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D&D 5E Help My Group Tactics and Planning

Dan Chernozub

First Post
Intro:
After a dozen years off DnD, I came back to DM 5e.
I'm loving it, my players are enjoying the story and the game.

However, they have created unoptimized characters and are feeling sub par, especially compared to another group that is going through the same homebrew campaign of mine.

Most of the PCs have the oWoD background, so were looking mostly at the story, not the stats, at character creation and lacked experience even if they tried to optimize.

Problem:
After the last game, the party came to me for advice on how to make themselves more efficient. Both PCs and I feel that they are having a harder time than they should in most encounters.

I'm quite new to 5e, so I'm asking this forum to help.

There were a couple of early deaths in the party. Now they have 3 level 3 characters and a level 2 one.

I will provide details that I feel important, but feel free to ask for more - I very well might be quite off on this.

Party composition:

We were using 4d6dl in a row, best of three, as a method for stat generation.

1. Arcane Trickster [3]. Human. 11/16/13/14/13/15. Skilled Feat. +1 Silent Dagger (Makes no sound when attacking), Sending Stones. Spells - Sleep/Colour Spray.

2. Moon Druid [3]. Human. 12/12/16/12/16/15. Alert Feat. +1 Shield (properties undiscovered yet).

3. Fiend Bladelock [3]. Half-Orc. 17/11/11/14/8/16. Invocations: Fiendish Vigor, Repelling Blast. Spells - Arms of Hadar, Unseen Servant, Scorching Ray, Darkness. Berserker Greataxe (cursed), Lucky Charm (re-roll 1st failed save/day).

4. Life Cleric [2]. Human. 16/11/16/10/16/12. War Caster Feat. +1 Shield (Activates Silence when hit by an enemy attack).

The opposition that party is facing is highly varied. Indoors/outdoors combats. I can go into more detail if needed.

The party can't figure out what spells to prepare, how to engage enemies and how to level up. They have some cash to spend but are away from the base of operations right now.

Any and all input is welcome. Feel free to ask any questions.
 
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Arilyn

Hero
If they are new to game you should be able to help with spell choice, levelling up, etc. The characters seem fine, not sub par at all. Two deaths early in game with new players may not have been the best idea. Seems like biggest problem is that everyone needs more time to get used to game, so maybe ease up on the danger?
 

Dan Chernozub

First Post
If they are new to game you should be able to help with spell choice, levelling up, etc. The characters seem fine, not sub par at all. Two deaths early in game with new players may not have been the best idea. Seems like biggest problem is that everyone needs more time to get used to game, so maybe ease up on the danger?

I'm not confident enough to take the responsibility - I'm new to 5e, too.

The first death was a screw up by the team (they hoped he would stabilize without help) and the second was an accident (1/20)^2 chance to die.

I'm not threatening the group too much, but even with the DMG medium encounters, they have some trouble.
 

bid

First Post
Rogue. Skilled feat is really bad. How can 7 skills not be enough? Mobile (or lucky) would help to stay alive. Sleep is losing its potency against higher HD.

Druid seems fine. Barkskin in bear form. Cast goodberry before bed I hope.

Bladelock. AC12 and Con11, on a melee too? At least get armor of shadows and moderately armored asap, but Con stays bad until level 8...
Restart fighter 1 / bladelock 2 for heavy armor and defense style. Paladin 2 / bladelock 1 also works if you want utility slots. This way you Con13 around level 5.
AoA is starting to be better than fiendish vigor, repelling blast doesn't work well in melee range but I see the goal. Short-term utilities such as unseen servant don't work well when you only have 2 slots. Con is really low for a melee character.

Cleric. Concentrate on bless/aid, use spiritual weapon, guidance and mending.


Before level 3, you have so few hp that going down happens a lot. The only true weakness is not having Con14, which I feel is mandatory for most classes.
 

Arilyn

Hero
I'm not confident enough to take the responsibility - I'm new to 5e, too.

The first death was a screw up by the team (they hoped he would stabilize without help) and the second was an accident (1/20)^2 chance to die.

I'm not threatening the group too much, but even with the DMG medium encounters, they have some trouble.

