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What are the real party roles of D&D?

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When you ask about party roles, people often operate in terms of a stupid Fighter/Wizard/Cleric/Thief dichotomy, but we all know there are tons of parties that use different lineups that work just fine. I'm wondering what the real party roles of the game are, and probably we should split it into combat and non-combat party roles.

One thing that occurs to me, for instance, is that Tank is not a real party role. This is because D&D is not a MMORPG and there is no real aggro mechanic to force enemies to attack you (unless we're counting Mass Suggestion, perhaps), so unless your GM is stupidly accommodating by making enemies attack whoever is insulting them at the moment instead of acting like the intelligent beings they are supposed to be, the idea of stacking survival and expecting enemies to just focus their efforts on attacking you does not really exist. What does exist, however, is the front-liner role, which sums up what keeping your party members from harm (as a martial class) is really about much more effectively. Being a front-liner really consists of two parts: (1) standing in front and (2) making it a pain in the ass for enemies to get past you and reach your allies behind you.

So what would we say are the real party roles of D&D, exactly?

A person to soak hits or otherwise negate damage sources (usually a tank, but could also be a very proactive control caster)
A person to solve environmental challenges usually in the realm of skill checks (usually a skillmonkey, but could also be a utility caster)
A person to kill stuff (nearly any class, including healers, can do this if built right)

Preferably, a jack of all trades in slot 4 so that nobody is stretched too thin during any given challenge.

There have been a few threads about this in the past, some more comprehensive than others. I think certainly the roles include:

1) damage dealer(s) (mandatory more than others, but doesn't have to be 100% specialist)
2) battlefield control (could be tank with reach, CC/debuff caster, etc)(not 100% necessary, but very nice to have)
3) healing, damage mitigation (buffs) and negative status effect removal (not 100% necessary, but nice to have. Can also be done via potions, items, etc.)
4) a way to deal with traps (can be a Log (TM), undead, sacrificial summons, or a rogue, etc)
5) face/negotiator (not always needed in all games)
6) Scout (not 100% necessary, but very nice to have.) (Can be stealthy class, caster with a familiar or divination, etc)

Damage dealer can be split into three types, I think: Single-target melee, single-target ranged, and AoE, but I don't think it's that mandatory in the scheme of things. If your crowd control is strong enough, the damage dealers are basically coup-de-grace dispensers. It's pretty exotic to play without a damage dealer and make a hard control lineup though. Could be an interesting party composition. Then again, I think in the scheme of things, damage dealers can be considered a type of crowd control. It's just that you're controlling the encounter's danger by rendering enemies into harmless corpses. That also touches on one of the problems with damage dealing: It doesn't have much effect until you've finished their last hitpoint. At least melee damage dealers tend to also be front-liners, giving them additional value if they pick their spots carefully. Ranged damage dealers can be too, if they have good AoOs.

I think battlefield control and crowd control can also be split up a bit. Battlefield control is about controlling space to your advantage. Crowd control is about disabling the enemies themselves from being a threat. Part of what makes battlefield control so desirable is because of its no save tendencies. Although the right buffs (like Fickle Winds, which negates enemy archery, or Resist Energy) can also effectively neutralize enemies, and I'm not sure how to classify that one, but I guess that counts as a form of no save crowd control.

Healing I think comes in 3 forms overall: HP healing, debuff/condition removal, and resurrections. So long as you have all 3 bases covered, you're good.


* Damage. The most fundamental role, as all D&D games have something that needs killing.
* Protection. This character protects other characters from damage, either by being in the way and using AoO tricks or by magical means or by creating obstacles for the enemy. Basically, Prevent Damage.
* Healing. All D&D games have things that will hurt PCs, so somebody has to patch them up afterwards. In practice this is a minor role, a side-gig for characters who also do something else.
* Control. This means Solving Combat Problems: there is some obstacle that prevents the PCs from properly damaging the enemy, and this character overcomes these obstacles. This is almost always a spellcaster in D&D.
* "Rogue." I put this in quotes because it is an actual class name, but I cannot think of a good general name at the moment. This character overcomes environmental obstacles: locked doors, traps, blockages, stealthy entry, disguises, and so on. The party needs to get to the place where they do damage, and this character gets them there. While a thief-type character is traditional for this, it could also be done with spells.
* Face. This character solves social problems. Since social problems aren't a constant issue in D&D, the party face always fulfils some other role as well.
* Buff/Debuff. While not strictly necessary for the game to function, helping other characters do things has long been a standard part of the game.


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