In your experience, how important are roles in a party?

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This is my first post in the DND forum and I am relatively new to DND in general, so if I break any forum rules or appear to not know what I'm talking about, please forgive me. :P

Now, I've only been playing DND 4E for a couple of months now. It's my first RP experience and I have enjoying it thoroughly. I'm in medium-ish part and have been doing a lot of research into DND so that I'm able to contribute effectively.

Now, one of the things that has intrigued the most is the four roles: Leader, Defender, Striker, Controller.

Our current party conists of the following members:

Elf Assassin
Dragonborn Paladin (Me)
Human Warlock
Human Fighter

Now, we've had many guest members join our party and as we are soon to enter the epic tier we have been told we are to be joined by a few new members, but the fact is our main party consists of two strikers and two defenders.

But what's stroke me as odd is.... We don't seem to have done that bad.

Of course there's times we've struggledand times we've triumphed, but we've manged to pull through to the epic tier without dying and missing two of the main four roles.

I've asked our DM and he says he's never build combat encounters specified for this party, he's just thrown at us what he'd throw at a more balanced party.

So my question is this: In your experience, has a balanced party consisting of all the roles ever really mattered to you?
Do you and your fellow players create your characters with roles and balance in mind or do you just go with what feels right?

Edit: If possible, include examples of parties you've played in that have been missing some of the roles.
The roles don't matter as long as you and your DM take into account the capabilities that you are lacking in how you tackle encounters/how encounters are designed.  And 'capabilities' doesn't just include the roles, it includes the powers, feats, gear, and everything else.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
They are somewhat important, but can be mitigated by planning by the DM and party.  The DM probably shouldn't throw too many minions or swarms at your party most of the time since you don't have a controller.  He should probably give out things like healing potions and save granting items more often than he normally would,

The paladin can have lay on hands and leaderish powers to make up for not having a full leader and the fighter can take powers that heal himself.  The warlock can focus on controller powers for not having a controller and might even consider going vestige pact if he doesn't have a pact already since it will give him leader tricks.

And multiclassing helps.  The paladin can MC cleric for another daily heal and maybe power swap out for a cleric power like word of vigor or healing strike.  Warlock can mc wizard for a minion clearing power like winged horde.

Leader is the trickiest role to duplicate.  Controller is probably the role easiest to duplicate, though some non-striker classes can put up striker level damage if built right.
The four roles are basically clustered packages of jobs that typically need to be done to succeed in combat. The question is a) can you do the jobs, and b) can you compensate when you can't?

The jobs include:
Eliminating enemies (typically by dealing HP damage).
Eliminating minions (seperated because it's a very different specialization).
Absorbing enemy attacks. 
Healing HP in combat.
Preserving Healing Surges (bonuses to HS spent, surgeless healing, etc.)
Grant saving throws and bonuses to saving throws.
Prevent enemies from performing their preferred action. (ideally preventing them from performing any action.)
Apply bonuses and/or penalties to tilt the odds.
Rearrange the battlefield.

If your party can't do all of these jobs, then there will be times where you find yourselves struggling because you can't deal with your situation in the most expedient way. As long as you can do the first three, you can generally win.. but if you can't do the healing and saving throws thing your party will be susceptible to a potential death spiral effect: a party member can go down and then you have fewer PCs in the battle and the tide turns further against them because you can't get them back in. 
If you can't stretch your healing surges you may be unable to handle longer adventuring days.
Bonuses/penalties are a little harder to evaluate, and generally aren't strictly necessary, but they can make a pretty huge difference at times.
Rearranging the battlefield is something that is sometimes completely irrelevant, but can sometimes make all the difference in the world, especially in fights with dangerous terrain, or where AoEs are involved.

The roles generally involve clusters of theses grouped together for convenient shorthand, but keep in mind that no pre-essentials classes are strictly forced into purely one role, and anyone can branch out further by multiclassing. THe big question isn't "does my party have someone labelled 'leader'?", though that may be something you ask up front in a new group to get an idea of where there might be some weaknesses. The big question is "does my group have combat healing? save granting? bonuses? attack granting? HS preservation?" and if the answers are no, then you need to incorporate that into your tactical thinking.

