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How does one choose when to use scarce resources (e.g. powers you can only use once per day or encounter) in combat? I am particularly concerned with D&D, but I believe the concept carries over into other gaming systems.

I never know when to expend that powerful daily or encounter power, and often I end up blowing them prematurely or not using them at all. This is not regarding a specific set of resources/powers, but rather is a recurring theme.

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I don't think this carries over to many other systems. I have concerns about using scarce resources in GUMSHOE, for example, but these answers are completely off point for that system. Would be better just tagged 4e. – mxyzplk Aug 30 '12 at 2:57
@mxyzplk I agree. I've retagged. OP if you want a more general question it's probably best to ask it seperate, or ask this question for each individual system as the answer may well vary. – wax eagle Aug 30 '12 at 12:11
up vote 13 down vote accepted

This is not a complete answer at the moment, but should provide some food for thought.

  • You should use all of your encounter powers every combat if you can. Leaving encounter powers on the table is wasting resources. Most combats are several rounds, so you should have a chance to get off most of your encounters if you've chosen them well.

  • Figure out your approximate workday and spend your resources based on what your party's typical workday looks like. If your party is the fight-rest-fight type then spending dailies early and often is the thing for you. If your party tends to rest lest frequently then it might behoove you to hang on to your dailies for the right moment (you should have a sense when you're on your way towards a final confrontation – make sure you have the resources to fight the big bad at the end).

  • Hang on to surgeless healing daily powers. Most of these aren't that good so you may not have many, but if you've got them, hold them until later in the day when they might bail you out and save that surge you need for later.

  • Use stance and other long-effect encounter powers early in battles so that you get the benefits for a longer period of time. Nothing is worse than pulling out your awesome stance, only to not get to use it because the battle is already over.

  • Be aware if you've got multiple types of daily powers that aren't compatible. If you've got two stances then don't save them both for the final battle of the day – you're effectively wasting one because you can't get its full benefit.

  • Keep power synergies and combos in mind. If you've got a daily/encounter combo that you really like (e.g., I'm playing a paragon fighter and my fave right now is Come And Get It + AP + Bloody Blades), make sure you keep that encounter available in a fight when you know you want to use that combo.

  • Keep an ace up your sleeve. If your DM is the type to have a lurker about, or have monsters waiting in ambush show up part way through an encounter, then it's probably a good idea to have a plan for these kinds of situations. Whether that is holding on to an encounter until later, or grabbing a single target daily for these kinds of situations, it's a good idea to have a party wide backup plan for just this kind of emergency.

  • When to use your encounter powers can be a challenging question. But the important thing here is to know your powers. If you've got a big 4[W] attack power, don't use it until you know the monster you're about to hit is a minion. If you've got a couple of area effects, wait until you can get 3-4 monsters in your burst. If your encounter power involves moving around, try to find an opportunity to get in or out of range of your next target. Have a good idea, before you start any encounter, the situations for using your encounter powers. That said, don't be locked into that criteria, don't pass up good opportunities to use one because you're waiting for a best opportunity that isn't ever going to come. Too often I've been left sitting on an encounter I could have used earlier, but I'd passed on good opportunities in favor of holding out for great ones.

I'll try to flesh this out into something more complete later, but for now these are the things I keep in mind when I'm thinking about expending my limited resources.

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Just a note on the first point - using all your encounter powers every encounter is good advice, but they should probably be strung out a little. Enemies popping out of hiding a few rounds in are not fun if you've already fired off everything. Or perhaps my DM is just making me paranoid... – Ananisapta Aug 27 '12 at 15:45
very very true. This is a "know your DM" kind of thing. If you're DM is the kind of guy to pull the "you forgot to look up" gag 2 rounds in (like mine), it's prudent to hold an encounter or two back so you're not banging on the lurker with just your at-wills. This kind of thing is a great use for a single target daily though. Will add a bullet for this. – wax eagle Aug 27 '12 at 18:49
Sure I should use my encounter powers, but what are some strategies for knowing when to use them in combat? – user2525 Sep 7 '12 at 14:19

In addition to the answers already given, something to keep in mind is you are not the only one with dailies to spend. Thus, the question is not so much when should you expend resources in a fight, but rather when someone should spend them. For example, the party I play with leans heavily towards single or double target Strikers as primary or secondary roles. They use their dailies when something needs killing now (usually when it is obviously the baddest thing in the room), but those dailies can largely only deal with single targets or small groups. As the sole Controller, I use my dailies when we are up against a large group, because it allows me to break it up into manageable chunks for everyone else to deal with. Thus, I hang on to my dailies until either the party has agreed to rest after the encounter, or we are up against too many foes to take one-on-one.

That said, I also favour the panic-button response; start with the smaller-stuff (Encounters, At-Wills), but if things get ugly pull out the big guns. There is a lot to be said for carefully husbanding resources, but taking out a threat before it can cause much damage to the party also saves resources, specifically healing surges (or resurrection costs).

EDIT: I would also add, if you have something that lays down a large-area sustainable or permanent zone, use it on the first turn if you are going to use it at all. That way you can benefit from it the whole encounter, and if it is a damaging zone it'll pop the more unlucky minions before they get a chance to actually do anything nasty. Giving half the critters on the battlefield a good once-over in this way lets you sort out which things are tough enough to need focusing on for round two, and can very often end encounters before they get going. If the area is unfriendly, it also lets your allies work around the spot where it is going to be, rather than already being in the thick of it when you drop it on their heads.

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My main recommendation is that if you are going to use them, use them right away in the combat. This requires judging a combat and deciding if this will be the one you will need your daily, but after that is done, delaying to see how it plays out is not very useful. For instance.

If you use a large area attack, very often the time you can hit the most enemies is the first round. They may all still be together. They are more likely to be away from allies. Most will be alive.

If you are activating an ability that will let you have a power in combat (like flaming sphere) you might as well have it all encounter, not just the second half.

The earlier you kill enemies the better. So throw out your big damage right away.

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There's nothing wrong with metagaming unless your roleplaying and the group's enjoyment of the game are suffering because of it. As a player, you're making choices that the character isn't aware of all the time.

For a tactical RPG like 4e D&D, learning how and when to use your character's powers are part of the fun of playing the game. Adjust your use based on the previous sessions of play so that you can make the most of your powers.

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Not answering the question as it's been clarified... – mxyzplk Aug 30 '12 at 2:56
The second paragraph answers the question as it now stands. – okeefe Aug 30 '12 at 4:13

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