Chapter 3 of the Player's Strategy Guide
provides tactical advice to help you and your party succeed in combat encounters. In some cases, the text also suggests places to deviate from these basic tactics.
Unless things go horribly wrong, you rarely fight on your own. Each of your allies brings his or her own sets of skills and powers to the fight, and many of those powers might influence you directly. To understand how your character should behave in combat, always consider how your actions can assist your allies, and how your allies can help you. When in doubt about what you should do, ask the other players.
In simple terms, your characters defeat the monsters by dealing damage. When the damage you deal equals or exceeds your enemies’ hit points, you win. But this simplistic approach overlooks a number of key facts about the attrition-based combat of D&D.
Damage can be wasted. When your 1st-level rogue blows a daily power to deal 23 damage, you feel pretty good. But when the DM tells you that monster only had 4 hit points left—or worse yet, that it was a minion—you realize that all that extra damage doesn’t make the monster any more dead. In a perfect world, you’d reduce every enemy to exactly 0 hit points. Since that’s impossible, settle instead for identifying the right foes for your high-damage and low-damage attacks.
Not every point of damage is created equal. Because most monsters fight at full potency until they reach 0 hit points, only the last point of damage you deal—the one that reduces a monster to 0 hit points—makes any significant contribution to winning the fight. Avoid spreading your damage out too much. Dealing 9 damage to five different targets isn’t the same as dealing 45 damage to a single enemy (unless those targets are minions).
Some characters—particularly controllers—can’t help but spread their damage out. That’s okay—usually, their powers also include useful control effects, and the more enemies you control, the better.
Eliminate enemies. Each round that an enemy remains standing, it attacks one or more characters. When an enemy falls, the number of attacks the characters must endure on subsequent rounds drops. The fewer enemies remaining, the less dangerous the combat becomes for the characters.
By focusing your attacks on as few enemies as possible, you accelerate the point at which those enemies leave combat. It can be hard for some players to leave an annoying enemy alone to attack someone else, but barring some compelling reason to split your attacks, you’ll win more battles with focused fire than not.
Assume that your heroes can kill a typical monster with four successful attacks. That means you need twenty hits to win an encounter against five monsters. If each character attacks on his or her turn, your party is likely to score three hits each round (because the average character hits about 60 percent of the time). That means you need about seven rounds to score the twenty hits needed defeat those five monsters.
Imagine the worst-case scenario, in which each character fights individually against a different monster. If each character scores a hit on 60 percent of his or her attacks, assuming one attack each round, each monster will last for nearly seven rounds. This means that each character gets attacked six or seven times in this encounter, for a total of thirty to thirty-five monster attacks against the party.
On the other hand, what if the characters work together? After one round, four of the monsters remain undamaged, but the fifth has only 25 percent of its hit points remaining. By the end of the next round, that monster is down and another one is bloodied. Now the characters are taking only four attacks each round from the monsters, rather than five—they’re already ahead of the worst-case scenario.
In round three, another monster drops and damage starts accruing on a third. Now the monsters have only three attacks left. By the end of round six, only one monster remains (compared to the five still standing in the worst-case scenario). Overall, the characters face significantly fewer incoming attacks in the focused-fire combat than in the worst-case scenario.
Of course, D&D combat doesn’t always match this abstract example: critical hits, control effects, and other battlefield conditions change the course of individual fights. But the basic principle is sound: If the party focuses fire on one target at a time, it can significantly reduce the number of attacks the monsters make during the fight. This tactic leads to less damage taken and fewer healing surges used by the party, which means that the characters are more capable of continuing through more encounters.