Power Options, Status Effects & Mutual Assured Destruction

Last week’s Legends & Lore column by Monte Cook discussed issues related to rule complexity. Many have suggested in that past that 4th Edition is too complex, which is one of the primary reasons for combat encounters grinding to a halt. The problems with complexity become more prevalent as the players advance in level to the degree that DMs face problems creating combat encounter that can challenge the party. This week’s Legends & Lore column expanded on the issue of complexity by asking, “What can you do on your turn?” The topic of 4th Edition’s complexity and how a rumored 5th Edition will resolve those issues is hotly debated, and the Legends & Lore columns only add to the speculation.

It is at these times that I enjoy delving into data and analyzing things before adding my two cents of opinion to the conversation. There are several assumptions that are behind claims that 4th Edition is too complex and becomes increasingly unmanageable as the party advances in level, which culminates in Epic Tier combat encounters that take longer to run and longer to design. Let’s examine a few of the assumptions:

  • Combat includes too many moving parts and the parts move more dramatically as the players advance in level.
  • Players gain more options in combat as they advance in level.
  • Players gain more powerful options (i.e., status effects) in combat as they advance in level.

Below, data is presented that address these assumptions.


My goal is to examine combat in terms of complexity including number of player options and the degree of the power of their options as they advance in level. I previously analyzed combat encounters for a Level 3 party, which found that the average turn for each player lasted over two minutes. However, the assumption that complexity, player options and degree of powerful options increases with level advancement has not been described with specific data (to my knowledge). I tasked myself with adding data to the discussion.


For this analysis, I quantified the powers of a four-player party over the lifespan of a campaign. I selected one Class from each Role in the game – Controller, Leader, Defender, Striker. Each available At-Will, Encounter and Daily power available within the Class was coded in terms of the applicable status effects and other power options. The analysis started November 20, 2011 and concluded November 27, 2011; powers were viewed through the online Character Builder. As a result, earlier or later versions of errata are not included in the analysis.

Powers were coded into several categories. First – and the least complicated – was the status effect the power applied to an enemy (or enemies). For example, if a power indicates that it does 1(W) + 6 damage and target is blinded, then the power would be coded to include the Blinded status effect. Powers can have more than one applicable status effect as in this example: 2(W) + 8 damage and target is slowed and knocked prone. In this example, the power would be coded to include both Slowed and Prone status effects. Because powers often have multiple status effects, the tables below include more status effects and other conditions than the total number of power. Another way to state this is that a Druid may only have 12 choices for the Level 3 Encounter Power, but those 12 powers could produce up to 20 status effects.

Initially, I only planned to code status effects for each power, but found that there are a multitude of other power options that grant players bonuses and impose penalties on monsters. Other than status effects, powers also alter a wide array of gaming mechanics. I coded additional conditions from powers into the following categories:

  • Ongoing damage – Deals additional damage each round.
  • Movement – PC or ally can move freely or forces movement upon an enemy or enemies (e.g., push, pull, slide, teleport); also covers the creation or removal of difficult terrain.
  • Healing – PC or ally can heal or regenerate.
  • Combat Advantage – Enemy or enemies now grant combat advantage
  • Penalty – Any negative modifier applied to an enemies or enemies, such as -2 to defenses or vulnerable 5 cold damage.
  • Bonus – Any positive modifier applied to PC and/or allies, such as +2 to defenses, +1 to speed or + Dexterity Modifier to damage.

The list of additional conditions above is not exhaustive, but presents a clearer picture of power capabilities compared to only coding applicable status effects.

Quiz Answers

Before moving forward, I wish to follow-up on my post last week that presented a preview of the data I collected. I was curious if players of 4th Edition could correctly identify the Role of a character only by the number and type of status effects their powers apply to enemies over the course of a campaign. The data posted in the previous article was collected from a Druid (Controller), Fighter (Defender) and Rogue (Striker). The majority of voters correctly identified two of the three Roles of the characters presented.

The first character presented was a Druid (Controller). The Druid presented the most difficult challenge as only 43% of the respondents (30 out of 70) correctly identified the Role as Controller. Respondents answered Defender (26%), Leader (17%) and Striker (14%), which means the majority (57%) thought the status effects represented something other than a Controller.

Respondents that left comments indicated they were swayed by the number of powers that caused Prone and Dominated as reasons for selecting Controller.

The next profile presented was from the Fighter (Defender). The vast majority of respondents (81%, 50 out of 62) correctly identified the Role from the status effects applied by powers. The remaining 12 respondents selected Controller (10%), Striker (8%) and Leader (1%). The Defender was the easiest for respondents to correctly identify, although 19% of respondents selected a Role other than Defender.

Respondents that wrote comments suggested the large number of powers that applied Marked conditions was the primary reason for selecting Defender. While other status effects can be found throughout other Roles, the ability to apply the Marked effect is a distinctly Defender-ish quality to most players of 4th Edition. I find this result interesting, and will return to it in more detail in a few paragraphs below.

