Aug 30, 2017

Posted by in RPG | 0 Comments

Of Hammers, Arms and Anvils

While reading through the Glass Cannon Podcast subreddit, I was introduced to a very good way to describe party composition. In the Paizo thread “On building a balanced group: working out just what works and why you may have been doing it all along.” user TarkXT defines three main party roles:

Hammer: The job of a hammer is to dish out damage.

Arm: The job of an arm is to increase the chance of the hammer to hit and/ or to increase it’s damage.

Anvil: The job of an anvil is to allow the Hammers to do their work, by reducing the damage the opponents can do to the party.

Playing a Hammer is all about dealing as much damage as possible, by dishing out lots of damage in melee or raged, using weapons or spells. An Arm will buff the Hammers or reduce the AC or saves of the opponents, normally using spells or hexes. An Anvil could hinder the opponents reaching the party, taking some opponents out of combat completely, heal the party to mitigate taken damage, etc.

According to TarkXT, an unbalanced party will face the following problems:

  • If encounters take long, and cost a lot of resources, while the party doesn’t take a lot of damage, you might need more hammers.
  • If encounters end fast, but your party takes a lot of damage, you might need another anvil
  • Groups that need a lot of resources, take a good amount of damage and victory or defeat often hang on the result of a few die rolls might need another arm.

The actual post on the Paizo forum is a lot more in depth and also gives examples for good party composition.

If you are a GM, you might want to use this information to optimise your tactics a bit. Instead of beefing up your monsters, you could try to identify the roles of each combatant, or in the case of a boss fight, you might cycle to the roles if your boss has this flexibility. Instead of dealing damage you could soften the party up (ray of enfeeblement, blight), take out one of their damage dealers (fear them, paralyse them, drop them into a pit, blind them, etc.) or increase your own chance of hitting them by using the environment to your advantage or buffing yourself. If you can make out certain roles in their party, either by look (this guy looks like a holy person, the buff women over there with the great axe might dish out some really high damage, etc.) or actions, you can also try to hinder them. Smoke from mundane or magical sources could hinder party anvils and arms to cast their spells.

Also, more intelligent opponents might have a Plan B in case something goes wrong. They might retreat to get into a better position, to drink their healing potions, hide behind cover, etc. They might use “convey hidden message” either using code words or gestures to change their tactics, etc. This would give the party a chance to use sense motive in a combat situation and – if they are not used to coordinated attacks – freak them out and give them some ideas for their next encounter.




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