I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately as I prepare for the next D&D 4e game coming up in a couple of weeks, and most of it has to do with tactics. D&D is a combat focused game and I want to make sure I give my players a good challenge when it comes to the game, so I’ve come up with this list of things to keep in mind. The following are tips mainly for players, but I’m certain GMs will find some use out of these as well:
Take a chance and stunt – Sure there’s no Trip and no Disarm, but it doesn’t mean you can’t try. In a fit of old school mentality 4e has dispensed of these in favor of giving the GM room to interpret these stunts on their own. A trip attack for example, may call for an attack roll vs Reflex defense, and should it be successful, the victim ends up Prone. It’s not specific to the book, but any GM worth his salt should be able to cobble something together rather than say “Nope, you can’t do that.”
Don’t forget your Skills – Sure you’ve got Powers, but skills are useful even in combat. Consider creative applications of skills, whether it’s a Bluff check to draw the enemy towards you as a taunt, or even an Arcana Roll to figure out the Ritual being performed to keep the gateway to the Shadowfell open. GMs are highly encouraged to take these efforts and reward smart play outside of the combat powers.
There is no I in Team – This is an old adage and 4e has taken it and made it into a core feature. No singe class stands alone (yes, even the Paladin), and each one magnifies in efficiency once teamed up with other classes. Talk with your fellow players and see how you can synchronize and build on each other’s abilities. The Warlord is a prime example of a class whose entire purpose is to galvanize the team into greater feats of heroism, but all the classes have something to benefit the group in a combat situation. Also, don’t forget that Aid Another is a Standard Action. If one of the characters has a Daily Power that will benefit the team early on and lasts the entire encounter, consider giving up an attack for the round to Aid him in his attack, then use your move action to position yourself.
Where you fight matters – 4e has a huge emphasis on terrain and dungeon features. Traps, pits, lava and other hazardous terrain will feature prominently in set piece battles. This is where paying attention to the GM and the map pays off. If anything 4e is very flexible in the number of things you can do with it, so when it doubt, ask the GM if you can use a certain feature to your advantage. Shove monsters into lava, use your special abilities to drive them back into that wall of fire. Swing from the chandelier to gain an extra boost in your to hit if you make that acrobatics roll. 4e is dynamic, and your characters should reflect that. As a GM I have no qualms about using the same features against characters.
Spread out but don’t go Solo – Positioning is key in 4e, so learning to put yourself where you’ll be of best use to the party is a skill that every 4e player should pick up. It’s a delicate balance between sticking close enough together to be able to quickly focus fire or outflank a target, and yet being spread out enough to make sure you can minimize the damage from enemy Area of Effect attacks. A quick tip to remember is that party members provide cover for you, so ranged characters like Wizards and Bow Rangers will find that staying in the back row provides an additional measure of defense without sacrificing your chances to hit.
Flanking for Fun and Profit – Exploit your Shift and move abilities, if anything, they will allow your party to gain Combat Advantage against your targets swiftly and with minimal risk. The lower level 4e game still has a noticable Whiff factor so stack all the possible bonuses to hit that you can, the easiest of which to get would be the Combat Advantage from flanking.
Identify the Minions – This straddles metagaming territory, but ask the GM about the enemies you’re up against in the encounter. Note if there are any particular ones that are a) numerous and b) similarly outfitted. You can be pretty sure that those are Minions with 1 hp. If you don’t have a Controller, focus fire on the Minions first as they have similar AC to non-minions and deal an average level of damage. They’re cheap on the experience table, and the GM can afford to mob you with them.
Stack Conditions on Tough Opponents - This may seem like a no brainer, but it bears repeating. A high level Orc Solo is far more dangerous than a blind, immobile, helpless and prone high level Orc Solo.
Roleplaying has a place in combat - This last tip is one I always like to see in a fight. Not all your opponents are non-sentient beings. Sometimes judicious use of Bluff and Diplomacy and some good old fashioned roleplaying can actually swing the tide of battle. A well delivered speech imploring for peace and dialogue between two warring clans, accompanied by a good diplomacy roll might actually terminate hostilities entirely, and possibly entail a greater experience reward by applying creative solutions to resolving the conflict.
That’s what I’ve come up with so far, nothing class specific and nothing to do with builds and numbers. It’s all simple, practical application of basic tactics that will work in any game admittedly, but 4e supports most of these with actual rules. So good luck on your battles, and I hope that this article comes in useful.