UPDATE 31JUL10: Updated group 1, added group 11.
UPDATE 30JUL10: Added groups 9-10.
UPDATE 29JUL10: Added groups 6-8.
Ages ago I started a thread on party optimization that remains marginally useful but has become very dated. Mostly, it fails to fully honor the concept of the encounter, or "mini," nova as probably championed best by Lord Duskblade among others. I've thought about reviving it a few times, but ultimately wanted to create something simpler, a sampler of party "core" character matchups to aid a group of players with open minds looking to create a killer party, rather than a random assortment of killer character builds.
This is a first, no doubt rudimentary, pass at that project. It's highly biased toward conservative dynamics (things that shouldn't disappear with a single errata), tactics that don't require particularly expert play, and fairly straightforward character builds. Additional suggestions welcome. With that said:
1. THE MARTIAL MASTERS
Why: The melee ranger should require no explanation, but let's suppose he does. First of all, the first striker in an optimized party probably should be a melee combatant, because it's far easier to force a ranged PC into melee than a melee PC into standing still and being a target. The mRanger is the king of focused-fire mini-nova carnage. His main drawbacks are that he's fragile and can use help hitting. As his flanking buddy, the Fighter soaks aggro and takes care of the former, while the TacLord is the best option for aiding accuracy.
Drawbacks: Everybody is Strength-based, which is actually a bonus if the DM routinely places the entrances to dungeons at the top of sheer cliffs or beneath a raging waterfall. But it does make it a challenge to build a party with well-rounded skills.
The party also needs a controller, who won't be from the Martial power source of course. Not that this is in any way necessary; it's mostly coincidence that the Martial classes work particularly well together. Those who want to keep a Martial theme could add a ranged Rogue with a kit full of AoE powers; he would fill the role pretty well. Or the Seeker is a Primal controller who feels Martial, but as usual opinions vary wiiiidely on the Seeker ...
If limited to three PCs, the Fighter could be a Dragonborn spear pusher and pick up quite a bit of control potential in that way (both via breath and push-proning). The build's rather MAD, however.
2. THE SYNERGISTS:
Resourceful Warlord/Infernal Strategist
Why: Thanks to his "fire and forget" aegis, the hybrid can fill two roles quite nicely, by marking a foe then retreating to lay down wizardly control effects. No one benefits from this mark-and-run tactic more than a Pursuit Avenger, who can force the mark to either attack the Avenger despite the aegis or chase the hybrid and trigger the Avenger's deadly damage riders. Meanwhile, the Resourceful Warlord will specialize in powers that either give the Avenger another whack with his excellent MBA or push unwanted monsters away from him.
If the Warlord favors Charisma over Intelligence, then all six attributes are maximized as well. This can be real handy in a skill challenge--intensive campaign.
Drawbacks: The Avenger has a suspect mini-nova potential and must depend on the Warlord granting extra MBAs to keep his burst damage competitive. This is a machine that leverages teamwork from levels 1 to 30, but as such it's particularly vulnerable to any one member being knocked hors de combat.
3. THE HYBRID HELLIONS
Rogue|lazy Warlord/Guildmaster Thief
Why: Splitting the striker and leader functions among two characters does several useful things, especially at levels 16+. Obviously, if one leader goes down in this group, the other has a chance to revive him. The Warpriest’s Extra Damage Action lets the Ranger recall his pre-errata Pit Fighter glory, while Warpriest’s Challenge eventually turns him into a very sticky defender (making this a build that can just about master three of the four basic roles). Meanwhile, the Guildmaster Thief further pumps his nova into the stratosphere by flanking for extra damage riders and granting an extra MBA with a lazy Warlord power, and he allows the Ranger to use an AP to begin every fight. That’s usually a recipe for winning …
This is another trio with all six attributes maximized.
Drawbacks: Three hybrids equals three feat-starved PCs who will always be a little late in getting their acts together, buildwise.
