Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Basic attacks or just hack it with your sword

Having my campaign filled with new players, I will admit that sometimes options can be a little daunting during their combat turn. Between the at wills, encounter powers, and class abilities, it can be a bit of information to process when they step up to the melee plate. There is this general idea among the group that each player should try to maximize their actions during their turn. Sometimes they pull off coordinated maneuvers getting a lot of synergy from their respective abilities which is really cool. But sometimes, things can slow down as they are unsure what would be the best course of action.

That’s when I pipe in, ‘Just make a basic attack.’

At will powers seem to be the bread an butter for most player combat attacks. They should be. They are often focused on key ability scores that translate into substantial bonuses for damage and to hit rolls. However at times I do find that they can curb options for players, where basic attacks open up a more free form of potential actions. Can’t quite make the distance to get into melee? Charge in and just make a basic attack. Still a bit too far even with a double move and all your powers are melee attacks? Throw that hand axe and make a basic attack. I tend to see new players so focused on their powers, they begin to ignore the option of just using the lowly basic attack.

Movement effects are optional - There is something a lot of new players forget about with powers that have movement effects, you can ignore them completely (PHB pg. 57). I’ve had players get into an optimal tactical situation and fret a little about using some power which employs a shift, or some other forced movement. That movement is completely optional. So if a player wants to just crank out the hurt and not bother dancing around, remind them that all that forced movement on a power means they can do it if they want to, and not that they are forced to.

Weapon proficiency is your friend - Making attacks using key ability score powers helps tons in getting past a monster’s defence. However weapon proficiency bonuses are worth noting too. At times I’ve found my ranged-heavy PCs cornered or surrounded, so that making ranged attacks is difficult. I try to remind them of that option of making a basic attack with a melee weapon. While it may not be the most optimal attack, they do get some form of a bonus to their to hit rolls.

Melee Training feat - There is a little gem of a heroic feat locked away in the PHB2 (pg. 187). Melee training allows a player to select any ability score other than strength with melee weapons they are proficient with. For melee basic attacks, they get a full bonus for that ability score with to hit rolls and ½ the ability score for damage (been hit with errata). Now non-strength characters have another option in place of other powers. That wizard might not be to hesitant to hit something with their staff if backed into a corner knowing they can use their intelligence modifier as a bonus (and don’t forget the weapon proficiency bonus to boot).

I am seriously considering giving this feat away as a freebie my next campaign, but just limit it to one proficient weapon type of their choice. I might even consider keeping this limitation in and house rule a similar feat for ranged weapons also.

Heavy thrown weapons - Fortunately there are weapon types that give a little flexibility for ranged attacks using strength instead of dexterity. Suggest that fighter to think about picking up a javelin or a throwing hammer. It gives them just a little bit of tactical flexibility if their mobility is hindered during a fight, and still allow them to make some kind of attack.

I’ve found once I started suggesting making basic attacks as an option, my players have begun to think beyond the stack of cards in front of them. The ranged rogue in the group has picked up an enchanted sword as a backup weapon. The warlord now opens up combat hurling a javelin before making a charge into the fray. I’m getting players doing bull rushes, kicking over braziers, throwing chairs, making all sorts of improvised attacks. Even the group sorcerer has stepped up and hacked away at a lowly minion with their dagger, rather than sacrifice a move action to get some distance for a ranged attack.

So I implore DMs out there if your players get locked into turn indecision, encourage that basic attack. Push PCs into realizing there are other things they can do in fights outside that list of powers. More importantly, those options are not horrible actions for PCs to take. After some time don’t be surprised if your players start coming up with some creative attacks and trying to use the environment in fights too.

EDIT: Kind folks have pointed out the Melee Training feat here was wrong. So I hunted down the right errata and corrected it.