What Is The Best Control Power?

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on May 30, 2011

Defenders soak up damage. Leaders heal the wounded. Strikers inflict devastating amounts of damage. Controllers manipulate the battlefield.

A character’s place in a D&D party is largely defined by the role the class associates with. We’ve all been in situations where we have needed an opponent dazed so we could move without provoking an opportunity attack or so we could gain combat advantage. We’ve all wanted an opponent moved so that we wouldn’t start our turn in its aura and subsequently take damage that would drop our hit points below zero. In short, we’ve all needed the benefit of a control power at some critical point during combat. The question is which control power is best?

Now, I’m not asking if a Wizard is better than an Invoker. Instead, what I want to know is what is the best condition a controller can apply on his attacks?

For a recent home game I created a new character that was primarily a highly specialized controller. You can read about the process I used to create the character in a recent post: Move Over Character Builder. The design and subsequent play of this character has led me to question what the most effective control power is.

I asked Ameron this very question and I received the expected answer. The best control power is stun, however it is rare. I can’t say I disagree. I hate being stunned and love it when the enemy is. However, given its rarity we need to look beyond just one stun power and dig a little deeper to find the best control power. I would argue that the best control power is damage.

Never in my time playing D&D have I been told not to inflict damage. Never have I been told I have dealt too much damage. Damage, and the ability to deal a lot of it, is the ultimate way to control the battle. The best part about being a controller is that you usually get additional control conditions with your damage. You also generally target multiple opponents with your attacks.

Now I will admit that the average controller is not going to deal more damage than the average striker. With burst damage and builds that focus on destroying single targets, strikers are the undisputed masters of high amounts of damage. However, controllers can do something that strikers cannot and that is target multiple foes with their attacks. If, as a controller, you can maximize your damage output you will find that you are the envy of many a striker.

Admittedly at the lower heroic tier your controller may not appear to be anything other than a glorified minion killer. However, as you advance into the paragon tier that begins to change. As more feat slots open up so to do the opportunities to select feats and magic items that allow you to maximize your damage.

The Dungeon’s Master home game is on the threshold of entering into the epic tier. As this level of play is where I am currently playing the game I decided to do a small test. Creating a level 18 Wizard I looked to see how high I could get my damage output. I ended up with a +22 to all damage. Given a Wizard can normally attack in a burst or blast that’s a substantial amount of extra damage to multiple opponents. I compared this to the Ranger in our party. What I found was that the Ranger was doing more damage on average, however the Ranger’s damage was only being applied to one target (or two if Twin Strike hit both times).

What this comparison really emphasized was that as characters progress in level the line between what each class and role does begins to blur. The absolute exception to this is the leaders encounter healing powers, which are exclusive to the leader role.

In considering what is the best condition a controller can apply I won’t disagree with Ameron. I’ll always take a stun, however I’d like that mixed with a healthy dose of damage.

What conditions or effects do you like your controller to apply? Is a strong offense better than dazing and forced movement? Have  you found a balance of powers or a series of attacks that can keep your foes off guard?

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1 William May 30, 2011 at 10:38 am

I find I’m a fan of any effect that negates enemy actions. Prone, and Immobilized as a combo, Stun, or things like Illusory Wall. Absolutely anything that forces your enemy to give up actions against you that do not change the course of the battle. Doing this with a stun effect against multiple targets is good. Doing it against multiple creatures is fantastic.

2 Monkeyshines May 30, 2011 at 1:50 pm

I always like to have a good area blind/block LOS trick up my sleeve. As good as stun is, I never overload on it, partly because I don’t want to get into a war of escalation with the DM and partly because, masochistically, I like to see what cool powers the monsters have. Blind takes out most of the ranged options, lets my melee types get into position without fear of OAs and is a nice way to give everyone CA on a bunch of targets early in the combat

I also like a nice “removed from play” effect, especially for the encounters where the biggest threat is easily identifiable, a leader, has a nasty aura, or any combination of the above.

3 Sunyaku May 30, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Well I can tell you from running Keep on the Borderlands that one good defender (dwarf in a can) + beguiling strands mage (spec’d for extra push) + ranged strikers = frustrated DM.

Ridiculous high initiative mods of encounters monsters meant they often acted first, moved across the board toward the party, and then were blasted back into whatever nasty terrain elements were available. Then the ranged strikers rained down death, primarily with the group focusing fire on whatever happened to remain in front of the defender. Half way through the season I ended up making significant changes to encounter level, terrain features, and other aspects of encounters to make sessions challenging for the group.

