Wrong characters for the fight? What should be expected?

39 posts / 0 new
Last post
I play with a regular group, and although composition often varies slightly, we normally try to create parties with a reasonable amount of balance. So we're in a better position than a few of the groups thrown together randomly at a convention, where people count themselves lucky if they have both a leader and a defender on the same table.

However, recently playing at H3, we've come across a couple of situations that really stretched the party.

One encounter had 4-5 enemies flying outside of melee reach. And our group only had one ranged striker. Whilst the twin weapon ranger and the fighter could do a little damage at range, overall we were being hit far harder than the amount of damage we could deal in return.

In another encounter we faced a group of enemies that included a war troll. Whilst we could knock the troll down fairly easily, between our group we only had one single fire attack, which was an encounter power. So we couldn't keep it down. Which made the combat quite difficult - especially since the encounter was in a confined space, so the troll could dominate much of the battle field, and there were several other nasty monsters in the fight.

In both these situations we should arguably have wiped. We managed to survive due to some kind DMing, but that's not something I'm really comfortable with.

So what should a party do to counter these kind of threats? To counter flying groups, should we always make sure to never make groups without at least 2 ranged characters - which seems odd given the way the game seems to encourage melee leaders and strikers so much in published classes. What about countering the troll? Do we always need some source of acid or fire available? In 3.5 it was normal just to bring some oil or acid and dump it on downed trolls to keep them down - but in 4th edition, that's much harder - the troll can't must be downed by fire or acid (not damaged when downed), and, for example, the best alchemical acid available at H3 (level 6) costs 75gp a shot and only has a 25% chance of hitting.


What I'm trying to say is - how far are players expected to plan to counter these kind of threats. Or are we just supposed to occasionally just lay down and die. Not through bad luck or bad planning - but just because we took the wrong characters to the wrong fight? Or is DM charity expected in such situations?

Well, the easy one first.  Against trolls, consider buying a +1 flaming weapon.  Or look again at Alchemist's Fire - 20 GP, miss does half damage.  You only have to do 1 point of damage to keep the troll from regenerating.  We've also ruled that you can coup-de-grace it to it's negative bloody value when it will die like any other creature, although I don't know that it is spelled out specifically anywhere.


Flying creatures are tougher, and IMHO one of the weakest areas of 4E combat and available workarounds for melee characters.  It gets worse at paragon - you frequently face flying creatures and for melee characters there's not a lot they can do other than chuck javelins.  You do all at least have +1 javelins, right?  So look for power combinations.  Set it up so that character A knocks the creature prone - forcing it to land while character B follows up with an immobilize attack or grapples it.  Ready attacks if it has to get in close to hit. Once again a rule we usually follow if that if a creature is hitting you with a natural weapon (claw, bite, etc) you can hit it as a readied action when it attacks you even if it has reach. Also remember that the errata clarified that forced movement can pull things down to you. 


But honestly given the luck-of-the-draw nature of most game days flying creatures are a pain.  Even in Paragon there are only a handful of items (winged boots and winged armor to name a couple) that give you flying as a daily power and then only for a single move per day.  The 3.5 days of buying potions of flying are gone.


Which means that some mods will be cake-walks with the right characters and a TPK or encounter failure if the DM doesn't compensate for a lack of ranged strikers in an otherwise well-balanced party.  Of course there are people out there who will argue that if your party doesn't have at least 2 ranged strikers it's not well balanced in the first place, which I personally have a problem with.


Good luck,
Allen.

Almost forgot for the troll ... you can always hit a helpless creature with a coup de grace with any attack as long as you are adjacent to it.  It does not specify that it has to be a melee attack, so the Alchemist's Fire will automatically hit and do 6 points of damage.
I'm not sure why you can't keep the troll down. It was my understanding that in 4th ed that regeneration doesn't work when you're under 0 HP.

I'm willing to be proven wrong in this.
I'm not sure why you can't keep the troll down. It was my understanding that in 4th ed that regeneration doesn't work when you're under 0 HP.

I'm willing to be proven wrong in this.



Regeneration isn't the issue; this power is.

Troll Healingx.gifHealing


If the troll is reduced to 0 hit points or fewer by an attack that does not deal acid or fire damage, it rises on its next turn (as a move action) with 10 hit points.



As far as flying enemies go, unless they have ranged attacks, readying actions is your friend.  Ready an action to smack whichever flier gets adjacent to you first; if you can make it prone, slow, or immobilized in the process, all the better.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
I haven't run into too many problems with combats in higher levels, but then again my main character is a controller.

