You've read the build guide for making the perfect Rogue, Ranger, Warlock, Avenger, Sorcerer or Barbarian. Good. Now let's talk about how to use your character in the game to be effective.
ShanFR created an amazing French version of this guide, called L'art de l’attaque (PDF).
After The Art of Defending, this is part II of the tactics by role guide series. Also have a look at The Art of Leading.
More than a DPR machine
On the Character Optimization boards, there is an ongoing competition for the highest DPR - the damage a build can do round after round after round. Of course, DPR is a very important measure for a good striker. But don't assume it's the only one. At the table, you're not playing under laboratory conditions. You're not teleported next to your target at the start of combat, where you can whack at it and it never hits back.
You'll be bloodied by archers until you even reach your enemy. A brute will soak the first round of attacks, then push you over to his controller friend who'll leave you prone and immobilized. Your DPR is down to zero while you scramble to make your saves... With a good build, that does not happen. At early heroic levels, when monsters don't deal much status effects, and the DMs does not throw in terrain like endless chasms and lava pits, pure DPR is what counts. But later, versatility, tactical skill and defenses become equally important.
I The Three Important Abilities of a Striker
Let's get a better definition of the Striker role than simple "do damage". The job of the striker is to reduce the power of the enemy quickly by removing the major threats among his ranks. Their specialty is concentrated firepower against single enemies. If the defender is the shield of the group, and the leader it's head, you're it's weapon.
A party with good strikers can decide combats quickly: Within a few rounds, the hardest-hitting opponents are down, and the party has gained the upper hand and can clear up the remaining foes pretty easily. On the other hand, a party where the strikers dominate has very swingy combats: If they don't manage to take down a few enemies quickly, or if they are up against a single, very tough foe, the strikers go down quickly, and all that is left for the rest of the party is to organize a coordinated retreat.
1. Reach / Mobility
First, the ability to select his targets freely. He can achieve this either by range, with attacks that can reach all across the battlefield, or mobility, going right to his target unhindered by the enemy defense line.
2. Damage / Debuff
Hit point damage is most important, because a dead foe is off the board (most of the time). But don't underestimate the effectiveness of debuffing effects like status effects, and the tactical advantages gained from pushing, pulling and sliding enemies.
As a striker, you're the main damage dealer of the party. All enemy troops with some sense of tactics and coordination will try to concentrate fire on you. You need some way to survive, while you have the attention of all enemies on the battlefield.
Different Striker classes have very different strengths and tactics to achieve this, and also different weaknesses. To better illustrate these, I'll use monster roles as an analogy. You can find an explanation of these in the DMG p. 54. When the game designers laid out the classes, they used the same categories as the monster roles, with a difference: the diverse bunch of skirmisher, lurker, brute and artillery was lumped together as the strikers. I'll go into more detail when I look at individual classes.
II The Classes
Difficulty: Archer * / TWF, Beastmaster **
The ranger is either a skirmisher or artillery, depending on his fighting style.
The two-weapon Ranger wades into melee and hacks his enemies to pieces with powerful double attacks. His AC is fairly low, so he has to rely on mobility to get out of range of enemy attacks. Melee rangers have the best pure damage dealing potential against single enemies of any class, but their ability score requirements are spread out: They need Strength to attack, Constitution to survive, Dexterity for AC and Ref defense as well as ranged attacks if melee is not possible, and Wisdom for the secondary effects of most powers. If you don't boost Dex, you'll either have to be extremely mobile or spend feats on armor proficiency. Refer to the Ranger handbook for ways to resolve this MAD (multi-attribute dependency) problem.
The Archery ranger stays out of melee instead, and uses his range to pick off selected targets. The Bow Ranger has no MAD problems, he's fine with boosting Dexterity and Wisdom. As long as you stay out of the thick melee, you also don't have to worry about defenses too much. The only complaint about Bow Rangers I've ever heard is that plucking enemies with arrows round after round is boring... but sometimes the boring tactics are the most effective.
You can build a ranger for versatility, who can do well both in ranged and melee. Such a build has the advantage that he can attack enemies strong in melee from range, and those strong in ranged combat in melee, gaining a tactical advantage. Versatile Rangers have to keep Strength and Dexterity high, so Con and Wis will suffer. They also need to spread their other resources like feats, powers and items between melee and ranged, so they won't be as effective in either like a pure melee or ranged build. This is the price for broader tactical options.