When I started LFR at the beginning of the campaign, the first wave of PCs in my area had no leaders. (The second wave was almost all leaders. :P eventually we mixed it up a little and it worked better.) We got used to the need to kill the enemy before they could take us down, using Second Wind (often by heal check) and healing potions to keep off the floor, etc. As we levelled up, some of us picked up various off-class heals, such as the wizard multiclassing as a cleric (and taking a powerswap for a utility that granted a healing surge + his Cha modifier (-1)). We got along just fine without a leader, but we certainly felt the absence, and appreciated it when a leader came along.   
Warlocks have some 'control' and Paladins are strong secondary Leaders, so you're not entirely without those roles, you're just a little light on them.  A Paladin can handle any one encounter about as well as a 'real' leader, but a particularly tough day - one with several overleveled combats or other challenges that cause a lot of damage, and you could be in trouble.  Also, having two defenders takes some of the preasure off the leader and controller roles.  The defenders can cover eachother - if one gets badly hurt and can't be healed, the other can step in and mark to take the heat off of him - and while defender 'blocking' and attack-absorbtion isn't the same as controller area denial and action denial, it does mitigate the lack a bit.

You might do slightly better with a wizard (such as a witch) instead of a warlock and a battle cleric instead of a Paladin - while still keeping about the same character concepts for each. 

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In my experience, not having a character with a decent heal ability has a large impact and causes combat encounters to be much harder.

On the flip side, having a lot of defensive characters or no decent damage dealers can make combat encounters take a lot longer than they should do.

There isn't really any right set-up for a party, I wouldn't get too hung up on roles. I think the most important thing is the party work together and understand their strengths and weaknesses. 
Lacking some roles is not awful, particularly if your plans and tactics are up to it, but I find it tends to increase variance.  Team Striker, for instance, tends to either nuke encounters, or get horribly killed, depending on whether they can do the former quick enough.  Sub in a decent leader, controller, and defender, and you've got a lot more backup.  There are similar things for single-role teams of other roles.
Harrying your Prey, the Easy Way: A Hunter's Handbook - the first of what will hopefully be many CharOp efforts on my part. The Blinker - teleport everywhere. An Eladrin Knight/Eldritch Knight. CB != rules source.
Many classes are cross-role.  So it's easy to make up for any deficency.

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my builds
F-111 Interdictor Long (200+ squares) distance ally teleporter. With some warlord stuff. Broken in a plot way, not a power way.

Thought Switch Higher level build that grants upto 14 attacks on turn 1. If your allies play along, it's broken.

Elven Critters Crit op with crit generation. 5 of these will end anything. Broken.

King Fisher Optimized net user.  Moderate.

Boominator Fun catch-22 booming blade build with either strong or completely broken damage depending on your reading.

Very Distracting Warlock Lot's of dazing and major penalties to hit. Overpowered.

Pocket Protector Pixie Stealth Knight. Maximizing the defender's aura by being in an ally's/enemy's square.

Yakuza NinjIntimiAdin: Perma-stealth Striker that offers a little protection for ally's, and can intimidate bloodied enemies. Very Strong.

Chargeburgler with cheese Ranged attacks at the end of a charge along with perma-stealth. Solid, could be overpowered if tweaked.

Void Defender Defends giving a penalty to hit anyone but him, then removing himself from play. Can get somewhat broken in epic.

Scry and Die Attacking from around corners, while staying hidden. Moderate to broken, depending on the situation.

Skimisher Fly in, attack, and fly away. Also prevents enemies from coming close. Moderate to Broken depending on the enemy, but shouldn't make the game un-fun, as the rest of your team is at risk, and you have enough weaknesses.

Indestructible Simply won't die, even if you sleep though combat.  One of THE most abusive character in 4e.

Sir Robin (Bravely Charge Away) He automatically slows and pushes an enemy (5 squares), while charging away. Hard to rate it's power level, since it's terrain dependent.

Death's Gatekeeper A fun twist on a healic, making your party "unkillable". Overpowered to Broken, but shouldn't actually make the game un-fun, just TPK proof.

Death's Gatekeeper mk2, (Stealth Edition) Make your party "unkillable", and you hidden, while doing solid damage. Stronger then the above, but also easier for a DM to shut down. Broken, until your DM get's enough of it.

Domination and Death Dominate everything then kill them quickly. Only works @ 30, but is broken multiple ways.

Battlemind Mc Prone-Daze Protecting your allies by keeping enemies away. Quite powerful.