Battlefield control becomes hugely important in later levels.





-karma
LFR Characters: Lady Tiana Elinden Kobori Silverwane - Drow Control Wizard Kro'tak Warscream - Orc Bard Fulcrum of Gond - Warforged Laser Cleric
For Trolls we quickly adopted the houserule that using fire when it is down is enough to keep it down. Timing the exact moment to throw an alchemist fire can be a pain in the butt and it gets boring when you have to try it like 5 times.
Well playing strictly according to the rules, most attacks can't even target the troll when it's down, and even if you can, it's still unaffected. You can't kill something that's dead.

There's simply no way in the game rules to stop it from rising again. The only way to kill it permanantly is to do the last point of damage with acid or fire - which can be pretty hard to arrange for some parties, but which is a cakewalk for other groups.

A houserule might be some sort of solution - but it won't work when I take my character to a convention.
Well playing strictly according to the rules, most attacks can't even target the troll when it's down, and even if you can, it's still unaffected. You can't kill something that's dead.

There's simply no way in the game rules to stop it from rising again. The only way to kill it permanantly is to do the last point of damage with acid or fire - which can be pretty hard to arrange for some parties, but which is a cakewalk for other groups.

A houserule might be some sort of solution - but it won't work when I take my character to a convention.



Does anyone in the party have something flamable? Douse the troll and light him up with a torch

At the very least cauterize his eyes with a torce while hes down!

Gotta think outside the box


Does anyone in the party have something flamable? Douse the troll and light him up with a torch

At the very least cauterize his eyes with a torce while hes down!

Gotta think outside the box



Thinking outside the box isn't the problem - applying fire damage to a downed troll is very easy. The problem is, it's also, according to the rules, completely ineffective.
I would say that thinking outside of the box IS the problem, just not on the side of the players.

Unfortunately it is hardly the only example where, imho,  overly literal interpretation by a DM can cause problems. Clarification would seem a good thing here.
To DME, or not to DME: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous powergaming, Or to take arms against a sea of Munchkins, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;No more;
Isn't this where common sense(TM) is invented for. Of course literal interpretation of the rules makes things seem weird and abstract but with some leniency can handled gracefully. Strict reading gets us into pitfalls like the extended rest at the start of adventure question from a few days back.

Clarification might be needed but we should be carefull lest we start clarifying everything instead of letting people think for themselves. For me this kind of thing falls under the DME rules. Parties who want a challenge will have to deal with the troll and his resistance the hard way, parties who fought hard to get it down and don't have free fire available I will tease once and then let it slide. As long as the table has fun.
From a Writing Director perspective, we design adventures with the thought of non-optimized PCs, but balanced across the roles.  Individual authors or Writing Directors may seek to challenge the PCs by introducing something tough, but I hope it is doable without having to have specific optimized PCs present.

Clearly to deal with trolls, you need acid or fire.  Besides normal attack powers, both acid and fire alchemical potions are available for purchase.  My primary character has an assortment of alchemical potions for the odd situation.

The Troll Healing power is better written, I think, for the Ice Troll and Troll Vinespeaker in MM2, than the MM1 trolls.  In MM2 it makes clear that the troll stays at 0 hit points until the start of its next turn, and if it is hit with acid or fire, while in that state, it is destroyed, regardless of the amount of damage the attack does.  Perhaps appeal on the errata form for the original trolls from MM1 Troll Healing powers be changed to say something similar.  I would allow it as a DM.

Keith
Keith Hoffman LFR Writing Director for Waterdeep
Isn't this where common sense(TM) is invented for. Of course literal interpretation of the rules makes things seem weird and abstract but with some leniency can handled gracefully. Strict reading gets us into pitfalls like the extended rest at the start of adventure question from a few days back.
Clarification might be needed but we should be carefull lest we start clarifying everything instead of letting people think for themselves. For me this kind of thing falls under the DME rules. Parties who want a challenge will have to deal with the troll and his resistance the hard way, parties who fought hard to get it down and don't have free fire available I will tease once and then let it slide. As long as the table has fun.



To clarify myself; i don't propose clarifying every rule. I propose clarifying common sense as being allowed if not mandatory when DM-ing (and yes I know common sense isn't). If we get to the point where people need to have little thing like this spelled out because there is a realistic chance they run into a RAW literalist DM at a convention, we have a problem. 
To DME, or not to DME: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous powergaming, Or to take arms against a sea of Munchkins, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;No more;


Does anyone in the party have something flamable? Douse the troll and light him up with a torch

At the very least cauterize his eyes with a torce while hes down!

