Why You Want A Controller In Your Party

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on December 4, 2009

Combat in 4e Dungeons & Dragons is a tactical affair. The effective use of conditions and the importance of movement demand that an effective party do more than just attack. The party needs to attack as an efficient cohesive unit, where every resource is used to best advantage.

This requires that someone call the shots. A default assumption might be for the leader in the party to be that person, after all leaders lead. But is that really the best decision? Is the leader dazing, stunning, slowing, moving or immobilizing their opponents?

Didn’t think so, no that duty rest primarily with the party’s controller.

In a recent poll over 50% of respondents indicated that the controller was the one role that a party could do without. Since that time I’ve taken the opportunity to play the controller at the various tiers. This hands-on experience caused me to re-evaluate my own thoughts on the controller.

I’ll be the first to admit that at the low heroic tier the controller really doesn’t shine. Little more than a glorified minion killer, the controllers abilities to manipulate the battlefield have little impact on the overall battle. The reason for this is simple – everyone else is doing enough damage to quickly kill the monsters in the encounter. As a result the true strength of the controller is lost. Where this starts to change is the high heroic tier and above. In short, when enemy monsters have enough hit points that they aren’t dying in 2 or 3 hits.

Now some of you are probably thinking, Wimwick, I don’t buy it. I’d rather have an extra striker than a controller anyday. Perhaps you’re right, strikers are great and are probabily my favourite roll to play. But consider this: when playing the final encounter of the level 30 dungeon delve my group did it with only 3 PCs. Two controllers and one striker. We walked all over the encounter, in fact if our leader could have been there he would have been bored because we didn’t need any healing.

This is why you want a controller in your party. The controller is able to remove combatants from the encounter until the party is ready to deal with them. With a controller calling the shots, the defenders and melee striker know where to move to, what squares are safe and which ones are about to be hit with a blast or burst attack. As the controller is the member of the party that’s initiating most of these effects, it makes sense that they are also directing the battle, ensuring that the party’s resources are best used.

The result, quicker combats, less healing surges used and the feeling that your PCs are truly legendary in their ability to deal with all encounters. If you’ve dismissed controllers as a role that can be done without, I’d urge you to give them a second look especially in the paragon and epic tiers.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 anarkeith December 4, 2009 at 3:40 pm

I’m currently playing a 4th level Illusionist. Yup, she doesn’t add a lot to dropping enemies, and doesn’t get the big pats on the back at the end of combat for epic crits. She just quietly stalls enemy charges, puts monsters on their backs, or dazes them. Small contributions that aid the effort. As a player, you have to be comfortable with that. It’s about role-playing over roll-playing. Not that one is better than the other.

That said, I hope (if she survives) that she’ll become an epic manipulator of minds, feared by monsters and NPCs as a mind flayer is feared by PCs.

2 Etherrider December 4, 2009 at 10:55 pm

The controller is sorta like the old Cleric class. Stay in the back and dish out some stuff here and there and no one realizes that how much he really contributed to the combat.

In the old days, no one ever counted how much damage I would heal them for during combat and they would slap the backs of all those damage causers.

Now, monsters without much ranged attacks get immobilized before they close, others get dazed and now hit far less often…all these actions allowing defenders to have to “stickie” fewer creatures while strikers can team-up on creatures.

Very good write up and perhaps it will help others see controllers for what they can truely be.

3 Geek Ken December 5, 2009 at 7:19 am

I always thought the wizards got shafted a bit when 4E came out. I think it was being an adjustment from the previous editions where they could be a glass cannon, to more of a tactical asset in combat. Glad to see you are getting some fun out of him. I’m hoping to see someone in my group willing to dabble a bit with controllers. Sadly I think they love the strikers and defenders too much right now.

4 Pierre Gagnon December 6, 2009 at 11:50 pm

Well, in my game, each player has two characters (very small group), and each of them has a striker and another character class (Rogue and Invoker, Warlock and Cleric, then Ranger and Paladin). I think that in a way, they all seem to enjoy both their roles: the striker aspect gives them the feeling of high numbers, while the other roles grant them the satisfaction of playing strategically.

My next challenge, however, is to put them before a 3 character game, where they’ll really be forced to chose their role wisely.

