ROLE PLAY ... DECONSTRUCTING THE COMBAT ROLES ON THE BATTLEFIELD
In this thread, I explore a new way to look at class roles.
So far, the class roles prove vague, overlapping, and messy - Controller, Defender, Leader, and Striker. These class roles draw whimsical inspiration from the four baseline classes - Wizard, Fighter, Cleric, and Rogue - but beyond this they lack definitions that are both clear and true. For example, the Striker is often said to 'deal high damage to a single target'. Yet the Sorcerer despite being called a Striker is known for multi-target damage. The Monk isnt even especially known for damage. While easy to understand this definition for Striker, it sometimes fails to be true.
Instead of trying to reduce all class behaviors on the battlefield into one of four roles, this thread looks beyond the quartet to what is actually happening on the battlefield. In fact, there are many roles, and many permutations of these roles.
To come up with names for these many roles, I reuse names from the monster roles (which convey far more meaning) and from the gamer jargon (tho I tried to keep it medievalesque) as well as the class roles. For certain names that bundled several roles together, I tried to keep the most salient meaning, and split the rest off into separate roles.
While the following assemblage of roles may need finetuning, it usefully describes what characters do on a D&D battlefield. [/sblock]
Attack Roles ...
• Infantry (melee attacks, including close attacks)
• Artillery (ranged attacks, including area attacks)
• Striker (higher damage to a single target, including multiple attacks on a single target)
• Blaster (lower damage to multiple targets, including close or area bursts)
Utility Roles ...
Heavy Roles (survivability)
• Soldier (high defenses)
• Brute (high hit points)
Light Roles (tactics)
• Skirmisher (mobility)
• Lurker (stealth)
Leader Roles (reinforce allies)
• Weaponmaster (buff Attack roles - improve attack accuracy, number of targets, amount of damage, range, reach, opportunity attacks)
• Healer (fortify Heavy roles - Soldier and Brute - grant hit points, remove conditions, heighten defenses)
• Tactician (mobilize Light roles - Skirmisher and Lurker - grant tactics, mobility, stealth, penetrate terrain)
Controller Roles (undermine enemies)
• Defender (debuff Attack roles - negate attacks, reduce accuracy, reduce damage dealt)
• Execrator (enervate Heavy roles - inflict defense penalties, conditions, ongoing damage)
• Engineer (paralyze Light roles - deny mobility, expose stealth, create terrain)
It is possible to describe the combat role of a character narrowly, mentioning numerous roles to pinpoint exactly what the character does in combat. Most of the time, it is enough to describe the combat role broadly, mentioning only one to three of the most prominent areas of specialization.
A single class can specialize in one or more of numerous roles. The roles are easy to mix and match, but compare some classic examples:
Wizard (Artillery Controller)
Fighter (Infantry Soldier Brute Defender)
Cleric (Soldier Healer)
Rogue (Infantry Striker Lurker)
Of course, these classes allow alternative options for class builds that can fill other roles.
[sblock Comments on the combat roles]
A binary model represents well the defacto combat roles. The deepest division is between the combat roles and the meta-combat roles. Unsurprisingly, the combat roles turn out to resonate the attack powers and utility powers that characters actually use in combat, along with the traits and features that resemble the powers. The meta-combat roles function only indirectly, by manipulating the attacks and utilities of other characters. For example, a meta-combatant could even avoid attacking an enemy and instead enhance the attack that an ally delivers to that enemy.
The combat roles divide into attack roles and utility roles. Here, the term 'attack' has two senses. The broader sense corresponds roughly to 'attack powers' versus 'utility powers'. The narrower sense corresponds more specifically to 'attack types', namely melee, close, ranged, and area.
The attack roles divide into range roles and target roles.
• One ranged role, the infantry role attacks nearby enemies, thus corresponds to melee attacks and close attacks.
• The other ranged role, the artillery role attacks distant enemies, corresponding to ranged attacks and area attacks. To favor either nearby or distant combat dramatically affects the behavior on the battlefield. The target roles describe how one allocates the attacks.
• One target role, the striker role concentrates higher damage to single target, and by nature employs search and destroy.
• The other target role, the blaster role distributes less-high damage across multiple enemies simultaneously, and by nature sweeps minions and continuously threatens swaths of the battlefields. Often the blaster damage can be ally-safe multi-target or ally-unsafe bursts for higher damage.
Consider the combinations. For example, the artillery-striker role is a kind of sniper who picks off the distant enemies one by one. Oppositely, the infantry-blaster role is a kind of whirlwind who hits everyone within reach. Consider a brawler who dabbles in both striker single-target stabs and blaster multi-target cleaves. Such a brawler would probably just refer to 'infantry' as the role without specifying both striker and blaster.
Note the attack roles correspond closely to the attack types:
• Melee (Infantry Striker)
• Close (Infantry Blaster)
• Ranged (Artillery Striker)
• Area (Artillery Blaster)
The types of attack that a character specializes in shape the behavior on battlefields.
Alongside the attack roles, the other division of combat roles is the utility roles. These correspond closely to utility powers. Utility roles dont actually attack but counter attacks by enemies and the set up attacks against enemies. Among the utilities, two heavy roles simply outlast their enemies, the soldier role and the brute role.
• The soldier role outlasts enemies by invulnerability to their attacks. The soldier may achieve this invulnerability by exhibiting high defenses, typically a high AC via either Reflex or heavy armor, but also high Fortitude and Will defenses to deflect attacks. The soldier may possess resistances to damage types and immunities to damage types, effect types, and conditions, may achieve insubstantiality to partially negate damage, may gain saving throw bonuses to reduce the length of ongoing damage, effects, and conditions, may boost death saving throws to survive dying, and so on.
