Character Archetypes, Roles , and D&D Next

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Reposted from my blog here please leave any constructive comments there as well! Also, you can check out some of my older posts if you want.

4th edition introduced a new way of looking at characters in pen & paper rpgs, that of the "role". These roles weren't anything overly new to the game, but the labels were. These labels were borrowed from MMO terminology, modified to fit into the construct of a table top game, and let loose upon the world of Dungeons and Dragon's players for good or ill.

Some people used the codifying of roles as another example that 4e was "just an MMO" in paper form, forgetting that MMO's spawned from table top RPGs themselves, first as MUDs (Multi User Dungeons) and related games, and then as graphical worlds in and of themselves, each one improving (hopefully) on the last. The conceits of D&D and other fantasy RPGs were borrowed and are evident in Everquest, Ultima, and yes even in World of Warcraft.

These roles are fairly simple, for the most part.

Defender: The "tank" in MMO speak, the defender punishes the enemies for attacking his friends.

Striker: The "DPS (Damage Per Second)" class in MMO speak, also known as the guy that puts out the hurt.

Leader: The "healer" role who helps his team mates by replenishing hit points and tossing out bonuses.

Controller: the "crowd control" role in MMOs, able to impose negative conditions on enemies, and generally make the enemies life miserable.

These roles aren't all bad, in one way or another they've always existed in D&D. The fighter, for the most part, has stood in front of the mage to prevent the monsters from interrupting his spells (acting as a defender). The rogue sneak attacks the bad guys, doing extra damage (being a striker). Clerics heal, wizards cast fireballs, and so on and so forth. What MMOs had to do was enforce what was already there and make those things mechanically work within the boundaries of a video game.

What 4e did was create the labels as both a way of discussing what a class was supposed to be doing and also a way to compare classes meaningfully. If strikers are supposed to deal damage, we can compare 2 striker classes, and look at how they are accomplishing this goal, and see if its working or not. No matter how you feel about roles, from a design perspective I can't see this as being anything but useful. At least, if you value class balance. Another idea borrowed from MMO and video games. To clarify, class balance means that at any given level, 2 classes doing the same job are relatively comparable and viable. You don't want X to be so much better than Y that Y is almost never played.

Roles can also be restrictive, though. There were many people who played the fighter class as a damage dealer, choosing to be "the guy in lots of armor with the big sword". Where 4e initially went wrong was not providing options for players who liked to play a class against its stated role. And, though I love 4e and playing it with my friends, that is true. If you want to play a pure damage dealing wizard...you play a sorcerer and deal with it. That's not a game breaker for me, but for others I can see the frustration. It has made steps in the right direction with essentials and with options like the Heroes of the Feywild barbarian, but for some that is not enough.

In the Next Edition should roles stay? Yes, I think they should. Not only are they a good way to decide what type of class to play, but also a way of achieving balance. It is a good way of offering comparisons, deciding on features, and also a way to find out what a player wants to do. Some people like playing the healer, other guys just want make things bleed. Keep them. But they shouldn't be a straight jacket for classes, they should be a descriptor, flexible, and those descriptions should be able to change depending on what options you take. If they stay with Powers / Abilities perhaps each one could come with a descriptor, and then you decide what your character is by the balance of powers you take?

IE: You take 3 powers with the "Striker" label, and only 1 "Controller" power, and your character is considered a striker. Or, choose this class feature and you are a Striker, and this one and you are a Controller, or Defender.

In current 4e terminology a fighter could look like this

If you want to play a defender choose Defender Aura for your class feature. If you want to play a striker, choose Power Strike as a class feature. If you want to play a controller, choose (This Thing) as your class feature.

Not perfect, I know. But it works for the purposes of discussion.

Now, the second broad topic I wanted to discuss was archetypes are something that are very useful in D&D, and in literature in general. In some ways Power Source is an archetype in 4e. Roles are also a form of archetype.

But more broadly than that, archetype is a general descriptor that lets you know what flavor a character has. If I ask you to describe a "Rogue" you have a good idea of what that type of character is in your head. If I ask you to describe a "Mage" you also have a good mental image of what that character may look like. These images persist through storytelling, MMOs, table top games, literature, artwork, and almost anything relating to our hobby.

I posit that there are several prevailing archetypes in our hobby:

The Warrior: A person who takes up weapons and armor to engage in hand to hand combat.
The Sneak: A person who relies on stealth and deception. Lightly armored and armed, the sneak keeps to the shadows.
The Spellcaster: Wearing no armor, the spell caster wields power unknown to the common man to smite her enemies.
The Healer: The healer also wields power, but unlike the Spellcaster who uses it to kill his foe the Healer uses his powers to aid his allies.
The Archer: Just as it sounds, the Archer prefers to fight at range.
The Savage: A person of the wild, the savage shuns civilization and its traps.

