10 Rules of Party Optimization

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2. You repeat the general belief that a warlock is a sort of hybrid striker and controller. What are your thoughts on placing a warlock in a party of three rather than a wizard? I have a hard time envisioning a single defender and a leader (even one optimized for melee at the cost of his primary roles) keeping a wizard's robes clean against a DM worth the cost of his boxed set.

For my part, I would actually go further. I think the warlock is actually not a striker at all--it's a single-target focused controller with a bit more single target damage.

I also think a con/Int warlock who multiclasses wizard can do a pretty good job as in the controller role--especially if he is a half-elf and picks up a wizard at will to go with the rest of his get up. (I've had more than a few DMs ask if my LFR half-elf Starlock/wizard built along this concept is a warlock or a wizard--granted, they would know if they were paying more attention (since wizards don't get pact boons and can't get the massive nova-enabling debuff functionality out of frigid darkness that a starlock can get), but it still demonstrates that he is filling a similar role). On the other hand, in 4th edition, wizards don't have to be squishy if they don't want to be and a staff&orb wizard/wizard of the spiral tower would probably do just fine in a party of 3.
Interesting that you would be discussing character capabilities as opposed to roles--that was the route I went back in a "party of five--all of one role" thread. I ended up with "Leader" and the amount of things you can do with four warlords and a cleric is just straight-up crazy. (It also gets REALLY complex if you're trying to have everyone use guileful switch in order to get two rounds of use out of a buff that ordinarily only lasts one round (instant planning in my scenario)--you could make it even more complex and use readied actions to try to get three actions (plus action points) worth of use out of it, but I think the two rounds of use scenario is probably beyond the coordination abilities of 95% of player groups).

Here was the party I was running with

Inspiring Warlord/knight commander (paladin MC)
Bravura Warlord/battlelord of Kord (paladin MC)
Tactical Warlord/Spellstorm Mage (other options would ordinarily be better, but I needed to get some ranged and control capability into the party and the tactical warlord afforded the best opportunity for that).
Resourceful warlord/infernal strategist (no MC)
Balanced cleric/warpriest (fighter MC; pit fighter might have been a better choice than warpriest, but was looking at some more stickiness capability).

Now, it's probably not the best party ever, but it had the capability for some really gnarley sustained encounter power novas. It was, however, very complex and it was probably a good thing that I was looking at running all of the characters myself. It's not the kind of party you could pull off by sitting down with a random group of people who happened to bring those characters.

And that brings me to another suggestion. There should probably be a high complexity/low complexity gradient here. Some parties work really really well if everything is perfectly coordinated and fall apart is someone screws up and guileful switches the guy who who used instant planning thus ending it early rather than getting triple use out of it. Other parties are still functional and tend towards less complex combination strategies which makes them more durable within a group that contains the inevitable one or two guys who are either terminally incapable of strategy. To use an inexact analogy, you can't take a go-kart into space, but it's not going to blow up if it's leaking a little oil either. A space shuttle, on the other hand, goes into space, but one cracked o-ring or loose bit of fuel tank foam and you can have a catastrophic failure.
Great thread, and why the Char OP board needs a party ops sub board.

My best basic party of 6:

Fighter-Sword and Board-Iron Vanguard
Cleric- Devoted-Healing, Buffing, Radiant Damage, Undead Control/Extermination
Wizard-Control type-Orb
Ranger-TWF-Stormwarden
Ranger-Archer-Battlefield Archer
Warlock-Star'Lock (Cha-Int) Striker who does not target AC, Debuff's (Strand of Fate anyone? Action points?)

Ian
I would actually go further. I think the warlock is actually not a striker at all--it's a single-target focused controller [...]

This is something of an example in support of runreallyfast's criticism of roles. I must say that I completely endorse the concept of roles and 4E's handling of them; a game this complex must quickly establish a set of shared definitions/concepts, and roles admirably fill that (ahem) role. But it is common for shared definitions (a tool for the initiate) to break down under close examination (a tool for the expert), such as we are imposing here.

Also, a level 15+ FeyLock is one of the few characters that qualifies as a true SoloLock in my mind, though unlike the Champion of Order or OrbWizard he needs party assistance to close the deal.

There should probably be a high complexity/low complexity gradient here.

That's a good point. At first blush it seems to be yet one more variable with which to contend, but I'm wondering if I can fold this in with the "back row" characters debate to create a single opportunity--complexity variable:

Thus, a party should be designed to maximize its position on the opportunity--complexity scale. A high opportunity/low complexity party likely would consist entirely of melee-capable characters with decent movement, each a "fortress unto himself," who coordinate relatively little other than by isolating foes but who can react easily to changing battle conditions. As a party reduces opportunity/increases complexity, it adds more "back row" characters who rely upon frontline support and more coordinated tactics (Guileful Switch, Instant Planning, ally slides, etc). The complexity increases the overall effectiveness (generally increasing offensive yield) of the party, but reduces the party's ability to adapt and react to changing conditions.

Complexity also increases the required player skill behind the party. Conversely, DM cunning will lower the complexity that players of a given skill can handle, because the DM is more skilled at challenging coordinated actions.

Generally, an optimized party will have as much complexity as the players can reliably manage vs a given DM.

Does that make sense?
Great thread, and why the Char OP board needs a party ops sub board.

My best basic party of 6:

Fighter-Sword and Board-Iron Vanguard
Cleric- Devoted-Healing, Buffing, Radiant Damage, Undead Control/Extermination
Wizard-Control type-Orb
Ranger-TWF-Stormwarden
Ranger-Archer-Battlefield Archer
Warlock-Star'Lock (Cha-Int) Striker who does not target AC, Debuff's (Strand of Fate anyone? Action points?)

Ian

Thank you.

Personally, I'm never going to fully embrace a party with a single healer, no matter how good he is at the job, but it's interesting to see that many players don't share that concern.
I totally see your point, in the LFR event I played in on last Saturday, the party would have been tpk'd without 2 healers (Warlord and Bard).

We had a Dragonborn Warden, Warforged Swordmage, Dragon Born Warlord, Gnoll Bow Ranger, Gnome Bard, and Tiefling Starlock. It was a big debate whether the player playing the Gnome Bard would bring that or an Orc Brutal Scoundrel.

It all came down to healing and buffing or hitting stuff hard. Without the dual healing, I would have died (I was the Starlock) because the BBEG had all his artillery target me and they all hit! argh!!! The Warden & Swordmage were also beaten up on a number of occassions.

