View Full Version : [4e] Optimizing Encounters

2009-12-06, 11:25 AM
My 4e (7th level) group has a couple of rather glaring balance issues in my mind.
Maybe it's the Rageblood Vigor Barbarian. He only does about 1d8+4d6+8 damage with at wills. If he uses encounter powers, 6d6+8 (or 11) is normal.
Then he gets Rampage and Swift Charge, along with the occasional AP, making him essentially mop most creatures off the floor with multiple hits.
Maybe it's the Healing specialized cleric. She heals 3d6+surge+14 with healing word, maximized during rests. Then she has Healer's Mercy, in case of emergency, Stream of Life, Astral seal (heals 16 hp), Beacon of Hope, and Consecrated Ground (still not sure exactly how to use that, but I think I'll go with common sense.)
Maybe it's the other characters, some of who may not know half their class powers, or use them, but still do half-decently. Maybe the Warden, with truckloads of health, a few resist all powers, Form of Winter's Herald and form of Mountain's Thunder, along with a at will that slows and deals 1d10+14 damage.
This party hits hard, apart from the cleric. 6 of them, so it's hard to keep some monsters alive.
I am, however, a natural optimizer, so I pick creatures for shennanigans combos. Take, for example, the humble Foulspawn Mangler. Multiple attacks with dagger dance, deals an extra 2d6 with CA... hey, no limitations per round on sneak attack for monsters! Stick a few of those, combine with a Farseer for dazing, and let's see how the party stands up against that? Remarkably well, surprisingly. However, it was only a level 7-8 encounter anyways. I delight in making those ridiculously difficult :smallbiggrin:

Anyways, I was working on taking a Balhannoth, deleveling it to 10, and giving it an extra standard action + solo status. Is this blatantly unfair? Can people ready actions while dazed (since those actions excecute as immediate reations, is that the character's immediate reaction, or is it just a rule on how the action excecutes?)

Also, does anyone else abuse the rules this badly? I figure it works out, because I tend to hand out useful treasure to the party, and they just don't die (I have difficulty forcing them to use dailies, and "tough" fights result in maybe 1 healing surge, maybe 2 being used per party member). Any good stories?

2009-12-06, 11:43 AM
The act of readying an action is a standard action but when dazed you can't make immediate actions. In other words, if dazed, you can use your standard action to ready but if you're still dazed when your action triggers it doesn't work.

As for your party, it seems that they rely on mobility. Try a battle with difficult terrain like chasms they have to jump across, slopes, and moving obstacles. A few controllers should keep the barbarian and rogue pinned down while artillery monsters focus solely on the cleric (a glaring holy symbol dangling around someone's neck should be a magnet for arrows... always). A couple of soldiers should hold down the fort while a lurker sneaks around to deal with any ranged PCs on their own.

From the sound of it, the party's strength lies in their focused power. If you can split that power you should be able to at least drop a character or two.

2009-12-06, 01:03 PM
jmbrown's right - terrain and control can do a lot to up the difficulty of an encounter

I recall an encounter my group had at level 7 that was particularly difficult for out party. Basically it consisted of two casters (with stinking cloud and magic missle) and four or so archers (who used an immobilizing poison on their arrows). The room was maybe 9x9 with a 3x3 pillar in the centre and a 4x3 alcove separated from the main room by a 20' deep pit two squares across. Since the monsters could glide they shot/cast spells at us and fell back to leave us stumbling around in the stinking clouds dying from poison.

It sounds like if you added some undead minions to the mix to keep your characters occupied in melee a few rounds you could make a similar encounter quite challenging for your players.

2009-12-06, 03:58 PM
How are their perception scores? Lurkers that they can't find could be a nice panic-inducer. And I'll third the idea of difficult terrain and other location features.

One thing that'll probably make the Barbarian cry is swarms. He, and anyone else without bursts or blasts, will be about half as effective against them. I actually ran a solo swarm once, which could, at the expense of its own HP, spawn other, smaller swarms that acted independently, and call forth reinforcements from the surrounding trees. The fact that it was a swarm of glowing pixies that could, on occasion, flash in unison and blind people was just icing.

Mando Knight
2009-12-06, 04:08 PM
Hey, a level n+4 encounter is the high end of a hard encounter. Let's see what we've got to work with here... (3000 XP)

...Ooh! I know! An Adult Black Dragon (level 11 Solo, Monster Manual), in a dark cave with plenty of deep pits of water. 3000 XP exactly, and kills off line off line of sight. Particularly nasty critter, especially if you remember to use Tail Slash and Cloud of Darkness intelligently. Pretty much only area powers have a chance at hurting it reliably.

