10 Rules of Party Optimization

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Ah, multi-attack cheese. Got it.
Multi-attack is an example of a nova. Nova is hitting as hard as possible on one round. Using an action point and a daily or two.
I have completely revised the original post(s) to reflect commentary to date.

The latest (third) version is a bit longish, but if y'all would be kind enough to read it and to continue to poke holes in my thinking, I would appreciate it.

Thank you to everyone who's participated so far.
Nova: doing as much damage* to the enemy as possible in as short a time as possible without regard to resource conservation.

* "Damage" used generally to indicate anything that helps your team and hurts them including status effects and repositioning.
Great update! Don't really feel I'm competent enough to comment on the details, at least not yet.
Nova: doing as much damage* to the enemy as possible in as short a time as possible without regard to resource conservation.

* "Damage" used generally to indicate anything that helps your team and hurts them including status effects and repositioning.

Not to be persnickety about it, but that sounds like a great *ideal* definition of nova ... but it's not often what I see in practice. Generally, a nova is expected to drop the target pretty much instantly, which makes the parsing of status effects from damage a bit academic. And a lot of nova builds bend over backward to recharge their combo one, two, three times a day ... which means it can be used to drop a big Monty Python boot on just about every encounter of the campaign.

Hence, my new first step being to split "high nova" from "low nova" builds. A ranger pulling out his Blade Cascade in the session's final, climactic encounter? That's why you play a ranger. A ranger ArmorSplinterBladeCascadeElvenRerolling through every single obstacle? Um, time out ...
Great update! Don't really feel I'm competent enough to comment on the details, at least not yet.

Thanks. Rereading it, I see some topics that I failed to address (NADS attacks being the big one). I'll have to fit those in eventually.
Yo,

I'm quite taken with your "party functions" distribution, and think there's a lot of useful potential here - CharOp theory that goes behind damage numbers means a lot. That said, I think I'd revise it in at least one fundamental way though, which I'll outline here and then return to this post later to see if it catches on.

I think every function should be assigned to a role, a sub-role if you will. I realize this will require some adjucation or some functions be multi-role or role-ess, so I'd add "Utility," "Social," and "PartyWide" as role categories.

As to specifics...

I think "healing" should be "healing word," because I think that family of class features is the point of this category.

I wonder if "mark" can get renamed, because Pursuit Avengers have one of the best "marks" in the game.

"Controller functionality" is way too broad... it should be split up, at least, into "minion clearing," "terrain creation," and "spot debuffs."

BigMak. Why isn't this one considered situational or party-dependant? It's vital with a Commander's Strike Warlord or the Agile Opportunist feat support, but does that make it a must-have in every party?

"Synergy" is odd... perhaps rename to "team damage type," and if you're referring to something else, create a new category.

"Tank" is a composite of two different functions: HighDurability & Sticky. Make it one of the composite functions below and split these two. This makes it easier to see that HighDurability is the party-wide boon while you really only need one or two Stickies.

Especially in tier 3, some of your functions (History expert, Lay Healer) will realistically always be filled by the Arcane ritual caster and Wis ritual caster, unless something real weird is going on. I'd consider merging the skill-based categories more than you have, perhaps going so far as to simple say "ChaSkills" (1 or 2), "WisSkills" (2), "IntSkills (1)". Or, alternatively, "Knowledge Skills" (2), "Percept/Insight" (1 or 2), "FaceSkils (1 or 2). With PHB2 background feats and multiclass options, any character has access to at least two non-class skills of choice meaning he can fill out pretty much whatever skills fall along his primary or secondary ability score.

Lastly, I think you're missing "artillery" (striker-damage at a range), and "tactician" (the movement-aspect of leaders). As lower tier options, I'd propose "VariableDamageType," to prey on vulnerabilities.
Great input, thank you.
Great input, thank you.

I like the way this thread has developed. It feels more complete now.

Now that we have some well-defined guidelines, we can debate about which part would be the best.
I like the way this thread has developed. It feels more complete now.

Now that we have some well-defined guidelines, we can debate about which part would be the best.

That's the idea; I'm hoping to get more input like that from Seifalmasy. Recruit enough blind guys and we might finally pool together a comprehensive picture of the elephant. And I'm not above totally rethinking and redrafting the "decision tree" approach to party design given more input ...

And yes, the overly dry pun was intended.
Nova: doing as much damage* to the enemy as possible in as short a time as possible without regard to resource conservation.

* "Damage" used generally to indicate anything that helps your team and hurts them including status effects and repositioning.

I don't think it has to be "without regard to resource conservation." It makes sense to think of encounter power novas as well as daily novas. If the warlord uses inspired belligerence, warlord's strike, and then spends an action point to use hammer and anvil, I think that qualifies as a nova even though it is entirely encounter powers and can be done in 50-80% of encounters (depending upon how many skill challenges your DM uses and where they show up in the day). The warlord could us graded assault or staggering spin instead of hammer and anvil, so the choice to use hammer and anvil obviously does convey some concern for resource conservation but it is still a nova. Likewise, the warlord could use war of attrition in place of warlord's strike (which would be more effective), but might very well choose to use the warlord's strike version instead (perhaps saving war of attrition for another round, or perhaps saving it for a situation where he wants to enable the party to nova without having that only impact the target of his attack).

A nova will usually expend more resources than a character has available on an at-will basis, but there is room for considering resource conservation when novaing. You could argue that it is more of a nova the more resources you expend, but it is not exactly true that novas always get better by expending more limited resources (in many situations, hammer and anvil is just as effective as staggering spin, for instance, and a warlord who had, for instance, bastion of defense available to him could expend more resources for a less effective nova).
I think "healing" should be "healing word," because I think that family of class features is the point of this category.