The final profile presented in the quiz was derived from a Rogue (Striker). Respondents were just able to achieve a majority as the question was correctly answered by 31 out of 60 (52%) selected Striker. Of course, this means that 48% of the respondents selected something other than Striker. The most common incorrect responses were Leader (23%), Controller (17%) and Defender (8%).

One of the commenters, Michael Lee, indicated the primary reason for selecting Striker was the result of the lone Unconscious ability in the Heroic Tier, “I suspect [it] is a Rogue because of the Daily that makes the opponent unconscious (Knockout Blow or something like that). It’s a fairly unique power and one that sees play at my table.” The ability to knock an enemy Unconscious in Heroic Tier is rare, as it does not appear on the Controller or Defender profiles above. Another commenter, QuirkyDM, considered Striker, “I went controller. There are a lot of stun, daze, slowed and prone. Though I see there is a single marking power there, so maybe it should be striker instead.”

I was unable to complete the final profile for the Cleric (Leader) before posting the quiz. I imagine the Leader’s profile would have been another challenge for the majority of respondents to properly identify. The profile contains multiple effects that blind, daze, dominate, immobilize, mark, knock prone, restrain, slow, stun and weaken enemies. The lack of multiple powers that mark would likely eliminate Defender, but I would imagine the answers would be somewhat evenly split between Controller, Leader and Striker.

Before moving on to the rest of the results, I would like to discuss the following table, which summarizes the available status effects for the four-player party made up of a Cleric (Leader), Druid (Controller), Fighter (Defender) and Rogue (Striker).

As mentioned above, Marked is a distinctly Defender-ish ability. In addition, the Fighter (Defender) also has a significantly higher amount of powers that cause Prone. The Fighter also has the most powers that cause Immobilized, but the difference is not as significant compared to the options available to other Roles. The only other significant difference between the Roles is found in the Blinded category. The Cleric (Leader) can Blind with 13 powers, which is more than double the next highest Role (Defender: 6). I wonder if this is simply a Cleric-centric ability, or if Leaders as a whole are more likely to have powers that apply Blinded status effect. Perhaps someone else can explore in more detail. Finally, the Cleric (Leader) and Druid (Controller) have multiple powers that Dominate but neither the Rogue (Striker) or Fighter (Defender) have Dominate powers. On the surface, the lack of Dominate powers for Defenders and Strikers is logical.

A somewhat surprising finding is that no other status effect is distinctive in terms of how often it is caused by one Role or the other. The Rogue (Striker) has the most Stun powers but it is not by a wide margin. All Roles have powers that can cause an enemy to be Blinded, Dazed, Immobilized, Prone, Restrained, Slowed, Stunned and Weakened. As a result, those status effects are not special since all players – in any Role – have powers that can cause them.


The answers to the quiz are just a small subset of the data collected. The remaining results are presented below. The tables below present a list of Status Conditions, which were taken from the Dungeon Master Screen 2 and how often they are applied by character powers per level. For example, a Druid has 12 Encounter Powers to choose from at Level 7. Of those powers, six apply status effects (1 Dazed, 1 Dominated, 2 Grabbed, 1 Prone, 1 Retrained). In addition to the status effects, the 12 powers also create 14 Power Options, which you can conceptualize as Benefits (2 Movement, 4 Combat Advantage, 4 Penalty, 4 Bonus). The 12 Level 7 Encounter Powers have a total of 20 Power Options (i.e., benefits) that can be applied to combat. The Powers and Power Options are totaled at each Tier.  Please click on each image for a sharper picture of the data.

The powers for each character above have been coded by the level of each power, starting with the Level 1 At-Will powers and ending with the Level 29 Daily powers. Missing from the analysis are powers granted by Feats, Racial Abilities, Magic Items, Utility Powers, Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies. I declined coding these items because there are simply too many combinations. The above results picture the bare-minimum in terms of a player’s power choices. To understand the full options in the arsenal of an Epic Tier player, I encourage you to visit the insane Stat Block for a Level 30 Fighter created by The Hydra DM.

The first thing that is immediately clear is that almost every single power listed above does something other than damage. For example, the Druid (Controller) has 201 powers that can be selected during Level 1-30; only 4 (2%) just cause damage. One might think the following, “Well, that makes sense, Controllers are always doing something to the battlefield. They are named Controllers after all.” Fair point, but below are the total number of powers for each of the remaining Roles followed by the percentage of those powers that only cause damage and do not produce some type of effect:

  • Defender – 277 (6%)
  • Striker – 213 (7%)
  • Leader – 279 (3%)

The number of powers that apply status effects do not tell the entire story, as each power a player has at his or her disposal creates an additional feature that benefits the party in some way including but not limited to tactical movement to a more advantageous position, healing, providing bonuses to hit monsters or fend off incoming attacks. To determine just how many power options exist for each Role, I analyzed the data in two ways.

