Rethinking the system after months in Paragon

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Hey D&D community,
So we are lvl 14, and I'll tell you, it is a very different feel up here in the higher lvls. Everyone is teleporting, and risiting 15 dmg each turn, and reacting and interupting. Sometimes it feels like to much is going on, and not enough is getting done. Tonight a lvl 16 Dragon (post MM3 math) was failing to hit a lvl 14 Sword Mage on a role of 18 with a plus 19 to hit, and when I did land a hit, most of the dmg was absorbed.
It was cool for a bit, but then it just dragged things out.
I know we've all heard this story before.

I have a couple of questions.

I will be starting a new campaign for the same group after we finish this story at lvl 20, and I'm thinking of going all essencials.
Does it help? If we stay under lvl 11, is essencials any better at handeling some of the probelms 4e has, speed being one of the big ones.
More so, has anyone played just E4e and does it have the same epic feel, and the same fun of lvling?


Thanks guys! 
In the Nentir Vale, all injured creatures are required to wear a name tag!
Haven't played Essentials-only, but I imagine character creation and combat are pretty boring. Your characters come mostly prebuilt, you don't get all the cool toys from other classes, and your turn mostly consists of "take a standard action to MBA/RBA". If your players are already familiar with the system and they enjoy character creation and optimization, I wouldn't recommend it.

Combat will speed up in the sense that everyone has less things they can do, but at the same time strikers become underpowered once you start reaching paragon tier, leading to dragged-out fights.

I'm not yet aware of a great solution to this problem. The best advice I can give you is to ask players to at least limit the amount of off-turn actions they can take. If a turn doesn't get interrupted that often, combats will flow a lot smoother.

Regarding the dragon vs the swordmage, that's what happens when you attack a defender. Monsters should just take the mark penalty and attack leaders, strikers and controllers. Attacking a defender can be pretty futile past heroic.
@svendj, I haven't found that to be true. If the monster is rolling a 37 and missing AC something very unusual is going on. At level 14 your PCs typical ACs are in the mid 20's. A really solid high defense defender (Say a Paladin in plate with a heavy shield, armor or shield specialization, etc) can hit 10 (base) + 7 (level) + 4 (enhancement, at best) +1 feat +11 AB = 31. That's about correct as you would see the monster's total of a +19 means average roll is 29, resulting on a hit on a 12+. It is certainly possible that regular buffs and debuffs could push the monster up to needing an 18+ to hit now and then. Its unlikely to remain there permanently, especially for a Solo. Clearly a defender IS pretty tough, monsters may not make a lot of headway with them.

As for Resistance. It IS possible to get pretty high resistance against typed damage, for a specific round or even encounter. Its moderately costly though and I wouldn't consider it routine at these levels. More than 10 points of resistance, or untype resistance of any significant degree would be pretty unusual. I'm sure there are a few ways to achieve that somewhere, but its not typical, even for defenders. Still, if your paladin or warden are picking a PP and feats that enhance their defenses they can be VERY VERY tough. I once had a 14th level Warden stand in the middle of a level +5 capstone encounter just taking it, the whole fight. Sucker was barely scratched. She was totally set up for that. Of course that character wasn't dishing out top tier damage either, though she did lock the enemy down reasonably well. Even so, once the bad guys got unstuck from her it could get ugly fast. IIRC the party actually retreated from that encounter with a couple dead and had to figure out another way to win.

Anyway, the main advice is, when you start reaching those levels, especially after around level 16 and then a LOT after level 20 you just have to challenge them in less strictly conventional ways. Create challenges where it is almost impossible to achieve all your goals, highly dynamic situations with crazy environments, etc. Even just plain "Save or Die" kind of capstones are fine in Epic where most PCs can just stand up again when they die...
That is not dead which may eternal lie
Hey D&D community,
So we are lvl 14, and I'll tell you, it is a very different feel up here in the higher lvls. Everyone is teleporting, and risiting 15 dmg each turn, and reacting and interupting. Sometimes it feels like to much is going on, and not enough is getting done. Tonight a lvl 16 Dragon (post MM3 math) was failing to hit a lvl 14 Sword Mage on a role of 18 with a plus 19 to hit, and when I did land a hit, most of the dmg was absorbed.
It was cool for a bit, but then it just dragged things out.
I know we've all heard this story before.
 


Like all versions of DND, the higher you go in level, the more creative and honestly devious the DM must become. There is nothing wrong with tailoring the game to your players, as nobody wants to play an easy game of D&D. In general, use monsters that can attack multiple defenses and make multiple attacks. Using bursts or blasts that do not target AC is a great way to bypass Defenders. Also try auto-damaging auras; auto-damage is your friend from Paragon up. Good players will honestly APPRECIATE that kind of challenge.