4 Sunyaku May 30, 2011 at 7:01 pm

On a related note, in anticipation of “extra hard encounters” coming this fall, one of the players and I were talking about how their combo could have possibly been worse, and now with the addition of Heroes of Shadow, their optimized party would be:

–Beguiling strands mage spec’d for extra push
–Dwarf in a can defender
–Nethermancy school mage (on hits gives group concealment against enemies at range)
–One cleric, any type (preferably Sun for saves, resist damage, and temporary hit points)
–Two ranged strikers (in their case, it was one ranged slayer, one thief)

5 Kilsek May 30, 2011 at 11:12 pm

I agree with damage being #2 behind stuns for true control. After all, effects alone don’t eliminate enemies – they simply soften them up. You still need to bring the hurt!

And more offense has the added benefit of simply moving along combat faster, giving everyone more room to play and enjoy all the other major aspects of a great D&D game: exploration, roleplaying and non-combat encounters.

6 Jason Dawson May 31, 2011 at 12:14 am

The Optimizer Boards tend to agree that the best status effect for controllers– even better than stunned– is dead.

7 Seth May 31, 2011 at 12:37 am

A power I’ve used every fight of a paragon-tier campaign I’m playing in is Whispers of Defeat. It feels incredibly “controllery” to blast every enemy in close burst 5 with something that penalizes their attack rolls and punishes them for making those attacks, since it lets the party reposition without fear of AoOs.

The -2 to hit isn’t tremendous, but with Psychic Lock I bump it to -4…-5 if my Invoker also smacks them with Maledictor’s Doom first.

Our first encounter was against an entire bar of mind-controlled patrons (whom the DM very cleverly made into swarms that shed minions when subjected to force movement) and I was able to clean house right from the outset with Whispers.

But my true favorite controller power is, and will always be, Thunderwave.

8 Death Dance May 31, 2011 at 2:07 am

I’m writing a dungeon and dragon blog and I found this blog to be very helpful thanks so much for the useful post.

9 Wimwick May 31, 2011 at 10:19 am

@ William
Stun is the best control power, but anything that can negate the enemies actions is ideal. Unfortunately that is situational as each combat will be different.

@ Monkeyshines
You make a good point with blind. It limits what opponents can do and subjects them to a -5 penalty on the attack roll.

@ Sunyaku
Push powers are always useful. Keep the enemies away while you deal with one opponent at a time.

@ Kilsek
I’m all for combat taking less time and damage is the number 1 way to do that.

@ Jason Dawson
Agreed. Dead = best control power.

@ Seth
The Wizard at our table enjoys Thunderwave. As a player at the table, I like it too. Especially when there is a cliff or pit to push the enemy into.

@ Death Dance
Welcome to Dungeon’s Master and the blogging community. I’m glad you found the post useful. What do you feel is the best control power available?

10 brc June 1, 2011 at 2:39 am

Dominate and unconscious are both mechanically superior to stun.

11 Toldain June 1, 2011 at 8:20 am

Control powers are defense, and damage output is offense. There is no symmetry between offense and defense. If you don’t have enough defense, you die. But if you have more than enough defense, it’s wasted. However, more damage is pretty much always useful.

I’ve played controller types in many, many games. They are a force multiplier, which allows a group to handle much much tougher encounters, because they are mitigating/foreclosing so much damage. As such, I can’t agree with the statement “the best control power is damage”.

I’m a big fan of prone or immobilized. Stuns are great, of course, but there are few places where prone doesn’t do the same job and it’s a lot less rare.

12 Thorynn June 1, 2011 at 6:09 pm

I had the benefit of playing a high-paragon level Psion, and with a couple of different dailies could remove enemies from play. Sending a “boss” into a pocket dimension during a climatic battle was a really awesome feeling. It let the rest of the party stomp all his underlings while the boss was in time out!

13 monty June 2, 2011 at 2:25 am

Seconding brc, Dominate and Unconsciousness are both better than stun, for the record, but are even rarer conditions.

Tieflings have an epic tier feat that converts all stunning powers to dominating powers, but beyond that, Dominate crops up in only a handful of powers, mostly daily.

A fully optimized dual-wielding ranger, at 18th level, can decimate two or three enemies in a single round, without using dailies or having party support.

A single dead enemy is better control than five enemies at 80% HP.

14 Brian June 3, 2011 at 9:11 pm

“A fully optimized dual-wielding ranger, at 18th level, can decimate two or three enemies in a single round, without using dailies or having party support.”

I find that hard to believe; prove it.

15 Wizard August 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm

You forgot unconcious, my friend! Works like stun, allows a coup de grace, and not very rare: Wizard Daily Attack Power in Level 1!

Although that technically is for the strikers to do.

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