Fix My 4e Game

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So here's the situation. My players die at every turn. Well, not die, but they struggle horribly through every encounter. By every encounter, I mean even a level-1 encounter is a near death experience. They constantly behave as if I throw impossible fights at them but in reality I use level or level-1 encounters almost exclusively. In 5-6 hours they manage a single encounter. After 2 encounters they have used roughly every last resource they have (except second winds and action points).

I have 5 players. All of them have been playing for over a year, some have been playing as long as 15 years or more. I've been DMing different games for at least 15 years. Experience in mostly 3.5.
Our game is currently at 5th level. So roughly 40 encounters, mostly combat, some RPing (backgrounds, etc), some skills. We use mostly just the PHB with a few exceptions (this is mostly because no one owns the books, only three PHBs exist in the group).  
The adventure is a plane hopping, world saving, in the middle of a battle of the gods type deal.

Here's the party:

Eladrin Wizard, my most experience player. He prefers the use of magic missile while standing in the back, thinking this is a great idea since it always does damage. He has leather armor prof. Staff impliment with defensive staff. Has a dragonling familiar always in passive.
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Seyonne, level 5

Eladrin, Wizard
Arcane Implement Mastery: Staff of Defense


FINAL ABILITY SCORES
Str 10, Con 13, Dex 13, Int 19, Wis 15, Cha 11.


STARTING ABILITY SCORES
Str 10, Con 13, Dex 10, Int 16, Wis 15, Cha 11.



AC: 18 Fort: 14 Reflex: 17 Will: 18
HP: 39 Surges: 7 Surge Value: 9


TRAINED SKILLS
Perception +11, Arcana +13, Insight +9, Diplomacy +7, Dungeoneering +9


UNTRAINED SKILLS
Acrobatics +3, Bluff +2, Endurance +3, Heal +4, History +8, Intimidate +2, Nature +4, Religion +6, Stealth +3, Streetwise +2, Thievery +3, Athletics +2


FEATS
Wizard: Ritual Caster
Level 1: Alertness
Level 2: Arcane Familiar
Level 4: Quick Draw


POWERS
Wizard at-will 1: Magic Missile
Wizard at-will 1: Thunderwave
Wizard encounter 1: Icy Terrain
Wizard daily 1: Sleep
Wizard daily 1 Spellbook: Flaming Sphere
Wizard utility 2: Shield
Wizard utility 2 Spellbook: Feather Fall
Wizard encounter 3: Shock Beetle Swarm
Wizard daily 5: Web
Wizard daily 5 Spellbook: Glitterdust


ITEMS
Spellbook, Amulet of Protection +1, Magic Quarterstaff +2, Goblin Stompers (heroic tier), Magic Cloth Armor (Basic Clothing) +1




Elf Cleric, taken up the role in leading the party more in just class. Probably working the hardest to get the group through encounters.
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Yarg, level 5
Elf, Cleric

FINAL ABILITY SCORES
Str 14, Con 12, Dex 14, Int 10, Wis 18, Cha 14.

STARTING ABILITY SCORES
Str 13, Con 11, Dex 12, Int 10, Wis 16, Cha 14.


AC: 19 Fort: 15 Reflex: 15 Will: 19
HP: 49 Surges: 10 Surge Value: 12

TRAINED SKILLS
Religion +7, Heal +11, Diplomacy +9, Arcana +7

UNTRAINED SKILLS
Acrobatics +1, Bluff +4, Dungeoneering +6, Endurance, History +2, Insight +6, Intimidate +4, Nature +8, Perception +8, Stealth +1, Streetwise +4, Thievery +1, Athletics +1

FEATS
Cleric: Ritual Caster
Level 1: Toughness
Level 2: Pelor's Radiance
Level 4: Durable

POWERS
Channel Divinity: Turn Undead
Cleric at-will 1: Lance of Faith
Cleric at-will 1: Sacred Flame
Cleric encounter 1: Healing Strike
Cleric daily 1: Beacon of Hope
Cleric utility 2: Cure Light Wounds
Cleric encounter 3: Daunting Light
Cleric daily 5: Spiritual Weapon

ITEMS
Ritual Book, Healer's Brooch +1, Bag of Holding (heroic tier), Exalted Chainmail +1, Heavy Shield, Power Jewel (heroic tier), Holy Healer's Mace +1
RITUALS
Gentle Repose


Eladrin Warlock, forgets things like Prime Shot. He uses Eldritch Blast almost exclusively. He has Linguist (though has never tried to speak with anyone outside the party), Improved Dark One's Blessing (though he has never used DOB) and that feat that gives you a +1 to fire spells (which he picks Eldritch Blast over any fire power). Misses often (16 con stat).
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Soveliss, level 5

Eladrin, Warlock

Eldritch Pact: Infernal Pact

Eldritch Blast: Eldritch Blast Constitution


FINAL ABILITY SCORES

Str 11, Con 17, Dex 16, Int 14, Wis 12, Cha 17.


STARTING ABILITY SCORES

Str 11, Con 16, Dex 14, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 16.



AC: 15 Fort: 15 Reflex: 16 Will: 17

HP: 49 Surges: 9 Surge Value: 12


TRAINED SKILLS

Perception +8, Thievery +10, Streetwise +10, Insight +8, Arcana +11


UNTRAINED SKILLS

Acrobatics +5, Bluff +5, Diplomacy +5, Dungeoneering +3, Endurance +5, Heal +3, History +6, Intimidate +5, Nature +3, Religion +4, Stealth +5, Athletics +2


FEATS

Level 1: Improved Dark One's Blessing

Level 2: Astral Fire

Level 4: Linguist


POWERS

Eldritch Blast: Eldritch Blast

Warlock encounter 1: Witchfire

Warlock daily 1: Flames of Phlegethos

Warlock utility 2: Ethereal Stride

Warlock encounter 3: Fiery Bolt

Warlock daily 5: Avernian Eruption


ITEMS

Rod of Time Distortion +1, Stoneskin Cloth Armor (Basic Clothing) +1, Amulet of Protection +2

 
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Soveliss, level 5


Revenant, Warlock


Eldritch Blast: Eldritch Blast Constitution


Eldritch Pact: Infernal Pact


Choose your Race in Life: Eladrin



FINAL ABILITY SCORES


Str 11, Con 19, Dex 16, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 17.



STARTING ABILITY SCORES


Str 11, Con 16, Dex 14, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 16.




AC: 18 Fort: 18 Reflex: 18 Will: 18


HP: 51 Surges: 10 Surge Value: 12



TRAINED SKILLS


Insight +8, Streetwise +10, Thievery +10, Arcana +8



UNTRAINED SKILLS


Acrobatics +5, Bluff +5, Diplomacy +5, Dungeoneering +3, Endurance +8, Heal +3, History +3, Intimidate +7, Nature +3, Perception +3, Religion +3, Stealth +5, Athletics +2



FEATS


Level 1: Improved Dark One's Blessing


Level 2: Astral Fire


Level 4: Eladrin Soul



POWERS


Eldritch Blast: Eldritch Blast


Warlock encounter 1: Vampiric Embrace


Warlock daily 1: Flames of Phlegethos


Warlock utility 2: Ethereal Stride


Warlock encounter 3: Fiery Bolt


Warlock daily 5: Avernian Eruption



ITEMS


Stanching Leather Armor +1, Rod of Time Distortion +1, Amulet of Protection +2


 
 
Human Ranger, tends to miss through no fault of her own. I know little about her character. Mostly only that she's ranged.
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Elena, level 5
Human, Ranger
Fighting Style: Archer Fighting Style


FINAL ABILITY SCORES
Str 14, Con 12, Dex 19, Int 11, Wis 14, Cha 10.


STARTING ABILITY SCORES
Str 14, Con 12, Dex 16, Int 10, Wis 14, Cha 10.