I will be starting a new campaign for the same group after we finish this story at lvl 20, and I'm thinking of going all essencials.
Does it help? If we stay under lvl 11, is essencials any better at handeling some of the probelms 4e has, speed being one of the big ones.
More so, has anyone played just E4e and does it have the same epic feel, and the same fun of lvling?
 



The most important single piece of advice I can give you for starting at higher levels is to use the inherent bonus system. Have your players check it off on the CB. Do not let them cherry pick their items. This does two things: simplifies the game, and lowers their power level.

By 20th level, you might have another 9 or more extra powers from items, many of which will be interrupts, free actions, and other game draggers. Their PCs are plenty complicated enough already, even for good players. There are still going to be tons of options, but you cut out 100 little gimmicky things. Which leads me to point two.

Using inherent bonuses and not letting them pick their items will lower their power level. This will allow you to run encounters closer to their level, which speeds things up as well. So again, if you only do one thing, use inherent bonuses. You might allow them to start with an item or so of your choice, something to do with the story, though I personally prefer to start them without any, even at Epic.

As for Essentials-only games, while something like a Knight is simpler on paper than a Shaman/Wizard, a lot of it will still come down to the individual player. Still, if you feel more comfortable limiting material, you are entitled to do so as DM. I personally have played and like to play just about every class, so I wouldnt complain. I truly believe that using inherent bonuses will help your game more than anything though.
@svendj, I haven't found that to be true. If the monster is rolling a 37 and missing AC something very unusual is going on. At level 14 your PCs typical ACs are in the mid 20's. A really solid high defense defender (Say a Paladin in plate with a heavy shield, armor or shield specialization, etc) can hit 10 (base) + 7 (level) + 4 (enhancement, at best) +1 feat +11 AB = 31. That's about correct as you would see the monster's total of a +19 means average roll is 29, resulting on a hit on a 12+. It is certainly possible that regular buffs and debuffs could push the monster up to needing an 18+ to hit now and then. Its unlikely to remain there permanently, especially for a Solo. Clearly a defender IS pretty tough, monsters may not make a lot of headway with them.


Sure, it's an extreme example the OP is giving here, but not impossible to pull off. A swordmage with maxed INT, the right powers and items can be extremely tough to hit on AC. Solution: attack Will, it's usually swordmage's weakest defense. 

As for Resistance. It IS possible to get pretty high resistance against typed damage, for a specific round or even encounter. Its moderately costly though and I wouldn't consider it routine at these levels. More than 10 points of resistance, or untype resistance of any significant degree would be pretty unusual. I'm sure there are a few ways to achieve that somewhere, but its not typical, even for defenders. Still, if your paladin or warden are picking a PP and feats that enhance their defenses they can be VERY VERY tough. I once had a 14th level Warden stand in the middle of a level +5 capstone encounter just taking it, the whole fight. Sucker was barely scratched. She was totally set up for that. Of course that character wasn't dishing out top tier damage either, though she did lock the enemy down reasonably well. Even so, once the bad guys got unstuck from her it could get ugly fast. IIRC the party actually retreated from that encounter with a couple dead and had to figure out another way to win.


Your warden story is a great example of why DMs should never be focusing on defenders who spent all their resources in getting their defenses as high as possible, because most classes have to give up something in return. Most often, this is damage, at which point the defender is doing nothing more than just handing out -2 attack penalties and doing 5-10% monster HP damage. 

There are exceptions of course, but those are often pretty highly optimized builds. Shielding swordmages are one of the easiest classes to get a good catch-22, where you can be both very hard to hit and can largely negate one attack by your marked target against an ally every round. 

Anyway, the main advice is, when you start reaching those levels, especially after around level 16 and then a LOT after level 20 you just have to challenge them in less strictly conventional ways. Create challenges where it is almost impossible to achieve all your goals, highly dynamic situations with crazy environments, etc. Even just plain "Save or Die" kind of capstones are fine in Epic where most PCs can just stand up again when they die...


Agree completely.
@svendj, I haven't found that to be true. If the monster is rolling a 37 and missing AC something very unusual is going on. At level 14 your PCs typical ACs are in the mid 20's. A really solid high defense defender (Say a Paladin in plate with a heavy shield, armor or shield specialization, etc) can hit 10 (base) + 7 (level) + 4 (enhancement, at best) +1 feat +11 AB = 31. That's about correct as you would see the monster's total of a +19 means average roll is 29, resulting on a hit on a 12+. It is certainly possible that regular buffs and debuffs could push the monster up to needing an 18+ to hit now and then. Its unlikely to remain there permanently, especially for a Solo. Clearly a defender IS pretty tough, monsters may not make a lot of headway with them.


