Friday, January 28, 2011

Red Frogs, Session 1 further commentary

For the main recap of session one, click here. This post will be a more in-depth analysis of the difficult encounter, and specifically my impressions of the Sentinel and Hunter classes.

The other Sentinel that I'm playtesting has Tending Strike instead of Grasping Tide, and I think I like Grasping Tide a whole lot better on a Sentinel. Even though I never got a chance to use it to keep enemies glued to the wolf, it was very useful as a source of area damage (especially in combination with the Hunter's Rapid Shot) and it's just so nice to be able to take advantage of the wolf's aura with a ranged attack. I didn't really miss the Shaman M/C that much, but that's largely to do with the playstyle of this DM and his penchant for mapping small areas for us to fight in. There was one instance where Albus was flanked (would have been doubly had it not been for Padfoot being adjacent) and I would have liked to have a SC to cover another side of him, but I was able to re-position myself out of the flank the following round. In any case, the Sentinel M/C would have meant giving up Versatile Expertise and/or Toughness, and given that I was pretty much the tank and that I was rolling really poorly, I wasn't willing to give up either. And given that I didn't even use my Healing Words in combat at all, Mending Spirit would have been superfluous.

I would like to point out that part of the reason why I didn't need Healing Words was because the wolf took a large amount of attacks. I did spend 3 surges reviving him in combat, and two of the attacks that dropped him dealt more than 10 HP more damage than the wolf had HP left. The third attack only overshot his remaining HP by 4, but that alone is over 24 damage soaked just by being dropped. There's also the damage soaked by starting the encounter at full HP (despite dropping just costing a surge), recharging HP after the encounter (he was under 10 HP when the encounter was won), and the extra HP granted by Friends Gift (companion slot item) every time I spend a surge for the wolf. Over the course of the encounter I'd estimate that the wolf soaked almost 50 damage (damage that didn't drain any of my resources), and took 3 surges worth (so 33). Even the damage taken that cost me surges was a boon though, since it was just one more way that I could spend my surges in combat, which is when I need them. Final verdict: I'm very pleased with the Sentinel's performance.

The Hunter, too, was a blast. She probably didn't have the same impact on the battle that the Sentinel did, but she definitely held her own. Rapid Shot is absolutely devastating, but there were several attacks that I missed thanks to the -2 penalty. My rolls were largely pathetic, which didn't help (I rolled 4 or 5 ones, and about the same, if not more, twos). Elven Accuracy helped, but one time I did roll just as bad with the re-roll, and in this instance Heroic Effort would have been more useful. In general I think this is the case with classes that are already very accurate, since I'm hitting on a 5 or 6 usually.

In the difficult encounter I saved a Disruptive Shot for halfway through the battle to remain safe after using Invigorating Stride, and I'm glad that I did. I'd almost used it before that, but decided that Clever Shot's prone would be good enough instead. I would definitely advise any Hunter players to carefully consider situations where the power would be useful: will prone or slow (save ends) work just as well? If so, use Clever Shot instead! There might be a need for immobilizing or dazing later, plus ranged basic attacks will usually be more accurate/damaging thanks to their item support.

Additional Thoughts

It's worth noting that all of this is stuff that I'd previously posted on the WotC forums. The following are insights that I wrote down in subsequent posts. If it seems a bit disjointed, that's why.

"I would like to point out that this evening I realized that when I had Albus use his second wind, I'd forgotten to give Padfoot his free HP. This actually would have only worked out to be 6 extra HP, since I'd just revived him that same round and Friend's Gift got him up to 16 HP. Still, that's 6 extra HP that he would have soaked. I don't remember if that was before he was dropped by an attack that only dealt 4 damage beyond his remaining HP, but if so it would have kept him up an extra round and the next attack would have likely overshot his HP by more than 4. It's funny how 6 HP can sometimes be worth more than just 6 HP.

Also, I realized that Disciple of Stone would be extremely useful for Sentinels. You spend a surge every time you revive your animal companion, meaning that a Sentinel's healing surges are more accessible during combat than those of pretty much any other class. Since Albus was getting attacked in that fight just as much as Padfoot, those THP would have really helped out. I doubt I would have used all of them simply because a lot of attacks missed vs Albus' high AC, but I suspect that DoS would have a greater defensive impact than Toughness. Well, at least in terms of simple math. In truth, Toughness does boost the companion's HP, which could very well be the difference between an attack downing the companion and the companion having a couple of HP left. So it's hard to tell which is better, but most Sentinels probably want to pick up DoS at some point (even if they re-flavor it, as I would do)."

"Actually, another thought just occured to me. When my Sentinel was boxed in and thus couldn't use his Daily without provoking multiple OAs, I could have moved the Wolf such that any enemies adjacent to me took OAs on him, allowing me to safely fire off a ranged attack. Obviously you have to balance taking attacks so that PCs don't have to (soaking monster standard actions), and taking them just to give yourself a tactical advantage (soaking monster OAs), but it's definitely a nice trick to have up your sleeve in an emergency!

I've also been thinking about another aspect of the encounter that we had. We were very much outnumbered after the reinforcements arrived, and from a metagame monster optimization standpoint I couldn't help thinking that if as many monsters as possible attacked a single character we would have lost. Instead, the DM had 2 or 3 guys attacking each member of our party (which was still focus fire, I guess). When this happens, is that an example of a DM "going easy on the party?" That thought was certainly in the back of my mind yesterday, but then I started thinking about how such a set up may have given us an advantage as well. That would require even more clumping of the enemies than we already enjoyed. Between Grasping Tide and Rapid Shot, the enemy forces probably would have gotten mown down pretty fast, assuming that we made sure that we gave ourselves space to shift in order to get ranged attacks off without provoking OAs (Immeral, at least, has Invigorating Stride which makes him difficult to pin down too long). Plus since Albus and Immeral were staying separated, swarming one character would leave the other perfectly open and safe to fire at-will. The first thing that Albus and Padfoot had done when they entered the room was pin the human archers against the back wall, forcing them to fall back on crappy melee attacks (so the enemies didn't really have a focus-fire-without-clumping option).

I didn't think about it at the time, but the enemies actually did a pretty good job of spreading out such that only about 2 were usually in a burst 1 at any given time (at least in the middle rounds of the fight). It's likely that this was either a subconscious or conscious decision on the part of the DM to avoid another round where 6 of the monsters were caught in a Rapid Shot, especially since after they were up the stairs, Albus (who didn't have line of sight to them for that round) would have been able to follow up with Grasping Tide. Rapid Shot's high damage may not help Hunters minion sweep any better than Scorching Burst, for example, but for forcing standard enemies to spread out it's amazing. Even though it doesn't ignore concealment or deal full damage to Swarms, it still has its niche and functions very well in it. Before I actually played the Hunter I was skeptical about Rapid Shot's usefulness, but now I'm convinced that it's a solid weapon to have in your arsenal. Sometimes area damage really is just what the doctor ordered."

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