The Retaliator Getting hit deals more damage to the enemy then you receive yourself, and you can take plenty of hits. Heavy item dependency, Broken.

Dead Kobold Transit Teleports 98 squares a turn, and can bring someone along for the ride. Not fully built, so i can't judge the power.

Psilent Guardian Protect your allies, while being invisible. Overpowered, possibly broken.

Rune of Vengance Do lot's of damage while boosting your teams. Strong to slightly overpowered.

Charedent BarrageA charging ardent. Fine in a normal team, overpowered if there are 2 together, and easily broken in teams of 5.

Super Knight A tough, sticky, high damage knight. Strong.

Super Duper Knight Basically the same as super knight with items, making it far more broken.

Mora, the unkillable avenger Solid damage, while being neigh indestuctable. Overpowered, but not broken.

Swordburst Maximus At-Will Close Burst 3 that slide and prones. Protects allies with off actions. Strong, possibly over powered with the right party.

In my experience, the only roles that are absolutely necessary are Defender and Leader.

Clarifying further, you need someone who is durable and can attract attention when necessary to protect more fragile party members and someone who is capable of applying enough healing to keep the party upright.  These don't need to be nominal Defenders and Leaders so long as the PC has a strong enough secondary aspect.

Blackguards and Monks can be built as good "Defenders" (as can higher-level clerics and avengers).  Similarly, Paladins with the correct focus are suitable enough at healing and save granting to blunt the lack of a dedicated Leader.

The number of tricked-out Strikers present in your party can also help mitigate the lack of a true defender or leader.  If you can bring enough focus-fire damage to wipe a non-minion mob each turn, you can easily make due with Lay on Hands and Second Wind as your primary healing sources.  If you're in a party with 1 striker (or, god forbid, no strikers), you're going to need a lot more healing.

Controllers are the easiest to replace.  A well-run controller can turn into an "I Win" button for an encounter, but there are enough control effects available in other classes (Fighter, Rogue, Warlock, Bard, Artificer, Warden) that you can end up with a couple of off-controllers in your party by accident.
I don't think roles are terribly important. As long as you have at least 1 player who knows what he's doing (to help the others) or a helpful GM you can run just about any party combination you want.

I agree with Estlor about the tough character. It's usually good to have at least one strong, durable character in the group to take point, but other than that you can pretty much play whatever you want depending on your goals, the DM, and play style.

For instance, if you're running a combat heavy campaign you probably want a lot of firepower with a Controller and heavy-hitting strikers.

If you're playing a game of intrigue, skills, and roleplaying you can probably play whatever you want and get away with it, although Rogues with more skills and ability to disarm traps would be more valuable.

A well-balanced party is usually handy to have, but not essential. I've known some groups to get along just fine without a healer or a party warrior, but this can radically change how you play the game if your group is always avoiding fights or camping in the woods to regain hit points.

Thanks for reading,

David L. Dostaler
Author, Challenger RPG a Free Roleplaying Game
David L. Dostaler Author, Challenger RPG (free)
In your experience, has a balanced party consisting of all the roles ever really mattered to you?

Yeah, my experience is that any group that cooperates well and adapts a bit to fill in any major weak points will do fine. My newest group has a Human Cavalier, a Pixie Wizard, an Elf Bow Ranger, and a Halfling AD Rogue. So, they lack any dedicated leader. The Cavalier does reasonably well filling that role, but they also go through some potions and such in bigger fights. The paladin took an MC feat to get more healing, and they picked up a couple healing items, so things are good there.

You do generally need at least modest healing. With the above party they have 2 really effective strikers, so they manage, but things do get tight now and then. The wizard helps a lot with holding off a couple bad guys so it works out fine. I think ideally you'd have a full-time defender and a full time leader in the 'perfect' party, and definitely at least one full striker, but it all depends. As long as you can project firepower, get to the enemy, survive his attacks, and mess up his plans you're fine.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
I think a lot of it has to do with the type of game you're playing.
If you imagine yourself on a scale, with heavy RP on one side, and heavy OP at the other, the more toward the RPG end you are, the safe it is to play anything. The more toward to OP side you slide, the more you need to be balanced.
In my opinion, roles have been and always will be critical to the D&D gaming experience. However, this is not the same as saying that the 4e Role mechanic is absolutely critical. For me, the distinction lies in Role (mechanic) versus role (function).

I appreciate the function that Role has played in 4e, and I like that it has made the role function both more simple and more versatile. For example...

