D&D 4E Changing the Combat Parameters of 4th Edition

Tony Vargas

I think it's pretty well known that, if the players know how to play their PCs, then an on-level challenge at epic tier will generally not be as proportionately challenging as at heroic tier.

Level +3 to level +8 is the range I tend to work in at upper epic.
When 4e first dropped, there were no Expertise feats and the feats to bump your non-AC defenses were a lot less generous than they became with Essentials. It was rapidly and loudly decried as a 'problem' with 'da math,' but it was so obvious I always wondered.

At the time, my thought was that the design had originally included +2/4/6 stat-booster magic items that had been cut at the last minute. Having played Paragon & Epic with and w/o Expertise Feats and Essentials material, though, I suspect it wasn't an oversight, but by design, and that higher level parties were supposed to depend on leader bonuses, huge crit damage, and dailies to make up the difference.

Similarly, I've heard rumors that the game originally assumed a pacing like 5e's - 6-8 (or more!) encounters/day, which would have put more of a strain on healing resources, especially before things like the pacifist cleric were introduced.

EDIT: And our group doesn't use Expertise feats. A +3 to hit would obviously make the PCs even more effective.
OK, so you guys don't support that theory as much as I thought. ;)

You could reform Epic, as WotC did to some extent, by adding a lot of damage output to monsters, making them harder to lock down, etc.
Nod. The MM3 numbers and action-preservation for elites and solos seemed to work pretty well IMX.

They also tried to trim off the power curve of PCs with various errata and creating newer classes that were more toned down (though oddly at the same time they amped up other classes, it wasn't terribly coherent).
It was all very coherent if you look at Essentials as presaging the 5e direction. Martial characters were stripped of options, the CB didn't even display your PP or ED on the character sheet, Wizards were powered up at every turn, starting with 'Magic of the Feywild' in Dragon ahead of essentials and never letting up until the last couple of class-crunch-free books.

Anyway, the true issues with Epic are just that the basic vanilla encounter formula works OK at heroic. At Epic they're just not that fun. You need to inject a huge amount of DM creative input into the situations and really amp everything up into crazy situations.
Even setting aside math issues, I feel like you need to amp up the crazy just to evoke the Epic tone.

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So lets start with analyzing what the healing consist of. I have broken it up into healing from the character's Healing Surge values (please note that I am using 1/6 rather than 1/4 of max HP to calculate HS value in this example). Then I look at the extra healing provided just by the Healing Word Power, then the extra healing provided by various bonuses from feats and magic, and then at last I add the healing that is independent of Healing Surges. Note that the later usually are Daily Powers, while the other are Encounter Powers. As you can see, the Healing Surges part is actually quite low at higher levels, not insignificant, but low.


To balance this we could do two things. We could look at increasing Damage output more exponentially, i.e. start increasing some in Paragon and then much more in Epic. In 4th Edition it is linear, but to address this it need to be exponential. This has been the way they did it in 5th Edition. The other option would be to see how much we have to bring down the healing capabilities to balance the combat. And then there is of course a Hybrid Option - addressing both side of the scale.


Re changing the parameters of combat, this is something I've been looking at for my new 4e campaign beginning in March. I had the idea to make minions the 'standard' enemy and give them 1/4 the hp of a Standard monster so they feel more meaty and real - I think this will make for faster and more brutal fights. I plan to use Standards more as hero and leader types, and keep Elites & Solos very rare (typically downgrading 1 step, eg turning the Kobold Hall dragon solo-3 into an elite-3) which will improve ease of play. I want to be able to have lots of relatively quick fights as well as the traditional 2-hour-massive-battle.
To encourage PCs to press on, I'm giving an Action Point for every battle. To have small fights meaningful, I'm enabling attrition by having an Extended Rest restore only 1/4 of maximum surges (rounded down). This means PCs can be attrited by several battles over several days, without every fight needing to be Helm's Deep.

I think this could be a quite interesting option, especially when you start reaching Paragon and Epic level play. At that level, even bringing in a lower level threat will take time to defeat just due to the fact that it still has a lot of Hit Points. Providing monsters at those levels, which have 1/4th or half of the HP of a standard monsters, could very well be a smart way creating shorter battles.


Well you can either choose to accept that the game has a flaw and like permeton try to compensate this flaw by using tougher monsters
Often not tougher monsters but more. In more dramatic locations.

One way to think of it is this: an epic Healing Word is cl burst 15. You know the encounter area is big enough when the players have to count out the squares to check that the desired targets of the healing are within 15 sq!

In the end, the actual Healing Surge value only became a minor part of the whole healing capability
I don't think this is accurate, based at least on my own experience.

Tony Vargas

I suppose I'm pretty far behind the curve in this discussion, but I'm puzzled how reducing healing surges and healing in general is primarily about combat rather than day length?

It's not often you have to try to out-pace monster damage with healing to win a fight.


When 4e first dropped, there were no Expertise feats and the feats to bump your non-AC defenses were a lot less generous than they became with Essentials. It was rapidly and loudly decried as a 'problem' with 'da math,' but it was so obvious I always wondered.

They thought Leaders would be really popular and had a lot +stat options. Except they then saw all the teams of Strikers at the 2nd GenCon struggling in Paragon.

To be honest I haven't followed all your graphs and calcuations; but if I'm understanding you right then this will be no surprise to anyone who has refereed higher level 4e.

I think it's pretty well known that, if the players know how to play their PCs, then an on-level challenge at epic tier will generally not be as proportionately challenging as at heroic tier.

Level +3 to level +8 is the range I tend to work in at upper epic.

EDIT: And our group doesn't use Expertise feats. A +3 to hit would obviously make the PCs even more effective.

I haven't looked into this thread as of yet and only briefly skimmed it now. But just lending my support to the above.