AC: 20 Fort: 17 Reflex: 19 Will: 16
HP: 44 Surges: 9 Surge Value: 11


TRAINED SKILLS
Perception +9, Dungeoneering +9, Acrobatics +10, Endurance +7, Heal +9, Athletics +8


UNTRAINED SKILLS
Arcana +2, Bluff +2, Diplomacy +2, History +2, Insight +4, Intimidate +2, Nature +4, Religion +2, Stealth +5, Streetwise +2, Thievery +5


FEATS
Human: Durable
Level 1: Agile Hunter
Level 2: Lethal Hunter
Level 4: Human Perseverance


POWERS
Bonus At-Will Power: Careful Attack
Ranger at-will 1: Twin Strike
Ranger at-will 1: Nimble Strike
Ranger encounter 1: Evasive Strike
Ranger daily 1: Split the Tree
Ranger utility 2: Unbalancing Parry
Ranger encounter 3: Disruptive Strike
Ranger daily 5: Splintering Shot


ITEMS
Barkskin Hide Armor +1, Magic Longbow +2, Bracers of Archery (heroic tier), Cape of the Mountebank +1




Dragonborn Paladin, soaks up damage well. He's doing pretty good with the combats and managing his role as tank as well as providing healing. Finally getting in to using Divine Challenge (even though once he used it against innocent bystandards).
 
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Soveliss, level 5


Revenant, Warlock


Eldritch Blast: Eldritch Blast Constitution


Eldritch Pact: Infernal Pact


Choose your Race in Life: Eladrin



FINAL ABILITY SCORES


Str 11, Con 19, Dex 16, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 17.



STARTING ABILITY SCORES


Str 11, Con 16, Dex 14, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 16.




AC: 18 Fort: 18 Reflex: 18 Will: 18


HP: 51 Surges: 10 Surge Value: 12



TRAINED SKILLS


Insight +8, Streetwise +10, Thievery +10, Arcana +8



UNTRAINED SKILLS


Acrobatics +5, Bluff +5, Diplomacy +5, Dungeoneering +3, Endurance +8, Heal +3, History +3, Intimidate +7, Nature +3, Perception +3, Religion +3, Stealth +5, Athletics +2



FEATS


Level 1: Improved Dark One's Blessing


Level 2: Astral Fire


Level 4: Eladrin Soul



POWERS


Eldritch Blast: Eldritch Blast


Warlock encounter 1: Vampiric Embrace


Warlock daily 1: Flames of Phlegethos


Warlock utility 2: Ethereal Stride


Warlock encounter 3: Fiery Bolt


Warlock daily 5: Avernian Eruption



ITEMS


Stanching Leather Armor +1, Rod of Time Distortion +1, Amulet of Protection +2




There is a sometimes (rarely) sixth player in the mix. I was splitting playing her with the player when it was every other week, but when it became more often than not, and I was overshadowing the players, I stopped.
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Soveliss, level 5


Revenant, Warlock


Eldritch Blast: Eldritch Blast Constitution


Eldritch Pact: Infernal Pact


Choose your Race in Life: Eladrin



FINAL ABILITY SCORES


Str 11, Con 19, Dex 16, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 17.



STARTING ABILITY SCORES


Str 11, Con 16, Dex 14, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 16.




AC: 18 Fort: 18 Reflex: 18 Will: 18


HP: 51 Surges: 10 Surge Value: 12



TRAINED SKILLS


Insight +8, Streetwise +10, Thievery +10, Arcana +8



UNTRAINED SKILLS


Acrobatics +5, Bluff +5, Diplomacy +5, Dungeoneering +3, Endurance +8, Heal +3, History +3, Intimidate +7, Nature +3, Perception +3, Religion +3, Stealth +5, Athletics +2



FEATS


Level 1: Improved Dark One's Blessing


Level 2: Astral Fire


Level 4: Eladrin Soul



POWERS


Eldritch Blast: Eldritch Blast


Warlock encounter 1: Vampiric Embrace


Warlock daily 1: Flames of Phlegethos


Warlock utility 2: Ethereal Stride


Warlock encounter 3: Fiery Bolt


Warlock daily 5: Avernian Eruption



ITEMS


Stanching Leather Armor +1, Rod of Time Distortion +1, Amulet of Protection +2


 

They all should have magic weapons, armor and neck slot items. Switching from +1s to +2s right now (with +3s coming in soon). Using parcels as per rules in the DMG. 

So here are the problems I see:
A controller that doesn't control. 3 party members dedicated to long range. One of the front line fighters is the healer. The warlock forgets all of his powers that help him (shadow walk, Dark One and Prime Shot). 

Obviously I know this is partially my job to help solve this problem, which is why I'm here. Where should I start fixing this mess? Right now I'm validating three characters, making sure all their numbers are added up right, etc. Which is why I know about all these powers the Warlock is forgetting. 

I'll try and answer any questions about this to help get this problem solved.
You have players that make bad mechanical decisions and thus the mechanics of the game are hard.

Only way to go around this is a mechanical solution.

So either they only fight things that would be very easy for their level (scale things down, if it isn't important to them that they be strong scaling down isn't really an issue).

Or they need to change to become better at the mechanics of 4e.

Pretty much simple as that.

Now, the path to get there is what varies.

Option 1: The players don't worry about it, you don't worry about it.  Neither side really brings it up and you lower the difficulty to compensate.

Option 2: You show your players that you are throwing things at them of the appropriate level.  Show them a good amount of transparency and see what their reactions are to "this is what the game throws at you, I'm going by the book."  This may lead to them saying the game is too hard and taking it out on the game, but it avoids really either side having to do too much.

Option 3: Show them this thread.  Put the ball in their court.  This is what the game throws at you, this is what I would like to throw at you, and your characters being weak makes the game less fun for me as a DM.  If it is a problem for you (and it must be because you are talking about it here and not just taking Option 1), then share it with them.  Players and what they find fun is very important to the game, but you are also a voice that needs to be heard.  Put it on them to say "I'm going to throw stuff at you, it is your job to survive it".  They will need to optimize (Might mean rebuilding characters, might mean making cheat sheets, might mean talking to each other more tactically) or fail (not necessarily die, but fail).

Option 4: Ignore all of this, everyone continues to complain and if venting here is enough to keep you happy we will gladly listen .

Options 5-5000: Other things.  There are a ton of different ways to bring this up.  Most all of them involve speaking with your players about the game.  One of the options is even to play an entirely different game, or have someone take a turn at DMing and you play something that is mechanically strong so they have a comparison to go against.  Every group is different, try some stuff out with your group. 
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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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
First of all, find out if the rest of the group is having fun the way things are.  If they are, relax and just let things happen.  Maybe they like being close to death every encounter.  If they're not cool with this, though, try this stuff.  Tell the players you'd like to suggest some changes and if they're open to this, don't be afraid about taking the lead and guiding them:

Take the lead to actively coach these folks in optimizing their characters a bit more and using smarter strategy, from tactical positioning to when to use their powers and how often. 

Give them a chance to rebuild their characters and show them how much easier fights will be with optimization.
 
Also, encourage teamwork at every turn.  Strongly encourage them to work together, point out how well it works when they do it and point out how it hurts when they don't.  Provide them opportunities to use teamwork to be more effective.  Explain that solid teamwork is a force multiplier.
 
Coach the hell out of them in terms of tactics.  If they resent it at first, just ask them to give you some slack on this matter for a session or two, you know, try it out.  Study up on tactics yourself if you need to. 

Try some DM transparency too and let them see how you work the monsters and even go as far as letting them look at the monster stats so they can think about ways they could be more effective at fighting those monsters.  

Try to do some side-sessions that are purely dungeon delves, purely for training.  Encourage the party to think of themselves as a close-knit squad of warriors. 

After their combat performance starts to improve, I think that the party will begin to come around and enjoy things more (given that they're not enjoying getting their butts kicked now.  If they are enjoying the game just fine, don't worry).  In other words, once they start being more effective, they'll get greedy for it and that's not a bad thing.

OD&D, 1E and 2E challenged the player. 3E challenged the character, not the player. Now 4E takes it a step further by challenging a GROUP OF PLAYERS to work together as a TEAM. That's why I love 4E.

