Making 4E Damage Feats Less Useless

February 16th, 2010 by Ed Grabianowski

Am I the only one who skims past any feats that provide a damage bonus? +2 to damage? Why bother? Here’s a quick idea to make those damage feats more appealing.

Whenever I see a feat that provides a +2 to damage, I laugh cynically and move on. I”m not usually a min-max type of player, but those feats are so utterly useless. +2 to damage is inconsequential even at 1st level, an even if the feat scales (+3 at 11th, etc.), it doesn’t help. Compared to a +2 to hit, which is a ten percent gain, a small damage bonus is a drop in the bucket. Some feats give a damage bonus equal to one of your ability modifiers, which can be nice in Heroic tier, but they don’t scale up very well.

My solution? Well, this isn’t carefully considered or playtested. I simply asked myself what damage bonus would make me at least look twice at those types of feats. +5. Any feat that would grant a +2 damage bonus should instead grant a +5 damage bonus. If a feat would scale up at higher levels, double the extra bonus. For example, a +2 bonus that goes to +3 at 11th level would give a +5 bonus, +7 at 11th level.

Another way to look at this is by comparing total damage output. If a +2 to hit causes you to hit 10 percent more often, a damage bonus taken in its place needs to make up the difference of all the lost damage for the attacks that missed. The math differs depending on your class, the specific attack, what weapon you’re using, etc., but beefing up those damage feats seems to make of the shortfall.

Does it seem like too much damage? No way. 4E combat takes too long as it is, and by the time you’re fighting enemies that regularly have two or three hundred HP, you’ll be desperate for anything to speed up the slog.

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24 Responses to “Making 4E Damage Feats Less Useless”

  1. Comment by Gavin O'Brien

    Before you do that, you should make Weapon/Implement/Focused Expertise free feats since they were simply inserted into PHB2 to correct scaling issues. In other words, WotC didn’t scale attack bonuses vs. monster defenses correctly, so instead of errata, they force you to waste a feat slot in order to keep up. You could do this by allowing an inherent +1 bonus to attack rolls at levels 5, 15 and 25.

    I don’t think there are any feats that scale +2/+3/+4. I’m reasonably certain the feats that provide an initial +2 bonus do not scale with level (Eladrin Soldier, Dwarven Weapon Training, etc.). Feats with an initial +1 bonus (Weapon Focus, Astral Fire, etc.) do scale +1/+2/+3. So, you might want to make it +1=+5, +2=+7, +3=+10, though that could just be my sorceress salivating at the prospect of adding any more damage. Anything to help make combat go faster is OK in my opinion.

  2. Comment by Gavin O'Brien

    To add, when creating my sorceress, I didn’t skim over those feats. I took Weapon Focus (dagger) because, while +2 damage to one target is meh, spread out over 3 or 4 targets, we’re talking +6 or +8, which can be pretty handy. If you consider +5, then you’re looking at +15 or +20 damage from one pc.

  3. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    Heh, like I said, I didn’t really think it through. But even for blasts and bursts, it doesn’t bother me.

  4. Comment by Megido

    I’m right there with you. +1 damage? Really? It’s pretty laughable. I think I have taken a feat that gives +1 damage on one occasion, but I’m not sure. If I did then it was probably just because I needed another feat, and didn’t feel like taking the time to search through all of them for the perfect one.

    Making it +5 would DEFINITELY get my attention. An extra 5 damage is considerable, even for a striker that does 20+ damage consistently. And yeah, in the case of burst, blast, or general multiple target attacks, that becomes more than a little handy. When Gavin pointed out it could be +15 or 20 damage for such attacks I kinda balked, but then I remembered we are now regularly fighting enemies with triple digit health, who are hard to hit, and can sometimes heal themselves.

  5. Comment by Gavin O'Brien

    I think we should try it out. If we burn through things too quickly, then we can scale it back.

    I’m always in favor of tweaking the rules to fit the group.

    Also (and I’ll probably regret this) you might want to bump up monster damage, too. Not to the same extent, but perhaps a +3 per tier bonus to damage.

  6. Comment by Ryk Perry

    Gavin makes a good point about the single target versus AOE attacks. I agree that the damage bonuses are weak in comparison to attack bonuses. I skipped them when making my fighter/rogue (of course I needed a lot of feats to make him workable).

    The hit point increases for 4e are designed to make it so that you can’t annhilate monsters, particularly important bosses or lieutenants too quickly. They are in place to keep a villain fighting for a wile to make an interesting and difficult fight. But those hit points can really bog down a fight too. In that regard I think a +5 for a +2, especially when that +2 was for a single strike, is very reasonable. I’m all for keeping villains and things like dragons (i remember when ancient red dragons had a max of 88 hp, now they are over 1,000) in the fight for a while, but some of the secondary monsters just take too long.

    The minion fix is interesting but not wholly satisfying either. It’s cool to be able to land a solid blow on a foe and watch him crumble after one hit, but you also start to think ‘damn i wish i had hit the soldier instead and let the wizard drop that guy, he was obviously a minion.’

    What if you’re out for an evening of skullduggery? 4e mechanics don’t really support it. If you need to sneak up on a guard and take him out quietly to avoid alearting other patrols, its going to be difficult to do without a team effort. Lets look at a 3rd level human guard as printed in the Monster Manual. He has 47 hit points. He’s going to be difficlut to drop in a single action, even with a sneak attack. My 12th Level fighter/rogue muight be able to take him out with a single strike, depending on the powers used, but he’d have to roll pretty high on his damage dice to make it so and probably spend a daily. So as a back up he’d have to have several sneaky guys ready to hack away at the sentry before he could draw a breath.

