Epic Tier Combat Difficulty advice

33 posts / 0 new
Last post
Hey all.

Been playing in an Eberron campaign for a long while now (party started at lvl 1, at 24 now), and we've sorta run into an issue with difficulty as far as combat encounters are concerned.

The party consists of:

Revenant Battlemind|Paladin (decked out Brutal Barrage + unkillable)

Warforged Ranger|Fighter (loads of damage from Ranger powers)

Tiefling Wizard (lots of hard control)

Kalashtar Cleric (lots of healing + some control effects)


The problem is we haven't really sweated a combat in a long while. Things are dead in a couple rounds, before any relevant damage gets dealt to us (the Revenant's sub-zero shenanigans haven't come up at all, just been bloodied a couple times that I can recall), and our DM isn't really sure what to throw at us anymore.

I've thought about subbing out my Wizard for something with less hard control (between Archmage ED and Arcane Mastery he's dropping dailies every encounter), but I wanted to ask the people around here for their input on the situation. Let me know if there's more info needed to help.
I've given up on trying to threaten paragon and epic level characters' hit points. Instead, I attack the things that are important to them - their goals, quests, desires, plans, favored NPCs, their cities, towns, holdings, world, etc.

Alternative goals in combat work here. This way, they can survive but still fail. The world slides ever closer toward ruin and future attempts at protecting it are now harder. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

I was just going to reconfirm what I've been told about Epic combat. I've repeatedly heard that it's very easy, but I also get told that having an Expertise feat is absolutely necessary. Well, which is it?

In your case, it's time to threaten something other than their HP. Try something like this:

To proceed in the adventure, they can either take a route through a portal and reach their destination in time, or take a physical route that will get them there just in the nick of time, or too late. The portal is of course blocked by enemies who want to delay the characters, but they know there's no hope of overpowering them. Instead, the enemies' intention is to utterly destroy the portal, which I assume Epic enemies can plausibly do, forcing the PCs to go the long way.

The enemies are focused on destroying the portal. Any of them can do it, if they end their turn next to the portal. Make it clear to the players what's at stake (or maybe have them help you come up with the stakes) and then let them at it. Could be it's easy for them, especially with a controller. Could be it's hard. My guess would be that they might blow some daily resources at least, trying to keep the enemies away from the portal. If they do, great: they don't even have to kill them all in order to just walk through. If they don't, great: even if they can still kill all the enemies easily, they still lost, but they lost in an interesting way, which leads to more adventure.

Et cetera. Fights in action movies are rarely about one side whittling down the other. Find the other things for it to be about, focus on those, and make failure interesting.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Good ideas, Centauri.

Here's an example of an encounter with both collaborative storytelling and alternative victory conditions/goals that I wrote for a friend's campaign. It should give you some ideas of what I go for in my encounters: Dinosaur Rampage!

I observed them playing the encounter and when the buildings started going up in flames, they were VERY engaged and felt threatened. And yet none of the characters were even bloodied. You can encourage that feeling of being challenged without going after hit points.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Hey all.

Been playing in an Eberron campaign for a long while now (party started at lvl 1, at 24 now), and we've sorta run into an issue with difficulty as far as combat encounters are concerned.

The party consists of:

Revenant Battlemind|Paladin (decked out Brutal Barrage + unkillable)

Warforged Ranger|Fighter (loads of damage from Ranger powers)

Tiefling Wizard (lots of hard control)

Kalashtar Cleric (lots of healing + some control effects)


The problem is we haven't really sweated a combat in a long while. Things are dead in a couple rounds, before any relevant damage gets dealt to us (the Revenant's sub-zero shenanigans haven't come up at all, just been bloodied a couple times that I can recall), and our DM isn't really sure what to throw at us anymore.

I've thought about subbing out my Wizard for something with less hard control (between Archmage ED and Arcane Mastery he's dropping dailies every encounter), but I wanted to ask the people around here for their input on the situation. Let me know if there's more info needed to help.





There could be a few things going on here.

I can surmise a few things:
You use CharOp shorthand, and provided a brief but succint description of your characters.
Further, the simple fact you said another player is a sub-zero revenent tells me that he uses charop too. I'm guessing the cleric is pacifist?
So it sounds to me that you guys are at-least mid-op .


With that assumption, (please correct me if i'm wrong) there could be a few things going on here:

Maybe the DM is using pre-errata monsters? Getting him to switch up to mm3 values will definately makes things harder.