The first step was to provide an average for the number of power options per power for each Role. For example, the Cleric (Leader) has 137 Powers that can be selected in the Heroic Tier. The 137 Powers create a total of 187 Power Options (i.e., Status Effects, Ongoing damage, Healing, etc.). In other words, each Cleric’s Power during the Heroic Tier produce – on average – 1.36 Power Options. The 1.36 Power Options are in addition to any damage caused by the power. The Cleric’s Power Options Per Power increases to 1.57 at the Paragon Tier and 1.63 at the Epic Tier. The Average presents how many Power Options a party – on average – can create with each Power during the various Tiers of the campaign. The Power Options for the party increases from 1.375 at Heroic Tier to 1.633 at Epic Tier. In other words, each player during Epic Tier has powers that create more additional beneficial effects for the party when compared to power during Heroic and Paragon Tiers.

The same level of progression can be seen by examining the Status Effects Per Power table above. For example, the Druid (Controller) has 90 Powers in Heroic Tier that can result in 40 status effects. Each power for the Druid creates 0.47 (40/90) status effects. The ratio of Powers to status effects decreases during Paragon (0.44) but rises dramatically during Epic (0.81). The Cleric (Leader) also benefits from a large increase in Epic while the Defender and Striker show modest increases.

The data above indicate that players certainly gain more Power Options (or Benefits) as the characters advance in level, which directly addresses the earlier assumptions:

  • Combat includes too many moving parts and the parts move more rapidly as the players advance in level.
  • Players gain more options in combat as they advance in level.

Powers simply do more during Epic Tier. In addition to causing damage, powers during Epic Tier create an average of 1.6 additional beneficial effects for the party. In a four-player party, one round of combat produces 6.4 beneficial effects during Epic Tier. By way of comparison, a four-player party can produce 5.5 beneficial effect during Heroic Tier. One additional benefit per round may not seem significant, but the magnitude of beneficial effects also increases during Epic Tier.

One way to determine the magnitude of beneficial effects is to examine how often powers create debilitating effects for enemies during combat. Powers that Stun are incredibly destructive to encounter balance because one (or more) of the monsters losses a full turn. Another power that severely changes the course of battle is Weakened, since it halves the damage output of one (or more) monsters. As the table to the right demonstrates, powers that Stun or Weaken substantially increase during Epic Tier.

The four-player party has no powers that Stun enemies during Heroic Tier. The powers with Stun capability increase to nine for the party at Paragon Tier and almost double again to 16 at Epic Tier. Cumulatively, the Druid, Cleric, Fighter and Rogue have 25 powers that can cause an enemy (or enemies) to be Stunned. During the entire Epic Tier, the same party has no powers to cause an enemy to be Stunned.

While powers that Weaken are found in Heroic (4) and Paragon Tier (5), the total powers that Weaken more than doubles (13) during Epic Tier. Epic Tier damage already has a great deal of variability as more damage dice are involved; powers that Weaken limit the amount of damage a monster can deliver. As a result, the threat level for players is decreased. There is a major difference between suffering 80 points of damage compared to 40 points of damage.

The final power highlighted is Removed, which is rare even in Epic. However, the four-player party could potentially have three powers that would Remove an enemy from the battlefield. The party would not have a single power to Remove an enemy during Heroic and Paragon Tier.

A thought may come to your mind, “Well, that makes sense because all status effects simply scale up as powers advance in level. I’m sure you would get the same result if you created a table for Dazed and other powers.” Excellent argument, but the data does not support that line of reasoning.

As can be seen on the tables to the right, the status effects presented of Dazed, Prone and Restrained do not follow the same linear pattern as Stun, Weaken and Removed. The prevalence of Dazed effects granted by powers for the four-player party ranges from 24 in Heroic Tier to 30 in Epic Tier. As for Prone, Heroic Tier features more powers granting the Prone status effect (45) than either Paragon (29) or Epic Tier (27). Finally, Restrained remains equally rare throughout all Tiers.

The data demonstrate that players not only gain more Power Options (i.e., benefits like movement, ongoing damage, healing, etc) during Epic Tier, but also gain more powerful status effects. The result would appear to confirm the third assumption listed above:

  • Players gain more powerful options (i.e., status effects) in combat as they advance in level.

Keep in mind, the results above only describe a four-player party without options granted by Feats, Utility Powers, Racial Abilities, Magic Items, Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies. Plus, the analysis does not even begin to address the economy of Move and Minor actions and Action Points. In reality, the players are even more well-equipped to deal with combat during Epic Tier than the results above indicate.


The results above demonstrate the multitude of status effects and conditions each player can apply during combat encounters through powers, and how those status effects and conditions increase in number and potency during the Epic Tier. The results provide evidence for three of the most common assumptions regarding combat during the Epic Tier:

  • Combat includes too many moving parts and the parts move more rapidly as the players advance in level.
  • Players gain more options in combat as they advance in level.
  • Players gain more powerful options (i.e., status effects) in combat as they advance in level.