My last 1-30 campaign featured 3 PCs; Bladesinger, Rogue (Duelist), Hybrid Swarm Druid/Warlord. Each had a Companion character and one of them would play into each combat Encounter Budget, while the other two receded into the realm of color.

Upper Epic Tier workday was typically something like:

2-3 Combats @ L + 3 to L + 8 (with a stray one going a bit beyond that now and then)
3-4 Skill Challenges, majority C1 or C2 with maybe 1/4 C3. L to L +2.

Regarding standard Healing Surge expenditure in a level 30 combat, I'm not sure my data point will be particularly insightful for this thread. Combat-wise, the group's makeup was effectively:

Bladesinger - Sticky, mobile (tons of teleports including at-will) melee Striker with controller (small C) secondary (lots of forced movement) but burst Controller (big C) capacity. Defender level passive defenses (all) with tricked out SW and multiclass Fighter stuff. Nearly perma-Bladesong (I want to say it was refreshable...5 times/day...at that point). Tons of Minor Action MBAs, tons of off-turn actions including devastating OA ripostes, and immediate actions to ramp up the defenses further. Turns into an insubstantial dragon spirit with max HPs when PC dies and can turn into an actual dragon as a Daily.

Rogue - mobile (tons of shifts) melee Striker with near Defender AC/Ref (and solid Fort/Will), but the ability to ramp that up to well beyond Defender with riders and a very large suite of immediate actions (and THPs to boot). Several Minor Action attacks. Force multiplication MBAs through (I think 1...maybe 2) a few powers and Action Points (multiclass Bravura Warlord).

Druid/Warlord - extremely beefy Leader/Defender/Controller hybrid. Force multiplication and summon Dailies (obstacles/control), suite of encounter CBs and CBLs w/ control riders, great soak, off-turn saving throw enable, 4 encounter-based heals.

The group had a lot of versatility in combat so its hard to pin down a precise M.O. Lots of enemy funneling into bad areas for Forced Movement into hindering terrain and/or hazards. Lots of MBA enabling of the Bladesinger. More of less no good choice of targets for enemies (all stout, resilient, 2/3 mobile). Typically 1-2 Standard Actions spent on Terrain Stunts for AoE (or single target control rider).

Anyway here is a single anecdote as best I can recall (it was around 2 years ago).

1) Second combat of the day (4th total conflict with 2 preceding SCs), leading up to the final showdown at the bottom of the Abyssal Sea with Dagon.
2) The Companion character used was the Druid/Warlord's Bear which was a Leader/Soldier hybrid.
3) Wave-based encounter (3 waves; initial, round 3, round 5). Tons of Swarms (splitting into Bloodied Standards at Bloodied), protected Artillery Minions (protected by Y Axis, blocking/hindering terrain, Hazards, and the Swarms), protected level 30 Solo Controller (Leader). Tidal Eruption Hazards which would leave Hindering Terrain (Styx-tidepools). Total encounter budget was L + 12 (again, somewhat mitigated by wave-paradigm).

The Bladesinger turned into a dragon and flew around the massive Abyssal cavern strafing enemies with a CB5 Breath Weapon. He eventually "died" and turned into an insubstantial dragon spirit with his full HPs (this was intentional by the PCs, for the drama and to trigger insubstantial and turn the Bladesinger into an OA meatgrinder with only half-damage coming in) and spent 6 Healing Surges while mitigating a huge amount of damage due to Insubstantial.

The Druid/Warlord, a Summoning, and her Bear companion engaged the Swarms. She soaked a ton of damage with her +5 Con damage reduction throughout the course of the fight. She spent 4 Healing Surges using her level 30 ED ability (spend Surge when you reduce non-Minion enemy to 0), and probably 2 others along with going through a chunk of THPs (given by Bear MBA rider). She also had Weakness up for a bit to mitigate a large chunk of damage.

The Bear Companion spent 2 Healing Surges, a chunk of THPs (from Druid) and eventually was taken out.

Meanwhile the Rogue used his Dark Road Epic Destiny Feature (and a successful High DC Dungeoneering check) to locate and traverse a Planar Anomaly, letting him get up to the Y-Axis protected Artillery Minions and Solos. He does his SA damage without a flanking ally so this was SOP. His suite of activatable defenses, high passives, and level 21 ED feature (-4 to attack him for rest of encounter after level or less creature hits him) let him keep the Controller busy until the cavalry arrived (both he and the Controller nearly taken out) to finish the deal. He probably spent 4 Healing Surges and went through some THPs.

So that is probably something like:

* 18 Healing Surges
* Full HP to 0 for 2 of the 4 characters (Bladesinger "died" activating his ED feature and the Bear taken out)
* Probably 300 (maybe more?) damage soaked from straight damage reduction and THPs.
* Large number of real action denial or effective action denial (through deployment of IAs and/or negatives to hit from status effects or features).


I started playing with the damage output of monster in order to try to get to a similar Adventuring Day curve I had in 6th Level, to be reflected in 16th adn 26th Level as well. It was doable under existing healing, and the result look like this:




So, what did I have to do? Well 4th Edition monster damage is purly linear. The "At-Will" Powers can be described as doing the average damage of 8 + Level. Encounter Powers are 125% of this value. Area damage is 75% of this damage. In order to get similar behaviour at 6th, 16th and 26th level I hade to change this curve. I recieved these results with the following progression instead:
Heroic Damage: +1 / level
Paragon Damage: +2 / level
Epic Damage: +4 / level

We get the following damage table for converting monsters:


I will do some more digging before accepting these numbers. I need to simulate it at every level, not just 3 samples.


[MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION] - that seems similar to the sort of thing we see in our game. I would feel that my estimate a bit upthread is under- rather than over-, because there'll be stuff that I'm forgetting.

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