Okay, if you are feeling unsure, better do more homework! How about if everyone reads rules, and help each other out, with the nitty gritty of rules. You have experience with older DnD, so catch up on new edition shouldn't be hard. Okay to fudge some rolls until everyone gets into swing of things.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Well, it's hard to say but a few advice:

Where is the tank here? There doesn't appear to be any highly resilient person who can take the front line. As mentioned, that bladelock has a glass jaw.

Focus fire: Are they spreading their damage around or concentrating on one-2 foes at a time?

Divide and conquer: Use spells (entangle?) the terrain, whatever to divide the foes. While half the enemies are dealing with whatever is stopping them from taking part in the battle, kill the other half.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Also, why is everyone a spellcaster? I would recommend replacing the cleric with a paladin *or* the druid with a barbarian (but with outlander as a background and survival as a skill, that way the party still has a nature expert).

That being said, what is important is that people have fun with their characters, this is more important than "perfect" party composition.

Lastly, since you are new to 5e... what are the characters backgrounds? You know that backgrounds aren't just a "role-playing thing" but provide several skills to the character right? I'm asking because one of my players when switching to 5e missed them too...
 

Dan Chernozub

First Post
Rogue. Skilled feat is really bad. How can 7 skills not be enough? Mobile (or lucky) would help to stay alive. Sleep is losing its potency against higher HD.

Druid seems fine. Barkskin in bear form. Cast goodberry before bed I hope.

Bladelock. AC12 and Con11, on a melee too? At least get armor of shadows and moderately armored asap, but Con stays bad until level 8...
Restart fighter 1 / bladelock 2 for heavy armor and defense style. Paladin 2 / bladelock 1 also works if you want utility slots. This way you Con13 around level 5.
AoA is starting to be better than fiendish vigor, repelling blast doesn't work well in melee range but I see the goal. Short-term utilities such as unseen servant don't work well when you only have 2 slots. Con is really low for a melee character.

Cleric. Concentrate on bless/aid, use spiritual weapon, guidance and mending.


Before level 3, you have so few hp that going down happens a lot. The only true weakness is not having Con14, which I feel is mandatory for most classes.

Can't really change the Feats already taken or take Con with the roll in a row.

Warlock is taking Med Armor lvl4. And with some luck they can pick up a magical breastplate from one of the BBEG.

More advice on the further advancement of Bladelock (and others) is welcome.

Well, it's hard to say but a few advice:

Where is the tank here? There doesn't appear to be any highly resilient person who can take the front line. As mentioned, that bladelock has a glass jaw.

Focus fire: Are they spreading their damage around or concentrating on one-2 foes at a time?

Divide and conquer: Use spells (entangle?) the terrain, whatever to divide the foes. While half the enemies are dealing with whatever is stopping them from taking part in the battle, kill the other half.

Lack of Tank is an issue. Advance from both sides (PC/DM) is welcome. I would prefer them to fix it themselves, without my help though.

They are smart enough, to focus fire most of the time.

Advice on battelfield control are welcome, this is the part that they might lack in. With my limited expierence, if I were joining this party, I would try to roll a wizard to better manipulate the battlefield.

I might be using flying enemies too much, but what I "fear" is when they face intelligent enemies with NPC spellcasters in the group.

Also, why is everyone a spellcaster? I would recommend replacing the cleric with a paladin *or* the druid with a barbarian (but with outlander as a background and survival as a skill, that way the party still has a nature expert).

That being said, what is important is that people have fun with their characters, this is more important than "perfect" party composition.

Lastly, since you are new to 5e... what are the characters backgrounds? You know that backgrounds aren't just a "role-playing thing" but provide several skills to the character right? I'm asking because one of my players when switching to 5e missed them too...
Not quite possible to painlessly replace a character in my game (same as with Feats/stats).

We are having fun, the question is how to play the current party composition better.

Cleric/Acolyte/Insight-Nature-Religion-Persuasion-Stealth
Rouge/Urchin/not going to list all the skills he has - most of them he has
Druid/Executioner (custom background)/Insight-Nature-Perception-Persuasion-Stealth
Warlock/Son a Withch (custom background)/Arcana-Deception-History-Intimidation-Nature

As you've correctly noted, they lack a tank, and are unclear about the other roles. This makes planning the battles hard, and not having a solid plan doesn't end well for PCs most of the time.
 

Arilyn

Hero
Can't really change the Feats already taken or take Con with the roll in a row.

Warlock is taking Med Armor lvl4. And with some luck they can pick up a magical breastplate from one of the BBEG.