"Your ability to summon a horde of celestial superbeings at will is making my ... BMX skills look a bit redundant."

"People treat their lack of imagination as if it's the measure of what's silly. Which is silly." - Noon

"Challenge" is overrated.  "Immersion" is usually just a more pretentious way of saying "having fun playing D&D."

"Falling down is how you grow.  Staying down is how you die.  It's not what happens to you, it's what you do after it happens.”

I have talked to them about the issue. I don't think it's totally a mechanics issue. Reading your comments and thinking about how to respond made me think its partially mechanics and partially tactics. 
I could take out the Wizard and just do 10 damage (his magic missile damage) to a monster and call it a day.
The two people that can heal are forced into the front, and the other three freak out if a monster gets close. Unfortunately what happens is the cleric has to heal and can't really sit there and slug it out with someone. 
The Warlock is mechanically hampered by his 16 con (rather than the 18 or 20 it should be). With a +1 weapon still (him and the cleric are due for an upgrade) AND since he ignores Prime Shot, that's basically +3 or +4 to attack rolls (vs reflex) he's wasting. Not a huge deal since he's still at a +6 (roughly where he should be), but with bad dice rolls, it's killer.

Looking at encounter breakdowns in the DMG, they recommend one level+3 and 3 level+1 encounters in an adventure. So I'm already going easy on them as far as I can tell. I've told them that this is an appropriate level encounter and they come back that every week is almost a TPK and I'm using too hard of monsters and it needs to be easier (but only from 2 of the 5 players, usually only 1). The biggest complainer is the Dragonborn Paladin (keeping in mind he's IMO top 2 performing in the game in combat). The cleric really wants to work with me on this. The Ranger stays quiet (either because she doesn't want to engage or she disagrees with her boyfriend). The Warlock will just blame everything on everyone else (he's only half wrong, his problem is mostly bad rolls).

So, last week I did take 3 of the 5 character sheets (with another if you include their sometimes companion) to fix (make sure all the bonuses to damage and to hit are right). I was thinking that since they're working with gods as pawns in a war, either a benevolent god would allow one person to change their race OR kill the Warlock and the Raven Queen turns him into a Revenant (losing his Eladrin abilities and stat bonuses and gaining the +2 to con to get a +1 to hit). 
I honestly think he would enjoy being a Revenant as it's new and grim.

However I think fixing his stats wouldn't fix everything. There's still the issue of poor tactics, which I want them to discover on their own, rather than me telling them how to play the game. Unfortunately 40 fights later, they still haven't figured it out (nor do they listen to me).

We've played L5R, 3.5, 3rd, WoD, Savage Worlds, Star Wars, Dark Heresy, and a dozen other games at least. They told me they wanted to play this game, I told them I didn't want to. They said yes, I said "ok, but we've finishing it" so I am finishing this game or they're quitting the group. It's a long history behind it, but we're doing 4e to at least finish a campaign. And I did play a Defender (Drarven Fighter- Maul) that dominated the group (which is why I'm not playing it any more).

I think I covered everything there. Yes, this is partially venting. But I've been reading everything I can to figure out how to fix this, but it seems like there are just to many problems that need fixing that I don't really know where to start.

 
Coach the hell out of them in terms of tactics.  If they resent it at first, just ask them to give you some slack on this matter for a session or two, you know, try it out.  Study up on tactics yourself if you need to. 

Try some DM transparency too and let them see how you work the monsters and even go as far as letting them look at the monster stats so they can think about ways they could be more effective at fighting those monsters.  

Try to do some side-sessions that are purely dungeon delves, purely for training.  Encourage the party to think of themselves as a close-knit squad of warriors. 

After their combat performance starts to improve, I think that the party will begin to come around and enjoy things more (given that they're not enjoying getting their butts kicked now.  If they are enjoying the game just fine, don't worry).  In other words, once they start being more effective, they'll get greedy for it and that's not a bad thing.



This is something I might try. I might copy a few pages from the monster manual and let them see what they're facing. 

I'm worried about telling them how to play, rather than just letting them play how they want. Obviously what we have isn't working right now. However I've tried telling them "don't get so spread out in combat, that when they split you and kill you" and then when fighting a single monster with AoE attacks (a dragon), they said "you said to stay grouped up" to which I replied "Not when the monster rains death in a large area, which pisses off your healer when everyone starts dying at the same time" to which there was a temper tantrum and it didn't go well. 
Hinting seems to work better "what would you guys do if they teleported behind your tanks?" to which that worked very well. Unfortunately they tend to forget these lessons every week.  

We've played L5R, 3.5, 3rd, WoD, Savage Worlds, Star Wars, Dark Heresy, and a dozen other games at least. They told me they wanted to play this game, I told them I didn't want to. They said yes, I said "ok, but we've finishing it" so I am finishing this game or they're quitting the group. It's a long history behind it, but we're doing 4e to at least finish a campaign. 
 



It sounds like you've got this slightly backwards.  Seems like you'd be the one quitting the group.

Anyways....  

Q: You listed other stuff your groups played.  How'd the others preform in those?

. Have you tried crafting the stories around the party you've got sitting at the table vrs just plugging 5 adventurers into the pre-fab plot of saving the world during a gods war.

.Maybe you need encounters that are not just weaker combats but less combats, & more something else?
And just because there's less combat needn't mean that the various classes become any less important to the success/failure/outcome.

Tactics are almost exclusively mechanical.  There is a social issue as well, but the heart of good tactics is knowing and using the mechanics.  The rest is just getting people to agree on a set of tactics.

But, basically, all the same things apply.  They get better, your encounters get worse, or you kill them.  Killing them / causing them to fail might help. 
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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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
Could you tell us the monster composition of the most recent fight that your players had a problem?  Like monster levels, roles, and names.
And maybe a rundown on the layout(cover, elevation, distance between players and monsters).
If there are hazards, that too.
Difficult terrain as well.


I mean, it's all well and good that you are saying the party isn't doing their part, but what are they fighting?  The party you typed up shouldn't be having that much difficulty.

Q: You listed other stuff your groups played.  How'd the others preform in those?

Have you tried crafting the stories around the party you've got sitting at the table vrs just plugging 5 adventurers into the pre-fab plot of saving the world during a gods war.

.Maybe you need encounters that are not just weaker combats but less combats, & more something else?
And just because there's less combat needn't mean that the various classes become any less important to the success/failure/outcome.


There are at least 2 non-combat encounters per level granting them XP. Sometimes more. The RP encounters I've thrown at them usually end with them staring at me asking me what they're supposed to do, or trying to kill each other. I gave them a bunch of letters they received in game and they ignored all but one of them, refering to them as "the equivilent of viagra e-mail." Skill challenges work well sometimes. I'm still getting the hang of those myself, but try and do at least one a level.
Different people performing differently depending on the game. The person playing the wizard always plays a magic user of some sort. Usually the more RP heavy games favor one player (due to their play style). Two people are still fairly new to my group, one has been off and on for a while, the other two are the only ones that I've played a ton with. One is the leader of the two (playing the wizard) and usually likes to run things and be the best. The other (Paladin) usually causes mayhem for sometimes no reason (mostly when he was new, a lot less now). They did a lot better in 3.5 than they are doing now (one is doing considerably better, the Cleric).
The stories are focused on them. The gods usually are merely there to set the backdrop, give them hints of where to go, move them to important places, etc. Currently they're being tested about the deities they chose in exchange for boons. The cleric of Pelor stole food from an old crazy priest leaving him to die with nothing to eat far from civilization (the Paladin said it was a bad idea) failing the test and passing up the boon (not part of the treasure parcels).
And the quiting thing, has a long story behind it. Not getting into it here.

Tactics are almost exclusively mechanical.  There is a social issue as well, but the heart of good tactics is knowing and using the mechanics.  The rest is just getting people to agree on a set of tactics.

But, basically, all the same things apply.  They get better, your encounters get worse, or you kill them.  Killing them / causing them to fail might help. 



