So your GM has turned up the heat. Now it’s your turn. Here’s a handful of hints and tips that should prevent your hero becoming a weeping heap o’crud on the floor no matter what the GM throws at you. Old hands will no doubt be chuckling at the obviousness of some of these scribblings, but hopefully you too will pick up something along the way. Read on!
An old motivational speaker I once worked with used to say “there is no F in team” and he’s right – all too often in D&D there’s no effin’ team at all. Each player sees their character front and centre, with those “other guys” as little more than shadowy figures at the edge of their vision. Get to know your team, and know them well.
It may help to keep a mini-statblock for the rest of the party on your character sheet. This will remind you of their relative strengths both in and out of combat. If the players need incentive to do this, the GM could award Minor Quest XP to the character who puts it together for the group. It doesn’t need to be complex – something like this, perhaps:
Abbas, Human Warlord-1, Battleaxe, Trained: Athletics, Diplomacy, Endurance, Heal, Intimidate
Bjorda, Eladrin Bard-1, Quarterstaff, Trained: Arcana, Dungeoneering, History, Perception, Streetwise
Connor, Half-Elf Rogue/Wizard-1, Daggers & Hand Crossbow, Trained: Arcana, Acrobatics, Athletics, Bluff, Perception, Stealth, Thievery
Ducartes, Gnome Fey Pact Warlock-1, Club, Trained: History, Insight, Intimidate, Religion
This is of immediate use when it comes to Skill Challenges as players can suggest uses for each others’ Trained skills, making sure that the team uses the right person for the job every time. “Ducartes, can you tell if he’s lying?” is a much better thing for Connor’s player to say than “I roll Insight to see if he’s telling the truth.” as Ducartes is trained in Insight, and Connor isn’t – and you’ve got that information right on your crib sheet.
It goes beyond the simple mechanics of the game, of course. Abbas is now “that Warlord with a Battleaxe who is good at Diplomacy” instead of just being “Steve’s Character”. Add more information as you needs (“… allergic to Goblins. They make him sneeze.”) to personalize the characters further.
I know I keep on banging the Aid Another drum but it really is one of the most important yet neglected rules in the game. Make a DC10 check, and someone else gets a +2 on their next roll. It’s as mechanically simple as it is elegant, and is a terrific way to help the next guy ensure his big-hitting Daily Attack Power doesn’t miss.
That’s another common complaint (and myth) about 4e D&D – the game isn’t fun because missing with a Daily Power sucks. Yes it does, but if it misses that’s because you’re doing it wrong (unless you roll really, really badly). These are your big showpiece attacks, so do all you can to make sure they don’t miss! Ask another player to use Aid Another on their turn to set you up for the attack – or better yet, move into position to Flank then roll Aid Another. In role-playing terms the other guy is distracting and harrying the poor victim so you’re set up to sucker punch him. This gives you a total +4 on your attack roll. If you miss with those odds, it’s time to microwave your dice.
Aid Another is also great to use in Skill Challenges too. In the crib sheet above both Connor and Bjorda are trained in Arcana. If one makes a check to Aid Another (“I’m helping Connor in the Tower Library.”) it’s more likely their check will crest over the next DC value to reveal deeper information. It’s better for one person to beat DC25 than two guys beat DC20 and get the same information twice. Teamwork at work.
Prone, Dazed, Immobilized and more
It’s a fact that 8 out of 10 adventurers hate the Dazed condition in 4e D&D. Yet 9 out of 10 adventurers don’t use it against their foes effectively, if at all. Whenever a monster Dazes you it’s effectively saying “I am better at fighting than you. You suck.” and you know what – he’s not wrong.
Every class has Powers which will put a foe at a disadvantage. The trick is to know when to use them, and press that advantage as soon as you have it. Don’t leave a Dazed or Prone monster just laying there – hit him, hard! Yes folks, it’s ok to kick a monster when he’s down. You heard it here first.
