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Epic 4e play: the system makes it too easy for PCs to hit, instead of too hard.

Ravellion

serves Gnome Master
Hello fellow gamers!

I’ve recently made the jump to Epic levels (the campaign started at 6th level), and I am very glad that I have not allowed either Weapon or Implement expertise to be taken by my group’s characters. I posit that these feats are, in fact, not necessary in the game. In practice, the math works more to the advantage of the PCs than is at first glance readily apparent.

I have the experience my 21st level group often hit equal level opponents on a natural 4 on a d20. Allowing the expertise feats, this would mean hitting equal level opponents on a 2. The stats of the characters that can do this and some additional explanation on why this happens so often is in the comment below. The summary: the characters are quite close to being optimized, though I would not call them all fully optimized.

A 21st level creature has 35 AC (for instance Elder Deathmask Dragon, or Dark Naga, or even Drizz’t :) ). AC is slightly higher at 37 for soldiers, and lower at 33 for brutes. Hence, a +25 to hit would hit the designers’ goal of allowing the PCs to hit on a 10.

My group’s hybrid fighter/warlord has +25 to hit. This is with an 18 STR, every ability point increase in STR, and a race with a +2 STR (Dragonborn), and using a +4 longsword.

My group’s human paladin has +27 to hit. He had a 16 Base strength, raised by 2 because he’s human, every ability point increase in STR, Demigod for +2 STR, and a +5 fullblade. Once per encounter, he gets Certain Justice from his paragon path at +4 to hit, and of course he has Action Surge.

The rogue in our party is probably the most optimized. A 26 DEX Halfling, with rogue weapon talent, and the daggermaster paragon path. He has a +26 to hit normally (with a +4 dagger), but with back against the wall, and 90% of the time a way to get combat advantage that round (with Nimble Blade feat to give him +3 instead of +2), it is often +30. Sometimes he also manages to attack non-AC defenses. As a deadly trickster (Epic Destiny), he also has three rerolls per day, which of course is also a big increase in the chance to hit.

The elven cleric is no worse off with a maxed wisdom, Chosen of Corellon as his Epic Destiny, and a +5 holy symbol. He has a +24 to hit, but of course attacks non AC defenses which (I have just checked in the adventure tools) are usually around 32 (though admittedly sometimes get to be as high as 37). The elven accuracy reroll also helps him hit.

However, the drop that fills the bucket is all the buffs, debuffs, flanking, etc. On average, a PC will either have an additional 2 or 3 point advantage (either an enemy debuff or a party buff, or combat advantage from flanking or other inflicted conditions). Sometimes these stack and the shift goes up to 6 points, basically, a +2 power bonus to hit from a daily power, a -2 to defenses from an at will power on the creature, and combat advantage (which for the rogue is actually a 7 point shift instead of a 6 point shift).

To me, having equal level opponents be hit on a 2 is undesirable. In fact, even n+2 encounters are complete cakewalks for our group nowadays (which might be worth a thread in itself). If your party is anything resembling optimized (ie. all PCs started with an 18 or 20 after racial modifiers, and raised their main attack ability every chance they had), I strongly recommend you do not allow the expertise feats.

What I would like to hear though, is whether some DMs really needed their PCs to have these feats? Or, from those people that allowed them, have they noticed that your PCs now hit perhaps a bit too easily?
 
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Stalker0

Legend
While it doesn't really take away from your point, I get a +26 to hit for your paladin, unless there is another bonus.

21st level = +10 to hit.
16 str +2 for race +2 for demigod +6 for levels to 21st = 26 strength = +8
+5 fullblade = +8.


However, your monster numbers are right on the money, 35 AC is also the number I get.

Could you tell us what kind of powers that are giving you the +2-6 shift in your numbers, many people have often wagered that powers are the missing link to make up for the math deficiency so it would be good to see.
 
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keterys

First Post
Having just spent the last two sessions playing a high level game of missing more than half the time... I envy your party. Not only do they have two leaders, but apparently those leaders actually hit with attacks that lower defenses / give bonuses. Our poor cleric wants to cry often as not.