Sure, it's an extreme example the OP is giving here, but not impossible to pull off. A swordmage with maxed INT, the right powers and items can be extremely tough to hit on AC. Solution: attack Will, it's usually swordmage's weakest defense. 

As for Resistance. It IS possible to get pretty high resistance against typed damage, for a specific round or even encounter. Its moderately costly though and I wouldn't consider it routine at these levels. More than 10 points of resistance, or untype resistance of any significant degree would be pretty unusual. I'm sure there are a few ways to achieve that somewhere, but its not typical, even for defenders. Still, if your paladin or warden are picking a PP and feats that enhance their defenses they can be VERY VERY tough. I once had a 14th level Warden stand in the middle of a level +5 capstone encounter just taking it, the whole fight. Sucker was barely scratched. She was totally set up for that. Of course that character wasn't dishing out top tier damage either, though she did lock the enemy down reasonably well. Even so, once the bad guys got unstuck from her it could get ugly fast. IIRC the party actually retreated from that encounter with a couple dead and had to figure out another way to win.


Your warden story is a great example of why DMs should never be focusing on defenders who spent all their resources in getting their defenses as high as possible, because most classes have to give up something in return. Most often, this is damage, at which point the defender is doing nothing more than just handing out -2 attack penalties and doing 5-10% monster HP damage. 

There are exceptions of course, but those are often pretty highly optimized builds. Shielding swordmages are one of the easiest classes to get a good catch-22, where you can be both very hard to hit and can largely negate one attack by your marked target against an ally every round. 

Anyway, the main advice is, when you start reaching those levels, especially after around level 16 and then a LOT after level 20 you just have to challenge them in less strictly conventional ways. Create challenges where it is almost impossible to achieve all your goals, highly dynamic situations with crazy environments, etc. Even just plain "Save or Die" kind of capstones are fine in Epic where most PCs can just stand up again when they die...


Agree completely.

Yeah, I agree. Swordmages are probably the most dubious of the defender classes if you really work hard on them. Warden's can be stupid tough, but as you say they give up enough that it is at best a toss-up for them. SMs just have some weird bits where they can pile on a few extra bonuses, and shielding is a very powerful class feature. Its a good thing the OP's players haven't discovered using Hybrid Shielding Swordmage yet ;) lol. Talk about a catch-22, lol.

Overall 4e is like any system though, if the players are determined to milk it and the DM rolls out the red carpet for them then things will go downhill somewhat. I have to say though, 4e manages to still work to a lot higher degree than most games where PCs have a lot of build options.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
Though Swordmages can get pretty solid ACs, at 37 by level 14 sounds, out of place. I'd double check the character sheet for shenanigans or misunderstandings of abilities/feats/armor/temp bonuses from powers.

It's surprising how many players keep temparary, only for the turn, bonuses for the entire encounter.
Though Swordmages can get pretty solid ACs, at 37 by level 14 sounds, out of place. I'd double check the character sheet for shenanigans or misunderstandings of abilities/feats/armor/temp bonuses from powers.

It's surprising how many players keep temparary, only for the turn, bonuses for the entire encounter.



I'm not saying this is how it was done, but this is how my Swordmage in my LFR group got to 37 AC at 14th level:

10 base AC
+7 from 1/2 level
+8 from Hide Armour +4
+1 feat bonus from Armour Specialization (Hide)
+7 from 24 Intelligence
+1 item bonus (Elven Chain shirt Wondrous Item)
+3 from Swordmage Warding

= 37 AC

Of course, my Will defense suffers for having bought a 20 Int at character creation.


 
I'm not saying this is how it was done, but this is how my Swordmage in my LFR group got to 37 AC at 14th level:

10 base AC
+7 from 1/2 level
+8 from Hide Armour +4
+1 feat bonus from Armour Specialization (Hide)
+7 from 24 Intelligence
+1 item bonus (Elven Chain shirt Wondrous Item)
+3 from Swordmage Warding

= 37 AC

Of course, my Will defense suffers for having bought a 20 Int at character creation.



Definetly possible. No debate there.

The above list definetly works but one needs a generous GM for it to work; in that a level 14 chatacter can't start (by default) with +4 armor (level 16 item). 1 item a level higher, equal too, and one level lower with coin of one level lower. But gained though the game itself or handed out by the GM, all the more awesome.

and I also keep forgeting about the chain shirt. heh.