Still I have always like overwhelming offense and 3 strikers give a party that.
In a 3 striker party (like I outlined above) the other members really have to do their jobs well or the party is in trouble: The defender MUST defend, the leader must lead (buff and heal), and wizard must control the board to allow the strikers to do their job. If the defender gets impatient and wants to run off and kick a little booty, the party can get tpk'd fast. Same for the leader who wants to be a "battle priest" or the wizard who wants to load up with striker-ish spells instead of control.

In this party the Defender stops the brutes and soldiers, marks them or makes them pay for ignoring the mark. The Leader, buffs, heals,and guards the wizard from melee attack. I like the cleric because of all the undead in MM. The wizard makes sure that the party is not over run or flanked. The strikers can then do their thing. The TWF Ranger can strike and slide while the bow ranger can pick off enemy leaders or artillery. The warlock can eliminate or debilitate anything that seems like it is causing problems like super high AC soldiers. I know planners can multi-class and do better, but this group of 6 will do really well.

It is the opposite of what you outline: More defense and staying power, but either works. Your scenario party is not as fragile as a 3 striker party. Ian.

_________________________________________________________________

Ian again begs the admin's for a party ops sub board here_______.
Ian again begs the admin's for a party ops sub board here_______.

Request belongs here: Community Business

Growing aggravated by an online account system whose changes make it harder to access information, while ignoring useful feedback from community members.

 

Share your opinions here: http://community.wizards.com/forums/102116

http://community.wizards.com/forums/103446

http://community.wizards.com/forums/129986

http://community.wizards.com/forums/102616

I also would be very wary of a 6-member party taking only one healer. The issue isn't whether or not each of the non-striker roles do their jobs - I think CharOp assumes that everyone is always maximizing their abilities. A 6-party normal encounter can pack a lot of firepower and, if run by a shrewd DM, will concentrate that firepower against weak PC targets. Two healers lets a party soak that intense opening damage long enough for Defenders to defend and Controllers to control.

Lining up your best Strikers versus their best damage-dealers is just asking to lose when the DM rolls high on initiative (which your own experience seems to confirm). As with almost all combat, the more potential outgoing damage there is on the map, the more important the first round of combat is. If the party flat-out loses the first round (in terms of initiative, to hit, damage, setting up synergy, etc.), a single healer is not going to have enough actions or throughput to keep people alive.

I think a heavy emphasis on strikers (especially versatile strikers) is more effective in smaller parties than in larger parties. Potential outgoing damage scales much better than individual survival as you add more bodies to the engagement. And while that can be used and abused by a big party, it doesn't play well with the idea that your party is supposed to win multiple encounters in a row, whereas the "Monsters" only ever have to win once.
In the group that I outlined only two characters are up front to take the damage. The PC that is supposed to be taking it, and the other that will be able to slide away from it. The TWF Ranger should be able to avoid some of the damage. The Archer and Warlock should fire from far away.

The worst thing I could see is the leader getting crit'd right at the begining. As far as multipule encounters in a row, if a PC is immediately downed by a crit, it' time to retreat and fight another day.

So what would you like to see?

Defender
Cleric
Warlord
Wizard
Ranger
Ranger

Ian
So what would you like to see?

Defender
Cleric
Warlord
Wizard
Ranger
Ranger

Especially since PHB2 cleared all of the sticking points for half elves, I've been inclined to automatically consider a charisma paladin for any party's fifth member. Though they have the weakest mark, they do have a mark, and two defenders well played are more than twice as good as one defender well played. Though they don't heal well, they do heal from their own deep pool of surges, which can help a session from aborting early because one character's surge gauge reaches "E." And there's some pretty powerful attacks among their standard choices.

Of course, party optimization is a game of opportunity cost. The moment you slot in that paladin, you start thinking about all of the real hell-raisers you could be slotting in his place ...
Great thread, and why the Char OP board needs a party ops sub board.

My best basic party of 6:

Fighter-Sword and Board-Iron Vanguard
Cleric- Devoted-Healing, Buffing, Radiant Damage, Undead Control/Extermination
Wizard-Control type-Orb
Ranger-TWF-Stormwarden
Ranger-Archer-Battlefield Archer
Warlock-Star'Lock (Cha-Int) Striker who does not target AC, Debuff's (Strand of Fate anyone? Action points?)

Ian

A few comments on this party.

First, like other people I think it needs more healers. That doesn't mean it needs another leader. The fighter has warlord mc powers available to him, the wizard, and both rangers have cleric mc powers available to them. The sorceror has bard MC powers available to him though he probably won't do it. A couple feats for bastion of health, rousing words or inspiring reaction and maybe healing strike or lion's roar and the party will have sufficient healing.

Second, I think the most noticeable lack in this party is the lack of nova enabling leader abilities. Strand of fate and thorns of venom are the party's primary setup powers and both have to hit. This is a party that will have to grind it out or rely upon its own resources (action surge, etc) to enable its blade cascades or other burst damage powers. (That is the reason why I don't think much of laser clerics as solo leaders. They hand out plenty of +2 bonuses, but that's not much when a similar level warlord could be handing out +8).

Consequently, the party seems more solid than optimized. It has its bases covered and can grind out combats with at-will powers but it's not going to be reliably pulling off dramatic combos that enable the party to take on challenges that would otherwise be too much for them.
That's a good point. At first blush it seems to be yet one more variable with which to contend, but I'm wondering if I can fold this in with the "back row" characters debate to create a single opportunity--complexity variable:

Thus, a party should be designed to maximize its position on the opportunity--complexity scale. A high opportunity/low complexity party likely would consist entirely of melee-capable characters with decent movement, each a "fortress unto himself," who coordinate relatively little other than by isolating foes but who can react easily to changing battle conditions. As a party reduces opportunity/increases complexity, it adds more "back row" characters who rely upon frontline support and more coordinated tactics (Guileful Switch, Instant Planning, ally slides, etc). The complexity increases the overall effectiveness (generally increasing offensive yield) of the party, but reduces the party's ability to adapt and react to changing conditions.

I don't think it really has a direct relationship to the back row character debate.

