Adventuring With A Sub-Optimal Party (Part 3)

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on July 21, 2010

The Dungeon Master’s Guide recommends that an adventuring party be comprised of five adventurers with all four roles being covered. Of course there are going to be instances where only three of four roles are represented in an adventuring party. Maybe you’re playing in a public game, like and LFR adventure, and none of the players brought a PC to fill one of the roles. Or maybe none of the players in your group enjoy playing a particular role.

Some would argue that the controller is not an essential role. Of the four roles most players feel the controller is easily the most dispensable. About a year ago we ran a poll asking which role a party could do without. The controller won that dubious honour hands down. While the early heroic tier might support this viewpoint, it quickly becomes evident that controllers are indispensable by the time a party hits the middle of the paragon tier. Controllers are more than capable of carrying a party forward to victory. The fact is you want a controller in your party.

But what happens when this vital member of any adventuring party is missing?

This is the third installment of this series in which we examine adventuring in a sub-optimal party. We’ve already already looked at a party without a leader in Part 1 and defender in Part 2. The focus this time around is the absence of the controller.

The controller’s role is aptly named. More than any other role the controller literally controls the battlefield. The controller role plays such an important part in the tactical aspect of combat that if a controller tells you not to move to a certain square it would be wise to listen. For this reason controllers are a great role to call out targets and pick which enemy is the next to be targeted. Controllers are also known as minion killers. One well placed burst or blast from a controller can eliminate half the enemies the party faces.

When the controller is missing from the party mix it puts a great deal of strain on the other PCs. This becomes more relevant and visible as an adventuring party increases in level. Without a controller present the battlefield can get very crowded very quickly. There are two adjustments that a party missing a controller can make to help even the odds: An off tank and effective use of terrain.

The Off Tank

Off tanking is a term I first encountered during my days of playing EQ and it has become more ingrained with the MMO genre. While I don’t want to engage in a “4e D&D is really a MMO” debate here, the concept of an off tank is one that parties without a controller should consider adopting. For those not familiar with the concept of the off tank, it is simply a secondary defender that engages whatever target the party isn’t focusing fire on.

Where the 4e version of an off tank differs from those found in a MMO is that in a MMO the party can normally control how many enemies they might fight at a time. With D&D the party is facing whatever monsters are on the map because they don’t have the ability to selectively pull certain enemies. Thankfully there is no aggro range in D&D. This makes the job of the off tank more difficult as there are multiple enemies they would need to contain. For this reason it is best if all the defenders in the party work together to help contain and control the battlefield. By ensuring they attack different targets more enemies become marked allowing the defender to take advantage of their various class features. The remainder of the party then focuses their fire on the first enemy to be eliminated.

When employing the off tank strategy the party leader should provide defensive bonuses to the off tank and offensive bonuses to the other members of the party. Spreading resources out in this manner should allow healing surges to be conserved and still allow the maximum amount of damage to be dealt.

Effective Use Of Terrain And Movement

4e D&D is a tactical game when it comes to combat. In one of the earlier installments we discussed the importance of tactical movement in the absence of a leader. Without a controller in the party the use of tactical movement becomes more a matter of using terrain more effectively.

Using terrain features to gain cover and concealment is something that PCs should already be doing. Without a controller the party needs to find a new way to control the battlefield. One easy way to do that is take advantage of attack options like bull rush. If the map has a cliff, pit or body of water finding a way to bull rush opponents over it is a great way to remove them from the fight for a round or two. If you’re really lucky it may remove the opponent from the fight permanently.

Another strategy worth employing is grappling. Combined with force movement, grappling an opponent keeps them away from the rest of the party. This is a great way to keep a tough melee combatant from shredding up softer targets like the striker and leader. It works equally as well on ranged targets who now need to make less effective melee attacks or trigger attacks of opportunity in order to attack from range.

For more on our series of non-standard adventuring parties, read:

Does your current adventuring party lack a controller? How have you made the adjustment?

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