Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Can you do too much damage?

Strikers are my least favorite class. I like strikers, but I rarely like the way other people play them. The power gamers play strikers. The glory hounds play strikers. The hack n’ slashers play strikers. The mindless thugs play strikers. While strikers can be played by all range of players, the player types I mentioned above will always choose a striker for their character.

The striker is supposed to do lots of damage. It’s right in their name- Strike! But can strikers have too much of a good thing? Can they take their singular focus on doing damage too far?

I’d like to think yes, you can take it too far. There has to be a limit. Doesn’t there?


Too much of something else
In other facets of the game, you can have too much of a good thing. If your paladin’s divine challenge does 2 points of damage, only a minion can afford to ignore you. If you instead can dish out 100 points of damage on a divine challenge, enemies will flock to you like teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert. But can you do 50 points and still force the villains to focus on you? How about 20?

For most features, there is a limit on how far to focus your abilities. If you overspecialize, you are actually weakening your character. By improving your character in an area that doesn’t need to be any better, you are missing out on the opportunity to enhance him somewhere else and make him even stronger.

How much damage is too much?
The only time you have too much damage is when you can kill something in one hit. Short of minions, that is an unrealistic goal to reach, so I need to look for another milestone.

First, you can figure out, “is it fun?” If rolling the dice is just an exercise in wrist movement and checking for a natural 1, you might be overstriking. If you roll damage as a formality because halfway through adding your damage bonuses, the DM interrupts and says, “Yeah, yeah, he’s dead. Next,” you might be overstriking. At least to the point where you’re not excited about your roll, and that should be exciting.

Strikers don’t need to kill everything instantly- they just need to be better at killing then the other characters. The striker knows his job is to cause damage, and so he gains validation by impressing everyone and showing them how much damage he can do.

So how much damage do you need to do have fun?

Answer: More than the other characters. Enough so that everyone recognizes you as the big dog. You need to do enough damage so that everyone knows you carry the big stick (or dagger or crossbow etc.) and they need to “respect mah authoritay!” Now you’ve reached the point as a striker where you are having fun. Anything more than that is not going to bring you more fun; it’s only going to let you brag that you can do 80 points with a critical instead of 70.

You always want to do more damage than the other characters, but not to the point where the other characters’ attacks are irrelevant. Their damage should still be a significant contributor to the outcome. As the striker, you need to outpace everyone else in the damage department, perhaps considerably outpace them, but you shouldn’t eclipse them.

If there are other strikers in the party, you need to be competitive with one another. It’s a team game, and doing a lot of damage together is at least as much fun as doing half as much by yourself. Dominating the damage race against another striker isn’t fun for the other guy. You want to make sure you’re both appreciated for your damage dealing ability so you both have fun. The exception is if the other striker isn’t pushing the damage envelope to the point where you feel like you’re doing your job as a striker. In this case, you have to push that envelope yourself and let them decide to join in or focus elsewhere.

It’s a numbers game
This is all well and good, but it’s not a concrete reason to avoid a sole focus on damage optimization. Having fun? That’s my big argument? I’m an engineer. I pay more attention to math and science and give less weight to intangibles like feelings and court-mandated sensitivity training.

Can you make the numbers support doing less damage? I’d like to think so.


I already stated that short of killing someone instantly, you can’t numerically do too much damage in one hit. But there may be other numbers to consider.

Strikers that focus solely on damage are often glass cannons- they can dish it out, but they can’t take it. That’s the defender’s job. Maybe there’s a relation there. A defender can only do his job if his punishment mechanism is enough to discourage an opponent from attacking someone else. If a striker provides such a great threat that monsters can’t afford to ignore the striker, the defender might as well be another striker because they’re not absorbing any attacks.

With this logic, your target damage should be where the DM has a hard time figuring out whether the monsters should attack the striker or the defender: ignore the striker and take lots of damage, or ignore the defender and take lots of damage. As the DM’s eyes tear up in frustration over his “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” decision and he runs to the toilet to flush his Monster Manual down the toilet, you and the defender can give each other high fives and enjoy the true player satisfaction that comes from beating the DM at D&D.

Except … what if the defender isn’t very good? You can’t let yourself be held back by his inadequacies. What if the defender can’t lock down all of the attackers? Then you need to take down those killer rabbits before you can count to 5, all by yourself. Which leads me to the alpha strike.

Alpha Strike
The alpha strike is a first turn nova. A sudden blitz attack meant to take out as much of the opposition as possible before they have a chance to strike back. Most strikers specialize in the alpha strike. But as a striker, you should be concerned about when the alpha strike happens to you.

If you get ambushed, can you survive? Maybe that depends on the leader. Or the initiative bonus of the controller. As a striker, your primary concern is making sure you can survive an alpha strike by the monsters. After that, you get back to your chief delight- to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and to hear the lamentations of their women.

A striker needs to invest the bare minimum resources into their character to survive a short break down in party order- the one to two rounds it takes for the party to pull together and rearrange the battlefield to their advantage. How much that is depends on the rest of the party. With some good support characters, (leader and controller) you may not need to even worry about this. After that minor investment is made, there’s no reason not to focus solely on busting heads and detaching limbs as quickly and brutally as possible.

Damage is limitless?
With all my arguments here so far, it appears that there is no realistic limit to doing too much damage. Your priorities in life as a striker are:
1)    Survive a few attacks when necessary
2)    Kill everything in sight
3)    Have fun doing it.

I hate to say it, but having fun might be the only argument I have for not doing too much damage. That can’t be the only reason can there? There has to be some other reason for not maximizing your damage output? Right?


Hmmm. Maybe not.

If you know of another reason, I’d love to hear it!

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