Know what the conditions mean, and you’re halfway there. Here’s a quick summary. A * means it grants Combat Advantage, giving a +2 to anyone who attacks you and setting them up for a Roguely Sneak Attack smackdown:
Blinded*: Can’t see, -10 to Perception, can’t Flank
Dazed*: Can only take one action, can’t Flank
Deafened: Can’t hear, -10 to Perception
Dominated*: Dazed & controlled by another. At-will attacks only
Dying*: Make a death save each round
Helpless*: Can be coup de grace’d
Immobilized: Can’t move (suggested House Rule: and can’t teleport either)
Marked: -2 to attack anyone other than the marker
Petrified: Resist 20, cannot take actions
Prone*: CA against melee attacks only, can’t move, +2 defenses vs Range, -2 to attack
Restrained*: Can’t move, can’t be forced to move, -2 to attack
Slowed: Speed 2
Stunned*: Can’t take actions, can’t Flank
Surprised*: Can’t take actions, can’t flank
Unconscious*: Helpless, -5 to all defenses, can’t take actions, can’t Flank, fall prone
Weakened: Attacks deal half damage
There’s quite a few, but the ones you really need to know are Dazed, Marked, Prone, Surprised and Weakened. As a team, if you can aim to get at least one of those against a foe each round the battle will be won before it’s even begun.
Getting that all important Surprise Round is a great way to start a battle. That’s partly in the hands of the GM – we GMs do like a good ambush!. If you make sure that the PC with the highest Perception score is up front (and the one with second highest at the back) and they’re actively watching and scouting ahead for monsters, there’s a good chance that you’ll hear them before they hear you. Having an Elf in the party helps by giving the entire group a +1 on their Perception checks. I think he hands round contact lenses or something. I dunno.
While on the subject of things Elvish – a Drow Rogue makes a great forward scout with his +2 DEX and Stealth bonus, not to mention Darkvision. Take Occuption:Criminal to get a further +2 to Stealth and take Distant Advantage as your Feat. Flanking Sneak Attack with a Crossbow from 50′ away? Yes please! A DEX 20 Drow Rogue built like with would have +14 Stealth, more than enough to approach most monsters undetected even at full speed. This is a Rogue who could come into firing range of a bunch of Orcs, Sneak Attack one of them with his crossbow using Surprise Round Combat Advantage then lure them back into an ambush set by the rest of the party – where they get Surprise Combat Advantage too! When the battle is on he moves to get Flanking from a distance and picks off targets from the shadows while the melee-fighters set him up for the kill.
Teamwork, even from a Drow. Wow drow, wow.
Planning your tactics in advance is a great way to find killer Power combinations between the team members. Once you’ve found that deadly combination of attacks it’s a part of your repertoire which you can use again and again. I recommend that GMs award Minor Quest XP for parties who think about such things and set aside downtime for their heroes to train together.
Top of the heap when it comes to teamwork Powers has to be the Warlord’s Commander’s Strike At-will Power. This grants another member of the team a free basic attack on the Warlord’s turn, with additional damage equal to your INT bonus – and it’s an At-Will. This effectively means that the Warlord can stand at a safe distance from the action and order his “troops” into battle. Build an INT 20 Warlord and pair him with a heavy hitter such as a Greataxe-wielding Barbarian, and you’ve a pretty unstoppable combination using Commander’s Strike alone.
Alternatively, pair him with a Rogue and use Wolf Pack Tactics to help him get into position then burn an Action Point to use Commander’s Strike and give him a basic attack plus Sneak Attack damage this round, and he’s also set up to do Sneak Attack damage on the next too. Nasty.
I’ve already seen three Half-Elves who took Commander’s Strike as their Dilettante Power just so they could use it once per Encounter. Sometimes, that’s enough to turn the tide of battle in the heroes’ favour.
When it comes to the other classes, there’s always something you can do to help another hero. When it comes to a Wizard’s Spells, Chill Strike is a great choice as it leaves the poor victim dazed for a round. That should be the signal for the rest of the team to target that one creature and hit it with everything they’ve got – then burn an Action Point and hit him again just as hard. For example, that Wizard could cast Chill Strike then spend an Action Point to cast Horrid Whispers. That’s one monster who is Dazed, Slowed, at -2 to attack and Prone. And that’s before the other heroes close in to take him apart.
This is just one way to take down that pesky Elite or Solo monster who Just Won’t Die. A little planning goes a long way, and it sure beats the heroes attacking poorly at random and letting the battle drag on. I’ll say it again: if combat is taking a long time, you’re doing it wrong. Think tactically, look out for each other, find killer attack combinations and unite to bring down the big monsters and the battle will be won in double quick time.
Till next time!