Gotta think outside the box



Thinking outside the box isn't the problem - applying fire damage to a downed troll is very easy. The problem is, it's also, according to the rules, completely ineffective.



What rule are you speaking of?  A troll is still a troll - even if they've been reduced to 0 hit points.  I can still set them on fire.  Are you saying an unconscious troll does not take damage?  That in order to take damage you have to have HP?  They no longer have turns?  

Worst case scenario, all PCs ready actions to kill it when it rises up - only one person has to hit them with alchemist's fire which will deal at least 1 point of fire damage.  Somebody else can kill it.  Unless you're saying it doesn't have turns anymore because it's at 0?

There will always be gray areas to the rules.  It's up to the DM to apply common sense.  If I wanted a binary interpretation of the literal rules in a way that makes no sense I'd play a computer game. 

Allen.
al, in fact he's stating that RAW, since the damage that took him -below- 0 was not acid or fire based, that any additional damage before he wakes up won't knock out his power to wake up with 10 hp.

I disagree, of course, but literal interpretation of the monster stat block may result in GMs waking it up even if a torch was taken to it.
I don't experience the problem the OP states, but I usually see several ranged PCs. They are very helpful.

I do think any melee PC should think about having at least 2 rounds worth of capability if they are immobilized. An encounter power or a backup ranged weapon starts being imperative at paragon.

Regarding a certain type of elemental damage, the alchemical options are very cheap and can be useful for various reasons (such as exploiting vulnerabilities). But, I have not needed them.

With the one adventure I wrote using trolls I did include ways to deal with them under the Ending the Encounter Section. The revision to the troll language should probably apply to all trolls (you might try posting that in the errata forums, I would be surprised if they don't make the change), but it really is down to the adventure and the DM to just realize that the game will take forever and be no fun if there isn't a way to end the combat. Still, the trolls should get some ability to spring back - there is a lot of fun in that. My general feeling is that the errata is a bit strong. A party with at-will fire/acid can just about ignore the ability. Personally, I like a readied action when the thing is about to get up to drop it. I'm fine either way, though.

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

To clarify myself; i don't propose clarifying every rule. I propose clarifying common sense as being allowed if not mandatory when DM-ing (and yes I know common sense isn't). If we get to the point where people need to have little thing like this spelled out because there is a realistic chance they run into a RAW literalist DM at a convention, we have a problem. 


The thing with common sense is that some people have a very skewed sense of what is and is not common sense ;) I mean, I had a player recently who reflavored a fire spell to be a geyser. I had no problem with the reflavoring, but when the player jestingly asked whether or not he could use the spell to quench a fire I told him no (note that the player did not protest and never expected it to work either).

Regardless, the main goal for the DM is to create a fun game. It is a rule, and it is in the boiler plate text of every adventure. The troll example is clearly one of those things that falls under this rule. What is fun about trying to time the killing of a troll with a torch or alchemist fire (neither of which  that deals 15 damage) exactly so that it is the fire that drops the troll below 0? What more can we as campaign management do about this? Undecided

...stuff snipped... the main goal for the DM is to create a fun game. It is a rule, and it is in the boiler plate text of every adventure. The troll example is clearly one of those things that falls under this rule. What is fun about trying to time the killing of a troll with a torch or alchemist fire (neither of which  that deals 15 damage) exactly so that it is the fire that drops the troll below 0? What more can we as campaign management do about this? Undecided



Allocate more resources towards improving the DM part of the "Adventure + DM + Players= fun D&D" equation? 

I understand why most of the work in LFR concentrates on  the adventures, but evidence over the past few years shows that just having "make it a fun game" in the boilerplate does not cut it.  I also know the people in the campaign management to be experienced DMs with views on what to do and what not to do as a DM. So spend some time on formulating best practices? Give examples, collect good advice etc.  And more importantly. add some LFR varnish to practices you feel improve things.
I am not suggesting more rules in any way, but it is often enough that I wonder how to handle something as a DM.  I can always use more touchstones in deciding. DMs get handed a large responsibility in LFR with that one simple "create a fun game". Finding more ways to help them deal with that would seem a worthy goal.