The results also speak directly to the question posed by Monte Cook this morning, “What can you do on your turn?” On any given turn, the player has three options – Move, Minor and Standard Actions in various combinations. However, the powers available to players allow them to do much more than simply attack an enemy; almost all of the powers available although the players to attack and do something else. Players can attack and heal as a free action, or attack and move two squares as a free action, attack and push an enemy three squares, attack and cause the enemy to suffer a penalty and so on. Each player changes the battlefield in multiple ways each turn, and those changes need to be executed and tracked by the party and the DM. There are a great deal of moving parts to deal with in 4th Edition combat because the powers offer too many options.

The DM has several options to combat the combined power of the party: a) increase the level of the combat encounter, b) increase the threat of individual monsters through extra damage or c) create powerful environmental effects or game mechanics to penalize players. Either way, the choices for the DM are a means of extending combat and creating additional effects that need to be tracked so players are tested at higher levels of play. Since the players have great power and alter the battlefield to their benefit each turn, the DM has to create monsters, traps and hazards that meet their challenge.

It is an arms race that results in mutual assured destruction. By mutual assured destruction (see also, WarGames), I refer to the:

doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of high-yield weapons of mass destruction by two opposing sides would effectively result in the complete, utter and irrevocable annihilation of both the attacker and the defender, becoming thus a war that has no victory nor any armistice but only effective reciprocal destruction.

In the context of the current discussion, the victims of mutual assured destruction are fun and balance. Combat grinds along at a glacial pace as players plot their many tactical options, roll and calculate large amounts of damage dice and persist while the DM throws more and more at the party. One of the surprising findings is that combat is complex even during the Heroic Tier.

But the question is often asked, “What makes Epic Tier epic?” It is a fair question, and I believe it is up to the DM to take the story to a grander scale. The party may start off quelling Kobold uprisings but end the campaign jumping through the Planes and fighting Gods. Throughout the campaign, the mechanics of combat remain unchanged, except the players gain access to more options per-turn and stronger powers that severely limit the threat level posed by monsters.

Joshua may be onto something.

A recent article expressed thoughts on how to streamline the 10-Level Epic Tier to make it feel more special to the party and less of a sluggish grind to the conclusion of a campaign. The ideas certainly have merit, but speaking as a player, if I’ve invested approximately two years into playing a character, then I want to be rewarded with gaining the “awesome” and “badass” powers that wreak havoc on the battlefield. I want to banish demons to another plane of existence and rob them of actions through powers that Stun and cause other debilitating effects. As a player, Epic Tier could be considered it’s own reward for investing so much time into the game.

Limitations & Future Research

The data analysis has caused several thoughts to form in my mind, but I need to marinate on them before moving forward with additional commentary. (Plus, this post is already closing in on 4,000 words!) However, I want to discuss several limitations to the above analysis.

First, I am one person coding a set of data, which is always a limitation in research. Ideally, two or more individuals would code the data to ensure accuracy. Second, I have made the assumption that each Class of character I coded (Cleric, Druid, Fighter and Rogue) is representative of the associated Role. It is entirely possible that a selection of four other Classes to represent each Role (Leader, Controller, Defender and Striker) would provide different results and outcomes.

Ideally, I would have access to an accurate database of all powers that could be analyzed by any category of interest, such as Class, Role or Tier. For example, it would be informative to quickly answer any of the following questions through such a database:

  • How many powers in 4th Edition Stun?
  • How many Classes in each of the four Roles have powers that Dominate?
  • Are Strikers the most likely Role to have powers that punish enemy with Ongoing Damage?
  • How large is the average Aura granted by a power in Heroic, Paragon and Epic Tier?
  • What percentage of Classes offer a Level 7 Encounter Power that creates a Dazed effect?

I imagine that Wizards of the Coast has such a database of powers. If not, then they really should because asking questions like those listed above can go far to develop a balanced game. It would be fantastic to have access to such a database and use a statistical program like SPSS or SAS to answer these (and many other) questions about the design of 4th Edition.

Future research should obviously expand on the analysis to include many more Classes in each Role. Perhaps most importantly, it would be helpful analyze the four Roles but with Essentials Classes. It would be interesting to view those results in comparison to those above. A common refrain from those wishing to improve Epic Tier play is to limit Class selection to Essentials. Someone should investigate that assumption. If someone takes on that challenge, then please let me know because I would enjoy viewing the results.


My questions for readers who lasted this long with the analysis:

  • Should status effects be tied to specific Classes or Roles to increase a character’s identify?
  • How special do you view Status Effects as a DM and as a player?
  • Should the majority of powers have additional benefits or simply cause damage?
  • What did you find interesting or surprising in the results above?

Author: The Id DM

The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.

46 thoughts on “Power Options, Status Effects & Mutual Assured Destruction”

  1. So there’s lots and lots of good stuff here to respond to, but I do want to call out this in reaction to my article specifically: “[S]peaking as a player, if I’ve invested approximately two years into playing a character, then I want to be rewarded with gaining the “awesome” and “badass” powers that wreak havoc on the battlefield.”