Your argument against back row characters, for instance was that a party consisting entirely of fast melee capable characters has opportunities for movement, formation, and force concentration that are not available to a party that needs to protect a squishy. To dig a little further into the argument here, the tactics that I discussed and that you are referencing here, do not really "rely upon front line support" in the sense that the warlord is a back row character. They rely upon coordinated tactics, but that is not the same thing as relying upon a front line. To return to my example of what I would consider a high complexity party--the 4 warlord+balanced cleric party from my previous post, all of the characters were melee capable (in fact, they were all melee focused which was a weakness of the party that I sought to mitigate through paragon path choice, etc). Adding back row characters does not necessarily make a party more complex. It can make a party tactically less flexible.

To revisit the back row character debate, my understanding of the argument for back row characters--including the archery focused ranger and wizard (the ones I am most sympathetic to) is as follows:
A. The range focused character brings a strong option to the party for long ranged battles and in the manuevering stage of a more ordinary combat. (Those options are also very useful against foes with close burst attacks or auras who otherwise severely punish the party for concentrating fire in melee).
B. A range focused character who wishes to also be melee capable has to make sacrifices that hinder his ranged capability. (For instance, wizard of the spiral tower instead of blood mage as a paragon path).
C. The additional options provided by the range focused character offset the loss of tactical flexibility that his addition brings.
D. The sacrifices required to make such a character melee capable hurt those additional options more than the melee capability helps the party's tactical flexibility.

Those points do not bear the same relation to the high complexity/low complexity party that your post suggests. In fact, quite the opposite. Taking advantage of the tactical flexibility that having no back row characters provides is a high complexity technique that requires more adaptation to varied situations.

Complexity also increases the required player skill behind the party. Conversely, DM cunning will lower the complexity that players of a given skill can handle, because the DM is more skilled at challenging coordinated actions.

Generally, an optimized party will have as much complexity as the players can reliably manage vs a given DM.

Does that make sense?

I don't think that DM cunning actually reduces the complexity that players of a given skill can handle. I played Living Greyhawk for most of its lifespan and played under a variety of DMs. Some were very skilled. Others were not. Our characters, however, would try similarly complex actions against the skilled DMs as against the weak DMs. In fact, playing against the skilled DMs required bringing one's A game while one could get away with more showboating or lack of coordination with less skilled DMs. Facing a more coordinated foe required greater coordination on the part of the players--not less. My experience in 4th edition is that this dynamic has not changed. One of the few LFR near-TPKs I was at the table of one of those tactically skilled DMs and was partially due to luck but a few suboptimal actions were contributing factors. (The party was generally skilled players and didn't make any boneheaded moves like the party that he had actually tpked in the session before). Against other DMs, tactical coordination has been less necessary and party's have survived boneheaded moves that would probably result in a character getting killed against a more skilled DM.

Now, it is certainly true that some manuevers that may work against a less savvy DM will not work against a more savvy DM, but that does not mean that players will fall back on less complex tactics. For instance, in one game, my 8 charisma strength paladin lured an elite into provoking an OA in order to walk into a flank--all in order to avoid the -2 to hit and 2 points of damage from my divine challenge. I think a more tactically savvy DM would have sucked up the penalty and the two points of damage rather than walking into the flank. If the DM had not walked into the flank, our party would have had to use more creative techniques in order to gain combat advantage. (We might also have had the balanced paladin repeat the trick to see how much damage and how many penalties he was willing to suck up). For another example, I was able to use brash assault to get an enemy controller adjacent to our party's barbarian and under the effect of inspired belligerence to use hit my warlord with his weak melee basic attack. A more tactically focused DM, would not have taken that gamble. On the other hand, against the more tactical DM, my tactics would not have become less complex. In that situation, I would have used commander's strike instead of brash assault, which is more of a departure from the warlord's typical tactics.
Edit: eh, I lied. I'm going to think about this some more and try again later.
A few comments on this party.

First, like other people I think it needs more healers. That doesn't mean it needs another leader. The fighter has warlord mc powers available to him, the wizard, and both rangers have cleric mc powers available to them. The sorceror has bard MC powers available to him though he probably won't do it. A couple feats for bastion of health, rousing words or inspiring reaction and maybe healing strike or lion's roar and the party will have sufficient healing.

Second, I think the most noticeable lack in this party is the lack of nova enabling leader abilities. Strand of fate and thorns of venom are the party's primary setup powers and both have to hit. This is a party that will have to grind it out or rely upon its own resources (action surge, etc) to enable its blade cascades or other burst damage powers. (That is the reason why I don't think much of laser clerics as solo leaders. They hand out plenty of +2 bonuses, but that's not much when a similar level warlord could be handing out +8).

Consequently, the party seems more solid than optimized. It has its bases covered and can grind out combats with at-will powers but it's not going to be reliably pulling off dramatic combos that enable the party to take on challenges that would otherwise be too much for them.

Good Analysis-although I did say basic party. I think you meant to say Warlock rather than sorcerer. A well made Starlock is not going to miss very often with Strand of Fate-especially since implement expertise has now arrived (yea!). As a guy who plays Starlock's, I probably would not have chosen Throns of Venom before implement expertise because it targets Fort defense (although I would have a wand made with it).

So would you repleace the cleric with a warlord?

________________________________________________________________
BTW, thanks to all posters and the OP, whether we agree or disagree all the points are well made and intelligent. Once of the best chats I have ever had here on the WotC board-Thanks! Ian
Good Analysis-although I did say basic party. I think you meant to say Warlock rather than sorcerer. A well made Starlock is not going to miss very often with Strand of Fate-especially since implement expertise has now arrived (yea!). As a guy who plays Starlock's, I probably would not have chosen Throns of Venom before implement expertise because it targets Fort defense (although I would have a wand made with it).

So would you repleace the cleric with a warlord?

________________________________________________________________
BTW, thanks to all posters and the OP, whether we agree or disagree all the points are well made and intelligent. Once of the best chats I have ever had here on the WotC board-Thanks! Ian

In a heartbeat, old friend. The Cleric's ranged output is not in the same league as an Archery Ranger or a Starlock (I would play a Human here; I want Eyebite NOW!).
I have found out that if you have a healing belt healing is just that much simpler. I know, I know, that's depending on specific items, but... it's just that easy, really.
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Reflavoring: the change of flavor without changing any mechanical part of the game, no matter how small, in order to fit the mechanics to an otherwise unsupported concept. Retexturing: the change of flavor (with at most minor mechanical adaptations) in order to effortlessly create support for a concept without inventing anything new. Houseruling: the change, either minor or major, of the mechanics in order to better reflect a certain aspect of the game, including adapting the rules to fit an otherwise unsupported concept. Homebrewing: the complete invention of something new that fits within the system in order to reflect an unsupported concept.
Ideas for 5E
I don't think it really has a direct relationship [...]