• The brute role too outlasts enemies but by sheer quantity of hit points, simply taking the punishment and pushing on. The brute may achieve hit points by high base hit points, a large quantity and an easy access to surges, a high ability bonus to hit points and surges, temporary hit points, regeneration, vampirism, and so on.
Alternatively among the utilities, two light roles evade enemy attackers, the skirmisher role and the lurker role.
• The skirmisher role specializes in mobility to dance in and out of enemy positions, including high speed, charges, flying, teleporting, shifting, phasing, plane walking, using the athletics skill to jump and climb, the acrobatics skill to do stunts, and so on.
• The lurker role uses stealth to avoid detection, including the stealth skill, invisibility, the bluff skill, disguise, mimicry, and so on.
Regarding the utility roles, the means of escaping attacks by enemies are also the means of setting up attacks against the enemy. The soldier and brute wade into battle, into the tactical positions. The skirmisher and lurker bypass body guards to reach special targets. The attack roles and the utility roles, together, constitute the combat roles.
[sblock Comments on the meta-combat roles]
Meta-combat roles dont perform combat roles directly but instead influence the ability of others to perform them. The meta-combat roles split into leader roles that help the ability of allies to perform the combat roles and into controller roles that harm the ability of the enemies to perform combat roles.
The leader roles include the weaponmaster role, the healer role, and the tactician role. Each helps allies in certain ways. In essence, the weaponmaster role transforms allies into the attack rolls: infantry and artillery, as well as striker and blaster.
• The weaponmaster may be like an athletics coach who trains allies to wield their weapons of choice well, like a seargeant who coordinates teams attacks, like a seer who imbues allies with luck, like an enchanter who enhances assaults with eldritch force, and so on. For infantry and artillery, the weaponmaster may buff the accuracy of the ally attacks generally, while granting melee and ranged reach, respectively. For the striker and blaster, the weaponmaster may increase the number of attacks generally, while buffing the amount of damage and the number of targets, respectively.
• The healer role transforms allies into the heavy roles: soldiers and brutes. For the soldier with high defenses, the healer may enhance AC and other defenses, imbue resistances to damage types, immunities, saving throw bonuses, may remove impairing status conditions, and so on. For the brute with high hit points, the healer may heal hit points of damage, add temporary hit points, and so on. Where the healer tends to the wellbeing of each ally, the weaponmaster tends to the combat effectiveness of each ally.
• Differently, the tactician role transforms allies into the utility roles: skirmisher and lurker. For the skirmisher role with mobility, the tactician may grant speed, shifts, friendly slides, even the ability to fly, teleport, plane walk, and so on. More methodically, the tactician may grant mobility as a sapper, by bridging difficult terrain, tunneling blocking terrain, suppressing hindering terrain, using the thievery skill to pick locks and disable traps, and so on. For the lurker role with stealth, the tactician may provide camouflage, invisibility, or other means to escape detection. Thus the tactician 'marshals' the combat tactics on the battlefield, enabling light infantry and special forces.
By empowering allies, all of these leader roles unite and inform the group as a whole.
At the other side of the meta-combat roles, the controller roles are a mirror image of the leader roles. The controller roles are the defender role, the execrator role, and the engineer role. Where the weaponmaster buffs and coordinates ally attacks, the defender debuffs and distracts enemy attacks. Where the healer heals and restores allies, the execrator harms and impairs enemies. Where the tactician mobilizes and conceals allied forces, the engineer blocks and exposes enemy forces.
• The defender role debuffs the enemy attack roles, disrupting the reach and accuracy of their attacks, reducing their damage against allies, near and far, and so on.
• By contrast, the execrator role enervates the enemy heavy roles. Against enemy soldiers, the execrator may enervate their defenses making them easier for allies to hit them, may induce vulnerabilities to damage types, penetrate resistances, wreck immunities, ruin saving throws, and inflict impairing status conditions: Dazed/Stunned, Slowed/Immobilized/Restrained, Helpless/Unconscious/Dying, Dominated, Weakened, and Blind-Deaf. Against enemy brutes, the execrator may bleed away their hit points with ongoing damage making them easier for allies to dispatch.
• Finally, the engineer may arrest the mobility of enemy skirmishers by various means, from magically conjuring a wall to seizing control of a nearby area making it difficult to pass. The engineer may create various kinds of terrain to barricade the enemies: obscuring, hindering, difficult, and blocking. And so on.
All these controller roles undermine the enemy.
In sum, the combat roles are many, and already distinct from the meta-combat roles. The combat roles partition into attack roles and utility roles. The attack roles include range (infantry and artillery) and target (striker and blaster) roles. The utility roles include heavy (soldier and brute) and light (skirmisher and lurker) roles. The meta-combat roles comprise the leader roles and controller roles. The leader roles (healer, buffer, and tactician) help allies perform the combat roles. The controller roles (execrator, debuffer, and engineer) prevent enemies from performing the combat roles. A single character may specialize in one or more of these roles.
By defining precisely what each combat role is, Character Optimization can begin the task of evaluating how well each class can fulfill each role.
[sblock Class-Race Abilities Synergy Table]
The primary and secondary abilities appear in the left column. Then the races that boost both of these abilities. Then the class builds that use them. The columns list the class builds by power source.
• Half Orc
• Half Elf
• Half Orc
• Half Elf