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Author Topic: Invocations: My Thoughts  (Read 3270 times)

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June 08, 2009, 02:57:51 PM

I finally had the chance to take a look at the two invocation classes introduced in PRC 3.2: the warlock and the dragonfire adept.

I took a DFA through Endless Nights VI, starting at level 1 and finishing at level 38. (This is my second try with EN6, and I have yet to make it to level 40; I must still be missing an area or two...) For my warlock, I departed from the norm and dusted off Q's Mines of Twin Summit series (the first of the three modules can be found here). Actually intended as a multiplayer mod for two to four players, MTS can also be played in single mode. My warlock started the series at level 17; I actually have yet to complete my run through the series, but I reached level 40 roughly midway through the final module, MTS3: The Final Sunset.

While I did run into an issue or two (more on that later), the invocation system overall is wonderfully straightforward. The 36 quickslots offered in NWN are more than enough to accomodate the invocations and eldritch blast effects of the warlock, or the invocations and breath attacks of the dragonfire adept. After level-up, you need only add your new invocation to a quickslot in the usual way, and boom- you're good to go.

The DFA's breath weapon attacks are likewise similarly easy to set up, and generally work well. One notable exception is the cloud breath shape- though I understand that this has been fixed for PRC 3.3. While I will admit that losing access to cloud breath cramped my style a bit in EN6, I managed to do well enough with the other breaths at my disposal.

The warlock's essence and shape invocations (for modifying his eldritch blast), while similarly easy to set up on the quickslot bar, take some getting used to. I'm used to the way the warlock's abilities are handled in NWN2- where a shape slot and an essence slot can be merged together, thereby creating a new combo slot. This allows me to use different essence types each round in NWN2 (which is useful, as the unique secondary aspect of certain essence invocations [e. g., vitriolic acid damage] appears to be reset each round in NWN2, rather than being cumulative). By contrast, the PRC essence slots "mark" how the base eldritch blast (and, later, subsequently acquired shapes) should affect its target(s). I was concerned that this system would not allow me to change my essence type as quickly as I can in NWN2- but my fears were proven largely unfounded. The essence changing slots work fairly quickly (they appear to be an instant action as opposed to a round action), so changing my essence midattack isn't a problem. Moreover, I've found that I don't necessarily need to change my essence during a fight in order to damage my targets effectively- or survive a fight. (Let's face it- if I know my target takes double damage from acid, I'm unlikely to stop using anything but vitriolic blast on him...)

Strangely, while I have always had trouble aiming the eldritch cone in NWN2 (and it highlights your potential path for you), I didn't have any trouble managing either the eldritch line (warlock) or various dragon cloud and line breaths (DFA) here in NWN. Even better, eldritch doom appears around you (rather than NWN2's ranged circle attack), as indicated in PnP. Granted, staying alive while targeting enemies with doom (and eventually with the DFA's cloud breath) is a dicey proposition, but my warlock managed to stay alive to conduct such attacks without much trouble (well, mostly).

With respect to leveling up, the "conversation" system used to provide warlocks and DFAs with their invocations works like a dream. Unlike NWN2's spell-slot system (which requires you to take exactly three least, lesser, greater and dark invocations each during your first twenty levels), the conversation system allows for far more flexibility in choosing your powers, just like PnP. (If you want to, you can take all least invocations.) One feature of both the warlock and DFA classes I miss here, though, is the ability to replace an unneeded invocation with one of equal or lesser power (at each level in which a new invocation is granted); for instance, once my DFA had learned devour magic, I would have liked being able to replace voracious dispelling with a new invocation. While I can live without this feature (I gather this would be a pain to code?), it does mean that invocation selection requires more thought than normal: once you've chosen an invocation, you need to plan to live with it.

On the other hand, I greatly enjoy the major advantage of the invocation system: unlimited casting, which translates to fewer resting periods required. Both the warlock and DFA only need rest either to restore their few daily usage powers (e. g., warlock fiendish resilience) or to regain health. (Nab a decent regeneration item, and you don't even need to worry about that!) This proved especially handy in the MTS series, which uses a bedroll and rations system for resting.

The warlock and dragonfire adept are sufficiently different (in their approach to invocations, feats, weapons, etc.) that each really deserves its own topic; I plan to add my thoughts on each class in the Classes forum in the next few days. Here, I'll try to recall my thoughts on my favorite invocations, other powers I found to be useful, and those which were either not as interesting to me or otherwise problematic. (As is the case with any opinion, your mileage- or kilometerage [yes, that's a word now], for metric system folk- may vary.)