To make a long answer (relatively) short, I mostly agree with your deconstruction. I was guilty of crowbarring together two variables that don't correlate as well as I had hoped.

That said, I'll probably be guilty of something similar in the next draft. Part of the challenge in party optimization is weighing the interrelationship of more variables than most of us are comfortable holding in our head at the same time. Paring that number of variables, even at the cost of some data loss, would be a net benefit if done more skillfully than in my first attempt there.

It would be something akin to roles in character design. As previously mentioned, roles are a great device for allowing the novice player to quickly identify the general functionality of a given class. Granted, they can aggravate expert players, who start noticing how things like the warlock's attack effects crack the classification system. I guess that my argument would be that in party optimization, we're all still novices. First we need an easily understood model, then we can go about breaking it and kvetching about its fragility.
I have found out that if you have a healing belt healing is just that much simpler. I know, I know, that's depending on specific items, but... it's just that easy, really.

That's actually becoming one of the largest variables in party optimization, as I continue to ponder it: access to specific items. Are you starting at level 1 and largely forced to take what the DM gives you? Are you playing with a DM who's pretty easygoing about turning monster hoards into Christmas Day, conveniently stocking them with whatever is currently on the party's wish list? Are you starting a campaign at later levels such that you can "pre-stock" a few crucial but rare items? There's a lot of optimized character builds that depend on a precise array of magic items. (Sometimes worth far more than is appropriate for a character of that level ... :rolleyes A few items, such as this one, have a similar impact at the party level.

Also, that particular item has been tagged as broken by some, precisely because it runs roughshod over the existing healing dynamics. It may not be available in all campaigns.
Revising Ian's party slightly, what would yall say about:

1. Travis: Genasi Fighter [1-handers] // Pit Fighter (starts sword-and-board, morphs to tempest fighter in paragon)
2. Calder: Half-Elf Chaladin // Divine Oracle
3. Kratos: Dragonborn Inspirelord // Champion of Order
4. Aramil: Elf Ranger [2-blade] // Stormwarden
5. Mialee: Elf Wizard [staff & orb] // Flame of Hope

Starting around level 12, Travis should really be considered a striker with the BlackHole feature, rather than a proper defender.

Battlelord of Kord is normally the pick for Inspirelords, but Champion of Order's powers are particularly good here, I have a lot of soft-nova redundancy already, I wanted the backup defender, and I couldn't gracefully fit CoO elsewhere with Calder sitting on Divine Oracle.

Aramil is doubling as my artillery, which is why Stormwarden beats Pit Fighter.

Mialee is my odd piece. She plays boring control in heroic, morphs into a potent leader sub-role in paragon, and only in epic transforms into a Stun-Locker proper.

I think this party covers all the roles with redundancy, and meets most of the "10 party considerations" originally proposed. I'm missing a Morninglord (power at the expense of versatility), and I'd like to fit a Heartwarder in somewhere.
except that it does not resemble my old party at all-not to say that the party you propose is not effective (or probably more effective) but my party had no multiclassing. I would rather add a taclord and drop the Starlock or just add the taclord-(just cant drop the cleric-old schooler here) and go with 7 PC's.

Ian
Revising Ian's party slightly, what would yall say about:

1. Travis: Genasi Fighter [1-handers] // Pit Fighter (starts sword-and-board, morphs to tempest fighter in paragon)
2. Calder: Half-Elf Chaladin // Divine Oracle
3. Kratos: Dragonborn Inspirelord // Champion of Order
4. Aramil: Elf Ranger [2-blade] // Stormwarden
5. Mialee: Elf Wizard [staff & orb] // Flame of Hope

Starting around level 12, Travis should really be considered a striker with the BlackHole feature, rather than a proper defender.

Battlelord of Kord is normally the pick for Inspirelords, but Champion of Order's powers are particularly good here, I have a lot of soft-nova redundancy already, I wanted the backup defender, and I couldn't gracefully fit CoO elsewhere with Calder sitting on Divine Oracle.

Aramil is doubling as my artillery, which is why Stormwarden beats Pit Fighter.

Mialee is my odd piece. She plays boring control in heroic, morphs into a potent leader sub-role in paragon, and only in epic transforms into a Stun-Locker proper.

I think this party covers all the roles with redundancy, and meets most of the "10 party considerations" originally proposed. I'm missing a Morninglord (power at the expense of versatility), and I'd like to fit a Heartwarder in somewhere.

And to add a 6th to the party of mashers what about a Goliath Barbarian Stoneblessed?

Ian
I would rather add a taclord and drop the Starlock or just add the taclord-(just cant drop the cleric-old schooler here) and go with 7 PC's.

Ian

I don't think adding extra PCs is a good option. First, I don't think the exercise really is suited for that amount of variability. More importantly, adding PCs to cover roles in the meantime allows DMs to add monsters to further enhance and double-up on his roles. Typically a party wants to fill their roles with as few bodies as possible (without overdoing it). Finally, more bodies on the field change the assumptions of the fight.
Not so, both nova parties have 6 and 7 members if I remember correctly from page 1 or 2.

"How Many Members?
The number of party members doesn’t automatically equate to the number of players. Some or all players can run two characters. The DM can run an NPC member (ideally a dedicated leader such as a TacLord).

Generally speaking, three is the minimum for anything like an optimal party. “Standard” parties have four or five characters. Six or seven members make optimization much easier, while eight or more may really challenge the DM to adjust his encounters properly.

High nova parties should add defender, leader, striker, controller, striker, striker, leader, defender in about that order.

Low nova parties should add defender, leader, striker, leader, defender, controller, striker, defender in about that order."


Ian
Not so, both nova parties have 6 and 7 members if I remember correctly from page 1 or 2.

"How Many Members?[...]

I'm a little alarmed to be quoted as if an authority here, given that this is a work in (early) progress. (Also a scootch flattered, but mostly alarmed ...)

