Adventuring With A Sub-Optimal Party (Part 4)

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on July 30, 2010

Strikers are flashy and deadly, cunning and dangerous and every adventuring party needs one. Strikers are the damage dealers of 4e D&D and most parties have at least two of them. Ideally, one striker attacks from range and the other melee. The striker’s ability to dish out a lot of damage keeps combat moving at a good pace and protects the party from burning through too many healing surges and other resources. In short, combat ends sooner when there are strikers on hand. But what happens when an adventuring party doesn’t have representation from this essential role?

This is the fourth article in our series on adventuring with non-standard adventuring parties. Be sure to read the installments on parties without a leader, defender or controller. Our final installment focuses on the absence of the striker in the adventuring party and the adjustments that need to be made by the remaining party members to survive.

Of the four roles in 4e D&D, strikers are the ones who deal the most of damage. With the striker missing from the party a noticeable gap becomes most apparent during combat. Combat tends to last longer when the striker is missing, party resources are used more often and the party takes extended rests more frequent. A party without a striker needs to consider two important options when approaching combat encounters: the possibility of retreat and the power of parlay.

Retreat and Live To Fight Another Day

4e D&D is centered around combat and no one likes to flee, it simply isn’t heroic or inspiring. More parties need to consider fleeing, especially if combat looks like it’s going to go on longer than the party can last given the absence of a striker.

Retreat is seen as the option of last resort and usually happens only when the party realizes they cannot defeat a certain monster or when a total party kill is imminent. What PCs fail to realize is that retreating can be a tactical move that allows them to reposition themselves to either finish off the encounter or advance to the next. In short, retreating is a tactical decision that can be used to not only run away, but in some circumstances to advance.

Imagine that the party has defeated just over half of the monsters in an encounter. The remaining monsters don’t know what resources the PCs have left at their disposal, they only know that all the PCs are still standing and their own numbers have dwindled. If the PCs attempt to move forward there is a chance that the monster might let them.

The likelihood of this occurring depends on the relative intelligence of the monster. Some will continue to attack regardless of the situation. Others, especially those that are intelligent, may simply be satisfied they are still alive and allow the PCs to move forward.

The DM should be very careful about rewarding this option. If it is constantly used it will eventually become abusive and the party will get experience they didn’t really earn and certainly don’t deserve. It also trivializes encounters and allows the PCs to think this behaviour is normal, which it is not. Attempting to advance tactically is a calculated decision that can backfire on the PCs leading to great role-playing opportunities.

Of course, the party may simply need to flee in order to lick their wounds before coming back again after a short rest. Sometimes discretion truly is the better part of valour. And when flight fails, there is always diplomacy to fall back on.

Diplomacy, Bluff and Intimidate

Bluff, Diplomacy and Intimidate are the three primary skills that govern the social aspects of D&D. A resourceful party can use all three to bypass combat or to get out of combat early.

Bluff is the art of the con, of distraction and misdirection. How often have you read a novel where the party created a small diversion and then just walked on past a guard? Or perhaps they created a cunning ruse that only needed to pass inspection for a moment to gain access to the next part of the keep? Rather than fight the guards and draw attention, why not adopt the tactics of misdirection and gain the ability to slip by undetected or at least to not be seen as a threat?

The danger to this approach is that misdirection doesn’t always work. In fact it could backfire on the party if they aren’t careful. After all, the guards are still present and now they’ll be embarrassed that they were caught being negligent in their duties. This is where the art of diplomacy becomes important. Diplomacy can been described as getting someone else to achieve a desired outcome for you. Ideally, you offer as little as possible to achieve your desired outcome.

However, there is nothing wrong with greasing the odd palm with coin in order for them to look away for a brief moment. Diplomacy more than any other skill is tied to Insight. Using these two skills in tandem, a PC can learn what motivates an NPC, and with this information the party can better accomplish their goals.

When deception and diplomacy fail there is always the threat of violence. Intimidate is a great way to make an NPC think twice about attacking a PC in the first place. The real use of the skill comes into effect during combat. As a standard action any PC can use Intimidate to force a bloodied opponent to surrender. While it might be flashier and more exciting to continue to attack, when resources are at a premium forcing surrender is a wise approach. In the higher tiers a bloodied foe might still have over 100 hit points and take several rounds to eliminate. A successful Intimidate check does that in one action. Who needs a striker now?

Have you played in a group that didn’t have a striker present? What kinds of adjustments did the party need to make? Was the absence of high single target damage output missed?

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

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeff July 30, 2010 at 3:15 pm

I know this isn’t article specific…but where is the Dark Sun Encounters weekly update? I really missed that article yesterday.

2 Wimwick July 30, 2010 at 3:27 pm

@ Jeff
Unfortunately Ameron wasn’t able to make the regular session and I don’t play the Encounters games due to work, so no update this week. Next week we are both at GenCon so there will be no update then either.

3 Dungeon Newbie August 1, 2010 at 5:38 am

Hmm… on the whole, a good article, but I failed to mention a third way to win without a striker, that is, wearing down the enemy. If your party is crammed with defenders and controllers, you can just have some high hp or high defense damage soakers come up to the front and suck up the damage, while the cleric heals them from behind. Eventually, the monsters will be tired out and will either surrender or die. Of course, this only works against stupid monsters who don’t know battle tactics, i.e, killing the cleric or concentrating fire.

4 Jeff August 2, 2010 at 10:59 am

@Wimwick – Thanks for the response. I’m sure there will be a lot of FLGS missing their Encounters group during GenCon :-) Hope you enjoy it!

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