    The alternative is to make him a minion, so all you have to do is hit him. But what if the bushwacker really flubs his rolls? Is the guard really a minion? if so the archer can still drop him with a single hit. Or the wizard, etc. Literature and history are replete with examples of sneaks with knives taking out sentries with a single strike to make way for an undetected advance into wherever.

  7. Comment by Ryk Perry

    I don’t know about increasing monster damage as a general rule. Maybe an increase for the elites and solos (though theirs should already be somewhat higher). My biggest gripe is probably the soldier role. particularly when the party is fighting soldiers of a higher level than them. Those guys are brutal. The AC just kills us. Particularly when the monster is 4-8 levels higher than us. Then even the brutes are a real pain in the ass.

    I was also thinking of using the ‘no magic’ toggle on tha character builder as a general rule just because its so hard to hit some of this stuff.

  8. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    I don’t plan to buff monster damage, some of them hit pretty hard as it is, and higher level monsters do seem to have appropriately scaled damage.

    Regarding the “snuff the guard quietly” scenario, I would probably make that into a small skill challenge and not involve combat at all (unless you fail the skill challenge).

  9. Comment by batstek

    Just want to point out that for any character with multiattacks, this is insanely broken. Rangers, fighters, barbarians, or any of the various feychargers. There’s a reason that people refer to the whole “Wintertouched / Lasting Frost” feat combo that grants +5 damage and combat advantage as frostcheese. Granted, not everyone wants to be eek out every last bit of goodness from their characters, it seems a little extreme.

    If your combats last too long, then maybe the encounters aren’t really being well balanced for your group. Ours doesn’t really have that issue.

  10. Comment by Gavin O'Brien

    Well, another possibility would be to take it out of the players’ hands and just reduce monster hit points. But that kind of goes against the topic of the blog, which questions the usefulness of +damage feats.

  11. Comment by ggodo

    Don’t tell my players this, but their next encounter will be minion heavy simply because I need an army,and even 3-4 real people would take forever. Sending minions in waves of 6-7 let’s me control how long combat takes, and gives them something to smash, while still providing enough damage to scare them a bit. The tricky part will be convincing them they need to run when I need them to. . .

  12. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    ggodo, you could use the mob rules. I think Open Grave introduced them. Just make stats for a large creature that’s basically a mob of 10 angry peasants or whatever. That way you can have a couple of “solid” enemies to supplement all the minions.

    Of course, an all-minion encounter is cool too.

  13. Comment by ggodo

    hmm. . . I haven’t really looked in there. Next thing, how do you convince players that they can’t/don’t need to win a fight and that it’d be better to run? I volunteered to DM the next session and I’m still working out the kinks.

  14. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    That’s a problem for us, too. Usually, if you kill one or two of the characters, they will consider fleeing a valid tactic fairly quickly.

  15. Comment by ggodo

    Yea, but with my party makeup, killing one character would break them. We’ve had so many folks stop playing the campaign that we have a truly eclectic and probably not viable mix left. Maybe I’ll kill some monster scarier than them. I dunno, the scenario ends with Rocks Fall RUN LIKE HELL! So maybe they’ll figure it out on their own?

  16. Comment by Gavin O'Brien

    Better question… how do you get your players to throw down their weapons and surrender to their worst nightmares?

  17. Comment by ggodo

    Roll their sanity checks for them.

  18. Comment by Megido

    Aw man… “frostcheese”? And here I’d thought I found something cool (No pun intended.) Turns out I simply stumbled across a cheap combo that everybody already knows about. =( Well, I still stand by the awesomeness of my backup character! I can justify his use of frostcheese, dammit.

  19. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    I don’t pull punches as DM, so the players should run whatever sweet-ass combos they can take advantage of.

    Gavin: play a World of Darkness game instead?

  20. Comment by Ryk Perry

    Yeah, Ed has actually been complaining that no PC’s have actually died since about 3rd level.

  21. Comment by Megido

    Well then I feel no shame for not having discovered that combo. I guess I should have figured, though. There’s a world of more dedicated, and clever D&D players out there. It stands to reason I wouldn’t have figured something out before any of them.

  22. Comment by Gavin O'Brien

    ggodo, who told you I planned on using sanity rolls?!

    Ed, yeah, I was going to ask to borrow your World of Darkness rulebook if you have it.

    Eric, frostcheese is one of the original combos. I don’t think it is all that cheesy though since it seems WotC designed Wintertouched and Lasting Frost to work together.

  23. Comment by Megido

    I guess you have a good point there, Gavin. Though it makes me wonder why there isn’t a similar combination for fire, or any other element for that matter.

  24. Comment by Ryk Perry

    Batstek the encounters we have been using have been published encounters from the first four 4e modules (i guess they don’t use that term anymore do they?). AND we are hitting them with a pile of strikers and a controller. It’s hard to come up with a more damage dealing party. Of course sometimes the dice just turn against us (last week I went through 7 20-siders before I got to one that rolled higher than 9). Even so, 5 strikers and a controller should be able to hammer the opposition (at least until they are themselves killed for lack of defenders and healers).

    Gavin I was thinking of a way to create a situational reduction in hitpoints to simulate the skullduggery that I was talking about earlier. It is based on the premise that suprise is in many ways the best advantage to have in a combat situation. Basically if an opponent is unaware of your presence, you can take him out by doing damage exceeding his ‘bloodied’ value or daze him by causing more damage than his healing surge value (1/2 and 1/4). If he’s dazed, you continue to daze him by doing at least his healing surge value in every round. That would really speed up fights and put a premium on reconnaisance and ‘violence of action,’ which by the way is how this stuff is really done.

    Then if you wanted to get mean, you could make an immediate reaction power that targeted the attacker’s will. A hit would in turn ‘daze’ the attacker as he slowed up on his assault to gloat and monologue over his foe . . .