Thoughts on the Traditional Party Build
Dungeons and Dragons is commonly credited as the beginning of modern day ole-play games. Since its release in 1974, D&D has brought certain game mechanics to the forefront of gaming. Game mechanics that seem obvious now, like hit points and experience points were all made popular through D&D. It has spawned all sorts different ideas, one of them being the creation of the traditional RPG party.
This traditional party is suited to overcome most obstacles and becomes the Mary Sue of adventuring parties. It is my argument that this well rounded party is not always the best option, and you and your party can actually find more fun outside of this usual party build. The traditional party is too well rounded.
Let us first analyze the traditional party and why it is so popular. In the traditional RPG party, there is usually four playable characters; a high hitpoint fighter, a healer, a character that deals lots of damage, and a support character. These party members can take on many forms and names. I personally find the Fighter, Cleric, Rogue, and Wizard combo to be the “classic” Dungeon and Dragons party.
The High Hitpoint Fighter
The high hitpoint fighter’s “job” is to provide a mass amount of hit points and distraction. She is intended to protect the others in her party from her enemies. These fighters help take the pressure off in combat, but as soon as combat is done, they tend to sit idly by. Because of this imposed idea, many times players that build fighters dump stats like intelligence, wisdom, or charisma in order to boost their key skills. In my games, I like to try and keep the combat and role-play to about 50-50 over the course of a campaign. This means that the player is stuck in half of the situations twiddling her thumbs while the others in the party handle the talking and thinking bit. Sometimes this can be very refreshing for the play and is the intention of the character’s build, but with the traditional party build someone at the table will be stuck filling this position and there isn’t always someone at the table that wants to play this type of character.
This character is an easy one to imagine, his job is to maintain party health. A lot of times he will join forces with the fighter to synergize and become the classic fighter/healer combo. The standard battle for this combo boils down to the fighter fights and protects the healer, the healer works to keep the fighter alive. Also, the healer is usually assumed to be the one that understands religion as the usual class that plays this role is a Cleric. This character is a mid range fighter, and will usually be somewhat of a generalist. With the Fifth Edition rules, Clerics have gotten a little more freedom in what they could do. But in the past, the cleric was the guy that rolled around with a bat, heals the fighter, and is called in when there is undead or some religious symbol that no one recognizes.
The Damage Per Round (DPR)
This character is the unrelenting storm in the traditional party. They tend to have multiple attacks early and can leverage this in order to rack slightly higher damage than the fighter. These characters tend to be Rogues, Monks, or Rangers which have lower amounts of health. They want to put themselves in combat to flex their strengths, but at the same time mitigate chances of damage as they don’t have a lot of hitpoints. They need to be either very dexterous or attack at a range. The DPR is usually very wise and dexterous. She tends to be the one that is sent ahead to scout the dungeon or forest to find and possibly disarm traps.
The support is the classic buff/debuff character. They tend to sit in the backlines and throw spells to aid the rest of the party. These are usually Sorcerers, Wizards, or Warlocks. The support characters are wise or intelligent and tend to be very weak physically. When it comes to adventuring or role-play, the support character tends to dominate as most of their attributes will help things that are more geared to out of combat interaction.
Where the Traditional Party Idea Falters
The traditional party build is really meant for a four or more character party, but it can be done with three people. These builds are cookie cutter to me, they are modular, and I personally hate hearing at the start of a campaign “Dibs on DPR” or “I am tanking.” To me, this is the ultimate meta-gaming sin. I actually find it a little funny that we, as Tabletop RPG players, get so upset if someone meta-games during a session, but we all dive into this traditional party mold without a fuss.
Why not play what you want. Who cares if you have five wizards in a party? Yeah, that party might not last long, but because of the dynamics of being low health, it creates situations where the players have to think a lot differently to resolve a conflict. It no longer becomes a game of smashing the door in, dispatch the bad guys, and get the loot. It can become a game of intrigue and manipulation.
I argue that it is actually better for the Dungeon Master and for the Party to explore different options and mixtures. Take the risk of not having a character that is especially suited to heal, find a way to get by without a meat head barbarian. As a player, play who you want to play regardless of the other players, and work creatively with others to solve situations without falling into the traditional party trap. If it doesn’t work out, your party should know because they won’t survive. I argue to try and treat Dungeons and Dragons more like a roguelike and iterate on the group dynamic until one clicks.
That is where I am going to leave it for this week. As always, thank you so much for stopping in and reading. Feel free to comment, I love to read constructive feedback and love discussing topics like these. Check back in next week to see what else I have on my mind or decide to analyze. Remember to follow The DM’s Table on Facebook or on Twitter @dmstable for updates and to let me know what is on your mind, or what you might want to read about. Also, go check out Roll with Advantage! It is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast that releases every Monday at 5 pm Eastern Time. We play, laugh, and have a good time playing a game we all love. Thank you for reading.
― The DM