As the beast master Ranger (MP 38), you get a pet, which adds one to the number of your party. The pet can act as a flanking partner for you and your allies, and you can use it for special attacks. Beast master rangers can be melee, ranged, or versatility builds. The weakness of the Beast Master ranger is the low survivability of his pet. It just does not have the defenses, hit points and healing surges of a full character. Keep your pet around the defenders to make it last longer.
The damage output of a ranger depends on two sources: Twin Strike (PHB 105) and their Hunter's Quarry (PHB 104). Hunter's Quarry is among the easiest of all striker bonus damage class features: Pick a target, and increase your damage against it for one attack each round. Note that the target has to be the nearest enemy to you. If you want to bring down an enemy in the back row, you'll have to move around the defenders first. One more reason to increase your mobility.
So what about Twin Strike, and how could a simple at-will be the main source of damage for a class? With Twin Strike, you get a guaranteed two attacks per round, every round. In effect, you get all hit and damage bonuses from everything twice: Combat Advantage, Weapon Focus (PHB 201), Iron Armbands of Power (AV 117) etc. And it even helps with your Quarry damage, because it increases your chance to benefit from it from 50% to 75% each round.
Notably, many of the Ranger's better encounter and daily powers are essentially beefed-up Twin Strikes, such as the amazing Attacks on the Run (PHB 108). The other good type of powers are minor actions, immediate counters and reactions. They allow you to Twin Strike and do even more damage on top of that. And the crown of Ranger powers are his high-level stances like Follow-up Blow (PHB 113), that give him even more free attacks. In fact, I haven't seen a Ranger encounter power that's a standard action single attack and still beats the damage of Twin Strike for a well-optimized Ranger.
Regardless of the build the main defense of a ranger is his mobility. Many of his attack powers allow hit and run tactics with free movement before or after the attack. He can move in, attack, and shift away to avoid attacks. His best protection is a nearby defender to punish enemies for attacking him, and a leader to provide defense boosts and healing.
Living For The Hunt: The Ranger's Handbook
Like the Ranger, the Rogue is a skirmisher, and many of the melee Ranger tactics also apply to the Rogue. The Rogue's specialty are a very high chance to hit, a sizable bonus damage class feature and a good number of debuff attacks.
Rogues are the kings of accuracy. A first level Rogue with a dagger and Piercing Strike (PHB 118) can achieve an attack bonus of +5 (Dex 20) + 3 (dagger proficiency) +1 (Weapon Talent) +1 (Weapon Expertise (Light Blade), PHB2 190) + 2 (Combat Advantage) = +12 against Ref 13, the a standard value for a first level monster. Yes, you read that right, he'll always hit unless he rolls a 1. Not every Rogue needs to push his attack bonus that high to be effective, but you get the idea.
If you compare to Rangers, they get two attacks each round where they have the chance to deal their bonus damage, so the Rogue needs to keep up with accuracy. Since the rogue is restricted to a smaller set of weapons with a lower [W] value, so he compensates with higher bonus damage on his Sneak Attack.
The Rogue's class feature is special because it needs some tactical setup. Every Rogue player should know all the basic ways to get Combat Advantage (PHB 279). See the notes in chapter VII and the link below on how to get it.
The easiest way to get Combat Advantage is to flank. The larger your party, the more flanking partners you have, the easier it gets. Flanking with a defender is especially useful for you, because the defender makes it hard for the monster to retaliate against you. In situations where flanking is not possible, try powers that cause conditions. Dazed and prone are the most common. If you run out of them, an ally might help. Some very unfavorable circumstances aside, you should always be able to get Combat Advantage.
Tactics and Weapon Choices
There are three published Rogue tactics, the Brutal Scoundrel, the Artful Dodger and the Ruthless Ruffian (MP 72). Brutal Scoundrel is an expert at high damage against single targets, while the Artful Dodger is more mobile and gets a number of burst/blast attacks, debuffs and powers that move enemies. The Ruthless Ruffian is a single-target debuffer.
The best weapon choices for Rogues are the dagger, the rapier and the cheesy double sword (AV). For ranged attacks, carry a dagger or a hand crossbow (great for drow). The rules for cover, concealment, stealth checks and (in)visibility are rather complicated, but if you know how you can use the rogue as an effective ranged sniper.