We (Cleric and I) actually discussed killing them off so they can make new characters, now that they know more. Difference between me and them I guess is I read and read and read, then made about 5 characters before I started playing any game. I know they don't do that, which is why normally help them a lot, but this was my first time running a 4e game and I didn't have too much experience to help them.
Story-wise, I would be able to work it in just fine. Plop them in as new characters to continue the quest of the other heroes, who died making it possible for another group to continue.

Could you tell us the monster composition of the most recent fight that your players had a problem?  Like monster levels, roles, and names.
And maybe a rundown on the layout(cover, elevation, distance between players and monsters).
If there are hazards, that too.
Difficult terrain as well.

I mean, it's all well and good that you are saying the party isn't doing their part, but what are they fighting?  The party you typed up shouldn't be having that much difficulty.


I have every combat composition recorded in a notebook. The most recent fight was two level 5 controllers (Druegar Theurge [mm2 pg 93] and an Eye of Gruumsh [mm pg 204]) and a level 7 soldier (orc bloodrager [mm pg204]). The battlefield was dark, the heroes refused to light it more than a light spell, the Eye and Theurge sat in the darkness most of the fight. The heroes backed into a corner and fought the bloodrager. After I pointed out they were ignoring the people really hurting them, and that they should teleport behind the bloodrager, they quickly turned the tables from what they described as a "TPK waiting to happen" and won without further trouble. The Wizard used Magic Missile almost exclusively. The Ranger couldn't see anyone and was constantly using potions to make up for the damage the Theurge did with AoEs. Paladin used heals a bit and the Cleric blew everything healing. The Warlock was constantly threatened by the Bloodrager and wouldn't teleport away.
There was a puzzle room before that. They ignored the clues (4 doos with seasonal markings, all with pews and alters behind the doors. The summer door had the Pelor sun on it), which is no big deal in terms of the game. It was a long shot with a cool RP payoff (they aren't missing it, it's just delayed).
(short rest here)
Before that was a huge open place (road leading to temple gates) with  various orcs and druegar. For the Druegar we had 2 Guards, a Scout and a Theurge (page 94ish mm2) and the orcs were 4 Drudges (it might have only been 3) (mm pg203). So that one was a bit high in the body count and complexity, but 4 level 4 minions, 2 level 4 soldiers, a level 4 lurker and a level 5 controller should be managable. The Wizard actually dropped 2 of the minions right away with Icy Terrain, but that left the rest of the battle field open for the others to once again, walk up while the heroes shoved themselves in a corner (not literally here) to be hit by the Theurge almost exactly like they did in the most recent encounter.
(extended rest here)
Three RP encounters before that.
(literally a year of ingame down time)
A skill challenge before those.
an RP encounter before that.
Skill challenge before that.
A level 4 encounter (before they leveled up to 5) was simply two Kruthik Adults, a Shadar Kai Chainfighter and Witch. I don't remember this one being particularly hard as they've been fighting Kruthik for 3 levels and had been introduced to how nasty the Chainfighter can be. This took place at the base of an aztec-style temple they had just decended. So doorway in, stairway up, and open desert around them. I'm sure they had some trouble with the witch and chainfighter, but I don't remember complaints about this.
(short rest)
Before that, 4 magma claw, 2 magama hurler and 2 rupture demons (all I have writen down is page 182 for that, looks like Monster Manual), that was on top of the temple, outside the room, in front of the stairs. The crowded the doorway as the creatures came in. Started out horrible but they eventually prevailed. 
(short rest)
A two part encounter before that. Between parts I gave them back an encounter power and let them spend a healing surge. They also knew it was a two part encounter before the fight started. They could see every one on the battle field. It was a massive room with several rubble piles slowing advancement of either side. First part was all Kruthik (mm 170) a Hive Lord (didn't use all of it's abilities), 2 Adults (no aura use) and 4 hatchlings (no aura use). That beat them pretty good, but they did save up for the second fight. They wouldn't have survived without the EP and HS I gave them. The second part was 6 Human Lackies (level 6 minion) (slightly nerfed), 2 Mages (level 4 artillery) (mm pg 163) and 5 fire lord cultists (not sure, as I don't have it written down here). The second part went much better than the first (in part thanks to a lot of minions). Oddly, the ranger could have sat in the back and arrowed the crap out of everyone, but she charged closer just like the others. The biggest problem here was the charge blindly into combat thing, giving up your range advantage.

Not all of those are just "fight fight fight" there are other things involved sometimes too, like a ritual to close a dimentional gateway (weird, those guys we just killed did exactly what we were sent here to do...). 
A 16 in a prime ability score is perfectly adequate, but it's definitely harder to play. It requires a player to really know the bonuses they are entitled to, and to have ways to mitigate misses.

I see you give them some alternate-goal encounters. Try using more of those for a while, so that the players can practice with their characters without having to worry about a TPK. The monsters need to spend three standard actions in a certain location, and after 5 rounds their opportunity is lost. If the monsters succeed, they depart (or are easily dispatched by the players) and the players suffer some interesting, non-lethal consequence. If the monsters fail but aren't killed, they depart to try another approach in a different encounter.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

1-      If they are having fun change nothing


2-      If they are not, level down your encounters.


I’m never big on forcing optimization on your players. I’ve had a DM try to do that before, and it got very lame, very quick; no one wants to hear “NO you should use THAT spell” or “No don’t take that feat, take THIS feat”


Part of that DM’s problem was tone; so if you do go the route of buffing the party up, just remember it’s still there characters and while it is fine to talk ooc about options and tactic they can use; you should never make them feel like it’s a “Take/Do this power/feat/item or else. “

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/1.jpg)

A 16 in a prime ability score is perfectly adequate, but it's definitely harder to play. It requires a player to really know the bonuses they are entitled to, and to have ways to mitigate misses.

I see you give them some alternate-goal encounters. Try using more of those for a while, so that the players can practice with their characters without having to worry about a TPK. The monsters need to spend three standard actions in a certain location, and after 5 rounds their opportunity is lost. If the monsters succeed, they depart (or are easily dispatched by the players) and the players suffer some interesting, non-lethal consequence. If the monsters fail but aren't killed, they depart to try another approach in a different encounter.



The problem is he forgets his bonuses, like Prime Shot. I will try and throw in more alternate goal encounters, but a lot of the time they feel like I'm "cheating them" by making the monsters destroy or damage something they need. I do usually use other things though, like if one monster escapes, -1 to situation. If secret camp discovered +1. Then at certain points I have if situation +3 players suprise monsters here, etc. But that's all behind the scenes. With their troubles in combat, they were stacking up a ton of negatives though. So I kind of got rid of that and do it a little more free form. 
The problem is he forgets his bonuses, like Prime Shot.

It just takes practice. Give them the opportunity to practice.

I will try and throw in more alternate goal encounters, but a lot of the time they feel like I'm "cheating them" by making the monsters destroy or damage something they need.

If they don't like that, ask them what they would like and do that. They'll probably surprise you with what they'll be okay with you threatening.

I do usually use other things though, like if one monster escapes, -1 to situation. If secret camp discovered +1. Then at certain points I have if situation +3 players suprise monsters here, etc. But that's all behind the scenes. With their troubles in combat, they were stacking up a ton of negatives though. So I kind of got rid of that and do it a little more free form.

The key is to make the failure as interesting as possible. The monsters complete their goals, things start changing about the world, new opportunities open up as some close off. Collaborate with the players to build encounters they want to engage in, including interesting ways to both succeed and fail.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy


1-      If they are having fun change nothing


2-      If they are not, level down your encounters.


