AbstractThe intent of this page is to outline the philosophy that is at the core of the Leader role. It is not so much a strategy guide or even a guide to which powers are better than others, but an attempt at explaining what it is that the Leader does, why they do it, and how they get there in such a way that tactics, strategy, power selection, and such make more sense.
As a brief example to illustrate how this works: a "Bard Guide" may rate several of the lower level encounter powers that generate additional saving throws as "meh" when compared to many of the more offensive powers available alongside them, however Saving Throw generation is an important part of the Leader role, especially entering Paragon and even as early as mid-Heroic, and the Bard class is light on options for Saving Throw generation. Without recognizing this as an aspect of the Role it's possible to end up with no options for generating additional Saving Throws within the party, leaving the party more vulnerable to status effects.
The inverse of this is stacking up entirely on one kind of bonus to the exclusion of all others. However, all told that's not inherently a problem since the actual balance any given party needs is much more complex than any guide can fully detail, and the basic structure of the game means that the absence of these Leader functions may not actually be noticed in the sense that the game will become unplayable.
So then, why bother with this guide? Because a well built leader can tune their party into an unstoppable machine and these things are the "point" of bringing a Leader in the first place instead of bringing another Striker.
Basic ConceptsThe Leader, at its most basic level, is a catalyst for party dynamics, as some have put it a "force multiplier". The Leader role centers around improving the functions of the party in four main areas:
- Hit Points
- Saving Throws
Beyond this are a wide variety of specialized advantages that each Leader class brings. They aren't included in the list above because they aren't universally present in Leader classes, and tend to be much more dependent on group make up to take advantage of (thus difficult to quantify,) and includes things like manipulation of initiative and positioning.
Attacks:Attacks are augmented in two primary ways: accuracy and efficacy. Either the attack will be more likely to hit or it will do more damage when it does it. There are a few powers that augment both. Accuracy bonuses tend to be higher or scale with level if they stem from and apply to melee attacks only, while bonuses that apply to ranged as well as melee are usually small and static. Shaman has some exceptions to this, but these require shrewed movement of their Spirit Companion as they'll typically require a Spirit attack after which the Spirit must be moved adjacent to the ranged characters. Damage bonuses are much more lenient across the board.
A secondary method of augmenting attacks, half filed under accuracy, is quantity. Generating additional attacks, frequently with bonuses to either accuracy or damage, can be a very powerful ability, and any power that allows you to do this should be weighed very carefully in your arsenal. So what if the Barbarian can do 1d12+10 damage when you can do 1d12+15, using the Barbarian like a hammer.
There is a principal divide between Ranged and Melee in how they interact with leaders that requires the ranged characters to either be very close to the melee to benefit, or else settle for few, if any, accuracy buffs and fewer damage buffs. From a design standpoint this means that the designers consider the ability to participate in a fight at a range greater than 5 squares to be a significant advantage worth the loss of scaling or targeted bonuses, while a range greater than 10 is worth the loss of almost all bonuses. As a personal note, there is merit to this, as I've seen a bow Ranger go from 0 xp to level 2 without taking a single point of damage.
Note that many things that don't directly appear as Attack augmentations actually are. Penalties to a target's defenses increase the accuracy of all party members attacking that defense, and conditions that grant Combat Advantage potentially augment both attack and damage.
Taken in aggregate, this is perhaps the most vital aspect of the Role as the damage generated by a leader, between attacks that would have missed, bonus damage to attacks, and additional attacks can exceed the output of the Strikers. Remember: the rest of the party is a tool in your box.
Defenses:Defense augmentations are reasonably straightforward and apply more evenly than attack augmentations, though there is still a leaning towards melee, though in this context it makes more sense as the primary advantage of range is a defensive advantage: better choice of advantageous terrain, cover, concealment, and potentially obstruction of Line of Sight and Line of Effect. Defensive bonuses tend towards fixed bonuses more than scaling bonuses, though the scaling ones have a significant trend towards Interrupts, allowing the Leader to turn a hit into a miss, potentially negating a very significant amount of damage.
As with Attacks these aren't always direct buffs, but also form as targeted debuffs: a -2 to attack is the same as a +2 defense bonus to the entire party, but limited only to the targets hit.
Defensive augmentations are a bit more controversial in value because of how the game interactions actually play out: unless you can buff defenses by a big number, in a controlled situation, or for a long time then it's not worth it. A +1 AC ENT isn't very valuable in a generic circumstance, it requires a sidelong case where you can ensure that the Defender is going to be the target of incoming AC attacks either in bulk (lots of chance for a +1 to turn a hit into a miss) or in a case where the Defender is already at the edge of "hitability" (i.e. the opponent already needs a 15+.) +1 AC to the entire group ENT is a bit more valuable as it removes the need for prediction, but is still low, and many party members have an AC low enough that the +1 won't turn an average hit into a miss. +1 AC EOE is decent enough, as in the right encounter the recipient may be the target of 10-30 (or more) AC attacks. Again, the variables in consideration are duration, control, and amplitude: does it last long enough to see effective play, can it be targeted in such a way as to ensure effectiveness, and is it big enough to be effective?
A final factor to be considered is the psychological aspect of the game: if you can apply a large enough defensive buff to a party member then the DM may decide that it just isn't worth making the attack against the target. While the attack that is made may hit the other target, reducing the group HP pool, the reduction was controlled away from where it was (presumably) unwanted. This, then, begins to bleed over into the realm of HP management.
The author's personal preference is for defensive bonuses that either apply across the party or are applied as Immediate Interrupts.
Hit Points:Perhaps the most iconic aspect of the Leader role, hit point management is frequently seen as the "reason" for the role. The goal for hit point management is fairly straightforward: keep the party standing. The most basic level of HP management available to all Leaders, regardless of spec, are the ____ Word powers (though Shaman and Artificer have broken this naming convention). These powers access Healing Surges and provide some additional benefit on top, typically additional healing in excess of the Surge value. The advantages here are straightforward: Leaders make surges go further, reducing the party's threat profile and extending the number of encounters a party can face before running out of surges. In a generalized ratio Leaders provide a 2:3 ratio, with two augmented surges equaling the value of three bare surges. The obvious variables in this are target, Defenders may get less than 2:3 while Controllers may get 1:2, and specific Leader class, with some providing fewer bonus dice or no stat-mod bonus.
The two others forms of HP management stem from surge-free healing and Temporary Hit Points (THP). THP are "cheaper" than real hit points, being frequently available at-will and in larger quantities, largely because they don't stack and disappear at the end of the encounter. THP are only effective if spent, where HP are always effective so long as the target is not at full. Because they function like an ablative shield THP are more of a defensive augmentation, but I'm discussing them here because they relate directly to HP rather than incidentally (see the discussion above about defenses bleeding into HP management). As well unlike other defensive augmentations THP have a very low opportunity cost that does a lot to dilute waste: if I give the Wizard 5 THP near the beginning of the encounter they will be put to effective use if she takes any damage between now and then with no effort required on my (or her) part to maintain them.