Author Topic: Innovating Party Design: Method and Application (Tleilaxu_Ghola)  (Read 3275 times)

Offline jywu98

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Innovating Party Design: Method and Application (Tleilaxu_Ghola)
« on: February 20, 2013, 08:24:28 AM »
Introduction: Let me immediately preface by saying that this thread's intent is to explore the combat functionality of a party and designing a party for combat. This thread will not cover out of combat roles or functions. The purpose here is two fold: establish a generalized method for creating optimal parties and then harvesting the information generated from using this method. If you spend some time working through the method, please post your findings. Someone will include them in the OP.

Step 1: Satisfying Generalized Roles

A common mistake in D&D literature is to associate class names with roles, and then defining other, non-iconic classes, in terms of the iconic ones. For example, it is often said that an ideal party consists of a cleric, wizard, fighter, and rogue. These iconic class names do little to elucidate the actual purpose of the roles they fill. In fact, the classes listed actually have some overlap in their capabilities. Furthermore, if you wish to play classes besides the iconic ones, translating your character in terms of these roles can be awkward at best. I posit that there are four fundamental roles in a party, based on function:

1.: Harm Prevention

This role is all about reducing the damage delivery capability of the enemy. The ultimate goal of Harm Prevention is to ensure that the party is protected from various forms of harm (be it physical damage or other effects). Classically, a fronliner fills this role by taking the hits, while the squishy wizard is left alone long enough to deliver damage. Other methods, such as placing stone skin on a party member count as a type of Harm Prevention.
Here are some things to consider when planning out the party's Harm Prevention role:

  • Action Limitation: If you can limit the number of actions your enemy has available to him, you will reduce his ability to generate offensive, damaging effects. Stuns, Paralysis, Daze, Slows, etc are all excellent ways to accomplish this goal. Eliminating the possibility of receiving a full attack is also very important, espcially at high levels. This is essentially a form of action limitation that can be as simple as staying outside the foe's reach at all times. When faced with a pounce-capable foe, hydra, or other creature capable of moving and full attacking at the same time, things become more complicated. Anti-charge and movement techniques, such as standstill mixed with hold the line, are good ways to reduce these problems. Of course this goes both ways. You would also like to reduce any reductions in your actions. High saves, counterspelling, and immunities are pretty much all that's traditonally available to you.
  • Spell Damage: Be it energy damage (which is easily mitigated with certain spells) or death effects, spell damage must be taken into consideration. There are a couple ways of handling this situation traditionally: high saves, counterspelling, and immediate action interruption effects. Spells have a wide diversity of nasty effects, which is why both sides tend to try and eliminate the spell casters first.
  • Battle Field Control: This is all about controlling where enemies are allowed to move and whom they can attack. Numerous ways exist to accomplish this goal, but some of the most salient are: movement reducing spells, attacks of opportunity coupled with trips and/or standstill, and mobility. Being mobile is a relative term. If you can move further than your foe can, you gain a mobility advantage. As mentioned already, this can be accomplished by slowing your foe, but it also can be done by speeding your party up. Some excellent ways of speeding the party include spells like dimension shuffle and haste. Creative use of illusions or conjurations are also methods of accomplishing battlefield control.
  • Perception: You need to be able to perceive your enemy to control his damage output. Make sure that all party members are capable of detecting their targets via hear, spot, or other means.
2.: Enemy Elimination (Aka: DPR Damage Per Round)

The easiest role to define, yet most diverse in implementation, is the Enemy Elimination role. Bottom line, this role is all about laying the smack down on the opposing force. How well one fills the Enemy Elimination role is defined by how quickly one can dispatch the foe. This is, of course, situationally dependant on the foe's Harm Prevention system. For example, a fireball tossing wizard produces excellent damage delivery against a multitude of non-fire-resistant foes with low reflex saves. A leap attacking, power attacking barbarian, on the other hand, is probably better for DPR when there is a single foe with high saves. Note that killing a creature is only worth the amount damage in HP that it has. If you slayed a creature with 40 hitpoints by dealing 300 damage to it, you've really only done 40 damage. Likewise, a death-effect that slays a 40 hp creature is the same as dealing 40 hp damage in a single blow. Killing blows have a different effect (removing people from the battlefield) and fall under damage mitigation. DPR is really the process of bringing the foe to the ground, rather than the actual act of doing so.
When plotting out your DPS role, consider the following:

  • Number of Targets: The number of targets affects the method of damage delivery. AoE spells are fantastic against crowds, but inefficient against single targets.
  • Target Defense Capabilities: It is important to have both spell and physical damage available, in case a foe is extremely resistant to one or the other. Prepare a variety of elimination methods to handle the diversity of monsters out there.
  • Play to Common Weaknesses: The lowest monster save is the will save. The lowest AC is touch. The lowest ability scores are mental. Know these weaknesses that are common to all monsters and be sure to exploit them to aid your damage output.
  • Perception: You need to be able to perceive your enemy to damage him. Make sure that all party members are capable of detecting their targets via hear, spot, or other means.
3.: Recovery (aka: Healing)