I’m never big on forcing optimization on your players. I’ve had a DM try to do that before, and it got very lame, very quick; no one wants to hear “NO you should use THAT spell” or “No don’t take that feat, take THIS feat”


Part of that DM’s problem was tone; so if you do go the route of buffing the party up, just remember it’s still there characters and while it is fine to talk ooc about options and tactic they can use; you should never make them feel like it’s a “Take/Do this power/feat/item or else. “



The only forcing of optimization I would be doing is the Warlock becoming a Revenant, but I would likely talk to him about this BEFORE the game and I genuinly think he would love it. It gives him something special that no other player had access to when making their characters, it's dark and unique. It's his kind of thing. 
But you do hit the nail on the head in that I don't want to tell them how to play. I also don't want to constantly be forced to throw level 1 and 2 encounters at a party of 5 level 5 adventurers.  They're mechanically sound, and should be able to handle the fight. They seem to understand this and want to fix the problem as well, but so far they have refused to learn basic stratagy (even when they ask a direct question and I answer it directly).
And They aren't having fun because they feel like they're losing all the time. I disagree with this assessment, but they forget all the wins and only remember the times they get beaten (which is still too often).  I'm actively talking to one player right now, though he might be talking to others. Currently they're placing blame on the Wizard for not doing any controlling at all and playing like a 10 damage per turn striker. He wants to try controller next time.
But you do hit the nail on the head in that I don't want to tell them how to play.

That's very good. I don't think telling people how to play takes the game anywhere good.

And They aren't having fun because they feel like they're losing all the time. I disagree with this assessment, but they forget all the wins and only remember the times they get beaten (which is still too often).

Another approach can be to give them alternate goals. Since the wizard isn't doing much in combat anyway, set up some encounters which can only be won if someone succeeds at several Arcana checks at various points around the room.

I'm actively talking to one player right now, though he might be talking to others. Currently they're placing blame on the Wizard for not doing any controlling at all and playing like a 10 damage per turn striker. He wants to try controller next time.

Put in some stuff that makes Magic Missile shine, like some minion artillery shooting from distant, covered positions.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

When I said "make them fail" you can kill them, but you can also just make whatever they are doing not work if they can't get the job done.  Getting captured, letting someone from a backstory die, getting robbed, etc.  There are lots of ways to "fail" without actually dying in game.

Other than that everything has already been said.  If the group isn't working well together you can softball and let them win, play as written and kill them, or talk to them and explain why you want to slowly ramp it up.

If this was me I'd probably TPK the party (or similar, they all get knocked out and enslaved etc etc).  But that may lead to its own problems.

Good luck. 
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I'm actively talking to one player right now, though he might be talking to others. Currently they're placing blame on the Wizard for not doing any controlling at all and playing like a 10 damage per turn striker. He wants to try controller next time.

Put in some stuff that makes Magic Missile shine, like some minion artillery shooting from distant, covered positions.



That's right.  Encourage your controller to play poorly.  Make it so that when you do quit playing and he leaves to another group he can take that wizard and continue to cause problems.  Praise him when his magic missiling accomplishes an encounter you have specifically designed for him to magic missile in, so when anyone suggests he changes later on he can remember that one time where it worked really really well instead of changing.

A+ 
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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
Just remember, these are your friends. You're not their parent, or their teacher, or their boss, or their drill sergeant. This is a game and it's meant to be fun. TPKs generally aren't fun, but other kinds of failure can be.

Good luck.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Also, try focusing more on story than combat. I can't blame anyone for not wanting to waste their time learning the quirks of one game's combat system. It won't help them become better gamers, and won't be applicable in another game or even another edition of D&D. It's generally awful stuff, and is designed with the goal of making combat interesting for people interested in combat. The wizard and the warlock aren't interested in the interesting things they can do, which is why they don't bother learning them. Take the focus off of combat and tactics.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

 It just takes practice. Give them the opportunity to practice.


I'm going over these things with him on Friday before we start playing. Part of the checking his character sheet I'm doing this week.

If they don't like that, ask them what they would like and do that. They'll probably surprise you with what they'll be okay with you threatening.

 
Usually if any NPC/BBG holds anything over their head, they get angry and react poorly. If no one basically tells them what to do, they never do anything. At the same time, if there's just a slug fest they demand more role playing.

The key is to make the failure as interesting as possible. The monsters complete their goals, things start changing about the world, new opportunities open up as some close off. Collaborate with the players to build encounters they want to engage in, including interesting ways to both succeed and fail.


I try. I keep asking them for more things to help them build the world. They've been asked to add an NPC into the game, they've been asked for wish lists of items, they're going to be asked for quests. I've told them they can name and place towns and more. I'm generally saying yes to a lot of things they ask for. I've told them the monsters they're going to be fighting a lot of. The problem is they say they're so busy and don't have time. If they only knew how many hours I spend prepping a week maybe they could take 5 minutes to help.
Getting a lot of good stuff here guys, it's helping a ton. Keep it coming. 
I'm going to make a list of the suggestions here and come up with a game plan.

 
It just takes practice. Give them the opportunity to practice.

I'm going over these things with him on Friday before we start playing. Part of the checking his character sheet I'm doing this week.

Did they make their characters, by the way? And are people playing exactly what they want, or were they asked to fill roles? How did the Wizard end up as the Wizard? He could be a Fighter with Reaping Strike and also do automatic damage every turn, with the possibility of doing more.

If they don't like that, ask them what they would like and do that. They'll probably surprise you with what they'll be okay with you threatening.

Usually if any NPC/BBG holds anything over their head, they get angry and react poorly. If no one basically tells them what to do, they never do anything. At the same time, if there's just a slug fest they demand more role playing.

I can't blame them for getting angry and reacting poorly. It can feel like they're being blackmailed into doing something.

Have you just asked them why their characters are adventurers, and what makes them want to brave the dangers of the world? See if you can find all that out.

Roleplaying can occur during combat. The trick is finding out the kinds of roles they want to play, and this hinges on what their goals are. If they want treasure, then if you put out some treasure and they run in an grab it then they're playing the role of treasure hunters. Point out that they've achieved their goal and can leave the encounter.

If by "roleplaying" you mean "talking," that's also not completely the opposite of combat, as you could have some cool scenes where the focus is gaining information or interacting with someone, while combat rages. Movies do this all the time.

I try. I keep asking them for more things to help them build the world. They've been asked to add an NPC into the game, they've been asked for wish lists of items, they're going to be asked for quests. I've told them they can name and place towns and more. I'm generally saying yes to a lot of things they ask for. I've told them the monsters they're going to be fighting a lot of.

That sounds great, especially the saying yes. But if there are things they're not interested in providing, try a different tack.

The problem is they say they're so busy and don't have time. If they only knew how many hours I spend prepping a week maybe they could take 5 minutes to help.

Well, I'd slack off on the prep, if I were you. It doesn't sound like they appreciate it, and you seem resentful about it.

Start small with the group collaboration. Ask questions that can have fairly simply but interesting answers. "You did a favor for this NPC once, and he hasn't forgotten it. What did you do?" "There's rumors swirl about this town. What has your character heard?" "The letter contains an offer of work that's right in the Wizard's wheelhouse. What is it?" Accept their answers and build from there. Focus less on combat for a while. Try to have combat only occur when it would be meaningful. Look for questions that need to be answered about the world, and let the players supply the answers on the spot. Don't give them homework. They're not that engaged. You'll know they're engaged when they voluntarily do work for the game outside of the game.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

That's right.  Encourage your controller to play poorly.  Make it so that when you do quit playing and he leaves to another group he can take that wizard and continue to cause problems.  Praise him when his magic missiling accomplishes an encounter you have specifically designed for him to magic missile in, so when anyone suggests he changes later on he can remember that one time where it worked really really well instead of changing.A+ 



One of the principles I use when I'm a player in the game (as opposed to the DM) is one that I call "The Rumsfeld." Donald Rumsfeld was (in)famous for saying, "You don't go to war with the army you wish you had, you go to war with the army you have."

There's a reason why everyone thinks you "need" a defender or a leader. And that's because, in my experience, when a party is missing some roles, nobody ever seems to think they should change up their approach to solving problems. They go into an encounter and start working on it as if they did have those missing roles. More often than not, they come away with losses or having spent more resources than they'd normally spend for an encounter of that level. In other words, they went to war with the army they wished they had, not the army they actually have.