If he already uses mm3 style monsters, then there are other things he can do. Add more monsters/increase the XP budget for the encounter (possible introducing them in smaller waves to make the combat last a few extra rounds, but not be overpowering).

Then some other things, terrain, skills (as mentioned), traps, timers, etc. Basically anything that pulls at least some focus away from just beating on the enemies will make combats last a little longer and be more interesting.
 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
You could also talk to the players about optimizing less, as it doesn't appear to be necessary to the degree they have pursued it.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

You could also talk to the players about optimizing less, as it doesn't appear to be necessary to the degree they have pursued it.



The characters have already been built and played for 24 full levels of gaming. Now at level 24 it's turning into an issue. 

Without complete rebuilds there isn't an easy way through this. But i doubt that most players would want to complettely rebuild just because the dm can't keep up.

I would still suggest talking to the DM about this. Hopefully he'll say "yes, and i'll start building more challenging encounters if that is what you want". And that increase in challenge can be from any of the suggestions i mentioned before (if they've really played through that long, i'm still betting he is using pre-errata values).
 
The other option is the players stop optimizing right now. And maybe the dm holds back on giving out loot for a little while.
Starting at level 25 they take weaker (or more situational options) and eventually things will realign a little as they get a little higher in level.

The best option is probably a combination of the two, but that sweet spot will only be found out if they talk about it together and reach an overall concensus.
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
I would still suggest talking to the DM about this. Hopefully he'll say "yes, and i'll start building more challenging encounters if that is what you want". And that increase in challenge can be from any of the suggestions i mentioned before (if they've really played through that long, i'm still betting he is using pre-errata values).



I like that approach and if the DM isn't terribly proficient, the optimizers can even show him how it's done. I'd personally enjoy that as DM. New skills are a good thing. It also speaks to my preference for more collaboration between players and DM on all levels.

I think there is value in talking to the players about toning it down. It would not, however, be my approach. I feel like if optimization is how a player gets his jollies, then I really don't want to suggest he do otherwise. As well, my approach to DMing obviates much of the concern about optimization and challenge anyway, so it's quite common to have optimized and unoptimized characters working side-by-side in our games and contributing equally (if in different regards).

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

You could also talk to the players about optimizing less, as it doesn't appear to be necessary to the degree they have pursued it.

The characters have already been built and played for 24 full levels of gaming. Now at level 24 it's turning into an issue.

Without complete rebuilds there isn't an easy way through this. But i doubt that most players would want to complettely rebuild just because the dm can't keep up.

They can start small. And the poster is talking about subbing out an entire character that uses a different approach (but which I imagine is just as optimized). Why not just sub in a much less optimized character?

Anyway now that they know they don't need to optimize to that degree, they should be able to explore more options when they retire these characters.

The other option is the players stop optimizing right now. And maybe the dm holds back on giving out loot for a little while.
Starting at level 25 they take weaker (or more situational options) and eventually things will realign a little as they get a little higher in level.

Worth a try. They can also retrain powers and feats. I can imagine that there were some options they liked but passed up in order to be optimal

The best option is probably a combination of the two, but that sweet spot will only be found out if they talk about it together and reach an overall concensus.

Good idea. I didn't initially realize that this was a player, so I provided advice for a DM. They can take that advice to their DM.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Bah, had a post all typed up and it got eaten. Oh well, there were more replies in the meantime anyway.

Yes, there is most definitely an optimization issue; that's why I'm considering swapping out my wizard for something a bit tamer (for clarity, I'm the wizard player, not the DM, just made the thread here to discuss things that could be done on the DM side). Also, didn't play the wizard all the way from 1; brought him in after a couple levels of Epic, when it was clear my Brawler Fighter was basically useless next to the Revenant & Warforged tearing things apart, and I kinda overshot my mark of "supporty-controller" (there's a bit of history with this campaign & me changing characters around to try & bring balance to it, plus some players have come & gone...it's a bit complicated).

Our paragon adventures became less threatening as time went on as well, so it's not a problem completely new to Epic, it's just that now it's gotten to a point where the encounters are kinda meaningless, which upsets me both because I want a challenge and because I can imagine how frustrating it must be for the DM to have his monsters routinely trivialized.

But yeah, the thread was meant as a "Given these circumstances, what would/should a DM do?", and if one of those things is "Ask players to redesign their builds," so be it (I think we crossed a point of no return as far as "stop optimizing" is concerned though, don't feel there's enough levels left for it to make a difference). I have my own hesitations given the various personalities at the table, but that's for us to sort out. I also appreciate the ideas regarding encounter designs (not just monsters, but alternate goals & such), and have found other resources to help that along. He's experimented with some design stuff before with hit-&-miss results, will try to get him to try more of it.

