Virtually all the efforts on the board are spent on optimising the player character - mostly individual characters, but sometimes groups or even the rare thread considering actual in-play tactics. But so far there hasn't been a single instance talking about the enemy: Monsters ! Why this is important, you might ask ? To quote no less than the great Sun Tzu: "If you know both yourself and your enemy, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss."
Monsters - or mobs, as I call them - are in their in their bulk as diverse as the player characters. So putting all information about them into one guide seems like a futile effort. But it's not as dire as it seems - individual mobs are, barring the usual exceptions, quite straight forward. Furthermore they as well fall into roles like player classes, but in fact behave much more the same within their given role than player characters. So getting back to the original point, learning about the strenghts and weaknesses of mobs and how player roles and classes relate to mob roles can give us very valuable insight - both on where to cover holes or improve stengths in our builds, as well as how to put that into practise to make encounters run as smooth as possible.
1.2 Reading the Guide
Chapter #2 starts the guide by analysing primary and secondary roles of mobs, both noting their specialities as well as discussing how to counters them. A rated assessment of this is provided for the primary roles as well, while it is skipped for the secondaries and these only modify the primary roles. Chapter #3 first provides a well proven way how to approach each encounter, and then discusses the individual strength and weaknesses of each player role (and class) and how to put it to optimal use. Afterwards countermeasures to particular and recurring mob traits are discussed. Chapter #4 takes a closer look at similarties of mobs not based on role but theme, which helps to educate what to expect as well as how to prepare the best for particular encounters. At last selected statistics about mobs are provided to assist optimising character build choices. Chapter #5 will discuss how a DM can plan and play interesting, diverse and yet challenging encounter for the players within the overall framework of the system. Chapter #6 closes the guide as appendix by providing resources for further reading, as well as references and a few organisational and personal remarks.
Rating System I use the rating system common to this board. Keep in mind, though, that I don't rate character choices, but tactical options and performances, so pay attention to the individual context. Horrible: The rock bottom in the field. Weak: Not good, but it can work. Average: Pretty much the baseline. Strong: Solid and well above the norm. Great: It doesn't get better than this.
Artillery Traits: Defenses | Damage | Debuffs | Targeting Ability | Area Effects Counters: Damage | Engaging | Mobility Debuffs | Attack Debuffs These are a real nasty bunch. Sitting in the backlines, often enough even protected by terrain, they will snipe you with attacks both highly damaging and precise. Add their ability to easily focus fire and to often attack more than one target and to sometimes even throw in a debuff, and you know why they should quickly be taken care of. But although they have both weak defenses and HP, it's not as easy as it sounds. You not only have to make it past the frontline mobs and into the back ranks while avoiding to get swarmed, but often enough you'll find that these mobs have a trick to get around being stuck in melee. As such consider if debuffing them and using terrain and cover to avoid the worst and engaging them later might be a better approach.
Brute Traits: Defenses | Damage | Debuffs | Targeting Ability | Area Effects Counters: Damage | Engaging | Mobility Debuffs | Attack Debuffs The redneck type of mob - it will come straight at you and try to hit you with its big stick (axe, hammer, ...) - and when it hits, it hurts... badly. The best way is to debuff and then ignore them or at least keep them away from your squishies, which might not survive a gang up that well. While the lowered AC might tempt you into trying to kill them straight, beware that their big HP pool can easily turn that into a grind and detract you from other dangers.
Controller Traits: Defenses | Damage | Debuffs | Targeting Ability | Area Effects Counters: Damage | Engaging | Mobility Debuffs | Attack Debuffs The name says it all. Expect to suffer multiple debuffs and fight a very bumpy fight in which you'll have to play the way the Controller wants it more often than not. And the worst part is that Controllers usually are capable in melee as well as at range. So only try to pin them down if you know its particular tricks, if not rather try to debuff their attacks to hinder them at spreading their debuffs. As they don't have particularly strong defenses but usually are a significant threat, it's often a good idea to focus fire them down early - if you get the chance to.
Lurker Traits: Defenses | Damage | Debuffs | Targeting Ability | Area Effects Counters: Damage | Engaging | Mobility Debuffs | Attack Debuffs These guys like to play hide and seek. The bad news is that if you don't come after them, they'll spring out from hiding at one of your squishies, and that attack usually is very damaging, an area effect or a debuff - or sometimes even everything at once. This is indeed bad news, but to make it even worse all Lurkers have a feature to mitigate their lower HP by screwing up your targeting. Either slap any convinient debuff on them, or wait until you know that their defensive power is on cooldown or you have dazed them if you really want to go the focus fire route.