We usually need between 7 and 12s to hit. With expertise. There was one combat I needed a 6 to hit (with combat advantage), though... didn't stop me from missing 7 times (4 3s, 3 4s... sigh).

I will say that it is by design that a rogue hits, much like an avenger. Especially one that starts with a 20 Dex and uses daggers. Can't get easier to hit than that.
 

Ravellion

serves Gnome Master
My experience of Epic tier play was that fights feaured less combatants and therefore those combatants were of higher level.
Interesting. So you are talking 1 to 3 opponents? I have done this, but found it too dissatisfying due to powers like Sleep, Dismissal and Certain Justice, among others, that either lockdown or greatly reduce the effectiveness of an opponent. With 5 opponents, that's 20% of the encounter summarily defeated. With 3 opponents it is 33% (or when it is one solo and two standards, it can be 70% *shudder*). More of these kind of powers are on the way for my PCs, from what they have shown me, which worries me, because it often makes possibly interesting fights boring.

I do agree that I basically always make encounters be n+3 nowadays (edit: and the PCs still hit very easily). That does go against the DMG stated encounter design recommendations though (good thing that they are only recommendations :)), so what does that mean for the statement "the math works in this edition" or the community counter reaction in the first few months after launch "no it doesn't! PCs are at a disadvantage"?
 

Ravellion

serves Gnome Master
Could you tell us what kind of powers that are giving you the +2-6 shift in your numbers, many people have often wagered that powers are the missing link to make up for the math deficiency so it would be good to see.
Ok, I'll focus on increasing the chances for the party to hit only.

The cleric has these. Most of them are low level.
Spiritual weapon gives combat advantage for the entire party against one target.
Bless gives a +1 power bonus to hit.
Hymn of resurgence gives the hit enemies in the blast -2 to defenses. Additionally any enemy hit before the end of the cleric's next turn will be knocked prone (this works great with the easily hitting rogue), allowing the power to indirectly grant combat advantage on top of that
Hallowed ground give a +2 power bonus to hit and defenses when in the zone.

The paladin only has the following (he mostly increases the party's defenses and damage, or reduces teh monster's to hit):
Bless weapon for a +1 power bonus to hit

The rogue (Bard hybrid):
Slayer's song will make every opponent hit by the Rogue/Bard give away CA for one turn. The song lasts the entire encounter.
Rhyme of the blood seeking blade will reduce an enemy's defenses by 4 as an imediate interrupt on a missed attack of an ally.
Knockout. One enemy knocked ubconsious.
Stunning strike. Stuns for one turn.
hide in plain sight. Rogue remains hidden and hence constant CA.
No escape. Knocks the enemy prone.

The warlord/fighter has...
furious smash (which he hardly uses) to give +4 to hit (CHA bonus) for the next one attack against the enemy he hit.
Villain's menace. Potentially a +2 power bonus to hit and +4 to damage against one opponent for an entire encounter.
Settling the score. +2 power bonus to hit against one opponent for an entire encounter.
 

keterys

First Post
Other than combat advantage (which I think a lot of people just assume anyways), you're not actually giving out a ton of buffs.

If you're doing N+3 level fights, your ACs should mostly cluster between about 36 to 40, so your paladin should need between a 10 to 14 to hit base. +2 for CA makes that 8 to 12. Even with an extra -2 to defenses consistent that's still 6 to 10. That's still notable, and that's even with taking an epic destiny to catch up +1 to hit.

The rogue will pretty much just be hitting of course. If you look at 1st level he was doing it then too, though - +9 to hit, +12 with CA, going against Reflex with Piercing Strike looking for... 13s and 14s.
 

Ravellion

serves Gnome Master
Other than combat advantage (which I think a lot of people just assume anyways), you're not actually giving out a ton of buffs.

If you're doing N+3 level fights, your ACs should mostly cluster between about 36 to 40, so your paladin should need between a 10 to 14 to hit base. +2 for CA makes that 8 to 12. Even with an extra -2 to defenses consistent that's still 6 to 10. That's still notable, and that's even with taking an epic destiny to catch up +1 to hit.