Let's start with my favorite warlock invocations:

- Honestly, I was pretty happy with each of the eldritch blast shape invocations my character chose: eldritch spear (combat at a distance), eldritch chain (sharing the "wealth" in an orderly fashion), eldritch line (again, the cone from NWN2 still stumps me a bit- but I could handle the line here just fine) and eldritch doom (raining death around me- as it should be). While I might enjoy seeing a more visual manifestation of the line and doom powers, I'm more than satisfied seeing the string of numbers hovering over the heads of my enemies, showing my blast has found its mark.

- Likewise, I greatly enjoy taking and using eldritch essence invocations. I'm especially partial to the various energy-based essences: brimstone blast (fire), hellrime blast (cold), vitriolic blast (acid) and utterdark blast (negative energy).
Many of the enemies in MTS were particularly vulnerable to one of these alternative energy types- or, for the more powerful enemies, were less invulnerable to one. I especially favor vitriolic blast, since it allows for additional damage in subsequent rounds AND ignores spell resistance. Brimstone blast, with its potential for subsequent damage, likewise appeals to me. I'm not quite as enthralled with the hellrime blast secondary effect (Dex penalty), though I dare say even it can be exploited effectively (perhaps by a sudden switch to weapon strikes). Of the four energy essences I tried, I was probably least enthused by utterdark blast. Because of the secondary effect (two negative levels), I have determined that this is a power best taken early in a warlock's career, if at all. (I grabbed it very late in my career- level 38; at that stage, many enemies in my power range won't be affected as badly by the two-level drop; as many such enemies will have high Fortitude saves, they won't be affected very often by this effect, either.) Nevertheless, utterdark is useful as an alternative energy type.

Of the three non-energy essences I chose (sickening blast, beshadowing blast and binding blast), my favorite by far was binding blast (the warlock's answer to Power Word Stun). When a different energy type wasn't indicated, I found it greatly satisfying to pelt my enemies with binding blast, watching them stand still... and still... until they dropped. (Unless their will save was too good, that is...) Neither sickening blast nor beshadowing blast's effects were exactly exciting to me, though I found that each is still preferable (usually) to the vanilla eldritch blast. (I'll concede that beshadowing blast's blinding ability in particular could really help cut back on attacks from swarms of enemies. I actually chose it for another reason- more on that in my warlock thread...)

Of the non-eldritch blast affecting invocations, my favorites include:
- Darkness and breath of the night. Sometimes, simple is better. Even starting at level 17, my warlock was saved more than once by the application of one of these invocations (or both, simultaneously- yes, I'm crazy) during my run through MTS. (For pure cheesiness, I found that I could apply the breath in a safe location, then march onward; thus, while my enemies would be confounded by the breath's concealment on me, I would have no such problem.) Eventually, these invocations gave way to...
- Retributive invisibility. Take the invisibility and concealment granted by greater invisibility, add a dash of sonic power and stunning (upon a successful dispel), and what do you get? One of my favorite invocations, period. You may need to try to "help" enemy spellcasters by dispelling this yourself, though; for some reason, the enemy spellcasters in MTS either didn't think to try dispelling this off of me- or weren't very good at doing so.
- Chilling tentacles: With all of the various essence and shape invocations, plus regular powers, at my disposal, it was easy to forget that I had this one available to me. Eventually, I found myself using it fairly frequently, as it was my only source of cold damage for some time (I believe I was in epic levels when I finally picked up hellrime blast).
- Wall of perilous flame: Although I sometimes had trouble placing my wall effectively, this ended up saving me more than once when I was overwhelmed by the sheer power- or number- of enemies I was facing. While it is, of course, more effective on enemies affected by fire, it's easy to forget that half of the wall's damage is magical in nature (and therefore useful even against fireproof foes). One of my favorite invocations overall, and perhaps my best offensive power.
- Path of shadow: The ultimate teleport spell, with a heal effect thrown in. What's not to like? (More cheesiness: Set a teleporter point at the front door of your current dungeon/space, then use path as needed to heal quickly if you get in a jam...)

Also, there was one invocation I didn't get a chance to take during my MTS run, but hope to try out when I install PRC 3.3: word of changing. ("Yes, evil Sun God, I did just tell you to cluck like a chicken...")