I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. It *is* easier to round out a larger party, because the secondary functions from Tiers 2 and 3 can be distributed among more bodies, whereas a small party almost certainly will have holes (such as no Face or no Scout). Also, a larger party can field more party-optimizing paragon paths (Divine Oracle, Morninglord, etc), which of course means even more buffs per character.

OTOH, Xtian has a perfectly valid point; the DM also is scaling up the monster capabilities. And as was pointed out earlier, larger parties suffer from the fact that a PC death becomes a less and less significant "milestone" in the course of a battle. A three-person party might face six minions, who barely have any chance of killing one PC in a surprise round. A seven-person party in the same spot would face 14 minions who almost couldn't help but kill a PC in a surprise round.

I originally drafted this with a five-member party in mind. Though this and later drafts will discuss other sizes, I still consider five to be the best number for discussing optimization.
I'm a little alarmed to be quoted as if an authority here, given that this is a work in (early) progress. (Also a scootch flattered, but mostly alarmed ...)

I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. It *is* easier to round out a larger party, because the secondary functions from Tiers 2 and 3 can be distributed among more bodies, whereas a small party almost certainly will have holes (such as no Face or no Scout). Also, a larger party can field more party-optimizing paragon paths (Divine Oracle, Morninglord, etc), which of course means even more buffs per character.

OTOH, Xtian has a perfectly valid point; the DM also is scaling up the monster capabilities. And as was pointed out earlier, larger parties suffer from the fact that a PC death becomes a less and less significant "milestone" in the course of a battle. A three-person party might face six minions, who barely have any chance of killing one PC in a surprise round. A seven-person party in the same spot would face 14 minions who almost couldn't help but kill a PC in a surprise round.

I originally drafted this with a five-member party in mind. Though this and later drafts will discuss other sizes, I still consider five to be the best number for discussing optimization.

I want the thread stickied! Dont know how to go about it but I like the thread this much.

Agreed with Xtian that the DM does scale the encounterrs to the number of combatants-I know I do & DMG recommends it. I dont use minions much at all. With 2 dragon born in the game I run, whats the point. Dragon breath clears them all out and with 6 PC's it really clutters up the field.

OK -Agreed on the 5 PC format. The biggest thing I like about 5 characters is speed of combat which can drag on if there are any more than 6.
THIS IS AN ARCHIVE OF DRAFT 3, SHOULD ANYONE CARE TO GO BACK TO IT

This post has gone through two major revisions. Here is the third, which approaches the topic from a new angle based on thought prompted by the feedback in this thread.

Some of the following comments won't make sense in light of the original post having been completely different.

***

DEFINING PARTY FUNCTIONS
Think of this as rule 0. Before you can define the most optimized party, you have to define what it is that your party really needs to do.

Following are 26 party functions ranked by (arguable) order of importance. Those 26 functions are further broken into three roughly equal tiers.

LEGEND
An (s) following the function name means that having more than one of these is ideal, sometimes synergistically so (eg, marking).

An (1 or all) following the function name means that you really only need one party member to have the ability, or every party member should have it.

A single asterisk (*) means that the function is situational; its importance will rise or fall depending on DM and campaign style, and certain facets may be controversial and house-ruled. A double asterisk (**) means the function is highly situational, and you need to think very carefully about how far you want to exploit it based on the DM/campaign dynamics.

In addition, four of the 26 functions have upgrades that both wholly replace and substantially alter the nature of that function.

TIER 1
A: Marker(s)
B: Healer(s)
C: Nova(s)** (very high damage dailies)
D: Buff(s)
E: Control(s) (controller functionality)
F: MultAtt(s)* (multiple attacks)
G: BigMak (big basic melee attack)
H: SoloLock* (powerful single-target control)

COMMENTS: Nova is highly situational because, taken to excess, it can be irritating to DMs, and keeping the DM happy has as much to do with party success as anything on this list. (We're real-world optimizing, here.) If the DM slaves over his plotlines and encounters, then you expect to snicker-snack through everything by spamming Blade Cascade like a bunch of unruly teens devouring a gourmet meal, well, you're begging for payback. MultAtt and SoloLock are situational because both include powers routinely tagged as broken, and facets of each may be subject to house rule.

TIER 2
I: Trapmaster* (high Thievery)
J: Hawkeye (high Perception; see Skeptic)
K: Sneak(1 or all)** (high Stealth; see Scout)
L: Synergy(s)* (frost feats, Morninglord, etc)
M: ExtraAtt(s) (hands out extra attacks)
N: Base face (high Diplomacy; see Ace face)
O: Unique(s) (detect evil, tiny shapeshift, etc)
P: Companion (animal or spirit)
Q: Tank(1 or all)*

COMMENTS: Trapmaster depends on whether the DM ever bothers with traps, and how often. Sneak(all) is highly situational; if the DM is eager to run a "high fantasy SEAL team" kind of game, and will count avoided encounters as beaten encounters, it's well worth the effort to design the party. Just about every Synergy power has been dubbed broken at some time; some options may not be available in your campaign.

Tank(all) mildly distorts the meaning; a single Tank is a defender who tries to take all of the attacks vs his very high defenses, while a Tank(all) is a party in which all members can withstand at least short periods of melee. The utility of both depends largely on average map size and DM cunning; on large maps, foes can easily flank and bypass a tank or engage a "back row" build in melee, while on small maps it's easier for a Tank to demand attention and for front-line characters to keep the lighter builds out of melee.

TIER 3
R: Int ritual caster* (Arcana and Religion)
S: Lay healer* (skill-based, see Wis ritual caster)
T: Athletics expert(1 or all)*
U: Intimidate expert(s)**
V: Dungeoneering expert*
W: Acrobat expert
X: Sprinter(1 or all)**
Y: Endurance expert(1 or all)*
Z: History expert*

COMMENTS: Just about everything in Tier 3 depends on campaign specifics. Given the amount of tinkering that probably goes on with the economic system, any sort of routine ritual use should be discussed with the DM; half-price magic items would make this high priority of course. Lay healing will depend on how many powered healers are in the group. Some DMs routinely will want every party member to be able to pass a Jump/Swim/Climb check one way or another; some will never pose that kind of Athletics challenge. If the Intimidate rules are used by RAW, every good candidate should take the skill; if one of the frequent nerfs is in place it's possibly not worth it for anyone to invest in it. Fielding a party full of Sprinters is difficult, but if you're not afraid to run and fight another day it can be a lifesaver (a rare case where the players’ outlooks are the variable rather than the DM’s outlook). Endurance and History both rarely come up, but there’s always that DM who goes out of his way to challenge the rare skills ...