5 Wimwick December 8, 2009 at 7:54 pm

@ anarkeith
You’ve hit the nail on the head, when playing a controller you need to realize that you aren’t going to hog the limelight, and you need to be happy with that.

@ Etherrider
You’ve presented an interesting tactic. The controllers are able to keep the majority of npc’s from attacking, which allows the defender to to physically protect the rest of the party.

@ Geek Ken
If you want your players to enjoy the controller role, have them play a Druid or Seeker with Striker as their secondary role. They will immediately see the benefit of the controller and will still get to dish out some damage.

@ Pierre Gagnon
I find when I’m given the option of playing two characters I always end up favouring one of them. Also as you rise through the tiers in 4e tracking powers and daily item usage can become cumbersome, especially if you are running two PC’s.

6 Matt December 10, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Hmm, I might have to see if I can prise the reins of Controller from the hands of the player who seems to do not much else other than flaming sphere :/
Reading about them initially controllers seemed like a great role, but what I’ve seen of them in action didn’t inspire.

7 mike December 10, 2009 at 12:21 pm

The controller in my group is a powerhouse, he takes out minions, creates damaging zones that affect enemies, and sets up the players to do more damage then before. A controller changes the battlefield and combat conditions in the advantage of the party. Its not 20 damage, its 5 damage to 20 guys who gets slowed as well.

I have never seen a situation were a well developed controller could not improve the parties odds

8 Toldain December 10, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Having played controller classes in MMORPG’s for a long time, I’m a big advocate of the role, but there’s a limit, which is why their usefulness isn’t obvious at first.

More offense, more damage dealing, is always helpful. More defense than “enough” doesn’t really do much. Control abilities go under the defense category. So if you are running encounters that don’t test the party’s defenses, the controller seems unnecessary.

Then there’s the times when you are about to be overwhelmed by a wave of attackers, the controller waves his wand (or in my case, gives his shiny smile and tosses his fabulous red hair) and the problem goes away. Problem solved, easy mode.

But the other reason that people don’t like controllers in 4e is that it creates a conflict of interest. Melee types want to rush in, but if they do so, it will get in the way of the big area effect spell that was just cast. This stuff doesn’t work with a party that doesn’t trust each other and can’t play as a team.
.-= Toldain´s last blog ..Raven Incoming, Red Tag =-.

9 Wimwick December 10, 2009 at 8:54 pm

@ Matt
If all your controller is doing is flaming sphere, they are sorely neglecting the avilities of their class. Give it a shot, especially if you’re playing at Paragon or higher level.

@ Mike
I agree a well played controller makes everyone play better.

@ Toldain
I agree that controllers aren’t like or at least misunderstood because other players ‘get in the way’. After getting caught by a few blasts the tanks and strikers will look to the controller for direction.

10 Philo Pharynx December 11, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I’ve been rebuilding my genasi wizard over the last few levels. That’s when playing a controller ‘clicked’ in my head and I realized how to change things to make her work better. When you have the mindset, it works really well. 4e has a number of issues, big and small, that require the right mindset to get the best use out of.

11 Dominic Amann March 1, 2010 at 7:23 pm

My first LFR character is a controller, and has played all the way to paragon. Even at early levels, the ability to slow an enemy with a ranged at-will is amazingly useful, and throughout the levels, I have been able to shape the battle – putting two or three monsters on hold while the party finishes off the other 2 or 3 – putting in the killing blow on others, or getting a large bunch all nicely damaged for the strikers to get some quick kills.

There have been a couple of combats with ACs that required even our strikers needed to roll 17s (and the defender to roll a 20) to hit – but I have been able to not only hit with a 13 (will or reflex), but have given my allies combat advantage so they needed only 15s and 18s. The ability to freely choose the defense to target is priceless.

In short, a controller can create blocking, concealing and hindering terrain, damaging (hazardous) terrain, cause damage in up to 49 squares simultaneously (or more with an enlarge), give direct advantage to his allies, or improve his allies defenses. In addition, a large number of utility powers let the controller gain access to inaccessible areas, reveal invisible objects, respond to personal attacks. Then there are rituals – which can turn a skill challenge into a cakewalk even when a vital role is missing in your party.

Take it from me – there is no party which is not stronger with the addition of a well prepared controller.

12 Wizard August 24, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Does it have something to do with the complexity of a controller? Strikers are (usually) easy to play, and thus many like them.

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