I know we've brought up MM3-style monsters before, but he might still be using old ones since I'm fairly certain he picks them out of Adventure Tools/Monster Builder.


Centauri: I absolutely get where you're coming from, as far as excess optimization. After playing the wizard a bit it just doesn't sit right, hence considering a character swap (something like an Executioner|Warlock, from messing with it it looks like it has alright damage & a little bit of control ability).
Centauri: I absolutely get where you're coming from, as far as excess optimization. After playing the wizard a bit it just doesn't sit right, hence considering a character swap (something like an Executioner|Warlock, from messing with it it looks like it has alright damage & a little bit of control ability).

And I get where you're coming from with not wanting to sit back while others shred things. Social pressures can turn things into an arms race completely independently of what's going on in the game.

I really find this fascinating. It's not proof positive of what I've suspected, but it's an interesting anecdote about high-level play, which I myself have never really tried. My group started at 11th and just carved through everything. I was really getting to my wits end. Partway during that module, I started experimenting with alternate victory conditions for PCs and NPCs, generally something other than killing everything, which we'd already established they could do, even with some very tough encounters. The encounters weren't very much harder, but tended to be more dynamic, as there was much less incentive to get locked into one position if, say, the enemy wins by reaching a certain point. Now they're at level 16, and they lose, or gain only a partial victory on a regular basis.

Most video games have at least a mixture of non-kill-em-all scenarios. Most movie conflicts have alternate goals, because watching a slugfest can be boring. Speaking of slugfests, look at Rocky: He didn't even win the fight, but he achieved his goal of "going the distance.

Other games and stories do this. D&D should give it more of a try, especially at Epic play, when the usual assumptions about combat easily break down.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I haven't DM'ed a lot of Epic play, just one 30th level 14 hr adventure, were the PCS encountered Ashardalon, a host of demons, an aspect of Dagon, torog and his tortured minions, an aspect of Tiamat and finally a throw down with the dragon queen herself.  However, from that I learned a few things. 

One, I customized all the monsters.  Epic level monsters, even MM3 updates, don't hit hard enough and are two easy to hit.  They are far weaker realtively than 1st level monsters.  Have your DM check out the blog DM 42 for information about Epic level damage:  dmg42.blogspot.com/2012/02/boot-on-face-...

Use lots of updated minions and make sure to use the advancement guides.  My PC's had to travel to the Abyss to steal an artifact from Ashardalon.  On they way there they were attacked by a horde of demons.  I advanced goristros to level 29 minions and the PC's took on a horde of 20+ huge demons with some standard Balors (again advanced per the guidelines to level 32 standards)   - pretty awesome stuff.

Use terrain and environmental effects.  Have some that cause constant aura type damage (skill challenge to negate) or deprive the PCs of certain abilities (don't over use) such as free actions.

When the PC's got to Torog's torture den there was an aura of agony and torture that only allowed the PCs to take 1 free action per round and caused a constant 20hp of damage.  That was a serious challend when Torog's thralls joined the  attack and Torog himsled kept poping in and our of the various cells to attack and hide.
 
Have monsters do damage in healing surges - that usually makes the PCs take notice. 


In the encounter with Tiamat her chromatic breath also caused the PC's to lose 2 healing surges (a long with a lot of other modifications to her stat block).  That was serious business.  By the end of the fight Tiamat had killed all but two of the PCs outright, one was making death saves and the final one landed the killing blow with only 6hp.  They PCs started that fight at full strength by the way.

Other suggestions:
 
Throw in some new mechanics - like Next's advantage.

Use the "Combat Out,"  i.e a method to end encounters without killing everything.
     
Add time constraints, it is not good enough to defeat everyone, but you must do it in X rounds. 

As said already, have goals other than destruction of the enemies.   
 
I would also would suggest Mike Shea's 4e guide book, "Running Epic  Tied D&D Games,"  slyflourish.com/epic/

It is full of good ideas for DM's.  I would also suggest his blog ( slyflourish.com/ ) - lots of good epic tips on there as well.  


I hope that helps!  
Epic level monsters, even MM3 updates, don't hit hard enough and are two easy to hit.  They are far weaker realtively than 1st level monsters.

I keep hearing this.

Use terrain and environmental effects.  Have some that cause constant aura type damage (skill challenge to negate) or deprive the PCs of certain abilities (don't over use) such as free actions.

