Last night at D&D Encounters my group steamrolled through the fight. We had 2 warpriests, 1 druid, 1 hexblade, 1 thief, and a paladin. In other words, 3 leaders, 2 strikers and a defender. It didn’t even feel like a challenge. I was playing one of the warpriests and between me and the other warpriest we gave the party enough temporary HP’s, bonuses to defenses and resistance to damage that only one person in the party spent a healing surge. That was me, and the only reason I took enough damage to warrant spending my second wind was that I moved around enough provoking opportunity attacks to give my allies flanks. Of course when I spent my second wind I got temporary HP’s and my allies got some more as well  (the Disciple of Light & Disciple of Stone feats).

The fight lasted 4 or 5 rounds and I think during each round nearly everyone in the party had some amount of temporary HP. Everyone had boosted defenses and at least 1 person every round got the damage resistance from either mine or the other warpriests Blessing of Battle. The druid? He just attacked the enemies with his wolf. All total we had 8 different ways to heal (6 healing words, 1 resurgent strength, and the druids healing acorn)…and none of them were used.

This encounter is similar to last weeks fight at D&D Encounters in that we had stacked up heavy on 1 type of role. Last week we had 3 controllers, 1 leader, 1 defender and 2 strikers at my table. Yes, both weeks we’ve had a large number of PC’s, but that’s the same at the other table. We get between 8 and 12 people showing up every week and don’t have quite enough people for a 3rd table yet, so we stack up on the 2 tables. It’s been interesting for me as it’s a chance to observe how the roles in 4th edition are tied tightly to how an encounter runs. In last weeks fight the 3 controllers sat behind our shieldwall of the warpriest, knight, and fighter while the thief skirmished across the line and back. We destroyed the waves of zombies before they could mass a large assault, and the zones dropped in front of the shieldwall reduced the zombies effectiveness so much that it was just a mop-up.

I’ve been intrigued by the concept and execution of roles in 4th edition ever since I started playing. It’s probably the most interesting meta-aspect of the game to me and I think that the typical, balanced party would ideally consist of a controller, leader, defender, and 2 strikers. I’ve seen what happens with excess controllers, leaders, strikers and I’m imagining what would happen with excess defenders. The controllers and leaders examples are from the D&D Encounters recounted above, while the Dark Sun homegame I play in seems to be Striker heavy. Although we’ve had heavy PC attrition (4 PC deaths in 2 months) the group usually consists of a leader, hybrid striker/controller, striker, striker and my defender-in-name-only Mul gladiator fighter. I say in name only because he was the first real 4th edition character that I made and I didn’t really grasp the idea of a defender fighter, so I took the powers and abilities that make him hit harder instead of forcing enemies to attack him. He’s basically a high HP striker and more than once has been the last character standing tall after a fight thanks to his high HP and number of healing surges. But I haven’t been playing him like a defender at all, so our group is about 3/4’s strikers. We put out some serious damage but we also get hurt a lot. Did I mention that we’ve had 4 PC’s die in 2 months of play? It’s a brutal game, but it’s great fun and I think it’s maybe how dark sun should be run. I think too much safety and protection (i.e. an actual defender, an additional leader) would take away some of the great risk that we play with and enjoy in the game.

More on roles later.

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After the Encounters game I came home and my friend Jack came over to the house to help me test some wargame rules I came up with. Thanks to helpful D&D nerds on twitter I got pointed to a bunch of 4e wargame type material. Unfortunately the really nice stuff costs money (Soldiers of Fortune & Hard Boiled Armies to name a few) so in the time honored fashion of gaming on a budget I made up my own rules.

I took some advice from others and treated a collection of units as a single group. Using the Monster Builder I created 4 different types of groups; the Shieldwall, the Infantry, the Archers, and the Medics. There are a few differences between these stat cards and regular monsters, otherwise they run the same way. The HP value doesn’t represent Hit Points. It represents the number of units in that group. When a group gets attacked and takes damage, the damage value is how many units it loses. So if the archers shoot the shieldwall for 6 damage, the shieldwall loses 6 units.

Though it didn’t print on the cards, each unit has 1 healing surge that revives a certain number of units within that group. The healing surge value is standardized at half the bloodied value. That’s pretty much it. Other than those changes they have the stats for a 3rd level monster, with a few exceptions. I hand adjusted their Defense values and during the playtest it became obvious that some numbers needed to be changed.

The basic setup is that of the enemy warbands attacking a small town. There’s a wide river and stone bridge that crosses it and the PC’s will be the town’s defenders. Here’s the aftermath of the battle . The units on the left are the enemy archers and medics, and the enemy infantry has pushed its way through the PC’s shieldwall and decimated their infantry. The playtest was a loss for Jack who was running the PC’s side, but it did highlight a number of things that needed to be changed and things that I hadn’t thought of.

The damage values worked out okay for the most part, but the archers armor class was way too low and their damage output was too high. So I’ll adjust their damage to a flat die roll and boost their AC to 16 or 18. The shieldwall couldn’t hit anything with its attack, but it’s defenses worked out great, especially when combined with the medics aura.

As far as Jack’s tactics went, the first thing he did was to divide the 20-man shieldwall into 4 groups of 5 units each. I hadn’t planned on that but it worked out fairly well. I’m going to change the cards to have smaller unit sizes, so instead of handing the PC playing the shieldwall a single card with 20 figures in a huge block formation, the PC will get 4 cards with 5-man formations that he can move around. Breaking up the large 20 and 25 man units was a good part of Jack’s strategy and something I’ll incorporate in the next version of the cards.

Jack had 1 type of each unit, while I gave the enemy an extra archer and took away their shieldwall. The battle went pretty straightforward, with my archers focusing on his archers and then his infantry, while my infantry pushed their way across the bridge. If he had kept his shieldwall locked on the bridge instead of moving them back and let his infantry come in and fight on the bridge it would have been a different fight. As it was his infantry got shredded and my infantry pushed past them and surrounded his remaining shieldwall and medics.

The battle took a little over an hour to play, so I was real pleased with that time. I’ve got a 4 hour slot at the game store and I want the battle to take about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, something that is big and exciting. A normal D&D fight that lasts that long would be tedious, but because this is basically wargame D&D I think it’ll work out pretty well.

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