2009-12-06, 09:51 PM
Adult Black Dragon? Mayybe... Look up the Balhannoth. It's got at will:
Close burst 3 sliding everyone anywhere it feels like, dealing 1d8+9. +2d8 with CA.
At will, minor action invisibility, broken by standard action.
At will teleport 10, dazes all originally adjacent for a round, and gets CA agaisnt those it teleports adj to.
So, teleport in invisible, pull party adjacent (dealing 3d8+9/person), turn invisible, teleport away (with extra standard action), leaving everyone dazed. Put it in a 8*8 room, no one escapes.
Also, more appropriate for the adventure.

The party doesn't need to be that mobile, actually. They've all got ranged attacks, with magical thrown shields, gloves that let you throw anything, a psion, a warlock, and strong throwing hammers from the paladin. Every party member can deal about 10 damage per round at 12 squares, warlock does twice that. Outranging 12 squares basically means you have to be outdoors, and have bow-wielding creatures.
Swarms would be funny, because the barbarian already has Howl of Fury, which conveniently does damage in a party friendly blast 3. Oh, and he's Dragonborn. This also makes minions essentially unusable, because Howl of Fury is auto-hit in the area after he hits a single target.
Half the party has perception trained, but super-hidden lurkers have still been tried, and just get run down as soon as they reveal themselves.

I have an encounter like that planned, Jm, actually. Multi-leveled room with a bunch of artillery and minions with bows, using soldiers placed to slow the party down. Just add some difficult terrain in... easy enough. I don't expect it'll be that hard, even though I plan on using my entire 3600 xp budget for brutal difficulty. Between Stream of Life (which probably won't be used anyways) and the entire party's ranged abilities, monsters will likely be dying fast, and the party taking minimal damage.

More difficult terrain is a good idea, but I don't like overusing it, because it's really unfun to do that. It's just like, say... "Oh, and now you're on an open plain full of Daggerthorn Briars, being bombarded by 5 Elven Rangers with Greatbows from 25 squares. The cleric takes 76 damage. You're all immobilized". While funny, that's a very lame fight. And most of the melee members can get over difficult terrain easily, with massive jumping and climbing skills.

HMS Invincible
2009-12-06, 11:00 PM
Man, I wish my party had PCs this good. Our DM has had to put kid gloves on/hold himself back/ DM intervention several times. It's not like the encounters are even hard.

2009-12-07, 12:27 AM
I love having a talented, optimized party, actually. It makes encounters a lot more fun, since I have to build skillfully, and lets the players use their abilities and generally feel potent. It probably helps that I memorized most of their abilities so that the forgetful ones can use their good abilities in relevant situations :smallwink:
I delight in making low XP value encounters that are still a pain to beat. The best one was a pair of Shadow Hounds and a Drow Rogue at night, with massive height advantage. The party took a while taking out torches, and didn't have sunrods at the time :smallbiggrin:
However, I also know that I can just toss something big at them, and they have a very good chance to beat it.
The disadvantage, however, is the party seems impervious to lasting harm over the course of the day. At best, I can make a party member spend 2-3 surges in a fight, if they're the focus of many enemy attacks. With 2 defenders, squishier party members take fewer attacks, and so it seems the party can easily roll through 5 encounters before downing a boss with few dailies or AP spent. Not that that matters too much, it just makes it difficult to make tense, late-day fights.

2009-12-07, 08:50 AM
I feel for your DM. Our party's level 8, and I'm that healing-focused cleric. I always feel a little guilty when I see that look on his face after I announce, "Okay, you can recover a healing surge plus . . . *rolls dice* 22."

First, you have to understand that not every encounter is going to push your players to the limits. It's just the design of the game. Accept it and move on, especially because your players prefer it when you're only passively trying to kill them.

Second, utilize your player's weaknesses. I've seen swarms and terrain mentioned, as well as some other enemies suggested. We faced that lvl 11 black dragon, and that was a tough encounter; highly appropriate for your party. Enemies that deal ongoing damage are a pain, as well, since challenges your leader to space his heals out appropriately, balanced around giving out saving throws as well. Enemies with auras will throw your party off, flying enemies, multiple enemies, etc. For example, yesterday we were surrounded by some worgs and dire wolves. They're nothing special, but when I and the wizard found ourselves with three dire wolves on each of us, we had to choose between using our effective powers (and thus invoking attacks of opportunity that would probably turn out poorly) or doing something else, like moving into better position or using a less-effective action that won't get you killed.

The J Pizzel
2009-12-07, 09:40 AM
This thread is kinda coincidental. We had our first "actual" gaming session with 4E friday night. We've had lots of little skirmishes, but we finally pulled out all the stops and went at it for a full session. I am usually the DM for this group, but another player said he wanted to try it, cause he said 4E seemed like it makes DMing a little easier (I'd agree). Anyway...