The rogue will pretty much just be hitting of course. If you look at 1st level he was doing it then too, though - +9 to hit, +12 with CA, going against Reflex with Piercing Strike looking for... 13s and 14s.
Well, there's situational to hit modifiers (Elven accuracy with Elven precision, action surge) and some powers having a fixed to hit bonus right in the power (Certain Justice), and a power or two that target non AC defenses fo the martial characters. All these little things add up. I also forgot to look at paragon path powers, so there might be one or two buffs or debuffs in there too. Edit: I forgot Astral Seal, which the cleric uses with reckless abandon.

What I do know, is that giving the expertise feats to my players would make the combats even easier. They do not even break a sweat now! And the ranges you just posted for N+3 fights are totally acceptable for N+0 fights, IMO, so that really made me wonder why the feats in question were designed in the first place.
 
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keterys

First Post
Astral Seal would definitely make a big difference, too, yes. That's one of the most effective at-wills for aiding party attacks.

There are quite a number of things wrong with the math, that become more obvious as you get higher level. They're generally less glaring than a lot of problems that afflict various game systems so it's harder to see them and consciously account for them. I mean, the human mind is not prepared to comprehend a +/- 1 modifier over the course of play. It was a lot easier to notice when, say, in the first round half the party died from full hp.

One problem is that monsters don't deal enough damage and succumb too easily to certain tactics, while generally getting tougher than there's any need to be. This leads to PCs having an easier and easier time as they get higher in level.

The PC FRWs also get out of sync with monster attacks, such that monsters can trivially hit the PCs with non-AC attacks, unless things like penalties to attack and such come in.

The PC attack bonuses do actually trend slightly downwards, but only slightly mind. Remember that we're only talking a difference of +2 to attack - you might not even notice the difference in your own game. Even Astral Seal on its own almost effectively gives Expertise to the entire group.

Players are also drawn to ways to get other bonuses - Demigod epic destiny being one of the more popular methods for another +1. Some groups will see problems. Others won't. In some groups it also depends on the length of the combat and type of creatures fought. If you're a level 24 party fighting a lvl 27 Sorrowsworn Dread Wraith, you're looking for party level +19 AC to hit it in melee effectively and party level + 17 for reflex range attacks. A 24th level cleric might have +24 base vs Reflex with a radiant ranged attack (+12 level, +7 stat, +5 enh), but that means he needs a 17 to hit it and turn off its regeneration. Even with -4 to defenses and CA, that just gets it down to an 11 for a 50/50 split. If you added in expertise, that'd make it a 9, which is still a 40% chance of missing. And if any of those things don't happen - CA, either of the two defense reducing powers, etc... then you're back up in double digits. Your paladin from earlier in a similar situation would be only +2 better than the cleric at hitting, so still looking for 15 default, 7 with the best of possible buffs.

Look at low level characters for a bit - they're not actually intended to miss that often. That trend repeated at epic is hardly momentous. Your cleric at 1st level with astral seal needs a 7 to hit. The paladin needs a 6. That drops to a 5 and a 4 if the cleric's already hit with astral seal.

Seeing those results duplicated at epic is, well, expected. What's not expected is how much survivability increases with level, rather than decreases.
 

Ravellion

serves Gnome Master
Seeing those results duplicated at epic is, well, expected. What's not expected is how much survivability increases with level, rather than decreases.
Hmmmm... fair enough. That makes a lot of sense really. Doesn't mean I have to like it, but it makes a lot of sense ;).
 

keterys

First Post
Over in the 4e rules forums there's an interesting thread where Truename's setup a combat simulator (currently still very early in implementation) where we had a year 1 (pre-PH2, expertise, etc) paragon dwarf fighter up to 100% survival rate (I think it lost 1 in 50,000 fights) against soldiers of levels 0 to 3 levels higher than it, five fights per day... even on fights where it needs a 16 to hit the soldier, it's still winning.

Clearly, there's some scary stuff to figure out.
 

Snoweel

First Post
I do agree that I basically always make encounters be n+3 nowadays (edit: and the PCs still hit very easily).

I'd say n+3 is a more-or-less standard fight at Epic level, especially given less fights per day (purely for story reasons IME).

And given your problem of PCs hitting too easily, the levels of the monsters in your fights is certainly more important than the level of the overall encounter.
 

