Yesterday I started a hack and slash 4th edition D&D campaign. There are 4 player characters with varying degrees of familiarity with the system. (From knowing it well enough to rewrite it to having never played before.) I'd played before a couple years ago but am certainly a little rusty and not at all up on any of the new stuff they added after the first player's handbook. At any rate we decided to play a little fast and loose with some of the rules regarding character integrity. Basically, we can change anything we want between sessions which is nice since it meant I didn't really have to worry about what choices I made when building my character. Pick some things, see how they play out, change them if needed.
I'm the 'leader' of the group which pretty much means I'm the healer. I picked shaman as my class since pets are cool and the first choice I had to make was which type of pet I'd use. I picked the one that allowed my pet to flank (the only real campaign I'd played before I was a rogue and desperately needed to find ways to flank so I thought it might be useful). The pet you pick locks in a lot of your abilities and feats so a lot of stuff ends up changing if I decide to switch to a different pet.
Now, the other 3 characters in the party are all melee characters so it turned out there's a lot of flanking going on from other sources than my pet. On top of that, rogues apparently have better abilities to get combat advantage now than they did when I last played so they don't need my pet as much as I thought. And for my heals to work properly my pet needs to be beside an ally, not on the opposite side of a monster from them. In short, the flanking just didn't seem good enough to justify making the choice on its own which is why I made it in the first place. So, with 3 whole combats under my belt, it's time to consider switching which type of pet I use.
The first and possibly most important part of the choice is what 'boon' the pet grants. The 5 options are:
Elements: adjacent allies get +2 to saving throws, pet can be summoned as a free action if not on the field at start of turn
Protector: adjacent allies get +my con mod to second wind heals and all of my healing powers
Stalker: adjacent allies get +my int mod to damage against bloodied enemies
Watcher: some stuff that helps ranged attackers
World Speaker: allies get +my con mod to all defenses against opportunity attacks adjacent to pet
The ranged attacker one is clearly right out. Getting world speaker could help people position themselves better in order to flank amongst themselves which could be nice but can't really be quantified. Damage to bloodied units is what I have now but it didn't seem to really have much impact. It doesn't actually work on very many attacks especially since we have other bloodied effects going around. The +4 damage didn't apply to the first couple hits and was often just extra overkill on the later hits if they were even adjacent to my pet at all. Getting free actions would be nice for getting off to a good start to a fight and the +2 to saving throws will rarely come up but I can probably work out the positioning to make it happen when it does matter. Finally, getting to add 3 or 4 to all of my heals actually seems pretty strong. Right now my basic heal pretty much heals for 10+d6 and this alone would bring that up to 13+d6 to 18+d6. (My heal hits 2 targets so if they're both beside my pet they'd both get the +heal.)
So the question then is, do I need more healing? On my first try I tried to take a mix of healing and damaging abilities but ended up not doing such a good job. One of my healing abilities turned out to not be very good since I didn't have as high a con stat as I thought I did. Two others turned out to be mutually exclusive. I often found that my pet wasn't near anyone so my good heal was actually pretty bad. (This was a combination of trying to use my damage dealing abilities and forgetting that my pet doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity.) Also when I did do damage it was a fair bit less than the damage the other people were doing. So, yes, I do think I could benefit from getting some more healing. Especially extra health healed that doesn't cost more healing surges.
Picking a pet also immediately locks in 1 of my at-will abilities and the opportunity attack my pet gets to make. What are those for the 5 choices, starting with the at-will standard attacks:
Elemental: pet disappears, adjacent ally makes a basic attack with +2 to hit and +4 to damage
Protector: pet attacks wisVwill, hits for d8+wis and every ally adjacent to the pet gets +con mod temporary hitpoints
Stalker: pet attacks wisVfort, hits for d10+wis, pet can flank for a turn (+1/2int to hit if bloodied)
Watcher: ally adjacent to pet or within 3 of me gets to make a basic attack, hit makes enemy grant combat advantage
World Speaker: pet attacks wisVwill, hits for d6+wis, hit or miss an ally within 2 squares of pet can shift 2
And now we see why the elemental pet can be summoned for free. It disappears when you make your standard attack. This removes the saving throw advantage so presumably I'd either not use this attack when someone needed to make a save or I'd resummon as a minor action. I think Sky's class in particular would benefit from the free attack with +2 to hit and +4 to damage but the rogue wouldn't like it very much at all. World Speaker again lets people position themselves properly. Maybe this will end up being a big deal but I don't feel like it's all that strong. Getting to do it even on a miss is nice, though. Allowing the flank just didn't seem that relevant and Watcher had a real bad boon. This leaves Protector which actually seems really strong. If I manage to get an 18 to con then everyone beside my pet would get a 4 point shield on a hit? Seems good!
And the opportunity attacks:
Elemental: wisVref, d6+wis damage and target grants combat advantage
Protector: wisVref, wis damage, hit or miss any ally within 5 squares heals for my wisdom modifier
Stalker: wisVref, d10+wis damage
Watcher: one ally within 10 squares can make a ranged basic attack with combat advantage
World Speaker: wisVwill, target stops moving on a hit
Now, the enemies seemed to avoid giving my pet an opportunity attack as it was so I don't know that this really matters. Watcher is again pretty much worthless with this group. Protector grants a free surgeless heal if it ever goes off which really seems like the best option here. I doubt I'd ever get to use it since they likely just try to kill my pet instead of letting someone heal for a bunch but it would be nice to have.
All told it really seems like the strongest ability from all 3 pools for my group is the protector one. The downside is it changes my secondary stat from int to con which probably means I should change race and puts a hit on my ac. (Which in turn makes it easier to kill my pet...) But it seems like it is at least worth a try! I just hope there's another con/wis race beside smelly dwarf...