Now for the warlock invocations I found of use- albeit with reservations:
- Beguiling influence: After spending most of my NWN career playing wizards (who have no particular social skill), I must admit to having enjoyed the novelty of claiming competence in all three social skills during my run as a warlock in NWN2. I like the idea in NWN as well, and the invocation itself works perfectly. My caveat: the social skills are rarely used in NWN, at least in any modules I've encountered. (Neither EN4 nor EN6 feature their use at all; the MTS series only has a couple of instances where social skills are useful, though not essential.) In the right module, this would be a solid pick; otherwise, you're better off looking elsewhere.
- Hideous blow: I tried taking this rather late in my career (level 38). I had imagined that my improved BAB would help me to connect with this more often; instead, I found that I was receiving "too many instructions" (TMI) errors when I tried to use it- and that it had no effect whatsoever. However, when I tried using hideous blow with an 18th level version of my character, it worked perfectly. My concerns with hideous blow during this run may well be unfounded, though, as I have yet to try it out in PRC 3.3a...
- Dark discorporation: Don't get me wrong- I don't think I could have even finished MTS without this invocation. Its immunity to weapon damage and critical hits saved my bacon more times than I can count. However, the discorporation appears to be a bit more powerful than expected in its current form- and I'm not entirely clear on what I should be able to do. In addition to the 4d6 swarm attack indicated in the manual description (I just determined that such an attack was in fact happening; it was also being resisted, but that's neither here nor there), I have found that I have full use of my eldritch blast powers, including all shapes (is this normal?). Moreover, I receive an eldritch glaive when I transform; rather than delivering my eldritch blast, though, it does only 3 + Str bonus in damage when it hits (which I assume... I shouldn't be doing?).

Finally, the warlock invocations that weren't as appealing to me:
- Flee the scene: Arguably the greatest change Obsidian made for NWN2 was changing flee the scene from a personal dimension door (with illusory component) to a mass haste spell (and a borked one at that- the caster himself only received the equivalent of expeditious retreat). As such, I was looking forward to the PRC implementation of the invocation. Unfortunately, the "selection" version of flee the scene is hampered by a rather short range (an engine limitation of some sort, I gather?), limiting its usefulness to me. As for the "distance and direction" version, this may be the least intuitive invocation offered in the PRC, at least for me. Admittedly, I'm not used to a spell that both cannot be cast from a quick slot (it requires an enemy to target when you try) AND requires use of the NWN talking interface to provide the distance- in meters. (That takes a bit of thought to figure out- the range is given in NWN in feet- and a calculator, since I'm of the English measurement system. For the record, a meter is about 3.28 feet.) [Incidentally, when I do use the distance/direction version- yes, I do use it, though not as often as some of the other powers- my duplicate appears next to me, instead of the spot I just left. Is this normal?]
- Stony grasp: While I had another reason to take this invocation (more on that in the warlock thread), I must admit that I didn't use this very often. While it does seem to be a bit sturdier than its cousin, earthen grasp, it never seemed to serve as more than a temporary distraction on my behalf. While that is sometimes enough, I found that it didn't generally last long enough to justify casting it very often.
- Enervating shadow: Again, this is one of those powers whose end result just didn't justify its casting very often. While it might be useful against a band of rogues, it didn't even slow down many of my foes in MTS- and it doesn't really last long enough in any case (and doesn't affect a given foe once subjected to it for 24 hours- hopefully, he'll no longer be a problem by then, but still...).

Now I'll look at my thoughts on the dragonfire adept's invocations. Since they aren't strictly invocations, I'll leave details on his breath attacks for his section in the Classes forum. With that said, since his breath attacks form the core of his best offensive ability, I generally found myself leaning away from offensive invocations for my DFA (e. g., the two roars, scalding gust). While sound in theory, this did reduce the potential list of invocations I had at my disposal- and the DFA's list is (due to engine limitations) rather small as it is. Even so, I managed to find at least two invocations per grade that were of interest to me.

Let's start with my DFA's least invocation picks:
- Again, breath of the night and darkness were my early picks for this grade; separately or together, they proved to be just as effective in keeping my DFA alive as they were for my warlock. Unlike the warlock, though, the DFA doesn't have a greater invisibility invocation waiting for him in later grades; as such, my DFA continued to use this combo throughout his career to great effect.
- Given the choice between magic insight (the equivalent of an identify spell) and draconic knowledge. I opted for the latter. Its Lore boost proved to be sufficient for identifying the various magic items I found in EN6 (which, to be honest, were fairly rare in any case), while the Spellcasting boost allowed me to identify more enemy spellcaster's spells than I otherwise might have. Best of all: its duration (24 hours).
- See the unseen: Normally, in the course of a high-level module, you would expect to be tripping over magic items with the true sight effect. However, EN6 proved to be especially stingy in that regard, so I ended up picking this invocation up rather later in my DFA's career. I found myself wishing I had taken this sooner, as the ability to pick out invisible spellcaster's locations immediately- without blind breathing- proved invaluable.

