Fifth-edition D&D strategy for fourth-edition players: Kill the wizard

In fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, enemy spellcasters brought the same mix of encounter and recharging powers as every other monster of the same level. They posed the same threat, but with spell-flavored powers.

In fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons, spellcasters have spells powerful enough to turn an combat into a quick victory. To balance this offensive power, PCs must make limited spell slots last through an adventuring day. But enemy spellcasters suffer no reason to pace themselves. As long as they remain in the fight, they can blast away.

In fifth edition, I have pitted a lot of evil spellcasters against groups of players, and I often see the PCs fail to give special attention to the casters. Big mistake.

In combat, in any edition, your party should focus attacks on one enemy at a time. By concentrating damage and eliminating enemies, you reduce the number of counterattacks your foes can mount. The fourth-edition Player’s Strategy Guide included a figure that showed the benefits of this tactic.

The advantages of focused fire

All this still holds, but the target with the most offensive power deserves special attention. That’s the guy raising a staff and speaking eldrich oaths. Find a way past the goons and hit the wizard with everything you have. Take him out fast. And stay out Lighting Bolt formation.

Protect the wizard

Smart monsters may use the same tactics against the party, so parties must work to protect their vulnerable wizards from attack. Is I explained in “Revisiting three corners of the new D&D rules,” the new rules for opportunity attacks rules can enable monsters to circle your front line and strike at the wizard in the middle. When possible, your wizard should stand three squares behind your melee characters.

Reaching the wizard without provoking a single attack

Reaching the wizard without provoking a single attack

If you play a wizard, then you must begin your adventuring day by casting Mage Armor on yourself. The spell lasts 8 hours and does not require concentration. Other defensive spells that do not require concentration include Mirror Image and Fire Shield.

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4 Responses to Fifth-edition D&D strategy for fourth-edition players: Kill the wizard

  1. Alphastream says:

    Good points. This was a big thing in 3E as well. In 4E there was something similar, which was Control. Often an encounter could hinge on a controller (often a spellcasting foe) that had a large impact on the battle because of their control effects. Domination is a great example, but slow or immobilize on melee, walls on ranged, and similar effects were big challenges if the controller was allowed to live. Alpha-striking an encounter (destroying it in one round) often hinged not on taking out the damage dealer but on taking out that caster-controller.

    As a result, 4E authors often had to re-work encounters after playtesting to protect the casters/controllers. I did that several times with organized play adventures. We would also hide the controller, using monsters that didn’t appear to be controllers but which actually were. The party assumed these things were muscle and were surprised when the truth was revealed. It was a fun challenge to write that well. The same is true in 5E: when writing an encounter, if the challenge hinges on a caster then that caster needs to be placed in a safer zone. And authors need to make it clear to DMs. I made that mistake in the Epic. There was a final fight where a Necromancer was protected by a shield of force – it was meant to stand several rounds while PCs dealt with the troops. But, I wrote it poorly and the information wasn’t seen. Many DMs forgot the shield or made it easy to bring down, resulting in the Necromancer falling in just a single round. Lessons are never fully learned, I guess! 🙂

    • DM David says:

      Hi Alphastream,
      Thanks for this fascinating peek into fourth-edition adventure design. The encounters you describe sound like they could be great fun, because they wrap a little puzzle–how to get the controller–into the battle.

  2. Gus L says:

    It’s funny how these strategies exist in all editions of D&D. Now I play almost exclusively house modded OD&D and B/X derived games like LOTFP – which are generally not considered a tactical combat games. Have enjoyed a few games of 5E which (at least in published materials) seems more combat oriented and mechanically tactical. Yet I find that even in the bare bones rules of OD&D situational tactics come into the fore and creating monsters that challenge PC tactical doctrines can make the game fun (not in a killer GM way of course, but as another a puzzle).

    In my OD&D games for example both as player and GM it seems like the adventurers rapidly arrive at a “Wizard Protocal” at some point. This is generally, someone best leap at any enemy wizards, grapple them and bang their head into the floor until they stop casting. Yet novel monster design (rat colony wizards that collectively cast spells as a cabal, wizard brain in jar on gorilla body etc) or tactics, Levitation is a baked in anti Wizard Protocol spell for example, can easily circumvent they tactics once they get stale and I think as long as the GM is honest in description about the monsters (i.e. there’s a glowing brain in a jar atop the sutured up body of that Yeti) or fair with the tactics (Lassoing the levitating guy is still possible) it’s fun for the players to challenge them with these changes regardless of system.

    I guess I’m arguing that regardless of system (and I really don’t know how hard this is in more tactically complex systems that use rules over GM fiat) both the evolution and stymieing of tactical protocols adds a lot of fun to the adventure and should be a constant game of GM ingenuity vs. player creativity (in a fair and amusing way – always be happy when your players kill the unkillable – and give then the chance).

  3. Sterling says:

    really good advice

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