That could be misleading as well though. A ranger/warlord or wizard/cleric with rousing words or bastion of health as a utility power also has per encounter surge based healing which, I think, is the core functional mechanic for healing in 4th edition. Just looking at the healing/inspiring/majestic word understates the broadness of the function.
I don't think it has to be "without regard to resource conservation." It makes sense to think of encounter power novas as well as daily novas.

Exactly. I've been comparing lordduskblade's Ranger/Stormwarden and Ranger/Pit Fighter builds, and at level 11 the DPR is identical except for Blade Storm. But what about encounter novas at that level? Or, say, level 16. The daily nova potential at level 30 is certainly interesting from a theoretical standpoint but it doesn't matter much in actual play. I'd like to see more discussion of overall power of different strikers at say level 11 and 16, for example. Of course, that is more a matter of opinion than pure math, but it's worth discussion none the less. Often you face just an elite or a threatening normal monster. The solos aren't as common at lower levels. Then daily nova potential is fairly irrelevant.
A lot of this isn't even practical optimization. A high nova party is pretty pointless, really; tack on several characters capable of dealing 1800 DPR, it doesn't realistically matter what the party is. Moreover, if you're built around being abusive, and to maximize the abuse, and you get house ruled or erratad, you're going to have problems if your build isn't solid in other ways. Someone who throws everything away to deal as much damage as possible with multiattacks, then suddenly loses the ability to be abusive in terms of damage, can be exposed to great danger with their unmissable will defense.

Basically, if you assume you can break the game in half, it doesn't really matter what you build, because its quite possible to win initiative every combat with a high nova party and kill anything and everything in a single round.

If you can't break the game in half (either due to errata or HR) then your advice is pretty much wrong. Controllers are incredibly important at upper paragon and epic due to the sheer number of stuns they throw out, particularly AoE stuns and similar potent debuffs. Even apart from the OoI, the Wizard is excellent for this very reason, and its not like the Invoker cannot do similar things, including dominating a number of foes simultaneously. They're the worst thing to double up on (mostly because they suck up healing terribly fast sometimes; they heal the least per heal, and as such if they get pounded on then suddenly things can get away from you, and with two you have to defend twice as many, which is considerably harder) but they're the third most essential role, behind leader and defender - you can go without a striker, but if you go without a controller you'll often have trouble as time goes on with your decreased ability to debuff. A striker adds damage, to be sure, but if you aren't controlling monsters, they can gang up on someone and eat them far more easily.
Im missing something here :

Once the party reaches paragon, the two builds that do this best are the orb wizard (see rule 2) and paladin PP Champion of Order (which works at least as well with fighters). If you don’t have an orb wizard, it’s a good idea to plan to graft CoO to someone.

CoO also offers a Unique power (detect evil)
which is great in a high social campaign. (The CoO doesn’t actually need to be the face; he can be another elbow-nudger like the Skeptic.)

Im looking at champion of order, and I cant see any powers that would make this PP 'controller-ish' apart from its beefed-up divine challenge, something a multi-class character gets to do only 1/encounter... and it does not have a 'detect evil' power, you must be thinking of some other PP...
Im missing something here :



Im looking at champion of order, and I cant see any powers that would make this PP 'controller-ish' apart from its beefed-up divine challenge, something a multi-class character gets to do only 1/encounter... and it does not have a 'detect evil' power, you must be thinking of some other PP...

Your missing something

Certain Justice (just the important parts)
Encounter
Str +4 with the weapon keyword
If the target is marked, it is also weakened and dazed by this attack for as long as the mark remains in effect.


And you have to read the fluff to get the Detect Evil part "In the presence of chaotic evil creatures, your weapon glows with radiant light."
CyberianHusky: So, the point of "controller-ish" does not refer to traditional crowd control powers, but to the Orbizard lockdown route. Locking down a Solo or Elite with status effects for a long time, through for example save penalties.
A lot of this isn't even practical optimization. A high nova party is pretty pointless [...]

As much as I agree with you in principle, in practice it's not uncommon to find oneself in a purely RAW session or campaign. Neither errata nor DM fiat pose any risk in certain convention setups, for example.

That said, a well designed high nova party will survive the rolling of several consecutive 1s better than a poorly designed one.

I'm inclined to keep this as rule 1.

If you can't break the game in half (either due to errata or HR) then your advice is pretty much wrong

I think I've well established that my advice is constantly evolving to reflect the counsel offered on this thread. It's a mutual respect approach that I'd urge all participants to embrace.

Controllers are incredibly important at upper paragon and epic [...] They're the worst thing to double up on

I had leaned toward this perspective myself before allowing some previous feedback to sway me. Are you saying that at low-level play you would agree that a dedicated controller is not as urgent?

you can go without a striker, but if you go without a controller you'll often have trouble as time goes on with your decreased ability to debuff

Hm. I'd certainly agree that a defender-leader-striker party would *miss* the controller. I'm not entirely persuaded that they would miss him more than the defender-leader-controller party would miss the striker. The right defender-leader-striker trio can bring a lot of control on its own. As much as I like to poke fun at high nova design philosophy, I actually am a strong proponent of the "dead monsters don't crit" school of thought.

I don't have a lot of experience in the back half of the game, so would appreciate some others' input here.

A striker adds damage, to be sure, but if you aren't controlling monsters, they can gang up on someone and eat them far more easily.