To DME, or not to DME: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous powergaming, Or to take arms against a sea of Munchkins, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;No more;
I personally think that players need to design their characters for as much utility as possible. If you are a melee character you need to have answers for getting to characters at ranged br=ecause there is always going to be some obstacle. Similarly, they should be careful about focusing on too few types of damage. Both of these examples smack fo blind DPS optimizing. Yes, you can do more damage but who cares if you can't land your shots or make them sting.

Troll Healingx.gifHealing


If the troll is reduced to 0 hit points or fewer by an attack that does not deal acid or fire damage, it rises on its next turn (as a move action) with 10 hit points.





Of course, a literal RAW reading of this makes trolls immortal!

DM: The troll has 7 hp left.
Player: I hit it for 10 points of fire damage!
DM: The troll crumples to the ground with -3 hp.
Players: Yay!
DM: A kobold minion goes up and kicks the troll-body for 2 hp of damage. The troll is reduced to -5 hp (less than 0) by an attack that did not do acid or fire.  It rises on its next turn with 10 hit points. RAWR!!!
Players: ?????

 

Dan Anderson @EpicUthrac
Total Confusion www.totalcon.com
LFR Calimshan Writing Director
LFR Epic Writing Director

LFR Myth Drannor Writing Director

I personally think that players need to design their characters for as much utility as possible. If you are a melee character you need to have answers for getting to characters at ranged br=ecause there is always going to be some obstacle. Similarly, they should be careful about focusing on too few types of damage. Both of these examples smack fo blind DPS optimizing. Yes, you can do more damage but who cares if you can't land your shots or make them sting.



I agree that melee characters should have ranged attack options.  But ... what options are there for, say a Barbarian?  My 11th level barbarian can either do a melee attack where they will do somewhere around 30-40 points of damage on average (I don't have my sheet here) while having other effects or I can throw a javelin and get around 10-15 average damage. Yay striker.

In 3.5, my "basic ranged" attack scaled with level (I got more attacks) and I could ensure that my character had a decent dex and get a reinforced bow to add my strenth to damage.  I could buy a potion of fly, or other items that gave me a reasonable amount of flying capability.

Maybe I'm missing something.  Maybe there's a way to build a barbarian (or fighter) to be effective at ranged attacks that I just haven't seen.  Other than a ranged basic, what options are there?

Usually this is not a big issue.  But mods with multiple encounters of flying creatures, flying insubstantial creatures with range 20 attacks, etc make it nearly impossible for entire character classes to significantly contribute.  Having a sorcerer or two at the table every mod should not be a requirement.

Allen.
Some classes don't have a ranged option but, you can certainly keep knockdown powers or the like available and have powers or gear that pull or what have you to sieze upon close passes or the shots you do get. The barbarian is a bit of box on this one but, it's what you sign up for by playing one. It's fine if one person goes melee only but not having ranged abilities in a party is about as wise as ignoring healing. In my experience, I see these blindspots crop up more with a collection of optimized characters than with non-powergamed random parties.
At H3, a void crystal weapon is very good option that can be had at that level.
Some classes don't have a ranged option but, you can certainly keep knockdown powers or the like available and have powers or gear that pull or what have you to sieze upon close passes or the shots you do get. The barbarian is a bit of box on this one but, it's what you sign up for by playing one. It's fine if one person goes melee only but not having ranged abilities in a party is about as wise as ignoring healing. In my experience, I see these blindspots crop up more with a collection of optimized characters than with non-powergamed random parties.



I do have powers that knock down, and ways of healing myself.  In most mods, I don't rely on other people to heal me (although I don't refuse either). 

But in order to knock a creature down you have to be able to hit it.  I can't hit it if it's flying 20 squares up.  Once again if you're lucky you'll have a ranged striker or two, or a controller that can knock targets prone at a distance.  Doesn't always happen, especially at a 4 person table.

I was thinking about this and I do have a partial solution.  I'm buying a Hippogriff mount and a Steed Summons scroll.  This way I'll be able to summon a flying creature with a minor action if I don't already have it with me.  Of course it won't be pretty when the dragon targets my mount instead of me, but at least it's a rental unit and I get a free replacement mount next mod.

Allen.
But in order to knock a creature down you have to be able to hit it.  I can't hit it if it's flying 20 squares up.

Our local group is starting to consider the ebony fly as being a standard requirement for paragon PCs, with the only question being when you purchase one, not if.

Minor action to take it out, standard action to summon (and it appears with you already mounted), free action to command it to take a double move and fly 20 squares up, and action point to actually get an attack in.  Works much better if you already have it activated before combat starts, of course.

