truthfully, I've never been all that impressed by the sickness effect, so I wasn't inclined to take this effect for my DFA. While I can see the possibilities of the weakening breath, I acquired this effect well into my epic levels, and rarely used it. At this point in my character's career, the enemies I was facing wouldn't even have blinked upon suffering either breath's effects. (For that reason, I've concluded that if you plan to take these effects at all, better sooner than later. In your early levels, I can see both effects being more useful in controlling a group of enemies- or at least their damage potential.)

- Enduring effect: I grabbed this effect so late in my DFA's career (35th level) that I didn't really have a chance to test it out. I can see it being useful in modules where a majority of your enemies are either especially susceptible to- or otherwise are not resistant to- fire. (I believe this might have been of some use in EN6, though there are enough fire-resistant foes out there to keep you honest.)

- Fivefold breath of Tiamat: The evil counterpart to the discorporating breath of Bahamut, my DFA's alignment rendered him ineligible for this effect. It has definite possibilities, as it breathes five different breath effects at your enemy- and each one causes normal damage. Caveats: it, too, causes damage to you when you use it (double your level, or quadruple your level if you are of a neutral alignment); you cannot breathe at all during the next combat round; opponents with Evasion or Improved Evasion can walk away unscathed (each of the fivefold attacks requires a Reflex save). Overall, keeping these things in mind, I can see using this effect at selected times- if you're not good, of course.

Again, the unlimited nature of his invocations and breath weapon is a huge advantage for the DFA, meaning he will not require as many resting periods as his spellcasting siblings. Without a decent regenerative item on hand, though, he may well need to rest often to restore lost hit points and/or remove undesirable conditions (disease, poison, etc.). Despite his impressive hit point totals gained toward the end of his career, my DFA in his early career found himself in need of his fair share of resting periods, largely due to his miserable martial prowess. His access to only simple weapons doesn't really hurt him that much; indeed, this is a significant boon putting him on par with the warlock and sorcerer (and ahead of the wizard)- though in any case his best weapon under normal circumstances is his breath weapon. However, his inability to use even light armor (or shields) resulted in a fairly low AC throughout his career. As such, even in fights where he appeared to be in control, he ended up taking a fair amount of damage. This problem was even more pronounced going against multiple opponents in my early levels; even a large group of so-so power could bring me down to "near death" hit points (or worse- I had to do my fair share of reloading), due to that miserably low AC. (Fortunately, once he reached the main city in EN6, I found my DFA was eligible for receiving a magic item which granted me useful abilities throughout the rest of his career; I believe that a regeneration effect was available as my DFA's first pick. Once I had that in place, I didn't need to worry as much about resting after a fight- just winning it.)

As with the warlock, the DFA has a slightly different array of class skills at his disposal. As usual, I kept Lore, Concentration and Spellcraft at maximum levels. Because social skill use is nonexistent in EN6, I didn't invest heavily in them- though in a different module, I'd greatly enjoy trying out the DFA's access to all three social skills (including Persuade, my personal favorite). Again, like my warlock, my DFA invested heavily in Use Magic Device (allowing him a much larger range of items at his disposal- rather useful, as EN6 is pretty stingy in the rewards department). A greater novelty for me: the DFA also has Appraise as a class skill; while I didn't max it out like I did with other skills, I did put several points here (more useful here than in most mods- EN6 is a relatively cash-poor mod).

Of the DFA's class abilities, the one I probably appreciate the most is his adept scales; with zero access to armor, he needs any boost to AC he can get. I was also intrigued by his damage reduction feature- and unlike what he would likely experience in most modules, I found that his DR was actually useful in EN6, throughout his career. (At level 38, I'm walking around Nova City with the equivalent of a stoneskin spell, only my effect never wears off- what's not to like?) While I can't remember any of the enemies being particularly disposed to pelting me with paralyzing magic, I appreciated the fact that upon hitting level 19, I was no longer affected by such magic in any case.) Finally, while the dragontouched feat granted at 1st was easily the least flashiest of his class abilities, I still appreciated the skill boost- and access to draconic feats- it provided. (As nearly as I could tell, though, I did not receive the 3 HP bonus given in the feat description.)