More advice on the further advancement of Bladelock (and others) is welcome.



Lack of Tank is an issue. Advance from both sides (PC/DM) is welcome. I would prefer them to fix it themselves, without my help though.

They are smart enough, to focus fire most of the time.

Advice on battelfield control are welcome, this is the part that they might lack in. With my limited expierence, if I were joining this party, I would try to roll a wizard to better manipulate the battlefield.

I might be using flying enemies too much, but what I "fear" is when they face intelligent enemies with NPC spellcasters in the group.


Not quite possible to painlessly replace a character in my game (same as with Feats/stats).

We are having fun, the question is how to play the current party composition better.

Cleric/Acolyte/Insight-Nature-Religion-Persuasion-Stealth
Rouge/Urchin/not going to list all the skills he has - most of them he has
Druid/Executioner (custom background)/Insight-Nature-Perception-Persuasion-Stealth
Warlock/Son a Withch (custom background)/Arcana-Deception-History-Intimidation-Nature

As you've correctly noted, they lack a tank, and are unclear about the other roles. This makes planning the battles hard, and not having a solid plan doesn't end well for PCs most of the time.

This seems like there may be a disconnect between how you approach the game and how the players approach it. If they are making the characters the way they want without thinking about roles, and optimizing choices, they are probably looking at it as more of a role playing or adventure game, and you should adapt accordingly. If they are making a lot of judgement errors they just need experience, and as I mentioned before, maybe you need to ease up on the danger until they get the hang of things. If they really do want to play more min/maxy, then let them make a new group and check out threads on optimizing characters, and follow others' advice here.
 

BoldItalic

First Post
I think part of the problem stems from your decision to roll stats in-a-row. That's not one of the standard methods in 5e and although it can lead to interesting characters that are a challenge to play, I wouldn't recommend it for beginners. It doesn't give the player enough control over the kind of character they get to play and that can lead to a certain amount of detachment, bewilderment and dissatisfaction, particularly if the whole party is generated that way. But that's water under the bridge now. If another PC dies and a new one is generated, though, I'd recommend you use one of the two methods in the 5e PHB; choose a class concept first and assign the stats appropriately.

Incidentally, in organised play (Adventurers League) it is legitimate for players to rebuild their characters completely between sessions up until 5th level. Not allowing them to do that is a bit harsh, particularly as you have imposed the stats-in-a-row rule that puts them on the back foot already. Consider relaxing a bit on that. If the way you are running the game is leading to dissatisfaction, it's you that must change something about the game; the players can't do it for you.

For the time being, though, it sounds as if tactics and planning are the problem, not the actual make-up of the characters. You can help by giving them encounters in which the monsters demonstrate tactics that the players might use next time. Let them win an easy encounter where the monsters use a doorway to achieve bottlenecking - that might give them the idea of using bottlenecking themselves in another encounter, particularly if you talk about it afterwards. Give them an encounter where the monsters exploit stealth, talk about it afterwards and get the players to think about how they can use stealth themselves. Make sure everyone has read the rules about Stealth and Hiding in the PHB!
 
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In D&D Adventures League there is an official rule that lets you switch feats and stuff out.

We recognize that many players start out with a
pregenerated character, or might try out a
character class, race, or other option, and then
decide later that it wasn’t the play experience they
were looking for. As such, characters in the first
tier (levels 1–4) can be rebuilt after any episode or
adventure. A player cannot change a character’s
name, but can rebuild the character using the rules
as presented in this document.
The character keeps all experience, treasure,
equipment, magic items, downtime, and faction
renown earned to that point

I bring this up because I think that the rogue would really benefit from the mobile feat since I'm sure he wants to use his magical dagger as often as possible. This way, every round, he has the option of TWF with the dagger and a short sword (twice the chance for Sneak Attack) and move away, or he can move away and use Cunning Action to Hide or Dash to really get out of dodge and set up for Range Attacks. Basically it will give him a ton of options in combat. Also remind him that Sneak Attack is his #1 priority every round and that the phrase "I hold my action until the enemy is engaged with someone, and then I attack them" is Gold for a rogue.

The Druid seems fine. The only thing I'd say to them is that they're essentially the tank. Turn to a bear and stick to either the biggest threat or the most bodies ASAP so your rogue can Sneak Attack, and the Warlock doesn't get overwhelmed and let the enemy waist attacks on your giant bag of HP.

