Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Character Roles Reflect Player Roles

See, the different power mechanics for different character types in old D&D are not a bug to be phased out and homogenized. They are a system of player preference and type as valid as the tank/shooter/controller/buffer system in multiplayer online games and the tabletop systems that emulate them.

via Pixeljoint.com
Fighter: The safe role for the strong and silent type of player. Can attack until the hits run low. Always knows what the right thing to do is: block and attack the bad guys. If you don't have this type of player: Buy men-at-arms and henchmen.

Rogue/Thief: The good role for the impulsive tactical thinker. Using their combat and dungeon abilities requires initiative and coordination, but the abilities are not depleted by use, so the big picture doesn't play a part. If you don't have this type of player: Just play instinctively and roll with the punches, stabs, crushes and KABOOMs. Or throw a chicken down the stairs in front of you.

Wizard/Magic-User: Knowing this role well requires a grasp of a part of the rules - spells - that other classes can just ignore. This is a role best suited for the "specialist" player who enjoys working with complex systems and bending the rules. The player has several big, one-shot effects at his or her disposal, and especially at early levels, having the strategic big picture and knowing when to use each one is crucial. Having a strategist's mind also overcomes the critique that the magic-user's player has nothing to do when the spells run out; this player is likely to take over managing the party's other resources. If you don't have this type of player: Invest in oil, acid, offensive scrolls and potions.

Cleric: The cleric plays a relatively simple role, like the fighter, but supportive rather than offensive. The times to intervene are clear: heal wounded party members; turn undead when they show up. This should appeal to the player who likes to support and hold the party together. If you don't have this type of player: Invest in protection scrolls and healing potions.

In D&D, though, the cleric class partakes of other player roles - an armored blocker like the fighter; a caster of offensive spells like the wizard. This dilutes the class somewhat and may be part of the complaints that it is too bland or overpowered.

One of the reasons I'm eagerly looking forward to further development of the "all cleric spells work like turning" idea on Nine and Thirty Kingdoms: it pushes the cleric to further differentiation from the magic-user. The cleric becomes a manager of uncertainty over time rather than a dispenser of sure-shot one-shots.


  1. I always felt that the Cleric was supposed to skew more towards a Knight Templar than an actual spellcaster. I guess someone who is a zealot is more appropriate than a faith healer.

  2. I always viewed the cleric's other capacities as a way of mitigating the 'cleric bullet' effect. Many of the seasoned D&Ders I know speak of the need for healing and buffs, but players content to play the supporting role seem few and far between. The capacity of the cleric as combat auxiliary serves to mediate the class to players who've taken it for the group's sake rather than their own interest. That's my guess, anyway.

    A fine post, by the way, and useful in trying to get back to class-role party construction, which I haven't been near for a while.

  3. This is a fine post. I feel much the same way, that the clearly defined archetypes are actually an aide to role-playing.