4. THE PORCUPINES
Eladrin Ranger|defiant Runepriest/Blade Banshee
Brutal Scoundrel Rogue
Why: A character who is painful to hit is of marginal utility in most parties, because he just diverts damage to his teammates … unless EVERYONE is painful to hit. Hence, the porcupines. An Eladrin generally makes a lousy Ranger, but add Impending Doom, Agile Armor, the Blade Dancer’s Regalia set, and his PP and enemies routinely will be taking a -6 or -8 to their attack roll vs a robust AC and adding a second Wisdom modifier bump (Defiant Word) to the Ranger’s damage on a miss. Meanwhile, the Warlock wielding WLMR can double or triple up his At-Will damage and the Rogue with Warborn Fury Style and Riposte Strike is no fun to poke a stick at, either.
Drawbacks: All of these “I whack you back” builds depend on spamming At-Wills. Encounters and dailies will have to be picked real carefully to be effective when monster attention is focused elsewhere or to not require a standard action.
5. THE ARROWSTORM
Why: Archer rangers have great DPR; they just need a front line to keep them from getting swarmed. As MC or hybrid Shamans, they conjure their own front lines in their spirit companions and (through a second feat if MC’ing) gain a Leader heal once per encounter. The great thing here is that it’s the more the merrier: Adding more and more SCs to the party adds more and more limits to the monster’s tactical options, particularly in typical dungeon environs. A party of Beastmaster Ranger archers could do something similar, but without the healing and buffing. This is the better method.
This is also a fantastic stealth party, because everyone’s pumping Dexterity (Stealth) and Wisdom (Perception).
Drawbacks: Everyone’s pumping Dexterity and Wisdom. No great climbers, ritualists, party faces … depending on campaign style this can be a severe limit to options. Also, a clever DM can always force the party into melee once in a while.
6. THE HOLY ROLLERS
Why: This is the core of a Radiant Mafia that would survive and thrive despite any nerf to Morninglord. Everyone can take Power of the Sun and take turns "tagging" the target, giving the other party members a chance to unload an Encounter or Daily. Everyone can take turns unloading Solar Enemy creating a mini-nova to start each battle lasting 2 x [party size] rounds. Any build that wants to veer away from radiant powers potentially can fill the gap in paragon by trading Power of the Sun for Pervasive Light. If Morninglord survives intact, then at level 16 the Paladin trades out Power of the Sun for something needful and the party's DPR reaches the stratosphere ...
Obviously, an Invoker would be the ideal fourth member here.
Drawbacks: Way too many Wisdom-based builds; the party will struggle to get a good breadth of skill expertise. (A particularly steep set of stairs could befuddle this crew ...) Any party with a Paladin will be relatively slow, given he'll be move 5 or at best 6. Almost certainly the Paladin, and likely the Cleric, will be limited to Will as their sole good NAD, although this will be offset a bit because extra saving throws and saving throw buffs will be handed out like candy.
7. THE SCHOOLYARD BULLIES
Ranger|Warden/Son of Mercy
Quick Battlemind/Zephyr Blade
Why: This trio synergystically knocks down and devours a single target at a time. The multiattacking Son of Mercy virtually ensures that the target is both bleeding profusely and Slowed, while his handful of Warden powers should all prone their target. From paragon, the Battlemind gains two excellent proning tricks, and adds his Charisma as a damage rider (even to Brutal Barrage!) vs slowed targets. The Moonstalker also can prone at will, and stands next to their poor victim and buffs everything except Brutal Barrage by his Wisdom modifier. Of course, everyone's exploiting Headsman's Chop to build a party DPR rivaling that of a Radiant Mafia. Give them all Radiant heavy blades and a Morninglord as a fourth and things would get real crazy ...
Drawbacks: Stealth? Forget about it. Ranged combat? Not really their forte ...
8. LIKE FIGHTING SMOKE
Panther Shaman/Disciple of Winds
Why: The Battlemind's L3 Mind Snare can turn the Ranger invisible on a hit. As a Darkstrider, his DPR goes nuts when he can become hidden, which requires total concealment (such as from, um, invisibility!). The Shaman moves everything around everytime he blinks, which should allow him to move the target closer to the Ranger or the Battlemind away from the target, enabling Prime Shot shenanigans on many rounds. Add the Shaman's spirit companion getting in the way, and the target is going to feel like Jake La Motta in the opening minutes of "Raging Bull." Taking it from all directions and whiffing at smoke in return ...
