Teamwork part 1: Spellcasting
All this month I'm covering the topic of "Teamwork", and one of the foundations of teamwork is putting your team mates first sometimes, and that means pulling your fair share of support. Everyone on the party has, to some degree, a support role, but how and when is it better to take one for the team? Have no fear, I'll go through different ways you can support the party, and tips for knowing when it's your time to shine and when you should be providing backup instead. For part 1 we'll be talking about: Spellcasting
When most players hear support, they think casters. Bard's, clerics, and sometimes alchemist's are some of the quintessential supports, but wizards and sorcerers and other primary casters are not far behind. The reason for this is simple, these classes have abilities that directly benefit their allies. Buff's to make them stronger, healing to keep them standing, and utility spells that allow them to navigate otherwise impossible problems. So, when should you support? That's a complicated question and partially it depends on how your character is built. However, even the glassiest of cannons should understand that sometimes it's better to give someone else a helping hand, and sometimes it's worse, tactically, but makes for a better game. There are few better ways to make a player feel like a star and help them have more fun than to give them a nice little buff and a few words of encouragement. It's re-assuring to feel like your party has faith in you, and being able to contribute to an encounter thanks to a team mate is a great way to build good rapport with the party and to make sure they have your back later on. Everyone is there to have fun, and each player should do their part to help.
Now Let's talk tactically. Buff spells often appear inferior to a lot of other options because they almost never have a very potent "wow" factor. Comparing something like bull strength to something like scorching ray highlights this. Now of course there's more to magic than evocation but we'll look at a damage dealing spell to illustrate the impact a little buff can have. Scorching ray fires off a bolt of flames that deals 4d6 damage as soon as you get it, with no save. Sure it requires a ranged touch attack, but honestly even a pretty feeble wizard can hit with those pretty often. On top of being flashy, strong, and ranged it gets significantly better as you level up, at levels 7, and 11 you get another ray, and on those levels the spell can deal more straight damage than a lightning bolt or fireball of the same level. By comparison bull strength gives +4 strength, which is going to give a melee character +2 attack, and +2 damage and apart from lasting longer it doesn't get better as you level up. At first blush the comparison is pretty clear, scorching ray seems like a better bet, but there are some factors to consider. Scorching ray is going to deal an average of 14 damage at level 4, 28 damage at level 7, and 42 damage at level 11! That seems pretty amazing. However consider the following: How much damage does your party melee character deal per hit? A fairly typical fighter with good strength and a greatsword can deal out 2d6+6 even at first level, by fourth level if they take a basic feat like power attack they are going to be swinging for 2d6+12 even without a magical weapon or any other benefit, and your bull strength turns that into 2d6+15, which can't deal less than the average 14 your scorching ray can deal. But of course that's hardly a fair comparison right? That's the fighter's doing, not yours. Unless that +2 to attack led to an attack hitting, instead of missing. If just once that spell means the fighter hit instead of missed, that single blow already did more than scorching ray would have, and that's not counting 3 extra damage every time that fighter hits. But with a duration of many minutes the odds of the spell making the difference only once are small.
Ahh but now level 7 has rolled around and suddenly your scorching ray is twice as strong! 28 damage average. But what happened at level 6? The fighter got a second attack on a full attack, one that is less accurate but deals just as much damage. Now the fighter is attacking twice as often, so that bonus is applied twice as frequently. But for argument's sake let's say the fighter hasn't managed to increase their damage at all since 4th level , which is pretty darn unlikely. If that spell of yours led to just 2 more hits than the fighter would have without it you have contributed an extra 4d6+30 damage. Again automatically more than the scorching ray would have.
By 11th level that fighter has a third attack every turn they full attack, and with their extra bonus just from power attack adding to their damage you are contributing an extra 6d6+54 damage assuming your poor fighter still hasn't increased their damage from any other source. And beyond that scorching ray stops getting better, but bull strength doesn't! 16th level means a fourth attack and even more chances for you to contribute damage to the encounter. But the best part about all of this is that every turn the fighter attacks and hits you get more benefit from your spell without doing anything. Scorching ray, once cast stops doing any good, but bull strength keeps contributing round after round. Of course this assumes you picked a good ally to cast bull strength on. Slapping it on the party warlock, or on a fighter with a belt of str+6 obviously isn't going to give you the same return, but neither would firing scorching ray at a fire elemental. That example was very detailed, but it serves to illustrate the hidden power of support. Of course buffs are always best cast at the very beginning of combat, to allow them to have more and more of an effect.
Though the above was one specific example the same principle applies to all buffs. If the party fighter is able to strike a foe because you cast flight on them, or because they didn't die thanks to some immediate healing, then you are getting many times over the investment you put in. A little bonus can go a long long way, so next time you bring your magic to bear consider what the best move to make might be. Join me next time when I'll talk about non-magical support!