I think the Warlock needs Armor of Agathy. He's obviously always going to get hit, so might as well make the enemy regret it. With AoA and Dark One's Blessing you don't really need Fiendish Vigor, it doesn't scale and having 3 things that gives you Temp HP is overkill. He might not like the idea of spending 1 of his 2 spell slots for Temp HP when he can get it for free. But trust me, the first time an enemy attacks him and he only has 1 temp HP left and the enemy takes 10 points of damage and dies, then your Dark One's Blessing kicks in and you get free Temp HP all while you just stand there, he wont regret the switch. So replace it with Agonizing blast for more damage, Armour of shadows for permanent Mage Armour, something a little more fun like Devils Sight so you can put that Darkness spell to some real good use, Eldritch Sight is really handy, or my personal favourite Mask of Many Faces.

The Cleric seems fine too. Just have them stay behind the front line and bless and heal and only jump in when someone needs a little assistance, then back off again if things start to get hairy. I think a great habit any really good Life Cleric can have is to keep track of the parties HP on a piece of paper.
 

schnee

First Post
Yeah, I'd let them switch around ability scores, feats, cantrips and spells.

If the Druid is using their wild shape to fight while holding a concentration spell, they should consider Resilient Constitution for their first feat, since they'll be making Concentration checks a lot and, say, if they're holding a Faerie Fire that's giving everyone Advantage in melee, losing that is a huge nerf to the team's effectiveness and they can't cast again without dropping out of wild shape. They really should be doing some form of buff / battlefield control in combat, or they're really not much more than a meat shield.

The Druid also looks like it could be the primary spellcaster. If they aren't using their Wild Shapes to soak damage in the front line, then they might want to consider a respec to Land for the Natural Recovery and Circle spells - that makes them a much better caster - basically 50% more spells known up to level 10 and casting 25% more spells per day their whole career. They could be using Entangle, Spike Growth, Fog Cloud, Faerie Fire and Flaming Sphere to turn the odds of the combat completely in their favor while plinking away with Thorn Whip or Produce Flame from a safe distance.
 

rgoodbb

Adventurer
Agree with the stuff above.

Are you willing to change a few things?
Are your players willing to change a few things?
If not, you are probably going to have to ignore most of what's been said above.

Rogue to change Feat. They will only get better and better at skills so don't need that feat. More effective feats mentioned above.

Druid to use control spells more (as mentioned above they have some really great ones)

Bladelock needs AC/HP/Con Help (Quite desperately)

Cleric - this is just me, but I would have the Cleric be the same level. I don't like that if you come back you are a level behind or whatever. Also does that shield of silence stop the Cleric's verbal casting? I don't get the benefit (unless it's a curse) Plus Bless, Bless, Bless. Until they get spirit guardians that will be their most effective concentration spell. They could go the other way with Bane (I really like that spell) to debuff the enemy.

You seem to like giving out Magic Items with a bit of homebrew in them. (no issues with that. I like that too.) That could be an area to look at as well to better combat scenarios or gain more defence/control. Shield of Radiance (Like the light cleric's Warding Flare feature), Shield of Rebound (Like a Thunderwave use), Shield of....

You don't have to make sweeping changes and the PC's don't need to lose their identity.

Hope we have given you some food for thought.
 

schnee

First Post
Treantmonk wrote about this in his Wizard guide, but I'll repeat it here - the thing with 5E is that buffs, debuffs, and control spells are more effective than direct damage spells.

Older D&D had a steeper AC / to hit progression, so multiple low level opponents posed less of a threat. This new edition, the 'bounded accuracy' means more hits and spells are connecting each round, so the real way to optimize is to remove their actions or create more for yourselves. Opponents with 1hp are more deadly than one with full HP that is stuck in a Hold Person or Entangle.

It also means that buffs that add a +1 or more are MUCH bigger than 3E and feel closer to AD&D in power. Three members of your party swinging melee weapons with Bless will be doing a LOT more damage over the life of the combat than that Cleric jumping in immediately and swinging a mace. It will also end the combat fast enough that you will spend fewer spells healing later.

So, spell choice should be less Thunderwave and more Entangle. And, since Concentration spells are the most powerful and those are limited to 1 at a time for each caster, the characters should ideally be memorizing spells in cooperation with each other, with different scenarios in mind.

