Even though it has been years, I still find myself thinking of all the interesting risks D&D 4e took during its life cycle. It had major content release problems (all the splat books, requiring the online paid tools, etc.), but that didn’t stop there from being some pretty awesome content within those books. While I certainly agree 4e had too many classes – and that 5e does a good job of expressing many of these concepts through the archetype/subclass system – there were a few classes that were unique enough in concept, theme, and execution to warrant future inclusion within 5e. Of these, my two favorites are the Warden (Primal Controller) and the Invoker (Divine Controller), with the Invoker winning top honors.
In 4e parlance, controllers shaped the flow of combat by providing or restricting the actions of others. Invokers primarily move creatures around – friendly and unfriendly alike – but use deterrence as their secondary method of control. This means they don’t explicitly prevent things from occurring, but make creatures choose between bad things occurring if they try and do the thing and just not doing the thing but nothing happening to them. I think they splashed striker as their secondary role, but I might be mistaken on that front. Strikers – as the name implies – primarily deal damage.
In 4e lore, they were the divine conduits of the gods as they faced off against the primordials (aka titans). Unlike avengers, clerics, or paladins, there were no oaths to specific gods or strictures that needed to be followed. Invokers were granted a measure of the power and voice of a pantheon or god. The will of the gods were manifest in the abilities and power of the invoker. Despite clergy and orders abound, no mortals shared a closer bond with the gods than an invoker.
This in no way takes the place of the clergy, knighthoods, or orders. Instead, the invokers fill a niche left vacant in the traditional religious infrastructure. They are not the bridge between mortality and divinity. Churches and ecumenical services are not their forte. They are not moral guideposts, meant to be living examples of the tenets of a god. Invokers are the manifestation of the will of the gods upon in the multiverse. When the gods speak, it is the voice of the invoker that rings clear.
Nor is it the words of a single god that are spoken – though an invoker might have preferences one way or the other. Instead, if one speaks with the authority of Loki, so too do they speak the words of Thor. They venerate the entirety of the Norse pantheon, and seek to be their conduit against the primordials. The struggle of the invoker is not one between men, or even between gods and men. It is the struggle between the gods and those that would unseat them.
They are the arbiters of the gods. They remain neutral in the affairs of man, dispensing justice as it is needed. So too are invokers warriors of the gods. On the back of a celestial steed made of light too-slow to escape from the vacuum of a god’s smile, an invoker gallops across the Astral Sea. She blows a horn hammered from the golden holy words that were once the names for her gods in languages long since forgotten.
None other – bar the invoker – is prepared for such a task.
Mechanics and Purpose
In a lot of ways, the invoker slots into the position once held by the Favored Soul (sometimes referred to as the Divine Soul) prior to 4e. Though 4e eschews the terminology we are familiar with from earlier editions, it is hardly a stretch to believe the invoker is a spontaneous spellcaster. The existence of a divine spark or manifest covenant within them nicely parallels the bloodlines of sorcerers or pacts of warlocks – while still being very different from those two class concepts.
The 4e invoker also fills a very interesting combat role. They are neither front-line fighters, nor ranged combatants. In combat, the invoker lives in the 10-60 foot range, with a few options for up-close-and-person or needs-binoculars-to-see-your face situations. Invokers are skilled at wearing up to medium armor and using shields, but still only masters simple ranged weapons. The rise of at-will attacks makes the “what will I do when I run out of spells?” question all but obsolete, after all.
The invoker sub-classes are divided not by pantheon, but instead how they mete out justice. The core rule books in 4e gave three examples – the covenant of preservation, the covenant of malediction, and the covenant of wrath. Preservation rewards the invoker’s allies, granting movement and defensive and offensive bonuses. Malediction punishes opponents, taking away the same things that preservation grants. Wrath is more straightforward – deal more damage to multiple targets.
Expressions of Power
If you are at all familiar with me, it’s easy to understand why I like invokers. All of their powers come straight out of anime, metal videos, and interpretations of the scripture as seen on vans in the 80’s. For example, a huge portion of your spells summon angels. You don’t control these angels as summoned creatures. The angels just…do things and then depart. Check out just a sampling of the ability text:
“You bond with an angel of vengeance, transforming yourself into a raging pillar of cold fire.”
“The metallic wings of an angel of battle sprout from your back and shower your foes with razor-sharp blades.”