When the PC's got to Torog's torture den there was an aura of agony and torture that only allowed the PCs to take 1 free action per round and caused a constant 20hp of damage.  That was a serious challend when Torog's thralls joined the  attack and Torog himsled kept poping in and our of the various cells to attack and hide.

Nice. Yes, skill challenge effects are open-ended, so even if it's a simple easy one, it can still be a major pain before it's dealt with.

Use the "Combat Out,"  i.e a method to end encounters without killing everything.

Interesting. How is this different from alternate goals?

Add time constraints, it is not good enough to defeat everyone, but you must do it in X rounds.

Yes. I suspect part of what makes groups powerful is having a few rounds to set up big combos. What if they have one, or even just part of one?

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Standard benchmark for charops is you have 1 round for setup (which is basically defined as movement and maybe getting the mob vulnerable to something).

Some classes need less than that.
For example:
Move into a flank
Minor - Low Slash
Standard - Knockout
AP - Bloodbath.

On a op'd rogue, this will get you over 200 dmg around level 12, and it requires zero setup. There's something nice (and potentially game breaking) to kill an elite on the first round. Before he even goes.
Yeah, i fully admit this is excessive for most games, but i'm just trying to prove that all it really takes is 2 dailies and an action point.


Epic level monsters, even MM3 updates, don't hit hard enough and are two easy to hit.  They are far weaker realtively than 1st level monsters.

I keep hearing this.


 


There is some truth to it.
Most pc's gain 5 hp every level. But the mob only gains +1 damage.
Percents working the way they do, mean that every hit from a mob will take proportionately less of the pc's hp's as they both level. 
This is one instance where teh math of the edition breaks down, and sadly it is the only one that works out in the players favor. 

As for them being too easy to hit, that is true at higher levels of optimization, and completely not true for unoptimized pc's.
For a character that has taken a few basic steps to stay on the game's baseline math, they will have the relative same exact possibilty to hit a mob of at any level.

Feel free to call me out on it. I can prove it. 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
Yeah, i fully admit this is excessive for most games, but i'm just trying to prove that all it really takes is 2 dailies and an action point.

Fine. Cool. I'm happy for the characters to win that encounter easily so we can move on. But there's no reason every encounter can't have time challenges that require a 1 round win, and anyway mere damage output needn't solve ever one of them.

I'm not in favor of never allowing characters to shine, but players who demand to be challenged and won't challenge themselves should be open (perhaps in discussions prior to the game) to the DM creating challenges that overturn basic assumptions about how much time they have, how often they get to rest, and how many action points they get.

That last one is already something the rules give the DM direct control over. If an encounter was too easy for them, a DM is not obligated to count it toward a milestone. If an encounter was too hard, a DM is allowed to count it for more toward a milestone. I doubt a DM could really make such a decision without some player objection, but we're talking about players who want a little more challenge.

Epic level monsters, even MM3 updates, don't hit hard enough and are two easy to hit.  They are far weaker realtively than 1st level monsters.

I keep hearing this.

There is some truth to it.
Most pc's gain 5 hp every level. But the mob only gains +1 damage.
Percents working the way they do, mean that every hit from a mob will take proportionately less of the pc's hp's as they both level.
This is one instance where teh math of the edition breaks down, and sadly it is the only one that works out in the players favor.

It's only a breakdown if the DM only runs absolutely bog-standard, adversarial encounters. CharOp has to assume that's what's being done in order to meet or exceed standards, but outside of CharOp DMs can and will be flexible.

As for them being too easy to hit, that is true at higher levels of optimization, and completely not true for unoptimized pc's.

For a character that has taken a few basic steps to stay on the game's baseline math, they will have the relative same exact possibilty to hit a mob of at any level.

Feel free to call me out on it. I can prove it.

I'm not going to argue any math. If you want to argue math, go to CharOp. I just don't think math alone proves it. There's too much else going on in a game, and too much ability of a DM to adjust, even within the rules. The game could be better about offering more guidance on how to adjust, but there's really a lot of it in there already, and far more between the lines. It's not enough to depend on math.

But just tell me this: What are the top five or so assumptions of the game's "baseline math"?

I've been told that at Epic hitting isn't as big a concern, due to some of the crazy powers that are available. Can anyone tell me more about that? I thought one thing CharOp was big on were powers that had a lot of bang for low risk.