Now, many archetypes are missing from this list, and others can be seen as a combination of the 2. A ranger could be seen as a Savage Archer, an Archer Sneak, or a Savage Archer Sneak. Notice that even the term "ranger" brings up a set of preconceptions when I mention it? That is a type of archetype. A paladin has a clear archetype as well, a warrior of the divine. (an archetype mixed with a power source).

Archetypes, power sources, and roles are all building blocks used to describe and differentiate characters. Race can be seen as another block, each race having its own archetypes built in either mechanically or historically.

I hope that in the next edition that we have access to all of these tools in order to build interesting stories, discuss balance and mechanics, and work towards design goals.
I_Roll_20s @twitter. Not always SFW. I may prefer 4e, but I will play and enjoy almost any edition, and indeed almost any table top RPG, with my friends. Down with Edition Wars. Shut up and roll your dice. :P
Your "archetype" is what a Class is, pure and simple. Complicating it more than that needly confuses the issue.

Your understanding of roles and your relation of MMO "holy trinity" role parlance is crude, and furthermore incorrect.

What you--and almost everryone else in the community, so don't feel bad--fails to understand is that Class is not the same as character. I can play "big guy in armor with sword that hits people really hard!" as any of a dozen or more classes, none of them Fighter. Oh, and if I do want to play that concept as a Fighter, the class leans rather heavily into Striker terrirory with the right power selections, so I can certainly do so. Or I can play the Slayer, the class that's, y'know, exactly what I described.



-m4ki; one down, one to go

"Retro is not new. Retro-fit is not new." --Seeker95, on why I won't be playing DDN

|| DDN Metrics (0-10) | enthusiasm: 1 | confidence in design: -3 | desire to play: 0 | Sticking with 4e?: Yep. | Better Options: IKRPG Mk II ||
The Five Things D&D Next Absolutely Must Not Do:
1. Imbalanced gameplay. Any and all characters must be able to contribute equally both in combat and out of combat at all levels of play. If the Fighters are linear and the Wizards quadratic, I walk. 2. Hardcore simulationist approach. D&D is a game about heroic fantasy. I'm weak and useless enough in real life; I play RPGs for a change of pace. If the only reason a rule exists is because "that's how it's supposed to be", I walk. I don't want a game that "simulates" real life, I want a game that simulates heroic fantasy. 3. Worshipping at false idols (AKA Sacred Cows). If the only reason a rule exists is "it's always been that way", I walk. Now to be clear, I have no problem with some things not changing; my issue is with retaining bad idea simply for the sake of nostalgia. 4. DM vs. players. If the game encourages "gotcha!" moments or treats the DM and players as enemies, adversaries, or problems to be overcome, I walk. 5. Rules for the sake of rules. The only thing I want rules for is the things I can't do sitting around a table with my friends. If the rules try to step on my ability to roleplay the character I want to roleplay, I walk. Furthermore, the rules serve to facilitate gameplay, not to simulate the world. NOTE: Items in red have been violated.
Chris Perkins' DM Survival Tips:
1. When in doubt, wing it. 2. Keep the story moving. Go with the flow. 3. Sometimes things make the best characters. 4. Always give players lots of things to do. 5. Wherever possible, say ‘yes.’ 6. Cheating is largely unnecessary. 7. Don't be afraid to give the characters a fun new toy. 8. Don't get in the way of a good players exchange. 9. Avoid talking too much. 10. Save some details for later. 11. Be transparent. 12. Don't show all your cards. Words to live by.
Quotes From People Smarter Than Me:
"Essentials zigged, when I wanted to continue zagging..." -Foxface on Essentials "Servicing a diverse fan base with an RPG ruleset - far from being the mandate for 'open design space' and a cavalier attitude towards balance - requires creating a system that /works/, with minimal fuss, for a wide variety of play styles, not just from one group to the next, but at the same table." -Tony_Vargas on design "Mearls' and Cook's stated intent to produce an edition that fans of all previous editions (and Pathfinder) will like more than their current favourite edition is laudable. But it is also, IMO, completely unrealistic. It's like people who pray for world peace: I might share their overall aims, but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for them to succeed. When they talk in vague terms about what they'd like to do in this new edition, I mostly find myself thinking 'hey, that sounds cool, assuming they can pull it off', but almost every time they've said something specific about actual mechanics, I've found myself wincing and shaking my head in disbelief and/or disgust, either straight away or after thinking about the obvious implications for half a minute." -Duskweaver on D&D Next

@ M4kitsu


I agree with you on this


Rolls: to me rolls represent your job in a party or group in combat these rolls represent a tactical temple of what you are expected to do in a party. For people who are playing D&D in the hard core minis game play mode these constructs can be useful for new players learning the game, after that that there useless. Do we really need to label each ability for its roll in combat?