I believe, I might be mistaken, but I believe there is also a feat that increases the swardmage warding by +1 AC as well.

On a side subject but still relevent to the overall topic - our group is currently a mix of level 14 and 15. We do get attacks against our AC but as we are going up in levels, it's starting to mean less as more and more attacks seem to be targeting our wisdom.

My rouge just takes the thinking of, stun it, knock it out, and otherwise kill it before it can get off an attack and hit him back. haha. Defenders don't have that luxery though.
Another quirk of high level D&D: monsters stop attacking AC with anything besides their melee basic attack. So at higher levels, it's even more important to have at least two high NADs. That's why feats like Superior Will and Improved Defenses rank so highly at upper tiers of the game.


Definetly possible. No debate there.

The above list definetly works but one needs a generous GM for it to work; in that a level 14 chatacter can't start (by default) with +4 armor (level 16 item). 1 item a level higher, equal too, and one level lower with coin of one level lower. But gained though the game itself or handed out by the GM, all the more awesome.

and I also keep forgeting about the chain shirt. heh.




Level +19AC is pretty much standard fair for a defender, most should try to get +20 or 21 (which is very possible by mid paragon).
Getting to level +23 is well within reason, especially if using short term buffs, second wind, or whatever.
Also, keep in mind that big debuffs on the dragon could also mean that he needed to roll an 18 (he never actually said what the SM's AC was).
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
Hey D&D community,
So we are lvl 14, and I'll tell you, it is a very different feel up here in the higher lvls. Everyone is teleporting, and risiting 15 dmg each turn, and reacting and interupting. Sometimes it feels like to much is going on, and not enough is getting done. Tonight a lvl 16 Dragon (post MM3 math) was failing to hit a lvl 14 Sword Mage on a role of 18 with a plus 19 to hit, and when I did land a hit, most of the dmg was absorbed.
It was cool for a bit, but then it just dragged things out.
I know we've all heard this story before.

I have a couple of questions.

I will be starting a new campaign for the same group after we finish this story at lvl 20, and I'm thinking of going all essencials.
Does it help? If we stay under lvl 11, is essencials any better at handeling some of the probelms 4e has, speed being one of the big ones.
More so, has anyone played just E4e and does it have the same epic feel, and the same fun of lvling?


Thanks guys! 

It's been my experience that letting players choose their magic items--in any form--is a recipe for making the party too strong. I'm not even talking about Paragon, I'm talking about Heroic tier. It was my first time DMing a regular 4e group. Some of these guys had been playing the game since it's inception, so, needless to say, they were nearly professional-level character optimizers. Several adventures went by before I was able to get a handle on challenging the players. I started attacking defenses other than AC, using ranged area and close blast/burst powers and including hindering terrain in each encounter. That levelled the playing field--a bit. I guess it was mainly my fault for the lack of challenge faced by the PCs. A key part of my failure was allowing the PCs to choose their own magical starting items (they originally started at level 4).

In closing, don't let your players choose their own magical items, read and familiarize yourself with the rules (it's a daunting task in 4e), and teach yourself--through trial and error--how to design challenging encounters. Remember, though, not every encounter has to be a set-piece battle where the likelyhood of a TPK is highly probable.


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I don't have an all Essentials (half essentials and half pre-essentials) party, but I feel, as a DM, there is little to no difference between the too.  Then again, I keep close control on the PCs power.  They can't purchase magic items over level 5, so everything else is total up to me (with some PC imput).  We also use the inherent bonuses that AA suggested.  Also, if I feel a power is borken, we discuss it as a group and usually ban it or modify it.

I find keeping people on task is more important than anything else in combat speed.  In my group each player gets 1 minute max (usually covered in 30 secs really) to resolve their turn, the DM 2 minutes, and a little extra time to resolve off-turn actions.   If they are not ready, they miss there turn until next round.  This sounds harsh, but i have never had to do this more than once an entire campaign.  They players see it happen, don't like it and make sure it doesn't happen again.  With 6 PCs that is roughly 8-10 min/ round, so there is plently of time for the typical banter and RP as well.  The PCs just need to be prepared.

You can also use a lot of minions, as they go down fast, but can do a lot of damage if you want them too.  I also think the MM3 monster damage is not enough and use average damage of lvlx2 for paragon and epic level monsters.  That should make your paragon PCs feel the threat a little more.
   
Finally, if you are really having a hard time, restrict the # of actions.  Maybe combine 4e/Next with 1 standard/ 1 move / 1 minor or reaction (and maybe 1 free).  I did this with a 30th lvl Epic adventure once and it worked really well.