To the original poster: in the first round of a fight, before any bonuses or penalties have been applied to anything, what do the characters in that party need to roll in order to just hit a target? This will tell me how much lower the character's attack bonus could be to still meet that particular baseline, which I think will be instructive, at least in this case if not in general.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

The basic problem for epic is the way damage works. Building a striker who does enough damage to be proportionally effective to what they were at, say, level 6 by default means 80-90% of your character has to be bent towards that. But once you're at that point of equal effectiveness, making a striker who will obliterate everything in the books without breaking a sweat just requires a final little push. This is because you are able to improve on many, many axes (damage per attack, number of attacks, amount of status resistance, setup efficiency, etc. etc.) all of which compound with each other to make a character that's exponentially more effective the more optimized they are.

The same effect is simultaneously applying at the party scale, where the effectiveness of the strikers is compounding with the effectiveness of the controller and the leader and cetera to guarantee that the party is able to finish the enemy while still at full throttle nearly all the time.

What you need is monsters with similar degrees of synergy. LFR has been experimenting with "glory tier" guidelines for its own epic content for this exact reason, I'd suggest looking into that.



^
"Non nobis Domine Sed nomini tuo da gloriam" "I wish for death not because I want to die, but because I seek the war eternal"

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)



But just tell me this: What are the top five or so assumptions of the game's "baseline math"?





Baseline combat math:

Post errata mobs have
Ac        lvl+14
NADS    lvl+12 (averaged out)
Att rolls against AC lvl+5
Att Rolls against nads lvl+3

Players should have a minimum of those values, but really want to have at least 1-2 points higher in each since they will typically be fighting mobs 1-2 levels higher than them.
Some classes will want better numbers (defenders want higher ac, strikers want to hit more often, etc) and, naturally some levels will be better than others depending on whether its even or odd, or when you get a stat boost or gear upgrade. But those are the very basics you need to have the same chance to hit and be hit by him that he does by you. 
Also, these do not include bonuses from leaders or CA. Those things are called 'bonuses' because they aren't part of baseline.


Damage is harder to quantify without showing real math, but it boils down to this:
Most combats are expected to last 4-6 rounds, and typically has one mob (or equivalent) for each pc.
Assuming 5 pc's, then a monster should die every round (or to be more general, that same number worth of damage should be dealt by the party each round).
Given the basic assumption that a striker does roughly double the damage that a non-striker does, and that only 3/5 of the party's attacks hit in a given round, you conclude that a striker should do about 30-40% of a mob's hps in damage every round, and non strikers should do about 20%.
Also note, these numbers are numbers that a pc can pull up reliably (at-will, maybe a few encounters), so it doesn't include things like an AP to use 2 dailies.


Most of this is info is scattered throughout the phb, dmg and similar, but it's findable if you look hard enough.



And as a disclaimer, most charops wouldn't consider this optimized at all (because it isn't).  It is baseline. To be "optimized for combat" you would need to be better than baseline.
However, a character can be baseline in combat and "optimized for skills/skill challenges" and still be considered optimized.
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
nice post Onikani
"Non nobis Domine Sed nomini tuo da gloriam" "I wish for death not because I want to die, but because I seek the war eternal"

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

Players should have a minimum of those values, but really want to have at least 1-2 points higher in each since they will typically be fighting mobs 1-2 levels higher than them.

What I'm after is why a PC should have a minimum of those values.

But those are the very basics you need to have the same chance to hit and be hit by him that he does by you.

This seems like it would answer my question, but it doesn't. Take the original monsters: their damage is supposedly too low, so if the monster hits more often or more times, as a result of players not optimizing, the damage might be closer to something that presents an entertaining challenge.

Also, these do not include bonuses from leaders or CA. Those things are called 'bonuses' because they aren't part of baseline.

I understand why these numbers aren't relied upon, but to neglect them completely strikes me a folly. Something should be added to account for them, even if it's a very conservative number. Something like "Assume +X to attacks and +Y to damage if there's a leader present in the group, adjust as follows for certain common leader classes and builds," or "Assume +Z to defenses if there's a leader present." Z doesn't have to be the full 2 a defender can provide, but even if it's a 1 that's 1 that can be dropped off from another source to still meet the "baseline." Even fractional advantages could be worth estimating if there were overlap. That is if a controller is worth +0.5 attack and +0.5 defense and a defender is worth +0.5 defense and +0.5 damage, then if you can assume the presence of either two controllers or two defenders or one of each, then you can at least assume a +1 defense.

The anecdotal evidence suggests to me that each other character present is worth at least a +1 to any number you care to choose, but whatever the real benefit is, it's not nothing.

