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

Legend
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?
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
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

Legend
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.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I don't think it's a problem to stop, but there are a few caveats
to that.
  • It winds up feeling like something is wrong & monsters are all braindead because if the monsters ever started doing it with competence it would make for a very fast TPK the GM would get blamed for. This is a problem
  • Tools that used to mitigate that & encourage the PCs to focus on easily processed mooks or some kind of chess strategy to mitigate rather than trounce the big guy are no longer present & can not be added easily.
Behind the curtain: Spell Resistance & Damage Reduction
Too much spell resistance or damage reduction can' make a monster virtually unbeatable at the Challenge Rating you're aiming for. Too little, and the monster might as well not: have any at all. Since any character will ha ire the caster level or magic weaponry necessary to penetrate thecreature's defense.
Spell Resistance: If you choose to give your monster this ability. you'll probably want to set the resistance number equal to the creature's CR+11 Tim means that a character of a level equal to the creature's will have a 50%”: chance to overcome the monster's spell resistance (Barring Spell Penetration Feat). For example. a 12th-levecharacter has a 50% chance to overcome spell resistance 23, so 23 is
a good spell res-stance number for a CR 12 creature. You may need to adjust a creature's spell resistance number after
you finally settle on a CR {or the creature...
If you want a highly magic-resistant creature. set the monster's spell resistance higher than CR +11 For lesser resistance set the spell resistance lower. For each point of resistance. you'll change the change the chance of successfully overcoming spell resistance by 5%. For example. a 12tlevel caster has a 45% chance to overcome spell resistance 24. and no chance to overcome spell resistance 33
Damage Reduction: Assigning a damage reduction value can be tricky. Setting the value. too high can make a creature virtually immune
to physical attacks. On the other hand. most player characters carry some magic weapons. so setting the value too low can result in an ineffective ability.
Recommended
Target CR - Recommended Damage Reduction
0~2 - None
3—5 - 5
6—13 - 10
14-20 - 15

Remember. even if player characters can hurt the monster. lesser creatures in the game world often cannot hurt the creature. nor can the
player character's cohorts or any creatures their summon.

Weapons like flametongue & such were important for regularly being able to do a guaranteed something against high DR monsters not for their ability to mow through trash monsters & mooks. SR:Yes/No spells had very different functions & bolting them on is not the sort of thing that even fits in what could be called a houserule doc that is merely large & things like spell penetration hasn't even been mentioned yet. flat DR & flat resist has more complications of their own.

Adding old style flat DR & flat energy resist faces problems with needing to apply it (almost)everywhere or any tools given to players for dealing with it will light any hope of keeping player A & player B on a similar power scale of effectiveness to start but also comes with a secondary problem. Players who started with 5e have no idea what is impeding them and get upset that it's still impeding them even though they have a magic weapon or they ignore any attempt made to explain why other weapons are important & refuse to consider them if those other weapons are not immediately & obviously better in all situations. Either way the result looks like a failure on the GM's part
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
In an ideal combat, everyone would surround an enemy and whittle them down one-by-one. In real life, there is a heavy price to pay for diverting your attention away from an enemy, exposing yourself, and realistically, more than two trained similarly-armed foes is a near impossible experience. D&D has never proposed to be a realistic combat simulation. However, in spirit of the thread, to accomplish this, I'd aim for a rule that doesn't tax the DM with a bunch of extra bookkeeping.

1. Greater penalty for disengaging once in melee combat. Perhaps AoO gain Advantage and count as critical hits if they hit? You'd have a severe disincentive to flippantly moving from foe to foe. This is beginning to encroach on the Sentinel feat, but you might simply do away with that Feat and simply make disengaging from a threatening opponent more meaningful.

2. If a target is surrounded by 4+ foes, they all gain Advantage on the attack. There's just no way to defend. This represents a threat of too many enemies, though one might not apply this to Huge + creatures as they're not disadvantaged in any way due to sheer bulk.

3. Remove the Disengage action. You can't safely get away from engagement. Or, modify it. Opponent can use its Reaction to move up to its movement speed after the disengaging target without provoking AoO. If you used Disengage, your next attack is with disadvantage.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
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?
In stories, there are thematic reasons for this. In superhero fiction, team ups of good and bad usually have mirrors, opposites, and someone from the rogue’s gallery of every hero on the villain’s side. So the Super Friends have Superman and Batman and Aquaman and the Legion of Doom have Lex Luthor and Joker and Black Manta. The “best” person to fight them all is Superman or Flash, but because each hero knows a villain best, they square off.