Conversely, a controller is one less party member able to gang up on the monsters and destroy them one by one. And because he's avoiding melee he's far more vulnerable to opposing control effects (fewer friendly fire concerns). Obviously, *I* often find a nonmelee controller to be something of a liability in play ... but I seem to be in a minority there.
As much as I agree with you in principle, in practice it's not uncommon to find oneself in a purely RAW session or campaign. Neither errata nor DM fiat pose any risk in certain convention setups, for example.

That said, a well designed high nova party will survive the rolling of several consecutive 1s better than a poorly designed one.

I'm inclined to keep this as rule 1.

And I think you should.

I think I've well established that my advice is constantly evolving to reflect the counsel offered on this thread. It's a mutual respect approach that I'd urge all participants to embrace.

I had leaned toward this perspective myself before allowing some previous feedback to sway me. Are you saying that at low-level play you would agree that a dedicated controller is not as urgent?

Probably not, especially if you can get a Rogue, Sorcerer or Warlock; they'll work about as well as a Controller, while being less squishy.

Hm. I'd certainly agree that a defender-leader-striker party would *miss* the controller. I'm not entirely persuaded that they would miss him more than the defender-leader-controller party would miss the striker. The right defender-leader-striker trio can bring a lot of control on its own. As much as I like to poke fun at high nova design philosophy, I actually am a strong proponent of the "dead monsters don't crit" school of thought.

I don't have a lot of experience in the back half of the game, so would appreciate some others' input here.

TD ran a L30 playtest awhile back; after building the Orbizard, I think he has a point in that Controllers really hit their stride in the back half of the game, to the point that you'll wonder how you ever got along without one.

Conversely, a controller is one less party member able to gang up on the monsters and destroy them one by one. And because he's avoiding melee he's far more vulnerable to opposing control effects (fewer friendly fire concerns). Obviously, *I* often find a nonmelee controller to be something of a liability in play ... but I seem to be in a minority there.

I do too; that's why my Orbizard can use a sword with better accuracy than most. ;)
Controllers are incredibly important at upper paragon and epic due to the sheer number of stuns they throw out, particularly AoE stuns and similar potent debuffs.

Strikers such as the Rogue and Warlock can each take powers with various status effects and continue to receive them in late paragon and epic. Avengers offer control by forcing where an enemy can go as well. All three entertain options for stun, or in the case of the warlock, removing from the battlefield all together.
Controller do those things better, and that's a given, but they suffer the fact that there is likely to be an ally in their AoE, susceptibility to enemy lurkers, skirmishers, and artillery, and they suffer from the lowest HP/Surges.
The common counter argument is that controllers lock down enemies, and if an enemy is locked down its not attacking the party, saving everyone HP/Surges. Having played at several levels with various party builds, in my experience this has never happened once. Your mileage may vary.
Dm's get far more out of their controllers than PC's do.

... but they're the third most essential role, behind leader and defender - you can go without a striker, but if you go without a controller you'll often have trouble as time goes on with your decreased ability to debuff. A striker adds damage, to be sure, but if you aren't controlling monsters, they can gang up on someone and eat them far more easily.

Once again, half the striker classes out there offer control, as do defenders. If you're really hard up for wizard/invoker/druid spells, I'd like to point you to the rules and feats for multi-classing (PHB 208)

Understand that I'm not saying pure controllers are useless, but they are not the "third most essential role". They are dead last. Always nice to have one, but nowhere near a necessity if you have other classes picking up controller effects.
Saying the controllers are a necessity at late paragon and epic is a fallacy. ALL classes see a massive improvement, not just controllers.
For my part, I find non-melee characters of any type to frequently be a liability. When one third of the party is hiding 25 squares from the action and shooting bows (archery rangers) or trying to stay within 5 squares of the front line to contribute but avoid being adjacent to enemies, you find that either the characters who are in front take too many attacks or the characters who are trying to do "in your face" ranged attacks end up not contributing for fear of OAs or getting dropped because they decided that eating OAs from three brutes was a good risk.

Conversely, a controller is one less party member able to gang up on the monsters and destroy them one by one. And because he's avoiding melee he's far more vulnerable to opposing control effects (fewer friendly fire concerns). Obviously, *I* often find a nonmelee controller to be something of a liability in play ... but I seem to be in a minority there.

If you're really hard up for wizard/invoker/druid spells, I'd like to point you to the rules and feats for multi-classing (PHB 208)

Understand that I'm not saying pure controllers are useless, but they are not the "third most essential role". They are dead last

I don't think it's necessary to point TD toward any part of the ruleset.

I'm sure that he has a great deal of informed reasoning and experience behind his assertion that controllers gain importance in late paragon and epic, and I'd invite him to expound upon his findings.
For my part, I find non-melee characters of any type to frequently be a liability.

Mine, too, but early input highlighted for me how differently I prefer to play the game (like Rainbow Six with longswords ...) and I've since hesitated to extrapolate too much from my own experience.

It's easy enough for the DM to set up a ranged encounter, so an optimized party should have a strong ranged potential held in reserve. That said, I find that the best parties include all melee-oriented and fairly mobile characters who can surround enemy A, exert some control on enemies B and C while they kill A, surround enemy B, exert some control on enemies C and D while they kill B, rinse and repeat.

This minimizes DM control effects (always friendlies in the mix) and also helps to spread incoming damage, as the DM's characters more often end up selecting a target of convenience.