Class: is an archetype or template for a specific type of character in literature, for example strider from lord of the rings is a character who happens to be a ranger, this particular character is so iconic he got  his own D&D class. Other examples include Conan the barbarian etcetera.


Character is a literary construct that is your avatar in the game world he may be a ranger or a barbarian but if you’re doing it right he won’t be Strider or Conan, class should be just the starting point for building you character.

I think the word you're looking for, Asperdn, is "template", not "temple". I know; English is annoying like that (seriously, what language gets away with a syntax with this many stupid exceptions and corner-case grammar rules? Well, at least English has the excuse of being the bastard descendent of two completely incompatible parent languages... Polish doesn't even have that much of an excuse).


And for the record, Strider was a Warlord. Seriously, name me any Ranger who's got the Charisma to pull off the "hour of wolves and shattered shields" speech. Can't do it, can you? Warlord, no question. 

...and Conan was a Fighter/Rogue. Tongue Out 
-m4ki; one down, one to go

"Retro is not new. Retro-fit is not new." --Seeker95, on why I won't be playing DDN

|| DDN Metrics (0-10) | enthusiasm: 1 | confidence in design: -3 | desire to play: 0 | Sticking with 4e?: Yep. | Better Options: IKRPG Mk II ||
The Five Things D&D Next Absolutely Must Not Do:
1. Imbalanced gameplay. Any and all characters must be able to contribute equally both in combat and out of combat at all levels of play. If the Fighters are linear and the Wizards quadratic, I walk. 2. Hardcore simulationist approach. D&D is a game about heroic fantasy. I'm weak and useless enough in real life; I play RPGs for a change of pace. If the only reason a rule exists is because "that's how it's supposed to be", I walk. I don't want a game that "simulates" real life, I want a game that simulates heroic fantasy. 3. Worshipping at false idols (AKA Sacred Cows). If the only reason a rule exists is "it's always been that way", I walk. Now to be clear, I have no problem with some things not changing; my issue is with retaining bad idea simply for the sake of nostalgia. 4. DM vs. players. If the game encourages "gotcha!" moments or treats the DM and players as enemies, adversaries, or problems to be overcome, I walk. 5. Rules for the sake of rules. The only thing I want rules for is the things I can't do sitting around a table with my friends. If the rules try to step on my ability to roleplay the character I want to roleplay, I walk. Furthermore, the rules serve to facilitate gameplay, not to simulate the world. NOTE: Items in red have been violated.
Chris Perkins' DM Survival Tips:
1. When in doubt, wing it. 2. Keep the story moving. Go with the flow. 3. Sometimes things make the best characters. 4. Always give players lots of things to do. 5. Wherever possible, say ‘yes.’ 6. Cheating is largely unnecessary. 7. Don't be afraid to give the characters a fun new toy. 8. Don't get in the way of a good players exchange. 9. Avoid talking too much. 10. Save some details for later. 11. Be transparent. 12. Don't show all your cards. Words to live by.
Quotes From People Smarter Than Me:
"Essentials zigged, when I wanted to continue zagging..." -Foxface on Essentials "Servicing a diverse fan base with an RPG ruleset - far from being the mandate for 'open design space' and a cavalier attitude towards balance - requires creating a system that /works/, with minimal fuss, for a wide variety of play styles, not just from one group to the next, but at the same table." -Tony_Vargas on design "Mearls' and Cook's stated intent to produce an edition that fans of all previous editions (and Pathfinder) will like more than their current favourite edition is laudable. But it is also, IMO, completely unrealistic. It's like people who pray for world peace: I might share their overall aims, but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for them to succeed. When they talk in vague terms about what they'd like to do in this new edition, I mostly find myself thinking 'hey, that sounds cool, assuming they can pull it off', but almost every time they've said something specific about actual mechanics, I've found myself wincing and shaking my head in disbelief and/or disgust, either straight away or after thinking about the obvious implications for half a minute." -Duskweaver on D&D Next
There were many people who played the fighter class as a damage dealer, choosing to be "the guy in lots of armor with the big sword". Where 4e initially went wrong was not providing options for players who liked to play a class against its stated role. And, though I love 4e and playing it with my friends, that is true. If you want to play a pure damage dealing wizard...you play a sorcerer and deal with it.



This is where you fall in to the trap of false assumptions. You could always play a fighter who deals good damage, even before the Slayer came out. And as far as a damage-dealing Wizard, Blaster Wizards can pump out as much, or more, damage than a Sorcerer can, but they needed a bit of splatbook love.