Also simple to define and yet diverse in implementation. The Recovery specialist does one thing: remove the damage and effects that the Harm Prevention specialist was not able to filter out. This role is almost exclusively filled by some sort of casting class. (There are a few exceptions, of course).
When plotting your Recovery role there is more than just hitpoint damage to consider:

  • Ability Reduction: Ability stats are susceptible in that it can be easy to deal a significant fraction of your total ability score in damage. Having a way to remove these damaging effects is crucial.
  • Action Reduction: Say your Damage Mitigation isn't up to snuff... well, if you can't prevent it you must remove it. Dispelling is the key here. Dispell debuffs from your party members that reduce their actions. Coming up with a way to do this that DOESN'T LIMIT YOUR OWN ACTIONS in a huge way is crucial. If you can spend a swift action to cure a move or standard action, then do it. If not, then it may not be worth it.
  • Death: It happens. Just be sure to have a means to removing it available.
  • Status Effects: Dazzled, Fatigue, Exhaustion, Poisoned, etc. Look in the DMG under Status Effects, to see what you can remove. The more you are able to remove the better.
  • In/Out of Combat Healing: You need both. You cannot replace a healer with a wand of cure light wounds, but you will still want that wand. Healers are best at one thing: IN COMBAT HEALING. They are able to deliver high amounts of healing in a short amount of time. Out of combat healing can be slow... the important thing is that it doesn't consume a lot of resources.
Consideration: The Weakest Link
One thing that needs to be considered when planning your party's tactics is whether or not the tactic is limited by "the weakest link". For example, your party may have three monks in it, but if you got a cleric in full plate it's only going to be as mobile as the cleric (if you wish to maintain a formation that is). Also, if you rely on high saves or high AC as a primary means of damage mitigation, you better make sure that ALL party members have high AC and saves.

Consideration: Redundancy and Specialization
There are two schools of thought on character design with respect to the fundamental roles. The first is that each character needs to have as many capabilities as possible, so that in the event that one character fails (dies), that someone can pick up the slack. The other school of thought is that each character should exclusively optimize for a single role, and in so doing the amalgamed result will have greater effect. The debate between these two schools of thought can be summarized, in two principles of economics: risk and comparative advantage. In the former school, the stress is placed on risk reduction. The later school seeks to optimize the total averaged effect that the party is capable of producing. For those of you who haven't taken a basic economics course (and I don't claim to be an expert here), here's a basic definition of both terms:

Comparative Advantage:
The essential question in a comparative advantage study is finding out who consumes the least amount of resources to perform a given task. Generally, more effect is produced if individuals specialize in their comparative advantage. I believe it is common knowledge that a build specialized for damage will out damage a build that claims to be a "triple threat." The question is, does the party deal more damage overall if we use a limited number of damage specialists or if all members output a small amount of damage? How does a specialist party fair compared to a non-specialist party in terms of risk?

Simply put, its the probability of a negative effect occuring. In D&D we're interested in two negative effects: TPK and PK. PKs consume a lot of resources to fix. TPKs mean the game is over. Both are bad. Example questions include: "What happens if the Damage Removal specialist is removed?" "What if the Damage Delivery specialist is removed?" The non-specialist school would say that risk is reduced via redundancy in roles. This is a common solution to many risk problems, namely national security. In fact, it's really the only way to reduce risk. If one fundamental component is removed, the party may fail. Now, that is not to say that all four of the fundamental roles are equally weighted when it comes to determining the risk of PK or TPK. The party will wipe if they cannot deal damage, the party will wipe if they cannot mitigate the damage before they kill the foes, the party will wipe if they cannot remove the damage before it kills them. Utility plays, at best, a circumstancial role in determining the probability of a PK or TPK.

Definition: Optimal Party Output
In a given encounter there are two concerns: does the party defeat the enemy and how many resources were consumed in generating a victory? Optimizing party behavior involves the MINIMIZATION of consumed resources to achieve victory and the MAXIMIZING of the probability of success. Some resources to consider: Spell slots, time, hit points, limited special abilities, item charges. Basically anything that cannot be used an unlimited number of times per encounter, counts as a resource expenditure.

