D&D (2024) The Focus Fire Problem

Stalker0

Legend
If you watch any Superhero or fantasy movie nowadays, there's a consistent trend. In most fights, the second the combat starts....the heroes go their own ways. Legolas isn't back to back with Aragon and Gimli, they are off killing their own monsters. When the Justice League (both in movies and the cartoons) goes to take on the badguys, most of the time the heroes all split up into 1 on 1 type fights. Only when they are facing the "big boss" they all start attacking the same creature as a single unit. If we go more modern, Harry Potter often had the wizards split up into 2 on 2s or 1 on 1s, rather than have 1 pile of wizards go after the other.

Dnd players....do not work that way. They learn very quickly that the best way to be efficient in combat is to focus fire. Everyone pounds on one creature, then the next, then the next. Now while there are always exceptions to this, I have consistently seen this behavior time and time and time again among both my own players and other groups I've watched. Its just smart tactics....but it has a pretty strong narrative disconnect to a lot of the fantasy dnd tries to model.

While a DM can force this behavior through various narrative setups, the incentive is always working against him. Players are going to focus fire whenever they can, because its simply the best way to play.

I feel like when we talk 5.5 or 6e, this is an area that would be great to tackle. Mechanically, how do you incentive players not to all just pound the same monster with damage until its dead? How do you encourage them to spread out their attacks?
 

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jgsugden

Legend
I don't think this is a problem, per se, so I wouldn't do anything to fight against it. It has been there since the 1970s. It is just good strategy.

If I were going to battle against it, I'd introduce more mechanics that give creatures advantages if they are not being fought:

  • If this creature is not threatened by a foe, their ranged attacks deal 1d8 extra damage.
  • If this creature has not been damaged since the start of their last turn, they gain a legendary action that they can use this turn.
  • If this creature is not within 15 feet of an enemy at the start of their turn, they may make 3 ranged attacks with their bow this turn with their multiattack ability instead of 2.

You can also use the tactic against the PCs at times. For example, If you have a party of 6 PCs that include 4 melee PCs and 2 ranged and they all go after the burly giant on the first turn, there may be an opportunity for a spellcaster to drop a wall spell on the PCs and leave the burly giant and 4 melee PCs on one side of it, and the rest of the monsters and the 2 ranged PCs on the other side of it ...
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
It is a good strategy that, fortunately, the monsters can use against the PCs as well. ;)

But, I think part of this centers around the idea often gets overlooked: too many people can also get in each others' way. What if the following was the mechanic:
  • 2 creatures attacking an opponent can gain advantage (via flanking or Help or whatever)
  • 3 creatures attacking an opponent is possible, but no longer have advantage as this is cancelled by the disadvantage of possibly getting in the way
  • 4 or more attacking an opponent suffer disadvantage due to "too many cooks in the kitchen".

That's my first thought anyway.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I don't think this is a problem, per se, so I wouldn't do anything to fight against it. It has been there since the 1970s. It is just good strategy.

If I were going to battle against it, I'd introduce more mechanics that give creatures advantages if they are not being fought:

  • If this creature is not threatened by a foe, their ranged attacks deal 1d8 extra damage.
  • If this creature has not been damaged since the start of their last turn, they gain a legendary action that they can use this turn.
  • If this creature is not within 15 feet of an enemy at the start of their turn, they may make 3 ranged attacks with their bow this turn with their multiattack ability instead of 2.

You can also use the tactic against the PCs at times. For example, If you have a party of 6 PCs that include 4 melee PCs and 2 ranged and they all go after the burly giant on the first turn, there may be an opportunity for a spellcaster to drop a wall spell on the PCs and leave the burly giant and 4 melee PCs on one side of it, and the rest of the monsters and the 2 ranged PCs on the other side of it ...
Good ideas, but for these sorts of mechanics to be effective at discouraging focus fire, the players need to know about them. So it’s important to stress to the DM to explain them to the players!
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
While I have seen players focus fire and as a player sometimes encouraged it, I personally have not seen it be go-to strategy in any D&D game I've ever run to the degree that I thought something had to be done about it. Though I have to admit, "trying to emulate novels or comics or movies" is never been my primary goal in playing D&D.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Split the enemy objectives.

The reason heroes in the movies split up is because the writers have placed objectives at too much distance from one another to effectively move from one to another. You're not going to get players to do something like that on the same map where they can easily intervene in the actions of one monster or another.

So this ogre is going after the orphanage and these ghouls are heading for the old folk's home three blocks away, and these mind flayers are hitting the library where the players' favorite brainly librarian is studying. And maybe you spent time impressing on the players how cute the orphans are and one made them a paper unicorn, and Old Gammy Pegleg at the home tells the best stories and makes the best bathtub gin the barbarian's ever had... but Oh no! The barn's manor is being attacked by skeletons! And he hasn't paid you for your also adventure yet!

That, and build encounters to take into account 1vx fights. They're not going to split up if it's clear they're going to die for it. The heroes in the movies don't get offed for doing so unless the writer's a hack after all. And when that happens, they already killed Slipknot before the action began.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
I feel like when we talk 5.5 or 6e, this is an area that would be great to tackle. Mechanically, how do you incentive players not to all just pound the same monster with damage until its dead? How do you encourage them to spread out their attacks?

You could include riders on everyone's attacks that inflict some kind of penalty. The trick is, if you let that penalty stack too much, you fall back into the focus fire problem. So ideally the penalty is triggered once the enemy is engaged and falls off once a new primary target.

Alternatively, minions that provide buffs and/or heal would accomplish the same thing, but in reverse.
 

Reynard

Legend
I like to make sure the biggest monster is a mook, not the mastermind or the one with the actual goal. Sure, the PCs gang up on the ogre and it only takes three rounds to drop him, but by that time the goblin shaman has escaped with the Whatsit, so what did the PCs actually win?
 

Big Boss has an attack that deals (X+minions)d6 damage, -minions penalty to his attack bonus, and has 2x(minions) AC and saves bonus. Narratively, he's tiring as the fight goes on... with the number of minions dropped a proxy for intensity of the fatigue. It also incentivize to start with low-powered attack to take down minions and keep the boss occupied, and use the big guns to finish him at the end of the fight and not as an opening nova strike. It might emulates genre better than the current rules, who emulates a more realistic approach.

Regular fights can go as usual. If you want to increase genre emulation, signal boss fights by having them make a speech before the start of the battle.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I do think the system could support this kind of thing, but ultimately that's going to be up to adventure writing and game mastering. I dont think you can "5.5" 5E and make it run like a movie script. That likely would be a 6E type of thing with heavy emphasis on it.
 

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