UPGRADED FUNCTIONS
JJ: Skeptic* (Perception and Insight; replaces Hawkeye)
KK: Scout** (Stealth, Perception, speed; replaces Sneak)
NN: Ace face* (Diplomacy, Bluff, Streetwise; replaces Base face)
SS: Wis ritual caster** (Heal and Nature; replaces Lay healer)

COMMENTS: A Skeptic is an easy upgrade from the nigh essential Hawkeye, and worth it in a highly social campaign. (He basically stands at the face's elbow and nudges him every time his BS-meter beeps.) In that same sort of campaign, the Face needs to upgrade to Ace Face. In a campaign where the DM enjoys and rewards player initiative, a true Scout can be a huge mystery debuffer, but admittedly a lot of DMs will railroad the Scout into futility. A Wisdom ritual caster also depends on the DM's outlook on rituals; often it's simpler to hire an NPC when this rare need presents itself.
ARCHIVE CONTINUED

THE 10 RULES OF PARTY OPTIMIZATION

Now that we’ve improved our idea of what our party needs to be able to do, let’s approach the build in a decision-tree fashion. The thread title calls these “rules,” because they used to be in earlier drafts, but what they’ve evolved into is nodes through which your party build will flow:

***

1: High Nova or Low Nova?
Building a high nova party is useless if your DM will respond by making it very difficult to craft the exact items that you need, banning all daily-recharge items, or quitting in disgust. In a tournament format or with a laissez faire DM who simply lines up four encounters and threads them together with a minimum of narrative, conversely, high nova usually is the way to go.

High nova parties should add strikers after essential functions have been addressed.

Low nova parties should add leaders and/or defenders, instead.

***

2: Controller or Multiple Faux Controllers?
Two defenders is way better than one, two healers means losing the first doesn’t cripple the party, and two strikers are a minimum for a high nova party. That’s six characters, and a standard party includes only four or five (but see rule 3, below). Obviously, there’s never room for everything you want, and the only place you can really consider making room is by cutting the controller. Control functions are essential, but a designated controller is far less so.

The catch is, if you decide to do without a controller, you have to really ensure that several of the other party members have at least modest control ability. This will further delimit your builds for them.

High nova parties of four or more probably should have an orb wizard controller, because wizards are high nova and an orb wizard adds SoloLock functionality (see rule 6).

Low nova parties of five or less certainly can consider going without a controller. Larger parties should consider an invoker, who is low nova but very effective at locking down the opposition.

***

3. How Many Members?
The number of party members doesn’t automatically equate to the number of players. Some or all players can run two characters. The DM can run an NPC member (ideally a dedicated leader such as a TacLord).

Generally speaking, three is the minimum for anything like an optimal party. “Standard” parties have four or five characters. Six or seven members make optimization much easier, while eight or more may really challenge the DM to adjust his encounters properly.

High nova parties should add defender, leader, striker, controller, striker, striker, leader, defender in about that order.

Low nova parties should add defender, leader, striker, leader, defender, controller, striker, defender in about that order.

***

4. Who’s Our Core Three?
Though both sorts of parties start out with a defender-leader-striker core, the possible varieties of these are endless. Different defenders team more efficiently with different leaders and different strikers. For instance, multiple attackers (Dual Strikers, rangers, Brutal Scoundrels) and high novas (often the same people …) pair well with strength clerics (Righteous Brand) or tactical warlords (landing their big attack being their reason for existence). Those rare multiple attackers or novas who are confident in their own attack bonuses may prefer a charisma warlord (multiple damage bonuses being particularly novalike). BigMaks (Battleragers, barbarians) pair well with cunning bards (extra attacks) and TacLords (Commander’s Strike). Defenders with a few ranged options (swordmages and maybe the rare tempest build) and ranged strikers may prefer the lazer cleric (Lance of Faith). Thus, some nicely complementary trios include:

Battlerager-cunning bard-barbarian
Dualstriker-strength cleric-melee ranger
Warden-strength cleric-brutal scoundrel
Paladin-tactical warlord-melee ranger
WT fighter-tactical warlord-barbarian
Sword and board-charisma warlord-bow ranger
Swordmage-lazer cleric-bow ranger
Tempest-lazer cleric-sorcerer

To complicate matters further, low nova parties should generally steer toward low nova classes (very generally: paladin, rogue, warlock, int warlord, swordmage, “real” avenger, bard, druid, invoker, shaman, warden), while high nova parties want high nova classes (again in general: cleric, fighter, ranger, cha warlord, wizard, “pseudo” avenger, barbarian, sorcerer).

Just to add to the chaos, if you don’t have a controller, you also need to pick good secondary controllers here (sword and board fighters, swordmages, clerics, bards, artful dodgers, etc).

There’s no right answer here, but there’s a few good answers, a bunch of not so good ones, and maybe one excellent one.
ARCHIVE CONTINUED

***

5. What Else Do We Need?
You have your core three, plus maybe a controller, against which you can compare the list of functions prepared in “rule 0.” Check off those that your existing characters fill. What’s left?

Time to find characters who can handle those functions.

***

6. Test for Over-reliance.
Imagine everyone but character 1 fighting together, then everyone but character 2, etc. Does removing one character greatly reduce offense or survivability? This might often be the case in a single-leader party, particularly one without a paladin or other reliable backup healer. Sometimes it’s best to lose potential damage output in trade for a second healer/buffer who maybe even can fill some of the functions that were remaining in rule 5.

***

7. Plan for Paragon: Who’s Our SoloLock?
Solos often are the easiest encounters to beat, but they also can be the most dangerous. Give a good solo a chance and in a blink the remaining half of the party will be in deep trouble. It's important to stomp them ruthlessly from boo.

Once the party reaches paragon, the two builds that do this best are the orb wizard (see rule 2) and paladin PP Champion of Order (which works at least as well with fighters). If you don’t have an orb wizard, it’s a good idea to plan to graft CoO to someone.

CoO also offers a Unique power (detect evil) which is great in a high social campaign. (The CoO doesn’t actually need to be the face; he can be another elbow-nudger like the Skeptic.)

Of course, other varieties of SoloLock can be designed, and there’s always the school of thought that Blade Cascading rangers never miss and thus don’t need what’s already dead to be locked down ...