Skirmisher Traits: Defenses | Damage | Debuffs | Targeting Ability | Area Effects Counters: Damage | Engaging | Mobility Debuffs | Attack Debuffs Those buggers are a quite mobile bunch, which means they're usually able to circumvent the frontline and gang up on a squishy target. Furthermore they tend to have a special trick, be it extra damage with CA, debuff riders or something similar. They usually are not a top priority, but you should keep an eye on them before they overwhelm one of your party. Any way to take care of them works with debuffing usally as the best option, although some of them have tricks to get around mobility debuffs.
Soldier Traits: Defenses | Damage | Debuffs | Targeting Ability | Area Effects Counters: Damage | Engaging | Mobility Debuffs | Attack Debuffs Hard to kill and very annoying while seldom posing a danger by themselves. Soldiers have solid accuary which results in modest but sustained damage and usually carries an annoying debuff like a mark or similar on their attacks. There is no real good way to slow them down - debuffing mobility sometimes works, but that is dependent on positioning and the particular powers of the mob. Best try to work around them, as their real threat is bogging you down while their fellows do the real damage.
Regular These are your standard enemies... but what does "standard" mean, anyway ? Well, these guys show up in numbers (at least with no other secondary role around), ranging from once to twice your headcount. They don't pose so much danger individually but more by either synergy with each other or by simply being able to gang up on one of you. The best way to fight them is to discern which type of crucial mob of their team you can take out the easiest while having the greatest impact, either by removing a key component from their teamwork or because they simply pose the biggest individual danger to your party. Remember, though, that although they are not super tough, they still might have enough hit points and defensive tricks to give you a hard time, particularly if they can maneuver around and force you to switch targets. For the remainder employ as many area powers as you can, both to shut them down as well as to already prepare the next killing targets. This tactic can also be turned into a regular approach if you have means to survive the first few rounds against a full force of enemies.
Leader This role is probably the least obvious yet most important to know about. It doesn't change the mob's statistic directly, but rather denotes all mobs that have the ability to buff or heal their fellows or even do tricks like granting them extra attacks and the like. As much as the a player Leader multiplies your strengths, so does a monster Leader for your enemies. If you encounter and notice one, it should become your highest priority target right away. The only really effective way to disable it is to kill it, because its abilities can hardly be countered in any other way. In cases where this isn't possible quickly enough, you should instead engage any weaker mobs very aggresively to lower the number of targets that can be buffed, and also try to seperate the Leader from its fellows by a significant distance.
Minion Special: worth 1/4th - 1/6th of a regular, dies on any successful hit or any auto-damage Although these are the red shirts of the monsters, don't underestimate them. Their basic damage can add up quickly due their great numbers, and that in particular is true if they have a special like a team bonus or ranged attacks. They are also great tactical enablers, for example by providing crucial flanking, blocking ways or threating many squares with OAs. Beware if they come in waves - normally that would make the fight easier, but against Minions you now cannot rely on one big trick and be done. When you encounter them the key is to dispose them as quickly as possible without losing your rhythm. Try to catch as many as possible with area effects or employ autodamage effects. But do not waste precious powers or standard actions to dispose just one.
Elite Special: worth 2x a regular (including HP), +2 to all saves, 1 AP These guys are quite dangerous as they usually have improved offenses, defenses and/or special tricks. But they still show up with some friends for the fight, usually being the tactical kingpin and cutting a swath for their fellows to exploit afterwards. Going up against these guys you face one of the toughest decisions - their prominent status would tempt you take them out quickly, but at the same time their resilience makes it much harder to succeed at that attempt, so decimating the regulars / Minions while avoiding the worst of can be viable as well. Much depends on the particular circumstances and composition of forces - the latter variant is usually the safer but also more taxing strategy, particularly as bloodying them often makes them even more dangerous.
Solo Special: worth 5x a regular (including HP), +5 to all saves, 2 APs A tough cookie to crack, these mobs bring muscle to a fight. Significantly surperior to regulars in every aspect, expect to suffer both debiliating effects to your whole party as well as big damage spikes against single members. They also might behave in very unsual ways thereby changing the usual combat pacing, so observe and adapt. While always very relevent the key to success against a Solo is the action economy. First you must remove any lesser opponents from the fight. At the same time use as much hard control against the Solo as you can (soft control won't do the job here) and simply suffer through it. Remember to keep some juice for the later part of the fight, as they become even more dangerous while bloodied and thus you want to finish them quickly from that mark.