To me, it sounds like this is what this group is doing. They don't have optimized characters or particularly great tactical knowledge. But they're approaching encounters in a fairly straightforward way, despite these limitations, and getting their rear-ends handed to them. I would suggest the players, with the help of the DM, try to imagine other solutions to a given encounter than the most common one (kill everyone till they're dead). Start with a fictional solution to a fictional problem, then boil that solution down to mechanics. Put that plan into motion, roll some dice, see how it goes.

As an aside, my wizard, Force Majeure, has magic missile and he kicks much ass. He just goes to war with the army he has, not the one he wishes he had (e.g. beguiling strands!). If the fictional problem isn't best solved with magic missile, then he finds another way.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

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The problem is they say they're so busy and don't have time. If they only knew how many hours I spend prepping a week maybe they could take 5 minutes to help.



I’d make this clear to them & just be straight up about it and let them know, that if they want to reap the benefits of you being a good DM and putting time into a game for them to play, then you in return expect a certain level of effort put in as well (even minimal effort)


No one is too busy they can’t take 10min to sit down and write some names for towns and npcs; or take 10 min to go look at an optimization thread and see what good feats match their class. (This coming from a guy who works his 40 hours+ a week and looks after his grandparents) If I can find the three+ hours a week to make a game, the players sure as hell should take 10min to half an hour a week to work on their characters or something I asked them to write up.


To me it doesn’t sound like they are too busy, but just too lazy to do it; I have canceled games at my table just because of this; if the players are not going to put any effort into it, it won’t work well, aka the best games are those where the players and DM are actively talking ooc about the game and how to make it better.


Sub Note- Stop the hate on Magic Missile; it has saved my ass on a few occasions; especially when all you need to do is Hit something (aka that pesky minion trying to push a boulder down on the party; or that evil necromancer in the rafters concentrating on some dire ritual). Though not super optimal, it’s hard to say No to a guaranteed hit/damage.

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/1.jpg)

Did they make their characters, by the way? And are people playing exactly what they want, or were they asked to fill roles? How did the Wizard end up as the Wizard? He could be a Fighter with Reaping Strike and also do automatic damage every turn, with the possibility of doing more.


The Wizard wanted to be a wizard. He made his own character. The Paladin is the pre-gen. The Cleric is a modified verion of the pregen Cleric. Everyone else made their own characters. They picked who was going to play what. I gave them advice as much as I could, i.e. they had 6 players, I recommended at least on of every role and suggested doubling up on defender and striker would probably give them a good mix. One of the defenders cannot play regularly now (initially it was every other week, so I played her in the off weeks). The warlock wanted to be a Wizard, but wanted to cast fireballs and kill everyone. The player that is playing the Wizard explained that the wizard isn't really built to do massive damage like that (he seems to be happy with the Warlock class, just not clear on all the abilities, he's the youngest and newest in our group).

I can't blame them for getting angry and reacting poorly. It can feel like they're being blackmailed into doing something.

Have you just asked them why their characters are adventurers, and what makes them want to brave the dangers of the world? See if you can find all that out.

Roleplaying can occur during combat. The trick is finding out the kinds of roles they want to play, and this hinges on what their goals are. If they want treasure, then if you put out some treasure and they run in an grab it then they're playing the role of treasure hunters. Point out that they've achieved their goal and can leave the encounter.

If by "roleplaying" you mean "talking," that's also not completely the opposite of combat, as you could have some cool scenes where the focus is gaining information or interacting with someone, while combat rages. Movies do this all the time.



We actually just did a group background check a few weeks ago. The Wizard is from a long line of Wizards, hoping to gain knowledge and power like his family before him. The Warlock is on the run, but seems to only be running from himself. The Cleric and Paladin are both orphans. But while the Cleric was taken in by the church, the Paladin was taken in by an abusive family, eventually killing his abuser and signing up with a group of Paladins to protect all those that need help. The Ranger is plagued by wanderlust and thus explores the wilderness looking for something she'll never find.
And when I say role playing, I mean events happening outside of combat. Talking encounters, skill encounters based on reacting to a situation in more than a mechanical way, character interaction, even some encounters set up as combat, but in reality involve something more elaborate.

 Well, I'd slack off on the prep, if I were you. It doesn't sound like they appreciate it, and you seem resentful about it.


I am cutting back. Mostly with time per encounter. However I make magic item cards for the players for the items they find. Picking out the best items for them seems to take the longest amount of time, but is the most useful for the group. I do have item wishlists from everyone, but some players didn't really follow the instructions well.

Start small with the group collaboration. Ask questions that can have fairly simply but interesting answers. "You did a favor for this NPC once, and he hasn't forgotten it. What did you do?" "There's rumors swirl about this town. What has your character heard?" "The letter contains an offer of work that's right in the Wizard's wheelhouse. What is it?" Accept their answers and build from there. Focus less on combat for a while. Try to have combat only occur when it would be meaningful. Look for questions that need to be answered about the world, and let the players supply the answers on the spot. Don't give them homework. They're not that engaged. You'll know they're engaged when they voluntarily do work for the game outside of the game.


Sometimes they engage, sometimes they don't. When I have given them homework, it's always been on the understanding that I would like it done, it's worth XP and/or equipment, but they won't be penalised for not doing it. And I did the questions thing. I asked the following:
Why did you choose the adventuring life?
Which family members/friends do you hold most dear?
What people/groups/objects hold your most loyalty?
On your skills: how did you aquire them?
How do you want to be remembered after death? 


Sub Note- Stop the hate on Magic Missile; it has saved my ass on a few occasions; especially when all you need to do is Hit something (aka that pesky minion trying to push a boulder down on the party; or that evil necromancer in the rafters concentrating on some dire ritual). Though not super optimal, it’s hard to say No to a guaranteed hit/damage.




I feel like everyone here should be justifying on hating on magic missile.  It isn't a worthless spell (its not bad for niche situations and it counts as an RBA if nothing else) but it shouldn't be your T1-T3 standard pretty much ever.  Wizards have better things to do than 10 damage.

It is easy to say "no" to a garunteed damage spell (not garunteed hit, because it doesnt actually hit).  Often times that 10 damage has no relevance on what is going on at table and in the instances where it does, it often has less relevance than all of the player's other options that weren't magic missile.
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It's not that I hate Magic Missile. It's useful as any attack or weapon. However as an EVERY TURN action, it's being used as a way to disengage from the combat and pretend he's being effective (not that it can't be effective if he were engaging and making an active choice). 
It's not that I hate Magic Missile. It's useful as any attack or weapon. However as an EVERY TURN action, it's being used as a way to disengage from the combat and pretend he's being effective (not that it can't be effective if he were engaging and making an active choice). 



No, you should hate magic missile.  It is an extremely niche power and using it outside of those niches should cause other players to give your player, at minimum, a raised eyebrow.
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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
No, you should hate magic missile.  It is an extremely niche power and using it outside of those niches should cause other players to give your player, at minimum, a raised eyebrow.



Heh, your LFR is showing...

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!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

No, you should hate magic missile.  It is an extremely niche power and using it outside of those niches should cause other players to give your player, at minimum, a raised eyebrow.



Heh, your LFR is showing...



I actually don't play LFR much.  Most all of what I play/DM is home games.

And my home games tend to have harder combats than LFR and involve people who don't have to contend with the social awkwardness that is telling someone they don't know that they disagree with their decisions.  So I'm really not sure what you are implying here... 
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The Wizard wanted to be a wizard. He made his own character. The Paladin is the pre-gen. The Cleric is a modified verion of the pregen Cleric.

That, to me, explains some of the paladin's troubles. I'm not clear on the issues the Cleric was having, but playing pregens is always tricky, as one is less familiar with how they're built.

  Everyone else made their own characters. They picked who was going to play what. I gave them advice as much as I could, i.e. they had 6 players, I recommended at least on of every role and suggested doubling up on defender and striker would probably give them a good mix.

Did anyone get stuck taking a role they weren't interested it?