***

8: Plan for Paragon: Which Paths Are Essential?
CoO is far from the only PP that adds outsized functionality that impacts the party as a whole. A few others include:

Divine Oracle: Some of us never leave home without it. Huge party and self buffs. Should be fitted to a character with multiple vs Will attacks.

Hospitaler: Pretty much makes the entire party much tougher.

Morninglord: Huge Synergy with radiant weapons. Limits party ethics.

These are PPs that impact everyone on the team. Fielding as many of them as possible will improve optimization.

***

9: Plan for Paragon: Retest for Over-reliance.
By level 16, characters have changed dramatically. Reperform the rule 6 tests, envisioning the party at this level. Again, backup healers and defenders (who can work off each other’s marks) sometimes bring more value than another two-fisted ranger.

***

10. Plan for Epic: But Not Too Much.
Have at least a rough idea for epic progression, but not much more than that. The campaign may not last that long, and if it does umpteen new epic opportunities will have been published in the interim.
Going back to the high noval/low nova discussion, I think there are more than a few things missing from the analysis:

A high nova party is more efficient than a low nova party; the PCs kill the enemy too quickly to need much healing or control. Conversely, a high nova party requires far more DM complacency. They usually take advantage of rules that could be reasonably called broken; they usually depend on being able to obtain a custom kit of magic items with little difficulty; and they usually have holes in their defenses and Tier B and C functions that they expect the DM to forego exploiting.

Now, it may be that a party that has the kind of optimized novas found on the charop boards "Kill Orcus/Tiamat/Dragotha in one round with one (or two) characters" does depend upon a custom magic item kit and broken powers. The party may also have holes in their defenses too. But I neither is an essential characteristic of a party that is able to nova. (Nor do novas neessarily require high damage dailies--one of the better novas I have got my party to pull off in actual play involved only one daily (vanguard weapon daily power) and one encounter power (war of attrition). After that, it was all at-will powers and action points).

Such novas can obviously be improved by spiking them with optimized gear, but do not require it to be effective. You don't have to be able to drop orcus in one round in order for novaing to be an effective and useful tactic. Dropping one or two enemy brutes or soldiers in the first round or dropping a goblin hexer before he can make his vexing cloud felt are very useful abilities.

As to the idea that high nova parties will generally have holes in their defense, I consider this unlikley myself since most of the builds that show up in the nova threads pack a primary and secondary stat that advances different defenses and beyond that, there is not much that characters can do to increase defenses without going full bore for one of the various optimal defense builds. (Which also depend upon various broken mechanics). The bravura warlord build in Lorduskblade's built to nova thread and the ranger/pitfighter, for instance do not have noticeably better or worse defenses than any other warlords or rangers.
I think there are more than a few things missing from the analysis:

I wrote a long rebuttal bordering on a mild rant then deleted it. You've been a very valuable contributor to this thread.

No, I don't cover the topic in detail, but my bottom line remains rock solid: No matter the technique, do not break the game any more than the DM wants it broken (unless it's a one-night stand and you can run like a craven cur afterward:rolleyes. Just don't. They will either get unhappy or even. Either result makes you as the optimizing player dead guilty of failing to see the forest for the trees.
Using this, I think you should make lists for example 4, 5, and 7 person parties

Example for 3:

Fighter/Champion of Order
Elf Laser Cleric
Invoker

You could probably go more specific, but I'm just doing this off of the top of my head.
Thanks.

I agree that you have to keep the good of the game in mind, however, it's important to realize that a low-nova party can break the game in other ways. For instance, you could probably make a party full of paladin/warlocks and warlock paladins whose schitck was to drag out the combat through a slow attrition of ranged attacks while invisible and marking the target and combine it with high defense to ensure a reliable victory with low resource expenditure. Maybe you couldn't do it with quite that combination of characters, but I'm sure there is a way to do it. (I'm not particularly interested in it myself because it seems like a very boring and emasculating way to play). You may not see as many threads on how to abuse consecrated ground as there are on how to get the most out of rain of blows/hurricane of blades/etc but that doesn't mean that the power is less susceptible to being called broken. A party could break the game in a low-nova style as well. Either way, you have to keep what the DM wants (and what you want as players too--I played in one 3.5 game where there was a jerk running around using prayer beads, candles of invocation, divine metamagic and one or two other bits of cheese to stow clvl 28 holy words in a spellstaff (obtained with miracle) and ending every encounter in round 1 with the maxed out holy word. I would rather miss a slot than sit through that again. It's not just DMs who you have to keep in mind).

My argument, however, is that novas are not just about the game breaking stuff. Does your tactical warlord hit the bigmac with adaptive stratgem, nail the bad guy with warlord's favor, then spend an action point and gve the big mac a free attack to use that +5 to hit and +4 damage? Does the big mac then spend an action point on his turn to get two (or more) attacks with the bonus attack and damage? That's a nova of sorts even if it's not going to kill orcus in one turn. It also pretty basic strategy. For my part, I don't see the point of discussing strategy at all if we're not going to try to make powers work together to do more together than they would individually. There are obviously limits to how much synergy the game can handle but if we're going to start using commander's strike on the laser cleric in order to make the DM happy, I don't see the point in the game. Somewhere in the middle is where D&D is meant to be played and some sort of nova is an essential part in the strategy of that middle.

The point is that novas do not necessarily depend upon broken powers or custom magic item kits, nor is there any essential relationship between nova capability and holes in defenses or party roles. You can put holes in your party in order to maximize nova potential (you could for instance, create a party that was nothing but warlords and rangers) but that doesn't mean a party with nova potential did that.

I wrote a long rebuttal bordering on a mild rant then deleted it. You've been a very valuable contributor to this thread.

No, I don't cover the topic in detail, but my bottom line remains rock solid: No matter the technique, do not break the game any more than the DM wants it broken (unless it's a one-night stand and you can run like a craven cur afterward:rolleyes. Just don't. They will either get unhappy or even. Either result makes you as the optimizing player dead guilty of failing to see the forest for the trees.

I agree that you have to keep the good of the game in mind [...]

It's a game of opportunity costs, so I can't really agree that anything truly worthy of the "nova" tag doesn't have a corresponding weakness of some sort. The build had to trade *something* for whatever spectacular effect that it produces. I read that as the main point of your previous post, which is what tried to get me off and running.