    I entirely agree with you, it’s just that those awesome and badass powers become old quick when grinding through all 10 levels of epic, and become tired when used in every fight. My experience has shown that focusing on a smaller number of important fights where the players have enough chances to show off what they’ve gained without it becoming routine is ideal, which is what I was trying to accomplish.

    1. Dave, thanks for reading. And as a DM, I like your suggestion for streamlining Epic Tier. I think some players would be on board with the changes as well, but others might want to showcase their newfound abilities for a longer period of time. As I mentioned, there is a bunch of issues I want to think more about, but I agree with you that being “a God” in any game gets old quick.

      This happens all the time in videogames (which was nicely discussed today at Critical Hits). A player learns the moves of the game and becomes an expert to the point that the game no longer presents a challenge. The game is beaten, so it’s time to play another game.

      Getting back to your suggestions, I could see my Epic Tier becoming a small collection of combat encounters surrounded by conclusions to each player’s story. I like that that idea quite a bit; I’m just not sure if the players would buy into it. I guess that was my point – I’d have to discuss the Epic Tier “houserule” with the group to see if they would prefer that system.

  2. What I see here is a useful tool to help better design that epic level play. Knowing the most likely status effects allows for better design of fun counters that don’t add complexity. Great work!

    1. Mittop and Kato,

      Thank you for the feedback. Organizing my thoughts along the scientific method is quite helpful because it puts many of my “random” thoughts into a firm structure. The Intro, Method, Results, Discussion framework is very useful for me. It does not work for all articles, but it fits well with projects such as this one.

  3. Now THIS is an article on game design, no doubt about it. Presents a hypothesis, presents the data, and then shows how the data supports (or not) the hypothesis. Extremely well done, bravissimo indeed.

    Not only that, but it presents great ideas for follow-up articles, and while it wasn’t listed as a suggestion, I did just have an idea of my own. Perhaps you’ll be seeing it soon…

    1. Hydra,

      Thanks, and be sure to let me know if you post a follow-up. I’ll be curious to see what direction you take the analysis. And thank you again for taking the time to create the Level 30 Stat Block.

  4. + Should status effects be tied to specific Classes or Roles to increase a character’s identify?
    My gut feeling is “not really, no”, with a side of “but maybe a select few”…

    My reasoning for the “maybe a select few” is thus: It brings uniqueness to the player. Example: Marking feels like it should be the territory of the defender (at least for lower tiers of gameplay), although our defender (a Knight) has their aura instead, so I’m not sure.

    My reasoning for the “not really no” is thus: Too many status effects just makes the game more complex. It took a while to get the hang of Immobilize versus Daze versus Stun versus Blind versus so on and so forth and what they do mechanically. A part of this is also that I have been burned with bad rolls and thus been locked into combat situations where I have between 0 and 2 choices of what to do each round, and failure doesn’t present me anything interesting.

    + How special do you view Status Effects as a DM and as a player?
    I have never DMed, although I have discussed the gameplay mechanics heavily with my various DMs… I don’t like Status Effects on players as a whole, because they are extremely hindering to player choice. In my preferred melee leader role I’ve found that it usually changes my options to “do my damnedest to remove it from the player who is affected” or, in the case where I am under it’s effects, “stand dumbly and save/struggle”.

    + Should the majority of powers have additional benefits or simply cause damage?
    Again, I tend to play leaders; I feel that the straight damage-cause abilities are boring. That being said, the strikers I’ve seen play weigh the differences in attack role/damage roll benefits and positioning a lot more between the various straight damage abilities and enjoy having the choices without worrying about extra benefit.

    + What did you find interesting or surprising in the results above?
    Mostly I’m surprised by how many effect-based powers there are. With my bias against them being used on myself (and often the complexities of them make them difficult to track their effects on opponents as well) I’m not so sure I like how prolific they are.

    1. Wilcoweb,

      Thank you for the detailed responses. I share some of your thoughts on the matter, although I’m still forming firm opinions. What works for the DM on one side of the screen may not work for the players on the other side of the screen. Starting with your last point, I was also suprised how few powers just do damage. There are hardly any powers that simply tell the player to roll damage dice. Most powers tell the player to roll damage dice and do something else, even if that something else is as simple as sliding one square or gaining a special bonus to the next attack roll. It all has to be tracked somehow. I task my players with tracking effects on the monsters (they are 99% sure to remind me if I miss an effect or ongoing damage).

      There are several powers that cause more damage but suffer a penalty to the attack role. In addition, there are powers that grant a bonus to the attack role but reduce the damage expression. It seems damage is moderated (at times) by the attack role bonus, but I never noticed the same type of moderation for status effects. It seems like it would be a design option to reduce the attack roll bonus for any power that applies a status effect; perhaps -2 across the board? I think status effects should be more rare, and a player should have to think twice about loading up on powers that feature status effects. As a player, why wouldn’t I take the “best” powers out there?