As always, YMMV.
It's easy enough for the DM to set up a ranged encounter, so an optimized party should have a strong ranged potential held in reserve.

Agreed--I actually meant to say "melee capable" rather than "melee." For an example of the difference, lordduskblade's orbizard is melee capable--if he's backed against a wall by an enemy soldier, he has good attacks that he can do without provoking OAs--he's not reduced to curling up into a ball and crying or hoping that he can thunderwave them away without hitting too many of his own party members. He also has adequate defenses and a reasonable amount of hit points. However, lordduskblade's character is not melee focused--as a wizard, most of his powers are ranged.

In my ideal party all--or nearly all, I might compromise and live with one squishy--characters should be melee capable. They should not all be melee focused.
For an example of the difference, lordduskblade's orbizard is melee capable--if he's backed against a wall by an enemy soldier, he has good attacks that he can do without provoking OAs--he's not reduced to curling up into a ball and crying

By the time that lordduskblade's orbizard is backed into a wall, the rest of the party has been rendered into its constituent atoms. But your point stands.

One reason I fielded a druid in my first party was because I love how they're designed to flit between melee and ranged to fit the existing opportunities. (And they turns peoples into toads!) I guess they're just not nova enough for many tastes, but tactically they're the bees knees.
I don't think it's necessary to point TD toward any part of the ruleset.

I'm sure that he has a great deal of informed reasoning and experience behind his assertion that controllers gain importance in late paragon and epic, and I'd invite him to expound upon his findings.

I meant no offense by that statement and included the reference for others following along.

As for ranged builds, Archers, Warlocks, Sorcerers, etc. They're great for harrasing enemies who decide to hang back. Also a Ranger with Spitting Cobra Stance is most effective a square or two behind the defender. Same goes for Dragon Sorcerers whom primarily use close burst and blasts, letting them clear out minions and weaken foes who try to flood the front line.

D&D 4e isn't "fantasy SEALS" but using a squad mentality is still useful.
I had leaned toward this perspective myself before allowing some previous feedback to sway me. Are you saying that at low-level play you would agree that a dedicated controller is not as urgent?

Well, at paragon and epic they're practically mandatory simply because if you don't have one, you're going to have a lot of trouble controlling monsters, and monsters will have less trouble controlling you. Dracoliches, for instance, are nightmarish if you don't have a wizard in the party, and can even come close to TPKing a level 30 party with the right backup.

At low levels, the controller plays a somewhat different role. Thing about low-level controllers is that at low levels, chances are you are otherwise lacking in AoE effects, which makes encounters against large swarms of minions somewhat problematic, particularly if they're something like kobold minions - a group of 24 kobold minions can be absolutely devastating to a level 1 party simply because of their ability to concentrate 24 attacks on one character. Even with only a +5 bonus to hit, an AC 18 character (not all that uncommon at level 1) is going to be hit on a 13 - 40% of the time, for a whopping 38.4 DPR. I've actually run this encounter before, and it can be outright dangerous without a wizard.

Thus at low levels, the job of a controller is to fight minions and swarms rather than to debuff. That said, debuffing isn't bad, its just that, most likely, your debuffs aren't that awesome. Something like Grasping Shards or Thunderwave is still useful, though, for their ability to slow melee foes (which often lack ranged attacks, thus basically stunning them if you win initiative) and push foes into dangerous terrain respectively.

Hm. I'd certainly agree that a defender-leader-striker party would *miss* the controller. I'm not entirely persuaded that they would miss him more than the defender-leader-controller party would miss the striker. The right defender-leader-striker trio can bring a lot of control on its own. As much as I like to poke fun at high nova design philosophy, I actually am a strong proponent of the "dead monsters don't crit" school of thought.

Depends on how much damage you're dealing. If you're killing everything in one round, no, you won't miss the controller. But strikers aren't supposed to be killing monsters in one round, either, and if they are then party optimization is completely meaningless, as you might as well just bring along as many "kill in one round" characters as possible and do so every combat.

If you're not killing everything in one round (thus, being within the realm of reason), then controllers are very important as a means of keeping guys off your back.

Also, its not "dead monsters don't crit". Its that high level monsters stun, daze, immobilize, restrain, and weaken characters. Immobilization in particular can halve or more your DPR if you're a melee based character.

Fundamentally, what the wizard does is take out one of those sources of nasty debuffs on the party. A wizard doesn't deal all that much damage, but if they confusion, followed by thunderclap, followed by ice tomb, that's probably 2 rounds out of three the creature they're focusing on can't do anything. That's enough for the rest of the party to kill a monster, and the remaining monsters, even if they all focus on the controller, probably won't rid the party of them fast enough to counteract it. High level combat basically consists of tipping points; you kill monsters, and decrease their DPR, thus decreasing their ability to fight back. But it can work the other way as well; the monsters gank someone, and suddenly your party DPR drops by a third.

Conversely, a controller is one less party member able to gang up on the monsters and destroy them one by one. And because he's avoiding melee he's far more vulnerable to opposing control effects (fewer friendly fire concerns). Obviously, *I* often find a nonmelee controller to be something of a liability in play ... but I seem to be in a minority there.

Only a relatively small number of attacks have any friendly fire concerns, and if the enemy are throwing fireballs and hitting only the wizard, that's a bonus for the party.

If you build a controller properly, they aren't particularly exposed. A wizard can thunderwave, and probably has a few teleportation or super-shifting powers as well to get out of harm's way. Moreover, if you're stunning one creature, and the fighter is taking on another, how many monsters are going to focus on you? Even if all the rest go in against you (which does happen sometimes), usually the controller can take it for long enough for the rest of the party to kill the guy they're killing, then go in and take on one of the monsters focusing on the wizard. And the wizard themselves is obviously not helpless in all this.