--

Example: Faerie Fire has saved our butts more than anything else - Advantage is HUGE. Opponents that get it in pack combat, like giant rats or wolves, can chew through your front line incredibly quickly. When we run into one of those types of opponents, we Faerie Fire immediately and then they fall quickly.

Entangle is another example - when we face multiple opponents, our Druid the Entangle in a place where it will trap as many people as possible, and put the rest behind the 'difficult terrain'. So, we effectively take several opponents out for several rounds, force others to use their entire turn only moving, while we gang up on the ones that are left standing nearby. We just took it from 8 attacks against us this round to 2-3. If we're lucky, we finish off everyone standing and then the Entangled ones are easy pickings.

Since our Bard knows Faerie Fire, my Druid chooses Entangle. Your spellcasters should coordinate similarly. There are some really effective multi-caster combos, and a caster-heavy party like this can be wicked.
 

Dan Chernozub

First Post
For the time being, though, it sounds as if tactics and planning are the problem, not the actual make-up of the characters. You can help by giving them encounters in which the monsters demonstrate tactics that the players might use next time. Let them win an easy encounter where the monsters use a doorway to achieve bottlenecking - that might give them the idea of using bottlenecking themselves in another encounter, particularly if you talk about it afterwards. Give them an encounter where the monsters exploit stealth, talk about it afterwards and get the players to think about how they can use stealth themselves. Make sure everyone has read the rules about Stealth and Hiding in the PHB!
You are correct, sir.
And I was wrong with the topic title.
Corrected now.

I am using the approach you've suggested with encounters and will do it more, this is definitely a good piece of advice.
 


Dan Chernozub

First Post
@SmokeyCriminal
Thanks for the input.

I will offer characters to switch skills/spells/feats/abilities at level 4.

The overall ideas I've liked also. Druid has just levelled up to 3rd (he was the 1st casualty) - I think his tanking will definitely improve with Barkskin.

Warlock feels to me all over the place a bit to me, but I don't think I'm competent enough to discuss it with him. This kind of advice is exactly why I made this post. He is considering Medium Armor on lvl4 - what do you think of it?

Regarding Cleric - they want to buy him splint mail and put him more to the frontline, because of the high AC. Won't comment on that to them, I think this is something they should figure out themselves. I am planning to showcase buff value to them soon by an encounter with a group of goblinoids.

@rgoodbb
You definitely gave me food for thought.

Regarding Silence Shield - it is not strictly a curse, but definitely not as no-brainer as a simple +1 shield would be.

What do you suggest to help Warlock in terms of defence without stat changes?



 
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rgoodbb

Adventurer
Without stat changes, take Smokey's advice re Mage Armor, AoA and Dark One's Blessing

The next beast to slay is a displacer beast. Get the druid to craft from it (with time, money and maybe a quest) a Cloak of Displacement for the warlock or something like that. That would certainly help.

Shield of Faith from the Cleric would also add 2 to AC but then no Bless :.-(
 
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Dan Chernozub

First Post
It also means that buffs that add a +1 or more are MUCH bigger than 3E and feel closer to AD&D in power. Three members of your party swinging melee weapons with Bless will be doing a LOT more damage over the life of the combat than that Cleric jumping in immediately and swinging a mace. It will also end the combat fast enough that you will spend fewer spells healing later.

This is an interesting statement. A Math One, I would say.

With the average damage of the rest of the party being around 45, adding average +2.5 to their to hit rolls results in 5.625 extra DPR. (Regardless of the enemy AC).

DPR of swinging a Mace with an average damage of 6.5 (1d6+3) depends on the opposition AC.

With enemy AC10 and higher, the Bless will be better all the time. But Bless takes resources, swinging does not.

Also, we need to take into account, that with an increase in AC, total DPR goes down, so we should look at the relative numbers, not absolute.

For example, against AC 13, Party DPR(mace) is 33.5, DPR(bless) is 34.9. A minor difference of 4.2%
But it gets better. At AC 17, DPRm is 23.2, DPRb is 28.1. 11.7% difference.
And the tougher opposition, the better. Against AC 20 it gives 23.8% higher damage output.


So while generally true - Bless is usually better than swinging a mace, but, against softer opponents, it might not be worth the slot/concentration.
 

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