One of the defenders cannot play regularly now (initially it was every other week, so I played her in the off weeks). The warlock wanted to be a Wizard, but wanted to cast fireballs and kill everyone. The player that is playing the Wizard explained that the wizard isn't really built to do massive damage like that (he seems to be happy with the Warlock class, just not clear on all the abilities, he's the youngest and newest in our group).

That explains a lot about the wizard player too. Which isn't to imply that being young and new is a problem, but I think more patience and understanding is warranted. A few encounters built primarily for him would probably work wonders for his engagement.

We actually just did a group background check a few weeks ago. The Wizard is from a long line of Wizards, hoping to gain knowledge and power like his family before him. The Warlock is on the run, but seems to only be running from himself. The Cleric and Paladin are both orphans. But while the Cleric was taken in by the church, the Paladin was taken in by an abusive family, eventually killing his abuser and signing up with a group of Paladins to protect all those that need help. The Ranger is plagued by wanderlust and thus explores the wilderness looking for something she'll never find.

All decent backstories, but there aren't many interesting questions to answer there. All characters gain "knowledge and power" just by virtue of levelling up, so what exactly does the wizard want? How can the Warlock find peace? Orphaned characters are usually a clear sign (if you didn't already have this) that the players don't want anything held over their heads, but the abusive family is interesting. The ranger hasn't given you much except that she's... a ranger. I see some of your issues more clearly now.

And when I say role playing, I mean events happening outside of combat. Talking encounters, skill encounters based on reacting to a situation in more than a mechanical way, character interaction, even some encounters set up as combat, but in reality involve something more elaborate.

Gotcha. I avoid calling all that "roleplaying" because combat is roleplaying too, and need only be as mechanical as you want to make it. Anyway, I recommend focusing on the skill based challenges for a while.

Well, I'd slack off on the prep, if I were you. It doesn't sound like they appreciate it, and you seem resentful about it.

I am cutting back. Mostly with time per encounter. However I make magic item cards for the players for the items they find. Picking out the best items for them seems to take the longest amount of time, but is the most useful for the group. I do have item wishlists from everyone, but some players didn't really follow the instructions well.

Well, it's more homework, so that's not too surprising. Do you find that they make effective use of the items you pick out for them, or do they tend to forget what the items can do? Even when something is off of their wishlist, I find that players sometimes aren't very interested in the items they get, beyond maybe the enhancement bonuses.

Sometimes they engage, sometimes they don't. When I have given them homework, it's always been on the understanding that I would like it done, it's worth XP and/or equipment, but they won't be penalised for not doing it.

I get the impression that they still don't do it. I recommend not giving them homework.

And I did the questions thing. I asked the following:
Why did you choose the adventuring life?
Which family members/friends do you hold most dear?
What people/groups/objects hold your most loyalty?
On your skills: how did you aquire them?
How do you want to be remembered after death?

Those are all good questions, but they're very broadly based, requiring wordy answers, and a few of them imply that the answers will be used as hooks to drag the party along. Did you get useful answers to these, or did you learn that the players are wandering, naturally talented, lone wolves?

Keep asking questions. Keep them focused in the short term. "You've heard of some interesting work available in town. What is it?" "Rolling around at the monster's feet, near the edge of the precipice, is an artifact of arcane knowledge. What valuable secrets is it said to contain?" Etc. Iserith is better at these than I am.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I actually don't play LFR much.  Most all of what I play/DM is home games.

And my home games tend to have harder combats than LFR and involve people who don't have to contend with the social awkwardness that is telling someone they don't know that they disagree with their decisions.  So I'm really not sure what you are implying here... 



It's just my experience that those with a strong opinion on such subjects are either organized play participants or frequent the optimization forums a lot. If I missed the mark, please take it as the joke it was meant to be.

I have a different philosophy is all. For example, whereas I may show up with my wizard, Force Majeure, and some want me to be the best controller I can be, I just try to be the best Force Majeure I can be. Force Majeure solves problems the way he chooses to solve them (with the tools at his disposal), not by any particular mechanical consideration that he should be adhering to. If that means he's not optimized for handling a particular encounter a particular way, then he'll come up with another solution. I find that more fun than worrying about which is the "right" power to take or second-guessing the choices of others at the table.

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!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

I actually don't play LFR much.  Most all of what I play/DM is home games.

And my home games tend to have harder combats than LFR and involve people who don't have to contend with the social awkwardness that is telling someone they don't know that they disagree with their decisions.  So I'm really not sure what you are implying here... 



It's just my experience that those with a strong opinion on such subjects are either organized play participants or frequent the optimization forums a lot. If I missed the mark, please take it as the joke it was meant to be.

I have a different philosophy is all. For example, whereas I may show up with my wizard, Force Majeure, and some want me to be the best controller I can be, I just try to be the best Force Majeure I can be. Force Majeure solves problems the way he chooses to solve them (with the tools at his disposal), not by any particular mechanical consideration that he should be adhering to. If that means he's not optimized for handling a particular encounter a particular way, then he'll come up with another solution. I find that more fun than worrying about which is the "right" power to take or second-guessing the choices of others at the table.



I think you will find that the organized play people and the ones on the optimization forums are like that for a reason.  There is a certain level of "we have to assume a middle ground" that gets worked on which doesn't involve a lot of the hand-waving and adjusting that a DM or a group of players can do.

A lot of those people, myself being one of them, have to assume a baseline of encounters in order to get any reasonable discussion done.  Those baselines inform the advice and tone of our posts and mindsets.  They all come with this caveat: "If you are operating far from baselines, then take those into account.  We can't really discuss every possible option, so YMMV." 

So, yes, from a by-the-numbers mechanical combat perspective using baselines Magic Missile is a crappy wizard standard action.  The OP seems to be working at or near a baseline game (one not specifically designed to hand-wave a lot of rules so the players can use their creativity as a math substitute) and is having mechanical issues.  Now there are other issues at play, don't get me wrong, but a mechanical issue is definitely there.

But all the "I like magic missile so I make do with what I have instead of getting better stuff" type arguments all fall into option 1 in my original response.  If you as a DM want to operate near the baselines of the mechanical expectations of players and monsters in combat, that player is going to have a harder time and you will need to softball the combats in order to make them not die.  

Softballing might mean giving them very specific instances where magic missile goes from being near-worthless to ok.  It might mean giving every encounter minions so he can feel important popping one a round.  It might mean using more hand-waving than normal and allowing magic missiles to have a greater mechanical impact than it does out-of-the-box.  None of these are "wrong" answers.

The only "wrong" answer is to go "its not the fault of magic missile, it is how you are designing encounters" or anything along those lines.  I don't get from his tone and responses that he wants to do any softballing of encounters.  He wants his players to have higher mechanical system mastery than they have right now (and higher tactical ability goes with HSM) and is trying to find ways to either go about it, or give them the appearance of it.

From your example if you had your "force majeure" (which I have no idea what you are precisely talking about) encounter problems where his schtick was not getting the job done and complained to the group/dm that it was an issue.  Then the group/dm pointed out that you are causing them problems in combat by not performing well and that you could do XYZ to perform better in combat.  If at that point you say "well, its what I'm doing" and the group/dm continues to be annoyed at you that isn't their problem.  It is your problem.

To state it another way, if the power level of your character is behind what the others at the table think it should be and you refuse to contribute to the point of making the game harder and less fun for everyone else at table, then you are a problem player.  You might be a role-playing rich character with an amazing backstory, but also you are a problem player. 
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The Paladin and Cleric aren't having much trouble, other than keeping up with the damage coming at the group. The Paladin is still getting used to some of his abilities. He's the one that blamed me for him never reading ANY of the rules. He's more a problem player than a problem character. 

 As far as I know, the Cleric might be the only one that got stuck in a role he didn't want initially, but I think he grew into it. The players using pre-gens are doing so under their own wishes and against my desires (as I'd rather they invest the time in making the character). 

