In writing this blog, I’ve unleashed a wave of clever, highly evolved monsters upon the D&D world. It’s only fair that I now give players the tools they need to fight back . . . and live.
Live to Tell the Tale: An Introduction to Combat Tactics for Dungeons and Dragons Players is a 67-page e-book that examines combat roles, class features, party composition, positioning, debilitating conditions, attacking combinations, action economy, and the ever-important consideration of the best ways to run away. If you’re a beginning D&D player unsure what to do when you get into a fight, this e-book will point you in the right direction; if you’re an intermediate player, it will help you win more and die less. If you’re a dungeon master with a group of new players, buy a copy and share it with them. Although it’s a PDF download, it’s formatted to be printed as a booklet, if you care to do that. (In Adobe Reader’s Print menu, under Page Sizing and Handling, select Booklet.)
One thing I want to be clear about: This is not a book about how to create a fully optimized character from square one. Just the opposite. “Real roleplayers” are my people. If you want to create an idiot savant sorcerer, a half-orc cleric/bard or a gnome ranger, I wholeheartedly support that. Do what you love. But, that being said, if you love that character, you need to keep him or her alive!
Here’s the secret: Viability doesn’t depend on stats. It depends on behavior. That’s what this book is about: how to get the most from your creation in combat, so that he or she lives long enough to retire and tell boring stories about the old days.
Below is an excerpt from part 1, Character Creation and Combat Roles:
Understanding Ability Contours
Certain combinations of high scores—what I call “ability contours”—favor certain styles of fighting. You may wish to develop a rough character concept ahead of time, decide on a fighting style, then assign ability scores to fit that style. Or you may wish to assign your character’s ability scores, then decide on a class and fighting style that fit those scores. How you develop the concept and stats of your character doesn’t matter. What does matter is that if your character’s ability scores and his or her class and fighting style are at odds, your character won’t be as effective in combat.
The Front Line: Strength + Constitution
The role of front-line characters is to occupy the enemy’s attention by charging them and engaging in melee. The most important ability for this role is Constitution, because this character has to be able to soak up the damage that would kill other characters. But an offensive ability is also important, because if this character can’t do meaningful damage to opponents, he or she can’t hold their attention, and the usual choice of primary offensive ability is Strength. Medium and heavy armor benefit front-line fighters the most.
The Shock Attacker: Strength + Dexterity (or just Dexterity)
This is a character whose role is to identify key enemies and eliminate them quickly by doing large bursts of damage. Shock attackers don’t want to spend time in drawn-out combat. They hit first, hit hard and get out, because their lack of Constitution makes them less able to absorb damage themselves. As a defensive ability, Dexterity is good for avoiding damage, but the longer combat goes on, the more likely an opponent is to land a lucky hit. Stealth is often important for shock attackers, so they benefit most from light or medium armor.
The Skirmisher: Dexterity + Constitution
This includes ranged and finesse-weapon melee fighters, durable but also highly mobile, who wear their opponents down by dealing modest but consistent damage over time. Skirmishers are suited to drawn-out combat. Finesse weapons tend to do less damage than other melee weapons, but these characters also have more staying power, thanks to their Constitution, so their damage can add up. This doesn’t mean they should gratuitously expose themselves to more attacks, however. Instead, they should stay on the move, taking their shots when their opponents’ attention is divided. Stealth benefits skirmishers as much as it does shock attackers, so they too should wear light or medium armor.
The Marksman: Dexterity + Wisdom
Unless they’re shock attackers wielding finesse weapons, characters without high Strength or high Constitution should stay out of melee and behind cover as much as possible. The idea behind combining Dexterity and Wisdom is to rely on Dexterity for both offense and defense (in other words, attacking at range, because the lack of points in Constitution makes this ability contour risky for a finesse melee fighter) and on Wisdom to spot stealthy opponents who are trying to hide. Marksmen should wear the best armor they’re proficient with that doesn’t inhibit their own Stealth. . . .
On page 9 of earlier editions of Live to Tell the Tale, “Warlocks stand apart from wizards and warlocks” should read, “Warlocks stand apart from wizards and sorcerers.” On page 31, “as if you were bright light” should read, “as if it were bright light.” These errors have been fixed in the current edition.