Most of this is info is scattered throughout the phb, dmg and similar, but it's findable if you look hard enough.

Yep, there's a lot of good stuff out there, on a lot of topics.

So, my question of why still remains. I trust that the goal of CharOp, when it's not just a numbers exercise, is for people to sit down, have fun, and feel competent. All fine goals. The goal of the game is to have fun, and provide challenge (which means different things to different people). Somewhere "competent" and "challenged" bump into each other. I think CharOp assumes the game will somehow be challenging, even if someone is maxed out. I think the game assumes that players enjoy challenge, if not actual failure, and so will rise to the occassion, but not feel the need to get even more powerful. I don't know. But there's a definite conflict of philosophies somewhere.

Other games have decided that people are going to optimize no matter what, and have mechanics that make it hard to optimize without being challenged. I'm not confident in D&D being able to balance the math, without taking into account the tendency to want to avoid challenge, and avoid feeling incompetent.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

nice post Onikani



Thanks!




So, my question of why still remains. I trust that the goal of CharOp, when it's not just a numbers exercise, is for people to sit down, have fun, and feel competent. All fine goals. The goal of the game is to have fun, and provide challenge (which means different things to different people). Somewhere "competent" and "challenged" bump into each other. I think CharOp assumes the game will somehow be challenging, even if someone is maxed out. I think the game assumes that players enjoy challenge, if not actual failure, and so will rise to the occassion, but not feel the need to get even more powerful. I don't know. But there's a definite conflict of philosophies somewhere.

Other games have decided that people are going to optimize no matter what, and have mechanics that make it hard to optimize without being challenged. I'm not confident in D&D being able to balance the math, without taking into account the tendency to want to avoid challenge, and avoid feeling incompetent.



ChaOp does not assume that a default game (meaning standard XP budget and post-errata monsters) will still be a challenge with 'maxed out' players. Most maxed out builds are simply academic excercises to show what can be done. Even most High-op builds are considered overkill for most games. I would venture to guess that most charops consider low-mid op to be the sweet spot; most players are just above baseline, they have cool things to do sometimes, but the default xp budgets are still challenging.

There really isn't a comflict of philosophies. CharOp wants the game to be fun. Being challenged is fun. Hitting is fun (more specifically, missing isn't fun), being able to occasionally use an AP and a few dailies and pull uot all the stops and bring a mob from full to dead is fun. When all the chips are down, the defender using a healing word (that he MC'd for) and saving the day is fun. Being a Bard with the Scholar theme and taking Bard of all trades is fun, cuz it gives you really good skills and the ability to speak every language. 
Routinely and repeatedly decimating every encounter in 1-2 rounds is not fun.

But again, CharOp assumes that players and DM are always using RAW, with errata and updates. Not every game functions this way, which is why you run into balance problems with OP'd characters and un-opped monsters. But in the end:
Building 'competetant' characters is the job of the players.
Building 'challenging' encounters is the job of the DM.
Having fun is the job of everyone at the table.
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
Even most High-op builds are considered overkill for most games.

Yet people play such characters.

But again, CharOp assumes that players and DM are always using RAW, with errata and updates. Not every game functions this way, which is why you run into balance problems with OP'd characters and un-opped monsters.

And have we figured out what caused the issue with the original poster? RAW, with errata and update, does not by itself seem to make for a challenging game against even marginally optimized characters.

Building 'competetant' characters is the job of the players.

Building characters they are interested in playing is the job of the characters. Fortunately, in 4e it's almost hard NOT to make a character that's at least competent, so one rarely has to take a boring option over a fun one. That took some game design skill.

Building 'challenging' encounters is the job of the DM

Hm.

Having fun is the job of everyone at the table.

Providing some fun, as well.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

As for the original poster, it still seems to be the classic combination:


  • The poster is in a mid-op party. (which is fine on it's own).

  • The DM is not using post-errata values and/or properly scaling the encounters to be a challenge to said party.

  • The poster is playing a mid/high op wizard (and epic tier wizards are game breaking without much optimization). He also said he overdid it on his optimization, which is why he is considering switching out.

  • The DM is (most liklely) not using the other things to make combat interesting (terrain, skills, alternate objectives, etc) and more of a challenge for the wizard. Something as simple as terrain causing LoS issues would go a long way...



Again, each thing as an individual item won't ruin a game, but the combination will lead to the exact thing he mentioned.
Further, every one of these items is mentioned or hinted at in posts 1 and 10 of this thread, so there is basis to my 'assumptions'.
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
I really like this thread. It's a great discussion.

