It seemed that controllers always had a hard time finding a place around the 4E table for most folks. As an archetype, it was a bit at odds with the other combat roles. Defenders had tools to soak up damage. Leaders were able to crank out the buffs and heals. Strikers poured out the damage. All three of these roles worked in just about any combat encounter.
The controller required other factors to shine, unfortunately meaning certain environmental layouts and monsters were needed to show their effectiveness. Sure they could get a few heavy hitting attacks, but smaller bursts of AoE damage were more common. Even more so, with slows and obfuscating/hindering terrain effects, they needed the space and the right positioning of creatures to really strut their stuff.
I expect that was part of the reason wizards always seemed to under-perform. It’s just that other class types could do things in combat that would work in just about any type of fight. Meanwhile, the wizard was more situational. Sadly, that meant they were really dependent on the DM to provide opportunities to allow them a chance to fully express their abilities and powers. So what are a few things a DM could provide in a fight for a wizard in the party?
Lots of minions – A core aspect of many controller powers are area of effect attacks that do a small pip of damage. Having plenty of targets and more importantly, some clustered up a little, is a decent boon to your party controller. While I don’t use lots of minions in every fight, sometimes it’s good to really fill out the ranks and give that controller plenty of targets to pop.
I try to play the opposition smart, but having those minion types more keen on keeping ranks than spreading out is something I also employ once in awhile. Usually I’ll give that third minion a chance to stick with another creature when I move them around by rolling a d6, just a simple 2 in 6 chance to have a few cluster up. So a few encounters with lots of minions (and the occasional gang of baddies clumping up) is a decent way to give a nod to the party’s controller.
Foes coming in different directions – Having simple battle lines where players can close ranks can make for some solid tactics. But continually allowing this can quickly mean the players can easily manage the engagement and the use of a controller diminishes. When you’ve got multiple monsters piling in from different directions, it’s a great opportunity for that controller type to hinder movement of some targets, giving the other party members time to engage one side first.
Creatures needing to close in – I usually like to mix in ranged attackers in most of my combats. I like to ramp up the threat so that folks not in hand-to-hand still need to worry some. However I lean towards making the melee monsters the more resilient types. And when rolling out creatures in waves, I make sure it’s those melee monsters needing a turn or so to move into the fight. It’s a means to allow the controller to do their stuff and hinder movement of creatures charging in. By tying up one or two targets the group can focus on other monsters first. The group plays smart and everyone has a chance to do something cool.
Traps and hazards that affect both foes and friends – Layering on a wall effect, or some area power hindering movement can add to it’s effectiveness if plopped down next to a few squares of hazardous terrain. Effectively you are adding another 2-3 squares of area under a wizard’s control effects. Give them a chance to do so. A small burst area with flanked by a spiked pit now provides a larger area that’s been locked down.
Sometimes it might lead to monsters preferring to chance a hazard over a spell effect. Does the goblin jump off an elevated platform risking a serious injury? Or do they sit by and let a flaming sphere roll over them? Likely they’ll take the 20’ jump and take their chances. Either way it’s a win/win for the controller.
Take a peek at the PC’s character sheet – Give a look over their powers. Think of some environment that would show off that power. Knowing the abilities of your players can allow you to occasionally craft some fights that allow these powers to be used effectively.
Not every fight has to utilize there tips, but I’d seriously consider giving at least one encounter in a typical delve a few of these characteristics if you’ve got a controller-type in your group. Controllers really need a few wrinkles in your typical encounter makeup to shine. So once in awhile, try to oblige and allow them to enjoy that choice they made playing the wizard.