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DMing to an unbalanced party

Rating: 3 votes, 5.00 average.
4e is generally pretty good about not requiring every possible party role. You don't really need to have the dream team of Fighter/Thief/Wizard/Cleric in order to cover all of your bases anymore. I admit, things certainly run smoother when you have every role covered (Defender/Striker/Controller/Leader), but it is certainly possible to work games out when missing roles. On the other hand, just because it is possible doesn't mean the DM should not be aware of his party. A good DM should be building encounters around their group. Taking advantages of their weaknesses only when an encounter should be more difficult by design. Normal encounters cater to what the group does well.

Defenders
It is the job of a defender to protect the more vulnerable members of the party from harm, and force enemies to focus on them. Defenders have high defenses and hit points, and are frequently hard to kill.

When the party has more than enough
A party plentiful with defenders will find itself in a position where they are excellent at keeping many enemies away from their more vulnerable members. Consider using more monsters of lower levels, rather than a few monsters of higher level. By doing this, you allow your party to benefit from having more defenders than normal. When making encounters, use Brutes only when you want them to flail uselessly against the neigh untouchable defenders they are forced to attack.

When the party doesn't have enough
A party with no defender has to rely on other means to protect their more vulnerable members. They could add to their other defenses, or try and position themselves to limit attacks, or heal themselves frequently. Such a group is fairly vulnerable to Artillery and Brute monsters. Use those only when you want to give them a hard time.

Strikers
Strikers focus on 2 things: dealing damage, and dealing more damage. In general, a Striker is good at dealing a lot of damage to one enemy at a time.

When the party has more than enough
A party rich with strikers is really good at dealing large amounts of damage, obviously. It's a pretty good idea to give them monsters that have higher hit points, such as Brutes and Elites. If you want to make the strikers cry, that is when you start breaking out the Soldier monsters to avoid their high-damage attacks, the Minions who have only 1 HP, therefore damage doesn't matter, and the Lurker monsters who are good at avoiding the devastating attacks of the striker.

When the party doesn't have enough
A party lacking a striker really isn't that bad off. A smart party will simply have everyone else invest in a few feats to boost their damage output. Giving the party more minions to fight can help if they have trouble, but otherwise they should be fine. Unless you put a Leader monster in the encounter. A Leader monster might seem like the perfect way to make an encounter harder for a group that can't deal the massive damage required to offset this, but what you really do is make the battle long, drawn out, and boring.

Controllers
A controller has many possible jobs. They range from battlefield control, to putting bad conditions on enemies, and also area of effect powers to hit several enemies at once. Most controllers can't take a whole lot of hits before they go down, and their defenses aren't that great, either.

When the party has more than enough
A party rich with controllers is pretty hard to plot against. They will be very good at dominating your battlefield, and making it hard for your monsters to do what they want to do. Brute monsters can make fairly quick work of most controllers if they can reach them. Skirmisher monsters are fairly good at surrounding a group of controllers, so try to use them only when you want to bring on the pain. Your group should be able to make very quick work of Minions, and they likely won't have any troubles against Soldier monsters.

When the party doesn't have enough
I pity your group if they find themselves in this situation. A party without a controller is at the mercy of the DM. Minions could run unchecked, requiring an attack of their own to take them down. An encounter rich with Controller monsters can ruin their day. Try and use Artillery monsters more often, especially if the party has many character good in melee.

Leaders
Leaders focus on keeping everyone in their group healed, and also grant them bonuses or additional attacks. A good leader can grant saving throws, heal those on the brink of death, and is halfway decent in combat.

When the party has more than enough
This is a group that is tedious to kill. You might consider combining 2 encounters into 1, by way of reinforcements. This way, you avoid leftover healing powers being spent in a short rest to simply add to the healing surge value. A party rich with Leaders does fairly good against a Controller monster encounter. You can be a little more brutal in your assaults when you know the party is able to heal it with relative ease, but pay attention to their remaining healing surges.

When the party doesn't have enough
Try and avoid using Artillery or Controller monsters unless your party has angered you. They should do fairly well against Brutes or Soldiers and Skirmishers.






When a Party has an abundance of a role, or a lacking of a role, this is something that you as a DM should be aware of when it comes time for you to build their encounters. If an encounter is supposed to be difficult, you need to be mindful of what makes an encounter difficult for this group of characters. Picking the wrong monsters can sometimes lead to embarrassing situations where the monsters aren't even a threat. In other cases, it can lead to the party getting quickly overrun as their biggest weakness is exploited by their enemy.

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Updated 06-13-2010 at 11:10 PM by Teksura

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Comments

  1. coboney's Avatar
    Nice post Teksura!

    Having dmed all sorts of unbalanced parties (namely one of a party of *all* strikers) I'd say the advice here is solid.
  2. Teksura's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by coboney
    Nice post Teksura!

    Having dmed all sorts of unbalanced parties (namely one of a party of *all* strikers) I'd say the advice here is solid.
    Thanks. Wow, a Striker only party sounds like the sort of thing you want to send a lot of Solo monsters against. I can't imagine them not having a hard time against most other monsters.
    Updated 06-14-2010 at 12:37 AM by Teksura
  3. coboney's Avatar
    They did - though it was a high powered game. Basically I'd use more single monsters and buff HP some.

    This was a 3.5 game though the same advice applies generally. Less endurance fights and more fights that required quick hitting tactics as the group had a high damage output but was full of glass cannons. They had a few abilities here and there that weren't strikish but their builds were.

    It took me a little bit to adapt to it as it wasn't the way I was used to but the key was not pushing the endurance too far because they had very little of it on the whole. Items were designed with it in mind to help with that and to give them some more healing abilities mostly between combats.
  4. obtusehobbit's Avatar
    One of the things to also consideration is looking if any of the PC have a strong secondary role that fills in the gaps. As many classes in 4e can do their primary role and do some stuff from another role with the proper feats and power selection. Same thing applies to 3.5 as well.

    So basically you need to look at primary roles first, and while that may be a indicator of a imbalance sometime strong secondary roles can help to alleviate the issue.

    Overall very sound advice and great analysis of the situation.
    Updated 06-15-2010 at 03:29 PM by obtusehobbit
  5. Count_Dreadstone's Avatar
    Very sound advice. Do you have any for DM'g to an extremely unlucky party? Had an encounter in my first OpenRPG session where the party was throwing crap dice almost exclusively. They still won, so it worked out fun... but string two or three encounters like that together and OY!

    XD
  6. Teksura's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Count_Dreadstone
    Very sound advice. Do you have any for DM'g to an extremely unlucky party? Had an encounter in my first OpenRPG session where the party was throwing crap dice almost exclusively. They still won, so it worked out fun... but string two or three encounters like that together and OY!

    XD
    As a matter of fact, yes. This is where making your DM rolls in secret can pay off. If you think the players are being especially unlucky, there is nothing wrong with lying about the monster rolls, and giving the PCs a bit of a break. Maybe that Zombie only rolled a 5, rather than a 15.

    Also, as a DM, you can play the monsters recklessly. If the party is getting screwed by their die, rather than poor tactics, you can have the monsters play a little dumber. Have marked enemies ignore the defender, and set off the marks, trigger OAs. It is also good to have an enemy willing to ignore the fact that they are presently flanked, and not bother trying to get out of it.

    I prefer the latter. It is perfectly reasonable that is a monster group does not see the group as a severe threat (Say, the party seems unable to hit them) then the monsters don't need to play as defensive as they normally would. Doing this grants the PCs extra attacks, which can help a significant amount. Plus, drawn out encounters where nobody hits anything are boring.