I'm generally in complete agreement with your reapproach here, other than the distinction described above (which turns out to be a pretty minor thing in your overall set of points ...). I'll take another pass at the topic in the rules posts to better clarify things along the lines that you describe.
EB, rules 2 (all) and 3 (last paragraph only) redrafted. Are they closer to your liking?
Using this, I think you should make lists for example 4, 5, and 7 person parties [...]

Mm, now you want me to stick my neck out again! ;) Part of what I've taken from this thread is that, even if you can generally agree on an underlying set of party design principles, the proper balance of the functions still varies considerably from player to player. A couple of us want mad healing because bad days happen to even imaginary peoples. EB wants a tactically excellent blizzard of death and will sacrifice durability to get it. TD isn't leaving home without his orb wizard, even if orb-lock is nerfed.

I've come to the conclusion that this is a good thing; the game's fluid enough to support much variety even among (self-appointed) experts. At this point, the point of this guide isn't to spell out the ideal party; it's to help the players formalize the thought behind their concept of the ideal party.

All of that said, I think the Half-Orc tempest fighter, Half-Elf valor bard, and Deva orb wizard that I do mention would be a rock-solid three-man wrecking crew. The tempest would have to pick up Thievery and Stealth and probably go Kensai. The wizard would MC cleric (needs Religion anyway) and probably go Divine Oracle. The bard's free to take any of several interesting paths. Everyone has two good NADs and all six attributes are maxed out in that mix.
It's a game of opportunity costs, so I can't really agree that anything truly worthy of the "nova" tag doesn't have a corresponding weakness of some sort. The build had to trade *something* for whatever spectacular effect that it produces. I read that as the main point of your previous post, which is what tried to get me off and running.

I'm generally in complete agreement with your reapproach here, other than the distinction described above (which turns out to be a pretty minor thing in your overall set of points ...). I'll take another pass at the topic in the rules posts to better clarify things along the lines that you describe.

It's a bit more to my liking but I think it does miss that you can build a party without much in the way of nova capability. The alternative to high nova in an optimized party may be low nova rather than no nova, but it is still quite possible to build a party that is, practically a no nova party.

You could, for instance have your defender be a charisma paladin, your striker an artful dodger rogue with control focused powers like blinding barrage and without slaying action, your leader be a laser cleric (who has a bit more healing than most other leaders but doesn't have a way to hand out bonuses bigger than +2), and your controller could be an invoker. Individually, most of those are defensible choices--particularly for a second character in whatever role is being discussed, but together, they don't have much means to combine their powers. Contrast that with a party containing a fighter, a warlord or strength cleric, a melee ranger, and a wizard. The second party, should be able to concentrate their fire more effectively and get a round or two of burst damage in. The first party, can set each other up a little bit but does not have enough powers to produce many major shifts in the odds so even when they are working together in a coordinated manner it won't ramp up their effectiveness very much.

The game is flexible and can accomodate different kinds of parties, but the ability to produce burst damage early in the combat is valuable and parties who have that ability are generally able to overcome more difficult challenges than those who don't have it. And I don't think you actually have to sacrifice the party's durability in order to get some nova capability. Compared to some parties, you may sacrifice a little bit of healing since warlords have a lot of good party enabling powers that they may want to take instead of healing powers, but you can add leaders or non-leaders with leader MC and non-leader healing powers in order to pick up the slack. Yeah, it's a game of tradeoffs but just like you don't generally have to give up anything essential to get a post-racial 18 in your attack stat, you don't have to give up anything essential in order to get some burst damage or nova capability into your party. All you have to do is be willing to optimize your party when you're creating it.
It's a bit more to my liking but I think it does miss that you can build a party without much in the way of nova capability. The alternative to high nova in an optimized party may be low nova rather than no nova, but it is still quite possible to build a party that is, practically a no nova party. [...]

If not in so many words, I think that point is briefly addressed in the complementary builds rule. A problem is that in a real game, this sort of thing may be more or less "off the table." Someone may be dead-set on playing the lazer cleric, someone else on the charisma paladin, etc. I wouldn't want to suggest that a party composed entirely of player-preferred characters can't nova or be optimized! But I do feel comfortable in suggesting that certain combinations of classes can be more optimized ...
EB, rules 2 (all) and 3 (last paragraph only) redrafted. Are they closer to your liking?

I'd like to point out that a sololock is really just a different form of High Nova... and ought to be treated the same. Having the ability to make one monster of any type snore off in the corner for forever is effectively identical to killing one monster in a single round, that that's pretty much the definition of high nova.

Using a sololock in a real game requires just as much DM permission as using a Str-primary half-elf avenger.

"Nice assumptions. Completely wrong assumptions, but by jove if being incorrect stopped people from making idiotic statements, we wouldn't have modern internet subculture." Kerrus
Practical gameplay runs by neither RAW or RAI, but rather "A Compromise Between The Gist Of The Rule As I Recall Getting The Impression Of It That One Time I Read It And What Jerry Says He Remembers, Whatever, We'll Look It Up Later If Any Of Us Still Give A Damn." Erachima

Only if that Avenger decides to go for Eternal Seeker and disregard the fact that he has class powers, but yeah, kilpatds' point is a good one, Rancid_Rogue; you can probably roll high-nova and solo-locking into just one entry.
If not in so many words, I think that point is briefly addressed in the complementary builds rule. A problem is that in a real game, this sort of thing may be more or less "off the table." Someone may be dead-set on playing the lazer cleric, someone else on the charisma paladin, etc. I wouldn't want to suggest that a party composed entirely of player-preferred characters can't nova or be optimized! But I do feel comfortable in suggesting that certain combinations of classes can be more optimized ...

I don't know; it seems to me that, while a party of player preferred non-negotiable characters can be optimized, it is probably not likely to be optimized. I would not only suggest it, I would state it flat out and list as a contender for being self-evident. If there are more optimal and less optimal party configurations, then any party with a number of "off the table" player preferred characters is likely to be less optimal than a party where everyone sits down, figures out what combination would be most optimal and agrees to play one of those characters. In the real world, most parties fall somewhere in between those extremes, but that just means that most people don't play completely otpimized parties in the real world.

I think that leaving out that discussion simply because many parties are likely to have "off the table" characters is a disservice to the readers in a party optimization thread. People bring priorities other than optimization to the table when they create a party, but they should know that satisfying those priorities will require a tradeoff with other priorities--including optimization.
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