  5. I’m going to reply with an article of my own (I already had something in the works about epic play), but there is something I wanted to touch on with regard to role identity. Wizards has discussed the fact that they don’t want to “fill out the grid” with regard to racial attributes. When they’re developing a new race, they prefer to base it entirely on theme rather than system symmetry. I suspect that the same is true of powers. They seem to prefer prefer “this is something a Fighter could do” to “Fighters have the capacity to fill too many roles, so we shouldn’t include this power.”

    1. That makes sense; I’m not sure if tying specific abilities (e.g., status effects like Marking) to specific Classes or Roles is a good idea. It certainly affects the composition of the party and forces players to make decisions on the front end of character creation. For example, if only Strikers could Stun, a player would know that in advance and a DM would know how many Stun options they were up against when designing combat encounters. That takes away flexibility though . . . not sure which is preferable at this point. It’s an interesting thought exercise though.

      And get well!

  6. I’ll speak up just to say how much I love that you did this. I’m a huge fan of numbers and analysis, so it’s very interesting to so. I think that the quiz results were interesting, but I imagine if you removed Marked from the list (since it’s not along the same lines as the other statuses) then the real results would be that status effects aren’t that closely tied to class. If you were to add to the charts damage, AC, and other things then you’d start to see the results becoming more clear AND you might find some surprising results then also. I also find it very helpful to see the totals of powers available per class, per tier, and all of that so thank you very much for putting it together!

    In my experience running a campaign so far from level 1 to level 24, over the course of 3 years, what I find slows things down far more than the number of powers players have to look through is the situational-aspect of a lot of powers. Especially the Monk, as I’ve run with one in the part and also played one several times, you can prepare for your turn all you want with how many squares you can shift and enemies you can hit, but by the time your turn comes everything has moved anyway and it becomes a very big time sink.

    1. I think the Classes become more complicated to use as the Player Handbooks advanced from 1 to 3. We had a Monk play in our game once and his turns took a long time. I kept thinking, “Wait, you can do that too this round?” However, I did think it was a cool Class from what little I saw of it. I prefer to keep things simple, but completely understand that players are going to maximize the powers/options for their character. I do the same for my Rogue when I play.

      I’m somewhat kicking myself for not including damage dice and a few other modifiers in the tables. Damage dice would have been the easiest because it’s just a number, but the other modifiers get a bit tricky. Again, it came down to a time issue. What I noticed from going through the powers is that the damage dice increase. I paid special attention to Rogue powers (since that’s what I play) and I believe there were a few 7 or 8 (W) damage abilities. And that’s without Sneak Attack damage dice. Yikes!!

      1. Damage dice don’t matter at higher tiers.
        Sad truth, but it’s true. Far more damage comes from the multiplying of static modifiers.

        I could write a whole report on it, lol trust me.

  7. Excellent post, excellent research, surprising findings! Like others, I was surprised to see how many powers (even at Heroic tier) impose conditions as well as inflict damage. Oddly, just last night, I was selecting powers for a low-level rogue and thought, “Nah, I won’t choose that — it only does damage!” But… but… he’s a striker! Doing damage is his main job! Yet we’ve all been conditioned to look for the cool-sounding effects as well. Hey, they’re fun! Okay, yeah, so in the aggregate they slow game speed to a crawl… 😉

    Likewise, I was surprised to see that the druid not only has more Ongoing Damage attacks at Heroic tier than the rogue, but gets them earlier! I would’ve thought the striker had the market on that.

    As you said, I certainly hope that WotC has a database like this, and if they don’t, they need to develop one quickly. Research like yours can only help with subsequent game design. My only quibble with any of this is the choice of druid to represent the controller. To me, the druid is about 50% controller, with about 30% striker, 20% leader, and 10% defender. Don’t get me wrong: The druid is one of my favorite 4E classes, but wizard or invoker is a more “pure” controller, IMO.

    1. Ken,

      Thank you for the kind words! I agree that one of more surprising pieces of information is how few powers just cause damage. Almost all powers have additional benefits for the players, which I somehow never truly processed while playing or DMing.

      That is a keen observation about the selection of Druid to represent Controller. My original plan was to code all powers for each Classes. Controllers are listed first in Character Builder and Druid is listed first under Controllers. However, it was clear early on that it would take a *very long* time to code all Classes. I decided to code one from each Role, which still took quite a while. If I knew at the start I was only going to code one Classes for each Role, I would have selected Wizard.

  8. Personally, in the games I’ve played as both a player and a DM (same group), status effects did not make nearly as big a difference as extra actions, both immediate actions (and a fair number of free reactions) and powers that grant other players an action. The overall strategy of the group is to use leader powers to grant large numbers of extra attacks to a barbarian that does tons of damage.

    Status effects barely matter because the party identifies the crucial target and kills it in a round or two…. which takes hours because of the complexity of all the immediate interrupts, reactions, free actions, and hell we’ve even lost track of who’s turn we’re on because of all the extra stuff going on.

    If I had to pick on something that’s adding too much complexity in paragon and epic tier, it’s a great excess of extra-action abilities.

    1. It would be a good exercise to track the number of Immediate and Free Actions as characters advance in Level. I did not code the information in that way, but I would imagine it increase quite a bit because of Feats, Items, Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies.