Can any of you guys provide me with links to threads or blogs that suggest what sorts of XP budgets and such the DM should follow if he had a party of, say, all high-op PCs? 

Also, Onikani, sent you a PM. (Sometimes it doesn't show for me, so I thought I'd mention it.) 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Got the PM, thanks for the heads up!

As for encounter budget, i think it's the kind of thing you just need to feel out.
I've read several times that DMs for high-op groups literally throw out XP entirely, because for one encounter to be challenging it requires several encounters worth of XP budget (one poster said it took a whole level's worth of xp).
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
I dunno about blog posts, but if you jump on the IRC you could probably just ask the epic director. He's usually around.



Got the PM, thanks for the heads up!

As for encounter budget, i think it's the kind of thing you just need to feel out.
I've read several times that DMs for high-op groups literally throw out XP entirely, because for one encounter to be challenging it requires several encounters worth of XP budget (one poster said it took a whole level's worth of xp).



Thanks, guys. Man, a whole level's worth of XP? I am so down with exploring that.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

And you could see how trivial encounters would become if the DM were still only using a single encounter's worth of xp...


PS - response sent! 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
Have your DM ask this question here in the forum. You swapping char won't make much diff. Its not player issue. Erachima & others can shape him up, turn him into a epic worthy mid-op DM instead of a Lvl 1-10 Heroic DM that he is, and then send him back to you.  Players shouldn't have to dumb down.  DM should step up.
Honestly I've never had a problem challenging the PCs in combat.  Should every combat be kill-em all?  No.  Should some of the combats be "kill-em all"?  Sure.  You should have the ability to threaten an Epic level PC's hit points.  Now, by that time they should be really invested in a whole ton of other stuff you can threaten, but the card should be on the table.

Epic Level enemies should be unfair.  Epic level enemies should use paragon level enemies like terrain (and they should function like terrain similar to their counterparts.  If you are fighting the lord of the dead while jumping on the heads of his amassed undead horde, it should feel like it.  The key isn't challenging the PCs at a certain level (honestly, take exp budget and throw it out the window.  Just make sure you keep it somewhere in the level of reasonable for your party), it should be making the encounter not last 10 years.  Yeah a party of 5 could take 20 at-level standards, but that would take forever.

Here is what I do for epic level combat:
1) Preroll trivial things in the encounter.  Or completely make up different things that might be a roll and have a sheet of numbers in front of you that you are crossing out.

2) Simplify: In the above example the zombie horde "terrain" does damage and other effects.  Roll a d6 and use that for if the player is effected by the "terrain enemy".  Figure out what the defense that terrain is attacking and order the PCs from lowest defense to highest defense (keep it on a side sheet nearby).  At Terrain initiative and when the player triggers it roll a d6.  If that PC is that number of lower they get effected.  So if the terrain "attacks" reflexes then the person who has the lowest reflex is going to get constantly hit by those effects (he only gets missed on a 1) and the highest person will only have a 1/6 chance of being hit.  Have it do static or prerolled damage and effects.  Avoid save-ends as it can clutter the field if you are using an army they are wading through.

3) Simplify: Everything in the encounter should do the same dice.  No exceptions.

4) Be unfair, but fairly: Use mechanics like "when effected by X you take double damage from all sources."  Let them know the triggers and how to avoid them.  Weaken and the double damage effect are your friend.  Avoid using weaken or insubstantial too terribly much, but keep it on the list.

5) Stop player turns: The best epic monsters won't be chained from full health to dead in a flurry of blows.  All of your elites should function like mini-solos and be able to push/pull/slide/teleport/daze/cripple your multiattackers should they hope to survive.  Your solos should be able to banish players into an extra diminsional pocket for a turn for causing them problems.

6) Attack their resources liberally.  Epic level "minion" fights should steal healing surges on a regular basis, sometimes two at a time.

7) Once death is not a true kill, introduce them to stuff that will completely kill them no-questions asked if they fall victim to a particular attack.

8) Steal mechanics from anything you can:  Especially from games that require a lot of timing and/or teamwork.  One of my monsters was stolen directly from Brutallus and did extreme damage in a blast in front of him.  The damage increased by 1 increment for every PC not caught in the blast area.  So with 5 PCs he was doing x4 damage to the one PC.  If you have these mechanics they should either be survivable, researchable or they should have lesser versions on the littles before they face Big Bad.