People focus on the vulnerability of a ranged character, but people never focus on the vulnerability of a melee character. Melee characters are far more vulnerable to debuffs than ranged characters - slowing, immobilizing, restraining, dazing, and knocking prone ranged characters is far less effective than on melee characters.

TD ran a L30 playtest awhile back; after building the Orbizard, I think he has a point in that Controllers really hit their stride in the back half of the game, to the point that you'll wonder how you ever got along without one.

Even without the broken orb, the wizard is an invaluable character. The sheer number of stun powers you have, even if you cannot abuse them to the point where they permastun creatures, can oftentimes really impair a single creature. If you're using a daily which stun (SEs) an AoE, then you follow it up by three rounds of stunning (something a high level wizard can and should do every combat), the action advantage generated is enormous.

Strikers such as the Rogue and Warlock can each take powers with various status effects and continue to receive them in late paragon and epic. Avengers offer control by forcing where an enemy can go as well. All three entertain options for stun, or in the case of the warlock, removing from the battlefield all together.

Avengers are ineffective controllers. They can control what happens to them, but they have little ability to control what happens to other people. Also, all they can offer in punishment is damage, and a lot of their powers basically set up lose-lose situations for the monsters, wherein they take additional damage any way you slice it. While these powers SEEM like they'd incentivize certain behaviors, adding in +5-10 damage at upper paragon and epic is nice, but given they're taking the damage either way, they're often better off simply behaving how they'd behave otherwise and ignoring the punishment, because it isn't enough to make it worth being controlled. They are only soft controllers, and the strongest incentives they have are to stay away from them, not their allies. Given what Avengers do, they aren't all that awesome a target anyway unless they are built to abuse twin strike or similar.

As for the rogue and warlock... warlocks can act like controllers. Trouble is, they can't act as high-grade strikers. Not that they're useless - they're not - but they aren't at good at controlling as a controller and aren't as good at striking as a striker. Rogues are more interesting when they act as controllers, but their damage is only moderate for a striker. So while you're adding in some control attributes, it comes at the cost of being less effective as a striker - and they still cannot replicate the wizard with a suite of 4 encounter control powers and several AoE stun dailies. Invokers are also more effective at applying potent debuffs to groups of foes. Debuffing multiple foes with a single action is not to be underestimated, and even something like blindness can be crippling.

Controller do those things better, and that's a given, but they suffer the fact that there is likely to be an ally in their AoE, susceptibility to enemy lurkers, skirmishers, and artillery, and they suffer from the lowest HP/Surges.

Thing is, though, many of their best AoE powers (in both classes, actually) are selective. Also, hitting allies is FAR less of a problem than people think it is at epic - not only are there ways of getting around it, but a huge proportion of epic foes are large, which means you can drop area burst spells X+1 squares off the ground, sparing any medium-sized creature but hitting all the large creatures. A lot of people simply don't realize that AoEs hitting allies actually becomes LESS of a problem as you increase in level simply because foes become larger. This isn't to say it always works this way (in my playtest, I used elevation, which worked to counteract this advantage somewhat) but it still is very often effective if you think in three dimensions.

The common counter argument is that controllers lock down enemies, and if an enemy is locked down its not attacking the party, saving everyone HP/Surges. Having played at several levels with various party builds, in my experience this has never happened once. Your mileage may vary.

In my experience, this happens all the time in epic. Even sans broken orb, they still throw out so many powerful debuffs round after round that you're looking at generating somewhere on the order of +5 action advantage with the wizard per encounter.

But even at heroic tier a wizard can severely inconvenience monsters via thunderwaving them off cliffs, into difficult or hazardous terrain, or just down a floor, forcing them to spend a turn moving around to fight you again. The wizard in my party is often the MVP for pushing creatures around with thunderwave in very effective ways, and oftentimes he'll set himself up to use thunderwave as effectively as possible. Of course, my encounter design probably helps that; they've fought in mansions, on a bridge over a ravine, in a ditch next to a road, in the sewers, and on a ship. Then again, I'm not sure that this is so unusual, either. If you have terrain in your encounters which involves drop-offs or difficult terrain, a wizard who uses thunderwave effectively is an extremely handy character to have around. Likewise with Grasping Shards; use that at the start of an encounter, and you can potentially force enemy melee creatures to waste their first turn, while your ranged characters pound on whatever they feel like and the defenders and strikers chuck things at them or engage the monsters which aren't stuck.

Once again, half the striker classes out there offer control, as do defenders. If you're really hard up for wizard/invoker/druid spells, I'd like to point you to the rules and feats for multi-classing (PHB 208)

Thing is, the strikers which offer control don't offer as good of striking, and the GW fighter is almost as good a striker as the rogue, and the dual strike fighter is a better striker than a rogue, in addition to being a highly effective defender. Any melee character with a GW is capable of dealing pretty solid damage in addition to their other effects. Yes, you can multiclass into controller... but you can do the same to acquire two-weapon fighting powers, which are the most effective striker tools.

Yes, other classes do have some debuffs. But they aren't as good at it, or as focused on it, as controllers are, and they are much worse at AoE debuffs, the best tool the controller has to offer. When I'm dropping a blood pulse or a glyph of radiance, I'm doing a lot to multiple creatures. Blood pulse in the first round of combat deals 2d6 + 8-15 or so... then it deals an additional 10d6 (or more!) damage as the monsters are forced to move to engage the party. Glyph of Radiance gives multiple monsters a -5 penalty to hit, as well as granting my allies +2 to hit them.