  9. Craig CR nailed it – status effects shouldn’t matter as much because although the round may last longer (in real time) with all the slides, Agile Oppunity attacks, Warlord attacks, action points and rerolls, the combat itself should get shorter (meaning fewer rounds).

    Most legit strikers in paragon/epic tier should easily killing run-of-the-mill enemies in 2 rounds. My level 8 ranger could put out 180 damage in 2 rounds (only using 1 daily) and that’s enough to kill most elites at that level…
    Paragon tier strikers should be pulling 40-60 per round, on their initiative, and using only at wills, factor in encounters, dailies, action points, free attacks, etc, and you deal 200+ damage between hearing the words “top of round 2″…

    I’ll fully admit that i’ve never played in a epic tier game, but i’ve done the math. And it’s scary: at level 30, strikers can pull 300 in a single turn without really trying, and hit 700+ by pulling out all the stops. Which means two strikers can nuke up 1400+ damage in the first 2 initiatives in the first round.
    Orcus, the demon lord of the undead (level 33 solo) has a measley 1500 hp’s, so he should be bloodied or dead before he even takes his turn.

    And *That* sir, is what makes epic tier actually epic: When commoners are still fretting over goblins and orcs, you get to walk into the bowels of the Abyss and kill demon lord in under 20 seconds.

      1. Not really a matter of builds. Believe me, I’m just as guilty of making damage dealers. But I find DM’s tend to offset that damage dealt with mobs who have avoidance and mitigation. Ergo rarely, do you ever get to realize the potential on a regular basis. WHICH I might add is a sign of a good DM. If you can kick out assy9 damage regardless of the opponent, then what’s the point?

        My comment was a bit tongue in cheek too, so it’s not personal. I’ve had a monty haul DM and it’s only fun for about a session or two. Then it’s just lame.

      2. Who said anything about monty haul?
        The ranger had two magic items, and both were level 6, that’s pretty low gear for a level 8 by most standards…

        According to *Wotc’s standards* a level 15 should end the combat having done an average of about 50 on each of their turns. So if you figure multiple attacks per turn (agile opportunist, free attacks from leader, action points) – it is easy to pull 200 per striker per combat round. This is just what is expected for paragon tier.

        Of course the DM can then choose to scale monsters, but if he does, it’s not fair to call them “run of the mill” anymore, is it?

  10. Have to add my thoughts on how impressive your article is. There’s just so much to think about.

    Having more options is often required to keep characters alive. The extra options are there to help deal with sudden outbreaks of chaos. At low levels, all the characters can do is grin and bear it. After a few more levels, they get some more healing, some movement and dodge powers, and now they can recover from these surprises, or at least escape. That’s usually how you know you’re getting better.

    Part of these status effects do slow down the game- stun and daze make people miss turns, but missing a turn doesn’t speed up the fight, it just delays one person’s involvement in it. You’ve spent the time determining that this person is stunned not advancing the combat to the end.

    Most players also try and take powers that are “the best” instead of fitting into a theme. If you take 3 encounter powers that all do something similar, then you have less decisions to consider. For instance, as a paladin, all of my powers are either retribution, healing, divine sanction or saving throws. There are great powers to get great attack bonuses, cause slow effects or teleport, but they don’t fit into the character’s specialties, so I ignore them. Most players don’t do this and that makes the decisions in combat much harder to make because you can’t easily judge which power is the right one to use at any given time. (let alone remembering what powers you have)

    I’ve found that having a character that is well planned and specializes is much faster to play. Though you may not have a rabbit in the hat for every possible scenario, you excel in enough areas to handle the vast majority of the situations and let your friends help you get out of the rest.

    This was a great article. And the format helps drive home the point instead of just going on a gut feeling. Well done!

    1. Quirky,

      It came up this week with a power that banishes one enemy to the Feywild (save ends). It delayed the monster’s action in a sense that they couldn’t act until they returned, but it sped the combat up because the party was able to focus fire on other threats for two rounds. By taking one enemy out of the picture, it freed up everyone to carry out their actions unfettered. I was in the party so it was great! 😉 So if each member of the party has a power (or two) that stuns, then the party can coordinate attacks to keep one enemy completing out of the fight.

      I’ve built my Rogue to have combat advantage as much as possible. He’s far from optimized (which was pointed out to me last week!), but he’s fun to play and I enjoy his options.

      1. Hmmm, I see the flaw with my logic now. Effects which hinder the opponent speed up the fight for whichever side is going to win the fight. Assuming that’s always the players, then having as many effects as those as possible will speed up the fight. It’s the losing side that delays the fight by adding status effects- they fight to prevent the eventual outcome which makes the battle last longer. That’s a whole other can of worms, though.

  11. Fantastic job! My group started up at the launch of 4E and recently took a break just on the eve of epic tier. I’ve gotten the chance to see the guys from day 1 all the way up to 23 with more or less the same characters. As DM there was something magic that happened in the early teens that just drove combat to an absolute halt. You’ve done a great job codifying our experience in actual numbers.