Hope you have a ring of feather fall too, as the creature is unlikely to last against more than an attack or two, but you at least can get an attack in, hopefully knocking the target prone.
But in order to knock a creature down you have to be able to hit it.  I can't hit it if it's flying 20 squares up.

Our local group is starting to consider the ebony fly as being a standard requirement for paragon PCs, with the only question being when you purchase one, not if.



/facepalm

Perhaps a better question is: why must a group of melee PCs engage a group of flying ranged enemies on their terms?

I'm not familiar with the adventure, but if it forces you to do so, provides no environmental way of dealing with the threat (e.g. buildings to hide under), or no RP way to mitigate the issue—even temporarily—then it sounds like it should go on my blacklist.

I mean it's one thing to provide the PCs with a challenge they have to overcome, it's another thing to expect them to be clairvoyant and have a required magic item solve the problem. 
But in order to knock a creature down you have to be able to hit it.  I can't hit it if it's flying 20 squares up.

Our local group is starting to consider the ebony fly as being a standard requirement for paragon PCs, with the only question being when you purchase one, not if.



/facepalm

Perhaps a better question is: why must a group of melee PCs engage a group of flying ranged enemies on their terms?

I'm not familiar with the adventure, but if it forces you to do so, provides no environmental way of dealing with the threat (e.g. buildings to hide under), or no RP way to mitigate the issue—even temporarily—then it sounds like it should go on my blacklist.

I mean it's one thing to provide the PCs with a challenge they have to overcome, it's another thing to expect them to be clairvoyant and have a required magic item solve the problem. 



There are several mods that do this.  I recently played an H2 mod where we were facing insubstantial flying creatures with range 20 attacks.  Because I and one other person were running sorcerers with WyrmTooth daggers (daily power - ignore all resistance) it was a cakewalk.  I didn't feel "special" though because all the rest of the party could do was sit on their thumbs and watch us blast away.

There was another mod where you fight a flying dragon in one encounter and then a floating giant-thing in the last encounter.  It was annoying.  So even if I did have my ebony fly, I would have been SOL in the second encounter.  As it was the DM just used DME to prevent a TPK.

Allen.


There was another mod where you fight a flying dragon in one encounter and then a floating giant-thing in the last encounter.  It was annoying.  So even if I did have my ebony fly, I would have been SOL in the second encounter.  As it was the DM just used DME to prevent a TPK.



In the encounter with the dragon, it's tactics bring it into range. The terrain against the floating-giant is "controllable," so again, you should have been able to get into melee with it.

Most mods I've read that have flying monsters have built-in mechanics to mitigate the frustration.

Dan Anderson @EpicUthrac
Total Confusion www.totalcon.com
LFR Calimshan Writing Director
LFR Epic Writing Director

LFR Myth Drannor Writing Director

Part of the problem is going to be the randomness of marshalling. My girlfriend and I play a battlerager/warlord combination that's very effective, but if we end up with too many other melee characters and not enough ranged, it's pretty scary. We've both learned that we need to have on-hand solutions to the problem of "what if the mod writer decided that killing the party from 20 squares up would be fun?"

However, the reverse marshalling issue can happen as well. I've had tables with no defenders, and if all of the characters at the table have nothing but ranged attacks, they may quickly find themselves pinned up against a wall by soldiers/brutes who are cutting them down with opportunity attacks. It's not "as bad" because you can survive that situation, while an all melee party facing ranged artillery from 20 squares in the sky is doomed.
It's not "as bad" because you can survive that situation, while an all melee party facing ranged artillery from 20 squares in the sky is doomed.



There's really no reason this should happen. +1 distance javelin(15/30, 360 gp) should let most characters deal with that situation reasonably well - and even if you can't throw one well, you can hand it to someone else. It might not be ideal, but at least they'll participate.
I can't really fault anyone here. I understand that the few things folks prepare for are Stun, Dominate and other status effects.

But having a fire or acid weapon handy? Nope!

An illusion wizard with a fire spell? Nope!

What I would like to know is why hasn't anyone used lit torches from their ADVENTURERS KIT and set the troll on fire? You have to think outside the box when you come to such conclusions.

We actually had the same problem when we played CORE 1-14.

We actually had the same problem when we played CORE 1-14.



Yes, the author included both "ready torches" and "they run away once clearly outmatched" in the mod (p. 13). 

