The Art of Leading
-- A beginner's guide to the Leader role --
-- A beginner's guide to the Leader role --
The Art of Leading is Part III of the tactics by role series. If you like this post, also have a look at The Art of Defending and The Art of Striking.
0. More than a Healer
It's a common misconception that Clerics, and the other leader classes, are supposed to hang back and recharge the hp of their party members. This was not true in 3rd edition, and it wasn't true in 2nd edition and earlier either. Wherever that idea comes from, it's not true in 4th edition either. Now, of course, healing their allies is a powerful and needed ability of every leader, but it's just one part of what they do.
If you've been directed here because you started a thread with the title "I'm stuck with playing the healbot" or "which is the best Healer", be welcome. This guide is for you.
I. The Three Stages of Leading
Stage 1: Movement and offense buff
The first job of the leader is to boost party offenses. If your rogue is cursing because his Blinding Barrage missed the Hobgoblin Warcaster by 2 points, it's you who can prevent that next time. You have a selection of powers available to move your allies into flanking position, or let them shift around the brute to get at the leader in the back, for example Wolf Pack Tactics (Warlord). And you can provide attack bonuses that allow your party to hit with their all-important daily and encounter powers, like Furious Smash (Cleric). Powers that reduce enemy defenses, like Guiding Strike (Bard), or provide combat advantage, like Haunting Spirits (Shaman) count too.
The idea, is, of course, to kill monsters faster. If they die 20% faster, your party will take 20% less attacks, which amounts to 20% less damage, so you need to heal 20% less.
Of course, all allies benefit from an attack boost right when they get out the big guns. But as your striker is the party member who deals the most damage, the main focus of Stage 1 is boosting your striker.
Stage 2: Defense buff
Your second job is to boost party defense. Attack boosts are good, but when your party is in danger of being overwhelmed it's your job to boost their defenses and make sure everyone stays up.
As above, if your party takes 20% less attacks, they take 20% less damage, so you need to heal 20% less.
The standard defense boost is an AC bonus, and most leaders have an at-will power that provided this, such as Defending Strike (Shaman). The Bard's Vicious Mockery and Misdirected Mark fulfill this function indirectly.
A variation are powers that provide a temporary hit points, like Sacred Flame. They cannot prevent a hit, but reduce it's effect.
If your party has managed a good tactical positioning for the encounter, your defender should take most of the heat. A boost to his AC or other defenses makes sure he'll stay up and not burn through healing surges too quickly. If your party has a melee striker, boost him rather than the defender, to give monsters a stronger incentive to attack the defender. Defense boosts are even more important if your party gets ambushed: An AC boost can keep the surrounded Wizard alive until you can bail him out.
Stage 3: Healing
You won't be able to prevent every hit against yourself or allies. Good that your class features and powers provide ample healing.
There are two types of healing: One that costs resources, i.e. healing surges, and one that doesn't. Healing surges are the main resource in 4th edition that needs to be managed (apart from daily powers), so spend healing wisely.
More on how and when to heal in Chapter 3.
When to do what?
"One defends when his strength is inadequate, he attacks when it is abundant." - Sun Tzu
In an easy encounter, a quick attack boost will deliver a crushing blow to the enemy forces. Once the first enemy falls, the rest should be a mere sweep with the broom. You can boost defenses to help save healing resources.
In hard encounters, boost defenses first. This will keep your party up and healthy while you try to weaken the opposition. When you have won some space to breathe, switch to attack boosts to turn the tide.
To be able to switch between offensive and defensive, pick one of each type for your at-will powers.
"The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand." - Sun Tzu
As a quick and dirty help to judge the effectiveness of attack buffs, consider the following:
If you give your ally a +1 bonus to hit, there is a 1 on d20 = 5% = 0.05 chance that his next attack roll will be exactly the number that a +1 turns a miss into a hit. So the average damage you gain with an attack bonus n is n x 0.05 x ally's average damage. In other words, your ally's attack deals +n x 5% damage.
If you grant a +2 bonus to an attack that deals d10 + 5 damage, you boost the average damage by 2 x 0.05 x 10.5 = 1.05 damage. That doesn't look like much, but do a similar calculation with a +3 bonus from Righteous Brand (Cleric) and a daily power, and you'll see very impressive numbers. The key here is that you multiply your own modifier with the ally's damage. There are very few other ways to multiply damage in the game.
- The effectiveness does not depend on your ally's to hit-chance. Whether you convert a roll of 17 into a hit or a roll of 3, the result is the same.
- An attack bonus is more effective the higher your ally's average damage is.
- You also raise the chance of all other effects of a hit, such as marks, daze, stun...
Calculating the damage prevented by a defense buff works the same way: Just take the average damage of a monster attack instead.
II. Your secondary role
Buffing and healing your allies is mostly a minor action and a rider effect on your powers. It doesn't say anything about your position on the battlefield and your own tactics. These are decided by your secondary role.