The first step is to assess your opposition. You start by identifying each target. For information about that you either rely on descriptions provided by your DM and infer from these, you make regular monster knowledge checks* or watch the mobs' behavoir during the first combat round. Then you must answer the following three questions: 1) Which mobs pose the greatest danger to the party or particular members ? 2) Which mobs can be most easily delt with with your parties' capabilities ? 3) How is the tactical positioning, that is which mobs or party members are exposed and which are protected ?
In the second step you then decide your attack pattern, which should employ the tactic commonly known as divide and conquer. 1) Select one or a maximum of two targets to focus your efforts on. That usually but not always means damage as tool of choice. 2) Evaluate which other targets should be taken care of to stop them from inflicting too serious damage on your party. 3) Circumvent any other target you ignored as good as you can until later. Balancing these options is the key to success. If you focus very much you should expect to suffer significant backslash from the mobs you ignored. If you disperse too much you should expect to eat through your resources at high pace and slide into a war of attrition. After eliminating a priority target a secondary target should become the new primary, while a tertiary should now get attention to disrupt its efforts. The enemy will naturally attempt to employ the same method to overcome you in return.
Once you have a basic grasp on combat, it's a good idea to add some of alpha-striking to the tactical repertoire of your group.
* Let me take a minute here to praise the often overlooked Adventurer's Scion background (reroll any monster knowledge check, from Dragon #371) and promote getting appropriate knowledge skills for your party. Both together can make a siginificant difference by providing you crucial information right at the start of an encounter.
Controller Worst Enemy: Artillery | Brute | Controller | Lurker | Skirmisher | Soldier Best Target: Artillery | Brute | Controller | Lurker | Skirmisher | Soldier Best Target: Minion | Regular | Elite | Solo | Leader Instead of going outright for the kill, you focus your efforts on weakening your enemies and disrupting their tactics. While their life thus might last a bit longer, it will be oh so more miserable. Your success comes from the fact that you are able to spread your love to multiple targets at once, or by surgically ruining the day of a particularly strong target - best if you have options for both. It's wise to be able to choose between mobility and attack debuffing powers to fit the situation, where a Daze can situationally work as either, or simply enhance your party's general tactical positioning similar to forced movement. You pay for this mighty toolset by suffering from the weakest defenses among all. You make up for a it a bit due your ability to stay away from the heat of battle and the occasional power to bail you out, but beware of those mobs that manage to escape your and your Defender's grasp.
Defender Worst Enemy: Artillery | Brute | Controller | Lurker | Skirmisher | Soldier Best Target: Artillery | Brute | Controller | Lurker | Skirmisher | Soldier Best Target: Minion | Regular | Elite | Solo | Leader Your class features and natural resilience allow you to engage mobs head on and then keep them locked in that unfavourable position. While you have the best chances to survive a focused beating by the enemy, your primary goal is to force the enemies to spread their fire. You usually cover a weak side and thereby give your party members room to maneuver, while carefully balancing tieing up as many mobs as possible without loosing it. Even with your strong natural defenses and the option to choose powers to even improve these you are not invicible. But the prefered counter of the enemy will be outmaneuvering and debuffing you to first finish the squishier rest of your party - beware in particular of the common Dazed condition.
Leader Worst Enemy: Artillery | Brute | Controller | Lurker | Skirmisher | Soldier Best Target: none (depends on your secondary role or whom you support - usually your Strikers) Alone you usually don't pose much of a threat. Instead you act as a multiplier for your other party members - which automatically means you will normally go up against the highest priority targets to help your allies to get their job done well and reliable. You also help them to get into a good position for that in the first place. At last you have tools at hand to undo any damage the mobs did to your party to keep your well oiled machine of destruction up and running. As such you naturally become a high priority target - mobs neither like to see their efforts undone with just a minor action, nor see you bolstering your allies even further. While you have a bit above average defenses, you completely lack any emergency powers while you usually must stay at least close to the heart of battle. That means you have to in particular watch out for mobs with either high sustained or very bursty damage, because if you get gang up and beaten up, there is rarely someone to bail you out.