I have yet to see a mod where the tactics of a monster is "stay at ranged 20."  There seems to be some confusion as to whether this is a role-playing game or a tactical combat DM-vs.-players.  In just about every encounter with a flier with an at-will ranged-20 power, there is a role-playing reason given by the author as to why the monster will engage the PCs.  For some reason, some DMs choose to treat the game as a purely tactical exercise.

Overall, I applaud the authors for continuing to use interesting, versatile monsters, while still providing role-playing guidelines to keep the game fun. (I just wish more DM's didn't ignore/skip the tips put in when PCs don't have the "right characters" for an encounter.)

Dan Anderson @EpicUthrac
Total Confusion www.totalcon.com
LFR Calimshan Writing Director
LFR Epic Writing Director

LFR Myth Drannor Writing Director

What I would like to know is why hasn't anyone used lit torches from their ADVENTURERS KIT and set the troll on fire? You have to think outside the box when you come to such conclusions.


Mostly because the kit doesn't come with torches, but with sunrods.  That said, i'm pretty sure we eventually lit the bedroll on fire with the flint and steel. That was fun.  
I am suddenly reminded of the premiere of Living Greyhawk at Gen Con.

There was one adventure that featured a were-rat.

Quite a few tables had difficulty with the encounter and "you shouldn't be putting things with DR in a 1st level adventure!" was uttered a few times.

Other tables had a much easier time. You see, they had realized the description of the area where the fight was taking place had included silver candlesticks and an active fireplace...




-karma
LFR Characters: Lady Tiana Elinden Kobori Silverwane - Drow Control Wizard Kro'tak Warscream - Orc Bard Fulcrum of Gond - Warforged Laser Cleric
Our Group has blacklisted one of those mentioned in this thread. I personally wouldn't rate it as low as 'Something of Value' from LG but...
Show
Corm1-4. Yes the tactics make it theoretically possible (anything from hard to impossible depending on how the GM interprets it  -IF you get a prepared GM who properly absorbed the tactics) but the terrain isn't nearly as helpful as the author seems to think against a creature regenerating 20 hp per round and able to outfly anything the PCs can possibly do fly 10 with two turns per round I think (that's 30 squares and an attack every round without running). (REGEN 20 <10 per turn> and I think some serious resistance is just too much on a Solo at this level but to put it after a very serious fight). Even better that retreat is essentially impossible.
But this wasn't the only thing we disliked:
- the trigger for the cool thing in the first encounter makes very nearly no sense as written
- second combat encounter, doing 'well' can be totally counter-productive as you can be grossly misinformed by your ally who ought to know better or at least be aware of their ignorance  -we got badly mangled trying to protect runes that would have helped us a lot and a guy we actually wanted hurt against critters that simply could not be Defendered.


Weight becomes an issue for flying mounts though I do have characters who would buy them if I got around to reading up on them (incidentally we all agree that it's only a free action to *command* the ebony fly: it still shares its complement of actions with the rider so while it will do whatever you want it to you don't get free action movement).

I do strongly recommend bringing a controller but that isn't always an option.
If Voidcrystal fits on javelins then that's a very nice solution to most flying things now that the grasping ones don't work.

We have used torches on downed trolls (bringing it to a figure that is below 0 is good enough for us but it deserves errata). D&D3.5 did trolls much better; I have a similar complaint about nonlethal damage which while much easier to track this way can be rather silly in mods like QUES1-1 or any time some of the party want something alive but others might not (which has happened more than a few times).

The only other thing I can think of is tieing it up (or burying it -but you are unlikely to have a pit handy). Bad with an awkward GM though and it certainly should be rewritten.

In my experience non-lethal damage was just as hard in 3E as in 4E, especially if one PC wants to keep something alive and another does not. The same discussion arose (to kill or not to kill), and the only difference was that in 3E you potentially could be a bigger jerk if you wanted something dead and purposely ignored the nonlethal damage one of your fellow PCs did and by doing so incurring a lot of penalties on their fighting effectivity. Now personally, I feel the 4E rules are a bit too forgiving, while the 3E rules were a bit too complicated and not forgiving enough, but the issue of a difference in opinion is a player one and not a game mechanical one.
There is at least one fight out there where the players want to take something alive and might be unable to due to other monsters. It'sa nice idea but the rules don't support it very well imo.
That particular scenario would avoid the whole non-lethal damage in 3E as well considering the monsters in question drain constititution in 3E ;)