Theme Thursday: Planning a Party

No, not that kind of party. Today’s theme deals with good party structure, and how you can have more fun playing the game with a bit of planning for party structure.

First, let’s go over the basic concepts:

In a magnificent game such as D&D 3.5 or the excellent child called Pathfinder, the most effective and fun gaming occurs when every player has a decent understanding of “roles.” The game is simply constructed so that characters are more effective when they specialize in an area. It comes of  the construction of the fantastic character-building system, where the player chooses from among a number of abilities and options, so that they build a particular type of character. This is not to say that you don’t want to build a character who isn’t effective in all types of situations. Instead of a truly “well-rounded” character however, you should look for a “well-lopsided” one. Fulfill a role while paying a due to other options, so that you are never at a loss or a drag on the game.

Not only does planning for roles make the characters more effective,  but it makes the game much more fun as well. As human beings, we simply don’t function well when everyone talks at once. The GM can only pay attention to a couple things at the same time, and if someone is speaking to him or her, describing their character’s actions, the GM cannot be dealing with another person doing the same thing at the exact same time. Combat is constructed as a series of turns for this very reason. Therefore, characters need to take turns in the spotlight, and need to be depended upon to make the most of that spotlight while they have it. Understanding your role in the party only becomes more and more vital as the game goes on, when players become more invested in the story and the power of the characters and monsters increases.

Rather than discussing the commonly-accepted names for roles that are out there, we will look at each of the 9 base classes in the core rulebook, and discuss where each one excels and how they can fit into the party structure.

Barbarian 

Your friends will rely on you to be a brute. You can take damage, and with a bit of character planning you can really dish it out. You have an edge of speed and versatility that means you are someone who can get to where the fight is at, strike a serious blow for your side, and just keep on going when the enemy hits back. You need to make sure that you are getting attacked.

Bard

One of the most deeply controversial classes in terms of role. I do not subscribe to the concepts that the bard is a “jack-of-all-trades” or the “best fifth character.” Instead, the Bard is a subtle character whom the party will come to rely upon. Your teammates will rely upon you to give them a vital edge in combat, making them all more effective and backing that up with important spells. They will need you to take the lead out of combat, with an array of knowledge and social skills that can win fights before they start.

Cleric

Your party will rely on you for healing. However, you keep everyone alive in several other key ways as well. You have access to vital magic that no one else does. You can wear serious protection and you can more than hold your own in a beatdown fight. You will be relied upon to plan ahead with your defensive and offensive magic, and take your knocks as need be.

Druid

Your friends need you to have a bit of healing, a bit of defensive magic, and a whole lot of extra pals. You can bring more key helpers to the table than anyone, and it’s vital that you do so while blasting away with other magics. You can also set up to fulfill key damaging roles in hand-to-hand combat, with a whole host of options that you can pick up at the last minute. Always be looking for the perfect option for the next encounter, as you will often be the linchpin upon which the wheel of the party turns.

Fighter

You can fulfill several different roles, depending on a wide array of character-building choices. Your party might depend upon you to be the toughest, hardest-to-kill member and direct all the enemies toward you. You might be relied upon to put out the most serious weapon damage. In all, the fighter needs to have a very strong understanding of the “well-lopsided” concept and build his character toward that ideal.

Monk

Another somewhat controversial class who can be absolutely vital. You will be needed to get to the fight before anyone else, survive all the way to that point, and be effective at locking down the enemies when you get there. As soon as you stop playing games where all the fights take place in big, empty rooms with a bruiser enemy, the role of the monk becomes clear. You need to take care that you are at the right place at the right time because no one can do that as well as you can.

Paladin

You will be relied upon to rank among the toughest warriors out there. You’ll need to do a little healing and backup spells in a pinch, but your focus needs to be taking on the most dangerous and the nastiest of the evil damage-dealers. You have the survivability to outlast, and you need to make sure you’re the first into the fray and the last man standing.

Ranger

The ranger needs to be the man with the plan. You need to utilize your woodcraft and your expertise in certain enemies. You have some backup healing and spellcasting, but you bring your seen-it-all type of abilities to the fore and your damage-dealing focus needs to be chosen carefully to play off the other players. If there’s another melee type with a dangerous full attack, you should probably choose a ranged style, and vice versa. Err on the side of ranged damage or on being extremely tough.

Rogue

Another extraordinarily versatile class, the two things you will definitely be relied upon for are dealing with traps and being stealthy. You should build your choices to deal damage and to improve your capability in your roles, as well as bringing a whole host of skills to the table so that you are truly never at a loss. Be careful about survivability, and be the person with a backup plan.