Ah, yes- that brings us very nicely to the subject of feats. Where my warlock found few regular feats to be of interest to him- while enjoying an extraordinarily large number of epic feats fighting for his attention- with the DFA, it's the other way around. I mentioned in my warlock thread that I often find feat selection in the initial levels to be something of a headache, due to all of the various feats and descriptions to wade through. For my DFA- immediately besieged by a fair number of feats with the words "breath", "dragon" or "draconic" in their title- the headache doubled. Even so, I did eventually find it worthwhile to endure swimming through all the feat descriptions out there, as I ended up running into a fair number of feats useful for my DFA. (Caveat: Conversely, I learned that since his breath weapon does not have a recharge time- at least in the traditional sense- the DFA is not thereby eligible for the various "metabreath" feats; the DFA is forced to relevel if he tries to take such a feat.) By the same token, I found that few epic feats appeared to be keyed to the DFA; the only one that might have been of interest to me was epic extra invocation- which was not that useful to me, as I already had both of the available DFA dark invocations before reaching my epic levels.

As frequently happens with my arcane characters, I chose toughness as one of his 1st level feats. Apart from this one feat, I found myself exploring feats that were completely new to me:

- Dragon heritage: Each of the possible dragon heritage feats grants him a small bonus to one skill, as well as granting him access to other draconic feats. I chose the bronze version, which granted a +2 to Search checks. While the skill bonus itself didn't seem to help my DFA that much (I lost count of how many traps I just blundered into), the feat nonetheless fit into the concept I had in mind for my DFA- as well as unlocking the draconic feats.
- Draconic claw, knowledge, resistance and senses: Working out which draconic feats are actually useful to a DFA required a bit of research; ultimately, I realized that many such feats require a discharge of sorcery (arcane spells- and invocations don't count for this purpose) in order to be effective. As such, my visions of loading my DFA with draconic feats were cut down- or, really, in half, as there remained quite a few draconic feats that would be useful to him. Because he rarely engaged in hand-to-hand combat- and was better off using a magic weapon when he did- I regret choosing draconic claws for my DFA, even though they appeared to work fine. (Looking back, I would probably swap this out for draconic skin- a "no frills" feat, to be sure, but fairly effective.) I found the other feats listed here to be quite useful, though, each in its own way. Draconic knowledge- the feat- supplemented the Lore boost I received from my invocation of the same name, and draconic resistance provided me with lightning resistance, which proved handy when used in concert with my energy resistance and energy immunity invocations- while at its maximum level, draconic senses allowed me to target my enemies in my field of darkness unhindered while still being concealed myself. I'm especially fascinated by the way they "feed" off of each other, i. e., the power of each is dependent on the number of draconic feats you have (and both dragon heritage and, yes, even draconic claws count for this purpose...)
- Extra invocation: Again, eight invocations for a DFA just aren't enough for me, so I found myself taking this a few times- though not as many times as my warlock did, since DFA's have far fewer invocations to choose from.
- Exhale barrier, entangling exhalation: While I didn't really use either of these breath channeling feats extensively (having gained them rather late in my DFA's career), I did appreciate the versatility they brought to the DFA portfolio. The wall created by exhale barrier seems fragile compared to the warlock's wall of perilous flame (and seems to always do fire damage regardless of the energy type used- this bears further research)- but I think such a maneuver could prove useful in the right environment. On reflection, I honestly don't remember using the entangling exhalation at all in my EN6 travels- but I can envision it as a form of crowd control, perhaps before you gain access to sleep or paralyzation breath.
- Draconic aura (cold resistance): Normally the domain of the dragon shaman, I discovered that my DFA also had access to many of these auras. While I did miss the possibility of taking the damage shield aura (I didn't see this as an option while trying to select an aura feat), I was quite happy to take the cold resistance version instead. With this feat in place, combined with my draconic lightning resistance and energy resisting/immunity invocations, I found myself able to soundly resist or ignore four of the five main energy elements (and able to adjust the elements covered with only a couple of quick castings).
- Epic damage reduction: I must admit that I found a certain novelty in an arcane-type qualifying for this feat. I couldn't help but try taking this once, at my final level-up in EN6 (and would have taken it again at my next level had I reached it). I considered it a nice "insurance" feat that appears to work nicely in tandem with DFA's class-based DR. Of course, coming at my final level-up, I didn't really get to see how useful it actually was for my DFA; I can definitely see trying to take this earlier for my next DFA....

The bottom line? Taking a dragonfire adept through EN6 was a total blast. I would definitely consider taking a new DFA through a different module, or series of modules. (In particular, I'd be curious to see how well one would do in the MTS series...) You can definitely add the dragonfire adept to my roster of favorite base and prestige classes (which now includes the warlock, wizard, PnP and Bioware shifters, and psion. Geez- my roster seems to be pretty crowded now, doesn't it?).

With that, I am now finally ready to fade away into the Astral Plane, sitting on the sidelines, with nary a thought for the Prime Material Plane. [At least until I try out a Tome of Battle class or two. Or perhaps a Truenamer... Maybe a Troll Archmage? Oh, dear...]
That is not dead which can eternal lie.
 And with strange aeons even death may die.