“Writhing dark energy, the precursor of an apocalypse, tears at your foe.”
See what I mean? This stuff is rockin’. It’s cinematic, heavy on theme and could be accompanied by any matter of metal – though goth with violins might be most on point. It is obvious the invoker would need several class-exclusive – or at least bonus spell list-limited – spells. Not an insurmountable task, given many of the 4e abilities could be ported over easily. It is much easier than say building an arcane hybrid from scratch or gap-filling for a homebrew class by creating a plethora of OGL-compliant spells.
Channeling Divinity and Sticks
Like clerics and paladins, the invoker is able to channel divinity. Clerics are able to access turn undead – a fear effect that isn’t classified as a fear effect – as a base option, and then gain additional options from their domains. Paladins receive two options after they take their oaths, one of which is a riff on turn undead as appropriate for their oath. In the case of the Oath of Devotion paladin, their version is just flat out better. This isn’t game-breaking, though it is weird when you start looking at the class fiction/narrative of it all. Shouldn’t turn the unholy be the default state, given the cleric’s position as servant of the gods, with some domains focusing on turn the faithless as a core substitute? I digress.
The invoker having a base version that becomes upgraded seems ideal. Starting with aberrations, then picking up additional types as you continue to gain levels, the way paladins get fiends and as part of their turning model. It also does a neat job of showing the increasing strength of the holy speech the invoker possesses.
4e had implements as part of the core gameplay, and I am not sorry they are gone. It felt very video gamey, and I am against any situation that is going to devalue loot any further than its current state – 4e was awful about that. Still, I love the conceptual reasons invokers got the specific implements they did – rods and staves.
They are proficient in them because they are representations of the gods’ dominion over the world. There are plenty of references to this in the real world – the Staff of Ra, the Rod of Osiris, Caduceus, Kaladanda, the club of Dagda all spring to mind. Spells and features focused around these weapons would be on point. Smites and shillelagh are good examples to draw from, especially given the strange “semi-tank” nature of the class.
The important thing is the implication the invokers carry divine right within them. To put it another way, invokers are god-kings (or goddess-queens). Doing a bit of retconning – or retroactive continuity if you’re fancy – it is almost certain the Kingpriest of Istar would have been an invoker. Likewise, it is easy to imagine Cadderly in such a role. Carrying this excellent marriage of rules and theme over into 5e rules is definitely worth considering.
It would be easy to make invokers a variant of warlock, since covenant seems almost like a pact, right? Fair enough, but ultimately a bad decision from my perspective. Invokers should have more throughput without restraint – given their theme and previous incarnation – placing them more inline with sorcerers.
While WotC might have been shooting for something else, the core sorcerer feature “font of magic” really amounts to “blood magic.” Each sorcerer archetype can use sorcerer points for a unique feature or two, but all sorcerers possess the ability to use metamagic features – implying there is an underlying component to magical bloodlines. Something that is a by-product of the blood changing and magic manifesting.
Even though it doesn’t make sense in the real world history of the holy grail, the idea of sangreal splitting into sang real instead of san greal is an excellent one for the invoker. They are of a bloodline blessed by a god, the result of a long ago coupling of mortals and gods of the same pantheon, or have had their blood altered by magic, provenance, or artifact to become a mouth for the gods.
Instead of sorcery points, an invoker would have conviction. Conviction would be a lower point pool, but would grant die when they are expended and scale in size as you level. You gain conviction as you level, by expending spell slots, and through a mechanic appropriate for your archetype.
The capstone and an earlier ability are centered around becoming a herald for your chosen pantheon. This would have some tiering to go along with it, scaling based on your acceptance of your pantheon’s will above your own. The more you become the vessel they desire, the more you are rewarded – though with some consequence possible. In many cases, this might mean the difference between life and death. Risk and bravery are rewarded.
Pantheons are not how archetypes are separated – those will remain based on how you express the will of your gods. Instead, feats will be created that are available to all characters, but benefit invokers more. This should parallel things like Great Weapon Master, where many classes can benefit, but benefits certain ones more than others. As such, if you possess channeled divinity, this works well for you, and might work okay if you don’t.
This wraps up round one of the invoker for 5e. Feedback is welcome, and another pass should be in the near feature. I know I have a lot of half-finished work going on, but it will all get done before long. I promise!