Lesser grade picks for my DFA were tricky; there were only three powers at this grade that even interested me at first (and one of them turned out to be non-functional):
- Energy resistance: Probably the best pick for this grade. Having access to damage resistance for five different energy types meant that I would rarely take damage from any of them. (Of course, the story gets better- but more on that later...)
- Voracious dispelling: Recommended, with reservations. If you find yourself really in need of a dispel (and I'll admit, I like the novelty of a dispel that actually damages your target, albeit for little damage), it's probably worth grabbing as soon you can. However, I found that once I had acquired devour magic, I never used this one again. So, again: if you need it, and can't wait for devour magic, this will do fine.
- Humanoid shape: Looking back, I must admit that I'm not sure what good this invocation would have done me. I can see it making for an effective disguise, though I suspect few modules would ever take that into consideration. I imagine some potential humanoids would have superior physical stats for the DFA to rely on (a la the shifter). In any case, though, like someone else before me, I couldn't get this to work at all for me- though I understand this has been fixed in PRC 3.3.
- Charm: I didn't actually take this invocation; EN6's quest system generally requires all enemies for a given quest to be killed off, so I saw little point in taking it here. In a different module, though, this would definitely be worth considering.

Pickings became even slimmer at the greater grade level. By dismissing the terrifying roar effect (which, now that I'm taking a closer look at it, does have definite crowd control potential), I found myself left with four invocation choices. Of those four, two were absolute must-haves, one was a solid pick, and the last one... has intriguing potential:
- Aura of flame: The only damage shield invocation that I'm aware of- and what an invocation it is! One of my favorite invocations period, and my favorite DFA defensive power. While it is true that many enemies may be fire resistant, most will not. (And, of course, there are ways to make an enemy vulnerable to fire- more on that later...)
- Devour magic: If you can wait until you start gaining greater invocations for a dispel power, this is the one to get. The dispelling itself is more effective (d20 plus level [maximum of 20, as opposed to ten for voracious dispelling])- and the bonus HP you receive for a successful dispel don't hurt, either.
- Draconic toughness: Admittedly, since a DFA will normally be boosting his Constitution throughout his career, he should have HP coming out of his ears by the end of his career, making the temporary gain from this invocation seem modest by comparison. Even so, this is a basic, "no-nonsense" power- and certainly a solid choice for meeting a DFA's defensive needs.
- Chilling fog: My DFA grabbed this power fairly early in his career, but only ended up using it a few times. I ran into some of the same issues reported in this thread (i. e., unable to use again for full duration of power, even if dispelled via power or rest). I'll look forward to trying this out again now that this has been fixed in PRC 3.3.

Finally, I had a chance to check out the dark DFA invocations- all two of them. But what invocations they are:
- Energy immunity: Arguably the best defensive invocation possessed by the DFA. Again, as with energy resistance, you have five potential immunities at your disposal. I used the fire version almost exclusively in EN6, as the spellcasters there had this unfortunate habit of bombarding me with delayed blast and regular fireballs, incendiary clouds and meteor swarms; with the fire immunity in effect, my DFA walked through all of these without suffering a scratch. (Indeed, between this invocation, energy resistance and the resistances I was able to gain through draconic feats and auras [more on that in my DFA thread], I found myself rarely taking elemental energy damage in EN6.)
- Instill vulnerability: Arguably the best offensive invocation available to the DFA, when used in concert with his breath weapon. If my enemy didn't have an elemental vulnerability, I gave him one with this power (typically fire, so that the enemy can damage himself even more on my aura of flame- though on occasion the sonic and acid versions were also useful). If he did already have one, I would give him a second one, then really go to town on him with alternating breath weapons. (Admittedly, this strategy can break down when facing a horde of enemies; however, in EN6 I found that most such hordes had at most one "boss" enemy, and I was able to zap him with my vulnerability to wear him down, while dealing with other horde members simultaneously without it.)

In short: invocations make for an impressive addition to the PRC library. Warlocks and dragonfire adepts everywhere: welcome to the fold.

[Please note that most of this posting was written before the final release of PRC 3.3a; as such, I suspect that many of my concerns may have been addressed in that release. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go- my warlock needs to save a world from its evil Sun God...]
That is not dead which can eternal lie.
 And with strange aeons even death may die.