Yet another way RPGs are not stories. In stories, the focus is on drama and conflict and pathos but in RPGs the focus is on tactics and optimization and efficiency. A storygame would do better in this regard. Not sure how to enforce this in D&D though. If you only offer carrots, the players can and will ignore them. WotC isn’t about to change design philosophy and offer anything like a stick. They can’t even have small PC races have less movement, to say nothing of actual drawbacks, they’re not going to penalize players for making tactical rather than story choices.
 

Oofta

Legend
I don't see the problem, nor do I want the heavy hand of rules throwing it's influence that much into forcing a specific style.

If people want to gang up, great. If I want them to split forces I'll set up scenarios where they have to engage different targets. In my experience just having enemies attack from different directions tends to split the party.
 

GSHamster

Adventurer
Perhaps a very simple answer - pooled hp?

In other words you can hang up on one critter all you like, but it won’t matter since the baddies don’t go down until they all go down.
Traditionally, the answer to this is to focus fire the target with the worst defense, while cleaving incidental damage onto anyone nearby. It won't give the desired results.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
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?
Anything you do to "fix" this behavior will feel artificial. I'd rather not encourage spreading out fire through the rules because I am finding it difficult to imagine rules to encourage that behavior which won't also make it feel more like a board game than an RPG.
 


Just port over the 13th Age Escalation Die, and boost all monster ACs and saves by 1-2 points (unless you specifically want them to be weak to a particular form of attack.)

The Escalation Die is simple and incredibly straightforward, it's one and only one bonus on any given round, it helps speed up any fight that runs long while discouraging "nova"/"alpha strike" tactics, and requires literally nothing more than a single d6 (ideally a large one so people can read it) to implement.

For anyone unfamiliar: in 13th Age, when you start a combat, the Escalation Die starts at a value of 0 (meaning, it isn't on the table.) At the top of the 2nd round (meaning, after the first round is completed), you put a d6 on the table with the 1-pip face pointing up. All player characters (and only player characters*) add the Escalation Die to their attack rolls. Each round thereafter, the Escalation Die increases by 1 (rotating to the new face), to a maximum of 6 (because a d6 only has 6 faces) at the start of the 7th round.

This is one of several brilliant pieces of game design from 13A. I genuinely, honestly think all fans of D&D should give 13A a read, and possibly see about playing a one-shot or the like. It has some genuine design delights in it, and can help almost anyone run better games.

*In 13A, there is one exception to this rule: dragons. Dragons add the Escalation Die to their attack rolls too. This makes dragons scary.
 

GSHamster

Adventurer
Just port over the 13th Age Escalation Die, and boost all monster ACs and saves by 1-2 points (unless you specifically want them to be weak to a particular form of attack.)

The Escalation Die is simple and incredibly straightforward, it's one and only one bonus on any given round, it helps speed up any fight that runs long while discouraging "nova"/"alpha strike" tactics, and requires literally nothing more than a single d6 (ideally a large one so people can read it) to implement.

For anyone unfamiliar: in 13th Age, when you start a combat, the Escalation Die starts at a value of 0 (meaning, it isn't on the table.) At the top of the 2nd round (meaning, after the first round is completed), you put a d6 on the table with the 1-pip face pointing up. All player characters (and only player characters*) add the Escalation Die to their attack rolls. Each round thereafter, the Escalation Die increases by 1 (rotating to the new face), to a maximum of 6 (because a d6 only has 6 faces) at the start of the 7th round.

This is one of several brilliant pieces of game design from 13A. I genuinely, honestly think all fans of D&D should give 13A a read, and possibly see about playing a one-shot or the like. It has some genuine design delights in it, and can help almost anyone run better games.

*In 13A, there is one exception to this rule: dragons. Dragons add the Escalation Die to their attack rolls too. This makes dragons scary.
How does this mechanic affect Focus Fire, though? I agree it speeds up the fight, and makes the later rounds more deadly. But it still looks optimal to focus on one target at a time. Maybe even encourage you to focus lower AC first, because the bonus makes hitting higher AC more likely.
 

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