It often happens that your party is approaching an area in which you just know combat will soon ensue. Or, when a combat encounter presents itself, you may be given an opportunity to arbitrarily choose the placement of the PCs within a certain section of the battlefield. In these scenarios, it's typical to establish a standard "marching order" or "formation" in which your party will approach.

For some character roles, it's very clear where they need to be - Defenders up front, Controllers in the rear, and such. But, for some others (and depending on actual party size and makeup) things get a little fuzzier.

I'd like to establish here a CW of general, tactically optimized formations for parties of 3-6 characters in various scenarios. Especially noteworthy would be hallways ranging in width from 1-3 squares, but wide open spaces and other special configurations would be nice to have as well.

Of course, some characters' optimal positions will depend on the actual build of the character. But I believe a large percentage of parties may still benefit from some generalized formations which could be used as templates from which to design their own strategies.

I suggest using the "code sample" formatting, to get a fixed-width font representation, using the following symbols

D - Defender
L - Leader
S - Striker
C - Controller
x - Difficult Terrain
X - Blocking Terrain

As an example, here's one scenario I'm currently looking at: Two Defenders, one Striker, and one Controller, in a three-square wide hallway. One formation I'm considering is this:

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Controllers in the rear are an invitation to attack from that direction :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Pat Ludwig
    Commented Dec 23, 2010 at 0:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ The number of characters in the party is an important consideration, as is the nature of the characters filling the roles. The striker role especially varies from being tough enough to act deferdery while liking melee combat (Avenger?) to being squishy and ranged, like a Sorcerer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 23, 2010 at 0:58

3 Answers 3


How to answer a question that has an rather large number variables, here goes.

Don't approach potential combat encounters with the mind set of a fixed 'Marching Order' selected from a predefined set of MOs. Do what is done in the army, know your terrain and your target.

First categorize the following:

  • Terrain Maneuvering limits - low mobility, moderate mobility or high mobility,
  • Terrain Size - close quarters, moderate quarters or open quarters
  • Terrain Access - manipulated opening (door, ladder or gate) or open entry (arch way or open glade)
  • Monster Primary Attack Methods - ranged, close or mixed
  • Monster Primary Attack Type - weapon/claw, or spell/affect

Once you know these you can determine the mostly likely setup for the encounter.

Example: Low Mobility; Open Quarters; Open Entry; Ranged; Affect.

Your defender and strikers are going to have hard time getting to the enemy they may need to use ranged weapons if they have them or struggle to get close and use their close combat hits. This means that the party is going to have to rely on the controllers to tie up the monsters and buy time while they close. If they can't close then it is up to the ranged weapons and spell powers. Controllers should probably be first into the fight.

Simply put, figure out what the situation is and the solution will be fairly straight forward. This system helps you plan using the real mix of the party too.

Also this is a great way to plan encounters for the DM side. I use this to really mess with the group all the time.

Good Luck.


My preference here, at least for "hallway" scenarios is for a character who can hold their own in melee without it being their main thing (classically, a Cleric, but an archer Ranger, or even a Rogue could suffice) to bring up the rear, with a Defender and a melee Striker in the front. Everyone else goes in the middle.


I don't think you can get a standard generic answer, since not only is each situation different (is this a confined space? Indoors or outdoors? Do we know/suspect where the attack will come from?), each party is different (are you heavily ranged or melee? how many of each class type do you have?). So, here's my usual rules of thumb for 4E at the weekly Encounters group.

  1. Start with your leaders - they go in the middle. Logic is simple: the vast majority of healing effects are burst or ranged 5. So that 5 square bubble is the party's zone of control - PCs who move out of it are at risk of being cutoff. (If you have multiple attacks, you can spread out a bit, but I find it's better to keep someone as the "anchor").

  2. Next, your Defenders - they need to be cutting off the lines of attack. Again, if you have multiples you can make more of a wall. I'd say as a rough guess, have them 2-4 squares away from the leader. (This also gives the leader some room to work if he's packing ranged attacks, by keeping the monsters just inside the range 5 bubble.)

  3. Everyone else. This is where the variations start to kick in, in my experience. If you have a lot of front-line strikers or controllers, then they can help fill in your defensive wall (or swing around to flank with the defenders - that's why you're leaving some "bubble room" past the defenders). The ranged folks will either be on the flanks or in the rear, depending on what they're trying to reach.

There's a lot of variations in this plan - if your leader is a front-liner in his own right, then he might be up front which pulls your ranged folks back. (Or alternately, covering the rear, which pushes your ranged folks into the middle).


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