Expanded Discussion: Harm Prevention
Harm Prevention is, to me, the most interesting and complex of all the three roles. As I see it there are three basic methods of protecting the party:

1. Damage Migration: If you look at the amount of damage a party takes as some sort of quantity that needs to be distributed among the members of the party, you'll see that being able to move the damage to the members who are able to take it becomes very desirable. Though phrased abstractly, is the most familiar example of damage mitigation. People refer to it as "tanking" or having a "meat shield." The key is being able to channel the damage that monsters deal the right place -- the wrong place typically being your squishy casters. Tanking is actually not as easy as it seems on paper, if your DM plays his monsters shrewdly. Just because you're up in a monster's face and dealing damage, doesn't necessarily mean that the monster's most optimal choice is to fight you, especially if the squishy caster you're protecting is dealing A LOT more damage than you are. Just think about it from the monster's perspective. You see 1 melee dude who looks hard to hit, 1 squishy caster dealing a lot of damage that looks easy to hit. If your objective, as a monster, is to kill as many people as possible, your obvious target is the squishy caster, not the fighter. There are a couple of ways that you can change the monster's perspective.

1. Make the monster's trip between you and the squishy long and painful: Best way to do this is to use attacks of opportunity and physically obstructing the straight-line path to the squishy. Also, preventing movement by slowing or stopping the monster is important. This is why trip-fighters are so great. Not only do they damage the foe, but they stop his approach to the squishy. Key abilities and tricks include:

  • Standstill (feat): convert an AoO into a movement stopping attack. (XPH).
  • Hold the Line (Feat): AoO generated for any charging foe entering your threatened space. Mix with standstill to prevent enemies from charging right past you to the squishy. (CWar)
  • Thicket of Blades (class ability): AoO for any movement through your threatened space. Combine with standstill to keep them in your space. (Tome of Battle)
  • Bulwark of Defense (class ability): Your threatened area is considered difficult terrain, halving movement and generating AoOs. (PHB 2).
  • Hamstring (feat): Reduce sneak attack by 2d6 to halve movement of foe. (CWar)

2. Deal more damage or more potent secondary effects than the squishy, making your more of a threat. No real mystery here. There are many threads dedicated to increasing melee damage.
Mobility is another crucial factor in Damage Migration. You need to be able to move quickly across the battlefield to ensure that you're in front and blocking the path to the squishies.

2. Damage Reduction: This is the domain of spell casters. You can apply damage reduction via spells like stoneskin, energy resistance, etc. Nothing really exciting or profound here, except in noting that putting these effects on the entire party is often a costly endeavor.

3. Damage Prevention: Nothing makes damage go away like never having to take it in the first place. The easiest way to accomplish this is to somehow grant your party prohibitively high armor class. Another way is to somehow apply a multitude of miss-chances. There a many spells which can perform this task. But again, unless you have a multi-person buff, these spells often consume a lot of resources and are best spent on characters who cannot take a whole lot of damage.

It should be noted that there is more than simply physical damage involved. Various forms of damage include:

  • Physical (hitpoint) damage
  • Ability damage
  • Death effects
  • Spell damage (coming in many flavors, most saliently and famously the energy damage types)
  • Secondary (non-damaging debuffs)

Ideally a party would have a way mitigate all of these types of damage. If you can't find a way to mitigate, you must find a way to recover... but that's a different role.

Step 1 Summary:
So what have I said? All I've done is motivated a few questions that one should have in mind when they begin to formulate a party. That's about all one can really do without getting into the specific details. What I will explore in subsequent steps, is answering these questions in different (common) contexts. The basic idea is to start with a theory, then apply the theory to real life and see where it gets you. The important questions generated in the previous subsections are:

Are all the bases covered? Do I have a person filling every single one of the three fundamental roles: Harm Prevention, Enemy Elimination, and Recovery?
What happens if one person is unable to act in a given situation? How does that affect the party's ability to perform the three fundamental roles?
How many resources are consumed by each individual in performing a given role? Would it be better to specialize in a given role or not, in the context of risk and comparative advantage?

Step 2: List Some Tricks

There are a couple ways of designing builds. In this process I encourage people to rifle through their books and brains, thinking up a few tricks that might satisfy the three roles above. If you develop some method which you think merit attention feel free to post them in the trick section. The next step will be to trying to cram all of these tricks into a party.

Step 3: Build the Party

Is it going to be a four man , two man, or six man party? What level will they start at? What books are available to the party. All the standard questions that go into individual character optimization apply here. Essentially you'll be developing a number of builds simultaneously. It's going to be a lot of work. The advantage to this simultaneous development, in the context of the tricks created in step 2, is that you are considering the dynamic of party interaction from the start, rather than trying to clumsily piece together a group of optimized individuals.

Step 4: Test the Builds

Not exactly playtesting, but you can at least see how they might fair against a number of tactics and senarios. Think of the ways your party is capable of handling a given challenge. If you believe your method of handling a challenge merits attention, feel free to post as a trick in the trick section. Consider the information given below:

In the SBLOCK is a fabulous table created by Dielzen which gives the average and maximum value of a number of combat variables for each CR of all the monsters in the SRD. Your casters will be interested in the save information, and the frontliners interested in the average/max AC values they can expect to face. Depending on the degree to which you're optimizing average values will probably be best -- if you're going for the UnCon prize, pay attention to the max values.