Drawbacks: Any opponent with senses that negate invisibility will cut down the party DPR considerably. Everyone will have MBA issues (Strength is a tertiary for all), but if the Ranger is a Githzerai MCing into Monk he can cover the Athletics skill and turn himself into a real tough out via Zuoken's Centering.
9. THE ACTION JACKSONS
Panther Shaman/Invoker/Flame of Hope
Artful Dodger Rogue/Guildmaster Thief
Archer Ranger/Battlefield Archer
Why: From paragon, this party core exploits action point dynamics. The Ranger tries to start each fight with a quick kill. (Ideally, the DM is kind enough to populate several encounters with minions.) As soon as his first victim goes down, the Shaman pops his AP for a large burst attack triggering Inspiring Attack Action, using the Rogue's APs to do this every encounter via Guildmaster Thief. Everyone then mini-novas with a massive accuracy bonus, the Ranger triggering Archer's Glory. Note that the Rogue can use an AP every other encounter as well, by using the Ranger's standard APs.
Drawbacks: Really, this party doesn't fit into the three-person core concept here because it needs a defender pretty badly (ideally a pseudostriker Fighter to flank with the Rogue), though this could be offset a bit if the strikers both MC shaman and fill the battlefield with spirit companions. Like the Holy Rollers, this party core lacks high Str or Con builds, so MBAs and the Athletics skill will be an issue.
10. THE JEDI COUNCIL
Why: Of the defender mechanics, the shielding swordmage has one of the strongest, and its exponential increase in power as you add more shielding swordmages to the party is probably the best in the game. If adventurer A marks monster 1 while tying up monster 2 and adventurer B marks monster 2 while tying up monster 3 and adventurer C marks monster 3 while tying up monster 1, then the DM is facing a severely uphill fight. Given that swordmages lose less than any other class in hybriding, it's dirt simple to add leader and control capacity to the party as well.
Drawbacks: Focus fire is a challenge; while the monsters are fighting encumbered with a huge debuff, they are getting more attacks because this party struggles to concentrate damage and quickly knock them down one by one. It doesn't help that Swordmages aren't exactly known for their stellar DPR, though the Artificer buffs applied to each other will help in this regard. An all Con-Int party will struggle tremendously to field a good skill selection. Finally, multi-defender party tactics always suffer some loss of general utility as the number of opponents becomes fewer than the number of defenders in the party. (Which will always happen eventually in every winning fight ...) Against a solo, this party loses much of its edge.
11. THE SPEAR-TIP
Avenger (Thief?) (Rogue?)
Why: This group bears passing resemblance to group 2, but the focus is a bit different. Here, it's all about exploiting the striker's excellent MBA on every character's turn. Currently, the Avenger has the best MBA in the game, thanks to rolling twice. It appears that the Encounters Thief will be able to add SA dice on each turn, rather than combat round, and if so he would become the new king of MBA abuse by a country mile. Additionally, rumor has it that errata may give the Rogue SA on each turn too, and the increased customization inherent in that class may make him the top dog. Without massive qualifiers, SA on each turn is pretty much broken, so we'll have to see what reaches print.
In the meantime, every other member of the party should be capable of granting an MBA to a teammate at will. That basically means leaders. Generally speaking, the Warlord does this best, with the TacLord perhaps best among those except that his massive accuracy bonuses are really overkill with an Avenger at the point. An Insightful Warlord would be a better fit in this case, adding attacks both on his own turn and once a round when a monster swings at the Avenger for a few rounds. Most people cite the Eagle Shaman as the best MBA-granter in that class based on the default at-will, but the Panther Shaman has all of the best riders and, by my understanding, there's nothing to keep a Panther from taking Claws of the Eagle as his second at-will.
Drawbacks: Whoever's at the point of the spear better have massive healing surges. Again, a Githzerai Avenger MCing Monk can use Zuoken's Centering at Paragon to boost his durability to defender levels. A modified Killswitch build (Artificer|Warlord) would add a little utility above the normal by allowing the striker to syphon one surge per encounter off one of the supporting players. There's a real opportunity cost to adding pure defenders or controllers here, because neither class can add oomph to the MBA buzzsaw that we're building, so some hybrid leader|x builds or carefully selected PPs (e.g., Warpriest) would be prudent.
Again, other suggestions always welcome.