Teamwork Part 2: Mundane support
Alright everyone! Welcome back to part 2 of my series on teamwork. Today we'll be looking at mundane support options, things anyone can do to help their team mates out.
So last time I explained how a little bit of support can make a big difference, but how can you provide that extra support? A few simple methods can make all the difference: Positioning, manoeuvres, and Items. I'll talk about each in turn.
Positioning: The simplest and most basic application of positioning is the classic flank. This simple strategy is already very widely implemented and even groups with little experience are often still remembering to flank for that handy +2. But there's more to this great work of position than an attack bonus. Consider that a flanked spellcaster is unable to just 5 ft step away and cast, and any opponent finds full retreating impossible without provoking at least one dangerous foe. Little else needs to be said about the simple and elegant flank.
There's more to positioning than moving in for a swift badguy sandwich however. Consider covering the exits of an encounter, moving into the foes path of egress so that you can cut off any attempt at escape. If you favour a more defensive option and you have a safe bet your foe is going to try to come at you with a melee attack try staying close to the party spellcaster or ranged character. Keeping yourself between a foe and an ally means they must either provoke you or attack you, either way it can allow you to prevent a hit on behalf of someone a lot more fragile than you. Conversely if you are the frail one, consider asking a big tough warrior for some protection, communication is key and if you can pull it off in character, even better. Of course if you think your foe is about to throw around some heavy AOE then spreading out is a far better option, always fight the foe you're fighting, not the foe you planned to fight.
Manoeuvres: Everyone on the party probably has some potential to do damage. This is an assumption that holds through for 90% of characters, of any class. However sometimes there are better ways to contribute. A typical ogre with a greatclub deals 2d8+7 damage and has 30 hit points. It might take three or four or more swings to bring down a foe like that at low levels. However, one successful disarm attempt drops it's damage to 1d4+5, and causes it to provoke every time it attacks, not to mention the ogre taking -4 on unarmed strikes if its not proficient. A disarmed ogre is far less of a threat and is nearly beaten immediately by a single roll. And even if it keeps fighting you've crippled its attack and damage, its only asset. Consider if you're very far apart from your foe in the initiative and they've got a few of your allies nearby. A trip attempt might suit you far better than an attack. If you knock prone the foe they suffer -4 to ac vs every melee attack, that's huge at lower levels and still good even at higher levels. On top of that once the foe tries to get up; its provoking everyone, and free attacks are always good at every level. Keep a close eye on the battlefield and consider if bullrushing, dragging or repositioning will give your team a better chance to hurt the foe you're focusing. And lets not forget about intimidate! Support isn't just for melee allies. If you can demoralize an opponent you can give them -2 on their attacks and saves, that means if the party caster is getting ready to belt out a debilitating spell you can push the enemy from success to failure.
Then there's aid another. A lot of players are divided on aid another since it requires a standard action, has a small chance to fail, and the bonus is pretty small. I think those are all fairly valid points actually and more often than not aiding in combat isn't your best bet unless you weren't going to use your standard action anyways.
Items: Items are a great way of expanding your combative options in any situation, but specifically they're amazing for playing a support role. Smokesticks provide concealment for your soft squishy companions, and concealment is always welcome no matter what your AC is. Tanglefoot bags and nets are both incredibly reliable ways to slap foes with an entangled condition, as well as potentially stop them from moving at all. Entangled is an incredible little debuff that hinders both attack and AC as well as reflex saves and movement speed and can even neutralize enemy spellcasting. Compared to a little chunk of damage that's a pretty good trade. Even if the foe can pull or wriggle out that is still taking up their vital actions, and if you outnumber the enemy that's always a worthwhile trade. Of course the number of other alchemical and magical items that can turn the tide of battle are too numerous to mention in full. Consider that most of these tricks and tactics are very affordable and yet can make a big impact on the outcome of a battle.
There you have it folks! A plethora of mundane ways to hinder enemies and support allies. Hopefully now you have a few new tricks and a few ideas on how to better support the whole team. A lot of players feel like giving up their action isn't worth it to benefit a few allies. I can definitely understand wanting to score the hit, get the kill, finish the fight, but if you can allow yourself to step out of the limelight sometimes, and still have fun, someone else can get that thrill too. Support doesn't always feel glamorous, but it can bring a powerful sense of satisfaction knowing that everything went the way it did thanks to a little help here and there.