Friday, February 06, 2009

RPG Musings: 4E and Roles

Every Friday, I'll toss an idea or two with regards to tabletop RPGs.

What I particularly like about the latest edition of D&D is that player roles are clearly defined (defender, striker, leader, controller) and is hard-coded into the classes. For the past few months, we've been playing the Scepter Tower of Spellguard and it started out (and still is!) an unusual party composition: a Dragonborn Paladin (the pre-gen character actually), a Dwarf Fighter, a Genasi Swordmage, a Human Wizard, and a Warforged Barbarian (that's me). That's three defenders, a controller, and a striker.

So far, we've made it without any leader in the group but then again, we've made some adjustments (the Wizard bought healing potions, two characters had Dwarven Armor). Another contributing factor is that we only get to play three hours so we tend to take Extended Rests are the end of the session.

Now two sessions ago, we just hit 4th-level and the Dragonborn Paladin player was unable to join the game. I had a choice of retaining the character or substituting it with either a Leader or a Striker. My thought process went like this: the group needs a Leader in case someone gets heavily damaged. On the other hand, some believe a good defense is a good offense and another Striker can fill that need, especially considering we're trying to speed up combat and run more encounters. Eventually, I went with an archer Ranger while my Barbarian and the other player's Fighter took some Multiclass Feats to gain some healing options.

We got to test-drive the new party dynamics last session and I think it works out. The archer Ranger deals even more damage than the Barbarian but tends to be more fragile.

Another element that's not quite explicit in 4E (that's not necessarily a bad thing) however is that most classes have secondary roles. The Fighter for example, depending on your Build and the Powers you pick, is possibly a Striker or a Leader whose abilities only function for himself. Granted, he doesn't fulfill that role as effective as a straight-out Striker or Leader class but it's there in addition to being a Defender.

It's this kind of depth that leads to character variety I think. Simply saying that "I'm a Dwarven Fighter" doesn't tell me everything about your Role in the group. Yes, you'll make a great Defender but what else do you do?

In another game, the Tiefling Warlock player feels that his character isn't doing as much damage as the other Striker classes but he feels that he's filling in the Controller niche with the various area affects and status conditions he inflicts.

I like the fact that Roles are more clearly defined in 4E and players can make more conscious decisions because of this (as was the case in re-picking the 5th character of the party) but I feel the "secondary role" needs to be more stressed. It is mentioned in the books but I feel it's barely recognizable by the casual player and one has to deduce it from their abilities and Powers.

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