The Wednesday WTF.

Oh hey it’s Wednesday again. This week I will be talking about the fallacy that single target damage is innately superior to multi-target damage, specifically in the realm of D&D 4e (this comes from the 4e forums). I’m going to attempt to keep this from getting too lengthy by avoiding the many side discussions on the issue, but I suspect it will still be a bit of a read. Bear with me.

To begin with, D&D 4e has four basic roles as defined by Wizards of the Coast: the Defender (tank), Leader (healer), Striker (DPS), and Controller (buffs/debuffs and utility). AoE also functions differently in D&D than it does in most video games. Where in video games AoE damage may do 50% or less damage per target when compared to the same character’s single target damage, in D&D 4e AoE damage can reach upwards of 90% of the damage single target is capable of dealing, making the addition of a new targets vastly more powerful than in video games. So much so that it is often used as a preventative measure rather than a truly offensive one: fear of the reprisal should they group up limits the tactical options of the other team. The AoE may never go off, but the fact that it could dictates much of the battlefield.

Two classes in particular in D&D excel at AoE damage: The Sorcerer and the Wizard. Damage dealing in an area manner rather than single-target is unique enough in its role that the community has found it necessary to differentiate them from other Strikers by giving them a new name: Blasters. The goal of the DPR, be they Strikers or Blasters is to kill as many enemies as possible in as few rounds as possible, thus minimizing the damage that the party takes.  The assertion made by some members of the community is that single-target will always trump multi-target in deaths-per-round.  This is simply not true. The way your GM plays and the types of mobs you are fighting both have such an effect on the viability of either style as to utterly dwarf the mechanical differences. Allow me to illustrate:

Situations in which single target DPR is superior:

  • Against a single target (Solo monster).
  • In multiple target fights in which the target all stay spread out to avoid getting hit by AoE.
  • In any situation where the Blaster cannot one-shot their target, and cannot hit more than 2 targets at a time.

All of these cases are perfectly valid, and illustrate scenarios in which a Striker is superior to a Blaster. Proponents of Striker superiority then trumpet this as proof of their assertion. The problem obviously is that they have only considered situations which by their very nature favor the Striker. Sort of like trying to prove that the pen is universally superior to the pencil by only looking at signing legal documentation. If your trial does not include all valid scenarios you have invalidated your trial and any conclusions you may make based upon said trial. Again to illustrate:

Scenarios in which AoE is superior:

  • Against any opponent which the Blaster can one-shot (Minions are a good example).
  • In any situation in which the Blaster can catch 4 or more opponents in the blast.
  • In any situation in which the Striker cannot oneshot their target, and the Blaster does at least 50% of the mob’s health per hit and can hit at least 2 targets.

If your GM tailors campaigns so that you only fight extremely tough monsters that always make sure they cannot be AoE’d then fine, Striker is the class for you. All that is proof of, however, is that the Blaster is a bad choice for your campaign. It does not in any way prove that the Blaster is inferior as a whole. Proponents will then change to talking about how you’re never going to encounter any of the situations which favor the Blaster over the Striker. “Really”, I say, “I come across them all the time.”

“No”, they counter, “No good GM will ever use Minions or allow mobs to be hit by AoE.”

“Really”, I reply, “I assume by that you mean ‘No GM who’s sole goal is to make an encounter as difficult as possible for a party of PCs which happens to include a Blaster would ever use Minions or allow the mobs to be hit by AoE’ as that is not at all the definition of ‘good’ and is instead a suspiciously long list of criteria to meet your idea that Strikers are better and oh by the way don’t you find it interesting that the mere presence of a Blaster forces said party-killing GM to use certain tactics and mob types which one could argue in a run-on-sentence is at least worth the ~20% less damage-per-target that a Blaster deals when compared to a Striker?”

“…shut up”, they say.

I’m avoiding issues like Wizards vs Sorcerers, Nova, scaling, forced movement, cheese builds, Rangers, and the like. However I do feel the need to note that I am aware that such discussions exist, and that most of them are silly. For a look at the central issue I presented here (and likely plenty of the side issues), look on the D&D 4e CharOp forums for pretty much any thread with “Sorcerer” or “Blaster” in the title.

In conclusion, both Strikers and Blasters have situations in which they can shine. Neither is definitively better than the other, and the effectiveness of either will largely be determined by your GM and the people you play with. Go forth, and enjoy your monster slaying in any fashion you fancy.

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One Response to The Wednesday WTF.

  1. tarq says:

    It’s taken me a while to come around to being a controller/blaster, and I think my heart is always gonna be with striker. (I played our party’s rogue while he was on vacation, and took a 106-HP cambion from full to dead in one turn. My pants felt funny.) But man, the ability to dominate the battlefield with AoE is really fucking cool.

    A few weeks ago, we were in a boss fight with constantly spawning minions, and I basically blew through every single resource I had killing 2-4 imps a turn while the rest of the party dealt with the boss. It was probably the most frantic, exciting encounter I’ve ever had in a turn-based game. Wizard is pretty awesome.

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