You can find a formatted version of the table here, thanks to Garryl.

(click to show/hide)

Types of Monsters and their Associated Challenges

Rather than rattle off the types in the MM, I'm going to break the monsters into general categories. Think about how your party might be able to handle these problems:

  • Physical Bosses: Classic; you have to fight Thog the Orc Warlord, Slayer of a Thousand Cute Kittens. He's got a lot of armor, a lot of hit points, puts out insane amount physical damage per round, has bad body odor and the disturbing habit of eating kittens alive. The question is: can your party take him down before he power attacks your squishy elven wizard into the dirt?
  • Physical Armies: Before fighting Thog the Orc Warlord, you had to hack through his horde of meaty minions. His minions are few levels lower than you are, but they have maximal AC and HP for their CR range (see table above). There are also a lot of them.
  • Magical Bosses: Equally classic. You are tasked with taking down a grand sorcererous lich. His primary form of damage is via spells and he has more than a few tricks up his sleeves. Will your party be able to handle intense magical damage, will they be able to hit him if he's flying around cackling maniaclly? What about the dreaded death-ray laser beams that he can shoot out of his eyes? Do you got that covered? Basically can the party handle a few powerful magical effects?
  • Magical Minions: A bit more rare... a bunch of low level casters. What happens if there's 5-6 of these guys sitting on a magical rug 100 feet overhead, pummelling you with magic missiles? The saves may be low, but there's a lot of them. Or if the DM is really cunning, he'll use no-save effects.... again in mass quantity.
  • Cloaked Bosses: These guys employ hit and run tactics, mixed with stealth. Will you have a good chance at breaking the stealth? What if the guy can move through walls, through the ground, or hide in plain sight? Do you have a way to detect and lock down these ellusive bastards and kill them before they ambush your party again?
  • Kobold Ambush!: Well, maybe not kobolds, but ambush... The senario is a bunch of lower level minions with high mobility and stealth capabilities. These encounters will typically occur in difficult terrain.
  • Special Defenses & Offenses: What happens if your enemy is immune to: Mind Affecting; Energy Type X; Stunning, Paralysis, Sleep, or Daze; Movement impediments (like many incorporeals); Ability Damage; Negative Levels; Specific Spell Immunities: (such as the tarrasque, will-o-the-wisp, or golems)
  • What if they have: Regeneration; Fast Healing; Damage Reduction;
  • What if they can: Deal negative levels; Deal ability damage; Stop magical effects (like the epic collosus); Employ supernatural attacks (which are immune to dispelling and counterspelling)
Step 5: Revise & Finish

Hopefully your party was sufficiently capable to handle the situations, tactics, and values listed above. If so, fantastic. Feel free to post the party information. I just ask that you use a specific format to make things easier for others to read and compare. I will not be pasting user contributions into the OP. Instead I will maintain a linked list to specific posts, organized by case parameters. The linked list will be contained in a post with an open account (that is I will divulge the user name and password for the account) so that it may be edited by anyone.

Note: example comments are in italics. Fill in these fields with your own text.

Case: Text describing the specific case goes here. Feel free to use cases already posted. There may be more than one answer to a given case. Try to keep the cases general enough that they can be easily modified to the exact specifications of a given viewer.

Party Make Up:
Build Stub for party member 1
Build Stub for party member 2
Build Stub ...
Build Stub for party member n

Build Stub Example: Race Class X/Class Y/Class Z/Class X + n/Class Y + n/Class Z +n

Build Specifics
1. List details for party member 1 here. Include information on feats and class abilities as they pertain to the role they fill. Explain which of the four fundamental roles the build fills.
2. List details for party member 2 here. Include information on feats and class abilities as they pertain to the role they fill. Explain which of the four fundamental roles the build fills.
n. List details for party member n here. Include information on feats and class abilities as they pertain to the role they fill. Explain which of the four fundamental roles the build fills.

Party Tricks & Tactics
This is the most important section. Here you detail how the party works together as a team to produce more than just the results of a group of individuals.

Analysis (optional)
Discuss anything you believe is salient in the way your party handles the rubric of challenges listed in the OP

Offline jywu98

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Re: Innovating Party Design: Method and Application (Tleilaxu_Ghola)
« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2013, 08:28:16 AM »

Tleilaxu_Ghola's Tactical Supremists:
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Tsuyoshikentsu's Core Party:
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The Thing in the Night's Forgotten Realms Party:
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amalcon's Core Party:
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TalinXT Single Classed, Extended Core Party:
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