For my part, I find non-melee characters of any type to frequently be a liability. When one third of the party is hiding 25 squares from the action and shooting bows (archery rangers) or trying to stay within 5 squares of the front line to contribute but avoid being adjacent to enemies, you find that either the characters who are in front take too many attacks or the characters who are trying to do "in your face" ranged attacks end up not contributing for fear of OAs or getting dropped because they decided that eating OAs from three brutes was a good risk.

Thing is, this is much more of a problem at low levels than high levels, and is a particular problem for the laser cleric due to the combination of short range and suckiness in melee combat. At low levels, a wizard has 50% less hit points, same as at higher levels, than your high hp character... but at low levels, monsters deal a quarter or more of the wizard's hp in damage per hit. At epic, a monster deals an eigth of a wizard's hit points per hit (at first level, a standard monster deals 8.5 damage - a 12 con wizard has 22 hit points and goes down in 3 hits. At level 30, a wizard has 150 hp, and a monster deals 23.5 damage per hit - it takes seven hits to down them. People who play in heroic tier note this a lot, but as you increase in level, this becomes much less of an issue. The laser cleric pretty much always has the other problem (OAs) just due to their range, and monsters who can take advantage of this will. A character who is 10 squares away, though, is usually pretty safe, as few monsters have 10 movement, so the "shift+charge" strategy isn't as effective. It also depends on the environs you fight in - if you're fighting in, say, a 30 foot wide room, just two melee characters can cover that so that they get an OA against anyone who tries to cross the line. Pincer formations can accomplish the same thing (a V of characters, more or less) and this is a useful setup for flanking; at a minimum you can often set things up so the monsters have to suffer an OA, and a fighter can really hurt someone for doing a shift + charge. A shielding swordmage, likewise, can more or less force a melee monster to focus on them, not on the squishy. And the V formation can tie down several monsters effectively, allowing a ranged character to approach. Ranged rangers have powers which allow them to run away, warlocks can teleport, and wizards have thunderwave, all of which are effective for making it more difficult for melee monsters to take advantage of them.

As for ranged builds, Archers, Warlocks, Sorcerers, etc. They're great for harrasing enemies who decide to hang back. Also a Ranger with Spitting Cobra Stance is most effective a square or two behind the defender. Same goes for Dragon Sorcerers whom primarily use close burst and blasts, letting them clear out minions and weaken foes who try to flood the front line.

Thing is, the best use of the ranged striker is actually damage focusing. If you have some melee characters, sometimes its difficult to all gang up on the same monster due to other monsters getting in the way or marking you. A ranged character doesn't care where they are, they just drop damage on their head. A ranged controller IS more about incapacitating the most annoying foe on the battlefield.

In my ideal party all--or nearly all, I might compromise and live with one squishy--characters should be melee capable. They should not all be melee focused.

Thing is, a lot of characters can simply avoid the question altogether. A high level warlock can teleport twice per encounter, which means you'd have to chase him down three times with two monsters (or a soldier which punishes you for shifting or prevents you from doing so), and at least one of his teleports is likely to give him an enormous defensive boost. A ranged ranger can do the same. A wizard has close bursts and blasts, and has thunderwave to make space for himself, in addition to a few powers of his own to get away.

Its true you should never have more ranged-focused characters than melee-focused characters, but its not true that you shouldn't have characters who are bad in melee, so long as they have some means of mitigating it somehow. Its the same as melee characters - you should be capable of at least some ranged contribution to avoid the hilariously stupid situation where a group of Efreet Karadjin (for example) immobilize you and pound on you from a square out of your reach.
Well [...]

... I don't know about anyone else but I'd say you make an effective case. I'd already noticed that wizards add the most value on the extreme ends of the encounter spectrum: minions and solos. I hadn't really considered how deadly an all-minion encounter could be, though I had noticed that there are certain solos you just don't want to face on anything like even footing (hence my continued insistence on some sort of SoloLock in an optimal party).

Just a couple of follow-up questions:

1. Are there any circumstances where you would rather have an invoker than a wizard as the party controller? (I'm not even going to ask about my beloved druid ...)

2. You repeat the general belief that a warlock is a sort of hybrid striker and controller. What are your thoughts on placing a warlock in a party of three rather than a wizard? I have a hard time envisioning a single defender and a leader (even one optimized for melee at the cost of his primary roles) keeping a wizard's robes clean against a DM worth the cost of his boxed set.
D&D 4e isn't "fantasy SEALS" but using a squad mentality is still useful.

Ah, yea, 4e looks more like Magic:the Gathering than any other edition, but us graybeards will continue to raise the skull and bones from bygone days. The game's whatever the DM and players decide it is. You can believe that *my* campaign would be about scouting and pondering and picking only the right fights.

As a great illustration of what an all-stealth party can do, find a copy of the old Temple of Elemental Evil, add the fan mods, then build an all-stealth 3.5 party. It's a relatively railroad, lockstep environment, and you'll still run over it.
Man, that's a post.

Rancid_Rogue, I'm going to post how I'd revise your tiers on the front page if it were up to me. This isn't meant as a criticism, but rather as an exercise in categorization. I wanted to add two dimensions: fluctuations by tier and treating functions as sub-roles.