For defense, the Rogue needs to stay mobile just like the Ranger. Since Dexterity is his main attack stat, even in melee, at least it is easier for him to keep his AC up. On top of that, there are a number of defensive feats which are perfect for rogues, such as Defensive Advantage (remember you want to have Combat Advantage against the enemy you're attacking as much as possible anyway).
A second method of defense for the rogue are his powers that deal status effects, which reduce the enemy's ability to hit back.
The Rogue's weakness is his low ability to take damage. If an enemy manages to corner him and get his attacks through, the rogue will go down fast.
The Manual of Rakes, Sneaks and Thugs
The Warlock is a lurker. Where a skirmisher only moves a way and hopes the defender will keep the mob from following, the lurker completely robs the enemy of his chance to hit back.
Survivability and Debuffing
Not only can he get concealment simply by moving, there are many ways for him to become invisible, or teleport away. He can also sabotage the enemy's ability to attack with a status effect like blindness, immobilizing or stun. Warlocks are the kings of debuffing. Other strikers kill their enemies as quickly as possible. Death is the ultimate debuff, because the monster can't attack anymore, but a Warlocks makes the enemy feel useless while he is still alive. Death by Warlock is slower and more humiliating. They have debuffs that other classes, even controllers, simply can't match, like strealing actions with Curse of the Golden Mist (Daily 15, PHB 136), or removing the enemy from the battlefield for a few rounds with Wraith of Acamar (Daily 19, PHB 138).
Even if the enemy can manage to close up to the Warlock, and even hit him, he still has powers to punish that.
Warlocks work best in a larger group. With your debuffs and damage from another striker or a hard-hitting defender, you can tag team and take down even elites pretty quickly. You can use your stealth and teleporting to zip around groups of weaker enemies, drawing and punishing their attacks.
The Warlock has gained some bad reputation from the "DPR or bust" crowd. If vanilla high damage is all you're after, don't look at the Warlock. That does not mean that Warlocks aren't effective. You'll just need to use them in a different way.
A Warlock Guide (needs an update)
Difficulty: Rageblood * / Thaneborn **
The Barbarian is a true brute. His AC is rather low for a melee fighter, but his hit points are high. He doesn't get the hit bonus of other classes, but he uses a big mean weapon and when he hits the target bleeds.
The Barbarian doesn't have single extra damage feature like the PHB classes. Instead, his high damage comes from a combination of using a big, two-handed weapon (anything under 1d12 just doesn't cut it), extra attacks for critical hits and reducing an enemy below 0 hp (Rageblood only), extra damage on his at-will powers, and bonus effects on a rage that last the whole encounter.
At the table, barbarians are pretty straightforward to play: Rage, charge the first squishy you can get to, cut him down, charge the next... Barbarians don't need tactical acumen, they should never worry and never think too much. As long as you're not running into an obvious ambush like some Leeroy Jenkins impersonator, you're effective and in character.
With your high hp, you don't have to worry about defenses as much as other classes. A few feats like Toughness (PHB 201) or Armor Specialization (Hide) (PHB 202) won't hurt, though. An alternative is dumping Dex and spending two feats on chain and scale armor.
Destruction Manifest: The Barbarian's Handbook
The Sorcerer is artillery. But he is not specialized on single targets, he's the king of blasts and bursts. A rocket launcher rather than a sniper rifle.
The Sorcerer's bonus damage ability gives less than the one of PHB strikers, but it is the only one that works on every attack and every target. Following the philosophy that it's easiest to play classes to their strengths, it's better to embrace that.
The powers of the Sorcerer are pretty straightforward, with notable differences to the Warlock. The Warlock is good at the big debuff that locks down a solo, while the Sorcerer is a straight blaster. His debuff effects are weaker ones like slow. He does get a fair bit of slides and enemy teleports, so he should be on the lookout for tactical advantages, like sliding enemies into flanks or reshuffling enemy lines to drag the squishy artillery in front of the brute. Use your forked attacks (ranged against two enemies) to blast the foes that are already engaged with the front line of your group. Target the area spells on leaders surrounded by grunts.
The main tactical choice for your sorcerer is the amount of risk you wish to take. You can play classic artillery, pick ranged and area powers, and avoid being attacked by staying well behind the defender. You spend your resources on blasting better.
