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4E: Tactics pt. 1

June 24, 2008

After the game on Saturday, it gave me a good look at tactics in the game, and the key shift from thinking about your choices in build and moving towards looking at your choices in play.

Damage In, Damage Out

The core abstract strategy of just about all hitpoint based combat games is minimizing damage in, and maximizing damage out. This is best done by eliminating sources of damage (opponents) as quickly as possible.

It’s always better to have one foe completely down than to half damage 3 others, since one foe down means it’s not going to be dishing damage the next round. Because of this, you want to concentrate attacks to lay out the foes who dish the most damage first.

Prioritize Targets

In 4E, this is mostly going to be strikers and artillery monsters you want to go after first. This is because they usually can’t take a lot of hits and generally dish out a lot of damage. Artillery may not dish out a lot of damage in comparison, but they often have the ability to choose between 2 or 3 viable targets and can choose to go for the weakest, which makes them dangerous for that. (I watched over the course of a couple of encounters as the ranged guys just kept racking up damage because no one put them down).

Ah, but what about minions? You can pop minions in one hit, but they do very little damage and never pull out really nasty encounter or recharge abilities. Generally, unless you have some fat area attack power, or need one out of the way for maneuvering, or have nothing else to do, they’re actually low on the list of priority targets. Of course, generally minions have some kind of synergy with strikers and other monsters, giving bonuses to hit, extra damage, etc. and then it might be worthwhile if you can drop the synergy in a round or two.

Wait for it…

Probably the biggest change from earlier editions of D&D is how much round to round combat relies on teamwork. I watched players fire off lots of encounter or daily powers, without even lining up for combat advantage first, or waiting for the Warlord to buff their attacks. This is what you don’t want to do.

Get every damn bonus you can, then use your encounter/daily powers, especially if they can be lost from a missed attack. You’re going to want to delay for certain characters in order to maximize your advantage. If you’re playing a support character, like the Cleric or Warlord, spend time buffing other folks attacks, and if you’re going to attack, spend it on minions or foes you can meaningfully hurt and put down.

Hardcore 3E players wonder what’s the value of knocking folks prone if it doesn’t score opportunity attacks? It’s because it gives an advantage to your allies to hit the target until it stands up.

Environment!

If it can be used to hurt the enemy, do it! Some things in an encounter are clearly there for combat purposes- a pit with spikes in it is both a threat to you and your opponents if you can push, pull or slide them into it. Some things require a little creativity- “I throw the hot pot of stew into it’s eyes when it gets close!”, “I push the library shelf over onto him!” etc.

Because these are likely to be limited, one time damage expressions in the scene, you can get more damage than you’re likely to get from your normal attacks, and can probably target something other than AC to hit.

That’s easy enough. Then comes really tricky stuff. Like what happens when one PC grapples a foe, shoves his head underwater? What happens when the party wizard then casts Freezing Ray on the foe? Maybe it just does damage, maybe the GM rewards you with an extra effect. Mechanics and fictional positioning can work hadn in hand.

Conserving Power Use

First, don’t save your Encounter powers if you’ve got a good chance of hitting (combat advantage, buffs from Cleric or Warlord, etc.) The sooner the target is down, that’s that much less damage you’re eating every round. If you slap it with a condition while you’re at it, maybe it doesn’t hit as often, or maybe someone else can hit it easier, or maybe it’s taking damage.

If you have to choose between an environmental damage effect (shoving someone in a pit) or doing an encounter power, go for the environmental effect first- not only because the encounter power is portable, while the environmental effect is tied to a situation and location on the map, but also because it gives you a head’s up on how hard you can expect that effect to hit and you can plan accordingly.

The tricky thing is figuring out when and where to use Daily powers. Some give effects that last the whole encounter, and you probably want to use those early in order to get the benefit throughout the entire encounter. But here’s something else- don’t expect a single hit from a daily to lay down anyone who you especially need to go- if it’s worth a daily, it’s probably worth having 3 or more team members beating it down as well. (It’s probably also worth having flanking and buffs, as mentioned before…) I watched a few players pull out the daily in one on one fights, which really didn’t do much except leave a lot of foes half dead, instead of fully dead.

This is the obvious stuff that struck me running the game. Maybe with some more play experience, I’ll have modifications to this, but it seems to be basic tactics for this game.

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