Below is a list of secondary roles a leader can fill. There are two main distinctions: Melee or ranged decides whether he will be at the frontline or in the back. Defender or striker decides whether he will chase priority targets with the strikers or concentrate on heavy bruisers like a defender. Even a "pure" buffing / healing build will have to decide his position and priorities, although they can usually switch their priorities between offense and defense.
A note on the Shaman:
Shamans are special on the melee / ranged axis because they are "split". While the PC himself stays back, and throws ranged powers, his spirit is in the front line and fights in melee. This makes the Shaman a mixed melee and ranged leader. A Shaman can fulfill both the ranged and melee secondary roles listed below, depending on the powers you pick.
You carry a melee weapon, most of your powers are melee attacks, and most of your buffs are geared towards other melee combatants like defenders and melee strikers. You'll fight either shoulder to shoulder with them or in a flanking position.
A classic frontliner will have average defenses (chainmail) and average damage, and concentrate on boosting allies. You need to rely on the defender to shield you, and your main source of damage is boosting the striker.
By Paragon, you can upgrade your frontliner to a full-blown defender. The difference is that while a frontliner tries to avoid being attacked, a leader-defender boosts his staying power to the point where he can take a few blows on his own and protect squishier party members in return.
The first step is to get better defenses through heavier armor and a shield, and better staying power through feats like toughness.
The second step is to get a marking ability. Strength Clerics currently have the best options here with the Warpriest Paragon Path and powers like Healing Strike, but there are a number of alternatives, such as multiclassing.
The Shaman, especially the Great Bear Shaman paragon path, also deserves a mention. The spirit companion as the unique ability to just shrug off a hit that deals less than 10+half-level damage. Average damage of monster at-will attacks is 7+1/2 level. Yes, the spirit can take more than half of monster attacks against it without a scratch. And even if it is destroyed, you have the equivalent of resist all 5. And the best? Near-immunity to conditions. If your spirit is dazed, blinded, stunned or petrified, you can still act unhindered. If necessary, just dismiss it.
A melee leader-striker boosts his mobility and damage potential. The idea is to tag-team on priority targets in the enemy ranks together with another melee striker like a rogue, ranger, barbarian or avenger.
The idea here is not so much to boost your own damage to striker levels, but to combine a good mix of own mobility, own damage boost and boost to your fellow striker's attack power.
Key here are multiclassing and the right paragon path, such as Bard / Student of the Seven.
The Chessmaster leader is specialized in using his allies, almost to the point of playing a chess game. He doesn't just boost their attacks and defenses, he moves them around on the battlefield and lets them attack instead of smacking the enemy himself. This is a specialty of the Warlord, notably those of the tactical flavor. The Bard's Virtue of Cunning, in combination with an ally who has the Agile Opportunist feat* can achieve similar results.
* Whether the feat grants an attack on a slide by an ally is debated. Ask your DM.
Hang back and blast them. The so-called "laser cleric" and most bards are the main example here. With a focus on ranged powers, you have the advantage that you can reach most hot spots on the battlefield with your effects, so you don't have to worry about positioning too much. You also make the defender's job of keeping your skin unscratched easier, since you're not dancing within reach of the swords and claws of the enemy. This makes artillery leaders beginner-friendly and effective.
The key to building a good artillery leader is a good balance between your own damage, offense buffs, defense buffs and healing.
Leader-controllers are similar to artillery leaders in play, but with a different focus in power choice. Instead of concentrating on your own damage, or the highest boost, you spice your selection with powers that hamper the enemy. After all, if you can stun your enemies with a power like Sacred Word (Cleric, PHB 71), who needs a defense buff?
Healers are leaders who concentrate on core leader abilities, namely healing. Healing specialists make the difference in hard encounters, as they can keep your party up, prevent a TPK, and allow the allies to slowly wear down the enemy until they can turn around the encounter.
An excellent and straightforward healer build is a Cleric with the Miracle Worker paragon path (DP).
Party buildup and secondary role
Optimizing a leader is more difficult than other roles, because your own effectiveness depends on your allies as much as your own stats and powers.
If you're planning a leader, it's a good idea to check what other characters will be at the table. In a well-rounded party with a mix of ranged and melee characters, and at least one defender, striker and controller present, any leader build should fit in. Bards with their versatility are a great 5th party member when all roles are already filled.
Beware of certain dependencies and one-sided groups. A great Warlord build that is focused on granting melee basic attacks depends on a Barbarian with a BFS (big frickin' sword) or similar. If the group is melee heavy, you can hang back and shoot lasers, err, holy radiance, or jump into the fray and lead as a warlord. But if you're in a team with a Sorcerer, a Warlock, a bow Ranger and a Wizard, that Warlord will have no one to help out, and the ranged Cleric will get tangled up in melee. In such a group, it is better to play a beefed-up valorous Bard that can hold a front line on his own.