To clarify, the Warlock is the new inexperienced player. He's the younger brother of the Paladin IRL. He likes to blame others for his actions, but is very open to suggestions on what to do.
The Wizard is the player I've been with the longest (in fact we've been friends since 1992).  His RL g/f is the Ranger. Because of his experience it's harder to suggest how to do things, but he's stated he's open to it. He's also very open to new role playing oppertunities (in theory).
To expand, The Cleric is currently taking charge and wants to fix the problems of combat for the group. I met him through the Paladin. His wife was playing the Dwarven Fighter (not currently in the party). I'm very happy with his engagement, but he does sometimes shoot down ideas without thinking about it. 
The Paladin I met in college. He's doing well as the Paladin. I am happy with his effort in this game. However with personal problems he's been having, he seems to take that out on the game. This is effecting the enjoyment of the game, but we're friends and understanding. This doesn't seem to have an effect on his abilities in combat. 
The Ranger is quiet but an experienced role player. Despite the Wizard having complained about girlfriends at the table, he brings his girlfriends to the table. She seems to let him take the lead. Last week we did spot some rule problems she was having that we might be able to fix.

 Even with the cards, they tend to forget what they have. The cards are nice reminders though. 
Some players do the homework, others don't. The item wishlist I asked for actually prompted my previously LEAST engaged player to become the MOST engaged player. Some players do them, some don't. 
I just look at things differently. To me, an encounter is a problem to be overcome (or call it a "challenge" since that's a more positive term). The solutions are nearly limitless. Magic Missile is not a solution; it's simply a tool I can employ in the implementation of that solution. I find this way of thinking is more satisfying and illustrates why D&D is so much fun.

I also think this is why there are many people who complain that 4e is all about power cards and not creativity. It's this baseline perception we're talking about. The solution to the challenge of an encounter, in my view, is in your head, not on your sheet. The things on your sheet are just tools. If a player's solution to most challenges is "kill everything dead with powers X, Y, and Z because they are optimal," then I submit that player's solutions lack creativity and misses what I feel is one of the main draws of the game. I say this, not as a dig at optimizers (as I consider myself one), but at the perception in general, especially as it relates to judging others.

But anyway, getting off topic. Perhaps this is a good one for another thread someday.

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!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

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I just look at things differently. To me, an encounter is a problem to be overcome (or call it a "challenge" since that's a more positive term). The solutions are nearly limitless. Magic Missile is not a solution; it's simply a tool I can employ in the implementation of that solution. I find this way of thinking is more satisfying and illustrates why D&D is so much fun.

I also think this is why there are many people who complain that 4e is all about power cards and not creativity. It's this baseline perception we're talking about. The solution to the challenge of an encounter, in my view, is in your head, not on your sheet. The things on your sheet are just tools. If a player's solution to most challenges is "kill everything dead with powers X, Y, and Z because they are optimal," then I submit that player's solutions lack creativity and misses what I feel is one of the main draws of the game. I say this, not as a dig at optimizers (as I consider myself one), but at the perception in general, especially as it relates to judging others.

But anyway, getting off topic. Perhaps this is a good one for another thread someday.



Which is all nice fluff and fun for a game that doesn't have clear definitions of what different things do, how much damage and control and whatnot everything is defined as doing.

If you want to change the baseline assumptions to allow for more RP and less "playing by things that are on the cards" you can, but that isn't how the rules are designed to work.  Feel free to throw rules you don't like how, but don't ignore that the rules function a certain way by default.  I don't use EXP, but I also don't counter all problems with levels by "here is how exp free systems work and why exp is bad".  I try to offer a solution within the framework they are discussing even if I don't use that framework in my games. 
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Which is all nice fluff and fun for a game that doesn't have clear definitions of what different things do, how much damage and control and whatnot everything is defined as doing.

If you want to change the baseline assumptions to allow for more RP and less "playing by things that are on the cards" you can, but that isn't how the rules are designed to work.  Feel free to throw rules you don't like how, but don't ignore that the rules function a certain way by default.  I don't use EXP, but I also don't counter all problems with levels by "here is how exp free systems work and why exp is bad".  I try to offer a solution within the framework they are discussing even if I don't use that framework in my games. 



I'm not sure why you need to think (if I'm reading you correctly) that it's one way or the other. In our games, the rules are the rules and they aren't handwaved or broken at all. But neither do we define our characters solely by what's on that sheet because what's on the sheet are just tools we can use when we want to use them. The solutions to a given encounter are limited only by our imaginations.

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!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Which is all nice fluff and fun for a game that doesn't have clear definitions of what different things do, how much damage and control and whatnot everything is defined as doing.

If you want to change the baseline assumptions to allow for more RP and less "playing by things that are on the cards" you can, but that isn't how the rules are designed to work.  Feel free to throw rules you don't like how, but don't ignore that the rules function a certain way by default.  I don't use EXP, but I also don't counter all problems with levels by "here is how exp free systems work and why exp is bad".  I try to offer a solution within the framework they are discussing even if I don't use that framework in my games. 



I'm not sure why you need to think (if I'm reading you correctly) that it's one way or the other. In our games, the rules are the rules and they aren't handwaved or broken at all. But neither do we define our characters solely by what's on that sheet because what's on the sheet are just tools we can use when we want to use them. The solutions to a given encounter are limited only by our imaginations.



And I don't understand how you are saying that a typical combat can be both within the rules as written and not within the rules as written.  The different abilities have clearly defined things they do.  You can expand/change/marginalize them by having other things happen but that doesn't change the base.  And he seems to be operating at or near the baseline.
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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
And I don't understand how you are saying that a typical combat can be both within the rules as written and not within the rules as written.  The different abilities have clearly defined things they do.  You can expand/change/marginalize them by having other things happen but that doesn't change the base.  And he seems to be operating at or near the baseline.



I'm simply saying that the solutions to a given encounter aren't limited to your character sheet and that taking magic missile is not a sign that you'll be able to solve a given encounter less rigorously than a wizard that takes beguiling strands. Just be creative, and you can do that within the bounds of the rules. Everyone seems quick to judge a player that takes a power that the community says is somehow inferior. I think that misses the point of what makes D&D great.

Again, a topic for another day.

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!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

And I don't understand how you are saying that a typical combat can be both within the rules as written and not within the rules as written.  The different abilities have clearly defined things they do.  You can expand/change/marginalize them by having other things happen but that doesn't change the base.  And he seems to be operating at or near the baseline.



I'm simply saying that the solutions to a given encounter aren't limited to your character sheet and that taking magic missile is not a sign that you'll be able to solve a given encounter less rigorously than a wizard that takes beguiling strands. Just be creative, and you can do that within the bounds of the rules. Everyone seems quick to judge a player that takes a power that the community says is somehow inferior. I think that misses the point of what makes D&D great.

Again, a topic for another day.



The key here is that "somehow" is mathematically inferior when concerning the rules of the game as they apply to combat.  The "somehow" is that reducing team monster to 0 hp becomes harder if you use  weaker spells.

Now if you are playing in games where reducing team monster to 0 isn't your goal ever, don't worry about it.  If you are playing in games where that is always or often the goal you should worry about it.  If you are playing in games where it is rarely it issue, then in those rare cases you will have to adapt to being mechanically inferior.

Yeah, you can ignore how the game is written and do something else, but you should probably not default to giving advice of that kind (see the EXP example).
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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
If you are building a combat encounter, you tend to use an xp budget (to decide what is a suitable challenge for the PCs) but you cannot do that appropriately without confining the players to the rules and knowing their style of play/number of players/etc. E.g. if you are keen to use magic missile a lot of the time, I can basically discount your wizard from the xp budget when building combat encounters.

6 players = 6 standards

5 players = 5 standards

6 (including a magic-missile wizard) = 5 standards. You don't do enough to warrant adding the extra monster to the field, so it would be cruel of me as a DM to subject the rest of the party to that.

Now do you see why Matyr such players (that don't at least meet the baseline of the maths) problem players? 4e is great for it's well balanced combat system (if you have at least read a little bit of the material) but the way you talk, I feel that there might be a better system out there for you.

(Mostly aimed at Isireth but the OP can take note) 
Back to Basics - A Guide to Basic Attacks You might be playing DnD wrong if... "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Albert Einstein