He was about ready to kill us. Party was 5 players. Human Invoker (me), Goliath Warden, Half-Orc Ranger (TWF), Halfling Sorcerer, and Dragonborn Warlord.

First fight was tuff cause we were learning our characters, and each others tactics. Second, third and fourth fights. We literally mopped the floor. I busted in and daze/stun/slow the bad guys. Ranger followed closely to begin tearing it up with CA. Warden runs straight to BBEG. Sorcerer...you know what, screw him and his Chaos Bolt. That dude wrecked house friday night. Anyway, sorcerer blasted from afar. And warlord simply played chess with our minis and did a little healing. I can honestly say, all fights (including the BBEG fight at the end) lasted less than 5-6 rounds and less than 15-20 minutes real time.

So, yeah, a good party (that works and playes tactifully) can be a DM worst nightmare. Especially with multiple Strikers.

2009-12-07, 12:46 PM
Our party is slow as hell playing out encounters. I think I can try speed it up a bit more, but it's difficult.

I wouldn't really say the party has specific weaknesses. Swarms are actually ineffective, every party member has at least encounter burst attacks, if not at will. Ongoing damage tends to be so weak the cleric can just wait for people to go down or almost go down anyways, and/or spam Astral Seal, which is better than another saving throw, with 16 health restored.
Every party member has potent, or at least decent, ranged capability, and if I just threw flyers at them, A: Lame fight. B: They'd die to focus fire. I expect the party would be dealing about 30 damage per round on average, not counting nasty combos like... Hymn of Resurgence + Eldritch Blast + team pounds on grounded flyer.
Claiming multiple enemies throws the party off is patently false. That's how every encounter works anyways. Auras? They can take the disadvantage, and kill everything anyways. And I'm not challenging the party seriously. 2000 xp is just over par for 6 level 7 characters. It's just silly how fast they get cleaned up though. I literally had a full encounter getting 2 turns before being collectively beaten down. Despite downing 2 party members on the first turn.

The answer is difficult terrain, vertical movement, and Twilight Incanters. Moar Twilight Incanters. Let's see how the party does split over a multi-level encounter, while members get immobilized, dazed, blinded, and teleported up or down levels, while their opponents just teleport up or down when engaged. :smallamused: I suppose I should use more soldiers as well, since most of my encounters have been rather front-loaded.

2009-12-07, 12:49 PM
From my experience, you really just have to over-CR everything by a lot.

4e is pretty much on 'easy mode' if your PCs are optimized at all. Our DM usually just threw twice the monsters at us (which helped encounters to feel difficult, at least).

Lunix Vandal
2009-12-07, 02:07 PM
I feel for your DM. Our party's level 8, and I'm that healing-focused cleric. I always feel a little guilty when I see that look on his face after I announce, "Okay, you can recover a healing surge plus . . . *rolls dice* 22."I know what you mean, kinda. We just hit Level 11, and my Healing Word can hand out a surge ... plus 40. On an "average" roll. It's 7d6+17, so it could go either way. 3d6 from being Level 11, 2d6+3 from Pacifist Healer, 2d6 from Radiant Vessel, 6 from Wisdom, 3 from Healer's Implement, 3 from Healer's Brooch, 2 from my Morningstar of Healing. If you're wondering.
For reference, I think the highest-HP member of the party hasn't yet hit triple digits. :smalltongue:

On the other hand, my DM has introduced a recurring enemy with a (recharging) invisibility-and-shift-1 immediate interrupt and Sneak Attack. Pretty much auto-hits, for forty-plus damage at a time. Oh, and who ambushes us in the middle of fights with random other things, like behirs and peasant mobs, the latter on the week when we had a built-like-an-NPC Avenger instead of a Wizard and two Rangers (one TWF, one ranged). Rawr hate.

Mando Knight
2009-12-07, 02:54 PM
I know what you mean, kinda. We just hit Level 11, and my Healing Word can hand out a surge ... plus 40. On an "average" roll. It's 7d6+17, so it could go either way. 3d6 from being Level 11, 2d6+3 from Pacifist Healer, 2d6 from Radiant Vessel, 6 from Wisdom, 3 from Healer's Implement, 3 from Healer's Brooch, 2 from my Morningstar of Healing. If you're wondering.
For reference, I think the highest-HP member of the party hasn't yet hit triple digits. :smalltongue:

That's what happens when you're a Pacifist Healer that wants to make sure he's healing a lot. And if you're Kalashtar, it just gets even more ridiculous.