Striker Worst Enemy: Artillery | Brute | Controller | Lurker | Skirmisher | Soldier Best Target: Artillery | Brute | Controller | Lurker | Skirmisher | Soldier Best Target: Minion | Regular | Elite | Solo | Leader Many people associate doing damage as the Striker speciality - while not strictly wrong, they are severely mistaken. Every role can and should do damage and even strife for it, given they have room in their build. The Striker's job is to deliver damage reliably, quickly and surgically against the highest priority target. As such you engage those that are most likely to fall to a quick damage burst as well as those which cannot be countered well by any other means. High mobility makes it hard to pin you down, and powers supporting your rather average defenses help to avoid suffering your own medicine. If you neglect smart positioning and power usage or mobs can get around your survival tricks, you are likely to hit the dirt in short order.
Monster Defenses AC: This is more or less the standard defense. It usually is somewhat higher than the others (NADs), but you get your proficiency bonus against it as well. The good thing is that, apart from the regular exceptions - Soldiers higher, Artillery and Brutes lower, there is little variantion in it and thus targetting it will provide you with a very reliable performance. In case you get weapon attacks targetting a defense other than AC you should consider it a boon, as NADs higher than AC are an extremely rare occasion. Fortitude: Often dubbed as no-go, this has to be considered purely a myth. What is true is that Brutes and Soldiers have a quite high Fort, but on the other hand Artilleries, Lurkers and Skirmishers usually not only have a low Fort, but it's often even lower than their Ref. Now consider that many strong movement imparing effects like prone or immobilise work well against these, and you see that Fort powers definately have their rightful place - just make sure that you have an alternative at hand. Reflex: While lower on avarage than Fort, it can be considered its mirror as it's often high on Artilleries and the mobile Lurkers and Skirmishers. You can get by with only targetting Ref, but you will feel the defense bump against those mobs and you often will miss the opportunity to grab some different kind of effects. Will: Usually the best because lowest defense to target, it can get quite high on caster like mobs, Controllers and certain themed mobs. The worst news, though, is that Elites and in particular Solos tend to have a good Will, which can hurt many Will focused builds quite badly, not the least because typical Will effects seem usually to be geared for use against Elites and Solos.
Elemental Damage Types For advise how to produce certain damage types yourself, please refer to the elemental damage guide (by Dielzen). In case you seek resistance against any particular type, apart from specialised options both Armor (of any kind) and Potions (for a Healing Surge) of Resistance can help. Acid: An uncommon but not rare type to both be dealt as well as resisted, it usually is associated with straight damage dealing. Cold: Again an uncommon type, it often comes in concert with movement oriented debuffs. On the other hand it sometimes can help to counter the more common Fire type monsters. Fire: This is one of the three common damage types, so expect it to be resisted often (although immunities are still very rare), and be one the recieving end as well - usually in the form of high damage, large area attacks. Force: Probably is the most rare type both be dealt and resisted. If you can deal it, it helps you to get around Insubstantial for the cost of a feat. Lightning: Uncommon early, but common at higher levels when going up against mobs of primordial or sometimes divine origin. It often comes together together with Thunder, and is the damage and multi-target oriented part of the pair. Necrotic: The second common damage type, this is a good type be have resistance against and a bad type to deal. It has a strong connection to undead as well as many attack debuffing effects. It also often comes in concert with Poison - against both a Gravespawn potion helps. Poison: It's dealt even more common than Necrotic, not only by undead but also beasts and more insidious humanoids, and resisted as well as completely negated by all non-living mobs like undeads and constructs. It very often carries a debuff, which in this case can be of almost any kind. Again, keep a Gravespawn potion at hand. Psychic: The type associated with beings from beyond the universe, psionics and any charm and illusion effects, it's a fairly common type of damage - although simply a good Will defense will help as well. Resistance against it, except the aforementioned good Will, is a rare thing though. Radiant: A rare type except for high level play with many angelic beings, it can be a huge asset to deal because most undead and some other shadowy mobs show vulnarebility or some other kind of other weakness against it. Thunder: The brother of Lightning, it as well comes into play only at higher levels, where it takes up the area and debuffing part, particularly often in the form of dazing.
-- feedback ! -- other sections to possible add -- statistical compilations about varios monster traits or... -- a working database parser -- other sources
6.3 Remarks Thanks for Contributions: Auspex7, LlamasNotsheep
In-play experiences, criticism and suggestion are always welcome. This guide has been and is a lot of work. If you have used it, please have the courtesy to drop a line here and tell me how you liked it !