D&D (2024) The Focus Fire Problem

D&D favors that kind of tactic- monsters operate at 100% until they drop dead, and they can usually withstand the damage output from several PCs before dropping. In a system where one hit can disable an opponent, you would see PCs picking individual targets, only focusing fire on heavily armored or difficult to hit targets.

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I think you could do it with a rule like:

"Every time a creature is attacked by an enemy, affected by an enemy spell, or forced to make a saving throw from enemy, she gains 5 points of damage reduction for future attacks. These points stack, but expire when it is the creature's turn to act."

There's no real non-mechanical justification for this rule, though.


Dusty Dragon
This is, in part, a ranged attack problem.

In a game I'm in, we have 2 tanks - yes they can focus fire a foe, but it's often better if they are apart to control more of the battlefield. There is often a "cost" to focus firing for the tanks.

The 3 non tanks? Artillerist, star druid, fathomless warlock. We can focus fire whomever we want.


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 ...

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.

Personally, I think these two ideas hit the best marks of how to incentivize splitting up. If engaging with an enemy prevents them from doing something "really bad" then at least one or two players are incentivized to do that thing. Meanwhile, if you have three goals to accomplish in a fight, or objectives to defend, then you will split to do so.

Thinking on it, if the party has easy enough access to forced movement, another good thing is to prevent the enemy from comboing with each other. If you have a rogue-y enemy who dishes out poisoned sneak attacks, who is working with a guy who has a 10 ft aura of vulnerability to poison, then you want those two far apart, and they want to be together. So you have to split up and fight them separately, because focusing on one just lets them super-combo you in the meantime.

Obviously you can't do this every single time, but this would be a fun way to run a set-piece finale.


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.
Granted, I was assuming 5e where you generally have groups of pretty similar defenses. It's not like 10 orcs or 3 hill giants (or whatever the group is) has differing defenses.

Or, another simple answer. Any enemy not attacked gains +1 on attacks, cumulative for each round not attacked. Note, only attacked, not necessarily damaged. Missing them also resets the +1 count. In other words, make it worth the party's while to spread attacks around.

Heck, you could simply do both. Pooled group HP and each enemy not attacked in a round gains +1 to attacks.

In other words, I think you need to grant baddies some sort of bonus if they are ignored.


Follower of the Way
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.
While its primary effect is on the "alpha strike," it has a secondary effect on focus-fire. Namely, you want to try to size up opponents before you drop your heavy hits on them. Consequently, you need to poke at a few, which disperses some of the initial damage, which makes people more likely to consider hitting secondary targets over primary targets because those secondary targets have already lost some health and thus may be closer to death.

That said, if you want more spread-out damage, there is another relatively simple rule you can port over, but it would require you to use a 4e-ism. Specifically, minions. Minions are worth 1/4 the XP of a normal equivalent creature, but die the instant they are hit with any form of damage. (Technically speaking, minions didn't even have HP at all, but you could effectively treat them as being creatures with 1 HP.) Because they're worth only 1/4 the encounter budget of a full, regular creature, despite having all the same offensive and defensive capabilities as a regular creature,* you can field 4x as many of them. This vastly encourages players to use area-of-effect attacks or to distribute their Extra Attack damage to multiple targets.

Alternatively, you can use the 13th Age "mook" rules, though those don't strictly deal with focus-fire either, because they have spillover from one creature to the next (that is, you use five "mooks" to be equivalent to one regular creature, each mook having one-fifth normal HP; swings that take down one mook but have leftovers carry over to the next mook.) You might be able to finagle it by having the carryover only work once, e.g. you can cleave from Mook #1 to Mook #2, but nothing beyond that, or something of that nature.

*Technically minions were usually designed to be simpler than regular creatures, so they wouldn't have as many active offense abilities. But in terms of raw stats they were equivalent, other than being "always dies in 1 hit."
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Focus fire isn't the problem, focus fire is the solution to the problem that monsters and PCs in D&D have huge pools of Hit Points that need to be whittled down to 0 before any of the attacks that hit actually matter.

If you want to encourage spreading attacks around, give them more effects than plain damage, so that attacking multiple targets can actually be useful in controlling the battlefield.


One solution for this might come from PF1 Unchained Rogue section:

Debilitating injury:

sure, those penalties might me too much for 5E and to be usable by all, but what if every attack that deals damage or failed save that deals damage inflicts one of the following for one round:

1: -1 to AC
2: -1 to attacks and all DCs
3: -10ft speed and AoO are made with advantage

no one can suffer more than one of those penalties and they only last one round.

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