If your group has two leaders, make sure to use different types. One leader should be melee, the other ranged, one should concentrate on attack buffs, the other on defense and healing. Or, have one focused leader, like a Warlord, and a versatile one, like a Bard.
III. When to heal
There are several moments that could call for a use of healing power. The main issue here is keeping or preventing the bloodied condition. Make sure you know for each ally whether they are better off bloodied or not. If in doubt, ask the player.
In the same vein, there are a few monsters who gain bonuses to their attacks against bloodied PCs. You don't have to memorize the whole MM for that, a monster knowledge check at the right time can give you this information.
Rules (or guidelines, rather)
Rule 1: It is better to heal later than earlier.
As long as your ally's are up in the safe zone, it is better to keep healing powers available in case of an unforeseen situation, such as sudden monster reinforcements, or a second encounter before you can take a short rest.
Rule 2: Surge-free healing before surge-cost healing.
Healing surges are your main daily resource, and saving healing surges is the main focus of 4th edition resource management (after staying alive). If you have an encounter power that provides some free healing on the side, use it first.
Rule 3: Healing Strike before Healing Word (and similar)
Attack powers that heal help decimate the number of monsters, so use them early. On the other hand, they can miss, so they are not reliable if an ally is down on the floor. That's why you should reserve your minor action class feature heal for emergencies.
Rule 4: Encounter before daily.
Encounter powers that provide healing will be back after a short rest, so use them first. Daily healing like Cure Light Wounds should be reserved for encounters where you need more than the normal amount of healing.
Rule 5: Temporary HP first, healing later.
Temporary HP go away at the end of the encounter, so use everything that gives temp hp while there are still monsters around.
Rule 6: A steady stream of temp hp is better than a big hunk
Since temporary HP don't stack, a steady stream of them that gets depleted and replenished is better than a big chunk that will prevent adding more temp hp for a while.
Rule 7: The higher your party level, the longer you can wait with healing them.
Monster average damage is somewhere around 7 + 1/2 level, while PC hit points are around (level +4) * 5. That means higher level characters can take more attacks from monsters of the same level than low-level characters. A first-level hero can go from bloodied to dead in a round if he gets surrounded, a paragon hero just starts to have fun when the bloodied marker kicks in.
Healing and hp totals / the bloodied condition
- When a heal would bring the ally almost back to full
The earliest time to use a healing power. Usually not a good such a good idea, because you only have two or three uses of your main healing power per encounter. Using these early in the encounter takes away your options if something unexpected happens later.
- When the ally is almost bloodied
Some allies will have benefits as long as they are not bloodied, or lose certain bonuses when they become. Wearers of Agile Armor come to mind.
- When the ally just got bloodied
Some allies will need to become bloodied once for an advantage to kick in, but they can be healed up again after that. Shifters and Half-Orcs come to mind. At early heroic levels, when PCs are not hulking chunks of hit points yet, this is the time to start healing.
- When the ally would be just still bloodied after the heal
Dragonborn and barbarians can gain substantial bonuses when bloodied, depending on their selection of feats and powers. These allies will want to stay bloodied during an encounter, so make sure you only heal them when they are somewhere at a fourth of their total hp.
- When the ally is almost down
If you have healing left, use it now. Pay attention to how much damage your defender takes each round in this encounter, and if it is likely that he will go down next round, heal him immediately. An ally who is down can't take any actions, i.e. he can't attack. A five PC party with one character down has its attack potential and available actions reduced to 80%.
- When the ally is down on the floor and dying
What are you waiting for!? An ally on the floor is a potential coup de grace, and then your ally is dead! It takes a particularly nasty DM to do that, but at least keep it in mind as a possibility. The other danger is that you as the leader go down next, and then there might be no one to heal around and you both die.
In any case, dying on the floor is just not a safe place to be, so make sure to get your ally out of there ASAP.
Healing the healer
Every party needs a backup plan for the emergency case that the leader goes down. At least one other character must be around to bring him up again. With a second leader or a Paladin in the group, the problem is avoided. If not, at least one other character should spend a feat on a leader multiclass to get one healing per day. In any case, make sure that each character carries at least one healing potion.
When you have no healing left...
When you have no healing left, check if an ally has any. Make sure that your allies use their second wind. If no healing powers and no second winds are left, and the defender is deep in the bloodied range, it's time to get out. Give your group one round to burn their action points and remaining daily and encounter powers. Blast all available magic item powers and don't hesitate to quaff a potion. If any enemies are still up after that last standing, grab everything (including dying party members) and run. If you're in a dungeon, make sure to block the door as soon as everyone is out of the room. Wall of Fire and similar powers are excellent to secure a retreat.
Remember, TPK cause #1 is not knowing when to run.