    Now to your questions:
    Should status effects be tied to specific Classes or Roles to increase a character’s identify?
    I’d rather see a status effect tied to a role vs. a class personally.

    How special do you view Status Effects as a DM and as a player?
    As both a DM and a player I love the convention of a status effect.

    Should the majority of powers have additional benefits or simply cause damage?
    I think it depends on your role. A striker should definitely have far more in the way of damage whereas a controller should have more in the way of actual control powers.

    What did you find interesting or surprising in the results above?
    As a long time math nerd, I love to see the data. It backs up what my group experienced first-hand. What surprised me was just seeing the sheer volume of effects and how they scaled in paragon and epic.

    1. Jason,

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m still playing in two 4e games and enjoying them, but the data is interesting because I didn’t realize how many ways each power changes the battlefield. I enjoy status effects but think they could maybe pull back on the frequency of how often they are available. Although, as a player, I would probably choose the powers that featured status effects. Perhaps the compromise is to have some of the levels have no status-effect powers to chose from. However, I’ve never been in a group that is cohesive for an extended time when everyone knows each other’s powers. For instance, I often know how other players will act in the game that I play, but we recently had some turnover so the new players add new layers. The new layers are not a bad thing at all! But it does change the combat dynamics.

      1. Yea, the actual players definitely have an impact. My group was very tactics oriented with most folks know what the others could do. 4E really allows for some amazing tactics combos. As much as I enjoy that aspect of the game, it really can drag combat to a halt as the players flip through their “dozen” powers to find just the right one to use.

  12. Awesome article! I came across this post by chance, and now I’m glad I did – I just love reading this kind of stuff.

    – Should status effects be tied to specific Classes or Roles to increase a character’s identify?

    In my opinion, there shouldn’t be a hard rule or anything, but some roles should definitely skew towards certain conditions more than others. That said, more than class or role, I think that status effects (and power mechanics in general) should be heavily conditioned by power source, since that is a great framework for class flavor and design.

    Ideally, I would like the distribution of mechanics across power sources (and, to a lesser degree, across roles) to be easily distinguishable, with clearly defined strong and weak points for each source/role. A great implementation of this concept from other games is the Color Pie in Magic:the Gathering (see http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtgcom/daily/mr85 and http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Archive.aspx?tag=Color%20Pie).

    Of course, it’s too late for that now, as nothing short of an edition change would allow for such a big change.

    – Should the majority of powers have additional benefits or simply cause damage?

    As your numbers show, purely damaging powers make up just a small minority of existing powers. I would personally like to see a larger share of powers to be just about damage (say, 20-30% of them, mostly focused in the striker classes), but there are two major obstacles: pure damage is either too weak or too strong, and pure damage is boring.

    Pure damage is either too weak or too strong: One area where, in my opinion, 4E power design has failed, is in assigning and evaluation damage in powers. Intuitively, one should be able to identify offensive powers by their higher number of [W]s in damage (or by big piles of damage dice, in implement attacks). But this is far from the case: the contribution of damage dice to total damage tends to be insignificant, and the top offensive powers are those with multiple attacks or the ones costing minor or immediate actions. These multiattacks or off-action attacks are extremely strong, but also rare, and tend to be auto-picks in their slots. On the other hand, in the more common scenario of standard action single attacks, you are too often given the choice between an extra [W] or a strong status effect – and the status effect is always worth it.

    Solving this, in my opinion, would require severely reducing the effectiveness of multi- and off-turn attacks (basically by preventing PCs from making more than one damage roll), as well as being much more aggressive in assigning extra [W]s and damage dice on offensive powers. Likewise, damage of powers with strong conditions should probably be lowered across the board – I particularly liked your suggestion of introducing negative modifiers to hit to balance some of these powers.

    Pure damage is boring: Having a lot of powers that do nothing but damage can get old very fast. That said, this could be mitigated by designing attacks that dealt great damage, but required the PC to meet specific conditions. This has been implemented successfully on certain class features (i.e. Sneak Attack), but is more rare to see in powers – and when it comes up, the damage you get in return tends to be underwhelming compared to other options. I think there is a lot of untapped design space here.

    – Other random thoughts:

    This is even more complex to analyze, but it would be interesting to see how often each status effect appears in powers with multiple targets. This greatly affects the effectiveness of these powers, and should be a strong indicator, more than the frequency of status effects, for guessing which classes are controllers.

    Likewise, the distribution of each condition across types of powers (at-wills, encounters, and dailies) would be something interesting to examine, for a future article.

    The list of status conditions is awfully long, and makes it a bit hard to read your tables. Perhaps it would be helpful to organize data in two or three tiers of conditions – the extremely common (prone, slowed, dazed), the extremely rare (deafened, helpless, petrified, removed, unconscious), and the rest.

    The detailed tables with the number of conditions for each power level were too unwieldy for me – just the totals for each tier and the overall total would have been enough, in my opinion.

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