Important. I'm assuming every character is trying to enhance his or her own defenses and durability in an optimal manner, and so the "hard to kill" aspect of the defender is not being listed by itself. Also, I'm unsure of the numbers... I assigned a 1 to everything except capable melee defenders, multi-attacking strikers, and soft nova enablers.

Tier 1
2x Defender (damage control [marks])
2x Defender (movement lockdown [sticky])
1x Leader (healing word [or similar])
1x Leader (buffs)
2x Striker (multi-attack)
1x Controller (minion control)
1x Controller (spot debuff / temporary removal)
1x Hybrid (elite/solo lockdown)

Tier 2
1x Defender (animal or spirit companion)
1x Striker (artillery)
1x Leader (attack granting)
1x Leader (tactical movement)
1x Controller (terrain creation)
1x Controller (variable damage type)
5x Party-Wide (damage type synergy)
?x Utility (other; ie. detect evil, tiny wildshape)
1x Skill Monkey (perception)
1x Skill Monkey (insight)
1x Skill Monkey (thievery)
1x Skill Monkey (stealth)
1x Skill Monkey (diplomacy)

Tier 3
1x Skill Monkey (athletics)
1x Skill Monkey (endurance)
1x Skill Monkey (acrobatics)
1x Skill Monkey (arcana)
1x Skill Monkey (history)
1x Skill Monkey (religion)
1x Skill Monkey (dungeoneering)
1x Skill Monkey (nature)
1x Skill Monkey (heal)
1x Skill Monkey (bluff)
1x Skill Monkey (intimidate)
1x Skill Monkey (streetwise)

Paragon: Additional Concerns
2x Striker (Agile Opportunist + BigMeleeAttack)
2x Leader (Agile Opportunist enabler)
2x Leader (soft nova coordinator [ie: taclord, war chanter, flame of hope])
1x Controller (mass action-economy influence)

Epic: Additional Concerns
2x Striker (hard nova capability)
This isn't meant as a criticism.

It would be odd for me to take it as such when I keep inviting feedback, but thank you for the caveat.

2x Defender (damage control [marks]) [...]

I think I see where you're going with the less granular definitions of functionality; however, I'm pretty sure that's a path that leads from a 2K-word article to a 45K-word dissertation. Once you reverse-engineer the roles with any degree of precision, you create the tools for benchmarking each class within its role. Once you've done that, you've created the data set required to more formally evaluate the cooperative efficiency of different classes within the party framework. Once you get started, there's no natural stopping point.

That might be an exercise best left for those with more time than me.

Having said that, I probably need to take that approach in the next draft in a few critical cases. TD's analysis of the controller as low-level minion broom slowly transitioning to paragon--epic SoloLock comes to mind. For the most part, though, brevity and clarity incline me to assume that a Leader already is optimizing as a character for healing, buffing, Agile Opportunist triggering, etc. Therefore an exercise in party optimization usually needs only to consider how the single variable Leader adds value or subtracts value by way of opportunity cost.

I'm afraid I'm also actually disinclined to pull apart the skills as you did. I think they're best presented in pseudoroles created by the attributes they share; hence, the "Skeptic" rather than a Perception and a distinct Insight monkey. Plus, I'm a little surprised that you shoved them all to the back of the list. E.g., in a classic campaign, Thievery really should be a nearly Tier 1 concern, Perception is right there with it, etc.

-- 30 --
"2 A. M. Posting
Never looks smart in hindsight
You're right, Iz silly"

I made the mistake of conflating functions with the choices we CharOpers make to fulfill them. "Taclord // War Chanter // Flame of Hope" and "Agile Opportunist enabler" are not functions, they're clever ways of filling functions.

That said, I think you need some sub-division. As an example, consider the granting of free shifts and slides. Assuming part of your project is to identify those things that are crucial for a party to be considerd optimal, I consider this crucial to an optimized party, but a party with a melee cleric and a preserving invoker covers this, even though the "leader" isn't the one doing it. It's this function you care about, not just the "leader" role.

Ignoring my previous post, I consider the following to be ontologically sound divisions (aka functions, aka sub-roles) within a role that pertain to the party, rather than the individual trying to fulfill his role.

Defender: BlackHole (once you get next to him, its hard to get away)

Striker: MultiAttack, Artillery

Leader: Healer, Napoleon (directs attacks towards a single enemy via bonuses), Tactician (movement granting), Buffs (understood defensively)

Controller: Broom (minion sweeping), TreatMonk (mass action-economy influence), Creator (terrain/zone/wall creation), Debuff

In regards to the skills... I have no idea what to do with them. The problem is in a skill encounter where everyone has to contribute, you actually want your social skills and your rogue skills to be on different characters, rather than each character having a skill encounter archtype of choice. Also, WotC has repeatedly said skill challenges shouldn't kill PCs or halt campaigns. Combat does both these things. And so I think combat is necessarily more important.
I sort of suspect that the best parties are not nearly as diverse as any that have been suggested; and in fact consist entirely (or almost entirely) of leaders, or can perform odd tricks.

I would suggest, for instance, that a party made of five druids (or half-elves with Chill Wind, my first pass at this concept), some cold-resistance items, and Agile Opportunist can make combat encounters trivially easy from 11th level onward, because, once you get good at positioning, they can just make three (or more) times as many attacks as anyone else (target your allies with the Chill Wind and slide them to give them the opportunity attacks).