Sorcerer

A somewhat problematic class if you’re overly fond of comparisons with other classes. Nevertheless, the sorcerer will be relied upon for two vital things: versatile on-the-fly spellcasting, and not running out of spells. Make sure you can keep slinging those spells one after the other, and that those spells each have greatly varied uses. You may want to look into the gamingmage variant sorcerer, presented here

Wizard

You will be relied upon to have the perfect spell for every encounter, day after day. Attempt to evince a nigh-supernatural ability to pick the perfect preparations, and control reality with a number of different specializations. You will be relied upon to deal with large numbers of enemies, to give your companions an edge, to win the fight before it starts, and to match the spells being thrown at the party with magic of your own. You can cherry-pick the ideal spells, and you should try to do just that. You will also be expected to make possible all the things that were impossible without you.

Notes

Don’t disappoint your party members with poor planning. You should ask questions at the beginning of a campaign, and get an idea of where everyone is going with their design. While you want all the possible required roles to be covered, you need to make sure that you enjoy and can shine in the roles you’ve chosen to excel in. Be open about your choices, and the possible side paths you might consider later on. And make sure it’s going to be a fun, well-meshed party.

-Max


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10 responses to “Theme Thursday: Planning a Party

  1. I’d like to point out something that should not have been skipped over. 3.5 D&D is DESIGNED to be played with 4 people and they are playing a fighter, rogue, wizard, and cleric. Thats not to say that other party comps don’t work – I played a very successful rogue, bard, fighter game – but if you don’t have those 4 classes [really, you could swap a fighter for barbarian or paladin and sorc for wiz but you need a rogue and cleric] be prepared to alter your play style to not die.

    Also tack on for monk: you are the anti-caster. Your job is to find the spellcaster and grapple it until the game ends…FOREVER.

    • Thanks, Rarzor. While you do have a point, I’m afraid I disagree. While it is true the D&D is designed for that 4-person party, forgetting or disregarding that fact is often beneficial for actually playing the game. Altering your play style might be necessary, but this is an article about planning a party–where you can try to cover the needed roles without kowtowing to the design.

      For monk, I disagree even more strongly. That is a silly job and is really just a specific use of the role I have outlined. If needed, just have your spellcaster cast black tentacles on the opposing spellcaster while the monk occupies a more key position.
      -Max

  2. black tentacles has a far more likely chance of failing than a monk grapple. Not to mention that its not always advantagious to lay down a crowd control field as it could hurt your party.

    Also, you can say whatever you like but after reading 90%+ of the non-campaign related 3.5 books, I’m extremely sure that the game is designed for a fighter, cleric, rogue, wizard. Unless your GM says at the game start, this is a trapless game, you need to have a rogue since its the only class that can locate magical traps. It is also quite difficult to play a game without a caster that has cure spells.

    As a side note I recommend playing a game without spontaneous healing. Its a crutch that keeps PCs bad. Players need to learn to make characters that avoid unnecessary damage. When the party drains out all of a cleric’s spells to cure, you remove the spotlight from that character and make the player bored with a very simple character.

    • I wasn’t implying that a black tentacles spell could replace anything. Only that it’s an option if the monk needs to do something else.

      I did not in any way deny that D&D is designed for the classic 4-person party. I only said that it’s more fun if you don’t obsess over that concept too much.

      I’m running a game right now with severely limited healing. It does indeed make for a very interesting game that requires much better playing from the PC’s. However, totally removing magical healing (or were you only referring to the cleric spontaneous healing ability?) from the game would damage it, I think, because the basic structure of a dungeon crawl somewhat requires that magic.

      Thanks,
      -Max

    • “Unless your GM says at the game start, this is a trapless game, you need to have a rogue since its the only class that can locate magical traps.”

      This would only apply to 3.5 and not pathfinder. As anyone can now locate a magical trap.

      As a side note, you could use detect magic to locate them but again only in pathfinder is it viable.

      • Actually, you’re wrong about magic traps ^_^. Read the trap finding & disable device descriptions, “Characters with the trapfinding ability (like rogues) can disarm magic traps.” This implies that characters without trapfinding cannot locate a magic trap which was also true in 3.5

        Disable device also mentions, ” a rogue who beats a trap’s DC by 10 or more can study the trap, figure out how it works, and bypass it without disarming it. A rogue can rig a trap so her allies can bypass it as well.” I’m not sure why it mentions rogue specifically but that implies to me that other PCs without trapfinding can’t do this.
        Also in 3.5, you could use detect magic to find traps but just like in pathfinder, it doesn’t let you do anything about them. You just know they are there.

        With regards to healing, the game needs it – there is no question. I just think spontaneous healing (drop anything for a cure spell) is a crutch.

  3. Er Rarzor,
    The text you have quoted does not say or imply anything about FINDING magic traps, just disabling them. Yes there’s the beating the DC by 10 thing, but it’s really hard to know what text has just been copy/pasted and what is supposed to be a real change.
    Worth asking on the Paizo boards. Now that there’s no dedicated Search skill, can you get a reactive perception check to see a trap?
    -Max

  4. This is a great overview for the classes. It’s more about what they really end up doing in D&D/Pathfinder. I’d recommend it to anyone trying to see what role they’re thinking about fulfilling for a new party.

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