Holy Bovine

First Post
I do agree that I basically always make encounters be n+3 nowadays (edit: and the PCs still hit very easily). That does go against the DMG stated encounter design recommendations though (good thing that they are only recommendations :)), so what does that mean for the statement "the math works in this edition" or the community counter reaction in the first few months after launch "no it doesn't! PCs are at a disadvantage"?

I think it finally kicks to the curb the idea that the Expertise feats were a 'feat tax'.
 


Runestar

First Post
I think it simply shows that it is possible to optimise for extremely high to-hit ratings in 4e (to the extent that you miss only on a 1).

However, as demonstrated, this requires quite a specific setup (2 leaders, hitting with buff powers, actually having access to those powers, which means not being able to use other powers etc).

Next question is - Is this to be the norm? Do we assume at at epic lvs, parties are going to a virtual +4-6 to-hit floating around by virtue of misc buff abilities?
 

Holy Bovine

First Post
I dunno man. People will believe what they want to believe.

Too true. I guess I don't see it much in my own games as I customize most every monster that the PCs face. Some have lower defenses than normal, some higher, some do extra damage, some less. Variety is the spice of life. And the spice must flow...
 

Nymrohd

First Post
Well it is possible to always have a couple of effects that change hit chance if your party has so many leaders, right? We are talking about a cleric, a bard/rogue, a warlord/fighter and a paladin. Cleric is a leader, bard/rogue is a leader+striker with several debuff powers, warlord/fighter is 1/2 leader as well.
The question is, how is the dpr for this party. Using constantly powers with strong riders probably reduces damage done by a healthy amount (though I guess you could be using riders that increase damage as well). This could always be done anyway. I don't think most people had issues with chances to hit if their party used synergies.
Another question is, how come you are facing epic tier monsters and not being affected by their synergy effects? Epic tier mobs have good access to attack debuffs.
 

Blackbrrd

First Post
As Ravellion noted, not only do they not have big problems hitting, but they don't have big problems taking the monsters down either.

Most of the combats I run have several monster types with different stats. Each character goes for the one with low defences against his or her attacks. The only exception is the Fighter who tries to attack everything. ;)

As a Melee character I often try to find attacks vs NAD's with the weapon keyword. The damage might be 1[W] lower, but that really doesn't matter at level 10+, the static modifiers will be high enough.

Having to cooperate to hit monsters is something I really like about 4e and makes combat more interesting. With expertise this part of the game becomes less important, something I don't like.

As it is now, I barely bother with Brutes, as their AC and attacks are so bad.
 

keterys

First Post
I think it finally kicks to the curb the idea that the Expertise feats were a 'feat tax'.

Sadly, the expertise feats are still bad design that all PCs will be assumed to have in any game that allows them at 15th+ level, regardless of whether this particular party with three leaders runs into problems or not. It's anecdotal, not representative of normal play, and if he opened up the expertise feats for his players to take, multiple of them would almost certainly take them. Even in a party designed to load up on hit bonuses and defense penalties already.

It would be just as silly to look at an example party with a shaman as its only leader, a fighter defender, and a dwarf barbarian instead of the halfling rogue as its striker. Suddenly one of the characters always needs double digits to hit, the shaman isn't providing attack bonuses or defense penalties, they're much more stacked against AC, etc. They might still be more than tough enough that the DM keeps having to up the level of the challenge, then wonders why the combats take forever to do though.
 

Blackbrrd

First Post
...
It would be just as silly to look at an example party with a shaman as its only leader, a fighter defender, and a dwarf barbarian instead of the halfling rogue as its striker. Suddenly one of the characters always needs double digits to hit, the shaman isn't providing attack bonuses or defense penalties, they're much more stacked against AC, etc. They might still be more than tough enough that the DM keeps having to up the level of the challenge, then wonders why the combats take forever to do though.

This sounds like a problem with the Shaman class. I have tried to make a "good" character with that class and I haven't really come up with anything I liked.

A Fighter actually has a really good to-hit (+1 to hit as a class ability), or ways around it.

I don't quite see why a Dwarf Barbarian should have problems hitting? (Ok, compared to the Rogue, you are right)
 
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