  • The healer role has always been critical in D&D. 4e made that role more versatile by spreading healing across multiple classes and linking those classes into a mechanical Role called Leader. No longer is the healer a straight-jacket for the cleric. No longer is it an either/or choice, either. A Leader can be very combat-heavy (Warlord, Warpriest, etc.) and still provide healing to the party. Nor does the 4e arrangement preclude the existence of a walking Medivac (brought to its fullness in the Pacifist Cleric) for those who desire it. Further, the healer role has been incorporated into every class via the Second Wind.

  • The skill-monkey role has also had its importance across all editions. Fortunately, this has been divorced from class entirely, now permitting any character to gain access to important skills, regardless of Role. This was accomplished through two methods. First, the entire list of skills (reaching its bloated zenith in 3e) was simplified into a list of only 17 skills, both broadly- and specifically- defined. This makes "covering all the bases" much easier for a party of five. Second, no skill rests in within a single class. And through Themes and Backgrounds and Feats, any given skill can be accessed by any given character -- regardless of Class, Race, or Role -- whose concept made such access desirable.

I also appreciate that the various Roles in 4e encompass a wide variety of class and character concepts. The only downside to the 4e Role system lies not in the game, but in its players. Those who entered 4e with a lockstep mindset that a rogue must be X or a fighter must be Y may have found it very difficult to accept that a fighter of the past was a straight-jacket that had to be shed. No longer did the 3e Rogue necessarily fall into the 4e Rogue Class. A rogue-scout might be better represented as a Ranger. A rogue-sneak might be better as a Bard. And either of these might be perfectly acceptable as a straight-forward Rogue. The role does not dictate the 4e Role. Nor does the 4e Role dictate the role.

The 4e Role is not critical. It is, however, very utilitarian. A DM whose party has no Leaders knows that the healing of the party is largely limited to the Second Wind mechanic, and this will (should) affect encounter and adventure design.
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
With two strikers and two defenders you have plenty of DPS and a solid front line.  Your paladin is a mini-leader, and depending on how he is built the warlock could be a mini-controller.

In my opinion having a controller is the least necessary, as long as the DM isn't minion happy.  

I would think the lack of a full leader would be more telling, but it all depends on how difficult the DM makes the campaign.  Even level or level +1 encounters aren't really that difficult.  A full leader would probably make you even more effective team than you are, but if the GM is playing to your strengths, and you have effective builds and good tactics, you would probably get by fine. 
Got some very interesting answers, most of which seem to be along the lines of "Roles do matter, but no what the game classifies the classes as"
As in even though classes have a pre-defined role, most of them can dip into the other roles at least a little.

It's also been said with the correct build and tactics, what classes the party consist of becomes less of an issue.
However, in all honesty the players in this campaign have played their characters a little selfishly, and our DM has encouraged that.
We've been told to play our characters how we imagine them to act, not to form a perfect party and we've been doing just that. We're all big fans of "roleplay over rollplay".

For example,my paladin is obsessed with proving his strength and finding his honour, so I've focused his build and tactics heavily on running in, getting the most things to attack him then focusing on bringing his opponents down one by one. I've taken no direct healing abilities beyond "Lay On Hands" and have only used that when the situation calls for it desperately. I just don't imagine my character as the type to sit back and heal when he could be getting a piece of the action.

That said, his epic destiny has been decided as Legendry Sovereign and I've taken one or more "Leader-ish" abilities to support the fact he's now a leader in terms of character, so his combat abilities will show that a teeny bit more, but the majority of his fighting style will remain the same. Although, our Fighter's taken Eternal Seeker so what roles he's gonna to cover in the coming levels is limitless at the moment.

The rest of our party has done the exact same, only using what fighting style suits their personality.

We've not been reckless in combat, but we've not really thought about making our party balanced and just going with what feels right.

EDIT: Many have said that the type of campaign you're playing matters heavily on class choice. Our campaign differs heavily from session to session, some times we focus on skill challenges, some times on roleplay, sometimes on combat. I'd probably say combat and roleplay are what our campaign edges more towards. Also, we're playing in our DM's own created universe and based on what I've read, our campaign isn't a standard one. After level 5, a city become our central hub for most of the game and we've never adventured off for more then a day or two. Although that city has just been destroyed,so I'm curious to see where our campaign heads next.