9) Incapacitate the Leader: The leader should be the engine for your party.  Sometimes the best thing an enemy controller can do to your party is remove the leader from the fight for a round.

10) Don't include Lurkers in your budget:  Include them in the powers of the creatures.  Epic enemies should be able to summon forces, create primordial shadows or literally call down the heavens on you.  Being able to summon low health high damaging monsters can really hurt a group if they leave anything alive after the alpha strike.

11) Shield your minions: Make your minions take 3 hits.  A hit of X threshold counts as 2 hits, a hit of X*3 counts as a one shot.  At epic level this should roughly be your level.  So a minion takes 3 hits of anything, 1 hit of 21-60 and one other hit or a single hit of 60 or more.

12) Fight in Waves:  Again people can summon minions from anywhere, don't have the encounters be single things most of the time.  Have them be part of a world where portals in and out of combat can be common.

Edit - Clarified some things and:
13) Every now and again, after you have set the bar, lower it a bit.  Your players should still have the ability to turn some baddies into red mist and walk through an encounter.  You are epic, if you aren't fighting a climactic epic battle, no need to be stopped doing everything. -Compliments Fardiz
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
Show
Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
Awesome responses guys, really do appreciate the discussion here.

Think Onikani & Erachima pretty much have it nailed; will make sure my group gets their eyes on this thread, there's lots I'm learning from it. Also thanks dave2008 for the links; Sly Flourish has been recommended to me a couple times in the past few days, looks like it has some good ideas.

I'll probably just direct our DM to this forum, I get the feeling it's easier to step things up from the DM's end rather than trying to de-op characters at the same time; y'know, start balancing the scale from one end rather than both.


Just refreshed before posting: wow Matyr, great post. Definitely gotta make sure the DM sees it, all that stuff sounds rad as hell.
I have run tons of epic 4e. It works, but you have to tweak it. I had Three PCs slaughtering E1-E3 as written!

You should tell your DM your concerns. Then, it is his/her job to fix it. For this DM:

First... you have to use updated stats from the Monster Vault. You just can not use MM1 stuff. Way too many hit points and way, way wayyyyyy too low damage. DDI is $10 a month. It is so worth it just for the adventure tools. Every monster ever published for 4e. Just search them by level and book (use more recent books obviously). It is also very easy to update old monster stats (less HP and much more damage!).

Second, combats take longer. So have less of them per adventure, but give out more XP (you'll be breaking your budget to challenge your PCs anyway).

Third, use solos very sparingly. Solos mostly do not work against epic parties. In order for a solo to be a challenge, you're going to need to cook up mechanics to eliminate daze, stun, every debilitating condition (use the monster vault dragons as a guide). Definitely give your solos two turns per round! In general, use lots of monsters rather than one or two. Also, do not trust the WOTC stats for major NPCs! My party slaughtered Vecna. Yes, VECNA. They were BORED fighting Vecna!

Fourth, keep in mind that 4e epic design didn't seem to take into account the fact that your players have been building these pcs as a TEAM and are a finely honed nuclear bomb by epic tier. In my Scales of War campaign, the warden and fighter's marks had my bad guys on lockdown. It was insane. Keep your players powers in mind. Sometimes, have creatures or terrain that can get around their stuff (I'd give monsters teleport to circumvent marking). Other times, throw creatures at them that are completely vulnerable to their gimmicks (players love that so much). Feed them some easy ones and watch their faces hahhaa. They'll be in heaven.

Fifth, definitely throw hordes and hordes of minions at them! There are some epic minions that blow up and do extra damage when they die, which is awesome and lethal. There's some that explode and blind you, which in my experience just made things really slow and frustrating (partly depending on how you handle blindness in your game).

Sixth, keep fine-tuning your encounters. Make them harder and harder until you hit the right balance. That's the biggest one. Run your encounter and pay attention to what is too easy. Throw out the XP guidelines if necessary! Do all the nutty epic stuff you can think of: A fight during a free-fall, a fight on rocks in a lava flow, a fight deep underwater, a fight using the natural flight granted in the astral sea (check out the Fortress of Three Sorrows insane set-piece battle in the adventure called Tyranny of Souls from dungeon magazine), a fight in the middle of a raging storm in the elemental chaos, or a fight near the heart of the abyss where everything slowly comes apart (including the PCs' stuff, I think this encounter was in E3).

And lastly, never ever use monsters that are lower level than the PCs. This came up in Scales of War a bunch of times, and it made for a crappy encounter every single time.

It is nice to hear there are players out there who want a challenge!