Saturday, September 12, 2020

Everything Has a Weakness (So Be Sure You Know Your Options)

There is an old saying one of my martial arts instructors taught me when I was young; soft on hard, hard on soft. The idea was that you need to match the type of strike to where you're hitting your enemy, otherwise you're going to do more damage to yourself than you will to them. The stomach is a soft target, so you strike it with a fist for a hard blow for best effect. The head is a hard, rigid target so you should use a softer blow like a palm strike instead of a punch so you don't shatter your knuckles on your opponent's skull.

What does that have to do with gaming?

We've all had those moments in our games where we've run face-first into a wall. Where the enemy's armor class was too high, their strength too great, their damage resistance too big, or their movement speed too fast. When you come up against one of these challenges, you've basically got two options; throw up your hands and admit defeat, or switch tactics to strike at their soft spots.

Dammit, parried AGAIN?!

I'll be talking about Pathfinder here, but the basic theory can be applied to almost any game. All you have to do is ask, "What is this enemy bad at defending?" and that should be the first step of your strategy.

A High Armor Class Isn't As Unstoppable As You Think

Take your shot, there's a 20 on that die.

One of the most common situations you'll run into is an enemy with a really high armor class. Maybe it's a rampaging tank, or a magically-augmented machine, or your party just wasn't built to for the battlefield, but for whatever reason you need to roll really high just to land a hit on this thing.

The issue is that you're probably attacking the enemy's biggest strength, when you should instead be either attacking something different, or reducing that strength in some way. When you find yourself facing this situation, consider alternative options like:

- Attacking a Saving Throw: It doesn't matter what kind of armor you have on when a fireball goes off, or the illusionist hits you with color spray. This typically requires use of a spell, but items like grenades and thunderstones as well as wands and scrolls make this option available to any PC.

- Attacking Touch Armor Class: Whether you're hucking a tanglefoot bag or shooting a scorching ray, it is generally much easier to hit a target creature's touch armor class than their standard one. While not all items/abilities that hit touch armor class will deal damage, many of them can cause useful status effects that will make the combat easier.

- Attacking Combat Maneuver Defense: A big, bad suit of armor and a heavy shield can make someone tough to hit, but it doesn't add anything to their combat maneuver defense. So whether you want to trip them, disarm them, or grapple them if you're really sassy, this can be an extremely useful alternative attack strategy. It will provoke attacks of opportunity, of course, and the higher an enemy's size, Strength, and Dexterity are the tougher it's going to be to succeed... but it should be considered all the same.

- Reducing The Enemy's Armor Class: There are dozens of ways you can reduce the enemy's armor class in order to make it less potent. Items like a tanglefoot bag (or tanglefoot arrow, if you want to keep the target at a distance) can provide a serious advantage, as can spells like adhesive spittle. Tripping the enemy puts them prone, which gives you a +4 advantage to hit them. Sundering their shield or armor would mean they no longer gain a benefit from that particular item (though it also means you'd have to repair it before you could use it yourself when the battle is over).

High Saving Throws Aren't Unassailable

Parry this, ye blasted casual!

Another issue (particularly for spellcasters) is that enemies often have saving throws that are just too high to give your spells any real impact. Assassins that can cartwheel through area of effect magic without taking any damage, frenzied giants whose constitutions are nearly unstoppable, or learned wizards whose minds and wills are like juggernauts.

Again, this won't make you completely useless (especially if you choose spells that still do something even if the target succeeds on their save). It just means you need to aim for the target's vulnerable areas instead. Try strategies like:

- Switching Saves: Most enemies will have one save that's worse than the others. If they're acing your Reflex and Will saves, consider testing their Fortitude. A variety of tricks in your bag helps a lot here.

- Reducing Saves: As with armor class, an enemy's saves can be reduced. If you can render an enemy shaken (whether it's through a spell, an Intimidate check, or some other feature), that imposes a -2 penalty on their saving throws. If the enemy can be entangled, that reduces their Reflex saves. Doing damage to (or imposing a negative on) an enemy's attributes will reduce an associated saving throw.

- Focusing on Other Areas: If an enemy has really good saving throws, it's likely their touch armor class (or even their regular armor class) isn't very good. Targeting that area instead will allow you to get more bang for your buck.

Other Issues You May Need To Counter

Armor class and saving throws are the most common challenges for players to overcome, but they're far from the only ones. Which is why it's a good idea to consider having a plan for some of the following effects.

- Flight: Flying enemies are the bane of any melee character. Whether it's ensuring you have a way to fly yourself, tanglefoot arrows to cut their speed and bring them back down to earth (if you're lucky), or even something as simple as a lasso to rope and hold your foe in place, this will show up in game sooner or later. And, of course, always have a back-up weapon, wand, or spell for the occasion.

- Damage Reduction: Some creatures take a particular type of weapon to hurt. What a lot of players don't know is the higher the magical enchantment is on a weapon, the more forms of damage reduction it ignores. For the magi, paladins, and warpriests out there, if you can get the flat bonus to +4 or higher, it allows you to ignore silver, cold iron, and even adamantine requirements for DR. Something to keep in mind, along with knowing that tossing acid and alchemist fire at werewolves is also a solid choice.

- Elemental Resistances/Immunities: This is a big one, especially for characters who are committed to their fire, ice, or lightning schtick. Always have a way to switch up which element you're using, and make sure that you're not stuck with only one option. Otherwise you're going to find yourself in a situation where your biggest sledgehammer might as well be a feather duster.

- Darkness/Senses: One of the big advantages a lot of enemies have over the PCs is that they can see in places the party can't. Whether it's normal darkness (which is typically rendered null by magic weapons that shine like a torch, as well as regular darkvision), deeper darkness (something you need a daylight spell at the very least to get rid of), or the ability to turn invisible (glitterdust and smog pellets are your best friend in these situations), there's always a chance the foe tries to use their ability to see, or to go unseen, when it's the biggest disadvantage to the party.

The Game is Always Multi-Dimensional

There are so many different tools and strategies that it's impossible to be prepared for everything that might come your way. With that said, it's good to have at least 2-3 backups in your belt pouch should your main gun happen to be ineffective against a particular encounter. And the more options you can keep on-hand (especially if it provides the option to the rest of the party), the easier a time you're going to have throughout your campaign.

With that said, I would like to take a moment to remind everyone of an old project of mine I worked on for TPK Games. Because the Feats of Legend series was a lot of fun, but it also put a lot of unique tools into players' hands. So if you haven't had a chance, take a moment to glance over them!

I try not to play favorites... but if you were going to pick one, I'd recommend this one.

- 20 Infernal Feats: From devil-spawned tieflings, to worshipers of dark powers, if the fires of hell run in your veins then these feats will be perfect for you.

- 20 Undead Feats: Whether you want to put one foot in the grave to gain some of the resistances of the living dead, or you've simply run too much dark power through your soul, these feats are what you've been looking for.

- 20 Celestial Feats: From the faithful, to those whose ancestry mixes with the celestial realms, these feats put the power of the holy light into your hands. The bane of wicked foes!

- 30 Fey Feats: A bigger collection than normal, these feats are for those with a tie to the first world... a place where the rules don't apply, and logic has never managed to take root.

- 20 Orc Feats: One of the best-reviewed collections of the Feats of Legend series (by Endzeitgeist himself) this one lets you put some real fire in your orcs and half-orcs!

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That's all for this week's Crunch topic! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or if you'd like to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

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