Something like this, five times, perhaps:

Elf druid/warpriest

STR 9
CON 13
DEX 21
INT 11
WIS 21
CHA 13

Speed: 8 HP: 75 Surges: 10
AC: 26 Fort 18 Reflex 23 Will 23
Resist Cold 10

Feats: Initiate of the Faith, Melee Training, Agile Opportunist, WP: bastard sword, WF: heavy blades, Coordinated Explosion, Durable

At Will: Chill Wind (+14 vs Fort, d6+3), Thorn Whip
Encounter: Frost Flash, Call Lighting, Swirling Winds, Battle Cry, Elven Accuracy
Daily: Faerie Fire, Wall of Thorns, Sunbeam
Utility: Obscuring Mist, Chant of Sustenance, Winter Storm

Equipment: +3 Hide Armor of Cold Resistance, +3 Totem, +2 Periapt of Cascading Health, +2 Bastard Sword, Bracers of Mighty Striking (2nd level), +2 Longbow

Basic Attack: +15 vs AC, d10+11

It's a group that fights very well at ranges up to 10 (at ranges greater than 10, well, the longbow is +14 to hit, d10+7; many groups cannot muster five such attackers); if the enemy closes, they can just start Chill Wind/Agile Opportunist up. Everyone can Chill Wind, everyone is immune to the damage from Chill Wind, and it's quite possible that you'll get three or four extra attacks every time you do Chill Wind...the basic attack, with a weapon 5 levels below the druid, isn't super-wonderful, but enough basic attacks will kill anything.

The healing is not wonderful, but...it would be enough healing for nearly every fight, I think. You could forgo the weapon stuff and just fight with your wild shapes, if you preferred; maybe that's better. They're fast, so they can avoid fights if they want to. They're crazy-perceptive. They may not actually be trained in stealth, but they're pretty stealthy without it.

Really, about the only thing they're not good at is talking to people.
Ignoring my previous post, I consider the following to be ontologically sound divisions [...]

OK, yea, now I'm more with you. I think the existing draft makes a crude stab in this direction and you're certainly correct that it could be improved.
I sort of suspect that the best parties are not nearly as diverse as any that have been suggested; and in fact consist entirely (or almost entirely) of leaders, or can perform odd tricks.

That's an interesting point that runs somewhat in kind with what Seifalmasy is trying to explain. Perhaps the next draft needs to look strictly at function, then challenge the traditional basket of roles to be an optimal suite of functions ...

Really, about the only thing they're not good at is talking to people.

At a glance, it seems like swapping in a single cunning bard would both fix this and not deviate from the design concept much.
That's an interesting point that runs somewhat in kind with what Seifalmasy is trying to explain. Perhaps the next draft needs to look strictly at function, then challenge the traditional basket of roles to be an optimal suite of functions ...

Indeed. Characters don't really have roles, after all; that's something that the people at wizards sort of tacked on (for reasons that I don't pretend to follow; it's about as stupid as their three archetypal players for MtG - doesn't explain anything, doesn't help with any aspect of design, just a purely arbitrary division in an effort to explain some different sorts of appeal).

I mean, defenders do tend to be better at taking attacks; many wizards are better at locking down opponents; rogues are fairly good at doing targetted damage compared to randomly generated characters - but those are just tendencies. Everyone can take some number of attacks; every class, I think, can be built in such a way as to have some amount of lock-down, and every class can do targetted damage, too. About the only thing I can say with certainty about a character when I know only the role that the designers assigned his class is that leaders are going to be better at healing than non-leaders.

At a glance, it seems like swapping in a single cunning bard would both fix this and not deviate from the design concept much.

Yes, it would also give them more opportunity attacks (bards are very good at sliding) and more healing. If the cunning bard is a half-elf, you can even keep the 'everyone has Chill Wind so that they have an at-will poly-attack power' theme going.
That's an interesting point that runs somewhat in kind with what Seifalmasy is trying to explain.

There's a method to my madness, I swear!

Man Agile Opportunist is powerful... most things on that level are paragon paths or class builds, not feats available to anyone with a melee basic attack. The multi-druid or multi-bard party can still cherry pick from a variety of paragon paths: Warpriest as mentioned, but maybe instead of 4 Warpriests go 1 Warpriest, 1 Flame of Hope, 1 Divine Oracle, and 1 WIS/STR Champion of Order. For the Bard, War Chanter or Heartwarder.

Man that's cute.
There's a method to my madness, I swear!

Man Agile Opportunist is powerful... most things on that level are paragon paths or class builds, not feats available to anyone with a melee basic attack. The multi-druid or multi-bard party can still cherry pick from a variety of paragon paths: Warpriest as mentioned, but maybe instead of 4 Warpriests go 1 Warpriest, 1 Flame of Hope, 1 Divine Oracle, and 1 WIS/STR Champion of Order. For the Bard, War Chanter or Heartwarder.

Man that's cute.

Sure, obviously you can upgrade a bit there. I was feeling lazy.

The half-elf multi-bard party I made had two Knight Protectors, a Divine Oracle, a Keeper of the Secret Flame, and a War Chanter, if I recall correctly. The good thing about them was that they all had Guileful Switch, which turned them into a nightmare nova on an encounter level - 50 attacks, potentially, in one turn, is problematic.

They wouldn't have been nearly as good at fighting at range as the all-druid party though. Still quite good, but not nearly as good.
The good thing about them was that they all had Guileful Switch, which turned them into a nightmare nova.

Yeah, it occurs to me only now that bards of any race can get a skill, a backup heal 1/day, and Guileful Switch at the cost of only 2 feats. Between this, their ability to support Agile Opportunist, the War Chanter paragon path, and the propensity towards dilettante-empowered half-elves, I'm starting to grow quite terrified of the spoony bards.
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