The sorcerer does have a fair share of close burst and close blast powers, though, and can even do melee attacks with Sorcerous Blade Channelling (PHB2 189). But he's still a glass cannon. You can spend feats and items to enhance your survivability in melee, or at least at close range. But even the Warlock has at least concealment, effective punishment and leather armor, you don't. Consider the opportunity cost of beefing yourself up. Try this only if you have a defender you can rely on, and always have an escape like Thunder Leap (PHB2 141) ready.
Joe's Sorcerer Guide
The Avenger is a skirmisher, with a hint of brute.
In the game, he works pretty different from other skirmishers like Ranger or Rogue. He gets a high difficulty rating not because he is hard to play, but because he is difficult to understand and build correctly.
Ranger and Rogue rely on teamwork a lot. With the rogue and his need for flanking, it's obvious, but the ranger needs a defender too because of his lower AC. The Avenger, on the other hand, is build for soloing monsters. You pick a target, and then the combat is all about you and that enemy.
There are two different so-called censures, Pursuit and Retribution. The Pursuit Avenger tries to force his target to move away from him to isolate it from its allies. The Retribution Avenger works the other way around, he wants the target to stay where it is and its allies to leave him alone.
Pursuit works best against enemies who would want to run away from you anyway. Skirmishers and lurkers, because that's what their standard tactic is, and artillery and ranged controllers, because you disturb their ranged attacks. Pursuit is also effective against leaders, because many of them need to be within a certain range, often 5 or 10 squares, of their allies to use their special powers.
Retrovengers should think about their class feature as a defensive option. You punish enemies for attacking you by dealing more damage against their boss.
For Retribution to work, you need to be able to take a lot of damage, and you need to deal more damage than you take. Powers that grant temporary hit points, like the Radiant Vengeance at-will power (PHB2 35), help a lot.
There are two traps with Retribution:
Avengers can push their AC to stellar levels, but in case of the Retrovenger, this backfires because enemies can't hit you anymore and you won't get the bonus damage.
The other trap is overdoing it. If you get hit too often because you get too cocky, you'll take more damage than you dish out with the power, even if you have temp hp. Don't plan on taking more than one or two hits per turn, unless against minions. And watch out for lurkers and controllers, because you don't want to be poisoned or similar.
When you take on monsters on your own, you can't rely on a defender or leader to help you out. Once you've selected a target, you're pretty much on your own to bring it down.
So where is the bonus damage? Your Oath of Enmity (PHB2 34) lets you roll twice for melee attacks. This translates into a higher to-hit chance. If you hit more often, you deal more damage.
Note that this reroll only works when there is no other enemy adjacent to you. Again, this is where your Pursuit / Retribution comes in, because both powers make it more likely that you face off against the enemy alone. With Pursuit, you chase the Oath target around the battlefield, and position yourself in a way that no other foe comes adjacent to you. With retribution, you have a strong incentive that enemies except for the oath target don't attack you, so they have no reason to stay next to you.
A weakness of the Avenger is that his class features are of not much use in boss fights, when the party is up against a single solo 2 or 3 levels higher. Pursuit is useless because the solo is unlikely to run away from you, and retribution is completely pointless because the target simply has no allies to attack you. On the other hand, there are no enemies around to deny your attack reroll.
When optimizing Avenger damage, two thing come to mind: A really big weapon and critical hits. Since you don't need a shield, and two-weapon fighting difficult to build for (start as Ranger and multiclass into Avenger for that), avengers should pick a favorite from the list of big mean 1d12 weapons. Since you roll twice, it's a great idea to increase your critical hit range, for example with a jagged weapon, and load up on feats and other effects that trigger on crits. See the build guides for details.
So what about defenses? As a Pursuit Avenger, you want your defenses to be as high as possible. If the enemy has no chance to bring you down, the incentive for him to run away is even higher. You already have Dexterity as a secondary attribute. Get proficiency in leather armor and the Improved Armor of Faith feat (PHB2 185) as soon as you can afford them.
As a Retrovenger, you kind of do want to get hit. You can't lower your defenses too much, because then you would take too much damage from your Oath target. Your Intelligence bonus + Armor of Faith comes out around 16-17 AC at first level, which seems about right. At later levels, you can pick up proficiency with leather armor, but save money by wearing armor with a low bonus.
Instead of AC bonuses, pile up on resistances and save bonuses. After all, you must be hit for Retribution to kick in, but it's perfectly fine if you take no damage.
Righteous Wrath: The Avenger's Handbook