The biggest issue is spoiled, impatient people who expect to have everything available in a previous system that took years to get immediately upon release and then some. That's not realistic, especially in a single, affordable, core book. I also see people complain they can't get all content for one low price downloaded to their machine in an e-tool. I swear, many gamers have no idea how a business works and have an unrealistic sense of entitlement that borders on shear insanity.    


Class is not the same as character. I can play "big guy in armor with sword that hits people really hard!" as any of a dozen or more classes, none of them Fighter. Oh, and if I do want to play that concept as a Fighter, the class leans rather heavily into Striker terrirory with the right power selections, so I can certainly do so. Or I can play the Slayer, the class that's, y'know, exactly what I described.



QFT
I think it is well worth noting that not every combination of archetype (class) and role really makes sense and needs to be supported in a literal sense. The complaint with 4e for instance that it is not possible to make an archer fighter is an example of this. There's simply no sensible concept "ranged defender" to be supported. You can make the character concept via the ranger class and that's the proper archetype for this kind of character.

What 4e did was put character concept at the front of the character design process. This is one area where defining role is quite useful, even necessary. Because a player can understand what sort of role a given class can fill it allows the player to zero in on the proper elements to support that concept. In a sense the pre-4e concepts of classes are actually somewhat of an impediment. Things like 'ranger' shouldn't really be about broad packages of mechanics, but about specific 'flavor' elements and components. 4e sort of hedged in an attempt to remain true to earlier iterations of D&D, but it is something of a compromise. You see where that created some issues when you make certain concepts in 4e, like a great weapon using skirmisher. Either you have to make a fighter in light armor, which works but isn't dead on, or you have to make a barbarian, which carries a heavy thematic baggage that might not match what you want, or you have to make a ranger and play a heavily suboptimal build or refluff various things like say a double sword as a big two-hander (not too bad, but still not the most straightforward).

I think if you were going to make a more ideal system building on 4e you would probably want to decouple archetype from any one specific game element. In fact the question is if archetype itself really has a specific place. A character concept is a realization of an archetype, but there's no need to be able to point to one specific choice you made which made your concept.

In the interests of maintaining some contact with previous edition structure I'd just go back to one class representing a 'power source'. That way 'fighter' represents basically everyone that uses a weapon. Now you can have packages like "Archery Master" to give your warrior bow use. A Theme could be used to make the character a ranger or some other sort of archer. This leaves the question of what role gets attached to. In effect I'd just provide the player with packages of options that can be labeled with roles. This lets the developers design these concepts to let each role be filled with some reasonable set of components.

The result works pretty well for a setup where you want to have an 'old school' kind of simplified and restricted list of 'builds'. The 1e class list can be trivially reproduced for instance and each one can have its iconic name. If you want to play a 'build your own' high flexibility game you can allow MCing, some kind of mixed themes, or some limited 'feats' that let you pick subcomponents of a theme/mastery/class (and maybe some other minor variations of things) to fill in the cracks. Since 'powers' would be selectable out of lists attached to class/mastery/theme/race you'd be able to for instance pick a 'knight' theme and an 'archery' mastery and wear heavy armor while plying your bow. This will require some changes to core mechanics with an aim to getting rid of odd forcings like light armor only being usable with a high dex and heavy armor being highly suboptimal in that case (maybe just get rid of armor proficiency or reduce it to 2 types, heavy and light).
That is not dead which may eternal lie
Architype
The Warrior: A person who takes up weapons (ranged OR melee) and armor to engage in hand to hand combat.
The Sneak: A person who relies on stealth and deception. Lightly armored and armed, the sneak keeps to the shadows.
The Caster: Wearing no armor, the spell caster wields power unknown to the common man to smite her enemies.
The Healer: The healer also wields power, but unlike the Spellcaster who uses it to kill his foe the Healer uses his powers to aid his allies.

Role-
Brute- Tough, but not well defended- Powerful, but not subtle. One of the simplest types, and the default for low complexity games.
(ironically, a Healer Brute would be the classic mace-armed healbot. Caster brute would be Sorcerer, Sneak brute would be a Brutal Scoundrel rogue, and a Warrior brute would be a classic Fighting Man or barbarian)

Soldier- Tough and well defended, but lighter on offence. Your armored Fighter/defender, your defensively warded mage.
Skirmisher- Strong and mobile, but light on defence- difficult to pin down. Archers, acrobats,
Controller- Disrupts the enemy, or gives more options to allies. Swashbucklers, Warlords, Mages, ect
Lurker- A burst role, focusing on evasion. Assasins, Encounter Vancian Casters, Clutch heal/buff.

Race and Power source
Small tweaks and options. A splash of Divine Healer options for your Warrior/Soldier "Paladin". A Splash of Primal and Skirmisher for your Caster/Controller "Druid". Dwarven Defender, Elven archer... all of it optional.

More Options
Additional moduels can layer on more complexity, to whatever level the GM and players wish.